Behind 'Catching Lightning': Director Pat Kondelis on Lee Murray
The four-part documentary series provides a wealth of insight regarding the former MMA fighter turned bank robber.
Director Pat Kondelis is not a stranger to telling stories where crime and sports intersect.
Having previously directed films like Outcry and The Scheme, he and his production company Bat Bridge Entertainment continue to tell extraordinary stories.
And when it comes to extraordinary stories in the MMA world, there’s an argument to be made that the biggest jaw-dropper of them all is the Securitas heist, which involved UK middleweight “Lightning“ Lee Murray. Murray’s story has been a fascinating one not just due to the heist and its aftermath, but also because of the potential he had, the arguments of what could have been, and his current predicament.
In his latest documentary titled Catching Lighting, Kondelis and company delve into Lee’s upbringing, fighting career, an in-depth look at the heist itself, and the aftermath of it all. The four-part series was released on Showtime in April, with exclusive interviews and a ton of detail.
Kondelis was kind enough to spare some of his time to speak with Bloody Elbow regarding the project.
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Victor Rodriguez: Pat, you’ve been a fixture in Texas, namely in the Austin area from what I've seen. You’ve done a lot of really interesting things, you know, for example, documentaries like Outcry and and looking into the NCAA scandals that have gotten a bit of attention and notoriety in recent years. So I'm curious as to how you came specifically to the situation here with Lee Murray. Were you aware of him as a fighter first, or did he pop up on your radar due to the heist?
Pat Kondelis: So, I’d heard of him as a fighter. I’d heard the name Lee Murray, but I did not connect the name with the Securitas heist in 2006. It must have been 2018 – I don’t remember exactly what time in 2018 – it just, he popped up on my radar in one of the articles. I don’t remember which one. And then I just got, I’m like “How do I not know more about this story?” This amazing story and a fascinating character. And I would say, putting it mildly, I got a little obsessed with the story. And I just, whenever I had any free time I just kept digging and trying to see what I could find. And then it eventually turned into a four-part story.
VR: I’m not surprised you used the term “obsessed”. I’ve heard people that have done documentary work in the past use that word, they’ve used terms that are fairly adjacent. So this clearly drew you in, where do you begin with a story this big? Because you look at a man who’s led a few lives, right? You start with his origin – you have his childhood, his upbringing, he gets into professional fighting, then the heist, and then the aftermath, which I hope we have some time to get into as well later on. When you have a bird this big, where do you start carving?
PK: That’s a great question. That’s a great question. It comes down to “What do you know and don’t you know”, and then just trying to figure that out beforehand. There were aspects of Lee’s life that were certainly well-documented, and it was interesting to see immediately what was not documented. But for me that was, I wanted to know immediately more specifics about the heist itself and how they did this, particularly the planning. That’s what had me obsessed. One of the questions I didn’t know was the inside man. Did they put him in there, or was it the friend of a friend that just happened to already be working there. So that was one that I really wanted to answer immediately because that’s brilliant. To put a guy in there and be able to get him employed legitimately in Securitas solely to get you intel and to do surveillance is, again, it’s something out of a Hollywood movie.
That was the first part. The other part was all of the stuff about Lee was essentially saying the same thing. This guy is portrayed as a borderline psychopathic, bad man who was this incredibly violent street fighter and had this mythology that you don’t see in many MMA fighters.
PK: What I wanted to know was how can we, can we actually tell the story of Lee as a three-dimensional person as opposed to almost a cartoon villain.
VR: Well, there were certain through-lines, and that’s another thing that gets illustrated within the documentary, right? You start to realize everyone’s saying, or at least the core group around him saying the exact same things about him. “He was a gentleman”, “He was a saint”, “He’d give you the shirt off his back”, etc. But when you crossed him, certain things would happen. And there’s something very telling about the manner in which that sort of phenomenon takes place. And again, you’re a documentarian, you’re not a stranger to this sort of thing happening. Did it surprise you that this was happening with this level of regularity with him, and how did that inform your vision or perception of Lee in that way?
PK: I think it just solidified again, nobody is that black and white. Nobody is as black and white as you ultimately want them to be or think they are when you start peeling back the layers. I mean, the first interview of anyone that was close to him that we did was Terry (Coulter), his former trainer. And that was so eye-opening, It was such a stark contrast from what the police and everyone else were saying that covered the story. And that was it, we were like “OK, we wanna see if we can get further with this.” I think – everywhere we went in England, everybody knows Lee Murray. Everybody knew who he was, which is another thing that was really fascinating that I did not understand. I did not know going into this that he was such a massive almost-celebrity in England. Had no idea. I mean, you could not – every single day there was somebody that we bumped into that either knew Lee Murray, claimed to know Lee Murray, you know, had some sort of story they could tell about Lee Murray. And weirdly, people are protective of it in a very strange way. I’ve never worked on a story where so many other people wanted to claim ownership of that story.
PK: (Laughs) But it happens with Lee’s story. So yeah, I just, how deep can we go with this? And obviously, his family had never participated in anything (like this) before. That was just (something) we knew we were gonna try to do but I didn’t expect in a million years they were actually gonna say yes (to it). The goal of this is always ”Let’s tell the full story, let’s talk to every single person that’s involved and has first-hand knowledge.” So that what I can present to the audience is both sides and everybody’s perspectives. Find all of these little puzzle pieces we can put together so the audience has the most complete picture possible to make their own decision. That’s, hopefully we achieved that.
VR: When it comes to people that you managed to speak to, (this is just) a couple of quick hits on people that did not appear that perhaps would have been interesting to have seen them there. Would it be accurate of me to assume that efforts were made to reach out to UFC president Dana White and he would have declined to participate?
PK: (Sighs) It’s a tough question to answer. Dana and um.. Well, I would say UFC and Showtime don’t necessarily have the best relationship, which was challenging. It was a difficult situation for us to navigate, I would say, legally. So… yeah, that’s a tough one for me to answer. I don’t know how much I should really get into that because there was just a lot of, I would say, landmines is a good way to put it.
VR: Now, I’m gonna ask you the same question, right… I’m going to assume that perhaps there were efforts made to reach out to and get commentary from Tito Ortiz.
PK: Yes. Yes. I spoke to Tito’s manager and tried to, I requested an interview and told him what we were doing. And uh, to no avail. Did not want to participate.
VR: We, uh… we covered that pretty extensively. And that makes perfect and complete sense.
VR: But see, yet again, this is where we circle back to the consistency of what transpired here, right? Because everyone seems to be telling a story almost uniformly.
PK: Yeah, yeah.
VR: Unfortunately, the only person who seems to deviate from that is Tito. I can’t definitively say what that means, but… it is a bit, uh… and I see you smiling a little bit. Yeah, it’s a thing.
PK: Yeah, but I think… you gotta ask yourself: everybody else that’s telling the story, are they lying, or is Tito lying? Right?
VR: Or maybe there’s something that we’re missing, maybe there’s some level of something that might have been omitted or not picked up on, let’s put it that way. Let’s leave it in that limbo space, I guess.
PK: I will say it was surprising to me, Victor. In talking to everyone about that story - I mean, I didn’t tell anybody who else I was interviewing. So it’s not like I’m going to Pat Miletich and saying “By the way, I’m gonna talk to Tony (Fryklund), I’m gonna talk to Terry (Coulter)...” Like, none of that stuff was discussed in between the interviewees. It was almost verbatim across the board, what they said. So 17 years, no, 18-19 years later their telling of it is in lockstep to a weird degree. Tito’s is so far outside of that.
But part of that is why I put in there what Chuck said, it’s like in Tito’s defense in the doc, he’s like ”I wasn’t there, I’m not trying to force an opinion on anybody here.” But talking to everybody there he said “In Tito’s defense, he was up when I turned around.” I think that’s also consistent with what Pat (Miletich) and Tony Fryklund says where they’re picking him up, right? Like helping him up at the time. So I mean, I tend to believe Pat and Tony. To say that Lee Murray would ever run away from someone like Tito says in that interview in the doc, he’s the only person on the planet that’s ever said that Lee Murray ran away from anybody.
VR: Yeah, everyone is stating that if there’s anyone that would run straight at Tito it would have been Lee.
VR: So the dynamic there makes it a bit strange and hinky. But you mentioned Tony Fryklund, and I’m glad you did because I meant to ask you regarding him as well. I personally didn’t realize that he (Murray) had bonded that strongly with Tony. That they were that friendly. Obviously, he spent time at a team like Miletich (Fighting Systems) and as is the case with anyone who trains in martial arts to that degree, you’re gonna form bonds with people. And I didn’t know that they were that close. Tony… near the end Tony gets rather emotional.
VR: What did you make of the relationship with him and Tony, and did that it surprise you in any way?
PK: The emotion surprised me, I didn't expect him to get that emotional. And he surprised himself when that happened. Like you could watch when it kind of play out on camera because he’s realizing that he buried that he said this to him at the time and that’s the last time that they’ve spoken. The last thing he said was “Don’t call me again.” Yeah, that was an interesting thing, so many people loved Lee and that was surprising. The people that knew him, it seems like anyone that came into contact with him, at least that didn’t cross him, man they loved him. They’re loyal to him, they all have stories about him, him being generous and being so kind and all this.
He made a big impact on a lot of people very clearly. Everybody wanted to talk because they were very dead-set on essentially “Lee Murray is far different than the portrait that’s essentially been basically presented of him since this happened, right? And it was interesting to see. It was surprising, it was definitely surprising because it’s, again, it’s not what you’re expecting with a guy like that. The guy that ends up going on to commit this crime. You’re not expecting to hear stories about him being generous and kind and helping people. I mean, he got stabbed defending a friend, too. He got stabbed eight times. So he was a — he definitely seemed to make a very big impact on everybody that he came into contact with.
This documentary features a staggering amount of audio from recorded conversations Lee Murray had over the phone with various individuals in his life. For Kondelis, it was a revelation that so much of it was available for the documentary.
VR: There was, to me, a shocking amount of audio that had been recorded. I’m not clear on the timeline as to when those recordings took place, those conversations. I wasn’t familiar with, didn’t know that you could just press a button on a (flip) phone to make those. Maybe it’s just a European thing, I dunno. I wasn’t into that kind of technology when flip phones were around which is when I assume this was happening. Smartphones weren’t quite taking off just yet.
VR: Were you surprised at the amount, not just the amount of audio that was available, but the amount of candor and how much detail was actually put in there? And why do you think this was held on to and buried for this long?
PK: So I was shocked. I was completely shocked. And this all evolved in stages. So by the time we even made contact with the family, we were over a year into the project, into filming. So again, I wasn't even expecting that they would participate. They all end up agreeing to participate and then we’re doing interviews and that process is starting to evolve, and they tell me they have all these recordings. It blew me away. It was like “You gotta be kidding”. And then it was getting a flood of them, there was a lot. Because it was over the course of many years. It’s my understanding that they were roughly recorded from like 2010 to like 2017-ish? And the reason for that being, Lee was moved into a maximum security prison, Tiflet, 2 right now. I think it was by around 2017, and he does not have as much access to phones as he used to. I think he has like six people that he’s allowed to speak to.
So it was wild to listen to it, but it started to instantly make sense in that… he left I think it was the 24th or the 25th of February… the 25th, I think. The night of February 25th. The crime wraps up in the early morning of February 22nd, right? So he’s only in England for roughly three days after this heist, and he’s gone. So it’s not like he had time to talk to family and friends about what actually happened. He’s gone and after the trials in the UK were up around 2009, you can hear the family and friends, Nicola (Murray’s current wife) and Pard (a childhood friend of Murray’s featured in the documentary) in particular, ask him questions based on what's' coming out in the press while those trials are getting wrapped up in England. Because he hasn’t had time to discuss this stuff with anybody, they don't know.
So it was really wild to hear that evolution. So like, “Here, this person said this in the trial, what happened?” And then he’s going through it. And I think, what they told me was, “Look I just wanted an accurate record of this because he was told by his lawyers “Look, don’t speak to anybody. Don’t do any interviews or any of this stuff.” And he had never spoken publicly about the heist before, in fact he’d never even said he had done it. He plead not guilty. He never testified, he was never on a stand, he was never cross-examined in Morocco.
So he’s saying things on these recordings that the police don’t even know in England. They’ve never even had a chance to even interview him. They never spoke to him after he was apprehended in Morocco. So it makes sense in that the family’s trying to understand what actually happened. And who did what, and what are all these things he’s being accused of, if it’s true or not. It was a dream. It was a dream, man. To get those, the documentary is far better for them. For sure.
VR: Yeah (laughs).
VR: Wholeheartedly agree. I mean, it’s just such a fortuitous thing. You were very fortunate to have that here, not just because like “Oh man, it’s gonna really help my project.” But because it provides a far fuller picture.
PK: Yeah. I mean as soon as you hear his voice, I can’t tell you how many people are like “I had no idea he would sound like that.”
VR: No. The other interesting wrinkle is how much his voice had changed from when you see the early interviews starting off in his career then eventually when he gets to the UFC and he fights Jorge Rivera, he has the standoff with Tito. There’s a little lilt to it. He stammers a little bit, then the post-fight press conference it’s roughly around the same, a bit more subdued. But then you hear him on the phone it’s much gravelly, you think it could be the prison conditions. Could be that, I mean, they Swiss-cheesed him with the stabbing incident. It could be a matter of other things.
Was there anyone that you spoke to that you were genuinely shocked was willing to come forth, and were there any persons that volunteered unexpectedly to speak to you for the project?
PK: Well, I really didn’t think that the family was gonna go into it. Between Nicola and then Lily, Murray’s daughter, I didn’t think for a million years that they were gonna talk. That was surprising. Everyone else, I mean, I’m trying to remember. Sir John (Nutting), who was the prosecutor for the cases in England. To my knowledge he’s never done an on-camera interview before, neither had Adrian Leppard who was the assistant chief constable in Kent at the time who handled all the media and press conferences after the robbery. Anca, I believe, one of the Securitas hostages had never done an interview. Then of course from Lee’s corner, Terry’s done interviews but none of the others had. So all of that was surprising. You can hope that you’re gonna get all these different perspectives on camera and talk, especially when they have first-hand accounts. That’s what you want when you’re making a documentary on a subject this complex. But you can’t go in there and go “I think I’m gonna get that.” There’s no way.
VR: Like I’ve said, this isn’t your first rodeo. Some people are gonna say no. I’m sure you were very well aware of that fact.
PK: Happens a lot.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview, exclusively on the Bloody Elbow Substack.
Just watched this documentary yesterday and it’s awesome. Hard not to feel bad for Lee and just wonder what might have been as everyone he worked with thought he was so talented a fighter.
Documentary really drives home how good Lee was and how insane that robbery was.
It should be a Scorsese movie or something.
Truly, you couldn't write this script, theyd say it was too outlandish.