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Review: 'Murder on Middle Beach' tells a true crime story that's all in the family

Son searches for his mother's killer in doc series 'Murder on Middle Beach'

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

His father? His sister? His aunt? A cousin?

Any one of them could be the killer.

Madison Hamburg in "Murder on Middle Beach."

So many choices. Can he pinpoint the right one?

That’s the question hanging over “Murder on Middle Beach,” a four-part documentary whodunit that debuts Sunday on HBO. First-time filmmaker Madison Hamburg wants to know who killed his mother a decade ago. Unfortunately he seems to be related to all the most likely suspects.

Hamburg’s close connection to his subjects is obviously what sets this true crime story apart. The series initially follows familiar beats as it moves from this suspect to that, unveiling dark secrets along the way. But the guy he’s capturing with a hidden camera — that’s his dad! That woman he’s grilling — that’s his aunt!

Barbara Hamburg was found beaten to death in the yard of her home in upper middle-class Madison, Connecticut, on March 3, 2010. She was a bloody mess so it looked like a crime of passion, which usually means the victim knew her attacker. No suspect was ever charged.

Madison was away at college. He apparently started shooting a documentary for a school project a few years later. That documentary grew into this series.

In many ways “Murder” is part of the burgeoning “My Monumentally Dysfunctional Family” genre of documentary filmmaking. Cozy home movies of suburban bliss make way for revelations of divorce, abuse, alcoholism, mental health issues, fraud and ultimately murder. 

But Madison, a conflicted yet driven narrator-as-victim, makes this a unique piece of true crime filmmaking. He captures the messy darkness that can hide behind seemingly shiny lives. Including his own.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'Murder on Middle Beach'

GRADE: B

10 p.m. Sunday

HBO