I first heard of the Oklahoma Girl Scout murders on an episode of the true crime podcast Criminology. This was back in 2021 when I was the only person working from the office and didn’t know how to turn the lights on in the room. It sets a dark mood each working day. Only a little bit of back light from the windows and my computer screen provided me with the ability to see.
The case was one I was drawn to. The ensuing manhunt for Gene Leroy Hart, the main suspect in the case, added another element to this true crime story.
When I learned there was a documentary about it, Keeper of the Ashes: The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders, I knew I had to watch. I had already recently watched the 20/20 episode on the case so I was going into it with another version of the story to compare it to. I came away sick of Kristin Chenoweth.
Keeper of the Ashes didn’t need this much Kristin Chenoweth
You may know Kristin Chenoweth. You may not. She has a squeaky southern voice. She usually plays somewhat bubbly characters in film. You’ve probably at some point confused her for Amy Sedaris. They are basically the same person if you blink quickly.
What does she have to do with this story? Chenoweth was supposed to go on the Girl Scout trip where the three murders took place. Because she was sick, her mother wouldn’t let her go.
The connection needed to be made. It would be like if Matt Damon survived an attack by the Boston Strangler. The problem I have is that Chenoweth was in this documentary far too much. She’s one of the main faces in the documentary. At times, it became cringy.
The documentary gets too far off track with Chenoweth visiting local schools in Oklahoma. She sings to them and coaches them. What does this have to do with anything? The documentary even finishes with her doing a duet with another performer. I’m not familiar with this woman, but it felt like a confirmation that this documentary was more about celebrity than the actual case.
Remove Chenoweth’s moments from the documentary and it’s much better. We didn’t need her to pretend to have a deeper connection than she actually did. Early on, she talks about how she didn’t know two of the victims but did see Michelle Guse in the hallway at school; maybe. She’s not even quite sure of this.
It reminds me of an old joke I heard from Colin Quinn about someone saying after 9/11, “I could’ve died there!”
He then asks, “Are you normally near the Twin Towers?”
The person says, “No. But I could’ve been today!”
My least favorite documentaries are the ones where the filmmaker gets so involved. It’s why I like a good Errol Morris picture. You don’t even know he exists.
Keeper of the Ashes misses in a lot of ways. It’s explained that the title comes from a Girl Scout tradition relating to the ashes from the campfire. They ignore it for the rest of the documentary in what felt as much a promotion for Chenoweth as it did coverage of the crime.
I don’t mind a true crime documentary trying something new. What I hate is for someone else with no involvement to put their fingerprints all over the scene. Confronting a Serial Killer, about the wife of one of the guys from Weezer talking to Sam Little, is the most egregious example. At least Chenoweth had some sort of a direct connection. That woman had none.
Overall Score: 6 out of 10
I’d recommend this one regardless but don’t be afraid to fast-forward whenever Chenoweth comes on the screen. I don’t mind her as an actress or even as a person. It felt too misplaced to spend as much time in a classroom. We hardly learn anything about suspects other than Hart. More time could’ve been devoted to them. I felt like the 20/20 episode did a much better job at condensing everything.
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