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The Speedway Murders Review: Exploitative Enigma

Four teenagers with striped red and black uniforms sit at a table of a fast food chain in the film The Speedway Murders

Though The Speedway Murders presents interesting case theories, it brings nothing new to the table, exploiting the victims through cringeworthy reenactments.

Directors: Adam Kamien & Luke Rynderman
Genre: Documentary, True Crime, Animated
Run Time: 101′
US Release: June 21, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Where to watch: in select theaters & VOD

The Speedway Murders is a documentary that recounts a true crime story that has remained unsolved for over forty-five years. On the night of November 17, 1978, four teenagers—Jayne Friedt, Mark Flemmonds, Ruth Shelton, and Daniel Davis, aged 16 to 20—were abducted from the Burger Chef restaurant where they worked in Speedway, Indiana. Two days later, their bodies were found in a wooded area. However, to this day, no one has been charged with the murders.

This is an infuriating fact that is revealed minutes into the documentary, so from the get-go, viewers know that there has been no justice for the victims and their families.

It’s also enraging to learn how mishandled the crime scene was on the night that the killings took place. When the police arrived at the Burger Chef, the restaurant’s safe was open, $500 was missing, Jayne and Ruth’s handbags were left inside, and the back door to the diner was wide open. However, the authorities assumed the teenagers did not want to clean up after their shifts and had left together to party.

Due to this theory, the officers did not believe anything suspicious had taken place at the diner, and they gave the all-clear, allowing other Burger Chef employees to resume work as normal the next day. No photos or fingerprints were taken from the crime scene that evening, which was detrimental to the case. Only after the teenagers’ bodies were found did the police return to the restaurant days later to take photos. According to the documentary, these snaps were passed off as being taken on the actual night that the teens were abducted. Simply put, the case was handled poorly from the start.

Instead of revealing any recent leads in the case, The Speedway Murders presents various theories about what may have happened that night while attempting to uncover why the teenagers and the restaurant were targeted in the first place. What took place on the evening of the murders raises so many unanswered questions and will leave your mind in knots.

Throughout The Speedway Murders runtime, various detailed interviews take place with law enforcement officers who have worked on the case, witnesses, and family and friends of the victims. This is where the documentary excels, giving viewers a plethora of information, including potential suspects and their motives.

Four teenagers with striped red and black uniforms stand by a window looking sad and angry in the film The Speedway Murders
The Speedway Murders (Umbrella Entertainment)

However, The Speedway Murdersmost bizarre and unforgiving choice is to have actors portray all the possible case theories through the ghosts of the victims inside The Burger Chef on the night the events took place. Though I wholeheartedly believe that directors and screenwriters Adam Kamien and Luke Rynderman thought this approach would give the documentary a unique edge, it feels exploitative and disrespectful.

During these scenes, the quartet gathers in different areas of the Burger Chef to discuss why certain hypotheses may not be logical, while Stranger Things-esque music plays. The handling of this material is distasteful, and I was surprised that anyone involved in this project would even consider including such scenes. They are present throughout The Speedway Murders entirety, overshadowing the interesting parts of the documentary and completely hindering the viewing experience.

We also learn very little about each of the victims and their legacies outside of the night of the murders. Instead, they are subjected to cartoonish, unrealistic, and hypothetical reenactments. It would have made much more sense for The Speedway Murders to dedicate more time to honoring Jayne, Mark, Ruth, and Daniel and presenting each of the theories through the police officers who have worked on the investigation.

Though one hypothesis presented in The Speedway Murders appears to be the most likely explanation of what happened that evening, viewers aren’t given any updates on the case or what authorities have done to try and solve it since. While any recent breakthroughs may be confidential, the documentary doesn’t reveal much that hasn’t already been public knowledge over the years. As a viewer, you can’t help but wonder what this documentary brings to the table that wasn’t already explored previously.

With a case that has remained cold for over four decades, one can only hope that The Speedway Murders serves a purpose and encourages someone who has vital information about the case to come forward so that justice can finally be served.

The Speedway Murders was released in select US theaters and on VOD on June 21, 2024.

The Speedway Murders: Trailer (Umbrella Entertainment)
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