The True Story Behind “River’s Edge”

When River’s Edge hit theaters in 1987, director Tim Hunter’s film stirred up controversy with critics and film goers alike. The story of a group of friends who remained quiet after one of their own shows them the body of a girl he murdered was ripe for sweeping commentary on a new generation, the hardening of our collective heart–and hell–the fall of Western civilization as we know it. Will these kids, addled on pot, arcade games and heavy metal, usher in a wave of amoral nihilism? Is there anything upstanding folks can do about it?

The reaction around River’s Edge could easily be chalked up to hyperbolic blustering were it not for the fact that the core of the film’s story is based on an actual case from 1981 when a 16-year-old male, Anthony Jacques Broussard, raped and murdered 14-year-old Marcy Conrad, and then boasting about his crime to friends who took two days to report the crime to police.

Here’s a summary of the murder and fallout that we could cobble together from reliable sources:

In early November, 1981 Anthony Broussard raped and strangled Marcy Conrad at his home in Milpitas, California. The boy was large for his age, and though he’s frequently described as having a gentle demeanor in news reports, Broussard was reportedly troubled ever since finding his mother dead in the shower after coming home from elementary school. Conrad reportedly ran with a bad crowd, a group at school who called themselves The Stoners, and she frequently ran away from home. Conrad’s mother had reported that the girl had run-away the day before her death.

After the murder, Broussard loaded Conrad’s body in his pick-up truck and made his way into the hills surrounding town, dumping her remains in the bottom of a ravine. After hiding the body, Broussard told several classmates about his crime–many of whom did not believe him, and to verify his act, Broussard guided groups of kids to the body as proof.

As word of the body spread, at least thirteen kids filed out into the hills to see Broussard’s grizzly work. Witnesses included Conrad’s former boyfriend, who brought his 8-year-old brother in tow.

Reactions varied. Some poked at the body with sticks like curious children, others thought it was a mannequin, a bad joke. They goaded each other into touching the body. They removed patches from her half-removed jeans, and one–16-year-old Kirk Rasmussen–covered her body in plastic bags and leaves to give Broussard “a head start” on the police.

Most simply went about their day and pretended that nothing was wrong.

As witnesses to the scene piled up, the crime still went unreported. Some were haunted by what they saw, unable to shake images of Marcy’s body throughout the day, while others stood by Broussard, protecting a peer who had “gone wacko.” Others said they didn’t go to the police simply because they didn’t want to get themselves into trouble. Regardless of their half-baked reasons, Conrad’s murder went unreported for two days.

On the second day, two of the witnesses went to the authorities–one to the high school principal, the other to the police. Several of those who remained quiet vilified those who reported the crime, deriding them as snitches with no moral center. Even after Broussard’s arrest, several of the teens still refused to cooperate with police, lying about their knowledge of the body

When the story finally broke, and Broussard went into police custody, Milptas became the center of a media firestorm with reporters from across the country swarming into town to get a scoop on Broussard’s crime, and on the decayed moral fiber of those who stayed quiet. A 1981 article from the Sarasota Herald Tribune records many of the teens’ reactions, most of them echoing the same chilly reserve. Even homicide detectives put on the case were shaken by the teens’ apparent apathy, claiming that the kids “must have ice water in their veins.”

Much of the information above was culled from one of these reporters, Glenn Bunting, who, in his pseudo-review of River’s Edge, recounted getting to know many of the teenagers at local hangout spots during the immediate fallout of the murder. There’s actually a rather lengthy, detail-laden piece we dug up from an obscure corner of the internet that claims to be from one of Broussard’s classmates who saw Conrad’s body–the account is utterly un-verifiable, and could very well be some odd piece of true crime fan-fiction, but it’s worth at least a browse.

Broussard eventually pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life. He is currently in protective custody at Folsom State Prison. Rasmussen, the boy who covered Conrad’s body, spent three years in a juvenile detention center for helping Broussard’s elude police. He claims he did it out of intimidation and as a way to cover her naked body.

River’s Edge is far from a true crime story–screenwriter Neal Jimenez reportedly only took the broad circumstances of the murder as inspiration for his story, but many of the details from the real crime found their way in Jimenez’s script. All of the characters are largely invented, especially Feck (Dennis Hopper), a local hermit hiding from a similar crime he committed in his youth. But the film captures the sliminess of the circumstances around Conrad’s murder, and the conflicting attitudes that can arise when confused anti-authoritarian rhetoric and childhood loyalties get put to the test.

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From the Hatched Blog

16 Responses to The True Story Behind “River’s Edge”

  1. Pingback: Nitehawk News « Hatched

  2. pam cash says:

    u guys dont tell the real story kirk was and is a good kid and just freaked out seeing her body n covered her out of respect to her human bare parts u guys tell a bunch of bull on this movie clearly stretching the murder to exstreams for some ones financial gane

    • pam cash says:

      you guys dont know how this hurt several people n for some one to profit off this makes them the sick person whom gainrd profit from these awful time in our friends lifes whom were shwn the body i was one who was told n allmost went for the ride to thr ravine im thankful i did not but alote of inocent people were scared for life for ths i was part of the witnesses in this trial as jock kept calling my house n i had toset in front of this boy in court it was horrible and i feel for kirk whom was clearly as distrote as me and has put a bad situation that will haunt us forever so whom ever made this movie clearly is as sick as the murderer not concitering the feelings of the people whom were really exceptible to jocks sick ness alote of unfonded truth to this movie

      • mercury says:

        Im sorry that you feel so horrible about the film. but, your concern is idiotic. if you had your way, no reporting on any event that was sad for anyone, no documentaries about events, no dramatizations, should ever be done. Humans need to tell each other stories about what they do, so they can learn from the stories. your story, your part in the story of her murder, is important for everyone to know, so we can try to understand how this happened. the film was not exploitive. And, i do want to point out, you could have gone to the police immediately upon HEARING about the murder, and you did not. that was a moral failing on your part, which is understandable at a young age, but you still dont seem to realize that what you did (or didnt do ) was wrong. thats why you feel so bad. you WERE BAD, and you are STILL bad to be blaming others and equating the filmmaker with the murderer. shame on you.

        • pam cash says:

          this man with a stuffed doll thats way out n left field we were young n e we all got high n hung out well there was one whom allways tried to fit in he was black we were all white he allways lied about things he did no one beleived him so when the body was seen they threw rocks down the ravine thinking it was a maniquin n as they climd down the ravine one boy freaked out as she was nude n kicked leafs to cover her bare lifeless body ass everyone freaked out and left not wanting to get in troble as we all try to stay out of the polices raidar here we are right in the middle of a sick individauls crime he committed so i think two came forward most of them were on probation and are not suppose to have police contact not that we were bad kids we just hung out n smoked weed n listen to music there was no man with a blow up doll it was a black boy whom had sex with a white girl and after she was joking about his mom not noimg his mom died n he stangled her n tryed to fit in our click by bragging n showing the body to people n there was not several trips just one truck full i no this was a part of my life that remains in my heart soul n mind forever

          • gordon walker says:

            Pam, your pain is evident in everything you write. You misunderstand the movie though; it was not meant to be exploitative nor was it meant to be a documentary about an actual event. Instead it used this murder and the subsequent series of incidents and characters to illustrate deep issues that permeate society. Its examination of the way youth today (or then) react to a murder and the choices they make is powerful.

            In the end, River’s Edge is a piece of fiction, even if it draws heavily from events that so obviously will weigh on you forever. The movie does not condemn anyone, but rather society; it is a haunting film that will, through the questions it raises about society, give at least some additional meaning to a brutal and senseless murder. Best wishes to you.

          • Tony D. says:

            I count The River’s Edge as my #1 film. I see myself and my friends in the characters of this film. We had our share of drama and weed during our teens in the 70’s and acted just like the kids here. We even dressed like them. The connections between us extended only so far as who could “cop”, who could help us feel not so lost and alone at the moment. Loyal by code of the stoner. Guilty for trying to escape the childhood we never had.
            I’m sorry for the real girl, for the real kids, you and your friends. Before tonight, I never knew this was based on a real event. Still, this movie helped me understand myself and that time in my life a little better. In a way, this small bit of good came of her life. For that I’m grateful. May all of you find peace.

          • Angela Lackey says:

            I am truly sorry that You were subjected to such harsh treatment Sweetheart. I can tell by the way that you speak of thus tragedy that it still must haunt you to this day! Pam, I was curious as to whether or not you Kid’s were offered any type of counseling when this event occurred? I myself suffer from PTSD. I (thankfully) was not subjected to the aftershock of a horrific murder! My condition is from another type of horror that I went through. I am so upset that in fact the movie was only very loosely based on the true facts. However, The filmmaker, I truly feel was not trying g to cause You guys more harm. I am a Criminal Justice major and would really like to tell the whole truth about what actually did occur. I think it might would help to bring some healing to you. I understand if You might not want to do that. However, I can tell you with 100% certainty that it would not be for financial gain on my part. I just see so many movies made about tragedies such as this, and unfortunately there are a number of people who see ” Bases on a true story ” and really do not understand that those words do not usually mean TRUTH TOLD ABOUT THE CASES!! That is why there are Documentaries such as Dateline, 20/20 etc. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about the truth and if You would like to talk to me please email me. SINCERELY, A. Lackey

  3. Bull Run says:

    This kind of thing has happened before in the US, the story of a young women in NYC that was raped and murdered back in the 60’s while neighbors heard her scream for help for over a half hour, pounding on doors, this kind of thing makes me sick, there is no excuse for it and punishment for those who look the other way should be severe.

    • Kris King says:

      That’s the Kitty Genovese murder you’re referring to. Sad story to be sure, but it did help bring about the 911 system. A book came out recently that refutes a lot of the popular myth around the murder, here’s a New Yorker article on it. Quote sort of sums it up:

      “Two people called the police. When the ambulance arrived at the scene—precisely because neighbors had called for help—Genovese, still alive, lay in the arms of a neighbor named Sophia Farrar, who had courageously left her apartment to go to the crime scene, even though she had no way of knowing that the murderer had fled.”

  4. David says:

    Even your true account of the story behind the movie isn’t entirely true. I was on of the witnesses that went to the police. It wasn’t just me and one other person, it was me and two other people. One did not want to go to the police so we dropped him of at Milpitas High School. Then me and my friend Mike went to the police.

    • pam cash says:

      hello david my memories on this is my experience and the part of the trial i was in kirk was a good kid u no that how he was arrested n this sick shit cause he did not come foward i was told n i did not come forward i was n probation n i did not go to jail for years im glad u were able to tell the police at least they found her as young stoner kids its not that we were heartless we just did not have good dealings with police that never made u a rat it just meant u were not caught up in the system as most of us were n we did not want to get involved in a murder case but we all were pulled in one way are another its not right but if they would make it easier to talk to some one instead of thinking u would be labled a snitch n have to get a new life n even name as u did u had to change your name and move not wnting to say u were wrong but it put a big impack on your life keepin it 100 buddy i dont blame u but this movie is way blown out of porportion!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Angel says:

    Many years ago I met both Anthony Broussard and his cousin in California Men’s Colony where both were serving life sentences for murder. If I recall correctly, the cousin killed his mother, Broussard’s aunt. Incredibly interesting for these killings to take place in a family. Both were fairly good sized men, but what struck me as peculiar was they were both meek guys when compared to many other men who were more emotionally volatile and dangerous. By comparison I realized there are people who have killed and there are killers. The most dangerous men I encountered were either youth who were trying to earn status, unintelligent but aggressive, strong, and skilled boxers, or men who were sometimes gang leaders; intelligent, ruthless, confident, and skilled at inflicting deadly violence.

  6. Jim C says:

    Most movies ” based on a true story” are so far removed from what actually happened they are more fiction than fact. The same with rumors that are exaggerated or complete BS. The only people who knew what happened and how they felt were the people involved. Peer pressure was as powerful then as it is now. When you are adult age much less teen you never truly know how you will react to a situation until you actually experience it. It is so easy to just say what you would do. Some people believe everything they see on tv. Any person with intelligence does not. Money is indeed the name of the game, with ANYTHING.

    • Ian says:

      I do hope you realize that the movie is not some kind of docudrama. It isn’t. It’s a work of fiction inspired by the issues raised by the crime, exploring the frame of mind of characters who behave the way those real-life kids did.

      There is nothing whatsoever “wrong” or “misleading” about that. It’s just good adaptive storytelling.

  7. Lisa says:

    it’s a good movie
    it’s sad that it was ‘based’ on a true story
    loosely based
    an idea
    there’s nothing wrong with that
    it’s not against the law
    if someone wants to know
    the story behind the movie
    they can do their own research

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