Who Killed Janet Chandler?," a documentary by a former Hope College professor who involved his students in the project, won the Audience Choice Award for the Best Feature Documentary during the TriMedia Film Festival held in Fort Collins, Colo., earlier this fall.
The film, which premiered in January 2004 at the Knickerbocker Theatre and then showed on local public television, was crafted by former department of communication professor Dr. David Schock and staff videographer Phil Blauw and deeply involved students in the fall 2003 documentary class. "I asked them if they wanted to work on a film with me," said Schock. "They all signed on." The film focused on the then-unsolved January 1979 murder of Janet Chandler, a Hope senior who had been working the night desk of the former Blue Mill Inn in Holland when she was killed.
The film was credited with building awareness of the murder and playing a significant role in prompting law enforcement officials to form a "cold-case" team a few months later to re-examine the crime. A series of arrests followed beginning in February 2006; ultimately, six people, five men and one woman, were convicted of the crime, two through plea agreements and four through a trial in the fall of 2007. All six are now in prison, four of them serving life terms without the possibility of parole. The men were all security guards who had been staying at the hotel while assisting a local company during a strike at the time of the murder, and the woman was Chandler's supervisor and housemate. News reports described relationships that had soured and jealousy as motives in the crime.
The TriMedia Film Festival ran Friday-Sunday, Sept. 5-7, and featured more than 50 independent short and feature films; documentaries; original theatre performances; and television specials and pilots in venues across Old Town Fort Collins. Schock presented and discussed the documentary with Jack Cloherty, who produced "Conspiracy of Silence," the story that NBC "Dateline" showed in May of this year about the crime, documentary, and investigation and trial.