bear brook Murder victims went nameless for thirty years until a new scientific technology gave investigators hope once again. by hannah o'connor
In 1985, a hunter walking through Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire made a grisly discovery: a 55 gallon drum left deep in the woods, containing two sets of skeletonized remains, which investigators believed had been left in the woods for years. A subsequent investigation yielded little results until 2000, when a second barrel containing another pair of bodies was discovered, just a hundred meters away.
Forensics experts determined that the first two bodies were of an adult female and a younger girl, while the second barrel contained the bodies of two young girls. Over the years, authorities released facial reconstructions of all four victims, but to date, none have been identified. DNA showed that three of the victims — the woman and the oldest and youngest girls were related, but the middle child wasn’t.
This is the deep and textured mystery of Bear Brook.
Unlike podcasts that aim for the grisly and unsettling, Bear Brook approaches the story of the murders with tact and empathy. The focus is not the story of a serial killer but the story of a mother and three children who went nameless for three decades and the science that helped to identify them.
Each episode runs for 30 minutes to an hour, covering interviews investigators, amateur sleuths, and locals on the details of the case.
Radioisotope testing helped investigators to discover what relation the victims in the Bear Brook case had to each other, while genetic genealogy helped identify their killer and eventually the victims themselves. These forensics have now been used to catch the Golden State Killer as well as other criminals.
What makes Bear Brook different from other True Crime podcasts? It’s not full of suspense or gory details.
The podcast treats a difficult case with sensitivity and respect. It centers around the tragedy of a nameless family in an unmarked grave and the science that lead to their identification.
Bear Brook isn’t simply true crime; it’s the history of a community of people across the country coming together to identify a family and their murderer. It’s a conversation on where the future of DNA forensics could go. It’s a story that’s heartwarming, heartbreaking, and sometimes even funny.
For Earlonne Woods, an inmate at San Quentin prison serving 31 years to life for attempted second degree robbery, and Nigel Poor, a visual artist who donates her time to the inmates at San Quentin, Ear Hustle is a massive labor of love, courage and humanity. A podcast about inmates, for inmates and produced by inmates. It can be very "low-tech" sounding, with inferior audio gear and echoed halls and rooms, but the message of the show is clear and impacting.
Now in it's fifth season, Ear Hustle has evolved a long way from a fledgling radio show that won a podcast talent contest on Radiotopia years ago.
Each episode over the five seasons open up the listener to more complexities, subtleties and characters than one could have imagined from a simple prison-themed show.
In it's first season it dealt with more direct themes; trying to find a compatible cellmate, the seduction of prison gang life and the psychological burden of dealing with solitary confinement. In the later seasons the subjects open up and become more diverse; the state of being an immigrant in San Quentin, dating from prison and the big no-no, falling in love with prison staff. But no matter what the subject, each show deals with the humanity behind the story. How each individual brings their unique perspective to the confines of federal prison life.
Another episode of season four, Kissing the Concrete, deals with what incarcerated people do when their prison term is over, and they have to deal with life on the outside. We follow two men as they make their way into the free world, the same life-changing event — being released from prison — graces their lives, and yet each experiences freedom quite differently. The differences being what waits for them on the outside; a lot depends on who’s waiting for you, what you have lined up on the outside and how you handle the regular pressures of life after incarceration.
Speaking of freedom, at the end of the show’s third season, Ear Hustle announced that Earlonne Woods had had his sentence commuted. Woods was released earlier in 2019, and Radiotopia hired him soon after as a producer and occasional co-host. Woods now provides a fascinating perspective on the transition between life in prison and life on the outside. As a bonus, this happy evolution has yielded an opportunity for a new inside producer, Rahsaan “New York” Thomas. Ear Hustle couldn’t have planned for this turn of events at its inception, but the transpiring circumstances have laid considerable groundwork to show podcasting as a socially beneficial medium. Indeed, then-California Governor Jerry Brown cited Earlonne Wood’s work on Ear Hustle as evidence that Woods was ready to return to civilian life.
The subjects, characters and the stories behind their crimes are not always an easy listen; many are unrepentant, almost embracing the violent nature of their crimes. But the show never ceases to explore the human element; the passion, the humor and the heart of these people who are destined to exist for years in a dangerous and inhumane environment, and many for the rest of their lives.
In the end, Ear Hustle touches us because it breaks down the walls and let's the listener into a world with stories and events and emotions not at all different than those we experience on the outside.
Cora Danz is a freelance tech writer and co-editor of Pod-Spot. Email her at: CDanz@tutanota.com
cocaine & rhinestones The real sound of Country Music distilled through a veteran's voice. by aaron weiller
For sheer originality—and listening pleasure—one of my favorite podcasts this year was Cocaine & Rhinestones, Tyler Mahan Coe’s zealous, funny, meticulously researched series about twentieth-century country music. Coe, who lives in Nashville, is the son of the outlaw-country artist David Allan Coe, and he grew up traveling with his dad’s band, first as a kid and later as a guitar player; this perspective comes through in his authority, fervor, and delivery.
He speaks in a strange, performative style influenced by the old-fashioned late-night radio that the band and its driver listened to on the road, and his writing—like a good country song—is provocatively zesty. “Those bastards” deregulated radio in the Telecommunications Act of 1996; Buck Owens’s vocals are “stabbed-in-the-back-sincere”; a racist song about the horrors of school desegregation “ends with a chorus of, I assume, ghost children, singing My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
In one of my favorite episodes, about Bobbie Gentry’s eternally mysterious Ode to Billie Joe, from 1967, Coe says, “You can tell it isn’t going to be a normal song right away, from those wheezing violins on the intro.” The arranger “was working with an unusual crew of four violins and two cellos.” One of the cellists plucked his notes, “while the rest of the strings weave in and out in response to the unfolding drama.” The end is “cinematic”: the strings go up, “with the narrator going up on Choctaw Ridge to pick flowers,” and down, “when the narrator throws the flowers down off the bridge.” We hear them, falling and eerie, and they give us chills. In the past, I’d tried to resolve my intense feelings about Ode to Billie Joe, a staple on my childhood oldies station, by trying to figure out what the narrator and Billie Joe were throwing off the Tallahatchie Bridge; by reading about Gentry; and even by watching the horrible 1976 movie made to capitalize on the song’s success. None of that was remotely satisfying, but listening to the Cocaine & Rhinestones episode is: Coe both celebrates the song’s mystery and provides insight into its strange power.
The podcast has a distinctive, essayistic sound, narrated entirely by Coe and delivered in a tone somewhere between that of a news anchor, Jonathan Goldstein on Heavyweight, and a prosecutor delivering a closing argument. I often laugh while listening, admiring his zeal. In the “Pill” episode, Coe begins by talking about the “Streisand effect,” in which an attempt to stop the public from being exposed to something makes it go viral, and goes on to discuss the Comstock laws, on obscenity; the history of contraception in the U.S.
He records his vocals overnight, in a basement, when it’s quiet outside. “Just me alone in the dark, talking into a microphone.”
Aaron Weiller is a traveling musician, music critic and regular contributor to Pod-Spot. He resides in Amarillo, Texas. Email him at: BanjoAaron@snakebite.com
i'm afraid that... Ghosts, commitment... dinner parties? Everyone's afraid of something. by laura pittcomb
Everybody is afraid of something, and sometimes the most terrifying thing can be admitting just that.
For those of us who aren’t likely to confess the otherwise innocuous things that make us overcome with anxiety, there’s Daniel Zomparelli’s I’m Afraid That, a compelling interview series in which celebrity guests reveal the private fears they hold close to their hearts.
Featuring guests like actors and comedians Jenny Slate (afraid of ghosts) and John Early (dinner parties), writer and performer Our Lady J (screeching metal sounds), and Academy Award-winning writer-director Jordan Peele (unwanted attention).
Although the show could break down into comedic shtick and improv comedy, Zomparelli truly gets to the heart of what makes each guest so fearful, and why. The depths of the conversations and the detail the guests explore about their particular fears almost make you want to take on those fears yourself.
The episodes are short and edited to cut any fat from the conversations, making for a crisp pace and an always fascinating, if not unsettling, conversation. It’s all funny, genuinely interesting, legit spooky stuff, but in the end, it’s about confronting and overcoming these horrific tendencies, and I’m Afraid That offers the chance for extremely talented multi-hyphenates to put us all at ease by talking about what scares them the most.
Each episode also includes an interview with various experts who help explain why these everyday things—public speaking, loud noises, even ghosts—can sometimes frighten all of us so much.
So be afraid, be very afraid, and give these episodes a listen. We may have nothing to fear but fear itself, but that ain't no small thing.
Laura Pittcomb is a self-described "food mystic", designer and regulator contributor to Pod-Spot. Email her at: LPittcomb@gmail.com
hunting warhead the devil next door by nick Sirini
How do you take down a criminal network that's hidden in the shadows? How do you rescue child abuse victims who could be anywhere in the world? Hunting Warhead follows the journalists and police on a global mission to expose the darkest corners of the internet. What they discover shocks them.
The story of Hunting Warheada six-part co-production from the Canadian network CBC and the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang (known as VG), begins with an IT expert and computer hacker named Einar Stangvik and his pursuit of the perpetrators of online revenge porn.
After months spent tracking down and monitoring them, Stangvik shared his findings with the VG journalist Hakon Hoydal; the subsequent story resulted in one of the offenders, a local politician in Drammen, losing his job and serving a two-month prison sentence. The case also marked the beginning of a fruitful working partnership between Stangvik and Hoydal. Stangvik doesn’t like to be called a hacker as, he says, “I try to fix things, not tear them down.” Nevertheless, his ability to infiltrate the dark web and uncover criminal activity has led to his and Hoydal’s exposure of an international network dedicated to the creation and sharing of child abuse images.
Presented by the Canadian journalist Daemon Fairless, Hunting Warhead — “WarHead” is the username of the creator of Childs Play, a web forum for abusers and pedophiles which had more than a million registered users — tells of the painstaking business of tracking down web servers and hosting facilities as well as the site’s users.
The first episode of the series focuses on the site’s discovery, while the second shifts to Stangvik and Hoydal’s pursuit of its administrators, their dealings with police and the sting operation that led to the apprehension of “WarHead”. The latter’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment is told via an interview with a man named Gordon who recalls joining his roommate, Benjamin Faulkner, on a trip from Ontario to Washington D.C. When the police batter down their door early one morning, he learns that Faulkner has been running a child pornography network and the objective of his trip was to meet with fellow pedophiles and take part in the rape of a child.
While the facts are undoubtedly harrowing, the series steers clear of prurient detail, focusing on the investigative process and the personal impact of the case on those who helped to build it. Recalling the first arrest, Hoydal says, “I don’t cry very often but I did then."
Hunting Warhead has been billed as true crime, though it feels closer to the journalistic reporting seen in such series as the Bellingcat Podcast, about an investigation into the downing of Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, and The Tip Off, which tells the behind-the-scenes stories of scoops including the unmasking of the Isis terrorist known as “John the Beatle”.
Told with enormous subtlety and care, Hunting Warhead shines a light into the darkest corners of the internet while revealing the skill and doggedness that go into exposing egregious wrongdoing.
As Stangvik says: “Anyone can be unmasked if you’re willing to put the time and resources into it.”