News & Politics

DC Lobbyist Will Hire Actors to Reenact Seth Rich’s Murder

Jack Burkman, a Republican, wants to solve the case.

Burkman hands out fliers as he seeks to identify Seth Rich's killer. (Photo courtesy of The Publicity Agency.)

Last July, 27-year old DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered near his Bloomingdale home. At first, it looked like a familiar tragedy. The police speculated that it was a robbery gone wrong and say the investigation is ongoing. Rich’s watch wasn’t stolen, but the watch band was damaged and there had been a series of armed robberies in the area.

That story didn’t check out with Jack Burkman. The lobbyist, a Republican, started working with Rich’s family and offered a $105,000 reward to help solve the murder. His involvement is one of many surreal turns in a case that has ignited the conspiratorial imaginations of alt-right Reddit users, Newt Gingrich, and Julian Assange.

The latest twist comes from Burkman. This spring, he plans to hire actors to stage a reenactment of the killing. Burkman says Rich’s family is supportive. 

“It’s a California thing,” Burkman says about the reenactment. In his experience, they are “a great way to bring everything out of the woodwork.” He learned about them from his work as a lawyer. “There’s literally nothing better to stimulate people’s minds and memories.” He compares the simulation to a film. If you’re making a movie about Abraham Lincoln, he says, it ends with the assassination. 

Burkman and his PR team will hire six to ten actors. They will play Rich, some of his friends, potentially his girlfriend, and at least one assailant. The story will start at Lou’s City Bar, the Columbia Heights sports bar Rich went on the night he was murdered. From there, they may stop at the Wonderland Ballroom, the bar Rich said he was headed to on his way out of Lou’s. Finally, the cast will retrace Rich’s one-and-a-half mile walk to Flagler Place and W Street, Northwest, the corner where Rich was found shot, but still alive. “It will end on the very spot where his life ended,” Burkman says.

Burkman hasn’t figured out all the logistics yet. Another development has nudged the reenactment to the back burner: Burkman announced this week that a retired Army intelligence officer has led him to believe that Russia was behind the murder. “I think this guy is credible,” he says.

The source believes high-ranking Russian officials ordered Rich’s assassination after he discovered that Russia hacked the DNC. The Russian hacking story broke the month before the murder, which Burkman says supports his case. He has sent letters to the chairs of the House Homeland Security and Oversight committees calling for an investigation into the alleged Russian connection. Burkman’s source is the sole support for Russia being involved. 

Reddit users and right-wing news sites blame a different culprit. They claim Hillary Clinton‘s allies had Rich killed for orchestrating the DNC leak. In their telling, Rich is an alt-right hero who helped deliver the election to Donald Trump. Joel Rich, Seth’s father, has said it’s not plausible. He told Washington City Paper that Seth worked with voter data, not email servers.

Assange weighed in on the alt-right’s side. “There’s a 27-year-old who works for the DNC who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington,” he said in an interview with a Dutch TV program. “Our sources take risks and they are—they become concerned to see things occurring like that.” In August, WikiLeaks announced it was offering a $20,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction in Seth Rich’s murder.

“That’s all crazy talk,” says Burkman. On his end, Burkman plans to stage the reenactment just before Memorial Day. He warns that it’s impossible to get all the details right. “Nothing is ever a 100 percent depiction.”

Editorial fellow

Noah Lanard is an editorial fellow. Before Washingtonian, he freelanced for the Guardian, Fusion, and Vice in Mexico City. He was born in DC, grew up in New Jersey, and went to college in Montreal.