On September 26, 1970, E.C. Mullendore was murdered at his home in Osage County, Oklahoma. Mullendore, in charge of one of the largest ranches in the United States at the time, was 32 at the time of his death. His murder lead to the largest life insurance payout in American history: $15,000,000 (or $43,690,594 after inflation adjustment).
The most important facet of Mullendore’s murder is that, for 40 years, there was never a charge or prosecution. The case stayed open and people were working for decades to figure out who killed him. The main suspect was an employee of Mullendore’s and the only person known to be with him on the night of the murder, Damon “Chub” Anderson, who refused to speak to authorities or take a polygraph test.
This is where Dale Lewis, an Oklahoma-born journalist and column writer for the Stephens Media Group, comes in. Over the course of months, Lewis spoke with Anderson to get his full life story and see how the Mullendore situation affected him, as well as revealing the truth of Mullendore’s murder. Lewis also interviewed private investigators, police officers and friends of Anderson to gain other perspectives on his life. Lewis’ book “Footprints in the Dew” was published in 2015, years after Anderson’s death in 2010.
The tapes of interviews Lewis conducted during the writing process were cut together into a movie of the same title, which had two screenings at Circle Cinema last Saturday. The afternoon screening featured a Q&A with Lewis after the film.
The film itself covered much of what I described above: the murder, Chub’s life afterwards and a conclusion on what actually happened to Mullendore. Unfortunately, despite the interesting premise and the local angle, the production of the film was sorely lacking. The film was mostly static shots of interviewees speaking, which would be fine if the video and audio quality had been anything close to what one would expect from an average documentary.
Almost all of the interviewees looked pixelated, especially when zoomed in, and some still frames of evidence or newspaper clippings weren’t even legible because of the poor quality of the images. Perhaps making the film fit the size of the screen at Circle Cinema was part of the problem, but it was constant and severely detracted from the experience.
The film’s audio wasn’t much better. White noise was much louder in some interviews than others, but it was always there. Combine the white noise with a classic Oklahoma mumble and the result was that some interviewees were incredibly difficult to understand, and the filmmakers would only sometimes use subtitles when I felt like they would have been warranted. Sound would also cut from one side of the speakers in the theater to the other as there would be cuts to different sections of the interview, which was simply the icing on top of what felt like an incredibly rushed and zero-budget production.
The film lasted about 60 minutes (though Lewis mentioned that the first draft was around 3 hours), and seemed to lack quite a bit of information found in the book. At least half of the questions in the Q&A were asking details about characters or what happened to someone after what was covered in the film, and Lewis would either give an answer if the question was fairly simple or mention that that information is covered in the book and give them a taste of what the answer would be. Lewis also alluded to a production deal in the works to turn Anderson’s story into a “real movie,” with Val Kilmer potentially playing Anderson.
This Q&A and the vague answers given put into perspective how incomplete a picture the movie really is. It gives the broad strokes of the story and a fairly solid timeline of events, but it feels weighed down by its poor production and anyone truly interested in the Mullendore murder should buy the book. For people not particularly interested in the case, seeing this movie isn’t going to convince you to care.