Mind Over Murder

HBO Max’s Mind Over Murder docuseries is a jaw-dropping tale of true crime – and injustice

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In 1985, a Nebraska murder case featuring the “Beatrice Six” gripped America. Now, a new HBO Max docuseries is delving into the story in a bid to help a rural town heal.

In 1985, six people were convicted of the murder of a beloved 68-year-old grandmother, Helen Wilson, in Beatrice, Nebraska. Despite five of the individuals originally confessing to the crime, the “Beatrice Six” as they became known, were sensationally exonerated by DNA evidence in 2009, a turn of events which divided the rural town and incensed the victim’s family.

Now, HBO Max is delving into the unforgettable true crime story in a new six-part series that explores the nature of truth, the malleability of memories and the burden of wrongful convictions on us all.

Created by acclaimed filmmaker Nanfu Wang, whose film Hooligan Sparrow was shortlisted in 2017 for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Mind Over Murder traces the extraordinary case from the murder of Wilson and subsequent investigation, through to the trial, exoneration and two civil suits centred on the ex-convicts, who spent a combined total of 70 years behind bars before they were cleared in 2009.

Featuring never-before-seen archival footage from the original police interrogation video, the new docuseries looks to explore the phenomenon of “recovered memories” that can in turn lead to false admissions of guilt and examines the unorthodox methods of law enforcement officials.

But the series will also feature revealing new interviews with members of the Beatrice Six as it questions the reliability of confessions and memory in criminal cases. According to HBO Max, the series also “excavates the mindsets of the defendants, several of whom were emotionally and mentally susceptible to psychological suggestion, while shedding light on faulty investigative and forensic errors that convinced a jury of guilt and satisfied a small-town’s demand that crimes be neatly solved and duly punished.”

In order to build a detailed picture of events, the documentary team have also conducted interviews with a wide range of individuals connected to the case, including family members of murder victim Helen Wilson, residents of Beatrice, and public servants who worked on the investigation.

Nanfu Wang
Acclaimed filmmaker Nanfu Wang has created the new docuseries Mind Over Murder

The fallacy of memory and the reliability of testimonies in criminal cases are questions that have ultimately become irrevocably entwined with this decades-old murder case. Over 35 years later, HBO notes, “the town of Beatrice continues to reckon with the emotional fallout of this brutal crime and the financial repercussions of the investigation”.

The Beatrice Six, meanwhile, were eventually awarded $28 million in damages, “forcing a new generation to bear the tax burden imposed on the town where tensions and opinions still run high”. Despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence proving their wrongful convictions, the synopsis notes that “many residents still believe in the guilt of the Beatrice Six, including one of the accused herself, who says she still vividly recalls details of her part in the crime”.

Interestingly, Mind Over Murder isn’t just a documentary concerned with chronicling the events of the past. With an eye towards healing longstanding animosities in the rural town, the docuseries sees Wang draw upon real court documents to create a production about the murder and its consequences, which is then performed by local actors.

The new trailer gives an overview of the confusing case, showing archive footage of members of the Beatrice Six confessing to details about the crime that never even happened, as well as interviews with relatives of Helen Wilson and law enforcement officials who all have differing accounts of the case.

The trailer also gives an insight into the local theatre production which looks to liberate a stricken community. “The wounds are still fairly open,” one commentator explains, “but this is a story that needs to be told”.

Mind Over Murder premieres on HBO Max and Now on 20 June 2022.

Images: HBO Max

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.