The Reel Review


This Hulu crime docuseries explores the bizarre true story of two Northern California brothers – Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped in 1972 by pedophile Kenneth Parnell and held captive for seven years until his escape – and Steven’s older brother Cary, who as an adult became a serial killer, murdering four women in 1999 while working as a motel handyman near Yosemite National Park.

Steven Stayner upon his March 2, 1980 reunion with his parents, Kay and Del.

Featuring archival footage and interviews with family members and friends, the three 45-minute episodes delve into the family’s extremely unfortunate and sad history. But director Jessica Dimmock (Flint Town) makes an utterly bizarre creative choice. She makes the 1989 miniseries, I Know My First Name is Steven the centerpiece of her docuseries.

Not only does she splice excerpts of the miniseries with the actual archival footage of the family, but she has the program’s child actors (now adults) read transcripts of recorded interviews with the two brothers, and includes audio recordings of conversations between the miniseries writer and producer. It is incredibly strange and distracts from the way more compelling real story. It is also incredibly tasteless.

The Stayner family photo from Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story. 

True crime fans who know absolutely nothing about the Stayners will be drawn to the very basic facts of the story and the harmful affects intense media scrutiny had on the family, but beyond some sad interviews with surviving family members, Dimmock’s sloppy miniseries leaves far too many questions unanswered.


Steven Stayner and Timmy White in 1980 (left), and Timmy White as an adult and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy.

• Timmy White, the seven-year-old boy that Steven Stayner escaped with in 1980, grew up to be a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy. He died of a pulmonary embolism in 2010 at the age of 35. The patriarch of the Stayner family, Del, died of undisclosed causes at his home in April 2013 at the age of 79.

• Kenneth Parnell died in 2008 in prison at the age of 76 while serving a 25-years-to-life sentence as part of California’s “three strikes rule” for trying to buy a child during a 2003 sting operation.

Cary Stayner

• Cary Stayner remains on death row at California’s San Quentin Penitentiary, where Parnell served his first, three-year sentence for child molestation.


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