Every Time 'The Thing About Pam' Lied To You

Everybody has a strong opinion about NBC's "The Thing About Pam," starring Renée Zellwegger and Josh Duhamel. Zellweger's received criticism for donning a fat suit to play Pam Hupp (via The Wrap), the Midwestern mom and alleged serial killer. And some critics have found the comedic elements of the story off-putting. The Chicago Sun-Times argues, "[It] maintains an almost breezy approach to some seriously macabre events." Vulture questions the series' genre-bending objectives. Is Hupp a fool to mock or a predator to fear? We see her presented in both ways with a generous dollop of "Karen" on top.

As only the best actors can do, Zellwegger disappears into her role (with the help of prosthetics, makeup, and clothes). It's a cinch to imagine her involved in some tawdry altercation in a mall parking lot, caught on tape and posted to YouTube. "You know the type," as Hupp says in the first episode. In other words, she's unlikeable but oh-so-familiar. A Salon piece aptly points out "The Thing About Pam" is one in a trifecta of productions (along with "The Dropout" and "Super Pumped") showcasing unrepentant a-holes. What it says about the current cultural climate is anyone's guess.

Of course, Pam Hupp can't take all the blame. Lincoln County's prosecutorial arm proves chock full of unrepentants, too. The series makes you hope this could never happen in real life, except it did ... kinda. Here's every time "The Thing About Pam" did (and didn't) lie to you. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Russ Faria immediately called 911

"The Thing About Pam's" first episode sets a peaceful stage for an atrocious crime. We settle into the lull of post-Christmas, small-town America, scenes of picket-fenced front yards with glittering lights flashing by. Yet, dreadful anticipation fills the air as narrator Keith Morrison assures us all hell will soon break loose.

Moments later, we're dropped headlong into chaos with a corpse on the floor and a distraught — perhaps overly distraught — husband on the phone with 911. We hear Russ Faria's (Glenn Fleshler) pinched voice and see his half-closed eyes. (Later, we'll find out he's high.) It's his wife face down and motionless on the living room floor, her upper half splotched with dark blood.

Faria v. McCarrick puts this 911 phone call at 9:40:10 pm, making for a significant time gap in Russ Faria's activities that night, including a 9:09 pm visit to Arby's. (We learn about this later, also.) But reality fills in the gap. Russ Faria drove for a half hour to reach home and described walking into the house and finding his wife on the floor in the dark. Calling 911 wasn't his first instinct. St. Louis Magazine reports he knelt by her, assuming she'd gotten sick. That's when he registered the livid shadow of gore pooled beneath her, the wrists slashed to the bone, and a kitchen knife in her neck. "Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case" notes Faria nearly embraced her before stopping short, afraid to mess up the scene for investigators.

Betsy Faria felt strong after chemo

From this salacious opening, we get some back story. It begins with Russ and Betsy Faria together at her mom Janet Meyer's house with their daughter Mariah. Pam Hupp's phone call shatters their familial bliss. Hupp insists on picking Betsy Faria up from her mom's house. But Betsy Faria replies she's feeling better and stronger than usual and wants to stay with her family.

Although we can only guess at the phone conversations Betsy Faria had that day, text messages paint a different picture than the show. So does Russ Faria's later testimony. According to St. Louis Magazine, Russ Faria didn't visit his mother-in-law's house. Instead, he worked from home as an IT specialist until 5 pm (via Dateline), texting his wife throughout the day. At noon, he mentioned getting her after game night, and she agreed, "Okay, great, honey."

But post-treatment, she changed her mind, texting at 3:46 pm that Pam Hupp would bring her home. She mentioned a low white cell blood count and inability to sleep at her mom's house. Documents obtained by Dateline back this up, showing Hupp tracked Betsy Faria's movements in the days leading up to December 27, looking for a window when she'd feel "weak and lethargic from chemotherapy" and be alone, per NBC News.

Russ Faria and his friends played an RPG

Bending the truth continues in the first episode of "The Thing About Pam." The show flashes to Russ Faria and his friends absorbed in a role-playing game (RPG) while taking monster hits off a bong. While they did get a little high that night, the game never happened. That's because one of the five regular members of the crew couldn't make it, which took Rolemaster off the table, as it were (via St. Louis Magazine).

Instead, they watched the newest "Conan the Barbarian" movie. After that, they started Cormack McCarthy's screen adaptation of "The Road" but stopped halfway through, bored by the post-apocalyptic drama, according to "Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case."

Russ Faria recalled leaving his friend's house around 9:00 pm along with two other friends. He swung by Arby's in Lake St. Louis for two beef and cheddar melts, downing them while heading home. Fortunately, he threw the time-stamped Arby's receipt to the floor of his car. This receipt, as shown in the TV series, played a vital role later in corroborating his whereabouts on the night of his wife's murder, per Faria v. McCarrick, Merkel, Harney, and Askey.

The 911 call lasted for a few brief minutes

The 911 call Russ Faria made proved one of the most scrutinized pieces of evidence during the first and second Betsy Faria murder trials. While the first episode of "The Thing About Pam" offers the highlights, it's a small slice of what really happened on the phone that night, per "Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case."

The actual call contained unbridled panic, uncontrolled disbelief, and incoherent grief. Russ Faria's brain settled on an unlikely explanation that would come back to haunt him: "I just got home from a friend's house, and my wife killed herself! She's on the floor!" The 911 operator, Tammy Vaughn, attempted to calm him, coaching him to breathe slowly. She feared he might hyperventilate, even pass out. Like the TV show, the popular Dateline podcast "The Thing About Pam" only airs portions of the 911 call, capturing the visceral horror of that night at 130 Sumac.

But the real-life call stretched for 10 agonizing minutes before Chris Hollingsworth, a Lincoln County Sheriff's Office deputy, arrived (via Faria v. McCarrick). Once Hollingsworth saw the body, he ushered Russ Faria outside. He didn't want to take a chance contaminating an active crime scene.

The Farias' dog greeted Russ Faria

The flashback to Russ Faria's arrival at the house in the first episode contains another inaccuracy. Approaching the porch, Faria finds his dog, Sicily, and asks why she's out there. This isn't the dog's first sighting on the show. Prior to Faria getting home, we see Pam Hupp sitting in her car, leaving a voicemail on Betsy Faria's phone. Outside, Sicily stands in the road, barking until Hupp opens the car door, frightening the dog away.

While Sicily's whereabouts might not seem like a big deal, they factored into both the first and second murder trials. According to "Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case," Russ Faria never encountered Sicily on the porch. Instead, someone had chained her in the backyard (via Faria v. McCarrick). Faria found this unusual, explaining Sicily only went out for brief bathroom breaks at night.

Fox 2 Now reports detectives claimed they'd found a bloody paw print on Betsy Faria's body, which the prosecution used to assert the dog knew the murderer well. (Coincidentally, Pam Hupp claimed to be afraid of the dog.) But during the retrial, CSI agent Amy Buettner testified the dog's coat and paws contained no presence of blood, throwing the alleged bloody paw print into suspicion.

Law enforcement descended en masse at the Faria home

Midway through episode one of "The Thing About Pam," Lincoln County law enforcement and first responders descend on 130 Sumac, turning the Farias' once-quiet neighborhood into a spectacle. They include Detective Michael Merkel, Captain Mike Lang, and Lead Detective Ryan McCarrick. As they collect evidence, it's already clear they have a bias about who perpetrated the crime. But the show lies here, too.

According to "Bone Deep: Untangling the Twisted True Story of the Tragic Betsy Faria Murder Case," Deputy Chris Hollingsworth showed up solo at the house on December 27. He let himself inside while Russ Faria remained on the phone with the 911 dispatcher. One look at Betsy Faria's body told Hollingsworth he'd walked into a crime scene. He had Faria step outside and sit in a chair on the porch (rather than on the front lawn as in the series). Next, Hollingsworth got to work, calling for backup. Soon, detectives Patrick Harney and Mike Merkel arrived, scouring the living room for vital clues.

In the meantime, Hollingsworth suggested Faria get out of the cold and into the back of his patrol car. Faria accepted unhesitatingly. As first responders continued to work the crime scene, Merkel and Harney turned their attention to the most likely suspect. They asked Faria to accompany them to the sheriff's office for a statement. It was an offer he couldn't refuse.

Russ Faria remained mum in the cop car

One of the largest omissions in the first episode involves a conversation between Deputy Chris Hollingsworth and Russ Faria while both warmed up in his cruiser. According to St. Louis Magazine, Hollingsworth tried to simultaneously calm and distract Faria by asking random questions about the neighborhood. And it worked too well. Faria transformed from a near-hysterical widower into a chatty conversationalist. At one point, he even laughed, which struck Hollingsworth as strangely dissonant — even jarring behavior.

Coupled with the fact Hollingsworth had noted "limited tears coming from his eyes" during his initial arrival on the scene, facts and observations conspired against Faria. It looked like the kind of case any law enforcement agent could get behind ... open and shut. The time constraints of presenting such a convoluted story in six 42-minute episodes, give or take, had to factor into the decision to leave out what seemed like a meaningful conversation at the time. In retrospect, seeing Faria wrestle with shock and denial shortly after his wife's murder appears more understandable than Hollingsworth presumed.

Ultimately, the interaction had no impact when it came to cracking Betsy Faria's murder case. However, it might have been a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat moment for those unfamiliar with the case's facts. Artistic license aside, Faria v. McCarrick tells us Hollingsworth drove Faria to the sheriff's office around 11 pm that cold December night. It never dawned on Faria that he was the primary suspect.

Russ Faria's first interrogation was a couple hours at most

Back at the Lincoln County sheriff's office, Russ Faria's behavior fluctuated wildly, according to St. Louis Magazine. One moment he calmly answered questions. The next, he melted into near hysterics, which law enforcement noted as "over the top." Faria sat between a rock and hard spot. The pinhole camera faithfully captured his emotional swings as he broke into sobs and whispers, calling out his wife's name and repeating "No, no, no, no."

He also did a lot of praying as detectives watched him kneel, building their case against him. Whether too calm or too agitated, confirmation bias worked against him. Episode 1 of "The Thing About Pam" attempts to capture the essence of Faria's tumultuous interrogation. Of course, time limitations mean it occurs over tense minutes rather than exhaustive hours.

According to Faria v. McCarrick, Merkel, Harney, and Askey, after Faria went willingly with officers on December 27, they didn't release him until December 29, 2011, at 4:30 pm — nearly two days after bringing him in (via Dateline). St. Louis Magazine tells us he endured 10 hours of questioning, suffering severe sleep deprivation. The kind that Everyday Health says leads to poor judgment, impaired memory, disorientation, and even microsleeps (a.k.a. mini blackouts). Yet, he maintained a consistent story throughout.

Pam Hupp's first interview didn't cover insurance

Pam Hupp's interrogation in Episode 1 leaves out telltale dialogue, including the moment sheriff's deputies asked Hupp about Betsy Faria's $150,000 life insurance policy. She'd conveniently been named the sole beneficiary just four days before the murder, per Faria v. McCarrick.

Like Russ Faria's interrogation, the show's creators whittled Pam Hupp's first interaction with law enforcement down to an essential nub. This choice keeps the storyline well-paced while allowing the series' creators to hone in on the most bizarre inconsistencies of her story. Like why she needed a shower the night of December 27 and another the next morning. In real life, she excused the two showers saying, "I don't like messing around with somebody who's been sweaty from all day," presumably referring to her husband, Mark Hupp (via St. Louis Magazine).

Despite the redacted questioning session, the show does an excellent job of depicting how Pam Hupp disarmed law enforcement with her homey Midwestern persona. It also lays the groundwork for the infuriating inconsistencies that would characterize Hupp's stories (yes, plural) during the first and second Betsy Faria murder trials. Infuriating because police refused to see through evident lies. This lazy ineptitude allowed Hupp to weave a web of deception implicating Russ Faria in his wife's murder.

Pam Hupp never mentioned cloudy Gatorade

The tension ratchets up in Episode 2 of "The Thing About Pam," as Lincoln County law enforcement's trap snaps shut on Russ Faria. Investigators ignore his rock-solid alibi (per Injustice Anywhere), instead believing Pam Hupp, a woman with no alibi and a compelling motive.

We also see more of Mark Hupp, a mild, disinterested, even-tempered man. He takes his wife at face value, without question. St. Louis Magazine reports law enforcement came to cross-check Pam Hupp's testimony from the day before against her husband's. But then the unthinkable happened. They let her be there during this interview! We see this in the show as she offers investigators sugar cookies and small talk, instantly putting them at ease.

As the detectives nosh away, she gossips about the Farias like a stereotypical church lady, painting her alleged best friend's husband as maniacal. Horrifyingly, this is an accurate representation of what happened. But the most outlandish story that Hupp told that day didn't make the television series. It involved a workout session that Pam Hupp accompanied Betsy Faria to. Hupp claimed Russ Faria had given his wife "cloudy Gatorade" that smelled rancid and tasted so awful Betsy Faria had to spit it out.

The polygraph test controversy that remains untold

Another crucial event explored in Episode 2 of "The Thing About Pam" is the lie detector test that the Lincoln County sheriff's department claimed Russ Faria failed. We hear from Faria's defense attorney, Joel Schwartz, requesting the lie detector test results, but the series doesn't delve very deeply into this troubling part of the real-life case.

As Joel Schwartz pointed out in an interview with St. Louis Magazine, Faria took the test without hesitation after 32 hours without sleep. What's more, he still had marijuana in his system. These two factors raised alarming red flags in Schwartz's mind, leading him to wonder if his client had received a faux test. After all, no reputable examiner would do an authentic test under these conditions. When Schwartz requested a video recording of the test, the sheriff's office claimed the camera hadn't worked. He couldn't get his hands on the raw data, either. Instead, authorities gave him the following statement: "There were significant, consistent physiological responses indicative of deception."

Besides remaining mum on the faux test theory, we never hear much about the juicy details surrounding Pam Hupp's refusal to take a polygraph test, per Bustle. As always, Hupp had an excuse for her lack of enthusiasm when it came to technology designed to detect lies. She claimed she couldn't take one due to "memory issues" and an unconfirmed "disability." Any logical person would have agreed these excuses looked highly suspect. But maybe they remained blinded by the yummy cookies she dished out.

Betsy Faria and Pam Hupp were close friends

In the second episode of "The Thing About Pam," Joel Schwartz asks his client about Pam Hupp, and Russ Faria answers that "she's a nice lady." But according to St. Louis Magazine, his assessment of Hupp didn't stop there. He noted that his wife's so-called friend wasn't as close to Hupp as she claimed: "I could name half a dozen other people Betsy was closer to."

The last text session Faria had with his wife supports this conclusion. Betsy Faria refers to her friend as "Pam Hupp." The use of a last name depicts them more like acquaintances than inseparable friends. Even if Betsy Faria had known several women named Pam, it still stands to reason that Russ Faria would immediately recognize which Pam currently spent every waking moment with his wife. Unless she didn't.

In a roundabout way, the television series alludes to this, especially in the first episode. Hupp pressures Betsy Faria to accept her ride home, yet Faria refuses. So, Hupp must impose herself on the situation, showing up uninvited at Janet Meyer's home. Everybody at the house looks visibly uncomfortable. During Hupp's later interviews with detectives, we see her altering history to make her relationship with Betsy Faria sound more significant than it likely was.

The Faria daughters never received a harassing letter

The creators of "The Thing About Pam" took liberties with characterizing Betsy Faria's two daughters. The oldest daughter Lily (Leah) Day immediately buys the idea her stepdad, Russ Faria, could murder their mother. She displays plenty of pent-up rage when speaking about him. Mariah Day appears far more sympathetic towards her stepdad. But, in reality, the Faria daughters had more nuanced relationships with their longtime stepdad, per Fox 2 Now.

A Fox 2 Now interview with both women a decade after their mother's murder provides insight into what really happened. Both Leah and Mariah Day said they asked authorities about Pam Hupp as a potential suspect, but Lincoln County's prosecutors and investigators made them feel stupid. The girls pointed out that Hupp went to great lengths to pick up their mom that evening, but authorities countered, saying Russ Faria was the "only possible killer."

During the interview, the Days also discussed receiving a hurtful handwritten letter at the restaurant where they worked. Although anonymous, they wrongly assumed it came from their stepdad, creating a huge rift at the time. As Mariah Day recalls, "We had police conspiring to keep us from Russ and Pam sending us letters keeping us kind of against him." We never hear about the letter during Episode 3 of "The Thing About Pam." But we do see a half-truth involving Prosecutor Leah Askey who pressures Mariah Day to testify against Russ Faria. In reality, Leah Day had this conversation with Askey.

Pam Hupp's neighbor received a dead squirrel in a box

Episode 3 ends with a bang or, rather, a shoebox. The unmarked box sits in the driveway of Pam Hupp's elderly next-door neighbor, Minnie, a redheaded busy body who keeps her eye on the community. Earlier, we watched Hupp con Minnie into attending Russ Faria's first murder trial while Hupp waits to testify with the other witnesses. Minnie wears a disguise and keeps Hupp apprised of the court's goings-on via text message.

But their relationship sours after Hupp learns Minnie's been talking to Dateline about the Russ Faria murder trial. Fast-forward back to the shoebox, which Minnie opens, finding one of the beloved neighborhood squirrels she feeds. The furry friend is cold, hard, and dead. As Keith Morrison's narration points out, the "thing about Pam" is that you never know when you've gotten on her bad side ... until you become her target.

This assessment of her placid exterior fits with accounts from Hupp's friends, per St. Louis Magazine. One individual observed, "She was easy company; I never saw her get mad." Members of Hupp's neighborhood in O'Fallon likely would've agreed. But if these neighbors thought about it, they could attest to strange circumstances that started when the Hupps moved in. Cars got keyed, mean-spirited letters showed up, and bloody animal remains ended up in one neighbor's yard. The acuity of hindsight now makes them wonder if such incidents stem back to Hupp.

Cathy Singer came to Russ Faria's first trial

Russ Faria receives the devastating news that a jury has found him guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the third episode. He nearly collapses under the unbearable weight of a "life sentence without parole." Joel Schwartz (Josh Duhamel) and his co-counsel Nate Swanson (Ben Chase) walk out of the courthouse, shellshocked by the improbable verdict.

Schwartz's deflated reaction to the jury's decision jives with what the real-life defense attorney told Fox 2 Now, "In 25 years, I've never seen a prosecution like this. It's clear in the state's case and the closing argument of the state, that everything still remains a guess and simply remains a guess because it's virtually impossible for [Russ Faria] to have done this." In the show, Cathy Singer, a Dateline producer, enters the scene, catching Schwartz on the courthouse stairs. He assures her that they've only begun to fight for Faria's freedom. (Within a month of his erroneous conviction, Schwartz kept true to his word, filing a motion for re-trial.)

While a meeting between Singer and Schwartz did provide the catalyst for what would become a hit true-crime podcast, it didn't happen on courthouse steps. According to Singer's reminiscences on Dateline, she first heard about the case via Facebook following the verdict. So, she called Schwartz, and he told her about Pam Hupp. The next day, Singer drove five hours to meet the lawyer and dig into the story.

Trick-or-treaters found Shirley Neumann's body

Episode 4 of "Thing About Pam" deeps dive into Pam Hupp's inglorious past. Portrayed as having deep-seated feelings of repression and resentment, she lashes out at her conservative Catholic and alcoholic mother, Shirley Neumann. In return, Neumann threatens repeatedly to cut her out of her will. The show alludes to Hupp's pent-up rage after getting knocked up at prom, enduring a shotgun wedding, and resigning herself to housewife status.

St. Louis Magazine confirms some elements of this storyline, including the hasty wedding. Hupp's friends also recall sensing underlying resentment from her. Although she'd done the responsible thing, changing dirty diapers and warming bottles held little glamor compared to going off to college. But not much has been written about Hupp and Neumann's relationship ... other than the fact it likely ended in matricide (via NBC News).

As a beneficiary on her mother's life insurance policy (sound familiar?), Hupp had a clear motive. And the way Neumann's body fell through the middle metal rungs of a balcony without damaging the top banister looked highly suspicious. But here's where the show goes off the rails. Neumann died on Halloween, and the show depicts her body found at night by a pair of teen trick-or-treaters. While it makes for a dramatic moment, that's not how it went down. Fox 2 Now reports a housekeeper at Lakeview Park in Fenton, the facility where Neumann lived, found her body at approximately 2:30 pm.

Mariah Day received an alleged letter from Russ Faria years later

In episode five, Pam Hupp's wholesome Midwestern persona disintegrates under scrutiny. Fictional additions to the storyline include a bag of wet money recovered in the Florida Everglades and linkages to a recently deceased Mrs. Fitzgerald. Details surrounding her mother, Shirley Neumann's death also get exaggerated. We're told Neumann had 14 times the recommended amount of Ambien in her system at the time of her death when it was likely closer to eight times, per Fox 2.

But one of the most egregious changes involves the arrival of a letter for Mariah Day at the restaurant where she and her sister worked. Day initially believes the letter came from her stepfather, Russ Faria, but later discovers it was Pam Hupp. She does this in one of the show's most dramatic moments, comparing Hupp's handwriting on a restaurant receipt with that in the letter. While it makes for an incredible onscreen moment, the real-life realization came after years of reflection. What's more, the timing of the letter proves off.

In an interview with Fox 2 a decade after their mother's murder, Mariah Day recalled the cruel letter she received. But it showed up during their stepfather's first trial. Events such as these conspired to drive a wedge between the girls and their stepfather, making them more willing to testify against him, as Leah Day implies in the same interview.

Louis Gumpenberger and Carol Alford (McAfee) were neighbors

In the sixth episode of "The Thing About Pam," Hupp goes after Russ Faria again through a hair-brained plot posing as Cathy Singer of NBC's "Dateline." She buys various items from the Dollar Store, including a knife, and then cruises the Sweet Gatherings Mobile Home Park where Carol Alford (McAfee) lives.

Hupp offers McAfee $1,000 to go to an undisclosed location to record soundbites for an upcoming episode of "Dateline." But Alford feels something amiss and brings a knife and her phone. (In reality, Alford brought two knives, per Fox 2). As Hupp gave off increasingly weird vibes during the drive, Alford asked to go back for her shoes and to lock her front door, accurately portrayed in the show. But they omit the moment after Alford's return when she told Hupp she had cameras on her house and a knife in her hoodie pocket (via Fox 2).

The show also misrepresents Louis Gumpenberger as Alford's neighbor. But Hupp did a lot more neighborhood trolling before setting her sights on the mentally disabled man, as reported by Fox 2. Cellphone tracking data shows six days after letting Alford go, Hupp lured Gumpenberger from his apartment to her house. There, she shot him dead in her bedroom rather than the entryway, as the show depicts. As for the makeshift rug that protects her carpet from his blood, in reality, a missing doormat was found under his body, per St. Louis Today.