MADISON — Barbara Hamburg was bludgeoned to death 10 years ago outside her Middle Beach Road home.
She died from “blunt and sharp force injuries,” according to the medical examiner’s office.
Police questioned her ex-husband, Jeffrey Hamburg, and collected a DNA sample from him. Jeffrey Hamburg’s attorney said in 2011 that he was considered a person of interest in the case.
No suspect has ever been named and no one has been charged in her slaying in the now cold case.
Further, Hamburg’s DNA did not match the sample police had allegedly collected at the crime scene, the Day reported in 2010.
While her family has held local vigils and worked hard to keep Barbara Hamburg’s name in the public eye, nothing as in-depth and personal has ever been released. That is, until now.
“Murder on Middle Beach,” will air on four successive Sundays beginning Nov. 15 at 10 p.m. EST on HBO and HBO MAX. Madison Hamburg, the victim’s son, directed the series.
“It was tough because we were selling a different take on true crime,” Madison Hamburg said. “It wasn’t a story about a murder, it’s a story about identity and about my mom and that’s a really hard sell. Thank God that HBO saw the potential and the rest is history.”
It was a fortuitous conversation with an uncle, an actor in the 1970s, that led to a connection with Ron Nyswaner, an Academy Award nominee for the 1994 movie “Philadelphia.” That film was directed and produced by Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme.
After learning of his work, Madison Hamburg recalled, Nyswaner called him and said, “ ‘I’m flying you out to LA. We’re going to do this the right way. Jonathan Demme changed my life in one phone call and I’m going to try to do the same for you.’ ”
Barbara Hamburg was found dead outside her home March 3, 2010, after a 911 call reporting an injured person at 11:25 a.m. brought officers to her Madison residence at 44 Middle Beach Road West.
It was the day she was supposed to appear in court to discuss Jeffrey Hamburg’s claim that he could not afford to pay child support and alimony.
The Hamburgs were divorced in 2002, and Jeffrey Hamburg became embroiled in financial court proceedings after his wife’s death because of the $1 million he owed her estate, according to reports in 2012 by the New Haven Register.
In the documentary, over the course of 200 shooting days and recording 1,000 hours of footage, Madison Hamburg interviewed family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors and members of law enforcement. He interspersed drone footage of the sweeping Madison shoreline, family photos and video taken from 8 mm and 16 mm film rolls and voiceovers of 1950s public service announcements to tell his mother’s story.
“There’s sort of three periods for the documentary,” the 2009 Daniel Hand High School graduate said.
These include his initial work as a film student at The Savannah College of Art and Design, Ga., continuation as a post-graduate in 2016 and “most recently it was very investigative and also emotional, like vérité, character driven,”Madison Hamburg said.
“A lot of times it was just me and a family member and a camera and no one else in the room,” he said. “Those moments, to me, are like the most special and most unique for this project.”
Madison Hamburg said that throughout the film “there’s this overarching theme of the duality of American idealism.”
“If there’s a problem, we just pretend like everything’s perfect,” he said. “The more that we pretend, the more that we think that problem goes away.”
This was the case within his family, as well as in the town of Madison, Madison Hamburg said.
“That theme is inherent throughout the story, within my sheltered upbringing and my dad and mom’s relationship, who my dad was and the gifting tables (an illegal local pyramid scheme), what they were on their face and what the structure of them really were,” he said.
He delves into that theme as it pertains to the town his mother called home.
“An idyllic town like Madison having a rampant corruption scandal with the Madison Police Department,” he said. “There’s sort of this duality of everything is perfect on the outside, but there’s all of this dark, brewing underneath and no one talked about that.”
The police corruption scandal that came to light in 2007 made national news and led to the firing of six officers and the retirement of the previous chief after a settlement, as reported by the New Haven Register. The crimes ranged from stealing lobsters from a seafood market to dealing with prostitutes.
The unlawful gifting tables scheme also shocked many on the shoreline and Barbara Hamburg’s family. The second episode of the film, “Tables & Rooms,” scheduled to air Sunday, Nov. 22 at 10 p.m., focuses almost exclusively on the gifting tables and Barbara Hamburg’s involvement.
The tables have been described as groups of women who met weekly, lent moral support to one another and gave $5,000 tax-free “gifts” to members. To join, a woman would give $5,000 to a current member who had climbed the group’s ranks, and would find more women to recruit.
Over time, members would rise in status, receive $40,000 total from eight new members, and leave. Each was free to join again.
Madison Hamburg’s aunt, Jill Platt, of Guilford, according to the New Haven Register served as a leader of the “gifting table,” which the government deemed an illegal pyramid scheme. The scam was in operation from around 2008 to 2011.
While Barbara Hamburg was a member of a local table, there is no indication her membership played any part in her death, according to police.
Jill Platt was sentenced to prison in 2013 for her roles in leading the scheme, after a judge estimated they caused a collective fraud loss of some $2 million. At least five women lost money in the scheme.
Madison Hamburg doesn’t know if the case of his mother’s killing will ever be solved, but Madison Police Department Capt. Joseph Race has a different view.
“I’m hopeful that maybe Madison’s documentary will jog somebody’s memory about something they saw that day, something they heard or something that someone else told them,” Race said. “Obviously, it’s HBO, it’s going to be national. It could be something that someone told someone in Georgia that all of a sudden breaks this thing wide open.”
The tip line, set up by Madison Hamburg and Eastward Pictures, to report any information regarding this homicide is barbarahamburgtips.com.
Madison Hamburg said the film is less about finding the killer and more about learning about a mother whom he discovered he didn’t really know.
“I didn’t know Barbara,” Madison Hamburg said during a telephone interview from his home in New York City. “In asking questions, I kind of got addicted to that. Unearthing who this person was that I grew up with, that was a superhero in my mind.”
This included asking probing questions to family members.
“It also compelled me to ask my dad questions, who’s always been somewhat aloof to me, and my family and growing up in a really sheltered environment just kind of like getting to know this underbelly of what seemed perfect as a child,” the 29-year-old said.
All of this was a vehicle for helping Madison Hamburg with his grief, evident throughout the documentary.
“The project was me dealing with grief and sort of getting some finality to what happened,” he said. “When I came back to Connecticut, I didn’t see my mom’s body, nobody told me the details. So, in many ways, the process of doing the documentary and this obsession was really healthy and unhealthy.
“I got to know my mom, but I was going through this grieving process and then the realization this is going to be a public thing and balancing the vulnerabilities that are exposed from my family members.”
All the family members that are included in the documentary, with the exception of his father, had a pre-screening.
“It was kind of a mandatory thing for me,” he said. “My family needs to see how they’re portrayed before this comes out and we need to have a conversation. … There’s lots and lots of stories and nuance and everything had to be centric to my mom’s story. They were very understanding.”
Asked if he had any idea who was responsible for his mother’s death, Madison Hamburg said, “I have been really careful not to outwardly say, ‘I think this person or that person did it.’
“I myself was a suspect at a certain period of time and I think it’s really easy to connect dots. I think that’s a part of human psyche.
“When something goes unsolved, your world becomes that much less safe,” he said.
“I’ve been really careful not to cast my own thoughts on who did this. The reality is without evidence, it’s really dangerous to do that.”
Race said the homicide was and continues to be very unsettling to many in town.
“We’re an affluent, very safe community and to have something like this, it shakes everybody,” he said. “Especially those in that neighborhood who remember the police presence, how many of us were there for four days following the incident and it was all hands on deck for 96 hours.”
Madison Hamburg has family in Guilford and visits the Shoreline often.
He said he hopes people watch the documentary and “by the end of the film they aren’t walking away with the lingering questions of who done it, but more so can allow themselves to fall into the emotional trajectory of what it means to ask these questions and the personal perspective of it all.”
“Telling the story of a ... homicide from the family and victim’s perspective is a really hard thing to,” he said.
“My goal for this project was to subvert those true crime conventions, and make this a story about people, rather than about headlines.”