The discovery of the mutilated body of a mentally challenged young mother begins a journey into madness that is so unbelievable the mastermind behind the crime ultimately got away with murder. Revealing for the first time how and why it happened filmmaker J. David Miles ventures into the insane mind of a small town crime family's matriarch and uncovers a conspiracy that continues to elude law enforcement to this very day. By going straight to the murderers themselves for interviews it is a true crime investigation like you have never seen, unveiling an alternate motive to what was presented in the courtroom that is as bizarre as it is heartbreaking.
- One cold Spring morning a naked female body is discovered on a train bridge in the center of Findlay, Ohio and sends a shock wave through the quiet, all-American town. Although the victim is bruised and mutilated a police officer recognizes her and goes to check on the welfare of Vera Jo Reigle; a mentally challenged young mother with a history of being abused by her baby daddy Zachary Brooks. Despite having a social worker monitoring the case and repeated calls to 911 warning she was in danger the officer's fears are confirmed. Vera was missing and soon identified as the body on the tracks.
From the beginning homicide detectives were confronted with a blizzard of lies from the people Vera lived with, the Brooks family. Yet they were still able to make an arrest incredibly fast, apprehending a cousin named Danny Bixler who was staying in the Brooks home after recently being released from prison. By that afternoon they returned to the bridge with Danny, where he pointed to the place he threw the murder knife into the river. The police had solved the crime.
Or did they? Breaking from the mold of most true crime investigations filmmaker J. David Miles bypasses law enforcement sources and goes directly to the murderers and co-conspirators themselves. What first appears to be the senseless act of a drug crazed ex-con and his teen runaway girlfriend soon becomes far more twisted when we meet the victim's legal guardian, Cheri Brooks (aka 'Sugar Babe'). The matriarch and leader of a local crime family best described by Cheri's other son Michael when he states, 'The Brooks Family being like the Manson Family? Yeah, I'd have to agree with that. They are like that.'
Being secretive, controlling and cultish is not the only similarities between the Manson and Brooks families. The real common denominator is that at the time they turned murderous both were in the grip of what psychologists call folie en famille -- a shared madness centered around an insane sociopath. In this case the mother, Cheri Brooks.
This begins our journey into madness, learning about Cheri's background of being sexually abused as a child and her obsession with little girls. An abnormal perversion that first manifested itself at 16-years-old when she tried to take someone else's baby. As often happens the victim of a predator had became a predator herself.
The mother of nine, Cheri's first five children were taken from her by Child Protective Services due to reports of sexual abuse and neglect. The most traumatic being her only daughter Maria, whose loss Cheri mourns to this day. But what happens when someone judged a 'bad mother' refuses the verdict? Instead of changing her ways Cheri continued having children until, as one anonymous source states, 'CPS got tired of messing with her and let her keep them.'
But what the government could not stop fate did and Cheri never gave birth to another girl. Undeterred in her quest to replace long lost Maria, when the boys she was able to keep became teenagers she encouraged them to get girls pregnant and give her grand babies.
Enter Vera Jo Reigle; a mentally challenged young woman whose troubled family life made her an easy target. From multiple perspectives, including Cheri's own mother, we hear about a scheme so horrific it almost defies belief. After Vera gets pregnant by Cheri's then 16-year-old son Zachary it becomes clear she is nothing more than a surrogate womb. And when an ultrasound confirms she is carrying a female fetus Cheri claims custody before it is born. She even makes Vera drink three bottles of Castor oil -- an old midwife remedy for inducing labor -- so she'll deliver the little girl on her (Cheri's) own birthday.
Zachary soon tires of teen fatherhood, growing increasingly violent when Vera jealously objects to his new girlfriends. Beatings that become so regular in the Brooks household that eventually Vera's spirit is broken, reducing her to a battered subhuman who does what she can to stay alive. Herein lies the conflict that leads to murder. Zachary no longer wants to be saddled with a mentally handicapped baby momma but Cheri won't let Vera -- who is still the little girl's legal mother -- leave with her. Instead their solution is to kill Vera and keep the baby.
This plot is already in motion when Danny Bixler arrives with his thrill seeking girlfriend; both on the lam from an assault charge in another town. Broke, homeless and fugitives from the law they are more than willing to do Cheri's bidding. Before long they are mercilessly beating Vera for sadistic entertainment, then take her to the tracks like a lamb to the slaughter.
Yet none of what you have read above was ever presented in a court of law. Nor was anyone in law enforcement interested. Only the actual murderers, Danny and his girlfriend, were ever charged in the killing of Vera. Confounded by a web of lies we see the prosecution team ignore the wider conspiracy and focus solely on what happened on the train bridge, ultimately granting plea bargains that prevent Vera's horror from being aired in a trial.
Exposing this judicial miscarriage is what 'Goodnight, Sugar Babe' is all about. In chilling detail the film shows how prosecutor's got it wrong and tells what really went down, which raises to a number of troubling questions. Did Vera get short shrift from the legal system because she was poor and mentally retarded? Were they covering up for the police and social workers who allowed her to stay in the abusive Brooks home until she was ultimately killed? And worse, what happens now that those who conspired to steal her baby got away with murder?
In the tradition of 'The Thin Blue Line' and 'The West Memphis Three' this is Vera Jo Reigle's day in the public square. Her chance to be heard and maybe -- just maybe -- get justice.