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In 1967, Montreal filmmaker Hugh O'Connor was shot dead in eastern Kentucky by a landowner incensed over media portrayals of impoverished Appalachia.

In 2003, a housekeeper in the same region mistakenly shot and killed a teenager in a family dispute over a house fire.

A macabre coincidence ties the otherwise unrelated homicides together: Both victims were killed with the same weapon -- a 1904 .38-calibre Smith & Wesson revolver.

Even more bizarre is why the gun was available for use in the second killing. It had been taken out of a bank safe-deposit box after more than 30 years, in hopes it might be used in Stranger With a Camera, a documentary film about Mr. O'Connor's death.

"What are the odds of that?" Elizabeth Barret, the film's director, said of the gun's reappearance. "Not in my wildest dreams would I think that gun would be back in circulation. And for it to be used again . . . it's more than I can fathom."

In the 2003 case, 46-year-old housekeeper Kathy Walters-Williams shot and killed 19-year-old Forrester Caudill in Jeremiah, Ky. Court sources say Mrs. Walters-Williams testified she had mistaken him for his cousin, whose son she accused of setting fire to her house.

She was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter on April 22 by a county circuit court in nearby Whitesburg, Ky. Sentencing is set for Monday.

She found the gun in the home of her employer, Begie (Moose) Breeding, the adopted nephew of Mr. O'Connor's killer, who came into possession of the weapon after his uncle was jailed for manslaughter. He had tried to sell the weapon to Ms. Barret and failed to return it to his safe-deposit box after she declined the offer.

"It's almost like the saga of the murder of O'Connor is continuing," said Ms. Barret, a middle-class native of Appalachia who grew up 65 kilometres from Jeremiah, where the killings took place.

The tale began in Montreal in 1967, when Mr. O'Connor took a break from the National Film Board of Canada after scoring a triumph with In the Labyrinth, a multimedia film and precursor to the Imax, which premiered at Expo 67 in Montreal.

That same year, he headed south to make a U.S. government-commissioned film about extreme poverty in the Appalachians.

At the time, residents of eastern Kentucky were increasingly annoyed at seeing their region used as an example of the failure of the American dream.

Driving down the twisting back roads late on a September afternoon after finishing the day's filming, Mr. O'Connor and his crew spotted a grime-covered coal miner sitting in front of a rental shack with a child on his lap. Mr. O'Connor hopped out and asked permission to film them.

As they were wrapping up, the miner's landlord, Hobart Ison, drove up and began screaming at them to leave. Mr. O'Connor headed for the car, raising his hands to indicate that he and the crew were leaving.

But without warning, Mr. Ison fired a bullet into Mr. O'Connor's chest. The Canadian looked down at the wound and uttered his last words: "Why'd you have to do that?"

Mr. Ison pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years. He was paroled a year later.

The local sheriff gave the gun to Mr. Breeding and his family. He took it to the bank box, where it remained until 1999, when he got the idea of peddling it to Ms. Barret.

"I wish a thousand times that I had sold it," Mr. Breeding said.

A filmmaker with Appalshop, a Whitesburg-based educational centre that produces original films, Ms. Barret said the crew instead used a gun of the same model to record gunshots. She said she never had a chance to see the actual 1904 weapon.

The documentary, which premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, explores the relationship between films that promote social justice and those who are portrayed in them.

Mr. Breeding said that when she turned down his offer, he kept the gun in his house, concealing it with a sofa cushion or under a bed.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2003, Mr. Breeding had just taken his medication and felt exhausted. "So I went to my room and locked my doors," he said.

That was when Mrs. Walters-Williams took off with his gun and killed the teenager at a sawmill down the road, he said.

Police later found the gun on a mountaintop eight kilometres away, soaked in motor oil in an attempt to remove fingerprints. Mr. Breeding expects it will be returned but says he wants nothing to do with it. He plans to give it to his brother-in-law, who should sell it, he said. Mr. Breeding, whose family owns the property where both victims were killed, said he opposed his uncle's actions in 1967 but understood the roots of his anger.

Colin Low, a former NFB director who knew Mr. O'Connor for 15 years and worked with him on The Labyrinth, recalled the sorrow of his death.

"It was very painful for me and his friends," he said. "And it was terribly surprising, because he handled himself so well."

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