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Crime News Movies & TV

An Anniversary Camping Trip Turned Murder And Kidnapping: The True Story Behind 'A Murder To Remember'

In "A Murder To Remember," actors Kevin Rodriguez and Maddie Nichols recreate the real harrowing anniversary camping trip of Julio and Candra Torres.

By Gina Tron

When a young couple takes a trip out into the woods to camp out for their first wedding anniversary, their hopeful celebration soon turns memorable for a darker reason.

Javier and Robin Rivera were seeking out the perfect fishing spot when a stranger named Sam lead them astray with promises of the perfect catch. Soon after Javier ends up dead in an apparent hunting accident — or was it? Robin becomes unsure as the armed Sam convinces her he is a friend as he keeps her captive in the woods for days. Even after the ordeal is over, Robin remains confused: What happened in the wilderness? Was Sam her savior or her husband’s killer?

This harrowing tale isn’t just the story of Lifetime’s new movie “A Murder to Remember.” It’s also based on the real life tale of a couple whose 1976 camping trip turned deadly, a terrifying tale that iconic crime writer Ann Rule wrote about in her book “Empty Promises.”

Murder To Remember Lifetime

The 2001 book recounts several true crime cases, including one entitled “The Stockholm Syndrome,” in which Rule recounts Oregon couple Julio and Candra Torres’ camping trip to the foothills of the state’s Mount Hood. It was a case that brought the term "Stockholm Syndrome" back into the courtroom, just a few years after its creation. The term  — which indicates a psychological condition in which the victim develops a perceived connection with their captor — was popularized following a 1973 Swedish bank hostage incident, the BBC pointed out in 2013. 

In early 1976, the lawyer representing Patty Hearst — the newspaper heiress who was kidnapped in 1974 by revolutionary militants whom she later helped rob a bank with — claimed she had the syndrome, making the term infamous.

In Rule’s book, the Torres couple are referred to by the pseudonyms of Hank and Robin Marcus — much like how the movie changes the real-life names.

In the film “A Murder to Remember,” Javier (played by Kevin Rodriguez) and Robin Rivera (played by Maddie Nichols) are young; in real life, Julio was 21 and Candra was just 16 when they set out to celebrate their first year of marriage. Rule noted in her book that “they were so much in love that her family didn’t object” to the age difference or the marriage. They brought their beloved collie Rusty along with them on their anniversary trip.

Warning: Movie spoilers below

As depicted in the movie, fishing was a big part of their trip, and in real life the couple did drive farther and farther downstream looking for the perfect spot to score. During that search, the real life couple came upon a man in an old mud-covered pickup. Rule noted that the stranger “lit up” when he saw the young teenager.

That stranger, Thomas Brown — named Sam in the movie and played by TC Matherne — told the couple that there was a recent fish dump at a spot where he was heading. Even though they were low on gas, the couple followed Brown to the promising fishing location. Brown promised to make a gas run for them if they ran out of gas. 

He took them to a creepy location instead, and by this point it was too dark to turn back. They set up camp.

The next day, the two men went out with guns to hunt and Candra soon heard a shot. Fearing something was wrong, she ran towards the sound only to hear another shot and witness her dog being shot dead by Brown. Wth the two beings she loved most dead, she was stuck with their killer alone in the wilderness for three days. During that time, he sexually abused her and brainwashed her into thinking he saved her life.

In the aftermath of the ordeal, she struggled to get a firm hold on what happened.

Rule claimed in her book that Candra was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. The FBI has called the phenomenon, which is not an official psychiatric disorder, extremely rare. At one point, Candra even covered for her husband's killer and became a suspect in his murder. During Brown's 1977 trial, the presiding judge allowed testimony on the mechanisms of Stockholm Syndrome — which was unprecedented at the time, according to Rule.

The judge found ultimately Brown guilty of murder and he got life in prison. He is still behind bars, according to Lifetime. 

Following the airing of “A Murder to Remember,” which will debut on Lifetime Sunday at 8 p.m. EST, the network will air a companion special called “A Murder to Remember, Elizabeth Smart: Finding Justice.” 

In that special — which will air at 10 p.m. EST — kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart will speak to Candra Torres about her ordeal. Candra explains how Brown tricked her and her husband before kidnapping her and manipulating her. The special also discusses the significance of the term Stockholm Syndrome, how it relates to the case and how it is perceived now. 

The real-life case also served as the basis for the 1983 TV Movie “The Awakening of Candra.”

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