7 More True Stories That Should Be Movies
Now and then, when I’m reading something new, I say to myself “Holy cow! That should be a movie,” and then I usually add it to a list for some future day when I have time to blog about it. You can read the previous examples, 12 Real Stories Begging for Movie Treatment, and 9 More True Stories That Should Be Movies, or read on for these 7 stories, all prime candidates for the Hollywood treatment. Here are 7 more true stories that should be movies.
Floyd James (Jim) Thompson was the longest held American military prisoner of war. Thompson went to Vietnam in December of 1963 as a Captain in the US Army, deployed to serve only a six month tour of duty. Thompson was captured on March 26th, 1964 when an observation plane he has riding in was downed by small arms fire. Thompson survived the crash with a broken back, a bullet wound across the cheek and burns, but was taken captive by the Viet Cong. The next day, Thompson’s pregnant wife was informed that he was missing and the stress of the event caused her to go into labor and give birth.
Thompson would spend almost 9 years in captivity (3,278 days) enduring torture and starvation. There was a five year stretch of isolation where Thompson was unable to speak to another American. He was returned to the United States as part of operation homecoming in March of 1973. Thompson was promoted to Lt. Colonel and eventually Colonel after he was released, but his time in captivity had taken a toll on him. His wife, who had assumed he was dead, had taken a new man as her partner, and his kids didn’t know him. In addition, Thompson suffered from a condition we would call PTSD today and was reportedly abusive and tormented by recurring nightmares. Eventually Thompson became estranged from his family, remarried, divorced, and was forced to retire after health problems interfered with his ability to serve. Even then, he retired under protest. Thompson died peacefully in a Florida condominium in 2002. Perhaps it’s the depressing end to his military career that has kept us from seeing his story played out on the big screen, but you can read a book about Jim Thompson, an American hero.
Karma or Redemption?
The story of Douglas Parkhurst gives meaning to the old Mark Twain adage “stranger than fiction” because it truly is a story almost beyond belief. On Halloween night, 1968, after a night of drinking with his brother, Parkhurst hit and killed a four year old girl crossing the street. Parkhurst fled the scene and never came forward to confess his crime until 2013, after the statute of limitations had run out. To the outrage of many, Parkhurst never served any time for his crime.
Jump ahead to June 3rd, 2018. Parkhurst was in attendance at a little league baseball game in Sanford, Maine when a woman named Carroll Sharrow drove her car onto the field. As the players ran for their lives, Parkhurst reportedly pushed some kids out of harm’s way and attempted to close a metal gate to keep Sharrow’s car from escaping the scene. He was run over in the attempt and died on the way to the hospital. You could see it as karmic payback for his actions in 1968, or a heroic attempt to earn redemption by saving children’s lives, but either way, the story is fit for the screen.
Jack Downey: Cold War Prisoner
If you search the web for “longest held prisoners of war,” you get all kinds of results based on the qualifications of the question. William Robinson was held for 7 1/2 years, the longest for an enlisted man, the aforementioned Jim Thompson was an officer in the US Army and was held 9 years in Vietnam and frequently gets credited as the longest held American military POW. But the longest any American was ever held as a POW goes to a non-military man, John (Jack) T. Downey of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In 1952, Downey was part of a mission designed to pick up spies inside communist China through a high-risk tactic known as an “air snatch.” The CIA describes the operation thusly:
At that time, the technique for aerial pickup involved flying an aircraft at low altitude and hooking a line elevated between two poles. The line was connected to a harness in which the agent was strapped. Once airborne, the man was to be winched into the aircraft.
Downey was a last minute substitution on the C-47 Flight, filling-in for another crewman. Unbeknownst to the crew, the spies on the ground in China had been captured and turned. The Chinese were waiting for them. Just as the C-47 dipped low to hook the line and pick up the spy, anti-aircraft guns appeared from beneath sheets which matched the surrounding snow-covered countryside and rained hell on the aircraft in a perfect deadly crossfire. The plane crashed in a nearby field and the cockpit crew were killed, but Downey and fellow agent Richard Fecteau survived and were captured and imprisoned by the Chinese. Fecteau was held 19 years, until 1971, and Downey until 1973 — 21 years in captivity. Read the CIA’s detailed summary of the entire story.
50 Years of Silence
If you move beyond American prisoners of war, Hungarian Andras Toma holds the dubious distinction of being the longest prisoner of war ever held. Captured by the Red Army in 1945, Toma was transferred through several Soviet medical units until he ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Kotelnich, Russia. Due to a clerical error, Toma was lost to Hungarian authorities and held long after all other WWII POWs had been repatriated. In 2000, Toma was discovered living in the former Soviet Psychiatric Hospital and returned to Hungary, where his living relatives were located with the assistance of DNA. He is believed to be the last living POW from WWII to return home. Of particular interest to linguists, Toma had been held in a facility where nobody spoke Hungarian and it is believed he had not had a single conversation with anyone in almost 50 years. Toma lived four more years and passed away in 2004.
Soldier of Misfortune
Philip Sessarego was a British soldier and member of the Royal Artillery who desperately wanted to be a member of the special forces — the SAS — but he failed the entrance test twice. In 1993 he was apparently killed in a car bomb in Croatia, leaving behind a wife and children. In 2001, in the days right after 9/11, Sessarego’s children recognized a man on TV as their father. The man, going by the name Tom Carew, had written a best-selling book entitled Jihad! which was coincidentally released the day before the 9/11 attacks. The author was soon getting media requests as a terrorism expert, but it wasn’t long before he was exposed as a fraud and all of the stories in his book as fabrications. Carew was Sessarego, and he had faked his death in Croatia.
Carew changed his name again and went into hiding in Belgium, where he was found dead in a garage. He had been living in the garage and heating the space with a small cook stove which led to his accidental carbon monoxide asphyxiation. The authorities believe he had been dead for months when he was found.
The Mallory Expedition
Nearly 30 years before Sir Edmund Hillary would summit Mount Everest in 1953, George Mallory led an ill-fated expedition to Earth’s highest point. To this day it isn’t certain whether Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew Irvine, reached the summit of Everest because they didn’t return alive. They were last seen alive within 800 feet of the summit. For 75 years, Mallory and Irvine were missing and considered dead on Everest until, in 1999, a research expedition discovered George Mallory’s frozen and mummified body on the mountain. Mallory had sustained a severely broken leg and a rope jerk injury around his waist, suggesting he had fallen some distance before he died. Speculation about the possibility Mallory had summited the mountain arose after a search of his corpse revealed a photo he had intended to leave at the summit was missing, and his snow goggles were found in his coat pocket (instead of on his head), suggesting his fall happened while he attempted to descend from the summit after dark. The body of Andrew Irvine has not been found, but researchers hope if it is found in the future, the expedition camera might be found with him and yield intact film which could answer the question once and for all whether Mallory was the first to reach the summit of Everest.
20 Unnecessary Years on the Lam
The story of Bennie Wint might make for a great madcap, black comedy, a movie of the “Fargo” sort made famous by the Coen Brothers. Wint vanished in 1989 while swimming in Florida and left behind a fiancee, whom he was about to marry, and a daughter from a previous marriage. In 2009, Wint was discovered living under an assumed name in North Carolina after a police officer got suspicious during a traffic stop. Wint eventually admitted to faking his own drowning in 1989 because he had been involved in dealing drugs and had been paranoid that the police were about to arrest him. As it turns out, the police were never after him, and he lived 20 years on the lam for no reason. One online source says Wint was later run over by a car outside his house, and the driver is still a mystery.
Is there a fascinating story that I’ve missed? Something that should be made into a movie? Let me know in the comments.
Troy Larson is a father, author, and photographer originally from Minot, North Dakota, now residing in Fargo.