A murder in the Hamptons: a millionaire father is dead and suspicion falls upon his wife and her lover. It’s the stuff that tabloid scandals are made of, and following the brutal slaying of Ted Ammon at his East Hampton home in 2001, there was plenty of media coverage.
But behind the headlines were the apparently ruined lives of their two young children, the twins Greg and Alexa Ammon, who had been adopted from the Ukraine and were then only 10 years old. Their lives in the decade that followed the tragedy is the focus of “59 Middle Lane,” the documentary that will premiere on Friday, October 5, at 6:45 p.m. at the East Hampton Cinema as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival. There will be a second showing of the documentary on Monday, October 8, at 5:45 p.m. at the same venue.
That murder is such a rare occurrence on the East End was just one reason for the screaming headlines. Mr. Ammon had been a major player on Wall Street, and among the volunteer positions he held was heading the Jazz at Lincoln Center program.
The crime scenario was right out of a James M. Cain potboiler. Mr. Ammon was in the middle of a bitter divorce battle with his wife, Generosa, who had taken up with Long Island-based contractor Daniel Pelosi.
Eventually, Mr. Pelosi was convicted of entering the Ammons’s East Hampton home at 59 Middle Lane and bludgeoning his lover’s husband to death. Three years after the murder, Ms. Ammon died of breast cancer. After a custody fight, the Ammon children were awarded to an aunt and uncle in Alabama, where they were raised.
These events are portrayed in the 91-minute documentary. But the film does not dwell on the tabloid aspects of the story. Instead, the majority of the documentary tells the poignant tale of twins whose lives were affected, but not dictated, by tragedy and who, at 20, search for their roots and the rest of their family.
Filmmaker Gregory Ammon said that the film was about discovery, and about setting the record straight.
“I was really affected and hurt by how the media exploited my mother and father. Unfortunately it wasn’t something I was able to just turn off,” he wrote during an email exchange this week. “It’s one thing to cope internally with the fact that your father was murdered by your stepfather, it’s a different mentality when the media exploits your father’s crime scene photos. When editing, I had to watch that footage over and over again. It got to a point where I had to force myself to talk in the third person. Every time I heard my father’s name, the word ‘murder’ was associated with it. To separate both my parents’ names from that word was something that I wanted to change; I wanted to humanize them, give them a face through my eyes. Although I knew I couldn’t shy away from what happened, I wanted the focus to be on what truly mattered; the incredible gift my parents gave Alexa and I when they adopted us.”
In 2011, the Ammon children—Greg and Alexa—each living on a separate coast, reunited to embark on a journey to reconcile with a past that they never knew. With a camera crew in tow, they took two trips together.
One of the trips is to the house on Middle Lane, which still holds painful memories of the deaths of their parents and the childhood they lost. Exploring the property and spending the night there prompts a variety of memories. During the film, the duo spot the beds they used to sleep in, the couch where their mother spent her final days, and a favorite hiding place, which housed the security system that was disabled the night their father died.
The other, much more extensive journey is to the Ukraine. That trip begins with a visit to the orphanage from which they were adopted. Those included in the footage include other orphans and the caretakers who remembered the malnourished twins who were adopted by an American couple.
From there, the twins are led to the street where their birth mother lived. The discovery of a family they never knew—a family torn apart by alcoholism, scandal and misfortune—seems to give the Ammon children, now adults, new perspective on the lives they might have led had it not been for their adoptive parents.
Ultimately, brother and sister take the first steps toward realizing the ways in which tragedy and rebirth often go hand in hand. Reuniting at the Alabama home of the aunt and uncle who raised them, it is clear that a lot remains unspoken between the twins as viewers see the tears that were never shed and hear the questions that were never answered, until now.
“Ultimately, that story in the Ukraine is very similar to our story in America,” Mr. Ammon wrote. “When I’m speaking about my birth mother, I’m speaking about my adopted mother, too. I try to tell both of their stories; I didn’t want to tell the audience directly how I felt, it was important for them to come to their own conclusions.”