Fall River questions if Satanic Panic put an innocent man behind bars

Carl Drew mugshot in Fall River - Courtesy of EPIX
Carl Drew mugshot in Fall River - Courtesy of EPIX /

Tomorrow night, Epix will premiere its latest docuseries, a dark, twisted four-part tale focused on the very town where Lizzie Borden was once acquitted of murder. Executive produced by Blumhouse Television, Fall River is a graphic and unflinching look at the town’s dark past. Fall River, Massachusetts, is your mostly average small town, the kind of place where murder, especially gruesome ones, is a rarity.

Almost a century after Borden’s murder Fall River hosted another captivating trial with salacious details including satanism, torture and more. In 1979, three women were killed, usually in the Freetown Forest. The police and media believed that a satan-worshipping cult was behind the killings. Remember, this is the era coming off the heels of Charles Manson and Helter Skelter. It was in the era of the Satanic Panic.

The case hinged on the cult leader and local pimp, Carl Drew. His supposed partners and followers claimed he was Sdsaatan himself and would regularly enact demonic rituals and sacrifices in the forest.

While fascinating, there are some tonal inconsistencies in the docuseries. The first episode spends the bulk of its runtime talking about evil incarnate roaming the streets of Fall River, claiming that these Satanists would have naked orgies in the woods, drink blood imbibed with their leader’s urine or semen, eating babies and drain animals of blood. Clips spliced into the episode show nude men and women wearing masks, dancing and entertaining what looks like a satanic bacchanal.

Fall River
Fall River key art. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of EPIX.) /

It reminded me of some of the raging conspiracy theories of dangerous groups like Q-Anon who tout beliefs that celebrities and politicians are involved in an underground sect that molests children and drinks their blood to stay young.

But then, in the final moments of the first episode, Fall River takes an abrupt turn, suddenly shining a light on all the allegations against Carl Drew, who is currently incarcerated. His post-conviction attorney says it will haunt him until the day he dies that Carl is still imprisoned.

Suddenly, the series is telling us that Carl is innocent. He had an alibi for at least one murder, there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and Carl himself alleges he was set up and framed.

The quick-change is at odds with the rest of the episode, but it provided more intrigue and promise than some of the sensationalist stuff played up throughout the rest. If Carl might be innocent, then I want to hear how the media twisted the narrative to sell a story meant to horrify and tantalize readers who wanted to believe occult practices were happening in this small town with a sordid past.

How can you watch Fall River Season 1, Episode 1?

Fall River officially kicks off tomorrow night, May 16, on Epix at 10:00 p.m. EST. Epix also posts their episodes early, usually at 12:01 a.m. EST, ahead of the premiere. So you should be able to watch the first episode tonight if you subscribe to Epix. You can sign-up for the service via your cable provider, Apple TV and other add-on services.

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New episodes of Fall River will air Sunday nights on Epix.