Filmmaker Madison Hamburg was around 21 when he began working on Murder on Middle Beach. It was 2013, about three years removed from the murder of his mother, and Hamburg sought to find some answers behind the unsolved crime. Barbara Hamburg had been mysteriously beaten to death and left in the yard of her coastal Connecticut home and discovered by her daughter and sister. Madison was away at college. The chief suspect at the time was Jeffrey Hamburg, Madison’s father and the ex-husband of Barbara. He owed Barbara several hundred thousand dollars in spousal and child support, and on the morning of Barbara’s murder, Jeffrey was due in court, where he was set to be incarcerated for contempt after failing to pay up.
It seems like a fairly open-and-shut case: Jeffrey Hamburg — who had reportedly fled — had the most to gain by murdering Barbara, namely, he wouldn’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in support payments, he would avoid jail time, and he’d get revenge on his ex-wife for leaving him. A young Madison Hamburg takes us down this path in the first episode of the series and then hits a brick wall when he can’t get his father to speak to him about the murder. It’s an open investigation, Madison’s estranged father tells him. His ex-wife had a complicated life and a number of secrets, Jeffrey adds. At a dead-end, Madison puts his documentary project — at the time a college filmmaking project — aside, only to return to it again three years later.
At that point, in 2016, Murder on Middle Beach picks up with a Madison who is three years older and wiser (and also a better filmmaker), who starts to explore the other tentacles of his mother’s life. From the outset, Barabara seems like a typical, well-to-do soccer mom with a love of wine. As Madison continues to dig, however, he begins to unearth secrets, and within those secrets, he finds motives for others to murder his mother. He also confirms what his father had told him, which is that his mother was layered and complicated.
But there are other layered and complicated members within the family, as well. I don’t want to spoil anything by teasing too much, but what’s interesting about Murder on Middle Beach — and what separates it from other true-crime docs — is that it’s being directed by the son of the victim. To see Madison grow and evolve over the course of the project gives this murder investigation the feel of a coming-of-age documentary, but for Madison, it’s also about grieving the death of his mother, and about trying to find closure. What’s doubly remarkable is Madison’s ability to confront close members of his family, and interrogate them, ask them point-blank if they murdered his mother. It’s awkward and emotional, but it’s ultimately satisfying.
Murder on Middle Beach is a four-part documentary series (three parts have aired), and as far as I know, the crime remains unsolved. After the finale airs, however, I may be interested in popping back in to discuss the various theories and suspects in the case, because in my mind, at least, one of these suspects is not like the others, and it’s not necessarily Jeffrey Hamburg.
‘Murder on Middle Beach’ is currently available on HBO Max.
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Header Image Source: HBO Max