Book & Series Review: The Betsy Faria Case
The post contains spoilers related to the murder investigations and prosecutions connected to victims Betsy Faria, Shirley Neumann, and Louis Gumpenberger.
Over the past week, I read the book Bone Deep: Untangling the Betsy Faria Murder Case and rewatched The Thing About Pam, two accounts of the same case. I was familiar with the murder of Betsy Faria, the framing and eventual exoneration of Russ Faria, and the conviction of Pam Hupp. (I'll admit I misremembered her criminal conviction - it's a complicated story.)
But I wanted to experience the story through multiple mediums and perspectives. I was sure a book written by Russ Faria's defense attorney and a scripted drama produced by Dateline would have significant differences–and I wasn't disappointed.
Two biases should be acknowledged in the two different reports of this case.
The book Bone Deep was written by Charles Bosworth and defense attorney Joel Schwartz. It's incredible to hear insights from an attorney who defended someone wrongfully convicted, exonerated, and then framed (unsuccessfully) a second time. It's also unreasonable to expect that person to provide an unbiased account. Schwartz rode the roller coaster of emotions for years with his client Russ Faria and is understandably emotional in his telling of the case.
The Dateline drama was based on actual events but scripted for television. This meant writers stuck to the story but had to write dialogue and occasionally fill in details. They added several over-the-top dramatizations to demonstrate how ridiculous Pam Hupp's stories often were. I thought this was a great fit because it was a scripted drama and because a big part of why this case was so famous was how ridiculous Pam's stories were. It all came together nicely, and they remained faithful to the story. Still, it's important to remember that it was made for television.
Point of View
Who was telling the story was another critical consideration. Reading the book and watching the drama simultaneously, I realized something significant. A story's point of view is likely to be one of the most potent influences on the reader's perception of what happened.
Schwartz's book was very focused on the framing and wrongful conviction of Russ Faria, as it should have been. That's what they knew the most about.
The Dateline drama focused more on Pam Hupp, an equally good design. Dateline had been engaging with Hupp for years, so their interest in and understanding of her.
When I thought about all of the cases (there were multiple trials and multiple murders), I realized just how little we hear about the victims in sensational cases like these. It's the people surrounding the victim–family, perpetrator, police, and attorneys–whose voices tell the story.
In a "bias story," we consider how information may be perceived or shared incorrectly based on the motivations of the person sharing. But a story where we have access to multiple points of view should be considered simply because it influences what the storyteller knows.
This case was the perfect opportunity to try out a measurement theory I've been thinking about for media influence. I find myself thinking, "It sure seems like this aspect of the case received a lot of attention…." But as I research how media affects the public's understanding of criminal cases, I've been experimenting with the different ways to measure that "feeling" we sometimes get.
Bone Deep was much more focused on Russ Faria's trials, with less on the details of Pam Hupp's involvement.
By comparison, The Thing About Pam followed Renée Zellweger as Pam Hupp. She was clearly the center of the chaotic series of crimes.
Neither shared much about any of the victims, which again made me realize just how small we make the role victims play in their own murder investigations.
For this case and others, I'd like to investigate:
Print media – number of published stories, total word count
Text analysis – frequency of specific term uses, sentiment analysis of written content
Television and video news reports – length, frequency, and which events were reported (i.e., Faria's first trial compared to his second trial, the death of Louis Gumpenberger compared to the prosecution of Pam Hupp, etc.)
Audio and video analysis – time on topic analysis (by category or keyword)
It was incredible to realize how many different ways how this story was told could be measured.
Like a lot of research, the key to an excellent analysis is starting with the correct query. For these cases that have been represented in the media in so many different ways, what else would be most helpful to fully understand how the average person likely perceives the case?
Resources for Citizen Investigators & Internet Sleuths
There are so many resources available to learn about the cases mentioned in this post! As always, if you’re doing, you’re own research, check out my blog post about resources for writers and digital media professionals.
Game Night (2015)
Return to Game Night (2016)
Stranger Than Fiction (2016)
The Thing About Pam (2019)
The Real Thing About Pam (2022)
The Thing About The Thing About Pam (an interview with Renée Zellweger)
Dateline NBC's The Thing About Pam podcast
I’d recommend checking out this interview with Joel Schwartz on Morbid
Countdown to Murder: Pam Hupp: (Death "Insured") Behind the Scenes (I haven't read this one – I only just found it!)
Did I miss any resources? Or do you have thoughts about the case? Please let me know in the comments!