Jim Kostelniuk: The Making of “Witness to Murder”

While most books written by former Jehovah’s Witnesses focus on doctrinal disagreements or Watchtower policy failures and false predictions, a few tell some very compelling (and sometimes entertaining) personal life stories. While most would be tedious to watch as either movies or TV shows, there are a few that come to mind that – with the right team of writers and producers – could be revealing, educational and compelling.

Among the books that could fall in that group are Scott Terry’s Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth and perhaps a merged treatment of Richard Kelly’s two books, Growing Up in Mama’s Club and Ghosts from Mama’s Club. Both books relate lives influenced, victimized and damaged by the warped and abusive policies of the Watchtower Society.

Available on Amazon.com and most major book stores.

Available on Amazon.com and most major book stores.

James Kostelniuk first published his book, Wolves Among Sheep, nearly fifteen years ago. Now updated, it is widely available in paperback and as a Kindle e-book. It has found a new audience thanks to an adaptation for a cable TV true-to-life documentary. That program aired for the first time in August 2014 on the ID Discovery Channel (USA). It will soon be available on cable TV “on demand” streaming systems and through Amazon.com’s Prime video service.

Kostelniuk’s participated as an on-screen commentator. He was able to describe his personal experiences and flesh out the rest of the background story. After all, he was indirectly involved; his ex-wife and children were the victims of the violent crimes recreated in this documentary.

James Kostelniuk volunteered to write his own review of the final version of the program and to share more about his involvement in its preparation. He provides more background information along with his honest assessment of both the quality and accuracy of the show’s presentation.

The importance of both the program and the book is to describe how Jehovah’s Witness elders failed to protect the victims in this crime, actually encouraging them to go back and endure the harsh and dangerous situation they were living in with their eventual killer. They must share some, if not most of the blame for what happened to the innocent children in this story.

The following article was originally posted at WatchtowerWatch.com on August 25, 2014. Barbara Anderson has been given permission to reprint it here for her readers.


The Documentary, “Witness to Murder,” for ID Discovery Channel

By Jim Kostelniuk, a participant

As the father of two murdered children, Juri and Lindsay Kostelniuk, it may seem difficult to understand how I can be objective about the documentary. However, I didn’t produce the show, wasn’t in on the editing process, and there are some things I only had an inside track on.

What I did do was gather a team of family friends and experts together (five other persons besides myself originally connected with the case) to be interviewed in Vancouver by a film crew from LionTelevision in New York City.

James Kostelniuk (screen grab: ID Discovery Channel)

James Kostelniuk
(screen grab: ID Discovery Channel)

Let’s take, for a start, the two women who were interviewed: Sharon Mulder and Stacie Lay. Both were Jehovah’s Witnesses at the time these crimes were committed (they are ex-JWs now); both knew the family intimately, and both understood the rules and power dynamics of the Watchtower Society.

Looking back 29 years, each of them knew the family from a different perspective. Sharon was a close friend of Kim’s, and a kind of outsider – meaning that as women, and as unmarried women at one time or another, they were outside the congregational power structure. They supported one another, understood each other, and Sharon’s children played with Kim’s children. When Kim tried to escape from Jeff Anderson and his abuse, it was Sharon who took her and the children into her home.

Stacie’s mother, Joanne, was Kim’s closest friend from high school. In fact, it was Kim who converted Joanne to the Witness fold. Later, she was one of Kim’s bridesmaids at her wedding in Houston to Jeff Anderson. Stacie was a few years older than Juri and Lindsay; she adored them, and sometimes acted as babysitter. The day she heard that her two little friends, Juri and Lindsay, had been murdered, she was understandably shocked and bewildered—and devastated. But at the time, Stacie was still a child, and children tend to compartmentalize trauma like that. Twenty-five years later, when the offender, Jeff Anderson, was coming up for a parole hearing, Stacie finally began to put the pieces together and come to terms with what had happened to her friends so long ago.

Three men were interviewed as well: retired RCMP staff sergeant of the Burnaby detachment, Neil MacKay, Simon Fraser University School of Criminology professor, Neil Boyd, and an M2W2 prison support worker, Wayne Northey. All three men had direct knowledge of the case professionally and through their work with both the victims and the offender. Their comments are sometimes interspersed on the video in a fast-paced litany, their voices echoing one another. Watching the video, I was amazed at the insights these three men had of the crime, the individuals involved, and the psychology of the Watchtower Society. All this was not lost on them after 29 years.

Neil MacKay was at the Burnaby detachment the day of the murders when Jeff Anderson was brought in. MacKay was Tom Wagner’s boss; Wagner was assigned as investigator on the case. MacKay informed me of the situation, tried to console me, and he was the one who talked to the media on behalf of the police.

Neil Boyd had interviewed Jeff Anderson personally in 1989 for a documentary he and his colleagues made, based on his book: Last Dance: Murder in Canada. I had come into contact with Boyd after providing photographs of Kim and the children for his award-winning documentary. It was Boyd’s book and documentary that made it possible for me to put two-and-two together and to finally understand how Anderson’s pedophilia had something important to do with the case.

I first met Wayne Northey after he had met Jeff Anderson in prison and attended his trial, as Anderson’s “Christian sponsor”. Northey, a veteran of a Christian support system for offenders for many years, was appalled at Anderson’s crimes against Kim and her children. Sometime after the trial, Northey, one of the kindest men I have ever known, met my wife, Marge, and me at our home in Winnipeg. We have been friends with Wayne ever since.

All six of the participants for the documentary provided different perspectives into what happened and why it happened, both personally and professionally. The effect was that with all the credible and passionate voices, it worked out well.

Then there was the way the documentary was put together – how it was produced. After 30 years of creating true-crime stories for television, they’ve got it down to an art form. These are the components: a voice-over narrator who the audience doesn’t see, the real, talking-head participants and their voices, background video of the city of Burnaby and Vancouver, photos of the victims and the offender, actual video of the offender, a musical soundtrack, and then, last but not least—actors giving vivid dramatization of the events that unfolded in chronological order. All these elements are weaved in and out of the show at a fast pace to create a sense of riveting atmosphere, tension, drama and realism that tightens like a vice-grip and won’t let go until the final frame. It’s chillingly real and well done.

All actors were good at their parts, but I was especially impressed with the actress, Evan Elise Owens, who played Kim. She resembled the Kim I first met in 1972 when she was eighteen—folksy with her long brown hair, her intelligent eyes — sensitive, soft-spoken, idealistic and a little fragile. Kim, in real life, appeared stronger than the actress who portrayed her, but that was just a front. Kim had many fears and insecurities which she kept hidden. The cumulative effect, with all its components working together—and with the actress and actor playing Kim and Jeff—was a strong sense of sympathy and pity for Kim and her impossible situation.

There have been some comments on Facebook and on the ID Discovery website to the effect that there were “holes” in the documentary, factually speaking. Some of the details, like the way Anderson is portrayed as a cigarette smoker—something forbidden by the Watchtower Society. Or the aggressive manner in which the JW elder spoke (normally, most elders speak softly, like kind shepherds of the flock). Or the way the documentary referred to the “rapture” that didn’t arrive in 1975, something JWs wouldn’t do—it’s not one of their buzzwords. Or some of the things that happened, like the way Lindsay spoke on the telephone to her father about violence in the home instead of the real face-to-face encounter. But to me, these are minor changes that occurred because of audience-relevance, limitations on time and composition—things that don’t detract from the message: that the Watchtower Society and their elders screw around with people’s minds, and messes up their families. The big audience, the general population out there in TV land, won’t care about such minor discrepancies. They are interested in the telling of the story, and only die-hard JWs would know or care about such things. As Barbara Anderson said to me after viewing the documentary for the first time, “It was 99% accurate in detail.”

My hope in participating in the making of this tragic and difficult documentary is two-fold. My first hope is that with the airing of it all over N. America and the globe, Jeff Anderson will have a steeper climb to get out of prison, and as a result, he will have to stay in longer. I want him to stay there indefinitely for the public interest. My concern is that should he ever be released, he will, as an American citizen, most likely be deported back to the United States, where he would be free of parole supervision—free to reinvent himself with his “nice guy image,” and who knows what he might do to some innocent, unsuspecting woman then.

My other hope is that after seeing the documentary, some people on the cusp of leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses will have food for thought, or conversely certain individuals thinking of joining the organization will have pause for thought.

I can’t believe this has all happened nearly 29 years to the day after this tragedy occurred. One can only hope for the best in the future.


Link to ID Discovery webpage and comments:
http://www.investigationdiscovery.com/tv-shows/deadly-devotion/about-this-show/about-deadly-devotion.htm


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