Disclaimer: The following article discusses a film with graphic content that may not be suitable for some audiences.
Local film-making isn't something that is often encountered in Findlay, Ohio. Goodnight, Sugar Babe: The killing of Vera Jo Reigle, an award-winning film by Findlay resident David Miles, has ignited a recent firestorm of buzz regarding the murder of a local woman.
The documentary covers the details in the murder case of Vera Jo Reigle, which occurred two years ago, through candid interviews and graphic photographs of the crime. Miles diligently shot more than 60 hours of film, interviewing the individuals that knew Reigle as well as Daniel Bixler and Nichole Peters, who are currently serving sentences for the slaying of the 24-year-old victim.
Reigle at the time was living with Bixler and Peters in the home of the Brooks family. The documentary depicts Cheri Brooks, the matriarch of the family, as a cruel and manipulative woman, whom Miles believes was the conspirator of the murder.
Miles sat down with Cheri Brooks and spoke to her for 6 hours, and much of this interview is shown throughout the film. She does not claim responsibility for participating in the killing of Reigle.
Reigle was mentally handicapped and kept in incredibly poor conditions, which included being forced to sleep with the family’s pet pig and its filth, as well as enduring daily beatings. While living in the Brooks house, she had a daughter with one of Cheri Brooks' sons, Zachary Brooks. The film explores gruesome details to those who may have possibly conspired to kill Reigle, which had not been discussed prior to this film.
“It's really sad to think that people could actually do that,” said Kayla Farr, senior, who had viewed the film. She noted that she had some personal connections with some individuals featured in the film.
Farr said that she used to spend a lot of time with Gina, a girl who was included in the documentary. According to the film, she was impregnated by one of the Brooks brothers under the orders of Cheri Brooks, who apparently enjoyed her sons having children at a young age.
“[The Brooks] stalked her while she was at work,” said Farr, referring to Gina while she was carrying the child. “We used to be best friends.”
Farr also recalled a time when she was followed by members of the Brooks family when she was walking with a friend near the Brooks' neighborhood, but they eventually turned around. “I never came in contact with the Brooks because I knew they were scary,” she said.
Because area residents have connections to those in the film, it has caused a wide range of feedback from Findlay residents. Some wish to see the story put to rest, but others applaud Miles for this bold move.
Dan Matheny, owner of The Wine Merchant, sells DVD copies of the documentary at his store and was a former high school teacher of Miles in one of his first years of teaching.
“[Miles] had gone to Los Angeles, done screenplay work, worked on movies, and had done movie projects for years,” said Matheny. “When he moved back here, he got a job at Marathon, and he and his wife had found [the case] fascinating when they got back. And he decided to use his talent to make this documentary because this was something that he felt was important for the community to see.”
He noted that Miles is not profiting from this film. According to Matheny, the first 200 or 300 copies of the DVD sold barely covered production costs.
“He did not do this for financial gain,” said Matheny. “He's doing it because he felt it was the right thing to do for a young lady that was tragically and brutally murdered. I have to say that he did this for all the right reasons, and I hope that he is viewed in that context rather than someone that is trying to capitalize off of a true tragedy in our community.”
This documentary revived the awareness of a murder that occurred two years ago, but in the process had also developed local controversy.
The new occupants of what is known as the Brooks family home, have reported harassment, including threats of having their house burnt down. They claim that the harassment only began after the film was released, despite the fact that the Brooks have moved out of the building.
In an interview with The Courier, Dawn Houston, the new resident, said that she hopes for justice in the Reigel case, but fears that frustrated Findlay residents will hurt her and her family.
A screening of the film at the University of Findlay scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 15 was canceled due to police concerns, according to the university.
According to Brianna Patterson, media relations coordinator of the University of Findlay, the event was canceled by the university after the police contacted them in regards to “safety concerns for students.”
Miles was outwardly upset about the cancellation. “It's a black eye on the university to make assumptions about the people of Findlay, who don't fit the kind of people at the university ... They're nervous about having lower-income people in their facility,” he said in an interview with The Courier.
Other groups have stepped in to make the screening of this documentary possible. On Monday, Oct. 28, a screening was held at Virginia Motion Pictures in North Baltimore. An additional screening will also be held the following Monday on Nov. 4.
In Findlay, USW Local 207L donated their facilities to hold an invitation-only screening at their facilities for those who tried to attend the screening at the university. This event will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1. On the following day, Saturday, Nov. 2, another screening will take place at the same location at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. The event is free, but donations for various charities will be accepted.
The film’s Facebook page states, “It is our hope that by premiering Vera's story in Findlay in this way the fear and anger swirling around our film melts away and the community's focus will turn to where it should be, which is getting this most innocent of victim's the full justice she has been denied for more than two years now.”