Yesterday, I watched yet another Lifetime movie. I hadn’t been planning to do that, since I’ve found Lifetime’s takes on certain true crime stories to be overly watered down, too campy, or even disrespectful. However, the subject matter of The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story was especially interesting to me on a personal level. Lifetime has also been upping their game lately in their made for the network movies.
I just recently watched Lifetime’s take on the story of Gwen Shamblin Lara, the late Christian diet guru who was killed in a plane crash in May 2021. Lifetime did a fairly good job with Gwen’s story– even recruiting Jennifer Grey to play the starring role. Lifetime has also been scoring the talents of legitimate 80s and 90s era movie stars to star in the network’s films. Judd Nelson and Moira Kelly both come to mind as people who have been on the silver screen and took roles in Lifetime movies.
When I saw that Lifetime had made a movie about late sex pest and serial killer, Richard Marc Evonitz, I was interested in seeing how Lifetime would handle that story. I previously mentioned, in my earlier article about Evonitz’s horrific crimes against then 15 year old Kara Robinson, that Evonitz and I had both lived in two of the same areas. I grew up in Virginia, and from May 2002, briefly lived in Fredericksburg, a city very close to where it was later confirmed that Evonitz raped and murdered three teenaged girls in the 1990s. He was also potentially linked to at least two other rapes and abductions in the Fredericksburg area.
I also lived in Columbia, South Carolina for three years, as that was where I attended graduate school. Evonitz was born and raised in Columbia, and in 2002, had just recently moved back there from the Fredericksburg area. So we could have potentially crossed paths at some point, although I highly doubt Evonitz would have posed much of a danger to the likes of me. He was clearly interested in young girls, whom he obviously thought wouldn’t challenge him. He was dead wrong about Kara Robinson, who famously outwitted him and escaped, then helped the police solve what had been cold cases in Virginia.
Evonitz had a habit of approaching young, unaware girls in their own yards and swiping them. That was how he’d come into contact with Robinson on June 24, 2002, when she was visiting a friend’s house. While her friend was taking a shower, Kara was watering the flowers in the front yard. Evonitz pulled up in a car, addressed her in a friendly way; then he grabbed her, and pulled a gun on her. Within a minute, Evonitz had stashed Kara in a Rubbermaid container, while Kara’s friend remained completely oblivious. For the next eighteen hours, Kara was held captive by a man who very likely would have killed her, if she hadn’t kept her wits about her and managed to escape.
I already knew the story that Lifetime was going to be presenting in The Girl Who Escaped. Since I wrote a blog post about the crime in 2021, I was fairly familiar with most of the actual facts of the case, too. I didn’t have especially high hopes for the Lifetime treatment of this story, since I have noticed that Lifetime movies are usually pretty simplified due to time constraints and the apparent trend of giving serious topics a snarky twist. I am somewhat surprised and pleased to report that I think Lifetime did an okay job with Kara Robsinson’s story.
Kara Robinson is played by 24 year old Canadian actress, Katie Douglas. It blows my mind to think that Douglas, who was not even four years old when this crime occurred in June 2002, is playing someone nine years younger. However, I think Douglas mostly pulls it off, mainly because she appears to be tiny, and very young. Brown haired and brown eyed Katie Douglas doesn’t otherwise really bear much of a physical resemblance to Kara, who has blonde hair and green eyes. But I suspect most people who watch this movie won’t really know that much about the real case, so the fact that Douglas doesn’t look that much like the real Kara probably won’t matter to them.
As I mentioned before, I knew about this case because, when it happened, I had only just moved out of the Columbia, South Carolina area, to Fredericksburg, the place where Evonitz had just moved from. I thought the coincidence was very creepy. The summer of 2002 was a really bad year for crimes against young girls, anyway. June 2002 was also when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped, as well as a number of younger girls who, sadly, did not survive their attacks. In October of that year, the Beltway Snipers were on the loose, and they struck Fredericksburg. I was definitely on high alert regarding true crime in 2002.
Kara’s mother, Debra, is played by New York City bred Cara Buono, an actress of whom I am unfamiliar. Debra, and Kara’s father, Ron (Paul Essiembre), were separated at the time of Kara’s abduction. When Kara suddenly vanishes and Debra calls Ron to ask him if Kara is with him, Ron is initially annoyed and tells her to just have Kara tell him anything he needs to know. But then Debra tells him what happened, and he says he’ll be right there. I may be mistaken, but I think that might have been the only time Ron is shown. I know– time constraints are an issue– but as usual, Lifetime focuses heavily on the mother-daughter connection, as we see Debra sitting by the phone, wringing her hands over her daughter’s disappearance.
The role of Marc Evonitz (he went by Marc rather than Richard in real life) is played by Canadian actor, Kristian Brunn. I had never seen Brunn before, but I thought he did a good job playing Evonitz– although again, he didn’t really look much like the real person. One of the things I’ve noticed in Lifetime movies is that the men who play the criminals who prey on young girls aren’t always convincing. Brunn is very creepy and menacing. I could see him realistically as a predator, although he doesn’t really do that much in the role, except to force Kara into the Rubbermaid container, tie her to the bed, and threaten her with a gun. He also watches her in the bathroom.
Again, since this is a Lifetime movie, there isn’t much realism in what actually happened. The movies always begin with a trigger warning (a good thing, I think), but most of the triggering events are more implied than explicitly shown. In this movie, we see some light bondage gear that is very briefly used. So Brunn had to come across as menacing in the way he spoke and moved. I thought he managed to convey those qualities pretty well. Imagine if he was in a movie in which he could really demonstrate those menacing qualities with realistically portrayed violence. I’d probably have nightmares.
The rest of the cast mostly consists of actors portraying police officers. Robert Nahum plays Richland County Sheriff Jim Price. He reminded me of a much kinder and gentler Lou Gossett Jr. The Lexington County Sheriff, Dale Stephens, was played by Santa Claus clone, John B. Lowe. Kara Robinson lived in Lexington County, South Carolina, but Evonitz lived in nearly Richland. Therefore, both sheriffs were involved in this case, but according to the movie, they treated Kara differently. Sheriff Price treated Kara like an adult, with respect. Sheriff Stephens, conversely, treated Kara like a little girl and made a point of calling her a victim.
This movie made a point of showing that Kara Robinson was a heroine on many levels. First off, from the very beginning, Kara made a point of staying as calm as possible and keeping her wits about her. Viewers see her contemplating escape, then catastrophically imagining what would happen to her if she failed. Still, she made a point of remembering everything she saw. When she was in Evonitz’s apartment, she noticed things like hair in the hairbrush, magnets on the refrigerator with the names of Evonitz’s dentist and other healthcare professionals, and the many critters who were Evonitz’s pets. She stored all of that information in her mind until she managed to free herself from the restraints Evonitz had placed on her at bedtime. He made a surprisingly dumb mistake in the way he secured her, thank God.
Because Kara had remembered so many details, a custodian at Evonitz’s apartment complex was able to tell the police exactly which apartment he lived in. The police searched the premises and were able to uncover information that led to Spotsylvania County police in Virginia connecting Evonitz to the rapes and murders of 15 year old Kristin and 12 year old Kati Lisk, as well as 16 year old Sofia Silva. Meanwhile, Evonitz was eventually cornered in Florida, where he cowardly shot himself in the head rather than face justice for what he did. Evonitz ultimately denied Kara her day in court, but at least he will never rape and murder again.
Elizabeth Smart was one of the several executive producers of The Girl Who Escaped. I remember she interviewed the real Kara Robinson, now known as Kara Chamberlain, and a mother to two boys. Kara was a police officer for some time before she got married and became a mother. She is now a public speaker who has a very impressive Web site. Below is an interview she did with E!.
I do think it’s interesting that some women who are victimized by men eventually turn their experiences into careers. Elizabeth Smart probably wouldn’t be doing what she does if she hadn’t been abducted by Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee. Kara Robinson might have been attracted to law enforcement regardless, but I see that now she makes a living speaking about her experiences. Then there’s Katie Koestner, who was date raped at the College of William and Mary in 1990 and makes a living speaking at college campuses. Those are just a few women who have used the crimes perpetrated against them as springboards to their life’s work. I don’t judge them for doing that. It’s one way of taking back their lives and not allowing criminals to take more from them.
One other thing I’d like to mention before I close this post. They never really mention that this case happened in South Carolina. You don’t hear the southern accents from that area, nor was it filmed in the Columbia area. They do show a very shabby apartment complex that would have been like where Evonitz lived, but the interior of the apartment was much too “Pottery Barn” and upscale. I think if the set had been less posh– even if it was just Evonitz’s apartment matching the exterior– that would have made the movie more realistic and less campy.
Overall, I think The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story is pretty decent for a Lifetime movie. I’ve definitely seen worse by them. On the other hand, it IS a Lifetime movie, so it’s pretty formulaic, and there is a slight element of camp. But at least they found a guy who is convincing as a villain. So, if you’re inclined to watch this flick, I hope you will… and let me know how or if you liked it in the comments!