(Editor’s note: Today, we continue a three-part series on a planned documentary, which delves into the story of Gina Hall.)
Filming began last week on a new documentary that takes a look at the disappearance and murder of Radford University coed Gina Hall. While the movie is based on a book by Ron Peterson titled “Under the Trestle,” the interviews taking place in Radford are shining new light on the crime.
Giina’s sister, Dlana Bodmer, is expressing concern and is critical not only of the documentary but also the book itself. That’s why she penned her own literary piece, “The Miraculous Journey—A Day in Heaven,” where she looks at her sister’s life and the journey she as a sibling has taken since then.
“A documentary’s definition infers accuracy, truth, etc. To base a documentary on ‘Under the Trestle,’ a book that was not factually accurate, is concerning,” Bodmer said.
Gina Hall was an 18-year-old college student when she disappeared on June 28, 1980. The details on Gina Hall’s disappearance from a Blacksburg night stop continue to be at the heart of the discussion. Bodmer believes the way in which Gina disappeared is being described all wrong in the book and fears it will continue in the documentary.
“The 1980 narrative that was used to secure the conviction worked. The Hall family will always be grateful for its success although we always knew the foundational basis for that narrative did not portray Gina for who she really was or Gina’s truth,” Bodmer has said.
“We realized that that simplified narrative was necessary to put her killer away so he would not continue to kill others. We always knew the story composed by Gina’s killer and corroborated by his best friend, did not happen as told,” Bodmer said. “I saw my car in 1980. I saw the physical proof of a struggle in that car, and I heard my sister’s voice. Her truth. We knew. Gina did not go willingly with any man.”
Stephen Epperly was charged with Hall’s murder after forensic evidence linked her to his cabin. Additional evidence was found in her abandoned vehicle and on the bank of the river near where it was disposed of. Although Epperly was convicted despite the absence of Hall’s body, he still denies responsibility. This was the first bodyless murder conviction in the state of Virginia.
The car in reference belonged to Bodmer, driven by Gina that night and then later found under a railroad trestle on a stretch of road between Claytor Lake and Radford. Thus, the title of Peterson’s book.
The location was along the same road that leads from a lake house where the college student allegedly went with Epperly, a man she had never met until that June night.
“I will always be her (Gina’s) champion and speak for her since she cannot,” Bodmer said.
The public knew only what they were told, according to Bodmer, including what was used in the trial narrative.
“Many of the other case file facts such as Gina’s being at a table, with friends, so not alone and dancing with a friend, so mathematically impossible in that timeline to have danced with both men as the story was told, and the ignored account of the two women who reported to the police that Gina had been being bothered, harassed, inside the Marriott. All ignored, just like the physical car evidence, specifically she ripped off the inside driver’s door strap indicating that she had been abducted,” Bodmer said.
“And now, decades later, a book comes out that recaps the same old story as if it was Gina’s true story. It is not,” Bodmer said. “It is only how a conviction was secured. It is not Gina’s truth. And it is not only the people who lived the 1980 nightmare that want Gina’s true story. It is now many, many people who do not like what they have read written about Gina. I receive messages all of the time from people new to this story telling me that as they read ‘Under the Trestle,’ something just does not add up.”
Peterson said he plans to release a special movie edition of his book that will include updates and recent discoveries about the case.
Bodmer believes her sister deserves better.
“The book ‘Under the Trestle’ upon which this documentary will be based regurgitated the 1980 narrative including many stories, ‘rumored information,’ that evolved throughout the summer without complete factual basis because the public was just not told everything that was in Gina’s file like reports by neighbors of hearing gunshots at the lake house,” Bodmer said. “Then the prosecution created the simplified narrative to secure a conviction, and it worked.”
But the old, composed narrative is not Bodmer’s biggest concern. Instead, she believes Peterson’s book sensationalized the Marriott scene beyond anything that was ever even told in 1980 as if the scene were written with a movie script in mind.
“When I first read the book ‘Under the Trestle’ in March 2020 as Gina’s sister, I was deeply saddened to see what had been written, knowing that this author knew about the women and the harassment of Gina, yet he still portrayed Gina as if her dancing stoked the fire of her killer’s raw instincts,” Bodmer said. “As if Gina’s dancing caused this killer to be attracted to her, as if Gina was just another Epperly ‘pick-up,’ a girl in agreement to be a one night stand further sensationalizing the 1980 composed lies that Gina went willingly and happily with this man to a cabin to be with him. That is victim blaming.
“If this documentary, based on that book as they market it, portrays Gina as is written in that part of the story at the Marriott, then it should not be called a documentary,” Bodmer said. “It should be in the fictional movie category.”
The Hall family shared their concerns with the filmmaker and the author in 2020. Bodmer does not and never will support the retelling of the same old story. She believes people deserve the truth.
“We do not see how Gina will be honored or accurately portrayed if the film is based on the book ‘Under the Trestle,’ or any of the 1980 narrative without expanding upon the true facts of what really transpired,” she said.
“This is not Gina’s story. It is wrong to continue to use her killer’s story corroborated by lies as if it is the true story of Gina Hall as they proclaim.”
Bodmer had originally planned to pen a second book with more details into that horrific night, but now is changing its format to be more of a case narrative study book that will provide facts for those who continue to listen to the narrative as it was in 1980 based only on what the public was allowed to know.
“It will be an educational tool to see how a case narrative came to be composed as it was in 1980. These true crime folks can also delve in as deep as they want and find the answers to what really transpired,” Bodmer said.
Her plans call for the second book to be released over the Internet and will be available in the near future.
Work on the documentary will continue later this month, and its director hopes to release it later this year.