As soon as Brian Alexander heard the tragic story of how a lesbian couple was murdered by gunshot on their front lawn by a homophobic neighbor, he knew that he had to make a film about it. Now, five years into the project, he is ready to wrap up production and debut his film as soon as this fall.
“I came out of the closet in August of 1990,” Alexander said. “Since their murders were about a year and a half after my coming out, and something horrible, like death, was one of my fears about my own coming out … their murders made a huge impact on my life as well as many others at that time. It was very scary to think that you could just be blown away from your next door neighbor for simply being gay.”
Christine Puckett was 36 years old when a dispute with a Huron Township neighbor sent him running for a gun on May 5, 1992. He came back and shot Puckett in her front yard. Susan Pittmann, called the police and then ran out to help her wife. The man returned with another gun and murdered her too. She was 53 years old.
Pittmann was the mother of five, and Puckett left behind a 14-year-old son who had already lost his father to AIDS.
Along with the women’s families, the LGBT community suffered tremendously from the loss. Not only did the crime perpetuate the fear that a gay or lesbian person might be murdered because of their sexual orientation, but the community lost two activists who helped form the Detroit-area gay movement.
The first Affirmations community center was opened in a Detroit house owned by the couple, and they were also members of the Affirmations Board of Directors.
After their deaths, the Affirmations Pittmann-Puckett Gallery was dedicated in their honor.
But beyond a gallery name, Alexander is determined that the story of the women’s murders not fade into just another event on a historical timeline. The Pittmann-Puckett documentary chronicles the lives of the activists, who had been a couple for three years before their deaths. “I want to show things as they were,” Alexander explained. “They were real women who loved their children, rode motorcycles and fought for what they believed in. They even had fights with one another; they were not perfect, and I want this documentary to capture that.”
“The thing that really made me love Sue and consider her my mother was the way that she handled my mother,” said Joshua Puckett, Christine Puckett’s son. “Other women would fight and tell her they were going to leave, but Sue laid down the law and said, ‘We’re not going to be a dysfunctional couple. I love you and I am not going anywhere, but you are not going to treat me like this.’ I knew my mom was a handful, but they loved each other so much. We were a good family.”
Alexander started planning the project in 2005, when he was a student at the Troy-based Motion Pictures Institute of Michigan. But the road to creation of the documentary has not been easy.
“We started filming on June 3, 2007 at Pride,” Alexander recalled. “However, to get to that point, I went through three major fundraisers and several smaller ones just to raise the money to get the camera and equipment.”
Downriver PFLAG, Michael Neubecker, John Forester and Joshua Puckett gave donations to make the project possible, though there is still a long way to go. Alexander is working two jobs to finance the bulk of it himself.
A recent step forward in production was being able to film some of the reenactment scenes that will be used in the film. Alexander was able to obtain photographs from Pittmann and Puckett’s wedding, which he used to recreate the wedding scene inside First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit. The murder scenes will be filmed later this summer.
And despite all the information and interviews Alexander has compiled over the years, he’s still seeking out more.
For example, Pittmann was a member of a motorcycle group called the Motor Maids – a hobby of hers that Alexander would like to hear more about. He’s also looking for people who knew the couple and were affiliated with such groups as Affirmations, the Triangle Foundation, the Woman’s Coffee House, the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project, the Michigan Organization for Human Rights and other prominent groups in the late 1980s to early ’90s.
It’s not clear how much longer the entire project will take, though Alexander hopes to finish soon. “I keep getting more and more information that I want to include, more stories from people who knew them,” he added. “And there’s still more to learn.”
People who knew Pittmann and/or Puckett are encouraged to contact Brian Alexander at [email protected] To learn more about the film and the Pittmann-Puckett story, visit http://www.pittmannnpuckett.com.