Family Sins: Is There a Real-Life Inspiration Behind the 2004 Film?

Directed by Graeme Clifford, ‘Family Sins’ is a drama film that follows the story of Brenda Geck, a woman who appears to lead a typical life in New Hampshire with her husband and 11 children, a mix of biological and foster kids. Brenda is regarded as a charitable and upstanding member of the community, but as the film unfolds, secrets and dark truths emerge, threatening to shatter the facade of their seemingly perfect family life.

Kirstie Alley delivers a fantastic performance as Brenda, the central character of the 2004 film. She is supported by a talented cast, including Will Patton, Deanna Milligan, and Kevin McNulty. The film is visually captivating, with impressive cinematography and the musical score by Charles Bernstein adds to the overall intensity of the movie. ‘Family Sins’ is not an easy watch, as it skillfully creates a sense of discomfort in the audience with each unfolding scene and leaves them wondering if there is any inspiration from a true story.

Family Sins is Based on a Rhode Island Woman

Written by Donald Martin, it is based on the true story of Frances Burt, a woman living in Rhode Island during the 1980s. The story gained widespread attention when one of her foster daughters managed to escape from the household, sought help, and helped expose the shocking truth. The child revealed a harrowing tale of captivity, where Frances forced the foster children to engage in criminal activities such as shoplifting, arson for insurance money, and burglaries.

This was not the full extent of the crimes committed in the house. The foster children had been subjected to sexual assault at the hands of Frances’ husband, Walter Burt, and one of her sons, Raymond Burt. The full story came out when the police raided their house in June 1993 and found a 50-year-old woman in the basement. The door of the basement was locked from upstairs and it became evident that she was being held against her will. Her name was Pauline Charpentier and when she was taken to the hospital, she was diagnosed to be suffering from a slight mental disability.

Walter, Frances, and two of their children were apprehended by the police and confronted with a range of accusations. They were scheduled for arraignment, where they were formally charged with offenses including arson and insurance fraud. Walter Burt, in addition, faced a first-degree sexual assault charge involving a child. In 1993, the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families revoked their fostering license. In 1994, Frances was found guilty on 24 counts that encompassed arson, sexual assault, kidnapping, extortion, racketeering, as well as welfare and disability fraud.

The film does indeed exercise artistic freedom in its storytelling, filling in narrative gaps that exist in the actual legal events. Furthermore, it alters the names of the characters to create a fictionalized version of the story. The movie also delves into the subject of Stockholm Syndrome, which is portrayed through the character Nadine, inspired by the real-life Pauline. Although it is challenging to confirm whether Pauline truly experienced Stockholm Syndrome, the syndrome itself is a well-documented phenomenon supported by research and observations.

There is no official information available regarding Frances Burt’s current whereabouts. However, it is heard that she received a 30-year prison sentence in 1994 but was released from prison in June 2001 and placed on probation for the remaining 19 years of her sentence. ‘Family Sins’ is commendable for its bold approach in bringing this true and obscure yet extraordinary story to the public’s attention while handling the sensitive subject matter with a nuanced touch.

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