Professor gained attention with documentaries

Film on 1979 murder led police to reopen case

The Holland Sentinel/December 27, 2004

Part of a series of stories on people who made news locally in 2004.By ROEL GARCIAStaff writerDavid Schock considers himself a storyteller. He lived up to that this year, telling two provocative stories in documentary films he helped produce.

The Hope College associate professor of communication was responsible for the documentary "Who Killed Janet Chandler?" and the ongoing documentary series "The Ku Klux Klan in Michigan."

Both documentaries received a great deal of attention.

Chandler, a Hope College student, was abducted on Jan. 31, 1979 while she was working the night desk at the Blue Mill Inn, located at U.S. 31 and 16th Street. Her body was found a day later by a snow plow operator near South Haven. Evidence showed she was sexually assaulted. Her murderer never was caught.

The documentary stirred up a lot of interest in her murder. Eventually a cold case team was assigned to the murder.

"Ultimately the cold case was formed because of (the documentary). Thatrepresented the best chance for justice for Janet Chandler. The best thing is to find out who did it," Schock said.

The Chandler documentary was completed by Schock's fall 2003 documentary class. He got the idea for the project while going through the police department on a tour.

"I asked Bob DeVries, who was retiring, which is the one that got away?" Schock said. "Without hesitation, he said 'Janet Chandler, the murder of a young woman.'"

Schock said DeVries' words made an impression on him and he thought about it over the summer of 2003 before working on it with his students.

Schock said he didn't know what to expect when the film premiered at the Knickerbocker before an audience that included many from law enforcement as well as Chandler's brother, Dennis.

"It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop through the entire film," Schock said.

Schock said that later, people talked to him, saying they were moved and touched by the documentary.

"The timing was right for the documentary," Holland Police Chief John Kruithof said. "Four or five months later the cold case team had staff assigned to it and felt is was worthy of being investigated.

"It was a very well done documentary and as a result we received new information that has helped our investigation."

Schock said credit, though, goes to many different people, from his documentary class students to technicians.

"If the film looked good, it's because of Phil Blauw who shot it," Schock said. Students helped with graphics, editing, audio and video and research. You can't do something like this by yourself."

For his next big project Schock teamed with Hope history professor Fred Johnson III for a series "The Klan in Michigan," which premiered its first part in November at the Knickerbocker Theatre.

Schock, who's been working on the project for 2 1/2 years, said he's gotten a variety of reviews from the first part.

"I've had people say they liked it and others say they didn't," Schock said. "I even got a call from Travis Pierce, grand wizard of Ku Klux Klan LLC (from Arkansas)."

Schock said he has all the information in his computer for the entire series, which could have up to seven parts. However, he's missing one component.

"I want to interview someone from the Klan. It's not a full story until ...You have the other side," Schock said.

Schock said one of the only complaints he's received since playing the first part, "The Klan During Reconstruction," is that it's not focusing on Michigan.

"You have to start there (when the Klan started) before you can get to here in Michigan," Schock said. "The next part is abut the film "Birth of a Nation.""

Johnson said the Klan series forces people to expose another side of our culture and nation.

"Any time you take a documentary like (the Klan), it suggests a kind of courage because its an issue people would rather not talk about," Johnson said. "People learn a lot about each other from something like this."

Schock, not shying away from controversial topics, is working on another unsolved murder case from 2002 dubbed the Jack in the Box case, which involved a man beaten by a blunt object and then burned beyond recognition on the north side of Holland. His murderer and identity are still unsolved.

It's a documentary Schock and his students have worked on and he'll spend his vacation between fall and spring semesters working on the editing process.

"It makes me feel like I must be at the right place," he said about his work on the documentaries. "(Documentaries) are means for issues and stories to be told. I'm glad I'm getting a chance to tell them."

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