True Crime Tuesdays: I Just Killed My Dad
Helen Archer | On 16, Aug 2022
Director Skye Borgman’s recent work for Netflix has focused on the abuse of children. The Girl in the Picture looked at the case of Suzanne Sevakis, who was kidnapped by her stepfather in the 1970s, only to be found dead at the side of a road when she was 20 years old. The 2017 documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight, saw Borgman examine the issue of grooming and the kidnappings of Jan Broberg by a manipulative neighbour, again in the 1970s. Her new series returns to the subject, but this time she’s turning her eye on a more recent case – that of Anthony Templet, who, in 2019, when he was 17 years old, shot and killed his father, Burt.
The three-part series begins with Anthony’s phone call to emergency services, in which he utters the words of title: “I just killed my dad.” Alongside fragmented recreations of that evening, several interviewees express horror at his flat aspect and his apparent lack of remorse, both in the 911 call and in his early interviews. Some participants assert, at least at the start, that Anthony was treated like a king by his father, and feel that this was the case of a spoiled teenager. In case the viewer feels the same, much of the rest of the running time goes into explaining Anthony’s actions that night. And, in doing so, it explains both the modus operandi of coercive control, and the devastating, lifelong impact it can have on the victims.
Thanks to the support and actions of one of Anthony’s work colleagues, his and his father’s history was probed following Anthony’s arrest. DNA enthusiasts were called in, to ascertain if Burt was Anthony’s biological father and to find other relatives. They discovered that he was reported as a missing child over 10 years previously, and tracked down his biological mother, Teresa Thompson, and her family. Her story – of domestic violence, and the fight to get custody of Anthony when she was finally able to leave – mirrors that of Susan, Anthony’s stepmother, who had left Burt a few months before he was killed.
There are all kind of ways to abuse people, which this documentary makes clear. Although there had been no reports made to police of violence suffered by Anthony at the hands of his father, he was, it transpires, a prisoner in his own home. He had never seen a dentist or a doctor. Thanks to Burt’s campaign of intimidation, he spent most of his time in his room, unable to access help from anyone who would recognise the abuse being inflicted upon him. “I tried to make myself as invisible as possible,” he says, and when police were called out, he was unable to make any complaint. Burt put up cameras around the exterior of the house in order to maintain control; he used tracking technology when Anthony left the house. A co-worker recalls that Burt would phone up Anthony’s place of employment if he noticed, via GPS, that Anthony had been standing still for too long. He was ‘homeschooled’, though no education had been undertaken. In his police interview, some of which is shown in the programme, Anthony says that he knows his alphabet; he doesn’t, however, know his own date of birth or his address. “It’s easier to control a dumb person than a smart person, right?” says Anthony.
Both Anthony’s mother and stepmother fled Burt in fear of their lives; both knew that by taking Anthony they were at risk of death. And it’s not that Burt wanted to keep Anthony because he loved him – it was to punish Anthony’s mother by separating her from her son. Domestic violence usually translates into custody battles as the child is used child to hurt other parent, as one interviewee points out. Burt misused the law in order to financially punish Anthony’s mother, Teresa – she had, by the end, no money left to fight him in the courts. The generational trauma suffered by Anthony’s mother and grandmother at the hands of their husbands and fathers seemed to them as though it was an unbreakable cycle.
By unravelling the case, Borgman lays out the myriad ways in which abuse works, and how difficult it is to escape, and to recover. It’s not a perfect series – it’s slightly too long and a little repetitive at times. But – perhaps echoing the demeanour of its subject – it’s a quiet and subdued picture of a life lived under the shadow of neglect and psychological warfare, which eschews shock tactics and cliffhangers in favour of a more contemplative approach.