Texas Monthly Senior Editor Michael Hall says a great story has do with solving a mystery. That’s what he set out to do with a series of articles in 2009, about an alleged child sex ring in East Texas. Years later, the mystery still isn’t quite over.
The original story, according to police, went something like this:
“There were a bunch of folks who lived in trailers and had drug problems who had been arrested for running a sex kindergarten and then also putting on shows at a swingers club in Mineola where they made children – including their own children – have sex with them on stage,” Hall says.
The more he looked into the story, the less he thought there was truth from the first telling.
“They had arrested seven people but they had no evidence,” he says. “There were supposed to be all these people there and they had no video tapes, they had no cell phone photos, all they had was the words of these kids and there were four kids who were very young – ages four through seven.”
In the following months and years, juries in Smith County found four adults accused in the sex ring guilty – and sentenced them all to life in prison.
Then the case started to unravel and new trials were called.
“But they were in too far at that point, they had guilty verdicts and they couldn’t go back and overthrow them so they made them deals and let them free,” Hall says.
It was the facts of this bizarre story – however sparse they were – that made Director Berndt Mader want to make a film about it. The film is called “Booger Red” and it just had its North American premiere at the Austin Film Festival.
“A guy named Booger Red was involved – it just sounded like the boogeyman, you know,” Mader says. “And the fact that there was a swingers club in the heart of the bible belt in East Texas was also just kind of stranger than fiction in a way,”
The film features interviews with several of the defendants and their attorneys, but it’s not strictly a documentary. “As we had begun investigating the story and talking to people, we had an access issue with the prosecution side,” Mader says. “So we were wondering how do we tell this story. Can this be a straight documentary if we don’t have access to both sides?”
Mader decided it couldn’t. Instead, he created what he calls a “hybrid” of documentary and narrative film. “We have taken elements of fact: interviews with the real attorneys in the case but we’ve also weaved our own fictional narrative around all of this to package it and deliver what we think is a correction to the story,” he says.
The fictional part is the story of a reporter uncovering the details of the sex ring case. It’s not quite what Hall says happened in real life: “The wild-eyed, drug snorting, fornicating journalist? He approached the story a little bit differently than I did. It was kind of like a mythologized Hunter S. Thompson idea of going into the Heart of Darkness of East Texas,” Hall says.
Fact and fiction collide in a few interesting ways in “Booger Red,” like when the fictional reporter ends up at a real-life trial involving the foster parent who originally raised the child sex ring allegations.
“This woman, this foster mother had had these children since 2005 and the trials were in 2009 and 2010. And here we are in 2013 going out to make our film and I get a call from a lawyer saying on the Tuesday that we are out there, this huge, climactic event in this storyline is taking place,” Mader says.
Both Mader and Hall agree the story still isn’t over. Hall says the foster mother still hasn’t faced consequences for apparently coercing the children in her care to tell these sex ring stories in an effort to get more money from the state.
“She moved to Texas 10 years ago, wreaked all this havoc and then left. And nothing ever happened to her,” Hall says.
Meanwhile, Mader hopes “Booger Red” will help set the record straight for those accused in the sex ring. All but one are free, but still living with the stigma of convictions for crimes no one truly believes ever happened.
“They are given dirty looks and said mean things to in public,” Mader says. “I think another goal of ours with this would be to reach that audience out there and to show them that this series of trials may not have been what it seemed to have been. That maybe these people aren’t the boogeymen that they’ve been made out to be.”
A distribution deal is in the works and if all goes according to plan, “Booger Red” will have its East Texas premiere in the town of Tyler by year’s end.