It took the jury four hours last Firday to convict Ryan Wyngarden of the murder of his sister and her husband, Gail and Rick Brink. John Tunison of the Grand Rapids Press provides this account.
I had promised in an earlier posting to related something about the case and it is this: in April of 2004 I had considered the Brink case as the second film, following up on the movie about Janet Chandler’s murder. I believed that telling the stories of the murdered could help to refocus interest in their cases and could get people talking about them once again. I still believe it’s so. But which cases? My sine qua non has always been cases where the families want the stories told.
This case was brought to my attention by someone in the Communication Department at Hope College; I was teaching there at the time. This was the case that stayed in her mind. So, I reached out to Gail’s parents, Wendall “Connie” and Dorothea Wyngarden. I remember sitting in their living room, proposing a film project. They thought it would be a good idea. Then I contacted and visited Ida Brink, Rick’s mother. She, too, sat down with me and son Bud. She was willing.
Then it all came apart.
I was surprised to receive a phone call from one of Gail’s sisters, Cheryl Murphree (she who now upholds her brother’s conviction of sororicide), telling me in no uncertain terms that the film wasn’t going to happen, that her sister would never have wanted to be the subject of such a film, and she didn’t like what I said about Janet Chandler. Her husband at the time joined in. They were going to see to it that I was fired from Hope College. Then I got a call from brother Ryan who threatened me with a beating. I told them both that it was a matter for their parents’ consideration, knowing it was likely that the younger generation would sway the elder.
That day Hope College Provost Jim Boelkins called me aside at lunch and wanted to know what was going on; I had not been able to talk with him before, and he’d been blindsided by phone calls from Cheryl and wanted to understand what this was all about. We were in the school restaurant, The Kletz. I started to explain and he said we should be conducting the conversation in his office, instead. So, later, we met there. I explained the genesis of the project and this sudden disruption and assured him that if the Wyngardens, senior, and Mrs. Brink didn’t want the story told I wasn’t going to tell it; it was up to them.
Apologetically, Connie called in a few days and said they were going to back out. Mrs. Brink, too, felt it would be too much. And so it was dropped. I reasoned that the grief that arises from a murder can take many forms, not all of them expected.
And I thought that would be the last I heard from any of them.
While I had received e-mails from people who were interested in the crime, the most unusual came from Ryan Wyngarden in December 14th of 2011, right after Into the Dark, the film about the Newaygo area murder of Shannon Marie Siders came out. He wanted to know if I’d ever reconsider making the film about his sister’s murder. I reminded him that he’d physically threatened me, and he said that he’d had time to cool and now thought it was a good idea; besides, he wrote, it was Cheryl was was mostly against it. I was not certain if this was a true report. He said he’d talk with her. I said I wasn’t interested.
And so began a series of e-mails and telephone conversations that I considered bizarre. Yes, he thought a film would be a good idea…and what did I know about the crime? I knew that he had been a small-time drug dealer at one point in his life and that he was not temperate, certainly not calmly reasoning; he’d go on and on…much as he did in court. And after each encounter I would report same to Ottawa County Sheriff’ Detective Dave Blakely. It is he and Det. Venus Repper who have brought the investigation into this case to its conclusion. Interestingly, this is the case the Det. Blakely said he prayed he could solve before he retired.
Does this have anything to do with the investigation? Probably not substantively. One of Ryan Wyngarden’s attorneys–Kevin Uildriks–contacted me because he saw my name in the investigation file. After I related the above stories he didn’t think I’d have much to offer the defense. I agreed probably not.
Nor did it necessarily serve for the prosecution. But it gives some background. This is the kind of stuff that sometimes goes on behind the scenes here.
And I am left with the realization that I was very fortunate not to have made a film about that murder. I wondered what really was going on at the time that it blew up. It’s been made clear. …Well, more clear.
We still won’t make a film unless the family is in favor of the idea; that’s been proven a good policy. In this case I could never have envisioned how things would turn out; this goes beyond what I’d consider likely or even possible solutions. I call it a paucity of imagination.
I sorrow for the innocent members of the victims’ families; this is an especially difficult situation. Nevertheless, I am grateful that justice has been served.