A suspected murder-suicide in Mendocino County, Calif., in 2018 killed at least seven members of a lesbian-led family of eight. One of the mothers, Jennifer Jean Hart, was determined to have been under the influence when she drove her family off a cliff on the Pacific Coast Highway and into the ocean more than 100 feet below.
Now, the documentary Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy, from producers Chris Kobin and Rachel Morgan and out on VOD and digital platforms Tuesday, delves into the story of Jennifer, her wife, Sarah Hart, and their six foster children. Prior to the tragedy, a photo of 15-year-old Devonte Hart in the arms of a police officer during a Portland, Ore., protest over the police shooting of Michael Brown went viral.
Among those immediately identified after the crash were the mothers of the family, both 38, and their foster children — Martin, 19, Abigail, 14, and Jeremiah, 14. It was determined that Jennifer had a blood alcohol level of .102, while her wife and the three kids found at the time had been dosed with diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl.
The bodies of Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12, were found later. Only Devonte remains missing.
The story garnered national attention when it came to light that Jennifer and Sarah had fled their Woodland, Wash., home with the children after complaints from neighbors drew a visit from Child Protective Services.
Following the crash, Jennifer and Sarah Hart’s histories of abuse became a focal point of the story.
The Washington State Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to Portland TV station KGW that CPS had identified the Hart children as "potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect."
Sarah pleaded guilty in 2011 to a domestic assault charge in Minnesota for spanking one of her daughters over a tub, which left visible bruising on the child’s stomach and back.
“The defendant admitted she let her anger get out of control,” the detective in the case wrote, according to the TV station.
Sarah was charged with misdemeanor domestic assault and malicious punishment, but because she pleaded guilty to the assault charge, the punishment charge was thrown out. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail but was not forced to serve time as long as she obeyed the terms of her probation.
In a statement about the making of the documentary, Morgan said:
"When I heard of the Hart tragedy in March of 2018 I was living in Los Angeles, but I had spent about a decade up in Portland, Oregon and knew a handful of people that were close to the family. The thing that struck me the most, aside from it being an absolutely horrific, heartbreaking incident, is how quickly the story was scooped up and spit out in the mainstream and social media with very little compassion and human decency. This is what motivated the documentary. A chance to tell the story without a motive aside from peeling away the layers of something that was unfathomable.
"It was important for us to go into the documentary unbiased and let the story tell itself in any way that it took form. I felt it crucial to allow the friends who were silenced by harassment to be able to speak their point of view and I felt it was just as important to share the cold hard facts from the investigation and inquest without sugar-coating it."
Watch the trailer for the documentary below.