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Movie Review - Citizen Jane - A True Story of One Woman's Search for Justice (2009)

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Background

A brutal murder occurred in San Jose, California in 1983.  An 88-year-old woman, Gertrude McCabe, from a prominent family, was stabbed over 90 times and then strangled.  At first, the police believed it was a robbery gone wrong until Gertrude’s niece, Jane Alexander, refused to believe her former guardian was the victim of a robbery only.  It is a true story and Jane’s search for truth lasted for 13 years.  Her research during that time equipped her with the knowledge and experience to cofound a group called Citizens Against Homicide, during which she examined the files of over 500 unsolved homicides.  She was able to solve at least 20 of those cold cases before she passed away in 2008.

Jane did not live to see her story shown on the Hallmark Channel in 2009.  The film was an adaptation of the non-fiction piece of work entitled “Citizen Jane” which was written by James Dalessandro and David Mehnert.

                            

Ally Sheedy

                                                              Ally Sheedy - Wikimedia

Introduction

In the film, Jane Alexander was portrayed by Ally Sheedy.  Although Jane was 61 years old at the time of her aunt’s murder, Ally Sheedy is shown as a much younger woman who was determined to learn the truth of the tragedy.

Jane was a widow whose husband of 34 years had passed away.  She had renewed her acquaintance with an old family friend of 25 years, Tom O’Donnell (Sean Patrick Flanery), and she and Tom had actually been living together for the past six years.  Tom was a likeable, good-looking man who had many friends and was doing well in his business.  They were thinking of getting married at that time.  The future looked bright.  Tom revealed that his trust fund in a bank in Switzerland had grown to the point where their financial future was secure for the rest of their lives.

Jane’s Aunt Gertrude is Killed

The couple were hosting friends for a football game on television when Jane received a call from the police on that Sunday afternoon that her aunt Gertrude (Patty McCormack) had been killed.  The first man on the scene was a Detective Romer (John Polito) who claimed that there was no sign of a forced entry, and that Gertrude’s checkbook and $200 were missing from her purse.  He concluded that it was the work of a thief.  The first suspect was Gertrude’s handyman Virgil, who had been working on the rain gutters that week.  He and Gertrude had quarreled because he had stomped on her azalea plants in her garden.  Virgil was exonerated when it was learned that he was working in a nearby town at the time of Gertrude’s murder.

 

Meat Loaf Aday

                                                                  Meat Loaf - Wikimedia

Jack Morris Takes Over the Case

When Detective Romer was reassigned, another investigator, Detective Jack Morris (Meat Loaf Aday) took over the case.  He had the reputation of being one of the best interrogators in the business.  He planned to take a close look at all family friends and neighbors.  He learned that Gertrude’s estate was worth one million dollars, all of which would be inherited by Jane Alexander.  Jane also told Morris that she had borrowed $25,000 from her aunt, and when she tried to repay it several times, Gertrude refused to take it.

Tom Leaves for Europe

Detective Morris asked Jane and Tom O’Donnell to come down to headquarters in San Jose to be fingerprinted.  He believed that the killer was known to the woman, and that Gertrude’s house had been ransacked to give the appearance of a robbery.  Jane proved that she had been in San Francisco at the time of the murder.  Tom O’Donnell had left for Europe to make arrangements for his trust fund and was not available when Morris asked that the couple take a polygraph test.  Jane’s polygraph results showed that she was not involved.

                                    

Sean Patrick Flanery

                                                        Sean Patrick Flanery - Wikimedia

Jack Morris Pursues the Truth

Morris unearthed a car rental receipt made out to a Henry Carmichael, who was then questioned by the detective.  Carmichael explained that he had never left Los Angeles, but gave the car to Tom O’Donnell to use.  The mileage on the car was 627 miles, the exact round-trip mileage to and from San Jose.  Morris also learned that a lipstick-smudged tissue was stuffed down her throat.  The lipstick did not match any of Gertrude’s cosmetics.

Jane is the Victim of Theft

Jane learned soon after that her bank account was low and the bank was forced to foreclose on her house.  Tom had been successful in bilking Jane out of nearly $200,000 in equity in her home, as well as another $10,000 which he had stolen outright from her.  He had lost it all in bad investments.  She received a letter from Tom in Europe, stating that his financial transactions were in a mess and he would be staying in Europe for a while to straighten things out.  Jack Morris’ investigations revealed that Tom could not have left for Europe; he had to be somewhere in the United States.  The evidence began to point towards Tom, the last person that Jane would ever believe to be capable of such an act of violence.  She loved Tom and he loved her in return.

Tom is Jailed for Theft

Jane was able to move into a small apartment and to find a job at a rest home.  Morris was able to track down that Tom was living in Las Vegas.  He was jailed on the charge that he stole money fraudulently from Jane Alexander.  He was given four years in the state penitentiary for the theft. 

A New Prosecutor Takes Over

The district attorney refused to prosecute Tom’s case for eight or nine years until Prosecutor Joyce Saldano (Anne De Salvo) agreed to take the case.  Margaret Wilson, Tom’s niece, gave witness in court that Tom had called her to tell her that Gertrude had died, but the phone call from him came before anyone knew about Gertrude’s death.  Tom had owed Margaret a great deal of money and was ready to repay her for the loan.  The prosecutor built a circumstantial case that was so powerful that Tom refused to testify.  If they failed, Tom would be a free man, so the stakes were very high.  Jane was questioned on the stand for nine days.  She recalled that she had removed a lipstick smudge from Tom’s cheek before the tragedy, and that Tom had pocketed the tissue.

Jack Morris’ Discovery

Jack Morris asked the judge to accept a document which he had discovered.  Tom’s attorney objected, but his objection was overruled.  An insurance broker had been following the case and realized that he had made out an insurance policy to Tom O’Donnell on the life of Jane Alexander.  It was for the amount of $1.5 million.  The jury pronounced Tom guilty of the murder of Gertrude McCabe, and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison without parole.

 

Gavel

                                                             Judge's Gavel - Wikimedia

Jane Alexander proved to be a strong woman who took charge when nobody else would.  She was a consummate researcher who pushed the proper authorities to do what was necessary.  Without her grit and determination, the truth would not have come out.  She was grateful that justice was served for the murder of her beloved aunt and guardian.

[1]

Citizen Jane: The True Story of One Woman's Heroic Struggle to Catch a Killer
Amazon Price: $17.95 $8.50 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 13, 2016)
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Bibliography

  1. Linda Goldston "Movie tells story of woman's crusade to solve aunt's San Jose murder.." San Jose Mercury News. 11/09/2009. 12/01/2016 <Web >

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