Of all of the classic horror movies from the late '90s, I Know What You Did Last Summer will always hold a special place in my heart. It was an era of the '80s slasher horror renaissance, spurred on by the unexpected success of Wes Craven's Scream in 1996.
You may already be aware that the movie was adapted from Lois Duncan's novel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, published in 1973, but what's chilling is what happened next, in real life.
The author famously hated the 1997 movie, stating:
A movie loosely based upon my novel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, opened in theaters around the country. I was ecstatic until I settled into a theater seat with my box of popcorn and discovered that Hollywood had turned my teenage suspense story into a slasher film.
The setting had been changed from the mountains of New Mexico to a fishing village on the East Coast, so an insane fisherman, who wasn't in my book, could decapitate my characters with an ice hook. The first thing I did after leaving the theater was phone our daughter Kerry and warn her not to let the grandchildren see it.
Strong words, but it's natural for an author to be protective of their work. However, this disgruntled writer was soon to experience a personal tragedy as violent as anything in the hated adaptation of her novel: Duncan's daughter was murdered in real life.
On the night of July 16, 1989 Duncan's teenage daughter Kaitlyn approached a railway junction in Albuquerque, NM at around 11pm. As the car stopped, an unknown assailant approached the car and shot her twice in the head. Kaitlyn was rushed to hospital and put into a medically-induced coma, but died soon afterwards.
Police put the killing down to a 'random act of violence,' questioning two young men, Miguel Garcia and Juvenal Escobedo, who were acquitted due to lack of evidence. A man named Paul Apodaca was seen by witnesses leaving the scene but police did not question him - an institutional oversight or a cover-up?
More interesting to the case is Kaitlyn's boyfriend, Dung Nguyen, who had been involved in traffic insurance scams, organizing 'accidents' so that both parties could claim money in compensation. The police had dismissed Dung as a suspect after he had no gunshot residue on his hands. They also found a note that Kaitlyn had written to him shortly before her death, saying:
Hon, where are you? I know you're still mad. I'm so sorry OK! I miss you today. I went to the mom's house to return these books. I'll see ya. Love.
This friendly message seemed to cancel a 'lover's argument' as a motive - but Duncan maintains that the note was not written in her daughter's handwriting. Even more suspicious was the fact that Kaitlyn's friend received a distressed call from Dung the night of her murder, during which he screamed:
Police did not officially inform Dung of the murder until 3am - many hours after he made that anxious phone call.
Duncan, now 81, has never given up searching for her daughter's killer. Employing private investigators and even psychics, Duncan delved constantly deeper into the case, even publishing two books on the crime, Who Killed My Daughter? and One to the Wolves, On the Trail of a Killer.