A Murder in Mansfield, from Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopple and filmmaker Collier Landry, is the story of the murder that shook Collier’s life apart when he was just twelve years old. In the early morning of December 31st, 1989, Collier’s father Jack Boyle murdered his wife Noreen, then buried her body beneath the foundation of a house he’d bought out of state.
Jack was found guilty and remains in prison, but the trauma of the event was too great for Collier’s remaining family, who turned their backs to him. For the past 28 years, he’s had almost no contact with his siblings — neither his sister by adoption, who was three years old at the time of the murder, nor Collier Landry’s half-sister, born the following year.
“The purpose of this film is to show vulnerability,” Collier explained. “And to show that, when you go through trauma, you can get through it….It’s about closing those doors, closing those chapters, and moving through the trauma.”
Collier explained A Murder In Mansfield‘s purpose in the context of one especially difficult scene: He and the lead investigator in his mother’s murder case open up the case file, and Collier allows himself to look, for the first time in his life, at the photos of his mother’s body after police discovered her.
But, A Murder In Mansfield has granted Collier himself a release, the themes of trauma and vulnerability were on full display during the documentary’s pre-production. As he and director Barbara Kopple revealed during the film’s run on the festival circuit, the production was unable to get any of his biological family to participate. That includes Collier Landry’s half-sister, whose absence in the film becomes a looming presence thanks to archival courtroom footage featuring the half-sister’s mother Sherri, who was Collier’s father’s girlfriend at the time of Noreen Boyle’s murder.
Here’s Collier at the 2017 Doc NYC Fest, talking about the difficulties his family still has talking about the murder:
When an audience member asks if Collier has had any contact with Sherri or with his half-sister, Collier responds that he has — but that the result was disappointing.
“When I wanted to do this film, and as we were going to through the motions of pre-production, [we found out] her mother didn’t want to participate, and didn’t want [Collier Landry’s half-sister] to participate,” Collier explained. “And so, we kind of…not by my choice, but we haven’t spoken since.”
At that point, Barbara Kopple adds, “None of your relatives wanted to talk or participate.”
“You discover how people compartmentalize this,” Collier says in response. “And that’s one of the reasons why I felt so strongly about doing this film, is — there’s a saying, ‘That which you avoid ends up controlling you.’ And I feel a lot of the people that were involved in this, with the murder and around it…they want to sweep it under the rug, and not deal with it. And it controls their life. And they can’t move on.”
A Murder in Mansfield makes its world television premiere Saturday, November 17th at 9 PM on Investigation Discovery. “Witness to Murder,” Collier Landry’s Dr. Phil episode, airs Wednesday, November 14th. Click here to check your local listings for the specific time.
(Photo credits: Collier Landry’s half-sister via A Murder in Mansfield)
John Sharp is a Starcasm’s chief editorial correspondent-at-large. Tips: E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or send on Twitter at @john_starcasm.