"Innocent Victims" is riveting in its dramatization of a real-life murder mystery that, through the years, has only deepened. In 1985, a young mother, whose last name was Eastburn, and two of her three young daughters were brutally attacked and killed by person or persons unknown. The murders occurred in the young woman's home near Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A twenty-something soldier, named Tim Hennis was charged. The plot carries us from the point in time when the victims were found by a neighbor, all the way through the court trial of Hennis, and even further, when the case takes a bizarre twist.
The book on which the script is based does convey an unmistakable point of view. And that point of view may, or may not, be justifiable. Some of the court evidence and testimony may, or may not, be relevant. The only certainty about this case is its ambivalence, amplified by razor-sharp and profuse detail that comprise the film's three-hour runtime.
This is a TV-movie, and it shows. Plot breaks occur where TV commercials were inserted. Background music sounds canned and nondescript, suitable as elevator music. But the acting is generally credible. Tom Irwin gives a convincing performance as the senior lawyer for Hennis. John P. Connolly also adds credibility as a good-old-boy private investigator. The main problem here is the casting of baby-faced Rick Schroder as a too-youthful lawyer, who requires reading glasses. Cinematography is conventional and unobtrusive.
Most real-life murder cases are solved fairly easily. This one is altogether different. "Innocent Victims" is mesmerizing as a 1990s interpretation of a decade-old crime. Yet, the film carries even more dramatic weight because of its unforeseen irony.
In 2010, fourteen years after this film was shown, and 25 years after the crime, the case was re-opened. The new outcome is one that confounds and re-twists previous resolutions. The Eastburn murder case of 1985 seemingly is ongoing, unending.
Depending on how the current phase plays out, the 1985 crime may eventually rival The Black Dahlia murder case in ambiguity and lack of resolution. For viewers with an interest in true crime, "Innocent Victims" is a good place to begin a study of this most fascinating case.