“Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” is a 2008 documentary from director Kurt Kuenne, who also edited and filmed the project. Kuenne was a friend of Dr. Andrew Bagby, who grew up with him in California. Bagby was featured in many of Kuenne’s childhood home movies and continued to be a close companion into adulthood.
Before he began his work in his medical residency, Andrew Bagby studied medicine in Newfoundland, Canada. During this time, Bagby met a woman named Shirley Turner and began a relationship with her. Many things about Turner concerned Bagby’s friends and family—not only was she emotionally erratic and possessive, but she was also 13 years older than him. After about two years, he decided to end his relationship with her. Days later, Bagby was found deceased with multiple gunshot wounds.
Though Bagby’s friends and family had little doubt about who had murdered him, Turner was not detained and remained a free woman as the legal proceedings took place. She fled to St. John’s in Newfoundland, pending extradition. The most shocking part about the case was not even that Turner had retained her freedom—she soon announced that she was pregnant with Bagby’s baby.
This revelation was what spurred the making of the documentary. Kuenne decided to travel around the United States, United Kingdom and Canada to interview Bagby’s friends, family, patients, coworkers and acquaintances and create a video for his future child to have. Kuenne’s goal was to show Andrew’s newborn son Zachary how his father had touched the lives of so many people around the world.
This portion of the documentary is bittersweet. The kind words his loved ones share about Bagby are soured by the watcher’s knowledge of Babgy’s fate. However, Kuenne, friends and family’s treasured memories provide some solace—at least Zachary could know what an impact his father had on those who knew him.
The documentary then shifts to focus on the struggle for custody of Zachary. As Turner was prosecuted and put in jail, she fought against her deceased partner’s parents, David and Kathleen Bagby, who wanted custody of their grandson. The rest of the documentary centers around this conflict.
At a minimum, “Dear Zachary” is an enlightening watch for anyone interested in the legality of prosecution and child custody, but it consists of much more. Whether it be through the testimonies of Bagby’s loved ones or his parents’ fierce dedication to providing the best life for his child, “Dear Zachary” exemplifies how love can persist through the toughest and most tragic situations. It has the emotional effect of a homemade scrapbook, put together with fondness and adorned with a depth only a lifelong friend can illustrate.
Anyone interested in “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” can watch it on Amazon Prime Video.