One week after a 40-year-old Council Bluffs cold case was featured on the true crime documentary series, “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” another, more recent cold case is getting the TV movie treatment, courtesy of Lifetime and ATW Films — “The Disappearance of Cari Farver.”
In November 2012, Macedonia resident Farver abruptly broke up with her new boyfriend and quit her job via text messages. She stopped going home to her family, who immediately grew concerned. It wasn’t like Farver to shirk responsibility. By all accounts, she was happy. She worked in Omaha as a computer programmer and had a strong bond with her son, who was in high school at the time.
But according to text messages, emails and social media updates sent to family from Farver, she needed a break. She was moving to Kansas to take a new job, she said, and didn’t want to see any of them — indefinitely.
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No one ever saw Farver in person again, or spoke with her, but over the next two years she continued communicating via text messages, email and social media with a handful of people, including her mother, her son, her now ex-boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.
Based on “A Tangled Web,” by true crime author Leslie Rule, the Lifetime movie dramatizes the bizarre case as it follows three employees of the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office — Sgt. Jim Doty, Det. Ryan Avis and digital forensics expert, Spc. Dep. Anthony Kava — whose determination eventually led to the 2019 arrest and conviction of the woman who murdered and then impersonated Farver.
“This case was our life for two years, and it changed our lives,” Kava said. “We were working other investigations, but pretty much everything was second to this. We met with Cari’s family. We knew they were suffering and deserved answers, and we wanted to do anything we could to help them. So, we worked hard to bring them closure.”
The Farver case was so unusual that it was only a matter of time before Hollywood got wind of it.
Producer Linda Berman — whose previous credits include “Madoff,” an ABC miniseries about the infamous financier who orchestrated the largest Ponzi scheme in history, and “Torn from Her Arms,” also a Lifetime movie, about a mother and daughter from El Salvador who were separated at the U.S. border during the Trump presidency — optioned Rule’s book and contacted the writing partners who had written the mother/daughter drama.
“They sent us Leslie’s book to read, and then, of course, we read multiple articles and watched the 20/20 episode, ‘A Tangled Web,'” said Tawnya Bhattacharya, who wrote the script with Ali Laventhol. “Pretty much everything we could get our hands on, we read or viewed for research.”
Bhattacharya said that she and Laventhol both watch a lot of true crime shows and movies, and they were drawn to Farver’s “heartbreaking” story.
“Cari’s story had a very modern day ‘Fatal Attraction’ angle to it — a movie we have both watched dozens of times,” she said. “We felt (her story) needed to be told.”
After a script had been written, Lifetime sent it to a director who had recently shot another true crime story for the network, “I Was Lorena Bobbitt.”
“The network was very happy with that movie, and it won a few awards, so we had been looking for another opportunity to work together,” Danishka Esterhazy said. “Producer Linda Berman sent me the script for ‘The Disappearance of Cari Farver,’ which was then titled ‘A Tangled Web,’ and I was immediately hooked by the story.”
Esterhazy also described Farver’s story as “heartbreaking,” but she also saw the potential for a moving, emotional film.
“It’s such a fascinating story, full of mystery and deceit and manipulation and cruelty,” she said. “Such a compelling character study. Lots of twists and turns.”
Esterhazy also wanted to showcase Farver’s family and the three Pottawattamie County investigators for their unwavering drive.
“It’s a story of perseverance by the family and by the local investigators,” she said. “A commitment to finding the truth. They never gave up on Cari.”
Kava is curious about the movie, and hopes they do Farver’s story justice, but, to be honest, he’s also kind of weirded out by the whole thing.
“It’s a surreal thing for a case that was so important to us to be turned into a feature on Lifetime,” Kava said. “I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m glad they picked this really talented actor, Erik Athavale, to play me. He’s an upgrade in age, hair, and — let’s face it — personality over the real Kava.”
After the case was closed, and Farver’s killer sentenced to life in prison, Avis, Doty and Kava decided to start a scholarship fund in Farver’s name at Iowa Western Community College.
“The idea for the scholarship came about because, with all the articles, TV shows and podcasts, it became frustratingly easy to run into information about the monster who harmed Cari. If you Googled ‘Cari Farver’ you immediately found a photo of her killer. There just wasn’t much out there about Cari herself,” Kava said.
Farver studied computer programming at IWCC, and had started working at West Corporation shortly before her disappearance.
The three investigators “wanted to start something positive in her name, and we wanted it to be permanent. It was important to keep her memory alive, and the thought of a student being helped every year in her name seemed fitting,” Kava said.
Kava was especially touched when he found out that the production company behind the movie — ATW Films — donated $5,000 to the scholarship fund.
The scholarship fund was established in 2019. It has since been awarded to two IWCC students who are studying Computer Information Technology.
“Something like this can really be a difference maker in their lives, by allowing them to complete their education, maybe focus more on their education instead of having to work so many hours,” said Molly Noon, vice president of institutional advancement at IWCC. “And the fact that it’s a memorial to Cari Farver just makes it that much more special.”
The annual $1,000 Cari Farver Memorial Scholarship is available to any IWCC student who is studying CIT, like web development, cybersecurity and programming. It’s an endowed scholarship, with enough funding to provide yearly scholarships in perpetuity. There is currently a fundraising drive underway so that the scholarship can be increased to $2,000.
“I want people who tune in to go searching for more information and find the scholarship,” Kava said. “The most important thing, to all of us, is that Cari, and all those who knew and loved her, are remembered.”
For more information about, or to make a donation to the Cari Farver Memorial Scholarship, visit farverscholarship.org.
“The Disappearance of Cari Farver” airs Saturday night on Lifetime — Cox Cable channel 28, and DirecTV channel 252 — at 7 p.m. Central Time.