A week after a 40-year-old Council Bluffs cold case was featured in the true-crime documentary series, “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” another more recent cold case is getting the treatment of a TV movie, courtesy of Lifetime and ATW Films – “The Disappearance of Cari Farver.”
In November 2012, Macedonian resident Farver abruptly broke up with her new boyfriend and quit her job via text message. She stopped going home to her family, who immediately became concerned. It wasn’t like Farver to shirk his responsibilities. 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 Farver’s family, she needed a break. She was moving to Kansas for a new job, she said, and didn’t want to see any — 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 to communicate via text, email and social media with a handful of people, including her mother, son, ex-boyfriend and her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.
Based on true crime author Leslie Rule’s “A Tangled Web,” the Lifetime film dramatizes the bizarre case by following 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 ultimately led to the arrest and conviction in 2019 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 on other investigations, but pretty much everything was secondary to that. We met Cari’s family. We knew they were hurting and deserved answers, and we wanted to do everything we could to help them. So we worked hard to bring closure to them.
The Farver case was so unusual that it was only a matter of time before Hollywood caught wind of it.
Producer Linda Berman – whose previous credits include ‘Madoff’, an ABC miniseries about the infamous financier who orchestrated the biggest 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 US border during the Trump presidency — picked up Rule’s book and reached out to the writing partners who had penned the mother/daughter drama.
“They sent us Leslie’s book to read and then, of course, we read several articles and watched episode 20/20, ‘A Tangled Web’,” said Tawnya Bhattacharya, who wrote the script with Ali. Laventhol. “Almost everything we could get our hands on we read or watch for research purposes.”
Bhattacharya said she and Laventhol watch a lot of true-crime shows and movies, and were drawn to Farver’s “heartbreaking” story.
“Cari’s story had a very modern ‘Fatal Attraction’ angle – a movie we’ve both watched dozens of times,” she said. “We felt that (his story) needed to be told.”
After a script was 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 this movie, and it won a few awards, so we were looking for another opportunity to work together,” Danishka Esterhazy said. “Producer Linda Berman sent me the script for ‘The Disappearance of Cari Farver’, then called ‘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 and moving film.
“It’s such a fascinating story, full of mystery, deception, manipulation and cruelty,” she said. “Such a compelling character study. Lots of twists and turns.”
Esterhazy also wanted to feature Farver’s family and the three Pottawattamie County investigators for their unwavering drive.
“It’s a story of perseverance on the part of family and 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 a little weird about it all.
“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 cast this really talented actor, Erik Athavale, to play me. He’s an upgrade in age, hair and – let’s face it – in personality compared to real Kava.
After the case was closed and Farver’s killer was 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 Fellowship came about because with all the articles, TV shows and podcasts, it became frustrating to find information about the monster that harmed Cari. If you typed “Cari Farver” on Google, you immediately found a photo of his killer. There just wasn’t much about Cari herself,” Kava said.
Farver studied computer programming at the IWCC and had started working at West Corporation shortly before his disappearance.
The three investigators “wanted to start something positive in his name, and we wanted it to be permanent. It was important to keep her memory alive, and the idea of one student being helped each year on her behalf seemed fitting,” Kava said.
Kava was particularly touched when he found out that the production company behind the film – ATW Films – had donated $5,000 to the scholarship fund.
The scholarship fund was established in 2019. It has since been awarded to two IWCC students studying Computer Information Technology.
“Something like this can really make a difference in their lives, allowing them to finish their studies, maybe to focus more on their studies instead of having to work so many hours,” said Molly Noon, vice- Chair of Advancement at IWCC. “And the fact that it’s a memorial for Cari Farver makes it even more special.”
The annual Cari Farver Memorial Scholarship of $1,000 is available to any IWCC student studying information technology, such as web development, cybersecurity, and programming. This is a scholarship with sufficient funding to provide annual scholarships in perpetuity. A fundraising campaign is currently underway so that the scholarship can be increased to $2,000.
“I want people who log on to search for more information and find the scholarship,” Kava said. “The most important thing for all of us is to remember Cari and all who knew and loved her.”
For more information or to donate to the Cari Farver Memorial Scholarship, visit farverscholarship.org.
“The Disappearance of Cari Farver” airs Saturday nights on Lifetime — Cox Cable channel 28 and DirecTV channel 252 — at 7 p.m. central time.
This article contains excerpts from previous articles from the Omaha World-Herald and the Daily Nonpareil.