Investigative journalist Nathan J. Comp gets more than he bargained for in 2008, when an anonymous source leaks thousands of pages of confidential police reports, witness testimony, and various other records from secret state and federal probes into the disappearance of Amos Mortier, a shy 27-year-old known for his extraordinary kindness.
Mortier also led a double-life distributing cannabis for an upstate New York-based trafficking outfit.
Comp soon discovers critical information was overlooked or improperly vetted in the chaotic onset of the investigation. Consequently, detectives zero in on Mortier's longtime associate, "Big Jake" Stadfeld, after learning he had stolen $90,000 worth of marijuana, putting Mortier in debt to his upstate New York supplier. Fixation on Stadfeld, and his suspected accessory after the fact, led to even more oversights.
When Comp writes an article raising questions about how detectives handled a lead on a different suspect who had allegedly confessed to stabbing Mortier and feeding him to pigs was handled, investigators denounce the story, claiming Comp is "trying to sell books." But behind the scenes, witnesses suspected of speaking to Comp are visited by investigators.
Comp doubles down on his research when circumstances in his own life take an unexpected, and ultimately tragic, turn. Amid the struggle to bounce back following several brushes with death, Comp delves even deeper into the last year of Mortier's life when a lucky hunch breaks the case wide open and the pieces fall quickly into place.
The investigation into Amos Mortier's Nov. 8, 2004 disappearance from Fitchburg, Wisconsin, exposed his role as a marijuana distributor for a trafficking operation in upstate New York. Between 1999 and 2004, DEA estimates show Mortier distributed more than $1 million worth of marijuana. A federal grand jury investigation followed the state-level John Doe probe and resulted in conspiracy indictments against several connected to Mortier's distribution operation in south-central Wisconsin and the trafficking network in New York.
None of the indicted co-conspirators was caught in possession of marijuana, on video selling marijuana, or on wire taps talking about marijuana.
An even greater number of people were caught up in the unrelenting motions of the investigations. In many cases, their only connection to the conspiracy was the knowledge investigators suspected they had of a friend or loved one's knowledge or involvement. Many were questioned by police up to a half-dozen times, with additional statements requested by the DEA special agent and the assistant U.S. attorney. Many were subpoenaed to testify at as many as four different court proceedings.
Nevertheless, state prosecutors have never filed charges in connection to Amos Mortier's murder. Additionally, federal prosecutors declined to ask that convicted co-conspirator Jacob Stadfeld, also the primary suspect in Amos Mortier's murder, receive an additional 25-years in prison based on a preponderance of evidence he killed Mortier, a far lower threshold than beyond a reasonable doubt.
Despite the vast resources and reach of law enforcement, the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent, the dozens of people squeezed in press of American justice, Amos Mortier has never been found.
What Happened to Amos? is a whirlwind of secrecy and revelation from beginning to end as investigative journalist Nathan Comp questions "the official story" behind the 12-year-old disappearance of Amos Mortier, a shy 27-year-old known for his extraordinary kindness.
From journalist Nathan J. Comp, What Happened to Amos? co-producer and writer:
My research on Amos Mortier’s murder began in late October 2007, nearly three years after he went missing from a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. Within a year, I had obtained documents from an anonymous source totaling more than 3,300 pages. This bundle of police reports, grand jury testimony, phone records, call frequency reports, among other things, gave a lot of direction in where to find answers to the mystery around Amos's disappearance.
In the book I am currently writing about the case, as well as in this film, we reconstruct with a remarkable level of evidentiary detail the circumstances and coincidences that conspired to seal Amos's fate in November 2004. But this no longer is just Amos's story. It's the story of everyone who was ensnared in the very wide dragnet investigators cast early on.
This dragnet muddied the investigative waters enough for them to reinforce the tunnel vision they had developed around a single suspect. A key piece of what we've done is adjust for significant errors made early on that were never corrected as new information came to them. Everything they needed to solve this case was in front of them by the third day of the investigation. Rather than move the pieces around to see where in the puzzle they fit, the investigation went on tangents and down dead ends, drumming up the huge amount of irrelevant information that turned the puzzle into a mystery.
From filmmaker Kristina Motwani, director and co-producer of What Happened to Amos?:
AMOS isn’t here to tell his story, in part, because he went missing from a small city whose police department had never handled a case approaching anywhere near the scale or scope that the investigation into his disappearance would prove to be. His disappearance, and presumed murder, was also complicated by Americans’ conflicting attitudes and beliefs when it comes to illicit drugs, the people who sell them, as well as those who use them.
The persistent, and in most cases, erroneous assumptions people make about those who use drugs, especially marijuana, was the invisible hand that guided this investigation. It went on for six years, reached into five states and into Canada, cost millions in taxpayer money and was conducted largely in secret with little public oversight.
In the end, about a dozen people served time in prison, none of who were caught selling or using marijuana. There were no wiretaps, no surveillance, no hidden video, no informants, just Amos, who was never found, and his disappearance, which was never solved.
In this story we see in a really tangible and eye-opening way the battle line drug prohibition has drawn between our government and its citizens in creating an atmosphere where there is no room for moral ambiguity or forgiveness. Throughout the investigation into Amos’s disappearance law enforcement at all levels of government played both sides mercilessly, in one instance threatening a father and husband with the death penalty for his role in Amos’s marijuana business. Under federal law, if a murder is connected to a drug-trafficking conspiracy, the indicted co-conspirators, regardless of their actual level of culpability, can be put to death.
In his nine years of research into the circumstances around Amos’s disappearance, Nathan Comp has not only encountered these stigmas, but he’s also experienced them as well, often times in very personal and painful ways. But his ongoing willingness to put himself out there, to stand up for those who’ve been beaten down by the policies and politics around drugs, and to hopefully bring about some kind of closure for Amos’s mother is a real act of courage. It’s through his story that we’re given a 360-degree perspective on how strong are the tentacles of drug enforcement, how far do they reach, and what happens to the sad debris left their wake. I’ve been developing this project for over 18 months and I’m still blown away by the things I’m learning.
$30,000 Will Go To
The $30,000 we hope to raise will accelerate production and bring the completion date into late 2017. Specifically, funds raised will go toward paying production team wages, travel costs, equipment rentals, and miscellaneous costs. To date, all production costs have been covered out-of-pocket or by volunteered talent.
2. Continued shooting
3. Licensing archival footage
4. Licensing music
5. Research fees
6. Miscellaneous production costs
6. Storage and backup
We have a great variety of rewards for our backers, there is something to fit every budget, from social media shout-outs to credits, screenings and more! Some of the coolest rewards we are offering are a sticker pack with 6 stickers
and a choice of one of these two screen-printed posters:
also these hats:
and these shirts:
all designed by our graphic designer Carolyn Smith.
The Production Team
Kristina Motwani, Director/Co-Producer/Editor
Motwani works in San Francisco’s film industry, currently as the short documentary editor for the online arm of Al Jazeera, AJ+. She was a series editor for PBS’s Independent Lens and PBS World’s Global Voices. She was editor of the PBS World documentary First Friday and assistant editor for the Emmy winning After Tiller, as well as An Honest Liar, which won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the AFI Docs Festival. Motwani also edited the award-winning science news program DNews for Discovery Digital Networks. She has also edited and produced numerous television advertisements for companies including Chipotle, Sony, Revision3, and Element14. Motwani is the director and co-producer of the feature documentary, What Happened to Amos?, about the unsolved disappearance of an enigmatic marijuana distributor. She received her B.S. in Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Nathan J. Comp, Writer/Co-Producer
Comp is a journalist, editor, photographer and travel blogger in Madison, Wisconsin. Fresh out of college, Comp became editor of an innovative weekly tabloid called Coreweekly. He has since written for publications in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Nationally, he has written for The Progressive, In These Times, and The Huffington Post. Newspaper associations in Wisconsin and New Mexico have recognized Comp’s work, as have the National Scholastic Press Association, the Milwaukee Press Club, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. In 2010, he launched the acclaimed travelogue, TheFeralScribe.com. He is currently writing and co-producing the feature documentary, What Happened to Amos?, about the unsolved disappearance of an enigmatic marijuana distributor. He is simultaneously writing a book about the disappearance.
Colin Sytsma, Cinematographer
Sytsma is a documentary filmmaker in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who launched Wood Grain Media in early 2013. Sytsma has worked for the award-winning 371 Productions since 2011, filling a variety of roles, including cinematographer, sound engineer, producer and media manager. Currently, he is Director of Photography on the 371 Production feature film When Claude Got Shot, about a horrific shooting and its aftermath. He recently produced Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff for the Al Jazeera America television show Fault Lines. In association with Wood Grain Media, he is currently co-directing From Mass to the Mountain, about a rural Panamanian community plagued by drought and contaminated water.
Brandon Sugiyama, Art Director, Motion Graphics Designer
Sugiyama is an art director and motion graphic designer with over seven years of experience working with award-winning agencies, including BigStar, Trollbäck+Company, Framestore and Questus. In addition to creating graphics for television networks such as HBO, The Food Network, The History Channel, TED Conferences and the U.S. Olympic Committee, Sugiyama is building an impressive portfolio of work in documentary films. To date, he has worked on Midsummer in Newtown, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; The Age of Aerospace, a five-part documentary covering the history of aviation and space exploration for The Documentary Group and which was broadcast on the Discovery and Science Channels; and The Naked Brand, written and directed by Jeff Rosenblum and Sherng-Lee Huang. He earned his degree in motion graphic design from Expression College for Digital Arts, where he was named valedictorian of his graduating class. Born in San Francisco, Sugiyama currently lives in Brooklyn and is lead animator for the upcoming feature documentary, What Happened to Amos?
Carolyn Smith, Graphic Designer
Smith is an art director and graphic designer in San Francisco, CA with over 15 years of marketing, advertising and publishing experience with an emphasis on typography and photography. Additionally, she enjoys fabric design, digital music production and video editing.
Special Thanks to: Conor Gordon for video finishing, William Ryan Fitch for music, Daniela Cortes for sound and Dewayne Edwards for production assistance.
Risks and challenges
The primary challenge is raising the funds necessary to complete the production on the film. The film draws from Nathan Comp’s nine years of research on the circumstances around Amos Mortier’s disappearance and the rapport he has established with those connected to the investigation. Nearly half of the film’s interviews have been shot, in addition to a considerable amount of B-roll. At this point, cash flow dictates workflow.
The risks are similar to those inherent to any feature film, primarily that there is no guarantee of commercial success. However, we believe that the current popularity investigative true crime documentaries like The Jinx and Making a Murderer speaks to the viability of this project. As with the investigations explored in these documentaries, What Happened to Amos? features a broad-range of compelling voices that take viewers through a riveting cycle of secrecy and revelation.
What sets our film apart is that rather than asking whether our protagonist is innocent or guilty, we ask our audience to weigh the evidence against two suspects connected to the same murder. Drawing from thousands of pages of leaked law enforcement and court records, in addition to the findings of journalist Nathan Comp’s own research, What Happened to Amos? aims to advance the real-life criminal investigation into the 12-year-old disappearance.
- (30 days)