Letter to the editor:
I want to thank Jack Helbig for his insightful article about Allen Ross: “The Allen Ross Mystery: A Body in the Basement” [August 25]. With his cover story “Where on Earth Is Allen Ross?” late in 1998, Jack and the Reader helped to keep people in Chicago and elsewhere interested in Allen’s fate. It certainly helped me when I started my documentary about Allen’s disappearance.
Please allow me to correct a few errors in Jack’s recent article.
The funding for the feature-length documentary Gaylon Emerzian and I are working on comes from German television and ARTE. ARTE is not a “German and French cultural organization,” as Jack describes it, but a television channel which broadcasts simultaneously in two languages both in France and in Germany.
We found Allen’s movie camera not in Wyoming, but in Oklahoma City, while checking on the different addresses our private investigators had provided for certain members of the Samaritan Foundation–the group Allen had joined in 1992/93.
Yes, we were looking for a place where Allen’s body might be buried. But we did not film the area around Cheyenne from a helicopter. We filmed a remote private property in the Colorado mountains which had been brought to our attention during our investigation. It still belongs to a member of the Samaritan Foundation, and Allen stayed there on and off during 1995.
MSNBC’s involvement in the story is significant. German and French TV-money provides only about 50 percent of the budget of our feature-length documentary. There is still no American broadcaster although we are talking to HBO and Cinemax.
MSNBC became interested in Allen Ross through a story that appeared in an Oklahoma newspaper about our shoot there. They wanted to do a segment about Allen’s disappearance for their new show Missing Persons. Their interest in the story wasn’t the solution to the financial problems of our production, as Jack describes it. Quite the contrary: Every journalist can understand that we had to fear that MSNBC might destroy our story for the American market and potentially sensationalize it for a broader audience.
Our idea was to protect our project by making a deal with MSNBC in which both entities would share the information they uncovered. The producers of the show Missing Persons and our lawyers did not come to a conclusion but it was certainly not because we didn’t want to negotiate.
I truly believe that the pressure from MSNBC seriously harmed the relationship between us, the filmmakers, and the members of the Ross family, who had supported our project right from the beginning and expressed their gratitude on many occasions. They were not prepared for the competitive world of media coverage.
We still have to find out whether the body the police found under the house in Cheyenne is in fact Allen Ross. If so–and there is little doubt–we hope that our film will also help to solve his murder.
“The Man Who Became a Camera”
Jack Helbig replies:
Allen Ross’s camera was indeed found in a house in Oklahoma City. I regret the error.