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In October 2000, two women, both named Mary Morris, were murdered within a few days of each other in Houston, Texas.
For Marilyn Blalock, 48, and Katharyn Morris, 37, the victims' daughters, it was the most traumatic event of their lives. Now, their tragedy is being played for laughs in Maggie Moore(s), a black comedy, starring Jon Hamm and Tina Fey, about the murders of two women with the same name in a small Texas town. Blalock and Morris found out about the film via the release of the trailer. On Mother's Day weekend no less.
"Mother's Day is a really hard time anyway," Blalock tells EW. "That it was bad timing is an understatement. It's very distasteful because we're still living with this. These women are staples in our lives. That was my mother. Initially, [my reaction to the trailer] was shock. I found it absolutely unbelievable. Because this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me — and then to figure out that it was being done in a comedic format was really hurtful. To know that people are going to be laughing about it is a sickening feeling."
Mary Lou Morris (left) and Mary McGinnis Morris
At the time of EW's initial conversations with Blalock and Morris, the women had received no contact from the creators of the movie. Both were not even certain whether the filmmakers, including director John Slattery and screenwriter Paul Bernbaum, were aware of their existence. Blalock reached out to EW on behalf of her and Morris after seeing the trailer.
In the weeks since, representatives for the filmmakers said Slattery and producer Vincent Garcia Newman spoke with Blalock and Morris via conference call, which the women confirm. "While I can't say that all of my fears were put to rest, I am hopeful that, with their assistance, the real cases that inspired the movie will get the attention they deserve," Morris tells EW.
"They were very kind and seemed to be genuinely apologetic about any similarities between the movie and our mothers stories that upset us," adds Blalock, who says they asked Slattery and Newman to use their platform to shine a light on the real case and their ongoing search for answers.
The filmmakers seem to have taken this plea to heart. When EW reached out for comment, representatives provided the following statement: "While our story is a fictional one, it is inspired in part by a real crime that occurred in October 2000. Two women, both by the name of Mary Morris, were murdered within 72 hours of one another in Houston, Texas. These murders remain unsolved. The filmmakers have been in contact with the families of the victims and we join them in asking anyone who believes they have information that might shed light on this case to please contact the Harris County Sheriff's Homicide Detective, Jeff Thomas (Jeff.Thomas@hctx.net). They can also call Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS."
Maggie Moore(s) is currently in theaters and available through On Demand. Morris, who hasn't seen the film, says her mother's case has been referenced in pop culture multiple times over the last 22 years. "It was treated in a similar fashion, with none of the family members being consulted, so I can only view this as a spin-off of the true story," she writes over email. "I only wonder why the actual case has never garnered this much attention."
Indeed, Blalock and Morris are used to people being interested in their mothers' murders. The deaths of Mary Lou Henderson Morris and Mary McGinnis Morris and the unusual circumstances surrounding them have been the subject of true crime podcasts, articles, and even the Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries. Though the police do not believe there's any connection between the two deaths, Blalock and Morris do. They feel it has to be more than a coincidence that their mothers, two Houston-based women with the same name, were found murdered in their cars within a few days of each other.
Their issue isn't so much that the story of the crime is being told, but how it is being told — on screen and as a comedy. "There's been a big draw in the crime podcast arena," Blalock explains. "There's been lots and lots of podcasts about it. But to hear someone talk about it is one thing, to see the things played out on a big screen is another. To know that the most tragic event in my life is going to be something that people laugh about is gut-wrenching to me."
Screen Media Tina Fey and Jon Hamm in 'Maggie Moore(s)'
In particular, Blalock is horrified at the notion of audiences watching the circumstances of her mother's final moments play out on screen. As heard in the trailer, the character of Jay, played by actor Micah Stock, tells another man, "I told you to scare her, not catch her on fire."
"Because I know that's how my mom died, I don't think that I could stand to see that," Blalock says. "There's a lot of fear of seeing it because I don't know what's in it and what it would trigger for me emotionally."
"People are going to think that this was all kind of a joke," she adds. "People are going to forget that there are real people involved here. Two people lost their moms. This is still a loss for us. We can't find anything about this to be funny."
Blalock says people have often dismissed the case by referencing The Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger's character killing every woman named Sarah Connor that he can find in the phone book. But she fears Maggie Moore(s) will make it even easier for people to see her mother's death as a pop-culture curiosity rather than a tragedy that is still weighing on her and Morris daily.
Morris says the filmmakers tried to assure them that the comedy is not at their mothers' expense. "It was explained to us that the comedic aspect of the story is based on the trouble one of the characters gets himself in, and also the romantic relationship between Jon Hamm and Tina Fey's characters," she notes.
Still, Maggie Moore(s) isn't only dredging up their personal tragedies as comedic fodder. Blalock and Morris also believe the film could put them in danger. "There is a 'person of interest' in the murder of my mother who has repeatedly tried to contact me over the years, despite a permanent injunction," writes Morris. "This individual has also contacted peers from my schools, distant family members, employers, my ex, and my husband. This person has reached out to my family as recently as February regarding the case, and alluded to the fact that he was 'close.' This was cause for concern, and it was documented with multiple authorities as well as the attorney that assisted with the original injunction."
Blalock echoes this fear surrounding this person of interest and what the film might provoke. "I have serious fears that this film is going to make that person even more infuriated and make us a bigger target for him," she says. "That person of interest has interjected themselves into my life and caused issues for me as well, when they should have nothing to do with my mom's case. Both of us really fear that this is going to fuel his fire, and he's going to start doing things that are even more scary than the things that he's already done."
Partly they fear that the individual in question will assume Morris and Blalock had a direct hand in the film, despite their only finding out about it recently. "They didn't change some of the names in the movie," Blalock points out. "That creates a lot of fear for us."
Screen Media Jon Hamm and Tina Fey in 'Maggie Moore(s)'
Morris also worries that the film will perpetuate misinformation as it drudges up old family wounds. The film depicts Jay, one of the husbands of the murdered women, as being behind the killings. Morris' father, Mitch, was questioned, but never arrested. "My father was investigated as a person of interest," she tells EW. "In most cases when one spouse dies the protocol is to look at the surviving spouse. My concern is for the way my father's character is portrayed. I worry that the movie will add to the misinformation that is already out there. Even though the movie was inspired by true events, the screenwriter reimagined it, giving the audience an ending that the real cases lack."
Ultimately, though Blalock and Morris both wish the film didn't exist (or that filmmakers had handled the subject matter with more sensitivity), their concerns are not about any kind of financial remuneration. "I want to be clear that no one in the family is looking for fortune or fame," Morris writes. "We are just hoping to bring these cases to a close, have some closure, and allow these women to rest in peace."
That's what they expressed to Slattery and Newman during their conference call, their desire to let people know the story behind the film and encourage people to offer any pertinent information. "We don't know what happened to our moms," Blalock says. "We believe there is someone out there that has some answers, but they just haven't come forward yet."
As the film hits theaters, Blalock asks that audiences remember that this is a real unsolved case. "I do appreciate when people talk about it because that's keeping it alive," she says. "That's keeping the story out there. I can't imagine anyone that's ever lost someone would appreciate the fact that there's someone that is going to laugh about that."
Charles Sykes/Bravo/Getty John Slattery
Additionally, Morris notes that the filmmakers offered to mention their mothers' names in interviews and press conferences, though she fears this could be glossed over. "I can only hope that the media decides not to edit out the mention of the real cases," she says. "Personally, I have only seen one interview on NBC and although it was mentioned that the film is 'based on a true story' no one brought up Mary Lou Henderson Morris or Mary McGinnis Morris, cold cases, unsolved murders, or Crimestoppers. It's disheartening. The media could really be the catalyst we need to hold the people responsible for solving these cases accountable."
For both women, the turmoil that Maggie Moore(s) has caused in their lives, including the traumatic experience of viewing the trailer, would be worthwhile if it leads to real answers. "I wish nothing but the best for the film, and those involved," Morris reflects. "I only hope to see a correlation between interest in the movie and interest in the actual case. I genuinely feel that if either of the cases is solved as a result of this movie that it will have been worth the roller coaster that our families have been through."
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