Netflix’s The Stranger is a true-crime film that has steadily gained popularity on the platform due to its compelling story and the real-world uproar against the production. In the movie, the police suspect Henry Teague of abducting and murdering a young teenager, but they lack proof.
Therefore, they create a fake criminal enterprise and drag Teague into it. The actors in this organization are undercover officers with one aim: to get Teague to reveal details about the murder that can aid his prosecution. Despite several close calls, the police succeed and get Henry convicted of the young boy’s murder.
The Stranger is loosely based on the investigation that caught Daniel Morcombe’s murderer
The Stranger is a fictionalized version of the sting operation that caught Brett Peter Cowan, Daniel Morecambe’s murderer. It is based on Kate Kyriacou’s book The Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe’s Killer.
In December 2003, Daniel Morcombe disappeared while on his way to the shopping center to get a haircut and purchase Christmas presents. Brett Peter Cowan had abducted and killed the Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Australia, native – and, for a while, seemed to get away with it.
Authorities knew he was the main suspect, but they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him. Therefore, they initiated a tactic called the Mr. Big Procedure, in which the police convince a suspect to join a fictitious criminal organization. The police then persuade the suspect to divulge information about their criminal history.
The tactic worked: authorities arrested Cowan in August 2011, put him on trial for murder in 2014, and secured a guilty conviction.
Daniel’s family has protested using his name to promote the film
News.com.au reported in July 2022 that Daniel’s parents, Denise and Bruce Morcombe, considered The Stranger ‘morally corrupt and cruel.’ Bruce revealed that the filmmakers contacted him several years ago asking whether they were interested in creating a film about Daniel’s murder.
“We absolutely said ‘no we don’t want any part of that.’ Daniel’s legacy is about educating kids,” Bruce said. The Morcombes said they wanted the film’s producers to cease using Daniel’s name to promote the production. “If they don’t use Daniel’s name to promote the movie, we’re comfortable with that,” Bruce said. He continued:
“We’re very protective of Daniel’s name and his legacy. Four generations of the Morcombes are terribly upset. Denise’s parents are in their 90s and they are crushed by this.”
Denise blasted The Stranger on Twitter, stating it lacked the family’s support: “Individuals who make money on a heinous crime are parasites. They are callously disrespectful to Daniel, the DMF & the Morcombe family. We find the making of the movie morally corrupt and cruel. Shame on you.”
The producers responded with a statement affirming that the film chronicles the investigation of the murder, not the actual murder. The statement added that the victim and his family weren’t mentioned in the movie. It continued:
“It tells the story of the unknown police professionals who committed years of their lives and their mental and physical health to resolve this case and others like it. When the film was first in development, the producers approached the family to make them aware of the film. They declined to be involved. It is a decision we continue to respect.”