True Crime Tuesdays: Still Missing Morgan
Helen Archer | On 18, Apr 2023
Still Missing Morgan – directed by Devon Parks, with Ridley Scott’s name attached, as executive producer – promises a look into the cold case investigation of the disappearance of Morgan Nick, who vanished from a Little League baseball game in Alma, Arkansas, in 1995. She was six years old. But what unfolds over the course of the four hour-long episodes is a meditative, if desperately sad, study of a very particular type of grief, unimaginable to most – one in which not only the absence of the person is felt, but also the absence of knowledge of what happened to them.
Viewers who are more used to the more frenetic pace of much of the current true crime output may be initially disappointed – as befits the subject matter, the tone here is subdued and pondering, peeling back layers as it slowly unfolds, with material gathered over three years of filming. Morgan’s parents are interviewed, her father, John, reflecting on the way he was treated in the immediate wake of her disappearance, and why he took a step back from public view, with Morgan’s mother Colleen, becoming the ‘face’ of the search – and, from 1996, the face of the Morgan Nick Foundation, which supports parents whose children have vanished.
Colleen discusses how it feels to be in her situation with one of the few people who would know – Patty Wetterling, mother of Daniel, who was kidnapped from a country road in St Joseph, Minnesota, in 1989, when he was 11 years old.
Their talk forms the spine of the documentary, especially when, after Wetterling’s murderer confesses, Jacob’s remains are finally uncovered. From then on, the stories run parallel, segueing from one to the other. Intercut with the interviews are recreations of the night Morgan went missing, when she stopped to tie her shoelace after chasing fireflies with her friends, and shots of boys riding bikes on empty, apparently peaceful, country roads. Meanwhile, grey-suited men sit in grey-tinged office rooms, trying not to criticise the work done – or not done – by their colleagues 25 years previously.
Much of the rest of the series involves the ongoing review of Morgan’s case – and, while watching a live investigation may seem as though it will be fairly thrilling, in truth it involves a lot of reading – one law enforcement officer who worked the Wetterling cold case states that the atmosphere is more like that of a library than a police station. There are incidences where the team go on digs in an effort to recover remains on the back of hunches or new information, but they are fruitless, as are many of the ‘leads’ which are uncovered. In each case, Morgan’s mother – and, presumably her father, siblings, and wider family – go through the cycle of confusing emotions – they both want to find something, but also dread it.
The series successfully documents the seemingly neverending cycle of hope raised only to be dashed. In a last-bid attempt to locate Morgan alive, Colleen conducts a DNA ancestry search – and although she vows not to be too optimistic, when the results come in that no match is made, she cannot suppress her grief. Similarly, while investigators know the chances of getting DNA results from decades-old materials is slim, they – and therefore the viewer – can’t help but hope for some conclusive evidence, and the disappointment is palpable when nothing is revealed.
Ultimately, though, there comes a breakthrough, of sorts, as fibres matching Morgan’s girl scout t-shirt is found in a truck which matches eye witness statements. The presumed perpetrator is long dead, and the place where Morgan’s body was presumed to be dumped was flooded soon after her disappearance, making any sort of cathartic conclusion impossible. Colleen, meanwhile, clings to the hope that Morgan is one of the 2 per cent of missing children who are eventually found alive. Perhaps, in some cases, not knowing is an easier proposition than knowing, and living in a perpetual limbo is preferable to the “closure” of the case. The series tracks the waves of this singular kind of anguish impeccably. Still Missing Morgan is not an easy watch, but it is an unforgettable immersive one.