“Park View” shows how the brutal 1990 death of Talana Kreeger, a lesbian, affected the local gay community.
Talana Quay Kreeger has not been forgotten. Despite the brutality of her 1990 murder — one of Wilmington’s most horrific, and labeled a hate crime by many because of Kreeger’s sexuality — she did not die in vain.
That’s the message of “Park View,” a long-simmering documentary about Kreeger’s murder that will finally get a public screening on Saturday, Feb. 22 — the 30th anniversary of her death — after more than a decade of work.
The screening will be at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Queen Street, which hosted Kreeger’s funeral in 1990 after mourners were turned away from other local churches.
Wilmington filmmaker Tab Ballis has been working on telling Kreeger’s story since he began gathering footage back in 2006. The StarNews first wrote about his efforts to make the film in 2008.
Ballis, a social worker and counselor by trade, joked that he’s been asked more than once what’s taken him so long. He said it’s taken him 12 years to “overcome my ignorance of filmmaking” and that, as digital filmmaking has advanced, “technology has caught up to my ignorance” and he’s now able to edit the film himself.
Ballis said he’s also struggled with feelings of “who am I, as a straight white male, to tell this story?” Over the years, he said he’s worked on gaining the trust of the gay community so that he can respectfully document the impact Kreeger’s murder had on that community.
Ultimately, Ballis said he is “driven to tell this story.”
The details of Kreeger’s murder are not for the faint of heart, and Ballis said a “trigger warning” will be given before the screening for those who might be sensitive to graphic descriptions of how she died.
A Pender County resident and carpenter, Kreeger, 32, was hanging out at the Park View Grill, from which the film takes its name, on Carolina Beach Road the night of her death. In 1990, the bar, now known as The Dubliner, was something of a haven for area lesbians.
Ronald Sheldon Thomas, a long-haul truck driver, was convicted in 1991 of Kreeger’s murder and of first-degree sexual offense, for which he received back-to-back life sentences. After drinking 10 beers at the Park View that night and reportedly arguing with Kreeger about homosexuality, Thomas gave her a ride in his rig during the early morning hours.
Hours later, Kreeger’s naked body was found in a wooded area near Shipyard Boulevard, teeth knocked out and small intestines outside of her body, among even more gruesome injuries. Her murderer later told investigators that Kreeger had rebuffed his sexual advances.
Despite the circumstances around her death, Kreeger’s sexuality was scarcely mentioned at the time in news coverage by the StarNews and other media outlets, although it was alluded to in coverage of the trial.
In that era, “the media struggled to report accurately, good or bad, on the lives of gay people,” Ballis said. Ultimately, editorial decisions made with the perhaps good intentions of not biasing the public or potential jurors against Kreeger “had unintended consequences, in that she was never humanized.”
The film attempts to rectify that by having people who knew Kreeger talk about her life. Photos of her have been hard to come by, Ballis said, but he finally located a cousin who was able to give information about her early life.
In order to put Kreeger’s life, and death, in context, Ballis also talked to experts in the areas of hate crimes and how the media depicts LGBT people.
Kreeger’s case attracted attention outside of Wilmington, including from Stephen Sprinkle in his 2011 book “Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims,” which includes a chapter on Kreeger.
Sprinkle became a producer and the narrator of “Park View.” In the film, he says local law enforcement warned local LGBT people not to be too “visible” in mourning Kreeger’s death. More than one local church declined to host her funeral.
The fallout from the that, Ballis said, is one of the things that led to the founding of the gay-friendly St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church in Wilmington in 1992. In that sense, Ballis said, his movie is “a story of redemption.”
And even though “Park View” documents a 30-year-old murder, Ballis said, the fact that North Carolina is one of 16 states without hate crimes protections means that the film’s message is still relevant.
The next step for “Park View,” Ballis said, is to submit the film to festivals and seek distribution. Future cuts “will go through some changes, but the basic elements are there,” he said, adding that he still hopes to interview Kreeger’s murderer, who so far has not responded to requests.
Ballis said he will solicit audience feedback after Saturday’s screening, which will include a reception featuring music by Wilmington songwriter Laura McLean, whose song “Talana” is included in the film.
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or John.Staton@StarNewsOnline.com.