Movie Review: That Strange Summer
In the summer of 1975, a number of patients at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor suffered sudden respiratory failure. Several patients died as a result. The FBI investigated and two Filipina nurses, Leonora Perez and Filipina Narcisco, were eventually convicted of injecting patients with a drug intended to incapacitate and kill them. This little-known story is the focus of That Strange Summer, a documentary by journalist and associate professor Geri Alumit Zeldes.
In interviews in the film, co-workers express doubt about the pair’s guilt, and question why another co-worker, who was obviously unstable, was not considered as more of a suspect. A victim’s family recounts the shock of these attacks, and the struggle to understand what had happened. An investigator shares the circumstantial evidence used to justify official suspicions. Throughout, the nurses stand by one another despite their shock at the accusations and the gravity of the situation. Their conviction met with protests, and on appeal, their conviction was overturned and the nurses were freed.
Filmmaker Zeldes unfolds this complicated story through archival news stories, FBI documents, and eye-opening interviews with investigators and former VA employees. The film examines stereotypes and perceptions that may have influenced the outcome of the investigation and trial. People in the film keep coming back in amazement that such a thing took place in Ann Arbor -- underlining that distrust of foreigners can exist anywhere, and the story of Narcisco and Perez shows just how far that distrust can go.
Sara Wedell is a Production Librarian at the Ann Arbor District Library.
That Strange Summer is available to stream on aadl.org. You can also see the investigation and trial unfold through Ann Arbor News articles from the era from AADL’s Old News archive.