Sharing Your Personal Story
By James Kostelniuk
How a documentary was produced based on my book, Wolves among Sheep: the true story of murder in a Jehovah’s Witness community.
In November, 2013 I got a telephone call from a producer in New York City, LionTelevision, which produces documentaries for Identification Discovery Channel. All three American networks—ABC, NBC and CBS—produce their own weekly documentaries based on true-crime stories. And then there is ID Discovery cable channel, which airs them 24/7. Apparently, there is a demand for true-crime on television, and there are plenty of producers, writers and actors looking for fresh material.
I asked this NYC producer why he was interested in a Canadian story now 29 years old, when there were plenty of American crime stories to tell. His answer was that not many fathers of murdered children had written and published a book about their experiences, which I had done (he had found mine on the internet). Consequently, during the first week in December, 2013, LionTelevision flew my wife, Marge, and me from Penticton to Vancouver, B.C. to film the documentary. They also brought in five other individuals connected with the case. Filming was done in a makeshift, upstairs studio on Granville Street, not far from the hotel where we stayed.
My story goes way back to August of 1985, when Marge and I were both living and working in Winnipeg. I had two children, a ten-year-old boy named Juri, and an eight year-old-girl named Lindsay, from a previous marriage who were living with their mother, Kim, in Burnaby, B.C.. On August 29, an RCMP officer came to our door to inform us that my ex-wife and our two children had been murdered in their apartment by her estranged husband, Jeff Anderson, from Houston, Texas. Over a year later, in December 1986, Anderson was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
A family homicide is terribly disturbing and isolating, to say the least. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to understand unless they’ve lived through it themselves. I kept a daily journal of these horrific events, including the thoughts and dreams I was having at the time. Two years later I was in therapy, and the therapist encouraged me to write a more detailed account, which I did. It took over ten years to write Wolves among Sheep: the true story of murder in a Jehovah’s Witness community, published by HarperCollins Toronto in 2000. It begins by describing the worst trauma a parent can face – that of losing one’s children. The story goes on to encompass the whole journey through the justice system, beginning with the police investigation, the trial, Corrections Canada, and finally, parole. It focuses on the intersection between crime and religion; I had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and had left the religion, but Kim and the children were Witnesses at the time of their death.
How do you deal with such loss? How can anyone explain it, even God? How do you survive such a shattering and life-altering event?
HarperCollins sent me on a media and book tour of Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Toronto, and it became a best-seller in Canada. Although it was painful to write, publishing it broke through the barriers of isolation, making a conduit to the community. Critics were, for the most part, impressed. Readers, by and large, were sympathetic and understanding. Writing such a book not only clears the air, but empowers victims to speak out, giving them some sense of control.
HarperCollins distributed Wolves among Sheep for nine years. In the fall of 2009, they gave me the rights to the book. Not willing to let it die out, we went to Word Alive Press in Winnipeg and published a third edition of the book with a new cover design and an Afterword, describing the parole hearing not included in the first two editions. That third edition sold well on Amazon and other eBook platforms and in bookstores as print-on-demand. It still continues to sell today.
In February, 2009, the offender, Jeff Anderson, made his first application for parole after serving 24 years in prison. Marge and I travelled together, courtesy of the National Parole Board, to William Head Institution on Vancouver Island, where he was incarcerated at the time. The result was that Anderson was turned down at that hearing for day parole. Wolves among Sheep served as a victim impact statement at Anderson’s parole hearing. I do believe this document has been instrumental in keeping the offender in prison now for a total of nearly 29 years. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Why take the chance of releasing him when he’s done such horrific things to women and children in the past?
I strongly believe that making and airing the documentary is in the public interest, and for much the same reasons that publishing Wolves among Sheep was. Five other individuals participated in the filming, including two ladies who knew my ex-wife and children intimately, a retired RCMP Burnaby detachment staff sergeant initially connected with the case, a well-known Simon Fraser criminology professor who had interviewed the offender in 1987, and a man2man prison worker who personally supported Anderson during and after his trial. The documentary, part interview, part re-enactment by actors with a voice-over narrative, is only 43 minutes long. It puts the story in a brief, visual and audio context. For people who have not read Wolves among Sheep, watching the documentary may whet their appetite to read the book and learn more. It should be released on ID Discovery channel (not the same as Discovery channel) later this fall.
As of yet know the episode does not have an official title, and the date of the airing is unknown.
American viewers can check out the documentary on August 20th, 2014:
DEADLY DEVOTION SEASON 2:
WITNESS TO MURDER
Wednesday night, August 20th at 9PM/ 8c
on INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY (check your local listings)
We will announce the Canadian air date when it is available.
About this Contributor:
James Kostelniuk was born in rural Manitoba in 1946. He has worked at a number of jobs in Manitoba and British Columbia, and currently lives in a seniors’ park outside of Winnipeg with his second wife, Marge.
Learn more about Wolves among Sheep