Burden of Proof review: A brother’s quest tears his family apart in this wrenching true crime doc

On February 10, 1987, Margie and Ron Pandos woke up to discover their 15-year-old daughter, Jennifer, missing from their Kingsmill, Virginia home. A hastily written note on Jennifer’s bed claimed she needed “time away from this place,” but she never returned, and her body was never found.

For years, Jennifer’s brother, Stephen, only knew what his parents told him about her disappearance, which was very little. He was away at college the night she vanished. Questions plagued him. Why did his parents wait three days to call the police? If Jennifer ran away, why were none of her belongings missing? Stephen’s doubts led him to investigate Jennifer’s disappearance, accompanied by documentary filmmakers Cynthia Hill and Christine Delp. Seven years later, their work has culminated in HBO’s Burden of Proof, a gripping true crime docuseries that unfolds like a Shakespearean family tragedy.

The series begins in 2016, with Stephen, now a father himself, tirelessly pursuing long-cold leads. He reconnects with Jennifer’s friend Sharon, who recalls hearing Jennifer argue with Ron before the call abruptly ended. As the series progresses, Stephen reveals the tensions within his family. Ron, a Vietnam War veteran with PTSD, was intimidating and prone to violence. Margie, stoic and grandmotherly, grieves over her inability to provide Stephen with answers, which has strained their relationship.

Burden of Proof’s strength lies in its exploration of the complex mother-son dynamic. Stephen desperately seeks validation from Margie, who struggles to offer it. As Stephen interviews family, friends, and investigators, his quest drives the narrative, highlighting his emotional journey and the lingering effects of abuse.

While the emotional toll on Stephen and his loved ones is briefly touched upon, the series could delve deeper into this aspect. Despite this, Burden of Proof remains compelling and poignant, depicting the unresolved mystery of grief. Grade: B+

Burden of Proof premieres on HBO and Max on June 6.

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