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Renée Zellweger Stars In The NBC Docudrama The Thing About Pam. Here’s the True Story Behind the Series 

11 minute read

Pam Hupp is a good friend, a helper, a star witness, a loving daughter—and a killer? The NBC docudrama The Thing About Pam, which premiered March 8, tells the true story of how Hupp (Renée Zellweger in her first network TV role) allegedly got away with the 2011 murder of her best friend Betsy Faria (Katy Mixon)—until it all caught up to her.

The six-episode limited series, inspired by the 2019 Dateline podcast of the same name, offers a tongue-in-cheek look at a stranger-than-fiction story of murder, greed, and deception that inspired five episodes of Dateline over the span of five years. Only O.J. Simpson and JonBenét Ramsay have earned more coverage by the investigative series, a sign of just how complicated this story is. (In a bit of stunt casting, Dateline correspondent Keith Morrison plays The Thing About Pam’s omniscient narrator.)

The show is both a campy true-crime thriller and a social satire that looks at a mishandled criminal investigation that sent an innocent man to jail. It was important to Zellweger, who is also an executive producer on the series, that they stuck as close to the bizarre, and often infuriating, details of the case as possible. “The idea is accuracy,” she told Entertainment Tonight before the show’s premiere. It’s why she chose to wear prosthetics and a “fat suit” for the role, a decision that has led to some controversy online. Zellweger, however, said she felt that “in the case of telling this story, it was really important to as closely resemble Pam Hupp as we possibly could, because she seems so familiar. She seems like someone that we recognize and we know.”

The thing about Pam is that she’s not who you think she is and too many people learned that the hard way.

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Renée Zellweger as Pam Hupp in 'The Thing About Pam'Skip Bolen/NBC

Who is Pam Hupp?

Hupp (née Neumann) was born in Dellwood, Missouri, in 1958 to a strict Catholic family. The third of four children, Hupp was described by friends as a “boy crazy” cheerleader with a big personality and an even bigger laugh, according to St. Louis Magazine. By the end of her senior year, she had gotten pregnant and then married, a turn in her life that, according to friends who spoke to the magazine, made her resentful of those who went on to college. Six years later, Hupp got divorced and shortly thereafter married Mark Hupp, a minor league baseball player turned carpenter. After a short stint in Florida, she moved back to Missouri in 2001 and took a clerical job at State Farm while also flipping houses on the side with her husband.

Hupp’s former State Farm manager Mike Boschert told St. Louis Magazine in 2017 described her as “a positive person, very level-headed—I never saw her mad. She saw a bigger picture. And she was very adept at office politics.” But he also said that there were some “weird things” that happened during her tenure at the company. “She always told me she was involved somewhere like the FBI, something with security clearance, kind of in the past but maybe still,” he said. “It was like she was just letting it dribble out, and then it was ‘I can’t say anything.’”

Boschert said that there was an incident in which a customer called saying they had received a signed letter from him with information that only he, Hupp, and another employee were privy to. Boschert claims he never sent the note, which was written on his official stationary. While it is unclear who mailed the letter, Pam had previously been fired twice for forging signatures—a detail she didn’t disclose on her State Farm job application.

How did Pam Hupp and Betsy Faria become friends?

Hupp met Betsy Faria in 2001 when they both worked at the State Farm office. Faria, who was 11 years Hupp’s junior, was known for being sweet and bubbly, with a reputation for being scatterbrained and often short on cash. The former coworkers lost touch for years, but when Faria was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, Hupp swooped in to help, often driving Faria to her chemotherapy treatments.

Hupp soon became a trusted confidante and advisor to Faria, who worried that her daughters would not be financially taken care of after her death. Faria’s father, Ken Meyer, told St. Louis Magazine that Faria had “been worrying about her two teenage daughters’ spending the [inheritance] money foolishly, and she was afraid that her husband, too, would ‘piss it away.’” On Dec. 22, 2011, Faria named Hupp the sole beneficiary of her $150,000 life insurance policy. Five days later, she was dead.

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Renée Zellweger as Pam Hupp and Katy Mixon as Betsy Faria in 'The Thing About Pam'Skip Bolen/NBC

What happened to Betsy Faria?

Two days after Christmas, Faria was stabbed to death in her Troy, Missouri, home. When her husband Russell “Russ” Faria found her on the floor he believed his terminally ill wife, whose breast cancer had metastasized to her liver, had taken her own life. However, the police reported that Betsy had been stabbed 55 times and her wounds were not self-inflicted.

The night Betsy died, Russ had originally planned to pick up his wife from her mother’s house following his weekly Tuesday game night. After her chemo session, though, Betsy texted to let him know that Hupp would be taking her home that night instead. When she dropped Betsy off at home at approximately 7 p.m. the two called Pam’s husband, Mark Hupp, to check in. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Betsy said excitedly on the voicemail message. Pam Hupp was the last person to see her alive.

Why was Betsy Faria’s husband, Russ, found guilty of her murder?

As The Thing About Pam points out, local law enforcement believed Betsy’s murder was an open-and-shut case: the husband did it. The cops pointed to Russ’ 911 call, which they said sounded performatively distraught. His behavior in the hours after discovering his wife’s body was also deemed “suspicious” by authorities. The first cop who arrived at the scene of the crime said Russ seemed visibly upset, but “had limited tears coming from his eyes,” according to St. Louis Magazine.

Additionally, authorities found a blood stained slipper belonging to Russ at the scene, as well as a handwritten note, said to be penned by Betsy, which detailed her fears that her husband would hurt her. Pam Hupp was the one who told the authorities about this suspicious note. She was also the one who pushed the narrative that Russ was an abusive husband who was out to get Betsy’s life insurance money when she died. This picture of Russ as an aggressive spouse helped prosecutors build a case against him. Hupp became the prosecution’s star witness in the 2013 murder trial despite pleas from Russ’ attorney Joel Schwartz that police take a closer look at her as a possible suspect.

Schwartz argued that Russ had four people who could testify to his whereabouts that night, as well as receipts and surveillance footage, which confirmed his location around the time Betsy was killed. There was no evidence of Betsy’s blood on his client’s body, under his fingernails, or clothing. The slippers, Schwartz claimed, were placed in the back of his closet to frame him. On the other hand, Hupp didn’t have an alibi, wouldn’t take a lie detector test, and had continued to change key details of her story including what car, if any, she saw in Betsy’s driveway the night she died. “Whatever car she thought Russ was driving, she’d say she saw in the drive,” Schwartz told St. Louis Magazine.

When Schwartz deposed Hupp in March 2013, she joked that her husband’s life insurance policy was much bigger than Betsy’s. “I mean, I guess, if I wanted a lot of money, I could kill him instead of her,” she said, which struck the lawyer as an odd thing to say—especially when no one had accused her of killing her friend. During the trial, Schwartz wasn’t allowed to talk about Hupp’s possible motives in Betsy’s murder because the prosecution had successfully argued that she had “no direct connection” to the case.

In November 2013, Russ Faria was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with parole. Two years later, Faria was granted a new trial in which the defense was permitted to present information and evidence that was not allowed in the first trial regarding Hupp being a possible suspect. However, neither side called Hupp to testify during the retrial. In a bizarre turn, it was revealed during the retrial that Hupp had newly claimed to a detective that she and Betsy were lovers. She alleged that Faria had found out about their affair and killed his wife.

Despite Hupp’s new claims, Faria was acquitted in November 2015 with the judge calling Lincoln County’s investigation into the case “rather disturbing.” In 2020, Lincoln County settled a civil lawsuit with Russ Faria over his wrongful conviction for more than $2 million. The following year, Lincoln County Prosecutor Mike Wood said that his office was investigating possible police and prosecutor misconduct in the original Betsy Faria murder investigation. “This is one of the poorest examples of investigative work that I as well as my team have ever encountered,” Wood said then. “Driven largely by ego; driven toward an agenda rather than truth.”

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Glenn Fleshler as Russ Faria in 'The Thing About Pam'Skip Bolen/NBC

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How did Pam Hupp get arrested for Betsy Faria’s murder?

Oddly enough, it wasn’t Betsy Faria’s murder that landed Pam Hupp in jail. In August 2016, she fatally shot Louis Gumpenberger, a mentally and physically disabled man, in her home. She claimed to police that Gumpenberger had tried to kidnap her at knifepoint to get “Russ’ money,” a reference to Betsy’s husband that was believed to be Hupp’s attempt to frame Faria. She may have also been looking to take attention away from her own involvement in the case. There had been renewed interest in Hupp’s possible role in Betsy’s murder following a civil suit that Betsy’s daughters had brought against Hupp earlier that same year. They alleged that Hupp stole their mom’s $150,000 life insurance payout, despite telling the police that she would give the money to the girls. (The jury ruled in favor of Hupp keeping the money.)

Following Gumpenberger’s death, Hupp told authorities that she killed the man in self-defense, but the police believed it was a staged murder-for-hire plot intended to implicate Russ once again in the murder of his late wife. In August 2019, Pam was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The fatal shooting prompted police to take another look at the 2013 death of Hupp’s mother, Shirley Neumann, who fell from the balcony of her third-floor apartment. Neumann’s death had previously been ruled an accident, but, in 2017, the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office officially changed the manner of death to “undetermined.” Neumann had eight times the typical dose of Ambien in her system at the time of her death. Hupp was the beneficiary of her mom’s life insurance.

In July 2021, Hupp was charged in Betsy’s killing. Prosecutors in Lincoln County decided to revisit Betsy’s case following Hupp’s conviction in the Gumpenberger murder. Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Wood said he would seek the death penalty for Hupp. “I do not take lightly the decision to pursue the death penalty,” Wood said in a press conference. “But this case stands alone in its heinousness and depravity such that it shocks the conscience.”

Hupp, who has always denied any involvement in the murder of her friend, remains in prison.

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