"Garrow" featured actors from upstate New York — in the same communities terrorized by Robert Garrow himself. L-R: film producer Joel Plue, actress Bunny Easter Christmas as a diner waitress, and actors Bob O'Brien and John Love as patrons. Adirondack Films, LLC
ALBANY — While infamous spree killer Robert Garrow terrorized upstate New York in the 1960s and 1970s, he will return in the form of an independent movie called “Garrow” for a one-night screening at The Egg on Saturday, March 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 each.
Garrow, portrayed by actor Jay Alan Christianson, was born on Mar. 4, 1936 in Dannemora, New York and had a troubled childhood in Mineville with an alcoholic and abusive father, and a violent mother. Garrow would grow up to commit numerous rapes and murders, including killing four campers and hikers in the Adirondacks in July 1973.
During his capture, he was shot by Conservation Officer Hillary LeBlanc and he pretended to be partially paralyzed from it in a wheelchair while he was serving a 25-years-to-life sentence at the Fishkill State Correctional Facility. He then notoriously tricked the guards and escaped — ironically proving to be an actor, himself — on Sept. 8, 1978. He would die in a shootout just three days later.
The film’s director, Lori Kelly-Bailey said that she had a longtime interest in writing about Garrow’s real-life terror because he was actually a neighbor to her family in Mineville. She said that her father had went to school with Garrow, offering her an insider perspective, who described him as “a big strapping farm boy who was a loner and sat on the sidelines. He didn’t play with the other children and was often teased. … My dad could tell he was abused because of his wounds and he smelled very bad from being unclean and always working on the farms.”
The film would include flashbacks to some of his crimes as well as his time on trial. It also featured some real-life individuals who directly interacted with Garrow at the time, including former state corrections officer Dominic Arena who survived a bullet from Garrow himself, and real props from when Garrow was alive, including guns, hats, vintage suits, and uniforms with actual bloodstains.
To further prepare for the film, Kelly-Bailey said she obtained all the actual transcripts and crime photos while conducting more research to “help create his character out of facts that I could find” although “Garrow” stops short of depicting the violence.
“I found it wasn’t hard to get in touch with the real people who are still alive and we tried to get as many as we can who’d participated in that time of life,” she said, adding that Garrow’s surviving family members still have not opened up to the media. “Like I love that the troopers dusted off their old uniforms and squeezed into them. That was all important to me and I just love the human interest part of it all.”
She also said that Arena found it challenging though to relive the shootout as well as being placed on a stretcher, replaying what did happen several decades ago. “Dominic will speak at the Albany screening on his experience and he’ll likely get emotional and get choked up,” she said.
“Garrow” has already been screened at several theaters across upstate New York, including Plattsburgh and Glens Falls, since late last year. Kelly-Bailey said the public turnout and support “blows me away. I think the best example is that one night, I took myself out of the audience to really watch the people. Nobody took their eyes off the screen. I saw that every seat was filled and some audience members had come with oxygen tanks or healthcare people. It’s not common to see that demographic and I’ve even had several people come up to me to say they did interact with [Garrow] when he was alive.”
One of the film’s producers, Joel Plue, said that besides the storytelling aspect, another reason “Garrow” was made was to prove how easy and great it was to film on location in upstate New York.
“That area is so user-friendly because of its natural scenery and the people there are great to work with,” he said. “It shows how you can make a movie there and many people dream of making or producing a film but think they can’t because they live in rural New York. With a supportive community and things like video editing, cameras, laptops and more, it can work. It wasn’t the case 20 years ago if you didn’t know anyone in the industry.”
Furthermore, he said that the film began production in 2016 and ended in 2018, with a budget of just $30,000.
For the upcoming Albany screening, Kelly-Bailey said that besides the public, many state and local politicians have been invited to attend too, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “The reason for Cuomo specifically was that he has always promoted filming in upstate New York and we stayed true to that aspect and it’d be nice if he comes out,” she said.
To purchase tickets, visit www.theegg.org/event/garrow-the-movie.