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Arts & Culture

INDEPENDENT LENS: Lost Sparrow

A Billing family portrait taken in December of 1977. This is the last family photograph taken before the two Crow Indian boys, Tyler and Bobby (far left), were struck by a train in June, 1978.
Courtesy of Corrigan’s Studio, Newport, N.Y.
A Billing family portrait taken in December of 1977. This is the last family photograph taken before the two Crow Indian boys, Tyler and Bobby (far left), were struck by a train in June, 1978.

Airs Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Family Photo Album

The Billing family was exceptional in many ways. Four biological children, and six adopted children, all living in a 12-bedroom mansion in upstate New York. These photos from filmmaker Chris Billing, who was 16 when Bobby and Tyler were killed, are a glimpse into a family before it is shattered.

On June 27, 1978, a 44-car Conrail freight train struck and killed two Crow Indian brothers near Little Falls, New York. The day before, the boys had disappeared. It was later revealed that the two boys — Bobby, 13, and Tyler, 11 — had run away from the white, Baptist family that had adopted them and their biological sisters seven years earlier, spiriting them from a troubled Montana reservation family to an idyllic Victorian castle across the country.

"Lost Sparrow" is filmmaker Chris Billing’s investigation into the dark family secret that prompted his own adopted brothers’ fatal flight.

A mosaic of Super 8mm home movies, family photographs, newspaper articles, adoption records, police reports, and new on-camera interviews with key people involved in the lives of the two boys, "Lost Sparrow" pieces together memories and theories from Bobby and Tyler’s biological sisters and father, adoptive parents and siblings, social workers who oversaw their adoption, and the police officers who investigated their deaths.

"Lost Sparrow" is on Facebook.

Trailer: Independent Lens: Lost Sparrow