You know you’re heading into dark waters when the YouTube trailer for a documentary is preceded by a content warning. That’s what you’ll see before you can watch the trailer for the new Netflix docurseries American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders, as it contains references to suicide and to self-harm. As does this story.
The documentary focuses on the death of journalist Danny Casolaro, a writer whose death appeared to be suicide – but his family and his colleagues believed, and continue to believe, otherwise. Casolaro had been investigating a conspiracy that he called “the Octopus”, and that conspiracy connected a string of unsolved murders, a secret organization with stolen government spy software and some of the biggest political scandals of the 20th Century.
The documentary asks a simple question: what really happened to Danny Casolaro?
Wandering into a tangled web
As the show reveals, Casolaro didn’t set out to find a conspiracy. He thought he was investigating a fairly obscure intellectual property dispute. But as his investigation proceeded he discovered links to the hidden underbelly of 1980s America: money laundering, spyware and even weapons trafficking. The more he uncovered, the more convinced Casolaro was of a giant conspiracy – and the more determined he was to bring the secrets he’d found into the light. But he never got the chance.
Was Casolaro killed for what he knew? According to his family, he had told his brother that he’d been getting threatening phone calls in the weeks prior to his death. Casolaro said that if something were to happen to him, it wouldn’t be an accident. His family also pointed out his extreme squeamishness that meant he was scared even of blood tests: would a man who couldn’t handle the sight of blood really take his own life in such a violent manner? Some law enforcement officials were suspicious too, but while the case was picked up by both ABC News and TIME magazine they couldn’t find any evidence of murder.
That’s where this documentary comes in. American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders isn’t just a historical story. It follows Christian Hansen, a photojournalist, who picks up the pieces decades later and attempts to discover the answers Casolaro was searching for. Alongside fimmaker Zachary Treitz, he travels across America to find the key figures in this story, a journey that puts both men at great personal risk. What really happened to Danny? This documentary – made by the Duplass Brothers Productions with Stardust Frames, who last worked together on Wild, Wild, Country, one of the best Netflix documentaries we’ve seen – attempts to find out.
American Conspiracy: The Octopus Murders will stream on Netflix in the US from February 28.