Conventional wisdom has it that a good documentary will answer questions, but if many fundamental issues are left unresolved in The Cheshire Murders, it’s partially because some things are just unknowable.
The film, airing on HBO at 8 p.m. Monday, details the horrific 2007 murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, during an invasion of their perfect home with its manicured lawn and neatly shaped shrubbery, in the idyllic town of Cheshire, Conn. Dr. William Petit was also brutalized during the attack, but managed to escape.
One aspect of the case that should be knowable but isn’t is why the Cheshire police apparently got to the Petit house only a few seconds after they were alerted by a Bank of America manager that the Petit family was being held hostage in their own home, yet remained outside the house for nearly a half-hour while several heinous incidents were happening inside. In the film by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, the cops will say only it’s not their policy to detail what they did when at a crime scene.
There is much more to the story than the graphic details of the invasion and whether the police could have intervened earlier. The case became a pivotal issue in the debate over the death penalty in Connecticut, and that’s a big part of the film.
But the greatest unknowable aspect of this horrific case is specifically what triggered these two monsters to do what they did to Jennifer and her daughters. The Cheshire Murders is a tragic story in every way.