DOCUMENTARY WEEK: Goodnight, Sugar Babe: The Killing of Vera Jo Reigle (2013)

Just a warning. Of all the documentaries I watched this week, including Mondo Cane, this is the one that upset me the most. It starts with the police discovering the mutilated body of a mentally challenged young mother. And ends with a family so monstrous that it defies description and believability.

Director J. David Miles went to the heart of darkness, which ends up being Findlay, Ohio — which is also the home of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. There, Cheri Brooks is the matriarch of a family that seems to be the stuff of Rob Zombie movies. She’s as horrible a person as it gets — her children Scottie, Michael, Maria, Joshua, and little Cheri were all taken away from her and all molested by her except for the youngest, who was taken immediately after her birth.

Meanwhile, Vera Jo’s life was one of pure terror. At the tender age of eleven, she was raped by her own father, Willard Reigle. It was suspected that she had ADHD and had an IQ in the mentally retarded range, which made learning difficult. She did, however, graduate high school but then began dating 13-year-old Zachary Brooks. This was a relationship that his mother Cheri actually encouraged because it allowed her to collect Vera Jo’s disability checks as well as get another child in the house, as she not only desired them, but wanted the perfect male child.

Vera Jo was basically a servant and scapegoat for the family and despite police calls and numerous people knowing that she was being abused (and this is all from a family that had a pig that lived in the house and was allowed to defecate anywhere it wished), when she was murdered people reacted with a mixture of surprise and we saw that coming. Yet no one did anything. At all.

The depths that Cheri pushed on Vera are heartbreaking, like forcing castor oil on her to induce labor, telling everyone that Vera’s child Willadean was hers, refusing to allow the new mother to hold her child, encouraging her own children and their insignificant others to abuse Vera and blaming her for the accidental death of her son Punky, which may have led to her death.

There’s also the matter of the family — backwoods as they may be — being part of the Crips. Yep. The same ones as South Central L.A.

This isn’t an easy movie to watch, based on the subject matter. The way it’s filmed is also completely all over the place. They had full access to so many people, so the subject matter is certainly compelling. But between the bad camera work, horrible font choices and rough editing, this could have been such a better film. Yet you can’t look away and I’ve recommended it to many true crime buffs.

I’d compare this to The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia if that family was only concerned with abuse and torture instead of drugs and dancing. You can find it on Amazon Prime.

 

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