NOTobody disputes that Patricia Hall left her house in Pudsey, a nice market town between Leeds and Bradford, on 27 January 1992, never to return. That’s about all we know. Her husband, Keith, told police she had driven off in their car late that night, after a marital disagreement; the police strongly suspected Keith had killed her, but no trace of Pat Hall has ever been found. The case remains open, which means the two-part true-crime documentary The Confession (Prime Video) has a bewildering, frustrating tale to tell.
Episode one chalks up the circumstantial evidence. At first, the police assume that either a body or a sign that Pat is alive will turn up, with the former, grim explanation seen as more likely – especially when a witness reports having seen an unidentifiable figure hop out of the Halls’ car on the night in question, leap over a fence carrying an unidentifiable object and disappear into woodland. Then, interviews with neighbors and relatives start to paint a dark picture. Neighbors say the row between Keith and Pat was audibly vociferous, but then stopped suddenly, with the sound of the car speeding off following a little later. Pat’s friend claims that, three months earlier, she had rung to say Keith had lost his temper and placed his hands around his neck, before relenting.
Keith denies this, no-comments his way through police interrogations, and stays inscrutable as days become weeks without any breakthrough. As we move into episode two, we are six months on, which the mercurial Keith deems an appropriate amount of time to wait before rejoining the dating scene. He answers a lonely hearts ad, writing to the woman that she might have seen him on the telly. By the time they meet for a drink, she has alerted the police and been replaced by “Liz”, an undercover officer wearing a wire. Some weeks later, “Liz” tells Keith that her uncertainty about whether Pat might return is preventing her from committing to the relationship. Keith reassures her that this is not a problem because, he says, he strangled Pat and burned the corpse.
Anyone who has seen a decent number of whodunnits or true-crime documentaries would take a breath at this point and question whether this conversation might constitute a circumvention of the law on interviewing suspects, rendering it inadmissible as court evidence. Apparently, West Yorkshire police and the CPS had no such qualifications, however, and were horrified when the judge in Hall’s subsequent murder trial did indeed prevent the jury from hearing the tape, destroying the case for the prosecution. Hall was found not guilty, after which the judge allowed the recording to be made public.
Pat’s family and friends were returned to an agonizing limbo from which they have still not emerged, while Keith resumed life as someone widely assumed to be a murderer. But he is, to this day, a free and officially innocent man who can do whatever he pleases, including … participating in a documentary about the case. That’s right: this is one of those true-crime shows where the person we’re encouraged to conclude is guilty has agreed to be interviewed. It’s a ballsy move.
So what is he like? He may not now have the almost laughably creepy look seen in the show’s archive stills and video – in the early 90s, Keith had the lank, sandy bowl-cut of a 70s wrestler or disgraced Top of the Pops presenter – but the present-day Keith Hall is, like Michael Peterson in The Staircase, maddeningly ambiguous. If he is guilty, his willingness to risk incriminating himself shows implausible nerve; if he’s innocent, he never seems upset enough about being unfairly blamed for Pat’s death. All we can do is intently study his every gesture and utterance, which makes the programme-makers’ decision to film him half-lit – a gloomy room’s window illuminating only the right side of his face – infuriating. When they go on to give the same treatment to one of Pat’s bereft friends, we realize it’s a whole vibe the show is going for: the eternal twilight of a case where the truth remains murky. But come on, we need to look at him!
There are other oddities here, such as the moments where actors in lip-sync reconstructions either to a recording made at the time, or to what appears to be interviewees now reciting what they said then, with the audio treated to make it sound like old type. Pat Hall’s disappearance doesn’t need these embellishments. It’s quite confounding enough.