A Windows computer screen loads. A user signs into their instant messaging profile. What appears to be a young woman pesters a man to tell her he loves her. Next she asks him “then, why did you kill me?” We learn that the context behind this exchange is the tragic death of the young woman in the profile picture. 24-year-old Crystal Theobald was killed in a shootout by gang members in 2006.
After describing the horrifying event, ‘Why Did You Kill Me?’ proceeds to interview Crystal’s family, and your heart pours out for them. We also learn about the local gang in the documentary which, for its first hour at least, feels well put-together and intriguing as it builds a picture and story at any effective pace.
As with last year’s feature doc ‘American Murder: The Family Next Door’ on Netflix, social media plays a vital component in the investigation here. Crystal’s little cousin Jaimie comes up with an idea that will change everything. She creates a fake MySpace, being so knowledgeable about the platform and how to make it appear legit, with her aunt Belinda (who is Crystal’s mother) encouraging her to get whatever information possible.
Jaimie knows how to “play it out” before asking questions like what these men are doing, where they’re from and what kind of cars they have. The My Space exchanges featured, we’re told, are recreations based on interviews with key contributors.
While the police are only too happy with Jaimie’s questionable involvement, the act becomes overwhelming for her. Thus Belinda takes over, prodding the suspects in increasingly risky ways. She takes photos of the gang members’ homes and vehicles, back talks about one to another to stir up trouble, and goes so far as to leave a voodoo doll in one of the more paranoid men’s yards (“Belinda was just kind of psycho,” says someone).
Then, on the other hand, we get a look into gang life, and learn how these young men ended up in such violent, criminal circumstances. Moreover, there’s a compromising situation with the victim’s family and their involvement with drugs and crime.
The final third of 'Why Did You Kill Me?' is where the doc seems to flail, losing a sense of focus and seeming over edited. One ponders the accuracies as well as the interview access, though you can appreciate that the filmmakers seem to at least be trying to tell every side of the story.
It seems that the truth of what really happened has come out, and it is sad to hear about the main perpetrators’ background, but the tone feels mixed and the story incomplete. The final message is that drugs and crime have affected all in this community, culminating in a tragedy that has devastated their lives individually.
‘Why Did You Kill Me?’ is streaming on Netflix now.