“The Cheshire Murders”, a documentary for HBO about the brutal slayings of a mother and her two daughters in 2007, debuted this week right before the sixth anniversary of the crimes. For the sole survivor, the last six years have been full of unanswered questions and frustrating knowledge.
On July 23rd of that year, Jennifer Petit, her 11-year-old daughter Michaela and 17-year-old daughter Hayley were sexually assaulted, tied up, and ultimately doused with gasoline. The girls died of smoke inhalation after the house was set on fire; their mother was raped and strangled to death. Only Dr. William Petit survived the night, escaping from the basement after being severely beaten.
While most of these atrocities were being committed, the Cheshire Police Department were outside the house.
In what has been called a tragic bungle on the part of law enforcement, the Cheshire Murders rocked a community and left a husband and father to live the rest of his life with the memory of a night that might have gone very differently. The details have been examined from every angle by filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, who say the local police department refused to comment. Often compared to the story of the Clutter family–whose murders were the subject of Capote’s book “In Cold Blood”–the Cheshire murders play a very real part in every American’s worst nightmare: a home invasion, a brutal interruption of peace, a feeling of helplessness.
The film tells the story of the murders, the aftermath, and the background of the killers, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes. Both were sentenced to die by lethal injection, but due to the appeals process, their executions could take years to finally be carried out. There may be little consolation at the end of the documentary, but that’s not what it’s about.
HBO will be airing encores of the film if you missed it the first time around. But beware; it’s a heartbreaking story with few new answers, as so many tales of murder are.