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"Keeper of the Ashes" Review: Intriguing series loses its focus

The nonfiction Hulu series Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders explores the brutal attacks on a group of Girl Scouts in 1977. During the attack, three girl scouts (all sharing the same tent) on a camping trip were brutally murdered.

Anchored by actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth, the four episode series attempts to bring fresh attention to the case.

The first episode introduces Chenoweth’s personal connection to the case. The actress, an Oklahoma native, was a girl scout when the murders occurred and almost went on the tragic trip. Forty-five years later, the actress says she’s still haunted by the story. It’s an intriguing way to begin the story and that set-up establishes her as someone who truly cares about the case.

That episode also recounts the events of the night when the Girl Scouts were killed with first-hand interviews with people who were at the camp site.

The second and third episode focus on the hunt and the trial of a key suspect. After that suspect was identified but couldn’t be found (by the police or the public at large), the show hints at some of the conspiracy theories about the case and some of the outlandish theories about the suspect’s abilities (there’s talk at one point about the suspect having supernatural abilities). The third episode delves into questions about the suspect’s culpability and why some of the locals thought the wrong man was persecuted. 

These two episodes include a number of twists in the case and show how the case affected the community. The third episode, for instance, shows how family members of the victims were affected when they were told by complete strangers that the suspect who was being prosecuted in the case wasn’t the culprit. A family member of one of the girls points out that members of the media lobbed softball questions at the accused when they had the chance to interview him.

It’s heartbreaking to see members of the media treat the suspect — a man who had already been convicted of another crime and had escaped from prison — with simple and easy questions about his culpability in the Girl Scout murders.

There’s plenty of interesting material here and the show’s four episodes offer plenty of insight into the case but there’s undoubtedly a lot of filler as the program features Chenoweth more and more. In the first episode, the actress has a limited presence but that presence unnecessarily seems to grow as there’s more of a focus of her performing arts center (with the series ultimately ending with a performance of hers).

The final episode of the limited series reflects on new information about the case. Considering the technological advancements since the 1970s, the episode notes the (many) shortcomings in the original investigation and shows what data is now available in helping to resolve the case.

The case at the heart of this series is an interesting one with enough twists to merit the limited series but there are times here when the show’s focus seems misdirected, especially as Chenoweth’s role grows more. Instead of focusing on the actress, the show would’ve succeeded more if it kept the focus on the intriguing elements of the case and the victims themselves.

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