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Eileen Franklin Case Shows The Toll Childhood Sexual Abuse Takes On Memory, ‘Buried’ Filmmakers Say

“Buried” filmmakers Yotam Guendelman and Ari Pines told Oxygen.com that it's clear to them that George Franklin was "bad," whether or not Eileen Franklin's memories of him killing her childhood friend Susan Nason were true or not.

By Gina Tron
Eileen Franklin Ap

The filmmakers behind “Buried” say that the controversial repressed memories of Eileen Franklin, a California woman who claimed she suddenly remembered that her dad murdered her childhood playmate twenty years prior, shows the toll that childhood trauma can take upon on a person's mind.

Franklin’s memories, and the high profile trial that they triggered, are explored in Showtime’s new four-part docuseries “Buried.” Twenty years after her 8-year-old childhood best friend Susan Nason was abducted and killed in their seemingly safe community of Foster City, California in 1969, Eileen claimed that she suddenly recovered a repressed memory about the murder – and that she witnessed her dad George Franklin rape and then kill Nason with a rock. The case marked the first in which recovered memory was used in any criminal prosecution, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1995. During George’s very high profile trial, Eileen and her sister Janice swore under oath that their dad was a pedophile who sexually abused them both. 

Eileen also swore under oath that she was not hypnotized before she remembered the killing. But was she telling the truth and was her recollection of Nason’s murder a false memory induced by a therapist?

Oxygen.com spoke to “Buried” directors Yotam Guendelman and Ari Pines about what drove them to make this docuseries and what they hope viewers take away from watching it.

Oxygen: Is repressed memory a term still used to this day?

Pines: Repressed memory has become sort of a disgraced term. Nowadays it’s typically called dissociative amnesia which is basically the same thing but dissociative amnesia is found in the DSM and it’s more acknowledged. That’s how experts who believe in this phenomenon view it now, as this sort of dissociative thing more than a recurrent thing. It’s a form of dissociation. Experts who don’t believe in repressed memories usually also don’t believe in multiple personality disorders. They think that in both cases it is the therapists that induce or suggest this condition onto their patients.

Oxygen: Did either of you remember this case as it was unfolding?

Guendelman: We were both kids so we don’t remember anything about it but as soon as we came across this case, we were amazed. We fell in love with it. It’s hard to say “love” with such a hard story but Eileen’s character just took us away in a second. My mom, a psychologist, does remember it because of the memory wars debate [the controversy over whether or not repressed memories were real or induced].

Oxygen: Would you characterize this story as a tragedy? What parties do you view as wronged? 

Pines: I think it's definitely a tragedy from every aspect you can look at it. I think maybe everyone here was wronged in some way or another. It’s one of those stories where it’s really hard to know who the good guys and the bad guys are. Although one thing is certain and that is that George Franklin was a bad guy. The abuse that went on in that family is hard to dispute and you can see the ripples of that throughout this case. That’s the only thing that is certain about this story. 

Guendelman: There is definitely a good side and a bad side in a way. The kids were so traumatized by their father [George Franklin] and I think that in every angle you can look at it, whether a true memory or a false memory, you can’t say that Eileen was on the bad side. But you would say that George Franklin was on the bad side for sure.

Oxygen: Was Eileen involved in this project at all?

Pines: Not directly but we were in touch with her. Without going into details, she values her privacy and we respect that. It was important for us to present her in a special way and we hope we managed to do it.

Oxygen: What do you hope people take away from watching this series?

Guendelman: The severe price that trauma, specifically sexual trauma, takes on children and how it affects their memory, not only their life but their memory and ability to make a coherent narrative about their life and how sensitive we should be about that.

Maybe more than anything else, this case shows how little we know about the human brain and human memory, how difficult it is to actually know what is a real memory and what is not, and how to differentiate the difference between a true and false memory. Our legal system should be super cautious about it. We tend to believe memories, we tend to think that people will remember stuff as it was but when you research you realize how flexible our memory is and how much it can change. We should all take extra caution.

Pines: Most true crime docs are a who done it series and we wanted this to be something else: an investigation into the human mind and how it works. We use our memories all the time obviously and we don’t really stop and think about how that mechanism works. Most of us still do think of memories as sort of like a videotape that we can just rewind and replay moments in our life and it's really surprising to see how memory really works. Every time you remember something you are creating a story in your mind that is made up of bits and pieces of experience and the story changes every time you do it. I just hope that people will come to rethink how they think about memory and doubt memories, including their own.