How A Filmmaker Teamed Up with a Former Detective to Solve a Cold Case
How A Filmmaker Teamed Up with a Former Detective to Solve a Cold Case
By Dylan Reibling  

After years of filming my investigation into the mysterious death of my friend Michael De Bourcier, it is hard to believe that Looking for Mike is finally ready to see the light of day. When I first started this process, I had an endless list of questions and it was the biggest questions that seemed the most impossible to find answers for: who was my friend, and how did he die? I had kept a file on “Mike” since 2002. I would revisit it once or twice a year — going over old details that I knew about him and trying to collect new pieces of information. But within the 12 years that I started this file, I was never able to make any substantial headway.

director looks at murder boardDirector Dylan Reibling looks at a murder board for the case. Photo: Chris Katsarov

While I was working this file, I had also started my career as a documentary filmmaker. For the past decade, I’ve been learning how to track down people and dig for information. These skills helped me beef up my file on my friend Mike, but I still had too many unanswered questions.

It wasn’t until I hired private investigator Dave Perry that I knew I had enough momentum to properly tell my story. Working with Dave was crucial.  As a former police detective, he had a great deal of experience sorting through evidence and being able to tell which leads were promising enough to follow. Even more importantly, he was able to help me navigate through the process of working with institutions like the police department and the coroner’s office to get access to information that may not be available to the general public. At a couple of key moments in the film, navigating these institutions proved consequential to moving our investigation ahead.

One thing that surprised me was how similar my work as a documentary filmmaker was to the work of a private investigator. We both gather information to make sense of the world. Whether the end goal is to build up a compelling court case or to craft a compelling documentary, the path to get there is the same: grunt work.

"We phoned every single person with that last name in a 50km radius of the town. We made 80 calls and spoke to 60 families. Not a single one had a clue what we were talking about."

One of the most important skills of a documentary filmmaker is the ability to pick up the phone. Most of the job is tracking people down, calling them up, and asking them questions in the hopes that they have the information you’re looking for. This is, for the most part, thankless work. You talk to a lot of people — the majority of whom do not have the information you need. This is no different for private investigators.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Mike reaches out to a private investigator for help.

Something that didn’t make the final cut of Looking For Mike was the afternoon that Dave Perry and I spent making cold calls together. We had come up with a promising lead on the real identity of my friend: we had a potential last name and town where he was from. Excited about this possible breakthrough, we got on the phone. We phoned every single person with that last name in a 50km radius of the town. We made 80 calls and spoke to 60 families. Not a single one had a clue what we were talking about. We had spent half a day following a lead that didn’t go anywhere. That didn’t mean the day was wasted (what if call #59 was the breakthrough we were looking for?) It just meant that that day didn’t make the final cut of the film.

Director with crew behind the scenesBehind the scenes as director Dylan Reibling films a recreation for the documentary, Looking for Mike. Photo: Chris Katsarov

Another thing that I learned from working on this kind of investigation is how to get creative about getting information. Sometimes people have information but they don’t want to give it to you. One mystery I was hell-bent on solving was the location of Mike’s grave. When he died, I was told that Mike had prepaid his burial. But due to privacy concerns, the police were unable to disclose the location of his grave.

The simple solution would be to call every graveyard in town until you found the right one. Except, as I discovered, cemeteries are not permitted to tell you whether someone is buried there.  Instead of calling up a cemetery and asking whether someone is buried there, why not try calling up and asking where in the cemetery your friend is buried. For the most part, you’ll be met with confusion. But with some perseverance, you’d be surprised what you can find out. You’ll see that Looking for Mike opens with a visit to my friend’s grave. The process of tracking that grave down didn’t make the final cut of the film, but that opening is the culmination of a hard-fought battle for information.

In the end, only a small fraction of the investigative work done by Dave Perry and myself actually made it onto screen. But if the investigation in Looking for Mike looks straightforward and compelling, then we’ve done our job.


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