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Full Transcript: School of Podcasting – The Best Sounding Audio For Your Budget

Today, on episode number 611, hold on to your hat. We have a cool Because of My Podcast story, thanks to Jim Harold. Then, we're gonna get into audio quality, and audio formats. Which sounds better, Fraunhofer or Lane? Should I use 64, 128, 32, etc., etc. Then, we're gonna talk about Skype calls – how I can save you $20 a month and how I saved $44 a month, and I ended up with faster internet. It's pretty cool. Hit it, ladies!

The School of Podcasting, with Dave Jackson.

Podcasting since 2005, I am your award-winning podcast coach, Dave Jackson, thanking you so much for tuning in. If you're new to this show, welcome aboard. I'm gonna help you massage your message. I'm gonna help you face your fears, tackle that technology, and get you going in the right direction, when it comes to podcasting.

My website is SchoolofPodcasting.com. If you go to SchoolofPodcasting.com/start, and use the coupon code – write this down, it's L-I-S-T-E-N-E-R; better known as "LISTENER" – that will save you when you sign up for either a month, or a yearly subscription.

I always like to start off the show with a Because of My Podcast story. Today, it's from Northeast Ohio's own Jim Harold. You can find him at JimHarold.com.

He is The Paranormal Podcast guy. He's been podcasting since, you guessed it, 2005. If you wanna see a guy that has a lot of podcasts, a lot of books, and a lot of things going on, and yet, his website is well-organized, check out JimHarold.com, and check out what Jim has been up to.

Hey, Dave, Jim Harold here, and I have a great Because of My Podcast story, at least I think it is. If you don't know me, I podcast on the paranormal, and you can find my shows at JimHarold.com, and everywhere fine podcasts are heard. Been doing that since 2005.

I just made my eighth appearance on a radio program, called Coast to Coast AM. If you don't know what that show is, it is the most-popular radio show for overnights in the United States, and it's on over 600 radio stations.

Now, do you think I would have had that opportunity to be on two hours, speaking to the people who love my kind of content, the supernatural, and the paranormal? Do you think I woulda had that chance had I not had a podcast? I don't think so.

So, what are you waiting for? Talk to Dave. You should start your podcast as soon as possible. Don't think about it, go ahead and do it, because you'll have your own Because of my Podcast story. Thanks, Dave.

Thank you, Jim. You don't have to plug The School of Podcasting. I really appreciate that, but if you can answer that question, Because of My Podcast ___, do what Jim did – record it, and send it on over. I deeply, deeply appreciate those. They actually kind of inspire me. Again, you can find Jim over at im Harold.com.

You know what would be really spooky? Not going to Podcast Movement. I would cry. I would be so afraid, I tell you what, because I would be missing out on having over 2,000 podcasters from around the world to network with.

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But wait, there's more! Over 60 podcast service, and equipment providers. I will be there, as well, at the Libsyn booth. Stop by, and say hi. Whether you're in the market for a microphone, or you're trying to figure out which host is better. (Libsyn!) It's super-easy. You can go there.

Anyone who matters is gonna be at Podcast Movement. That, again, is July 23rd through the 26th, in Philadelphia, PA. That will be here sooner than later. Get your tickets now, and when you go to buy your tickets, at PodcastMovement.com, use the coupon code "SOP," and you'll get $50 off any level of registration. Again, that's PodcastMovement.com, coupon code – "SOP." Thank you, Podcast Movement, for sponsoring The School of Podcasting.

Hey, check it out. I am way over here, in your left headphone, because today, we're gonna talk about audio. One of the things we have to get a grip on is what the heck is stereo? Stereo is when you have sound coming out from the left side, but you can also have things coming out of the right side. This is typically heard, when you do things with, like, music. Just to get the full stereo sound, let's do this: Left, right, center … Nothing better than two-and-a-half-part harmonies.

Where you can really hear this is in music, so let me … I found some music that I think is very stereo-esque. Now, we're gonna go a little crazy with audio today, but not too deep. For all you super-duper audiophiles, this is gonna drive you nuts, but this is one style of audio that a lot of people use. If you're going to use stereo, it is called 128 kilobits per second.

We'll get into what the heck that means in a second, but really all that is, is it is like this: I've got 64 kilobits per second audio, in the left channel, and I've got another 64 kilobits per second, over here in the right channel. When you add those up, you get 128 kilobits per second.

What you need to know about this is this sort of audio takes up about one megabyte per minute; roughly one megabyte per minute. If you're gonna do an hour-long show, that's 60 minutes, and you're gonna do it weekly, that's four weeks, that 60 minutes times four weeks is 240 minutes. We said 128 kilobits per second is one meg per minute, so you're gonna need 240 megabytes per month to host your file.

I was afraid of this. Everybody's mind was blown. Yeah, too much jargon, I realize. I'm gonna try to … This is where the audiophile people are going to send me nasty letters, but we're gonna try to put this into something that we can all understand. That is, if you've ever had to paint, isn't it fun?! All the taping, and the … I admire people that love to paint. I'm not one of them. If you've ever done it, we're gonna talk podcasting to painting, here. When you have …

First of all, you always want to record in the best possible format you can. On a PC, that is in a WAV format. That pretty much means what you hear is what you get. There's no loss of the audio. On a Mac, it's AAC. That's the good news. The bad news is these files are huge, like gigantic, and by that, I mean they're big.

What we're gonna do, then, is you take that giant file, cuz you can't send that to your audience … They're gonna be like, "Dude, you took up all the room on my phone! I hate you!" Hence, enter the world of MP3s. The sound isn't as pristine as it was, but it's also like a tenth of the size of a WAV file, maybe. I don't know, but it's much, much smaller.

We're gonna talk about now … I have an original painting. I'm going to now draw a new copy of that painting. Let's go at it that way. We're gonna use paint. If you paint in stereo, it is like painting with two paint brushes. Now, if you're painting with two paint brushes, what's gonna happen? You're gonna use twice as much paint – one for the left side, and one for the right side.

That's why a stereo file, at 128 kilobits per second … You're like, "Dave, quit saying that! What is 128 kilobits per second?" Here's the thing we need to know about this. The bigger the number, the more paint on your brush.

I think it's GarageBand, or iTunes that occasionally … The desktop version, of course, because if I was talking about the app, I'd be saying Apple Podcasts, but the desktop version. I believe if you convert audio files there, I believe the default is 192 kilobits per second.

Now, going back to the painting analogy, have you ever tried to paint with too much paint on your brush? What happens? It runs, and then you're like … If you let the run dry, it's like, "Oh, it was perfect, except there's this big drippy thing in the middle." Too much paint can be bad.

Well, 192 kilobits per second – warning, this is an opinion – is way too much. Now, today, I'm actually going to export at 192, because I'm gonna give you an example of 32 kilobits per second, 64 kilobits per second, 96, and 128. These are gonna be very short, but I want you to hear the difference, because, in the end, it's up to you to vote with your ears.

That number, the kilobits per second, that's how much paint you're putting on your brush. The more paint, of course, we know that, especially if you're trying to paint over something, the more paint, the better the coat. The better the coat, the less you have to paint again. If you're painting in stereo, you're painting with two brushes. You're using up twice as much paint, and in some cases, you don't need that much paint.

For example, let me play you that stereo file we played a second … Let me play you that clip again. Now, did you notice anything? My guess is you didn't, unless you've got really good ears. The first part of that was in stereo. The second part was in mono. I'm gonna play this again, and when we switch from stereo to mono, I'm gonna put a little beep so you know that we switched.

Now, how can you tell which one is better? Here's the word that doesn't … One of these things doesn't belong here. The word 'better' does not work here, because it's really, and I mean really up to you. What you can do is you can go into your software, whether it be Audition, or iTunes, or Hindenburg Journalist, or whatever you're using, and you can export it as stereo, and then, you can export it as mono, and then vote with your ears, and pick the one that you like best.

Just realize that when you're in stereo, your file is going to be twice as big. Then, the bigger the number, the bigger the file; the bigger the file, the more hosting you need; the more hosting you need, the more expensive podcasting becomes.

Now, let's talk about what does a voice sound like? This is me being recorded as a WAV file, right now, and I will say, ohm let's use the good-old standard, Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow. Now, just to prove my point, I'm going to play that file, now, mono. Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Now, you might be saying yourself, "Dave, that didn't sound a bit different," and that's the whole point of that exercise. There is no difference. There's no stereo separation with a voice. You're listening to me in the middle of your headphones. Now, what I'm going to do is export that same little 'Mary had a little lamb' thing at different bit rates, so we can hear what they sound like.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

If you're like me, you're saying, "Dave, that sounded like crap!" You are correct. That is 32-kilobits-per-second stereo. Now, ooh, you ready for the braintease? If it's 32-kilobits-per-second stereo, what is in each speaker? What's in each headphone, right now? You got it? 16. 32 is 16 on one side, and 16 in the other, which means it sounds horrible, and that did. What does 32 kilobits per second sound like in mono?

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Not bad. Listenable? Yeah. Great? Eh … The upper frequencies, where your S's, and your T's are – a little wonky. Let's listen to what 64, which most of us consider high mono, because, again, 128 kilobits per second is kind of FM-stereo-CD quality. Now, let's listen to … What I'll do is I'll play the 32 mono, and then I'll have it right followed by the 64 mono, so we can hear them, back to back.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

This sounds better. Why? There's more paint on the brush, so it covers better. It covers the audio frequencies better. This is why a lot of people … You can get by with producing a file at 64 kilobits per second mono, and it will be fine, because technically, it is that CD-quality/FM-stereo quality, but there's no stereo separation.

Just for giggles, let's go up one higher. Now, we're gonna compare 64 mono to 96-kilobits-per-second mono.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

I dunno about you … My opinion, I didn't hear a whole lotta difference. There was definitely a difference between 32, and 64, but 64 to 96, now we're talking about icing. We're talking about do I need more icing on my cake? No. I think that's listenable, without being distracting, at all. That's just my personal opinion. Then, the question has to be … Remember the music we heard earlier? What really takes a beating, when you go mono, is music, because you go from stereo to mono. Let's do that one more time.

The School of Podcasting with Dave Jackson …

The School of Podcasting with Dave Jackson …

Now, if I start talking over that, is it really a big deal that it's not in stereo? That, again, is up to you to decide. Let's kill that. This is when you can then decide, because, again, the bigger the bit rate, the bigger the file; the bigger the file, the more hosting you need from your media host.

Yes, you need a media host. Use the coupon code, SOPFREE, when you sign up at Libsyn. That's L-I-B-S-Y-N-dot-com. Full disclosure, I work there, and that's my preferred media host. There are others. Blubrry, B-L-U-B-R-R-Y-dot-com. Also use the coupon code, SOPFREE, to get there …

The bigger your file, the more media host you need; the more media hosting you need, the more money you have to put out. It's up to you. It's a balance between your ears, and your wallet, but there's also other considerations. This is where you have to look at your target market, cuz you might say, "But, Dave, I think you publish in stereo, don't you?"

Here's my thought. If you're living someplace where you don't have a lot of bandwidth that it's gonna take forever to download my file, you are not my target audience. You're gonna have a hard time creating a podcast without a decent internet connection. We'll talk about that in a second. Now, some of you may say, "Hey, hold on! I've got poor bandwidth! Don't go peein' in my Cheerios!" Well, that's my thought, at least, and my shows aren't six hours long. They don't take up a huge amount of space. Sometimes, I actually still do publish them at 64-kilobits-per-second mono, if it's extra-long.

Now there's one other thing. Remember how we say the answer in podcasting is it depends? There is no one size fits all. Can you say that with me? There is no one size fits all. When somebody tells you something, please consider the source, and I mean consider it coming from me, because I have another reason why I podcast in stereo. I have an online streaming channel. I use a service called Abovecast. I spend $12 a month. I get maybe – I haven't looked in a long time – not very many listeners on this. This is something that's in … Just like there are podcast directories, there are also streaming-channel directories. Not nearly as popular as podcasting, but I'll put out the 12 bucks for that, and the way I have my channel set up, it wants – you guessed it – 128-kilobits-per-second stereo. So that's the other reason I do it, cuz otherwise, I gotta convert the file again.

My target audience, I think, has the bandwidth to handle it. I think they have enough space on their phone. If I was doing a show for moms, though … If I was doing a show for moms, I would definitely do it at 64-kilobits-per-second mono. Why? Because moms' phones are full of pictures and movies. This is something to think about. There is no wrong answer here. It's really up to you.

The final part of this, and then, we're gonna get into more fun things with the internet, is when you go to figure out how much space you need, we said you need to know how many episodes you're putting out a month, how many minutes those episodes are gonna be, and then your bit rate, cuz we said … Here's the thing, 64-kilobits-per-second mono, which is just a little bit of … It's one brush with a decent amount of paint on it. It's a half a meg a minute.

If I was doing a 20-minute podcast, it would be 10 megs. If I was doing that once a week, I would need 40 megs, so there's that. If it's 128-kilobits-per-second stereo … Remember, that's the same thing as 64 mono, except now, you have a left, and right channel, so your music's gonna sound better. That is double the size, one meg. These are roughly, don't hold me, roughly 1 meg per minute, so if I was doing a 20-minute podcast, a 20-minute podcast would take 20 megs of space. Times that by once a week, that's 80 megs of space. Now, I'm probably more into the $15 range of media hosting, versus the five-dollar, or seven-dollar range. Then, the more minutes you do, the more episodes you do, it just adds up.

I just wanted to let you hear that, but now, now … Ooh, the final … We're gonna pop a myth here. I've been exporting these in Hindenburg Journalist, and you may not know this … I didn't really know this until a while ago, when I looked it up, Hindenburg Journalist uses the Lame encoder, and the official MP3 encoder is from Hasenpfeffer … No, that's Bugs Bunny. Duesendorfer? It's something very German-sounding. I will look it up here in a second, when I go into iTunes, but I'm now gonna take a WAV file, that 'Mary had a little lamb,' and I'm going to convert it to 64 mono, using Lame encoder, which we've kind of already heard, and one using the one in iTunes, and we're gonna see if there's any difference.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

For me there's not a giant difference. One more time.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.

Now, think about listening to this in the car; think about listening to this at the gym, walking a dog. Think about listening to this, not like I am, in a quiet room, with my headphones smashed into my head, because I'm really … I'm like, "Okay …" Now, for the record, the first one was the Fraunhofer. It's not Hasenpfeffer. Bring me my Hasenpfeffer! I couldn't remember that. The second one was the Lame, and listening to it four times, I finally went, "Yeah, the Lame is a little …" Just like, if you could put your fingers … It's that much worse in the upper end, barely.

This is the thing that people obsess over, and that drives me bonkers, that we're like … We're sitting in a room, smashing our headphones in, listening to think … Nobody's listening to your stuff, five times, going, "Wait a minute, did he say rents or rent?" No. Nobody's caring about that. So, my point here is, really, all you have to decide, in my opinion …

If somebody asked me, as a podcast consultant, "Dave, what should I export as?" I'd go, "Here, it's really easy." Go in, record your file, recording everything as a WAV file, an AAC file, if you're on a Mac, so you can get the best quality recorded. When everything's ready, and all your music's in place, and everything else, export that once, as a 64-kilobits-per-second-mono file, then go right back in, and name it something like Episode 1-Mono 64. Then go right back to that same software … Everything's still in place. Go file, export Episode 1-128 stereo, and go back and listen.

Again, you have to do the math. How many times am I gonna publish? How long is my episode gonna be? How much hosting do I need, based on whether it's mono or stereo? Then look at your wallet. It's really that simple, but I wanted you to hear the difference, because there is a difference. Definitely, when you get down to 32, 32 is not good, in my opinion. That's like, "Ehh, it's a little …" Oh, I don't wanna be mean, but there are other media hosts that use things with the phone that sound pretty horrible, and that's what it kinda sounded like to me. It's, for me, 64 or 128, and again, that is just my opinion.

I just see people all the time, they'll upload a file. Not at 128, not at 192 … 256 kilobits – double the high. They'll upload it to their media host, and go, "Hey, why am I out of space already?" Because you're using a twice as much paint as you need, and it's not really … It's not benefitting the wall you're painting on any more. In fact, you're kind of running … You have runs in your paint now, and all it's doing is taking longer to download, and taking up more space on people's phone.

This next topic came to me, and I was like, "Well, that's a really good point," from my buddy, Troy Heinritz. You can find his podcast, The Blacklist Exposed, at, you guessed it, TheBlacklistExposed.com. Shockingly enough, The Blacklist Exposed is about the TV show, The Blacklist. See how that works? He's smart like that. Then he, and my buddy, Wayne Henderson, do the Packers Fan Podcast, which, you guessed it, is about the Packers.

He sent me a note, and I was like, "You know, this really makes a lotta sense." I'm playing with SquadCast, right now, and there's Ringer, there's Zencastr. I've yet to play with Discord. I know a lot of gamers use that. He made a great point, and I'm just gonna paraphrase his email. "If you have crappy internet, none of these is gonna work. It's not …"

Let me tell you a little story about a man named Jed. Well, first, let's go back a second. Let's talk about Skype. I use Skype, and I'm one of these weird people … I rarely have a problem with Skype. I have one example of somebody who … I was doing an interview. They were interviewing me, and they said, "Look, I live in Africa. I have crappy internet. It's gonna drop about six or seven times. I will call you right back. We'll pick up where we left off," and we did. He did. He fixed it in the edit, and everything was fine.

I went over to Skype, and I'm like, "What requirements do you need on your PC?" On the PC, you need at least one gigahertz, it said, with 512 megabytes, and it's … Basically, I always tell people … When I used to teach software, I used to teach a lot of Microsoft Word, and Excel, and QuickBooks, and things like that. We used to laugh when they'd come out with a new version of the software, with their recommended hardware, because it was always like, "Okay, you need to like triple that."

I'll give you an example. Zencastr, on their website, states you need at least 1.5 down, but then, they say, but really, it'd be cool if you had five. That is your typical … Like, well, you can, you can … On a Mac with Skype, you need at least one gigahertz, which probably means, again, about two or three … A core-two duo, and at least one gig of ram, which means, again, about three.

Then, how much bandwidth does Skype need? If you go out to the website, at SchoolofPodcasting.com/611, you'll see a screenshot I took. Again, I laugh when I see this. They say the minimum download/upload speed is 30 kilobits per second, and it says recommended download/upload speed – a hundred kilobits per second, which is kind of …

Can I tell you something? We're gonna get into talking about cable, today. I live in Akron, Ohio. I had Time Warner Cable. They got bought by Spectrum. I cannot go to their website, and find a different internet packages. The cable company needs to realize they need to make things easy. We want a la carte, and we wanna look at a page, and go, "How much is that, and what do I get?" They do not do that.

Anyway, I did see, for $29 a month, as long as I bundle it with a bunch of other crap I don't want, I could get a 100 kilobits per second up, or down, and they have other things. Now, if you have multiple people, right, if you have more people, and especially if you're doing video, you're doing a video, and you're doing that, now, that goes from 30 up to 128. In reality, again, it's probably 300, which is pretty fast internet.

Again, I went over, I just did a quick speed test at, I believe, it was SpeedTest.net? He said, looking at his website. Yeah. Right now, I have 162 down, megabytes per second, and 23.78 up. I might get a new modem, because I just … Well, here's what I did. I just saved myself 44 bucks a month. Before I get off of Troy's point, here … So, I have okay internet. Then, I realized not everybody does. Please don't call that white privilege. I don't know I am sorry I have the internet, but I do. I don't golf, I don't bowl, and that is my main hobby.

I spend … Well, we'll get into what I spend, here in a minute, but here's the thing. Let's say I'm having a problem with Skype, so I try SquadCast, I try Zencastr, I try TryCast, I try … There's a billion of these things now. If I'm getting an audio glitch on Skype, there's a good chance maybe that when I'm connected to my guest, I'm still going to hear a glitch. Now, the fun part of things like SquadCast, dotFM, and Zencastr is, in theory, they don't record the glitch, because they're recording locally. They're recording your side of the conversation on your computer, your guest's side of the conversation on their computer, so I get that. Again, Zencastr states you need at least 1.5 down. They've recommended five megabytes per second.

To kind of tie this in with the story, that sometimes you're just gonna have to change something, or, in some cases, you are out o' luck. I saw my cable bill came in the other day, and it was over $200, and I was like, "inaudible." I had had HBO, ShowTime, and those were free for a year, and they bundled it in. It was the Triple Play. It was the phone, which has been sitting on the floor gathering dust; it was my internet, and the TV, and I had a decent TV package, and I had a DVR, and all this other stuff.

Well, I was like, "No, no, no, I don't watch enough TV. I watch The Profit. I watch Shark Tank. I cry every Tuesday, when I watch This Is Us, and that's about it. I tape Jimmy Fallon, and I watch him in the morning, while I'm eating my breakfast. Other than that, and really, I don't need that … Bar Rescue is another show that I like. I tried, I heard of these people … "Oh, man, just get a free antenna. If all you want is the local channels, just get a HD TV antenna."

When I lived in Cleveland, where I could almost see where the TV was coming from, I had one of these things, and I still could not get … All I wanted was the four major networks here in the U.S. – NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox, and then any kind of local channels, where they play … Why don't we just call it the dead channel, because everybody … It was like old black-and-white stuff; it was like here's more dead people. I see dead people …

I'm in Cleveland, and I cannot pick up all the channels. Now, I've moved 50 miles, 60 miles, maybe, south from Cleveland. I went to the Wal-Mart, and bought this … It was pretty cool. This little tube that, according to the box, picked up TV signals in every kind of direction there is. As long as I stood by the window, and held it about 12 feet in the air, it picked up almost everything. It was just kind of inconvenient if I wanted to take a shower, or, I don't know, do something else. So I was somewhat like, "Oh, maybe there's hope for this.".

I went back to Wal-Mart, and took it back. Went to Amazon, bought this one that said, "Look, 80-mile radius," and I'm like, "Hey, that's me." Put it by the window. Did the thing. Picked up seven channels. Now, the great thing about this, by the way, the seven channels that you're gonna get are all about like Home Shopping, something else shopping, blah, blah, blah, Jesus, more Jesus. In some cases, selling Jesus, or shopping with Jesus. I don't know, but it was all the channels, you're like, "Nope, nope, nope," you know, and so, I was not … I have nothing … I'm actually a fan of Jesus. One of the things I'm gonna ask him, when I get to heaven, is like, "Dude, what was up with letting people with purple hair, who point at the sky when they sing, represent you? What is up with that? But anyway, so I was like, "All right, that didn't work either."

It'd come to me. I talked to my brother, because I know, for a while, he was like, "Yeah, I've tried like five of those things. None of them will let you get the four major networks. We just …" If I lived in a metropolitan area, maybe, but I'm in the suburbs-ish.

Here's what's interesting. You wanna start a podcast, right? I bet there's about 80 million podcasts about this. I know there's a bunch of YouTube stuff. I totally went down this rabbit hole … Michael Delaney heard me go down the rabbit hole, from Baby Mountain Radio, which is actually a show about caregiving for dementia; links out in the show notes, of course.

He let me know about SiliconDust. This is a company that makes HDHomeRun, which is only 66 bucks. What's cool is you plug this thing in, and you can like take your HD antenna, and stream it to any device, and in some cases, multiple-multiple devices. Well, that's cool, except for one thing. It starts with an HD antenna, and we just … We've been there, done that. Dave can't get all the channels he wants. Even though that's a really cool product, and you can actually have a DVR for about … You can have like a recording of stuff for like 35 bucks a year. For Michael, he is like, "I love this thing." I think if you're in the right spot, you got it going on.

StargatePioneer, and I just mentioned this … I mean, this episode hasn't even been published yet. StargatePioneer. You might know him from Better Podcasting, or he also does the Agents of SHIELD podcast over at the GonnaGeek Network. He told me about Tablo, which is this cool Wi-Fi kind of DVR thing. It's, I think, close to 200 bucks, and it works great with, you guessed it, an HDTV antenna. They do make … I watched some guy on YouTube, Modern Dad, somebody like that, and he explained how – he's doing all sorts of cool stuff. – if you have an outdoor HDTV antenna, but I don't. I live in an apartment. I can't go pound one on the roof here. I might …

At any rate, here's the thing. In the same way that there are people that are going from Skype to TryCast, to SquadCast … If you have crappy internet, you have crappy internet, and I don't really think that's gonna … It's like saying, "Hey, my bed is too short. Can you give me a new blanket?" Okay, here, use the red blanket. "My bed's still short. All right, give me the blue blanket …" It's not gonna fix the problem.

Here's what I did, and how I ended up with faster internet, and I saved myself 44 bucks a month. Again, my bill was 200 bucks, and so, I was like, "No, I don't think so." Well, that got my bill down to 176, and I'm like, "I still don't think so." I contacted my cable company, which was formerly Time Warner Cable – they got purchased by Spectrum – and found out that, while I was on the fastest internet for Time Warner Cable, now that they were Spectrum, I was not on the fast internet. I'm like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what's up with that? I need me some fast internet." I said, "Here's what I …" They're throwing bundles at me, and I'm like, " I don't want a phone. I really don't want a phone I don't wanna … Look, this is what I want. Tell me how much it is for the fastest internet you have, and for the smallest TV package you have. They go, "110 bucks," and I go, "Done! That's what I'm looking for. It's like 300 megs I think is the fastest they have. Like I said, I might need to buy a new modem if I'm gonna really get up to 300, but I downloaded that and it's a much faster internet.

I was using a SquadCast, and I interviewed JJ Virgin, and when it was done … I used to kinda watch the progress bar. Again, it's not a SquadCast thing. I was watching the progress bar as it uploaded inaudible and I was like, "All right," and the call was done and … It was done. That was cool.

Originally, it was over $200. I was down to 106. Now I'm down to 109, but their basic-basic-free-cable thing a) did not have a DVR. Well, you know us podcasters, we love to time shift, so I was like, "All right …" Plus, again, the TV selection was like … I finally had the four main channels, and M*A*S*H. That was it. Then, of course, Jesus, and the Shopping Network, which I believe was the band back in the 70s. Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus and the Shopping Network, coming to the show right now … All right, so anyway, and then, later, Jesus went solo, and he did just drop the Shopping Network, and depending on … Oh, never mind. Inaudible.

Now, I looked at … This is what's gonna be really interesting to watch in the future, cuz this is slowly … I don't have a PlayStation. I kinda looked at PlayStation as option. YouTube Live, I believe is what they're calling it now, I looked at them, and you could use your Chromecast and … I'm a big Amazon guy. I have a Fire TV. I looked at Sling. I looked at Hulu. I still like the thing that Michael told me about, the SiliconDust thing. I might call them, and say, "Look …" cuz here's the thing that's stupid about them. These people sell these things that stream what comes from an antenna, but they don't sell the antenna. How dumb is that?

Anyway, I look to YouTube Live. I looked at Sling. I looked at Hulu. I already had Hulu. To make a long story short, cuz I realize you're going, "Dave, this has nothing to do with podcasting." I did YouTube … YouTube … I did Hulu Live, which adds a whole bunch'a channels for 44 bucks. Now, my cable's 153, but come Monday, I'm cutting my basic cable. I'm basically cutting all of it down, and then it's gonna end up to 133. So, I went from 176 to 133. So far, it's OK. It takes a little bit for Hulu to figure out that you're now this live-streaming dude. It's a little clunky, but again, I don't watch a lotta TV. I really don't.

My point here is, again, going back to Troy's original point, is if you have crappy internet, and this does not mean you need a gazillion megabytes up, but if you're going to be doing Skype calls, you might need something more than you have now. Instead of spending $20 on, and I'm sorry, SquadCast, and I'm sorry, Zencastr, but instead of spending $20 on these guys, why not see what is better at your cable company? There might be a way that you can spend that $20, and just get faster internet. Then, you don't need SquadCast, and Zencastr, cuz, I'm gonna demonstrate this, you can actually …

If you want somebody in a split track, where you get separate tracks for each one, I'm gonna show you how to do this. Now, I'm using a mixer right now. My microphone is plugged into one channel, and my computer is plugged into the other one. What I can do is pan this so that I'm going to be all the way left, and the color … This is another thing, if you ever wanna test your Skype, you can do that. It's super-duper easy.

I'm gonna do this live. Here I am. I'm in both speakers, and now, I'm going to go all the way over here, to the left channel. There is a woman called Echo, just E-C-H-O. You'll see her. It says Echo Sound Testing Service, and she's from Britain, right? So, I'm gonna give her a call, here; give her a little chin-wag.

Hello, welcome to Skype Call-Testing Service. After the beep, please record a message.

Now she's in the right channel.

Afterwards, your message will be played back to you-.

I'm gonna talk over her, here, and this is me testing my microphone. Hello, right, you. Cup of tea? Chin-wag. All that kind of stuff. Pip, pip, Guvnor. This is me testing my microphone. Right, you, cup of tea, chin-wag, all that kind of stuff, pip, pip. Now I'm gonna talk over her.

If you're able to hear your own voice, then you have configured Skype correctly. If you hear this message, but not your own voice, then something is wrong with your audio-recording settings. Please check your microphone, and microphone settings, or visit Skype.com for more help. Thank you for using Skype Call-Testing Service. Goodbye.

This is an example of why you'd want to have people in separate channels so that I can cut me out, here. Right. You can call her as many times as you want. Again, in Skype, just search for the user Echo, E-C-H-O, and you'll see her, Echo Skype Testing Service.

I mentioned how I was gonna talk over her, so I could do that. Here's the fun part, I now have that track. I can go into Audacity, and split that track, and when I'm talking over her, I can now just mute me, and then export that as mono. Let me do just a quick second of this, just to show you what I'm talking about. Okay, now I'm gonna talk over her-.

If you're able to hear your own voice-

This is an example of why you would want to have-

-then you have configured Skype correctly. If you hear this message, but not your own voice-

-people on separate channels. Now, in Audacity, you can say split that track into … It's one file, but split the left and right of that file. You can also do this in Hindenburg Journalist Pro, and say split that into two separate tracks, so it sounds like this. Okay, now I'm gonna talk over her-

If you're able to hear your own voice crosstalk

-this is an example of why you would wanna have people in separate channels. Now, I simply take me out, and we're left with this.

If you are able to hear your own voice, then you have configured Skype correctly. If you hear this message, but not your own voice-.

If you have a mixer, and a portable recorder, or something to record into, you can basically pan you all the way left, and somebody else all the way right, and save yourself 20 bucks. Again, sorry to my friends at Zencastr, and SquadCast, but if that's really the goal, you can do that, and save yourself 20 bucks.

Now, a couple other quick things here on sounding good. Number one, I wanna give a shout out to my buddy, Kim, from Toastmasters101.net. She gave me this tip, and that is what if somebody doesn't have great internet, or what if they don't have a great microphone? This would be a better example of that … What if somebody doesn't have a good microphone. They're gonna use their built-in microphone. What you can do, and I'm gonna add in my spin to this … Her spin is have them use Skype on their phone. That's a great suggestion. I say let's take that one point further, and this is where I think this is cool. You can make a Skype account for free. You just need a free email. Go to Gmail, and make up [email protected], go over to Skype, and sign up for a free Skype account, and then, all you have to do is say, "Hey, can you install an app in there?" I'm like, "Yeah, I know how to install an app." I'm like, "Okay, good. Install Skype. Are you on Wi-Fi at the moment?" "Yes, I'm on Wi-Fi." "Okay, install Skype on your phone, and just log in with [email protected] The password is: Don't forget the password." "Okay, got it. Don't forget the password." "Type that in, and I will call you in two seconds.".

You're recording on your end. They're calling on their phone, which actually sounds pretty decent, using your log-in name and password, and when it's over, just have them delete the app. I really, really doubt they're gonna remember your log-in name, and password, and if they do, well, shame on them, but it doesn't really matter. There's no credit card information, I believe, with that. It's a free account, so that's another thing.

Now, the other thing you wanna do is mic technique, and that is you want to avoid popping Ps. Right now, I'm talking directly into the microphone. I'm using a Electro-Voice RE320. If I say something like peanut butter, yeah that was pretty bad … I'm trying really hard to make 'plosives. Those are awful, and you want a pop filter. What you actually wanna do … Here's an easy way to remember this, and I'm gonna move my mic here. I'm pointing the microphone at the corner of my mouth. I'm not talking directly into it. If the microphone is 12:00, I'm looking at basically 2:00, and this is pointed at the corner of my mouth. Now, the other thing you wanna do is make sure you understand how to use your equipment. Right now, I'm gonna say the dreaded words, that's right, you heard it, Blue Yeti.

So, this is me on a poorly placed Blue Yeti. Hear all the room noise? Yay. There are a couple of settings here, and what you wanna do is … Here is one, I think it's picking up the front. Hello, this is me in the front. This is me in the back. Hello. Can you hear me? Im the one doing the British accent. Listen to all the popping Ps. Isn't that a little bit annoying? I think so. This one, yeah, I think just picks up in the front. This is the setting you want with a Blue Yeti, where you want things in the front. Also notice this, if I touch anything on my desk … This is why this microphone isn't … If I had this in a stand, where it wasn't connected to the desk, it might not be bad.

My buddy, Rob Walch, who is the vice president of podcast relations at Libsyn, uses one of these. Sounds great. So does Ravi, from SubscribeMe. It's not a horrible microphone. Not my favorite, but you have to know how to use this. Right now, I'm not using a pop filter, which is really unheard of, so just be careful with this, if you're gonna buy one. I don't recommend them, unless … I just think there are better things, cuz it's … They're kind of a pain in the butt to get in a stand; they're kind of a pain in the butt to get a pop filter, depending on if you wanna get the specialized one, just for the Blue Yeti. I recommend the Audio-Technica ATR2100, but this is an example of not great sounding … If we go back to the original one, where I've got it picking up everybody, and I've got the game cranked up, and yeah, and now, if I tap the desk … Yeah, bad audio.

Aright, And as we now … Again, that was … I was surprised, that … I think that's my lamp. Not sure what that thing is picking up. Did have one other tip for making you sound good, today, because we're talking about audio quality, helping you pick that. This has nothing to do about kilobits per second. My buddy, and I, Erik K. Johnson … You might know him as the Podcast Talent Coach, or PodcastTalentCoach.com. We do a show called Podcast Review Show, where we basically … You give us an episode, and we go over, and we look over every rock. We go through it with a fine-toothed comb, and we were … If you go over Monday, you'll hear us review a show called A Modeler's Life. It's about male railroads … Male railroads … It's about model railroads, both female and male railroads. One of the tips we had for the person was he didn't really set up the show. They just kinda started in. I was making all my notes, like wow, they're really taking a lot of tangents. They're not just talking about … Why do I wanna keep saying male railroads? Model railroads. I was really like, "Wow, this is not a great podcast." Then, I went back, and I read their description in Apple podcasts, and it says talking to people about model railroading, and the lives of those that like the hobby, or something of that nature. I went, "Oh …

An easy way to make your stuff sound better is to let people know what to expect, because I can see people tuning into this episode, going, "I don't know, I tuned in to hear about podcasting, and the guy started talking about cutting the cord." Well, okay, that was about how to save money, and the fact that it doesn't make any sense if you don't have a good internet connection, and you're trying to interview four people over Skype. It's not gonna work …

You want to frame your podcasts so that people know what to expect. Then, check this out, when you give them what they expect, they're like, "Wow, that was really cool." So that's my last little tip: How do you make yourself sound good? Let people know what's coming, and then give them what you told them you were going to give them, and they will appreciate it. If you tell them what's coming, and they tune out, they like that, too, because you just saved them 20 minutes.

These are the kinda tips, and the strategies, and things like that, that you will find at TheSchoolofPodcasting.com. I realize we got kind of technical today, but I built this episode on feedback that I get from people at Libsyn – I do tech support at Libsyn.com. Libsyn is L-I-B-S-Y-N-dot-com. use the coupon code, SOPFREE – A lotta times, they don't know how much storage do I need, and they don't understand kilobits per second, and things like that. I will have a video, as well, out at SchoolofPodcasting.com/611.

Remember, the bigger the number, the bigger the file. Think of it like adding more paint on your brush, and the more paint, the better recovers, but if you get too much paint, it's just a waste of paint. In the same way, having too high a bit rate is just gonna cost you money in the long run.

Thank you so much for tuning in. If you'd like to work with me., it's really easy. Go over to SchoolofPodcasting.com/workwithme, and we can do one-on-one consulting. You can sign up at The School of Podcasting, using the coupon code LISTENER. All sorts of ways you can contact me there. Everything you need. SchoolofPodcasting.com. Thanks so much for tuning in. Until next week, class is dismissed.

If you like what you hear, then, go tell somebody. If you like what you hear, go tell someone …

You can find him at TheBlacklistExposed.com. He also does the Packers Fan Podcast with my buddy … Uh-huh, my buddy, Wayne Henderson. Total brain fart.

If you like what you hear, then go tell somebody. Go tell somebody. Yeah, go tell someone.

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Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E6 – Suicide

Previously on Up and Vanished.

On Friday, October 14th at 6:43 a.m., Tara sent Marcus Harper's mother an e-mail.

If I did not give a crap about Marcus, you all and his feelings, I would not be in this state. If this were all about me, I would not want Marcus. Just remind Marcus what I said about something happening to me or even him. He leaves it as this and something may happen to me.

Like I said though, the night of the Sweet Potato Pageant, she knew something was going to happen. She was not her normal self and everybody can tell you that she was but I know that she was not acting normal.

The second piece of evidence was a business card found in Tara's front door. The card belonged to a friend of Tara's family, a police officer from a nearby town called Perry.

Detective Heath Dykes, Perry Police Department.

Late Sunday night on October 23rd, Tara's mom was concerned because she wasn't responding so she asked this family friend to go check on her. So he drove there with the sole intent of checking on Tara?

Oh, yeah.

Do you think it's odd that Heath Dykes didn't see the glove on the ground?

I think it's unusual. You're dealing with a veteran detective.

The only thing that the dogs showed any indication to was a burnt house. We determined that they were responding to some septic lines or sewage.

Basically, are you telling me that somebody other than the folks who lived there owned it?

A guy named Michael Lankford owned the vehicle. The homeowner did not own that.

Why was his vehicle there is what I'm getting at now.

He saw a black truck parked in the yard. He said that there was individual in there and that individual said something to him. GBI went to talk to them so they clammed up and never discussed anything about the black truck, no kind of composite. They never got anything close to that.

According to Marcus, they rode around together in the cop car that night and made several stops in reference to a man named Benny Merritt. If there's no reports on Benny Merritt, then where was Marcus Harper?

All we have is one report on him. The report date was actually 10-27-2005.

Any other report on Benny Merritt?

No, sir. That's the only one we got on him.

If that's true, then somebody's told a bold-faced lie.

Ten years ago today marked the last time anybody reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.

Officially, police are calling this a missing person's case.

GBI officials say investigators…

Latex glove found in…

An $80,000 reward is being offered for information.

Where is Tara Grinstead?

From Tenderfoot TV in Atlanta, this is Up and Vanished, the investigation of Tara Grinstead. I'm your host, Payne Lindsey.

Hey guys, before I get started, I have some good news for you. I originally plan on breaking this into two seasons and the next episode was supposed to come out in January but my plans have changed. Up and Vanished will now resume with Episode 7 on November 21st. We've recently had a huge surge of new listeners and I want to welcome everyone who is just now joining us. Unlike other podcasts, this investigation is pretty much happening in real time. So the content of the episodes is always changing last minute. The reason for the break in the first place was to kind of catch up on my investigation and organize everything into episodes. But with the great support you guys are giving me, I've decided to do this every week up until Episode 12. The podcast will resume with Episode 7 on November 21st.

Tara Faye Grinstead, first question. What is your greatest fear in life?

I really don't have a great fear in life. Whenever I have a hard time, whenever I feel like I'm down or I'm gonna stumble I just pray. And I know that the Lord is gonna see me through.

You're on the phone line, I don't know who you are. You could be the one that killed her, for all I know. I want to help you, don't get me wrong. And I want this case solved. I'm playing it close to my chest. Yes, my dog had interest at the building. Whoever burned the house knew that this was going to destroy evidence. Have you ever known, on a criminal case, them to lay all the cards on the table? They always keep so many back.

So you think police found evidence at the Snapdragon Road fire but didn't tell anybody?

Oh, I know they did because I gave it to them.

What was it?

I cannot say. The GBI's got it and the FBI's got it. That's all I'm saying about that.

That's the voice of Jim Handey, the man who led the search with all the cadaver dogs. When I first called him a few weeks back, he was pretty reserved with me, but for good reason. His experience with this case really hit home for him. And at first, he was pretty skeptical of who I was and why I was calling.

In our first conversation, he told me that his dogs alerted for cadaver at the house fire on Snapdragon Road. But the second time we talked, he opened up a little bit. And he told me that they found evidence there. What it was, he couldn't tell me or at least didn't want to.

Whoever burned the house knew that this was going to destroy evidence. Have you ever known, on a criminal case, them to lay all the cards on the table? They always keep so many back so that if somebody comes up and says, "Oh, she was wearing a blue dress." Well, that wasn't out in the police report, you're guilty or the knowledge that you're sharing is credible.

So you think police found evidence at the Snapdragon Road fire but didn't tell anybody?

Oh, I know they did because I gave it to them.

What was it?

I cannot say. The GBI's got it and the FBI's got it. That's all I'm saying about that.

Can you not say legally or you just don't want to say?

You've got to understand, you're asking me questions that if I don't know you and there's not a police officer beside you saying, "Yes, I can tell you this", I can't tell you that. It's an active case. I can't do that. The power's to be that have it and again, it gets to that thing of cards on the table. Okay?

Anything that you're allowed to say would be truly helpful for everybody, not just me.

I understand where you want, and I want this case solved more than you do. I guaran-damn-tee you. I'm going to give you one thing. All of the sudden we have a laid out plan. We're going to go to — today we're going to search A, B and C and tomorrow we're going to search B, C and F. And all of the sudden in the middle of the night, they get a clue, we're going to go search D which was out by Snapdragon Road, right. Everybody knew that this meeting the night before where we were going. And all of the sudden, "Oh, we saw a guy with her and it's over here.".

So then they send everybody up there to search and they never got back to Snapdragon Road. Somebody was leading that part of the information astray. If you don't want them search B, send them to Z. You know what I mean? "Oh, I don't want them to go there. I'm going to call in a tip and have them go here, give them false information and send them to Z.".

One of the things I would want to know, the Ford Expedition that was at that house, I would be asking him, at this time in your life, is there anything different you wanna say about that car? As the days go by, people get a little freer. Ten years down the road, he may be a little freer with what, where and how.

Obviously after hearing that, my mind was racing. What did he find? He didn't tell me but I definitely planned on finding out. I started my investigation in early 2016 and it hasn't stopped since. Literally each week before I release a new episode, I'm still learning new information. I had some theories of my own going into this thing but since then they've changed over and over again. On the surface based on certain information, this case in a way can seem pretty simple. It was easy for me to start pointing the finger at someone right away just based on a few suspicious facts. But as you dig a little deeper, you find other people who after a thorough examination look pretty suspicious too.

The bottom line is not everyone in this case is guilty. It's possible there was more than one party involved but there's only one culprit here. And the tough thing is these are all real people with real lives and careers and reputations at stake. My intent has always been to respect that. There's been several TV specials about this case over the years and they all seem to just skim the surface, reciting the same old narrative over and over.

I knew from day one that if I wanted this podcast and my documentary to actually help solve this that I couldn't leave anything out. So with that being said, I'm going to present all the facts and if doing that makes someone look guilty, then by all means please come clear your name. I don't have a dog in this hunt. This case is unsolved because of silence. The fear of blame.

Tara Grinstead was a prominent figure in Ocilla. She was beautiful, outgoing. She was only 30-years-old. Someone with a long, bright future ahead of them but somebody took that away from her. It's been 11 years now. Right now, it's time to dust off the cobwebs. No more silence, no more small town secrets and no more fear of what someone else may think. If somebody does know something, then I'm trying to find out.

About midnight Sunday, Tara Grinstead's mother, Faye Grinstead, called Tara's neighbor Joe adn Myrtle Portier to ask if they had heard from her daughter. "Normally, we saw her on an everyday basis," Joe Portier said. "I told Faye we had not seen her and her mother sounded concerned." After talking to Joe Portier, Faye phoned Heath Dykes, a Perry police detective and a close family friend of Tara's and her family and asked him to go and check on Tara. The drive from Perry to Ocilla is one hour and 15 minutes. After midnight Sunday, Heath arrived at Tara's house. Dykes left his business card wedged in Tara's front door.

Agent Rothwell would later say, "It was certainly a piece of evidence that we're interested in. I mean it's a business card stuck in the front door of a person that's now missing." The investigators later learned that Heath Dykes had talked to Tara around 10:20 p.m. while she was at the barbecue. He also phoned Tara more than 10 times, leaving messages on her answering machine. Agent Rothwell later said, "He was calling her all day Sunday." In a brief telephone interview with Crime Library in 2006, Heath said he had last seen Tara Grinstead weeks prior to her going missing.

She went over to the barbecue. While she was there now, she received numerous phone calls on her cell phone. She received one from a girl named Megan Evans. Megan was at a bar which is where Marcus Harper had dropped in to see some of his friends play in a band there. Megan talked to her but she talked to Heath Dykes too. He made about 20 phone calls to Tara's cell phone and her landline and left messages. And he was longtime friends with Tara's family.

Sunday night, see her momma, Faye, she couldn't get hold of Tara late Sunday night. She called Heath. She didn't call the police, she called Heath and asked Heath to go and drive to Ocilla and check on Tara and he drove down there. So he was standing in her yard about 12:30 to quarter one Sunday night.

You're a detective of all these years, that was the worst welfare check I've ever seen done by anyone on somebody at her house because he didn't do anything. The only thing he did is left his business card on the front screen door but I know Joe next door had a key. Nobody ever went inside the house and her car was there.

What I was interested in, and I've never been able to find out in 10 years, is when did he make the phone calls? He didn't make any of the phone calls before Faye called him. The thing is, if the phone calls were made before let's say, midnight Sunday night, then something's major wrong. Why would he become concerned about where Tara's at? Why would he call that many times before Faye called him? He knew when he was standing in front of that house Sunday night, he knew that she wasn't in the house.

If you retrace Tara's last steps, Heath Dykes immediately comes into the picture. We know she was last seen leaving the barbecue Saturday night, around 11 p.m. and from there, we don't really know what happened. What we do know for sure is that Heath Dykes was standing at Tara's doorsteps on Sunday night around midnight. He was supposedly sent there by Tara's mother to check on her. He didn't see anything suspicious so he placed his business card in the front door and left.

But the thing is, he's a police officer and to me, the setting at Tara's house that night did seem a little suspicious. Her car was in her driveway, her front door was locked and she hadn't been heard from in over 24 hours. But I'm not the only one who thought that was a little odd. In the weeks following Tara's disappearance, the national media took interest in this to.

On November 14th, 2005, three weeks after Tara's disappearance, the National Enquirer released an article about the case with some bombshell information. The article was titled, Cop is Quizzed Over Missing Beauty Queen. Was Tara having an affair with a married officer? This is how the article read, "A married policeman bombarded missing beauty queen, Tara Grinstead, with more than 20 frantic phone calls on the day of her disappearance. Authorities have already spoken to him and his wife. He may have been having a relationship with Tara. Investigators believe he told Tara he was going to leave his wife but backed out on the promise. A lawyer who has spoken to investigating officers said they had told him numerous messages were left on Tara's answering machine. The calls are from a married man and he's a cop.

So I think the glove is like there's a finite amount of possibilities why that could be there. It's not like it's infinite reasons a glove would be there. You know what I mean? What to you are those things?

It's only there to stage what happened in that house or to cleanup.

That's my friend Donald. He's been helping me with the podcast behind the scenes a little bit. And I call him up a lot just to talk about the case.

That's why you would go in with gloves, come out, take the gloves off so you're not outside with some damn latex gloves on with you. But I don't think you're wearing gloves to abduct her if she knows you especially because she's voluntarily probably going with you. I think your glove come into play when you go back to clean up. You come out the door, close the door and lock it, take them gloves off and put it in your pocket, one falls on the ground, you leave. I don't even know what other scenarios I can think of where that would happen.

He was there at her house Sunday night at 12:30. He's probably gone by one. Here's the thing is that at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, you know, basically nine hours later, because he was there 12:30 at night, that glove was in the yard. So it most likely was there when he was there. The chances of it not being there are very slim. That would mean that somebody between the time he left between like one in the morning and like six in the morning, somebody put it there or it was already there.

Right.

The business card to me is strange because it's so formal for somebody who was so close to somebody.

Yeah, I'm just trying to understand the mentality of it but all that stuff just doesn't add up.

Right.

Twenty calls, some frantic voicemails, talking to the mom but if he called the mom, that means he knows the mom personally. If she called him, she knows him personally. It was such a personal relationship across the board, why leave a business card? It makes it look formal like no one's going to ever know that I was sleeping with this woman. I can't look like the crazy boyfriend, I got to look like the detective trying to help.

This is another weird scenario in this case but the question is does it actually mean anything. How did a police detective who was friends with Tara's family drive an hour and 15 minutes to Ocilla in the middle of the night and not see this glove on the ground? Was it not there yet? Was it just too dark? Possibly, but it wasn't really sold on that. To me, this needed further investigation.

At the end of episode five, I called the Irwin County Sheriff's Department to see if they had any reports on Benny Merritt. To refresh your memory, Benny Merritt was supposed to have been the subject of numerous police calls on the night of Tara's disappearance that both Marcus Harper and his buddy Shawn Fletcher responded to. These reports on Benny Merritt didn't exist at Ocilla PD and they didn't exist at the county either. But there was actually one more place I had to check, the dispatch logs from that night.

Whenever an officer is on duty, they radio in to the dispatcher each time there's an incident or whenever they're responding to a 911 call. All this information is then logged by the dispatcher with times and names of the responding officers. So basically if these Benny Merritt incidents happened, they would have to be in these dispatch logs.

The report was actually 10-27-2005.

Any other report on Benny Merritt?

No, sir. That's the only one we got on him.

Okay. This is probably a harder one for you to get but how do I go about getting dispatch logs?

I don't know if dispatch logs fall on open records or not.

They're supposed to.

Okay. I guess you would have to put the days that you were looking for in their request and then send it in. Let me get you to our secretary. She deals with all the open record stuff. Just hold on just a second.

Okay.

The two that handle that are not here. Are you just wanting the dispatch logs?

Yes ma'am.

You can just fax it and put down what day you need.

Okay.

All right.

Awesome. Thank you very much.

Bye-bye.

Awesome. I can just fax in my request with my fax machine. Thank god there's an app for that now. But still I was pretty surprised by how easy it was to get these records. Well, not so fast.

Irwin County dispatch.

County Sheriff's Department.

Irwin County dispatch.

Irwin County dispatch.

Irwin County Sheriff's office, can I help you?

This is Payne Lindsey again calling about the dispatch logs.

I will get them together but it's probably not going to be today.

It's Payne again about the dispatch logs.

Okay, she's on a 911 call right now. Do you want to hold or call back?

Dispatch logs I was trying to get.

The director, she will be back this afternoon around six or so.

This is Payne Lindsey again calling about the dispatch logs.

Oh, she mentioned them but I don't know if they were done cause she got called out.

Dispatch logs.

I've got to go through them but I'm having to work the radio tonight.

Dispatch logs.

I have them. I have them ready but the thing is you're gonna have to have a certain size paper to be able to receive this.

Okay. So it wasn't that easy. The lady in charge will be sending them this week, fingers crossed. But this leads me into a bigger issue with this case and for any case in the state of Georgia, under the Georgia Open Records Act, all public records can be made available to citizens. That sounds great, right? Well, not exactly.

In the written law, there's a couple exemptions to this request. One of them being "pending investigations". That means any case like this that is unsolved. Now, it doesn't mean that they can't give them to you, it just means they don't have to and they probably won't.

And that brings up a bigger issue. Who is policing the police? The answer is no one. As a citizen, we're supposed to trust the government with this information even after 11 years and no arrest. So that means stuff like Tara's cell phone records, a real list of people they've swabbed DNA for, any of that is just a big secret to the public. My argument here is how can law enforcement claim that this particular investigation is still in fact pending. From where I'm standing, it doesn't appear that this case is very active and in the eye of the public, it doesn't seem like they're any closer to solving it than they were 11 years ago.

But just so we're clear, I'm in no way trying to disparage the work of the GBI or the Ocilla PD in this case but it's been 11 years now. And obviously whatever they've been doing isn't working. The Georgia Open Records Act actually declares in the first paragraph that the state is in favor of open government and that public access to records is not only our right, but in their words, it's encouraged. So I can still submit a request for these case files but good luck getting them. In the recent history, submitting this request has often backfired on people.

Thomason says he and his lawyer were arrested because a Fanning County judge didn't like the questions he was asking. He says it all started last year when he got a tip that officials in the Fanning County courtroom used the N word to describe a black witness. Using George's open records law, Thomason says he requested the transcript and the audio recording from court and it led the court reporter to sue him for $1.6 million claiming defamation for implying her written transcript was inaccurate. Thomason says the court reporter then wanted him to reimburse her for the legal bills that resulted more than $16,000.

Thomason says he continued to dig and found evidence suggesting those attorneys' fees had already been paid from a taxpayer funded account managed by Superior Court Judge, Brenda Weaver. Thomason filed an open records request with Judge Weaver for copies of the checks but she refused saying judges are not subject to the open records law. Next thing he knew, he and his lawyer Russell Stookey were being arrested for identity fraud, attempt to commit identity fraud and making a false statement in an open records request. He was jailed and forced to take several drug tests and his ability to cover other stories on the court fee was limited. All because he says he dared to ask tough questions.

Well, you see, I've been on this case for 11, almost 11 years. Can you imagine doing a podcast for 10 and a half, 11 years?

I'd feel terrible.

See the last year and a half, you know I've been dealing with cancer so — but here's the thing. There's just too many wanna be web sleuths out there. And so here's the thing. What I wanna do is this, I'm going to work one lead. I've had this lead for a good while. And I wanna just do it til it just looks like I can't go any further. And then after that, I'm going to just quit the case for my health reasons, the psychology of everything. Unless the killer, the culprit is someone totally off the radar, I think I've laid enough ground in 10 and a half years of a case to be made about my involvement in moving toward a resolution.

But I'm gonna tell you something now. In 2010, this individual, he drove to Knoxville, Tennessee and he got into praying position and he shot himself in the head and killed himself. The question is, what does this have to do with Tara case?

He wrote a letter. He said that he could not live with himself anymore that he knew what happened to Tara. He was threatened and he saw something that he shouldn't have seen. There's something to this. You're not going to meet your maker on a lie. In the letter, he listed 12 individuals names. Each one of these individuals need to be talked to. I'm gonna work this lead and when I've taken as far as I can take it, then I'm quitting the case.

Thank you guys for listening to Episode 6 of Up and Vanished. There will be a new case evidence episode next Monday and this season will resume with Episode 7 on November 21st. If you're enjoying this podcast and you want to support, you can go to upandvanished.com/donate and send a donation of any size. They all go straight into the production of this podcast.

Later this season on Up and Vanished.

His first question was have you seen or heard from Tara. She didn't show up at work this morning. Then I get a call while I'm in my meeting from her phone.

She took me there one day and then like four strands of this long strand of dark hair.

Come on. I mean really, they don't use evidence tape unless they got something.

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E5 – The Black Truck

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Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E5 – The Black Truck

Previously on Up and Vanished.

The one person who has been vetted the most is her ex-boyfriend, Marcus Harper. He was absolutely tired of her.

She was crying and was upset about something. She was very irrational and she told me that if she found out I was dating someone, she would commit suicide.

On Friday, October 14th at 6:43 a.m., Tara sent Marcus Harper's mother an e-mail.

If I did not give a crap about Marcus, you all and his feelings, I would not be in this state. If this were all about me, I would not want Marcus. Just remind Marcus what I said about something happening to me or even him. He leaves it as this and something may happen to me.

Like I said though, the night of the Sweet Potato Pageant, she knew something was going to happen. She just was not her normal self and everybody can tell you that she was but I know she was not acting normal.

The second piece of evidence was a business card found in Tara's front door. The card belonged to a friend of Tara's family, a police officer from a nearby town called Perry.

Detective Heath Dykes, Perry Police Department.

Late Sunday night on October 23rd, Tara's mom was concerned because she wasn't responding so she asked his family friend to go check on her. So he drove there with the sole intent of checking on Tara?

Oh yeah.

Do you think it's odd that Heath Dykes didn't see the glove on the ground?

I think it's unusual. You're dealing with a veteran detective.

The only thing that the dogs showed any indication to was a burned house. We determined that they were responding to some septic lines or sewage.

The residence was completely destroyed. Also destroyed by the fire was a 2000 Ford Expedition. The vehicle belonged to Michael Lankford. The fire marshal report that I have right here says the cause of the fire is unknown.

It was completely burnt.

Did you ever remember seeing the owner of the vehicle? Did he ever come up there when you guys were there?

Basically, are you telling me that somebody other than the folks who lived there own that?

A guy named Michael Lankford owned the vehicle. The homeowner did not own that.

Why was his vehicle there is what I'm getting at now. I don't remember nobody talking about, "We're gonna interview this guy." I can't believe nobody didn't say nothing like that.

Was Marcus and Michael friends or what?

Marcus Harper and Michael Lankford worked at the Ocilla PD together. They are friends, yes.

Ten years ago today marked the last time anybody reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.

Officially, police are calling this a missing person's case.

GBI officials are saying investigators…

Latex glove found in…

$80,000 reward is being offered for information.

Where is Tara Grinstead?

From Tenderfoot TV in Atlanta, this is Up and Vanished, the investigation of Tara Grinstead. I'm your host, Payne Lindsey.

The first thing I want to jump into in this episode is the fire on Snapdragon Road. If you missed last week's episode of Case Evidence, I'm going to fill you in real quick. Let's start with the basics. Why is this fire suspicious to me? One, it's the only place in the entire 200 square miles they searched that the cadaver dogs made a hit on, and it wasn't just one dog, it was several dogs.

Number two, behind the house there was a Ford Expedition that was completely burned too but it didn't belong to the homeowner. It belonged to a man named Michael Lankford. And Michael Lankford had actually worked at Ocilla Police Department at the same time Tara's ex-boyfriend Marcus Harper did and they were friends.

Number three, on top of all that, the fire marshal couldn't determine what caused the fire. And it's still undetermined to this day. I spoke to a man last week named Jim Hanley, who also had one of his search dogs hit on the house.

I went down there with my search dogs and I brought another one in. They spent many hours sifting the debris. I mean, like about 10 hours. First of all, if they didn't feel there was something there, are they going to do that, spend that much time and work? Yes, my dog had interest at the building. Was it Tara? I cannot prove it. That's it — that's DNA and that. My dogs been — was — she — I just put her down after 14 1/2 years but she'd been tested and tested and tested. Her nose was parts per quadrillion tested to. That's as high as you can get.

A dog is not like a person. A dog just does what it's trained to do. To my knowledge, which is best as I can do, she never false indicated. Now you can. There is some chemical compositions that will trigger as the same as cadaverine which is what the dog is searching for. What she did at that house, I am 95 percent sure that it was cadaver. I believe that place, in my heart, has everything involved. I mean it has everything to do with this case. Everything.

You're on the right track. Was she there when the house burned? No. I'll guarantee you that not. Was she there beforehand? Yeah. The body leaks, you know, bloats, in 80 degree weather. They can't clean it up. There'd be a spot there from hell. "Okay, let's burn it." There was bushes in between the house and the car that didn't burn.

He told me there was no trail of fire between the house and the car and the bushes in between them were never burned. This suggested that the car and the house were burned separately and that would mean arson, not an accident. Jim also told me that before he came down with his dogs, he was talking in a chat room with some people about the case and when he said he was going to Ocilla, somebody threatened him.

I kind of knew we must have ruffled some feathers on, I'm thinking the one involved because we were on the internet, you know, and in a chat room and discussing what could be happening and what should be done. And, you know, the plans were made and we're making it work for this big search.

You know, I got on there and they were asking me about canines and what you do and how you do it, you know, it's just a normal chat room. All of a sudden, this guy gets on there and nobody's antagonistic in this whole deal. And somebody writes, "You come down here, we're going to punch you in the face and kick your dog." Why would somebody say that? It was somebody involved and they didn't want somebody searching a certain spot.

I met up with Dr. Godwin in person and he told me about a big lead he was chasing back in 2006.

I found a kid who lived right around the corner from Tara's house on Ash Street. He told me that he was riding his bike around the area Sunday and he saw a black truck parked in the yard. He said that there was individual in there and that individual said something to him. Like a nasty comment.

They came to interview this kid again when GBI went to talk with them, they actually searched their mama's truck and they also searched her house. So they clammed up and never discussed anything about the black truck because it felt like they were being treated as suspects and no kind of composite. They never got anything close to that.

Then I found another witness. From their porch, you can see Tara's driveway and they saw a black truck. First at 7:30 Sunday at evening, parked in the driveway. The same person at 6:00 a.m. that morning, that person's husband, who want to get milk saw the truck there at the house again.

So who do you speculate that truck belonged to?

I have no idea. GBI's response, there's hundreds of black trucks in Irwin County.

So you think the black truck is important to this case?

Oh, I think so. Too many people seen it. Here's another thing. A year ago, I got a, information about another report of a black truck incident. This was that Saturday night. The lady was backing up out of her driveway into the road and the car pulled the stop light and liked to hit her but it was a black truck but that was it. See, at the time, you could have done something. You could have done a DMV on it, The Department of Motor Vehicle, trucks in the area but it's way too late now.

According to Maurice, a lot of people saw this black truck that weekend, driving by Tara's house or even parked in the yard next to it. And he's convinced that the truck is related to Tara. Too many people have seen it but where are these people now? I spend a solid two months trying to find the kid who saw the truck. He claimed that he actually saw the man driving and that the man cursed at him when he drove by. If this kid really saw the man, then maybe he could remember what he looks like and maybe a sketch artist could do a composite. But this kid was really off the map. I mean I tried everything to find this kid but no luck. So I moved on to other witnesses.

I remember the night that she went missing because me and my best friend was on the phone to. My house, when you go to Ocilla, you turn on the right on Paul Street and my property is down in the last block before you turn on Alder Street to go to her house. And her house was just on the next block on the right, a block away from me. Well, I remember, me and Kristy, the girl that was living in my house, we were on the phone because I was making the church bulletin for our church. I was having some complications and she said, "Don't worry, I'm on my way, I'm gonna come help you.".

We were still on the phone as she got in her car. You know, Ocilla is usually really quiet right where we all lived, you know. Right there where Tara lived and I lived, it was really quiet. You didn't have to worry about nothing. My friend said that she got in her car, all of a sudden she hollered. She said, "Dog, I'm about to back out of my driveway." And she said, "Here come this black truck like if you backed out of Tara's drive and came right up Alder Street.

She said that truck came around off Alder Street and turned on Paulk Street flying, about rear-ended her, about run her over. And this was around midnight. It was a black truck and she said it wasn't a new truck. She seen some lights coming up the road but, you know, she got in her car, was gonna, you know, back out anyway. They didn't even stop for the stop sign.

If you're looking at Tara's house, Alder runs down to the side where her carport is. When you come out of her driveway and come back to Alder, you wouldn't make a right that would go like to her backyard, you would make a left. When he came up that road or whoever it was, came to that stop sign on Alder and Paulk, that's my property. Well, they were coming up Alder that way and made a ride on to Paulk. So she said, "They never even stopped. They just made a right hand turn, come on Paulk Street." She had to slam on brakes to keep from hitting her. And she said, "Girl, I don't know who was driving that truck." She said, "But, you know, they could have hurt me because if I wouldn't have been paying attention and just backed on out, you know, they would have probably rear-end — I mean, you know, crashed our car pretty bad."

Do you know if it was a bigger or a smaller sized truck?

It was something like older Ford F150 or, you know what I'm saying? A black one, a real older one. Not a new truck. But I'm just saying, for it to come up that road, to come up from that way that late at night and the same night that she went missing, I don't know but it's scary.

In February 2009, a disturbing video surfaced on the internet. It featured a man with his face disguised and his voice digitally altered. He proclaimed to be a serial killer. He called himself the Catch Me Killer. In the video, he claimed to have killed 16 different females and one of these he described was determined by authorities to be Tara Grinstead. He said that he wanted to play a game and he would slowly release clues about his murders through a series of YouTube videos. He warned the viewers not to attempt in trying to discover his true identity and that his IP address could not be traced.

I've decided to confess a few things but in order to do so, I'm going to give everybody a clue, many clues. The first person to solve this first video, I'm gonna have you send me an e-mail. I'll post the address for the e-mail. This person out there that decides to play my game has a chance to become an actual hero. You have a chance to become something that I'm not. The only clues that I'm giving you are clues never released by the press or by police department.

The Catch Me Killer tells viewers, "Play my game and solve my puzzles and I'll lead you to 16 bodies one by one." He claimed one of his victims was a case we've covered heavily here on Issues, Tara Grinstead, a 30-year-old teacher and former beauty queen mysteriously vanished from Georgia three years ago.

The video sparked the attention of the media nationwide and the GBI launched an investigation to track down the man's identity. Though the man's face and voice are digitally obscured, police were eventually able to track down the man by his IP address. The man was 27-year-old Andrew Haley of Gainesville, Georgia. After a thorough police investigation, they were ultimately able to determine that the videos were part of a bizarre and elaborate hoax. Haley was eliminated as a substantial lead in Grinstead's disappearance and was later charged and convicted of tampering with police evidence.

This case seemed to be full of different false leads. Surprisingly, just this last week, another internet video surfaced. A man named James Rankin was hiking in the woods by his house in upstate New York when he stumbled upon something pretty creepy. Over two dozen trees all around him were covered with people's missing posters and one of the posters was Tara's. The video hit the internet just a few days ago and has since reached over 30 million views.

So I come down the hill. And remember, we're still in the woods, we're still in the woods, right. Okay. I was like, okay, these are probably no trespassing signs or maybe it's something for the wildlife or something." Anyway, I'll cut right to the chase because I might die. Look what these are. What the fuck is going on here? These are all different people. This is Utah, Florida, they're all different. This one's from Georgia. Now, look at this. Like look, where the fuck we are. Who the fuck does something like this?

Though the video was indeed pretty spooky, it was likely some sort of hoax once again. But for the sake of the podcast, I tracked down James himself so he could tell me the real deal about this video.

There is a park nearby, it got some hiking trails. I'm going through the actual park and I see that little side trail branching off the main trail and I follow it. I see the end of the trail is like a fire pit and some things hung to the trees. I go down to take a closer look because I figure it's either signs that say keep out. Some of the parks hang up signs with information about local plants and kind of animals you should be looking for. So I went down to check it out. So I get down there and it's all these missing persons posters which caught me completely off guard cause I — it's so incongruous to anything that I was expecting to see and anything I've ever seen before. It was alarming.

You know, I'm looking around at where exactly I'm situated and seemed like what I needed to do other than get the hell out of there was get some kind of documentation about what I found. And I jumped on Facebook first and, you know, I wanted to kind of sound a distress call. I mean the longer I spent down there, the more fishy it looked.

The minute I left, everybody that had seen this video, I got friends and people that I don't even know and they're all in complete agreement, "Take this to the police." So that's what I did. Told them what I found, I showed them the footage, you know, they were like, "Thank you for calling in. You did the right thing. Go home." The next morning they — somebody from the office, they left a voicemail. They investigated. They were told by the homeowners at the property said that these posters were hung up by them as decorations for an upcoming Halloween party.

A few episodes back, I talked briefly about Marcus Harper's alibi. According to Marcus he was at the White Horse Saloon to watch his friend's band. Then he left to met up with his friend Shawn Fletcher, an Ocilla police officer. They rode around together in the cop car that night and made several stops in reference to a man named Benny Merritt.

So I made a request with the Ocilla PD to get the reports on Benny Merritt because if this didn't add up, then Harper's alibi didn't add up either. When I got the reports back from Ocilla, none of them happened on Saturday night the 22nd. There was one that happened the night before and one on the 26th but not a single report for Benny Merritt on the 22nd.

This was a pretty big deal. If there's no reports on Benny Merritt, then maybe those stops didn't happen. And if those stops didn't happen, then where was Marcus Harper? But before I got ahead of myself, there was still one place I had to check, the Irwin County Sheriff's Department. It's possible that the reports weren't filed with Ocilla but instead with the county. So I gave them a call.

Can you give me one of the person's name?

Benny Merritt.

Amy?

Benny.

Benny?

Yeah.

All right. Hold on just a second. This thing is gonna be slow.

It's all good.

M-E-R-R-I-T-T. I think that's how you spell it. All we have is one report on him. Let me see if I can see what it's about.

Okay. What date?

Incident date was 10/26/2005 to 10/27/2005. It was against a lady that lives on Fillmore Road. The report date was actually 10/27/2005.

Any other report on Benny Merritt?

No, sir. That's the only one we got on him.

I just got off the phone with the Irwin County Police Department. And I called them to see if they had any separate records about Benny Merritt, separate from Ocilla police. So he actually ended up looking it up on the phone when I was there and they only have one report on him and it's on October 26th. That's it.

If that's true, then somebody told a bold-faced lie. I mean I was a police officer. I know if there was no report, then that's highly suspicious. The dispatcher gets a phone call, she has to write on the log when it came in and she has to put what was the resolution of that. If none of that exists at all, they're just depending on the word of Marcus Harper.

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E4 – Snapdragon Road

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Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E4 – Snapdragon Road

Atlanta, Georgia, 1979.

Are you scared?

Yes, sir.

One by one kids are going missing with no explanation.

A black 15-year-old male who lived in the same area where three other children have disappeared …

There was a real life monster on the loose and the city of Atlanta demanded answers.

In a city kids get killed, unfortunately nobody cares.

By 1981 the FBI was involved in one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history and eventually they put one man behind bars. But nearly 40 years later, this case has left more questions than answers in what may be Atlanta's darkest secret.

I don't know today whether he's innocent or guilty.

From the producers of Up and Vanished and HowStuffWorks, we present an all new podcast, Atlanta Monster. Subscribe to Atlanta Monster right now on Apple podcast and be the first to hear it on January 5th.

Previously on Up and Vanished.

I had never heard that she went to a student's house in between the pageant and the barbecue.

I've heard that in the talk around town.

Is there any way to find out who that student was?

Good gracious, that's been 10 years or more ago.

They found full profile of white male DNA on the gloves and it's been entered into the Georgia DNA database and it's been entered into CODIS for like 10 years and there's never been a match.

You know, there was a side of Tara that I didn't know, very free with men and one of them was a student, Vickers, Anthony Vickers

Hey. Is Anthony there?

Hey man, this stuff is kind of a little funny to talk about.

Did you have any involvement in Tara's disappearance?

No.

Was there someone else in Tara's house that day?

Oh, yeah. There was. Some guy from Perry, Detective Heath Dykes, Perry Police Department.

So he drove there with the sole intent of checking on Tara?

Oh, yes.

Do you think it's odd that Heath Dykes didn't see the glove on the ground?

I think it's unusual. You're dealing with a veteran detective.

Is there any chance she might have left under her own free will with someone that she knew?

I think that's how it started out and then something went very wrong after that. I really do feel like there is an abduction at this point.

The one person who has been vetted the most is her ex-boyfriend Marcus Harper. He was absolutely tired of her.

She was crying and was upset about something. She was very rational and she told me that if she found out I was dating someone, she would commit suicide.

The only thing that the dogs showed any indication to was a burned house that had burnt down actually when we were down there. In this situation, we determined that they were responding to some septic lines or sewage.

What I'm about to read you has never been released to the public, Tara's e-mails. On October 14th, Tara sent Marcus's mom an e-mail. Tara says this, "Just remind Marcus what I said about something happening to me or even him. He leaves it like this and something may happen to me.

Ten years ago today marked the last time anybody reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.

Officially, police are calling this a missing person's case.

GBI officials say investigators …

Latex glove found in …

An $80,000 reward is being offered for information.

Where is Tara Grinstead?

From Tenderfoot TV in Atlanta, this is Up and Vanished, the investigation of Tara Grinstead. I'm your host, Payne Lindsey.

During the last six to eight months, I've had my fair share of white rabbits in this case. Dead end leads have sent me on countless tangents that would last for weeks before I realized there was nothing to it. It's made me live by the phrase, "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.".

I think the hardest part about the whole thing is separating what could be important information from what is completely meaningless. To solve something, you have to follow every single lead regardless of your first impression. Sometimes a completely meaningless ends up meaning everything in a cold case.

A few weeks ago, the private investigator received a new tip which he shared with me. This was by far the biggest and likely the craziest tip I had heard yet. And as doubtful as it seemed in the beginning, it actually matched up with several accounts that I have received from separate people over the past couple of months.

The tip suggested that we search underneath the home in Ocilla. We had reason to believe that Tara's body was once there or maybe it still was. For now, I have to keep the details about the location confidential but I can assure you this place is very significant. This whole thing started with a phone call from Maurice just a few weeks ago.

I got a tip tonight. They do heat and air condition or stuff. The air conditioner went out on that house. He went under the house briefly. He had his flashlight and stuff like that. He said in the middle back, there was an oblong mound of dirt that was solid packed up and he said in the corner was a shovel.

To do the proper thing, you have to do a chemical analysis of the soil. The neighbor and the guy who owns the house, they're digging up three one gallon paper bags of large debris like I instructed.

Before they dig it up, tell them that I want to come down there.

That's gonna be arranged probably tomorrow.

Starting route to Ocilla.

I was preparing some air conditioning duct and I got under there and it looked like where something had been buried because the rest of the house is flat. The dirt isn't there and then there's that mound. Maybe they can figure it out with a soil sample.

I have my younger brother with me to help run the audio. I was filming with my camera. We were on our hands and knees inching our way through the crawlspace. Our goal was to fill several brown paper bags full of soil, then we would run forensic tests to see if a body had ever been there. A local from Ocilla helped us with the dig but he wished to remain anonymous.

A crawl space in general is pretty spooky but this one in particular was very eerie. It was dark and we could only see in front of us with our headlamps. In the back corner was a huge mound of soft dirt. This is why we came here. It's like a whole mound of dirt right here. It's pretty soft looking.

Yeah.

Is that normal or is that what kind of drew attention?

Yeah, that's what drew attention.

This area of dirt was about six to eight inches above the rest of the ground around it. And I kid you not, it looked like the exact dimensions of a human body, about six feet long, three feet wide. And the dirt was soft, so soft that your hand would sink down up to your elbow when you were digging in. Every second I feared I would see something that I would never be able to unsee. Definitely doesn't look natural.

No.

We kept our flashlights aimed towards the shovel and we gather a few pounds of soil, sifting through it as we put it in the bags. This looks kind of white chalky.

That's what I was looking at.

That looks just like that other piece I found.

It's hard.

Like it's the inside thread of a shoe.

Where's the little pile you made?

Right here.

There's three paper bags under there.

After about 30 minutes, we filled the bags and I was ready to get the hell out of there. Once we were back in the sunlight, we were able to take a closer look at the soil. We kept finding these little pieces of white chalky material that was hard as a rock.

It ain't concrete.

What is that?

That's what I was thinking was lime when we went on there. I'm not sure but I think it's the heat process of decaying a body.

It did look a lot like lime based off pictures I saw on the internet. I called Maurice to tell the job was done.

Make sure they stay sealed. Send it with a return receipt for me to sign for it. That follows the chain of custody and see the bags allow the dirt to breathe. Make sure that the bags are taped and sealed and put Payne Lindsey across the tape to the bag. You have to maintain the chain of custody because if something becomes of this, the damn defensive lawyer will tear it off pieces.

I asked him about that white chalky stuff that looked like lime.

People put lime on bodies to make it decompose faster but the truth is the opposite occurs, it preserves them.

Interesting. Just two days after our search, the Irwin County Sheriff's Department caught wind of it and they sent their own search team to the same location. With the help of a local, we were able to get live updates on the search as it was happening and I literally couldn't believe what I was hearing.

He said they told the whole damn house. He said there's some people over there that found five bones and a pair of panties.

They found five bones and a pair of panties? How in the world did we miss that?

He said it's almost dark there and he said that they were putting on white suits or something and they were going back there. I mean I'm just telling you what he told me. That's all. He just sent me a message. He said that they were putting on like a white suit on and that's what they do, that's drawback.

A few hours later, two unmarked SUVs with government plates pulled up. It was the GBI.

They think it might be an animal bone. They're going to send it off. My experience is law enforcement don't send animal bones to a lab and they know the difference between an animal bone and a human bone. It's just odd that they said they're going to have this turned away for testing.

I don't see a body … anybody burying a deer or a dog under a house. Do you? Who would put a damn dog under a house? That's sort of morbid. If you hadn't been out there the other day, they would never been there. There's no doubt about it. I think they probably got a wind of what we were doing out there and they were just covering their butts. I guess we just have to wait and see. I'm surprised the media didn't pick it up.

He has a point. Where's the media? In 2015, the GBI drained a pond to search for evidence linked to Tara and they made a huge deal about it in the news but they found absolutely nothing. Now we have five bones and a pair of panties and there's nothing about it anywhere.

I had originally planned to keep this whole thing a secret but I was getting impatient. Then finally, almost three weeks later, the GBI made a statement to WSB TV Atlanta but only because I mentioned it to the news station myself and they were doing a story on the podcast.

An Atlanta filmmaker turned podcaster is on a mission to solve the 2005 disappearance of Tara Grinstead and his new project is getting a lot of people talking.

Lindsey says his new podcast Up and Vanished is generating new information. The GBI is the lead agency investigating the case but nearly 11 years later, no sign of Grinstead, her remains or an arrest. This is never before seen video of Lindsey recently searching underneath a home after receiving an anonymous tip. The GBI searched the same area and a source told Channel 2s mark when they found animal bones but Lindsey says he's doing some tests of his own that could provide a new lead.

So there it was, heard through the grapevine. The GBI determined they were animal bones. We still have our soil samples to get tested and we're currently waiting on the results. As crazy as this whole thing was, it was time to move on at least for the time being.

At the end of episode three, I mentioned that I obtained some of Tara's e-mails. Other than Tara's family and presumably the GBI, these have been held confidential for over a decade but today I'm going to share them with you.

These e-mails are one of the few things out there to provide a true insight into Tara's state of mind before her disappearance. Before we dive into that, I wanted Maurice to share his insight about Tara's emotional state.

She was very distraught, emotional. It was completely over Marcus Harper.

In the weeks prior to her disappearance, she endured a bad breakup with her boyfriend Marcus Harper and she wasn't taking it very well. Maurice described an emotional breakdown she had in her car, so bad that her friends and neighbors had to come calm her down.

She was on the way to school, Tara was, and she received a call from Marcus and he told her that their relationship was completely over with. She became very hysterical and emotional to the point that she can't drive. She had an emotional breakdown and on the way to school, she had to have someone go out and pick her up and she was not able to walk and stuff so she had to have Dr. Davis to get her in the house.

On Friday October 14th at 6:43 AM, Tara sent Marcus Harper's mother an e-mail.

If I did not give a crap about Marcus, you all and his feelings, I would not be in this state. If this were all about me, I would not want Marcus. I wouldn't want to see him. I would not even love him. He just truly does not believe anything I say and does not care.

I've tried to remain positive but at this point I cannot. Of course, Marcus obviously does not care and makes it worse. Since he has been ignoring me, all I can think of is the bad bad words he said to me in the past. Now I'm beginning to think he meant that.

I need to know what I did. People just do not hate folks for no reason. I need to know what I did to him or whoever. It hurts like hell to know in my heart and soul that I honestly do not think I did anything wrong and he hates me. So he has heard or think something that is not true.

I'm so depressed right now but Marcus is the lucky one. He has his shell to protect him like a crab. He's strong and tough while I become weaker. This does not mean I'm a bad person. It means I have to put it first in my life and I was happy having it that way. Just remind Marcus what I said about something happening to me or even him. He leaves it as this and something may happen to me.

This e-mail was sent just eight days before she went missing. It's very clear that Tara was an emotional wreck over Marcus. But according to almost everyone by the next Saturday at the pageant and the barbecue, she was perfectly normal but one girl who attended the pageant that night told me otherwise. She did not want to use her name in the podcast but we'll call her Mary.

My mom actually was judging pageant and Tara was one of the judges and I was involved in pageants and whatnot. So Tara introduced herself to me and she wanted to be my pageant coach. So we started off with that and she actually had a Relay for Life Pageant one year and I decided to enter it.

Well, I ended up winning and I was one of her queens and we went to all these events. And she's always just so bubbly and just gives so much and just had a attitude of, you know, being so welcome to everyone. It's just … she was a great person.

And the Sweet Potato Pageant, you obviously know about that. She was at it that night but unlike what everybody else is telling me from what I've heard so far, there was something about her that was different. She was not, you know, normal or anything like that that night.

She was acting really odd and that the reason I know that is just because she was always so bubbly and would talk to everybody. You know that night, she was just so to herself. I just remember it so vividly like she was just so out of it.

Did she seem more sad or more like?

It's really hard to describe. I mean it was just like she knew something was going to happen in my opinion.

Okay.

It just wasn't, you know, normal. I mean that night, she was so distant, not really wanting talk to people and it may have changed after she left the pageant. It just … she just wasn't the same person that I figured that I've always known Tara.

That night, we actually walked Tara to her car from the Sweet Potato pageant. She was parked in front of the theater that it was at. And I asked her, you know, if there was anything wrong because like I said you could tell something was off about her especially if you spent any time with Tara, there was something off about her.

And she was like, "No, you know, I'm okay." And we were like, "Okay", you know, and I hugged her and that was the last time I've seen her. And she waved to my mom across the street, you know, got in her car, left and I haven't … I have no idea what she did after that.

Had you seen her in like the two weeks before that?

Yes. We actually had a parade. It was a Relay for Life in Irwin County that I had won, that was the pageant. And that was the … I think one of the last time that I saw her but she had a boyfriend there with her. I'm not sure what his name was. I can't remember. He was tall. I know she had a boyfriend that was in the armed forces or something like that and this was apparently a new boyfriend.

At this point, I had learned of a bunch of different men in Tara's life but who is this? She said she couldn't remember his name but if she ever did, she'd let me know.

You know, I didn't see him very much other than that. I mean I think that was the only time I saw him but her ex-boyfriend was very unhappy about it. The majority of people around here believe that her ex-boyfriend did something and that cops were involved in it. And that's why a lot of people can't put anything together is because somebody on the inside did something, especially since her ex-boyfriend had so many friends in that field and had a lot of knowledge with that.

Around here, it's so small, the town. Somebody would know something and somebody does and they're just not saying anything. Like I said though, the night of the Sweet Potato Pageant, she knew something was going to happen. I'm really positive about that. She knew something was going to happen. She just was not her normal self and everybody can tell you that she was but I know that she was not acting normal.

In the last episode, I interviewed a lady in charge of the cadaver dogs during the search for Tara. She told me that the dogs only hit once on a burned house near the area but it turned out to be a septic line. I started researching more into the fire and obtained a copy of the fire marshal report. Everything about it just seemed really suspicious.

On November 8th, 2005, an alarm was received by Irwin County Communications Center about a fire located at 425 Snapdragon Road, just outside of Ocilla. The name of the person that reported the fire is unknown. On November 8th, 2005 at the 0715 hour, the Irwin County Fire Department responded to the fire.

The fire occurred in a three bedroom, one bath wood construction single family residence. All utilities were connected at the time of the fire. The owner/occupant had not been living in the house. Also destroyed by the fire was a 2000 Ford Expedition which was parked behind and near the house.

The vehicle belonged to Michael Lankford. Michael Lankford claimed that he was looking after the property for the owner who lived out of state. Mr. Lankford lived on Snapdragon Road just down from where the house fire occurred.

Upon arrival by the fire investigator, the scene was not secured by local officials. Yellow crime scene tape had not been installed completely around the fire. The investigation involved an in-depth fire scene investigation. The residence was completely destroyed. The only remnants of the house with the brick pillars, a fireplace and chimney.

Due to the amount of damage to the house and SUV, the fire investigator was not able to determine if the fire originated at the residence or the vehicle. Accelerant detection canine examine the scene and made one indication on the ground beside the driver's side of the vehicle. However, it was determined to have likely come from the vehicle's gas line.

The cause of the fire was ruled undetermined and remains the same to date. To determine if the fire was connected to the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, different cadaver dogs were used on different occasions to examine the burnt house. The dogs hit in the front part of the house. The investigators determined that the dogs were hitting on a septic line at the house and not a dead body.

The fire marshal report that I have right here says the cause of the fire is unknown. The report was filed by a man named Vernon Singley, the fire marshal at the time of Tara's disappearance. I was lucky to get a hold of him last week. I wanted to know why they couldn't figure out what caused the fire.

Okay. Okay. Let me … yeah, I can tell you what may have … what led us to that determination because we ended up having to sift that thing out. We arrived at that scene, it wasn't nothing but one big black spot. It had … I remember it had one chimney standing in the middle of this house.

Wow.

You put charcoal on the grill and, you know, you just let them burn out on your grill, charcoal like you're going to grill a steak. That's basically what we got. We didn't have that but coals. It was completely burnt, all structures, all memories in it. It was like a country home or a vacation home, you know, for some owners like in Florida.

Now, it did have electricity running through it but since there's no activity in it, it's kind of like a little suspicious. You know what I'm saying?. Just why all of the sudden would this house just catch fire? No bad weather, you know, no electrical problems and then we have a fire and the house is completely on the ground.

What we've decided to do, we brought in these dogs and they ran those through when the scene got cool enough with the dogs. I know they run the dogs through there, the dogs hit. I mean how … I thought we got something here, we got something. So what we eventually do is we girded this thing out, we sectioned this whole plan of and we got in there. We sifted those ashes, looking for any kind of remains such as bones, teeth, anything. We did find nothing.

Man, let me tell you some of the stuff they told us. One of the hottest places in the house that attracted the dogs the most was in front of the fireplace. They said, you know, somebody could have got cut, you know, cut their hand and bled on the floor in that particular area. And then I'm like, mhmm. There were so many different scenarios that they was telling us.

I talked to one of the ladies who had the dogs and she told me that the dogs hit on a septic line. Do you remember that?

I'll be honest with you, I don't know that. Did she say about somebody could have bled there or?

This is what she told me, she said that her dogs made a hit like you said by the fireplace for what could be human remains and she said that one of the GBI people or whoever was there said that it was probably a septic line.

The GBI was there. I don't know what they told them but I know I didn't tell them no sep … I heard nothing about no septic tank.

What do you make of that car that was found on the property?

Yeah, it was like a little … a Ford Explorer or something.

What do you make of that?

It was sitting close enough to it and to the fire. I mean, you know, I don't know. I don't …

Did you ever remember seeing the owner of the vehicle? Did he ever come up there when you guys were there?

Basically, are you telling me that somebody other than the folks in Florida owned that?

A guy named Michael Lankford owned the vehicle. It was not the … the homeowner did not own that.

And he didn't own the house? I don't remember that. I don't … and why … I mean, I'm gonna be honest with you. I don't remember nobody, nobody saying that … what you said about that. I can't bring somebody come up in the middle of the day and tell us that.

Why was his vehicle there? What I'm getting at now. I mean I don't remember nobody talking about we're going to interview this guy or, you know, ain't nobody with us that day. Ain't nobody say nothing about that. Now you got me curious. I hope somebody checked into it cause Vernon didn't.

Why did the fire marshal not know about the septic tank? Was that ever really a thing? And what about Michael Lankford? Why would they leave out the fact that the car belonged to him and not the homeowner? The fire marshal should know that. And why was his car really parked there in the first place? Okay. You there?

Okay.

What do you know about this Michael Lankford guy?

A former police officer with Ocilla PD. He lived … when you turn on Snapdragon, he lived on the first house on the right. His SUV expedition was found very close within like seven feet, six feet from the back of the house. Marcus Harper and Michael Lankford worked at the Ocilla PD together.

Was Marcus and Michael friends or what?

Oh,yeah. They'll come working at Ocilla PD. All these guys know each other. They are friends, yes.

Thank you guys for listening to episode four of Up and Vanished. Starting next Monday, each week in between a new episode, I'm releasing a smaller episode called Case Evidence where I break down all the finer details about the case.

You can actually call in and leave a voicemail on a number we set up for the podcast. You can leave a question about the case and we'll answer it next week. The phone number is 770-545-6411. Again, 770-545-6411.

I've decided to make the Up and Vanished podcast a total of 12 episodes which will be split into two seasons with six episodes each. That means there's only two episodes left this season and the season one finale will premiere on October 24th.

Season two will premiere in January. Again, guys, thanks for listening and see you next week.

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Full Transcript: Up and Vanished – S1 E3 – The Alibi

Hello.

Hey. Is Anthony there?

Yeah, this is him.

This is Payne Lindsey. I'm doing the documentary podcast on Tara Grinsted.

Oh, I understood, die.

Ten years ago today marked the last time anybody reported seeing or talking to Tara Grinstead.

Officially, police are calling this a missing person's case.

GBI officials say investigator …

Latex glove found in …

$80,000 reward is being offered.

Where is Tara Grinstead?

From Tenderfoot TV in Atlanta, this is Up and Vanished, the investigation of Tara Grinstead. I'm your host Paynee Lindsey.

Before I jump into my interview with Anthony Vickers, we need to go over some of the finer details in this case. There were two major pieces of evidence that investigators found at his home. The first and perhaps the biggest one was a single latex glove found in Tara's yard. Here's Maurice Godwin on the glove.

It was in front of the steps and it was laying there at the edge of the grass with some pinestraw. They collected it and they did analysis on it. They found full profile, a white male DNA on the gloves. And it's been entered into the Georgia DNA database and it's been entered into CODIS for like 10 years and there's never been a match.

How many people did they swab in this case?

Upwards to 200, students, anybody, any males or stuff that knew her. In Georgia, you have to be convicted of a felony to be swabbed.

So in Georgia you have to willingly give up a DNA swab? They can't make you do it.

They walk up to you, they ask you for it. If you volunteer, fine. If you don't, then they have to have enough probable cause to write a warrant and go back and get the swab.

My question about the glove is this, if you have got to somebody and you're struggling with that individual, why is the glove even off of the hand to be able to even fall to the ground?

Right. So you're saying, if you're going to wear latex gloves to commit a crime, why are they off your hands before you leave the scene?

I think it's a 50/50 chance that the glove was a plant.

The second piece of evidence was a business card found in Tara's front door. But as ominous as that seemed, there appeared to be a valid explanation for it. The car belonged to a friend of Tara's family, a police officer from a nearby town called Perry.

Late Sunday night on October 23rd before she was reported missing, Tara's mom was concerned because she wasn't responding so she asked his family friend to go check on her.

He was called by Faye, Tara's mother to go check on Tara. So he drove from Perry to Ocilla, probably arriving at probably 12:0 AM, it would be Monday morning.

So Sunday night, Monday morning?

Sunday night, Monday morning, yes. So he went to the house, knocked on the door, couldn't get anyone and left the business card wedged between the door and then left.

Now that we're a little more up to speed, here's my call with Anthony Vickers.

I really and truly didn't want to talk to you but, you know, you'd probably play nicer if I was nice to you. You know, when people just quit looking at you funny, then a day, another thing comes what. You know what I mean?

So tell me about your relationship with Tara.

Yeah. I mean we saw each other after high school and went on there for a year or two.

Okay. So this relationship you had with Tara, was it at all sexual?

Oh, yes.

Okay. So when you two would hang out, where'd you guys usually go?

Most of time, it was just at her house.

So was this a serious relationship or was it more like a fling or something?

Oh, it was kind of a little bit of both but it was so recent that I got out of school that we kind of kept it, you know, just kept it on the low.

Describe to me what it was like when Tara went missing.

I really didn't find nothing was wrong there when GBI came and talked to me, you know. They told me that she missed school or whatever that night. I think it was a Monday and they come and told me and you know I was kind of upset with them, you know.

They going through her house and all that, been gone two days and she ain't really got to report to nobody so I didn't really see … if I go off the grid for a couple of days and somebody's in my house, I'm gonna be upset.

So I didn't place it to be as her being missing til later on. I mean, you know, she's grown, single. I mean she can do what she wants to. I really didn't think too much about it, there until about, you know, four or five days in where she done missed a few days of work, you know, stuff like that wasn't like her.

A few weeks after Tara disappeared, Anthony received a mysterious phone call from an unknown number. All he could hear was a girl that was screaming and crying and he was convinced it was Tara. Here's what he said about it.

It sounded like her squalling on the phone to me, dude. I mean I really thought it was her. I mean I was watching my little cousin and I had somebody come and get him so I could go figure out what's going on. It wasn't really no overreaction. I really … I still think it was her.

And the story I got told is they researched it and it was a known drug dealer's house. That's what they told me. Well, how'd you all know that? I mean the feedback they gave me on it didn't make any sense.

So what went down when the GBI reached out to you?

Basically, they asked me if I would do like a DNA swab, would I be okay with that? A lie detector or some other thing.

So you did a DNA swab?

Yeah, I did all of that.

What were the results of your lie detector test?

Oh, they said that I was true there. They cleared me after that.

Did they search your property at all?

They went through my vehicle and through my dad's vehicle. When all this was going on, I didn't want to get involved. You know, one thing tells you how you're gonna figure out where she's at. And the other ones, you know, you see people arrested for stuff they didn't do and stuff all the time. And my thing got to be just cooperate with them, do everything you got to do and get out their way.

Do you remember when the last time you saw Tara was?

Right off hand, I really don't know. I really don't remember.

Did you have any involvement in Tara's disappearance?

Oh no.

Can you give me the rundown of what happened on March 30th of '05 when you got arrested at Tara's house?

She wouldn't answer her phone and I went over there and knocked on the door and she, you know … we were still kind of on the low. She didn't want, you know, a bunch of folks knowing that I was over there and we got into a little argument but the police station's only a block away.

So a neighbor called and only a block away and I was getting in the car. I was actually driving. I was actually driving, pulling out of her driveway. And they stopped and pulled me out of the car. I was trying to leave and trying to do right, you know. Saying what I needed to say. I was leaving and then I couldn't leave. Well, I only live like two blocks down the road so it wasn't like I made a 30 mile trip or nothing.

Before I called Anthony, I scoured every detail in this police report and I found something kind of interesting. It appeared that there was another man inside Tara's house that day and this man provided the statement to police. His name was blacked out in the reports I received but at the very bottom, the officer refers to him in the report with the initials H.D. Maybe Anthony could help clarify this.

Was there someone else in Tara's house that day?

Oh, yeah. there was. I don't know who he was or I think he's some guy from Perry, some cop from Perry.

What was he like?

You know, I don't … I don't know what it was. I don't know. You know, you can't judge a book by its cover but I didn't like his cover.

So this cop from Perry was inside Tara's house that day. It seemed a little strange to me. His initials were H.D. Remember the guy who left the business card? His name was …

Detective Heath Dykes, Perry Police Department.

Detective Heath Dykes, Perry Police Department, initials H.D. Just like the police report. So he drove there with the sole intent of checking on Tara, correct?

Oh yeah.

How far is Perry from Ocilla?

It's about an hour 15 minutes.

Do you think it's odd that Heath Dykes didn't see the glove on the ground?

I think it's unusual. Also you remember, you're not dealing with just a regular just civilian type individual. You're dealing with a veteran detective. Possibly, the argument would be that it was too dark but he needs to be asked that question.

It was odd that he was inside Tara's house that day when Anthony got arrested. But it was even more odd to me that a veteran detective who drove over an hour to check on Tara Sunday night wouldn't have seen that latex glove on the ground. You would think that there would be a little detective work but all he did was leave his business card.

From the beginning, I approached this thing with the certainty that there was foul play involved in Tara's disappearance. It just seemed impossible that she could walk away from her life and remain hidden for all these years but I guess there's always that possibility. I called a missing persons expert named Thomas Loth. He has over 20 years of experience in these sort of cases. I wanted him to weigh in.

I think there's a better way that she could have found to stage the scene if she wanted to go missing. The fact that that necklace is on the floor, I agree with the investigator. To me, that's very unusual especially if her apartment is nice and clean.

Now, and the latex glove outside to me is obviously a very important piece. I definitely think that foul play was involved. I rarely have seen maliciously missing women. It's just … it's a rarity. If they go missing, it's because someone has abducted them or murdered them but it does happen.

How often, you know, man or woman do you see somebody who is gone for 10 plus years with no trace at all and they turn up somewhere alive?

It's not common at all. But it's possible. It does happen but it's not because they turned up themselves, it's because someone informed law enforcement or the family that they saw them.

But it would be a case where a subject was missing, there was a police report filed but the circumstances of the disappearance showed them that there was a small amount of detail that would reveal that they went maliciously missing such as they were last seen walking, you know, walking away to somewhere. They went on a run and then went missing in the mountains. Something like that.

People go missing on their own accord if they're suffering from schizophrenia and usually the reason they're missing is because they have such paranoia. They choose to follow those conspiracies in their head.

It's typically a medical reason. Most people don't really understand that. They think, "Oh, they just went missing because their life got complicated." But really, a lot of adults go missing because they suffer from their first psychotic episode. They become transient and homeless on the streets.

I would definitely lean foul play on this case because all of the signs are there really that she had multiple boyfriends. One of them got jealous and she let them in the apartment for some reason to talk probably and their intent was different from, you know, what she obviously expected.

We dated for about five and a half years.

When you say dated, was it a serious or a casual relationship?

It was a commitment.

That's Tara's ex boyfriend Marcus Harper in his first televised interview with Greta Van Susteren in 2005, just weeks after Tara disappeared.

We did not date other people but I was honest with her when I said I had no intentions of marriage because of my career.

Did there come a time when this dating relationship ended?

Yes. She told me she felt like it was time for her to move on.

And you've been dumped essentially?

More or less.

Were you upset by that at all?

At first, we continued to remain friends but I felt a little rejected at first but I picked … brushed my shoulders off, went on and started dating other people. She asked several times about rekindling the relationship and I told her we could stay friends but I didn't want any kind of commitment.

So then you were rejecting her essentially at this point?

Pretty much.

Did she accept that?

No.

How many times have you talked to the GBI?

Four, five times.

They've asked you for things and asked you to talk?

Yes.

And you provided all of it?

Yes.

When was the last time you actually saw her?

The 14th of October. It was on a Friday morning.

About what time?

Around 9:00.

And what were the circumstances?

She woke me by knocking on my windows.

Is that something common where she would knock on your windows or not? It's unusual?

No, it's not unusual but she was crying and was upset about something. She was very rational and she told me that if she found out I was dating someone, she would commit suicide.

The one person who has been vetted the most is her ex-boyfriend, Marcus Harper. He was absolutely tired of her. He had to hire a lawyer because … in the beginning because her sister, Anita, was going after him. Basically his timeline alibi basically clears him.

He was right. From day one, Marcus Harper had an alibi. And it was a good one. His alibi begins that Saturday night at the White Horse Saloon in Fitzgerald.

All right. We're live here in the Wild Horse. Final score of the Fitzgerald, Ocilla game, 56-19.

Yeah.

56-19 Fitzgerald.

I decided to pay this place a visit, maybe have a couple beers. I made some small talk with people at the bar. And best believe, they all had their own theory about Tara.

Basically, we were just all talking and he was like, "Yeah, you know, Tara Grinstead. I know what happened." I don't know if he was joking but all the other guys said that he was acting like really serious.

I heard a rumor she was out at boones, somebody followed her and I left. I believe it was all rumor and bullshit. Some people say the ex-boyfriend, some people say it's somebody who admire her.

So what was Marcus Harper's rock solid alibi?

October 22nd, 2005, the night of Tara's disappearance, Marcus Harper left the bar called the White Horse Saloon in Fitzgerald sometime after 1 AM and drove to Ocilla. He was looking for his friend Sergeant Shawn Fletcher, an Ocilla police officer.

Sean Fletcher had known both Marcus and Tara. In fact, he was one of the officers who responded to the call at Tara's house earlier that year when Anthony Vickers was arrested for disorderly conduct. At around 1:49 AM according to the account Sean gave to authorities, he received a call from the dispatcher telling him that Marcus was looking for him.

Sean contacted Marcus and the two joined up. In the course of the next hour, Sean had at least one conversation with another police officer. Shortly after 2:45 AM, Fletcher was summoned to a house on West 4th Street where a local man named Bennie Merritt who was known for his erratic behavior had allegedly walked inside someone's house and had refused to leave.

Marcus joined Sean on that call. By the time they arrived, Bennie Merritt was gone. A few minutes later, Sean and Marcus left the residence and searched for him. Authorities reported that the man appeared intoxicated and was later apprehended by a sheriff's deputy after he frightened the night clerk at a local gas station about a mile outside of Ocilla.

According to records reviewed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, both Sean and Marcus responded to this call at the gas station and by the time they were done, it was 4:28 AM. A few minutes later, Marcus claims he headed home to sleep. Marcus Harper's mother also vouched for his return home that night around 5 AM and said he went straight to bed.

I put in one more records request with Ocilla PD. I wanted the reports on Bennie Merritt, just to make sure all the times added up. It was pretty convenient to be with an Ocilla officer during the time Tara likely disappeared but I can't disprove that either. When all this was happening, investigators were pressed for answers. They started searching everywhere but they found nothing.

My grimness fueled by the frustration of searching nearly 400 square miles of alligator infested waters, sprawling farmland and tangled forest.

If she's in here, she likes to be on top.

To cover this whole county, it's probably gonna take us another 7 to 10 days. This county is like 380 square miles. We only got like 9000 people in here.

The Ocilla and Irwin County community undertook the most extensive search I've ever been associated with in my career.

We searched fields. We searched swamps. We searched abandoned buildings. This is actually a case where we don't even know where the haystack is to look for the needle.

Part of the initial search for Tara was a K9 unit, tons of dogs trained to sniff out Tara's scent. Tracy Underwood is the trainer that led this part of the investigation.

Dogs can be trained and are trained to find people both dead and alive. In this case, I had dogs that were trained to do both. So the initial response was of course, you know, unless we find evidence that tells us otherwise, we assume that the person we're looking for is alive.

Unfortunately, you know, being a week from the time she was last seen as far as tracking, after a week especially in, you know, this type of hot South Georgia weather with the sun and dry conditions that we had back then, if she did just walk away from her home, the scent for tracking dog after a week would be totally gone.

Oh, wow.

We just did what we call area searches. So we just took the dogs to an area and had them check the area. Not so much for a track but just an area to see if they could pick up any human scent.

The other thing that's important to note, Payne, about dogs is that the dogs always tell us two things. They'll tell us where something is but what is just as important and then sometimes even more important is that they tell us where something isn't.

We searched for over a year for this individual in North Georgia and we searched 28 different places over that year. And long story short, we winded up finding him on the 29th search.

Wow.

The dogs were 100 percent correct. They told us in all those previous 28 times we searched,"Guys, I don't know where he is but he's not here.".

Okay.

So that would certainly, and did apply to Tara's case, and would continue applying to her case if we do search for her again.

So what were the results of the initial search for Tara?

We've been asked to go down there over the years. I would dare say at least 20 or 30 times we've been down there searching in different places and we searched hundreds and hundreds of acres. I want to say 30 searches, that means 30 times we went down there and we may have searched, you know, 10 different places in one day.

Right.

With all of that, the only thing that the dogs showed any indication to was a burned house that had burnt down actually when we were down there. And they did alert there at the burnt remains there at the house.

When dogs do "alert" or indicate something, we have to look and investigate and say, "Hey. Is it something that's related to this case or is it totally unrelated to what we're looking for? Why did the dogs alert or indicate in this area at this spot? Is it related to our case?" In this situation, we determined that they were responding to some septic lines or sewage because it was an old house with exposed pipes and things like that.

Based on the searches you guys did, you know, throughout Ocilla and the Irwin County area, do you think that it's possible Tara's body is still there and it was missed or the right area wasn't searched?

Well, I will say this, Payne. You can't rule out any area 100 percent until you find the person. There's always that possibility, absolutely, but the search efforts and everything and all the resources that were used, is she there? The probability of that would be I think pretty low. But you can't clear an area 100 percent until the person has been found.

I've been doing this for about 25 years. I would say about 99 percent of these cases, they're pretty black and white. And I would say Tara's case is that rare exception. Can we definitively say she was kidnapped? Can we definitively say that she just walked away? Can we definitively say that she started a new life somewhere? That's a question that really can't be definitively answered.

Personal and professional opinion, do I think it's ever going to be solved? I do. You know, we all still have to have that hope. However long it takes, Payne, we're in it for the duration.

If the officials called me or the family called me today even after 11 years, I would get in the car, go down there with the dogs and do whatever I can. No family ever thinks that they're going to be living this nightmare and certainly not living it after 11 years.

I got my reports back from Ocilla PD on Bennie Merritt. I requested literally every report they have on him. I wanted to crosscheck the time of each incident that Marcus and Sean responded to that night.

I have four reports on Bennie Merritt but not a single one of these happened on Saturday night. None of them. What I'm about to read you has never been released to the public, Tara's e-mails.

On October 14th, Tara sent Marcus's mom an e-mail. On the bottom paragraph, Tara says this, "Just remind Marcus what I said about something happening to me or even him. He leaves it like this and something may happen to me."

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Is Sugar Slowly Killing Us – The Knowledge Project

Welcome to the Knowledge Project. I'm your host, Shane Parrish, the curator behind the Farnam Street blog, which is an online community focused on mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. The Knowledge Project is a podcast where we look at interesting people and uncover the frameworks they use to make better decisions, live life, and make an impact.

On this episode, I have the fascinating, Gary Taubes. Gary is an award-winning science journalist who has written Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat. You're going to learn about the role sugar, carbohydrates, and fiber, how breakfast became the most important meal of the day, what science is, and the state of nutritional science, why he says wine is okay, his next book project, and so much more. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

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Gary, I'm so happy to have you on The Knowledge Project.

Great. I am happy to be here.

One of the questions that I have when I think about you is I wonder what your daily diet looks like. Like, how do you think about the food that you consume?

Yeah, it's funny. When we talked about the things that I didn't want to talk about, one of the things I was thinking, "Can I say I don't want to talk about my daily diet?" Then, I thought I probably can't say that because it'll probably come up at some point in the interview.

Easiest way to think about it is I don't eat grains, and starches, and sugars anymore because I think they make me fat and unhealthy. And I replaced them, for the most part, with, you know, fat animal products. So, not good for the animals, but I think it's good for me physically. And I'm one of these people who have convinced myself that butter and bacon are health foods. And I hope I'm right.

Why you do think nutritional science is in such a poor state compared to other areas of medical science? Like, what is it about nutrition that's led to such vast misunderstandings?

Well, first of all, we don't know that it's actually better than other areas of medical science. One of the questions I'm always … We know what we see, right. So, I study nutrition science. I write about nutrition science. I know nutrition science is, to me, almost not a functional science, but I've never had the opportunity to put that out for investigation into other areas of medicine or other areas of science. You just hope they're better.

My take on this is sort of historical. The way I see it, science was sort of honed to a very fine edge of, you know, a methodology for establishing reliable knowledge. The universe, in Europe, it's by …. You know, it was at its height in Germany and Austria pre-World War II. And, sort of, these people really understood the rigor necessary to do good science, the skepticism necessary, this idea that Richard Feynman later encapsulated by saying, you know, the first principles of science is you must not fool yourself into the easiest person to fool.

And this culture of science began to evaporate with World War II. And it crossed the Atlantic in fields like physics because we embraced these European researchers, many of whom were Jews. And the leading scientists in the world, the leading physicists in the world post-World War II in the US tended to be these European emigres who are their students. And many of the key players in the Manhattan Project were European emigres.

And so, you had this very rigorous approach to science being done in fields like physics. And you could do it in fields like physics because if you think of science as hypotheses and tests, the tests were relatively simple, relatively simple to do. You could come up with an idea. You could build a small, you know, cyclotron like Lawrence did here at Berkeley. You could, then, test the ideas, and you know that other people are going to do the same all around the world. And if you're wrong, it's going to be very embarrassing. So, there was also, sort of, a relatively quick feedback between hypotheses and tests.

And in fields like nutrition and public health, not only did we not embrace the European emigres, and, in fact, in many cases, we wanted nothing to do with these people. The hypothesis and test, by definition, was much harder to do, or the testing aspect of the hypothesis was much harder to do.

So, now, instead of dealing with subatomic particles or every particle for all intents and purposes of the like, you know, you can do these experiments. Indeed, you're now dealing with these messy humans who think for themselves in chronic diseases that take decades to manifest themselves. Even if you could do the testing of the hypotheses, it takes a long time to do it. It's very expensive, and it's very difficult, if not impossible to do right.

And so, what the nutrition and public health research communities did is they just lowered their standards for what they would consider reliable knowledge. And this just became sort of inculcated throughout the entire community such that these people almost … To me, I feel like they almost forget what it takes to do reliable knowledge. And they say, they justify it or they say the issues are so important, people are dying out there; and therefore, we don't have time to dot the Is and cross the Ts, and make sure that we're right about our hypotheses. And, to me, the really scientific response is if we don't have time to dot the Is and cross the Ts, you have no idea whether you're right.

Right.

And, you know, we end up in a situation today where we have, you know, these massive unprecedented epidemics of obesity, and diabetes, and related diseases. And medical public health community has no idea, almost literally no idea what to do about it. And everyone insists that the science is good enough to answer these questions; and yet, clearly, if we were good enough to answer these questions, we never would have gotten into this situation, so.

What role do you think genetics plays in this?

In the obesity and diabetes epidemics or in obese-

Yeah.

I think, clearly, genetics … Well, we know that obesity runs in families. And that's been known for, you know, hundred … Body type runs in families, you know. Identical twins don't just have the same facial features, they have the same body types. Clearly, genetics plays a huge role in whether, you know, someone's going to be tall and thin, or short and squat, or some combination of the two. And if it's playing a role in obesity, it's going to play a role in diabetes as well. And I don't actually know the data for diabetes, but I'm sure there's a strong genetic component there as well.

But then the question is, and this is the question I addressed in my last book, The Case Against Sugar, we have these diabetes and obesity epidemic that manifest themselves pretty similarly worldwide, independent of the genetic, you know, the genotype, the genetic ancestry of the population.

So, you know, Inuits near the Arctic Circle, or Native Americans, our First Nations people, or, you know, African populations, or South Pacific Islanders, or Middle Eastern populations, or Southeast Asians, they all experience obesity and diabetes epidemics when their environment changes from their traditional diet and lifestyle to a Western diet and lifestyle. And they manifest these epidemics pretty similarly.

So, clearly, the underlying genetics are not the key factor there. You know, it doesn't matter what type of human, you know, where your ancestors came from. You get dumped in a modern western lifestyle, you're likely to become obese, and then diabetic. And so, the question I was asking in my book is, what is it about the Western diet and lifestyle that is the agent of these diseases?

So, what do you think about, like, the Mediterranean diet, the French diet, and all of this stuff? Like are there diets suited to cultures or types of people that grow up in a certain region, or?

The Mediterranean diet may or may not be healthier than, for instance, an Inuit diet. Like, if you took the Inuits and gave them the Mediterranean diet, they may do just as well as the Greeks do, or they may do more poorly because they haven't had time to adapt to, I don't know, olive oil, or a lot of green vegetables, or, you know, whatever the grains they're consuming in this diet. It's sort of … You know it's one of the ways people tend to confuse the fundamental issue.

So, to me, the really important issue, the critical issue is these epidemics. And the numbers are just out of … I mean, almost unimaginable. In the US, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, in the US, since the late 1950s, diabetes prevalence has increased 700%, okay. So, 1 in 11 Americans now have diabetes, when the number might have been closer to 1 in 1000 or 1 in 3000 at the beginning of the 20th century. That's almost incomprehensible.

And nobody really … I mean the fact that there aren't, sort of, teams of investigative scientists, you know, and task force on every street corner walking around with, you know, I don't know, detectors of some sort trying to figure out what the cause of this disorder is, you know, why we have this out-of-control epidemic is another question. But that's the question you have to keep on asking yourself, what's causing these epidemics because we're not going to be able to reverse or prevent them until we identify the fundamental cause.

And it gets confused with issues of, "Well, should we be eating the Mediterranean diet to prevent heart disease; or should we be eating the DASH diet to lower blood pressure; or should we be eating, you know, Ornish's diet to reduce risk of heart disease?", when the very first thing you want to know is like, "What's causing these epidemics, man, because this is crazy?"

The Director General of the UN, a woman named Margaret Chan, a year ago referred to them as slow motion disasters. And she predicted. This was fascinating. This was at a keynote address at the National Academy of Medicine in Washington. And she gave a number, a prediction for the likelihood that public health organizations will prevent these slow motion disasters from getting worse. And the likelihood of even preventing them from getting worse, she said, was virtually zero.

So, you've got the slow motion disasters worldwide. You've got the head of the greatest public health organization in the world predicting that they will fail to control them. And so, the question you want to ask is, "What's the cause?", not whether we should be eating a Mediterranean diet, or a French diet, or you know.

And then, maybe, you can further ask the question, is there something about the Mediterranean diet, or about the French diet, or about these Blue Zone diets that happens to shed light on this question of what's causing obesity, and diabetes, and the conditions that are associated with it?

Can you quickly walk listeners through your beliefs on what is causing this?

Okay. So, again, if you think of it as a criminal case, the first question is, what's the crime being committed? And in this case, like I said, it's obesity and diabetes epidemic showing up everywhere in the world after they transitioned to a western diet. And so, that's the crime. That's what we want. And we want to find out who the perpetrator is. We know what the age and what the vector is. The vector is the Western diet and lifestyle. You know, it's commercialism, and urbanism, and maybe it's processed food. These are all sort of factors of the disease. But what's the age, and then the vector?

And, you know, the point I make in my book is you can chart this. Go back in time. And, actually, what you would do, again, if we had a criminal case, you would want to know when the crime was committed, the earliest sign of the crime. And so, you could do this using hospital records in the medical literature. And you find out, for instance, in the US that diabetes rates were virtually non-existent. Even though it was a very relatively easy disease to diagnose, you saw very little sign of it pre-1850, and even for the most part, pre-1870s.

And then, the numbers in hospitals, and you could see this in hospital records in Boston, in Mass, and/or in Philadelphia, at Pennsylvania Hospital. The diabetes diagnoses in hospitals go from like literally zero a year. Remember, 1 in 11 Americans were considered to have diabetes, and the major city hospitals would see, in some years, zero cases. And then, you could see the numbers go to one, to two, to three a year, to five a year, to ten. And then, by the early years of the 20th century are in double digits. And then, they just shoot up from there.

And you could find experts back then, you know, the head of the New York City Department of Public Health saying it just detracts so closely with sugar consumption from population to population that we seriously have to consider that sugar is a cause. And you look at the industries that evolved in that period. And sugar. over the course of the 19th century, went from being a sort of expensive luxury in the beginning of the 19th century when Americans, for instance, probably consumed less than in the neighborhood of five pounds per person per year. So, that's the equivalent of maybe, you know, I don't know, four ounces of sugary beverage per day, probably less, to by the end of the 19th century, consumed in the neighborhood of maybe 80 or 90 pounds per person per year.

Wow.

You know, in the neighborhood of a 20-fold increase. And in all the ways that we consume sugar today were virtually non-existent as industries in the early 19th century. So, in the 1840s, the candy industry is created, the chocolate industry is created, and the ice cream industry are all created. And then, in the 1870s and '80s, you see the soft drink industry with Dr. Pepper first, and then Coca-Cola, and Pepsi. And by the early 20th century, these foods have just exploded. And they're everywhere. And all the major food producers that we deal with today, the sugar purveyors that we deal with today are already sort of in place, and selling nationally, and marketing nationally, and, you know, sort of pioneering their marketing approaches.

At one point around 1905, a congressman asked the brother, I think, it was one of the founders of one of the main players in Coca-Cola, you know, if he could describe the items on which Coca-Cola was advertised. And he said, "The everyday items," and he said, "would be easier to describe the items on which it's not."

So, I mean, the goal of Coke, which Coca-Cola always was basically to make sure that everyone in the world, I mean everyone in the world has easy access to Coca-Cola, and is drinking it regularly. And at one point, the CEO of Coca-Cola even complains that the human body needs so many ounces of water, liquid a day, and only like 20% of it is coming from Coca-Cola, and that's just completely unacceptable.

So, anyway, you see this explode. The one industry that's now a major … But there's a few industries that are major purveyors of sugar that took a while longer to come about. So, the fruit juice industry doesn't really show up until the 1930s, and then explodes post World War II.

And the cereal industry, cereal was basically, you know, Kellogg, and Post, and those folks were health fanatics. And they were running sanitariums in, you know, Minnesota for dyspeptic wealthy people. And they were, for the most part, anti-sugar. So, cereal was a way to get fiber into the diet, and they didn't really want sugar in their products, and they had nutritionists working for these companies. They didn't want people eating sugar.

But post World War II, right around 1948, Post with, I think, it was Sugar Crisp finally breaks down the barrier and started selling a sugar coated cereal. And suddenly, every other, you know, cereal producer has to give in or go out of business. And you could see the struggles between their nutritionists and their marketing people. And in every case, the marketing people won.

And by the 1960s, you know, the American breakfast had been transformed into, basically, a dead desert with fiber or lack of, you know. So, we're drinking fruit juices. We're eating sugar-coated cereals. And then, when the low fat movement comes in in the 1960s, you know, you're adding sort of low fat or no fat yogurt with sugar and skim milk. And it's, you know, sugar from beginning to end.

So, the people, while this was happening, are arguing, "Look, you know, obesity and diabetes is exploding. Sugar consumption is exploding. Clearly, that's the prime suspect." And then, as we began to understand the physiology of how sugars metabolize, that clearly made sugar a prime suspect as well in actually causing type 2 diabetes and a condition called insulin resistance that we should probably talk about. So, there's-

Yeah, why don't you walk me through the physiology of sugar?

Okay.

And the response it generates in our body?

Yeah. So, when we're talking about added sugars, particularly sucrose, which the white powdered stuff in high fructose corn syrup, these are simple carbohydrates that are combinations of two simpler carbs. So, glucose, which is the carb when we consume grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes, are broken down in our body into glucose. And the glucose is transported into the bloodstream. And when we talk about blood sugar, we're talking about glucose, blood glucose. So, the glucose gets into the bloodstream. The glucose level rises. So, your blood sugar rises. And that glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body.

And this is the glycemic index, kind of like the response?

When we talk about the glycemic index, exactly. That's the response of your blood sugar to the foods you're consuming. So, if you're consuming a food that's almost pure glucose, and it is easy to digest, like white bread, you will have a, sort of, quick rise in blood sugar. And it's one reason why white bread was usually considered sort of a standard by which you would then compare other foods to the glycemic index.

But there's another half`of the sugar molecule in the case of high fructose corn syrup and other, 55% of it, which is this molecule fructose. So, any molecule that ends in OSE is a carbohydrate. So, fructose is the sweetest of the carbohydrates. So, it's what makes sugar sweet. But the fructose is metabolized not by every cell in our body. It's transported through the portal vein to our liver. And some huge proportion of it is metabolized by liver cells.

And, you know, this stuff was worked out by biochemists back as early as the early 20th century. But biochemists weren't doctors, and they weren't studying treating diabetes or obese patients. And the doctors, even if they were getting biochemistry, might not have gotten this level of biochemistry. So, the physicians treating diabetes never really understood what sugar was or what made it different than other starches.

So, when you began to have debates about whether sugar was the cause of diabetes that diabetes specialists tended to say no, because they thought sugar is the same as rice, and they're all carbohydrates. And look, we know that the Japanese eat a lot of rice, and they have low levels of diabetes. Ergo, it's not about sugar or rice.

They also thought that once you start giving diabetics insulin, which begins in the early 1920s, it's hard to dose the insulin properly. So, the diabetics would often experience episodes of very low blood sugar where they could go into hypoglycemic shock and die, and they had to be rescued from these episodes. And the easiest way to do it was with candy. Ergo, sugar must be good for you. That's how they thought, and you could see this in the literature.

But physiology. So, when we're talking about diabetes, we're talking about particularly type 2 diabetes, which is the common form that associates with obesity and age. So-

That's the one you're not born with; that you develop later in life.

Well, you don't … Yeah, it's not the acute form that hits in childhood, which is type 1, or that typically appears in childhood, which is type 1. It's about 5% of all diabetes. And then, type 2, there are variations now. But for type 2, it's effectively about 95% of diabetes. When we're talking about the diabetes epidemic, it's type 2 diabetes we're talking about.

And because it associates so closely with excess weight, the assumption of the diabetes experts, going back to the 1920s, is it's caused by being fat. And you get fat because you eat too many calories, you don't exercise enough. And we'll probably talk about that shortly.

But by the early 1960s, once the scientists had a tool that allowed them to measure hormones in the blood accurately, they realized that type 2 diabetes was a disorder or what's called insulin resistance. So, with type 1 diabetes, you don't have enough insulin or no insulin at all, and you can't properly metabolize the carbohydrates you eat. And in effect, no matter how much you eat, you kind of starve to death because you can't use these fuels for food.

And the assumption was all diabetes was just sort of an insulin deficit, until the 1960s when they could really measure insulin levels in the bloodstream, and the research community realized that type 2 diabetics actually have both high insulin and high blood sugar. So, the insulin must not be working. So, they're resistant to the insulin they're secreting, or it's not working well enough, so they have to secrete more insulin.

So, since the early 1960s, we've been aware that type 2 diabetes is the disease of insulin resistance. And then, this went along with the observation that obese people also tended to be insulin-resistant. They had high blood sugar and high insulin levels.

And that there's a condition that's now known as metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of abnormalities that's sort of, basically, insulin resistance syndrome. So, this is, you know, elevated blood sugar with glucose intolerance, it's called. And, also, you know, you're getting heavier, or your waist size is increasing, so you're getting fatter. And you've got an elevated level of what are called triglycerides, which are a form that fat appears in the blood. And you've got low HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol. And your blood pressure is elevated. So, it's this whole sort of cluster of metabolic abnormalities that, not only sort of include obesity and diabetes in them, but also associated with heart disease, and stroke, and all these other chronic diseases.

So, when you start thinking of this whole cluster of insulin-resistant conditions, and you're asking the question, whatever causes insulin resistance causes obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, or Alzheimer's, virtually every chronic disease has a link to insulin resistance. And the best research on what caused insulin resistance suggests that it starts in the liver, and it starts with the accumulation of fat in the liver.

And, in fact, there's another epidemic going on at the moment of now what's called non-alcoholic fatty liver. And it associates with obesity, and diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. So, everything is targeting the liver. And there, you've got the fructose. Now, I'm bringing it back to the case against sugar. Now, you've got the fructose component of sugar being metabolized in the liver.

And the liver didn't evolve to metabolize at the levels we see today. So, you know, throughout the last two million years, you would only see sugar in small quantities in fruit. It's what makes, you know, fructose in small quantities. It's what makes fruit sweet. And you'd see it in even smaller quantities in green vegetables. But nothing like the amount you would see in like a Coca-Cola, or a glass of apple juice, or a candy bar, or an ice cream cone, or any of those foods where you're really just dumping fructose on the liver. And by the 1960s, the biochemistry had pretty clearly worked out that when you dump fructose on the liver, it converts it to fat.

And on the other side, you'd have the insulin resistance researchers saying, "Hey, insulin resistance seems to be caused by the accumulation of fat in liver cells." And all I'm saying is, you know, that you've got 150 years a history of people saying when diabetes appears, it does so after sugar consumption goes up. And then, you've got all these biological mechanisms suggesting that sugar is literally at the scene of the crime in the human body when insulin resistance begins, from when insulin resistance begins. You know, you're on the road to this whole slew of chronic disorders that are now becoming epidemic or are already epidemic.

Why are we so attracted to sugar?

It's a good question. You know, if you ask that question about any drug of abuse or any addictive substance, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, heroin, and cocaine, I mean, it's sort of the … On one level, the idea is we've become addicted to foods because there's an area of our brain called the nucleus accumbens or the reward center that rewards. It's there to reward behaviors that are good for the species.

So, when you have an orgasm during sex, the nucleus accumbens respond by like dosing your body with dopamine, and it feels great, and you want to repeat it. And when you eat foods, you know, which we have to do, to foods that taste good, also, it stimulates a dopamine response in the nucleus accumbens, so you want to continue eating, which means you'll continue to stay alive, and you'll continue to replicate.

And so drugs of abuse just happen to be things that, for whatever reason, just by chance, you know, over the course of human history, we sampled 10 million leaves, twigs, starches, you know, food animals. And lo and behold, there's a few things that happened to sort of overstimulate the nucleus accumbens and overstimulate dopamine. And those become addictive substances that we, then, want to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. And so, there is evidence that sugar stimulates dopamine secretion in the nucleus accumbens just like these other drugs of abuse.

And in animals, at least, so rats and mice, we can do these experiments. You could demonstrate that they will be more addicted to sugar than to cocaine or heroin. So, these experiments, some of them were done in France. They are sort of perversely fascinating. You basically addicted your lab rats to a daily bolus of cocaine or heroin. And then, you give it a choice between either sugar or the cocaine. And if it chooses sugar, it can't go back to the cocaine. It can't do both of them. You know, over the course of a couple of days, the rat will switch from cocaine to sugar. It takes a little longer before making the switch from heroin.

That's fascinating.

Yeah. I mean, clearly, you can't do these experiments with children, but if you have kids, you probably don't need to. So, there's a lot of … Clearly, sugar is a psychoactive substance. You know, we give it to newborns to when they get circumcisions. You know, a couple of drops of sugar water on the tongue, and you can remove the foreskin, and it doesn't bother them, at least, not in the short run.

You know, sugar has always been considered a painkiller. And, actually, entered Europe in the 13th to 14th century or 12th Post-Crusade, it's more as a medicinal and perceived as having medicinal uses than as a food or a spice.

But, you know, my favorite saying this is from Charles Mann, the journalist historian, who's a friend of mine, and somebody who just awes me with how good his work is. And he said in his book, 1493, he was discussing the sugar industry, and he said, "Scientists today debate amongst themselves whether or not sugar is an addictive substance or we just act like it is." And it's like, you know, clearly … Again, I think, I have kids, I don't need scientific research to tell me that this substance has power over my children that no other food does.

And, you know, even the sort of ardent defenders of sugar, and, you know, historians, and journalists would say, "Well, of course, parents still have the ration to their children's behavior." I mean, they're sugar-eating. You can't allow them to eat all the sugar they want. So, there's clearly … You know, whether it's this effect in the nucleus accumbens, or there's an interesting fact that might drive sugar consumption, also, in the liver, it's a little more technical. But I've always wondered how much role that play. But something about it, clearly, it just becomes something we like because it affects our brain and the body in a way that we want more of it. You know, we want to repeat the experience.

A lot of people seem to think it's just simply a matter of calories in, calories out. What do you say to that argument?

Gosh. No. This was … You know, I-

This is the most common thing I read, right.

So, when I started my research, okay, journalistic research on this subject, and if you go back the very first infamous New York Times Magazine cover story I had in 2002 that was called What If It's All A Big Fat Lie?, I had a line in there where I said … You know, I was speculating that dietary fat doesn't make people fat, and it's carbohydrates that do. And so I had elaborated. I said, "Clearly, it's excess calories that cause us to eat too much."

And then, I actually … You know, I get a big book advance. And I could spend five years of my life doing research. And the internet, at this point in time, made it possible for me to learn, you know, to … It's like a new technology had come along. And, suddenly, I can, you know, sit in my office, which was then in New York, and I can get every primary source on obesity, whether it's in the academic literature, or books, or conference proceedings, you know, going back to the 19th century. I mean, back then. Nowadays, you could virtually download them. Back then, 2002 to 2006, I had students all around the country whose job was to go to their local medical libraries and, you know, make copies of the 50 or 100 references I would send to them. And then, I would buy books.

So, I actually started doing my research, and I realized that this idea that excess calories is what makes us fat is the … And I'm embarrassed that I never thought of this. It's logically equivalent to saying, you know, excess money makes us rich, or I don't know, scoring access points in a football game will make you win. You know, it's almost incomprehensibly naive to me. And I, now, understand where it comes from because I've read all this literature. And to this day, I'm still sort of mystified.

So, I'm going to pet peeve time. You know, my sugar book came out. I got sort of almost universally wonderful reviews. And then, Jerome Groopman in the New Yorker condescendingly dismissed the book as the work of sort of, you know, wannabe investigative journalist on. And then, his review, he makes this statement that the one undeniable fact about nutrition research is the importance of calories. And, you know, excess calories makes you fat.

I thought, you know, if this was James Surowiecki writing about economics, and he said the one undeniable factor in the science of wealth is about the importance of dollars, you know, David Remnick or one of his crew would say, "Are you kidding us? Are you out of your mind? Like, of course, dollars, you know." I mean, if we were discussing wealth accumulation, I just kept telling you, you know, he said, Gary Weiss, you know, "Let's talk about why is Bill Gates so rich." And I said, "Well, because he makes more money than he spends." He began, "Why did I book this guy?".

And if we were talking about climate change, he said, "Why the atmosphere heating up?", assuming it's heating up, which I'm beginning to believe since we just had 100 degree weather here in Oakland a couple of weeks ago, and I said, "Well, clearly, atmosphere is heating up because it's taking in more energy than it's letting out." You know, I've just, in one sentence, sort of nullified billions of dollars worth of research into what it is about the atmosphere and various, you know, and greenhouse gases, and the wavelengths of light they reflect, or, you know, transmitted. I mean, all the intricacies of climate change science would be nullified by this statement that the atmosphere is heating up because it's taking more energy than it's letting out, which it has to be doing.

So, the point is nutrition science from the 1860s through the 1920s was completely dominated, as all sciences are, by what they could measure, the technologies available to make observations. And all they had were they had devices called calorimeters where they could measure the energy content of a food, and then they could measure the energy expended by humans by putting him in these room-sized calorimeters or dogs. And then, they could do experiments with animals where you, you know, give them vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and see what kind of diseases manifest still from there.

So, all of nutrition science was calorimetry, energy in and energy out, and vitamins, and minerals. And when people started talking about what the causes of obesity might be, it made absolutely perfect sense to think in terms of calories because that's all they could look at. That's all they had.

And so, by 1910-1920, they had this very simplistic idea with some, you know, $5 words attached to it to make it seem more complicated that said that people get fatter because they consume too many calories, or they don't expend enough. And it seemed to coincide with what we see in the environment, which is you're unlikely to see obese people running marathons or doing hard physical labor. So, you tend to think of them as sedentary or lazy.

And you often see obese people, and we have this sort of model of Falstaff and Shakespeare. You know, they're gone, even if they're not. Like you pay attention to them. You'll notice them when they are. And when you see an obese person sitting at a restaurant eating a tiny salad, you don't think it, it doesn't cross your consciousness, it's refuting your belief that they're gluttons. So, it seemed to go along with what seemed to be conventional wisdom. It was easy to believe.

And then, the weird thing is the research community just bought into it and locked into it in a way that, again, part of it can be explained by … So, not all the research community locked in, the German and Austrian clinicians. And in Germany and Austria, you know, these people were doing far and away the best medical science in the world at the time. And they pioneered all the fields of science relevant to obesity, some metabolism, genetics, endocrinology, the science of hormones, nutrition, all sort of came out of Germany and Austria. These Herr Professor Doktor types who would both see patients and theorize about what the cause of the disorders might be.

And they had concluded that obesity had to be a hormonal disorder. It had to be because there were all these manifestations. It's sort of hormonal regulatory disorder. You know, they would say things like, you know, look men and women fatten different. Therefore, sex hormones are involved with obesity. You know, we know when people are insulin deficient, they don't have insulin, they can't store body fat. So, insulin must play a role. And I mean these people get emaciated no matter how much you feed them, type 1 diabetics. So, insulin must play a role in storing body fat.

We know that there are, you know, tumors, fatty tumors called like lipomas that are independent of how much people are eating and exercising. If you have a lipoma, it could starve someone. The lipoma is not going to go away. It's still going to be this cluster of fat.

And there were even cases in the literature where people had skin grafts. You know, a graft of skin taken from their stomach, and put on, like, the back of their hand to cover a burn. And then, they get older, and they get obese. And one hand got no body fat on it. You know, if you look at the back of your hand, it's a place we just don't store or tend to store body fat. On the other hand, we have this huge tough fat on it. So, they would say there's clearly regulatory enzymes in the skin itself that are determining whether or not this area of the body will accumulate fat. And it's all got to be hormonally and may be regulated to the central nervous system as well.

And then, the German and Austrian School just evaporates with the Second World War, literally. You know, these people emigrate to the US, end up in … You know, one of the great endocrinologist from the University of Vienna ends up living in Los Angeles writing articles and working for the Hospital of Medical Evangelist, because nobody else wants to hire these European emigres, particularly the Jews.

And then, after the war, the European researchers have many things to think about more important than obesity. And in America, they just clammed onto this idea that it's all about how much you eat and exercise. You know, a lot of lean research. They didn't want to read the German literature anymore. So, the lingua-franca of medicine pre-World War II was German. The post World War II, you have a lot of young German doctors. I mean, excuse me, young American researchers who had fought in the war who have just naively, you know, justifiably have this natural antipathy to the Germans and Austrians. They're not going to read the literature. They don't cite the pre-World War II studies. And they just recreate the science of obesity as a gluttony and sloth disorder.

And by the 1960s, the major figures in the field are psychologists who are trying to change the behavior of the fat person and make them eat less. My favorite example was one idea where you would get the obese man's wife to withhold sex if he didn't lose weight that week. And it's just suddenly eating … Obesity becomes an eating disorder.

And then, later, it becomes sedentary behavior disorder by the 1970s. And none of these people … You know, if you've got psychologists studying it, well, their specialty is psychology. It's not endocrinology. It's not hormones. It's behavior. So, you get this sort of what you see is all there is phenomenon often coming in, and it never went away.

And even today, the great themes in obesity research are this idea that the obesity is caused by a highly palatable or rewarding foods. And the implication is there something about the brains of obese people. They can't control their appetite in the onslaught of all, you know, the bliss points created by salt and fat, as opposed to the simple idea that there's something about the foods we eat that trigger a hormonal response that tells the body either to store fat, or, you know, mobilize, and use it for fuel, and then bringing this all back to insulin resistance.

By the early 1960s, it was clear that insulin. the hormone insulin, was the primary regulator of fat accumulation in the human body. So, what it does is you secreted in response to the carbohydrate content. So, your blood sugar starts to go up, and the body puts insulin out to signal your lean tissue to take up the glucose from the blood, and burn it for fuel. The insulin facilitate the technical ways it facilitates the uptake of sugar, of glucose, but it also signals the fat tissue to hold on to any fat and to store whatever fat you've eaten.

So, it sort of partitioning the fuel use to say, "Look, the immediate problem is we have this rising tide of blood sugar, and high blood sugar is toxic. So, the way we're going to deal with that is we're going to store fat get that out of the way, and then we're going to burn the blood sugar as quickly as we can. And as blood sugar starts coming down, insulin starts coming down. And then, you could mobilize the fat you've stored and use that fat for fuel, which is how your body's supposed to work.

So, there's a term called metabolic flexibility where when blood sugar starts coming down, fat's coming up. You just switch over from burning glucose to burning fat. Your cells should be perfectly happy to do that. But if your insulin-resistant, your insulin stays high, and you never successfully make that switch. So, blood sugar comes down, but you continue to lock away fat. And sort of like a ratchet wrench. And day-to-day, it only goes in one direction. You just store fat, and that's all you do.

So, you know, that's the, again, long-winded way to say as long as people believe it's about calories, you're not even paying attention to the hormones and enzymes that regulate fat accumulation. And what stuns me, so that last February, there's an article in The New England Journal on the pathogenesis and mechanisms of obesity, and you can read that article. This is the premier medical journal in the world, and there's actually no discussion of the mechanisms other than an assumption that people eat too much. And so, you know that's the implicit.

And you can go to the leading textbook in the world, and the medical textbook, the most seminal textbook, and the Harrison's Principles of Medicine, I think, it's called. And the chapter on obesity is written by, you know, a very very smart researcher named Jeff Flier who just, until recently, was Dean of Harvard Medical School. And his wife, who's equally smart and talented, Terry Maratos-FLier. And they do research together.

And if you actually look for what it is that causes obesity, in that chapter, the assumption is that the overconsumption of calories. It's eating too much. It's a behavioral problem. And there's no discussion of what's been a very well worked-out science on the sort of hormonal regulatory system that controls both the use of fatty acids for fuel and the storage of fat in the fat cells.

And, to me, I don't see how that can be defended. And, like I said, it's almost mystifying. And I've spent 20 years trying to understand it. And I, kind of, understand every step along the way, how it happened, and when it happened. And I still want to say to people, you're talking about a disorder of excess fat accumulation. Don't you have to discuss the regulatory system that controls fat accumulation, the hormones and enzymes in the fat cells, on the fat cell membranes, elsewhere in the body, and in a very beautiful system worked out by millions of years to regulate this. And it's clearly dysregulated.

Well, one thing I haven't heard you mention that I'm curious about is what is the role of fiber.

That's a very good question. Again, it's interesting. I have to talk about these things historically, and I apologize. I think about them-

No, this is amazing.

Yeah. To understand the role, you have to know where it came from. So, in 1960s, several British researchers start focusing in on this idea that it's either sugar or sugar and refined grains that cause obesity, and diabetes, and heart disease.

And so, these two, one of them is John Yudkin, who is the leading British nutritionist, and the one is a fellow named Peter Cleave who was a British naval researcher. And Cleave had the advantage that as a navy man, he had traveled around the world, and he had seen that there are all these disparities in chronic disease rates all around the world wherever you go.

So, you know, urban, westernized, urban centers had high rates of obesity, and diabetes, and heart disease. But, you know, less westernized areas and non-urban areas had lower rates. So, the question is, what was driving that? He concluded it was the refinement of the grains we were consuming, including sugar. And so, by the 1960s, Yudkin was publishing in the medical journals, and Cleave had written a book called The Saccharine Disease, explaining that it was refined grains and sugars that cause this cluster of diseases.

And then, into this walks, a guy named Denis Burkitt who, was a missionary physician in Africa in … I forget. Where was ETM? In Uganda. Burkitt was famous for a medical investigation he did that led to the identification of the first virus that causes the cancer that's known as Burkett's Lymphoma, after Burkitt, So, he was a very well-known, very famous physician.

And ETM comes into power in Uganda. And as he flee back to the UK, and he's looking for things to do, and the leading British epidemiologist in the world named Sir Richard Doll who was famous for identifying cigarettes as a cause and lung cancer, Richard Doll gives him Cleave's book and says, "You should read this. I don't know how much is right, but there's a lot of it that's brilliant." And Burkitt reads it, and he thinks it's brilliant. But then, he kind of thinks we're never going to convince the world to give up sugar, and white bread, and beer. And he's also obsessed, being a Brit, with constipation. Completely obsessed with constipation.

So, he decides that the problem isn't the presence of the sugar in the white bread and the beer. It's the refinement of the fiber, the absence of the fiber. When you refine these products, so you take a wheat, then you refine it into a white bread, you get rid of all the fiber in the process. And he knows that fiber helps with constipation, and constipation is a disease that's often seen along with this cluster of western diseases.

So, by the 1970s, Burkitt start publishing articles with another former missionary physician from African named Hugh Trowell saying the problem is the absence of fiber, not the presence of sugar, and highly-refined, high-glycemic index grains. And you can reconcile this fiber hypothesis with the dietary fat idea that's growing along through the '60s as well. So, over the course of 1960s, the bulk of the heart disease nutrition community had decided dietary fat caused heart disease. And if it caused heart disease, it also caused obesity.

And then, you had Cleave saying, "No, no, no. It's not that." Cleave and Yudkin thing it's not dietary fat, it's sugar and refined grains. And these were seen as competing hypotheses that couldn't be resolved. In parts, if you told people eat less fat, the question is what were they going to eat, if not sugar and grains. So, those two hypotheses couldn't be reconciled.

But then, Burkitt comes along and said, "No, no, no. It's not a sugar and refined grain. It's the absence of fiber. So, they should eat low fat diets that are high in fiber," and everyone goes. "That's it." You know the bran muffin craze appears. Like bran muffin start appearing on the market, you know, a year after Burkitt's first publication. And that becomes the conventional wisdom ever since.

And the problem is these are hypotheses, right. And we've talked about how people do a lousy job of testing hypotheses. They're very hard to test. But by the early 2000s, it was pretty clear that both these hypotheses couldn't be confirmed in experiment. In fact, one of the things I talked to, I talked to Richard Doll a few years before he died for my research, and all said to me, "Yeah. it turns out the only thing fiber actually cures is constipation." And I said, "Well, could Cleave have been right all along?" And he said, "Yeah, that's a good point. Cleave really hit on something."

And all I did in my book is say, "Hey, it looks like Cleave and Yudkin were probably right all along. They're more right. And then, a few other peoples too, like Atkins. So, there, that's the story. You know, fiber, we're still obsessed about fiber. The idea that … So, you know, again, I said science progresses when new technologies come along that allow you to observe new things.

So, the obesity-diabetes science is completely botched. You know they made no progress. They can't explain it. Even an article that was recently review, an Endocrine Science Society review of obesity written by some of the leading figures in the field that was kind of a response to my work and that of others in which they said, you know, clearly, obesity is caused by eating excess calories, and a calorie is a calorie. And then, they kind of said, but we don't really know what makes people fat or how to make them thin. So, these people are clearly lost.

And I'm saying one of the reasons why they're lost is because the revolution in endocrinology was obesity, research nullified that, passed it by, never took advantage of it. That was 1960 there of science. So then, obesity becomes a kind of real science to the medical community. In 1993, when the hormone leptin is discovered, then it becomes a subdiscipline of molecular biology, and the genomics, and proteomics. But this 1960, endocrinology which kind of solved it has just left behind.

So, now, another new technology comes along. Now, you can suddenly sequence the genome of the bacteria in your gut. So, new technology, you get to see new things. And, now, you assume you could learn new things. And we're desperate for a theory of obesity, right, because we don't know what caused it or prevents it. So, the gut biome explodes. And people say, "Wow, clearly, westerners who are obese and diabetic have different gut biomes than, you know, hunter gatherer populations in Africa." What the difference? Well, the hunter gatherers eat more fiber. I don't know. So, then, you get this focus that goes back on fiber. And then there are people like me saying, "Wait a minute. What about this 1960s endocrinology? Remember that?"

So, you know, to me, I'm afraid of what happened in the 1970s. You add fiber, you can slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates. You could even slow down the digestion of the sugars. So, that would probably help, but you've paid attention to the wrong thing. It's not the absence of the fiber, it's the presence of those other foods. And you could help more by getting the right answer rather than coming up with another wrong answer.

What have you kind of changed your mind about, or where have your thoughts significantly shifted since you first started to develop your alternative hypotheses, I guess, of obesity, that carbohydrates promote insulin response, which promotes body fat? I mean, what surprised you the most as you dove into this?

Well, I mean, again, when I started this, I thought that excess calories caused obesity, so, you know. But we're assuming. You're asking basically after I shed myself of that belief. So, the question, is there anything that I used to believe that I'm not convinced it's wrong?

Yeah. yeah.

Put simply. Not substantially,no. I mean, we could talk about one of the things I did in all this. In the course of this is I co-founded this not-for-profit called the Nutrition Science Initiative.

NuSi, yeah.

Yeah. We call it NuSi. Well, it could be NuSi, I guess. So, NuSI, I co-founded it with Dr. Peter Attia, who's a very, you know, talented physician with also a business background. And our assumption was, particularly with this energy balance issue, with obesity and energy balance issue, is it a hormonal regulatory issue? And the implication is to factor in foods that cause obesity, the caloric content to the effect of those foods, on underlying hormonal state.

And, again, on some level, I think, you shouldn't have to do the experiments to demonstrate it because, you know, I find the energy balance thing now so naive, but we'll accept that I just talked about it too much, I've convinced myself that it's easy to see the naivety.

So, we thought if we can get the research community to do the experiments themselves, and to understand the competing hypotheses, and to understand, you know, our arguments, and then we could raise the money for them to do the research, this would have a profound effect on their thinking. And if anything, at this point in time, we have done more harm than good.

How so?

So, of the studies we funded, the first one was a pilot study with some very influential obesity researchers. And it was a learning experience for me also. So, in my first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, I do discuss. The epilogue is, in part, a meditation on how I don't believe nutrition science is a functioning science; that it lacks many of the characteristics that a functioning science has to have, particularly the sort of critical rigorous back and forth between scientists where they're attacking each other's ideas, and being used by each other to understand how they might be fooling themselves.

You know, Robert Murden, a philosopher of science, said that this kind of critical back and forth in science makes some mother's, you know, parenting of her child look like child's play in comparison. You know, it's supposed to be sort of …

Francis Crick said a functioning collaboration doesn't work unless you can be rude to each other. You know, you have to critically attack. And what I've seen in these nutrition public health communities are it's too easy to attack each other's work, so they don't do it. And then, they just allow the substandard work to go by.

So, I discuss that in the epilogue of Good Calories, Bad Calories. It's one place that my editor really let me sort of express my dismay, but it was on a macro level. I had no idea how hard it was to do these experiments on a micro level. In fact, because I am not a scientist or an experimental scientist, and my only experience was with, you know, my first two books being sort of mentored by some of the great physicists in the world and seeing how they did their work. I wasn't aware of how easy it is to screw up an experiment, and how unintended consequences are, unintended phenomenon will appear that will make the interpretation of the experiment almost impossible.

And, again, if you're working in a world where, like, you know, you could do your cyclotron experiment on Monday, have results on Wednesday, and have your colleagues explain what you screwed up on Friday, and then you could repeat it on Monday, this isn't a huge problem.

Right.

And the history of science is full of those kinds of, you know, examples and discussions. But if you're working in a world where the experiment cost you five million bucks, and you're never going to get $5 million to do it again.

That's so tough, yeah.

That's difficult. And same kind of problems come on. It's not like the physicists are any better at this than the nutritionists because if you're doing something new that's never been done before, you have no idea how your equipment, or your subjects, or the purveyors of your diets, or whatever are going to screw it up. You can't plan for everything.

So, part of my revelation was on this micro level, not just how easily the science could be derailed by just bad luck or, you know, the unforeseen, what was it, you know, unknown unknowns. But the tendency among the researchers to pretend it didn't happen or to ignore it because if they actually confront it, they're basically saying, "Here's a paper I've just written that isn't worth reading. So, I'm going to pretend that it is. And the only way I can pretend that it is is by not mentioning all the ways that it isn't."

And you're supposed to publish negative data, but the truth is it's very hard to get it published. And nobody wants to put in the time to finally get an article published in some forthright journal because it's negative. So, a lot of issues came up actually getting to be involved. And I'm wondering, you know, how naive was I, and will we ever solve these problems?

What do you think it's going to take for, like, the nutritional research community to get a lot more rigorous? It seems like … I mean, the influence of the epidemiology makes this difficult. Such a large percentage of nutritional studies are based on correlative measures rather than causative ones, leading people to believe that, you know, just about every food either causes or prevents cancer. Like, how does this get fixed?

Well, that's the question. I'm involved now, I'm supposed to be coauthoring an article for the British Medical Journal on nutrition policy. They were running a series on nutrition policy. So, one of the article is on dietary fat. And I'm honored that they've taken up my work that they've asked me to be a co-author with two epidemiologists.

One of them is at Harvard, and has not liked my work for 10 years. And so, I wrote a New York Times magazine cover article about the science of epidemiology using the Harvard Cohort Study as a case study of a pseudoscience. So, I can understand why he would might be angry at me and disagree with my way of thinking.

So, the conflict in this article is that the nutrition community driven by these epidemiologists think in the context of saturated fat that if all of us out there in the lay population were to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats, we'll live longer and be healthier. We'll have less heart disease, less diabetes, maybe less obesity, less insulin resistance.

So, this means, in effect, replacing … I don't know if they think this far into advance, but it means, in effect, replacing foods we've been consuming for millions of years as a species. You know, mostly animal fats with vegetable oils that a relatively new to the human diet, and particularly like soya oil, and canola oil, and corn oil.

And with the argument I've been making in e-mails, not successfully, is that if you're going, what you're assuming is that these vegetable oils are inherently healthy, that they're beneficial, they're the equivalent of statins. If we give vegetable oils to everyone,they will be healthier if they consume these things. And this is an idea that if it was a drug, you would never be able to do without long-term clinical trials to establish that you're not going to do more harm than good or, in fact, that you're not going to do any harm at all. It's not good enough to say 80% of the people are going to live longer if we find out that 20% are going to be killed or get diabetes.

You know, it's one thing for a doctor to say, "I think you should be on a statin. Here's the … You know, the pro side is, I think, we'll get your LDL down, and your inflammation down, and we're going to reduce your risk of heart disease. There is a small chance you'll become diabetic or have muscle aches, in which case, we'll discontinue the statin or switch to a different drug." It's another thing for public health organizations and governments to say the whole nation should be on statins, and not care if 1 out of 30 of the population gets diabetes because the other 29 might live longer.

So, these are two entirely different scenarios. And if the vegetable oils are supposed to be beneficial, we have to do those kind of tests. We just have to do them. And what I wrote in an email to the lead author is, you know, "You're telling me that if I cook my 11-year-old son's salmon in canola oil instead of butter, they will live longer, my 11-year-old son will live longer, and there will be no negative consequences? I need to know if you better evidence than you do before I accept that because canola oil scares me. Olive oil, maybe I'll give in. Canola oil, corn oil, soya oil, brand new foods to the human population."

So, their response, the Harvard response is we'll never get these studies done. What you're asking for are virtually impossible. They're very expensive, maybe half a billion dollars or $100 million. You're asking, what you need to test these is maybe 40,000 people that you can randomize to eat either canola oil, or butter, soya oil or coconut fat. Pick your…

And they're going to have to keep doing it for ten years. And they're going to have to comply pretty well because at the end of 10 years, we're going to want to be able to compare what are called hard endpoints on more heart disease or less. Not just risk factors, like cholesterol levels, but do they actually get more heart disease, you know, more cancers, more diabetes. Are they heavier? Do they have better or worse cognitive function?" I mean there's a whole slew of things that could happen if you feed people a completely new food.

And they're arguing, because it can't be done, we have to go with the evidence we have. It's just too hard to do this trial. It's too expensive, and the people aren't going to follow our advice, and the people we put on canola oil are going to get bored, and switch to butter. And the people we put on butter are going to get health conscious with the canola, and it's just going to … And we'll find out, as we have in the past, and we've spent half a billion dollars, and we either don't know the answer, or we don't like the answer. And so, we should go with what we have and the broken system.

So, let me just give you my counter of the counter, which is in physics, the physicists have decided en masse that they wanted to know whether the Higgs Boson existed, and they want to know if there is science behind the standard model. And the best way they know how to do that is to build a huge accelerator, which costs $10 billion. And then it costs a billion dollars a year to run. So, they did that. And then, society funded. We funded that because society thinks that's an important question, and more of a better society if we spend money trying to answer that than if we don't.

And then, they have collaborations of 1500 scientists on, you know, four detectors on this huge atom smasher, or 1500 scientists on each detector. The papers have lists of names that are longer than the papers itself. But that's what you do because you want to know the answer, you know, in nuclear fusion. So, we think, as a society, we're going to run into some serious energy problems with or without climate change involved, but we're just going to have to fuel the lives of ten billion people by 2050. That's going to take an enormous amount of energy.

Our, you know, fossil fuel reserves are going to run dry. Can't do it with renewables. It's just not practical. We need nuclear power and, ideally, nuclear fusion; as opposed to nuclear fission. And fusion power is hard to achieve. And so far, we've spent $50 billion on nuclear fusion research worldwide. It'll probably cost another 50 billion before we find out, either get to a, you know, working fusion reactor, and find out it's not possible, but we do it. We spend the money because we think it's important to our species and the survival of our species.

So, my counterargument is, I mean, these destroyers that ran into ships in the Sea of Japan, two of them in the past six months, those are billion-dollar ships. If we spend a billion dollars. Obesity and diabetes cost, the healthcare system in the US, the estimate is a billion dollars in direct medical costs in a day. If we spend one day's worth of medical cost, I think we could probably answer every one of these studies, but we have to be willing to do it, and we have to decide, as a society, that it's worth it, that epidemiologists and the public health people have to stop arguing that it's just too impractical, and it will never get done, and instead argue to do it.

And, you know, if people decide, it's all doable. You could even do these studies in a way. If they've actually tried, they could. They know how studies have screwed up in the past. You could figure out ways to do it that will give you the answers. And then, you have to have patience to get the answers.

You've taken a very public stand in, you know, what seems to be a somewhat heated debate. How do you strive to remain intellectually honest?

Intellectually honest is easy. I mean, you just do it. Although, my critics would probably argue that I don't.

Who is your harshest critic of your intellectual honesty?

I don't know. I mean, there are some bloggers out there who've … I mean, they may be behind. Do you have bloggers who hate you?

Oh, yeah. I get hate mail all the time.

Yeah, that's sort of, you know. I mean, the blogosphere just selects for people who … And the more … I mean, there are websites that exist, in part, to argue that I'm an idiot. And the more fiercely they argue that, you know, the more hits they get. In the community, at large, I'm still fighting this tendency to just … You know, it's easier to just ignore me, or where you see shifts, you know, to pay … You don't really have to pay attention to my work because, you know, it's published in books. And it's only a few peer-reviewed articles in the literature. So, it's easier to just ignore me than to confront the arguments.

And, again, one of the problems I feel with this field, nutrition epidemiology public health for 50 years, is they found it easier to just ignore skeptics, and to confront the issues, and see if the skeptics are right, and the critics are right, and what they have to do if it's possible to fix these problems. So, you know.

But I do have friends. I have an e-mail. I'm having an e-mail exchange with the head of the Department of Nutrition at Tufts, and he sent me an article that was written by Tom Frieden, the former head of the CDC, that was in the New England Journal of Medicine arguing that observational epidemiologic studies often have to be the base of decisions about public health, and medical public health recommendations, and medical treatment. And we can't hold clinical trials on this pedestal we do because the observational studies are clearly good enough in some cases. And he sent me that just to say that this sort of brilliant article put his position in words better than he could.

And so, I read the article. And I said, "Well, needless to say, I don't find it brilliant. And here are all the reasons why." And he responded with, "Well, you're cherry picking your data. You know, you're being intellectually dishonest." And it's an easy accusation to make. And if I have time, I will respond saying, "I'm not actually cherry picking my data. Look at the study you sent me. It doesn't actually make the point that you're using it to make. And I'm asking for evidence that does." So, it's sort of that kind of accusation is very easy to make.

When you do what I do, I mean, it's a problem. You know, you've got a journalist coming along and condemning an entire field, several entire fields of research that are staffed by very smart people who have done very well in their careers, have gotten enormous amount of positive feedback, who believe they're doing good for the world. Any one of them could have gone into, you know, the commercial sector and made more money.

I mean, these are really well-meaning people. And, you know, some journalists comes along, and says, "You know, missed it. You botched it. You did lousy science." Who's going to accept that? I mean, I couldn't do it. I can't expect them to do it. So, part of my job is to weather the criticism and just keep making the arguments as honestly as I can. And I do have one advantage that they don't have.

What's that?

So, you know, the implications are these chronic diseases are caused by the carbohydrates in the diet. And that's the context. And if you remove the carbs and replace it with fat, the chronic diseases won't go away, not for everybody, but for most people. So, this is, in effect, this argument that if, you know, people eat very low carb, high fat diets, the lowest carb, highest fat would be ketogenic, that's the extreme example, they'll get healthier.

And the world is now full of people who have done that and gotten healthier. And if there's one thing that I and others like me in the tight shelves have been able to accomplish is we've broken down the resistance to these diets as, on some level, fads, but also as deadly. So, the medical community thought they were deadly. So, now, you've got a whole world of people, diabetic, obese individuals, people with neurological disorders, you know, who go on these diets, and they get healthy.

And sure, you know, maybe they're raising their LDL cholesterol, and they're going to die earlier of heart disease, but this one woman put it in an Instagram post, you know, "I lost 100 pounds, and you're telling me that bacon is going to kill me. Like being 100 pounds lighter and eating bacon is worse than being the way I used to be." So, this sort of growing movement.

And the physicians do this as well because they have the same health problems and issues as the rest of us. So, if they do and it works, they become passionate about it, and they put their patients on it, and their patients become passionate about it if it works. If it doesn't, you just lose them. And unfortunately, that sort of cognitive bias with what I'm describing. But you've got this movement that people would like to talk about. It's a field, but it's basically fueled as a fad, but it's fueled by this very profound clinical phenomena, the clinical efficacy of these diets to reverse diabetes, or reverse obesity, or you know. And that's hard to stop.

I'm interviewing these practitioners for my next book, kind of, solipsistic exercise, but it's fascinating. And I was talking to a South African physician who's now working in British Columbia, who's just incredibly passionate about these low carb, high fat diet. And he communicates this to all his patients. And I said, "Why are you so passionate about it?" And he said, "It's because I can't unsee what I've seen. You know, I put that diabetic patient on this diet. I get them to follow. And this is a person, you know, he's on insulin, and overweight, and obese. The rest of his life, he eats the way he does, and the way the Diabetes Associations want them to eat. All we're doing is basically, you know, adding drugs and modulating his insulin injections. And you put him on this diet, and he becomes healthy."

And that's a low carb, high fat diet?

A low carb, high fat. And it's an easy diet because you're not hungry. It's not chewies in there. You're not getting deep doughnuts, and french fries, and cereal anymore. But he's replacing it with some pretty … So, that kind of clinical observation.

You know, there's a startup in San Francisco called Birdhealth that's doing this on a sort of on a larger scale with smartphones, and health coaches, and doctors. And, you know, until recently people believe that even type 2 diabetes was irreversible. Once on insulin always on insulin basically, until you get taken down by the side effects. And, now, people are showing that on these diet, and maybe others as well, but they're showing that this is a reversible disease. It's a disease that can be controlled without drugs. So, that alone is going to change the discussion, and I could see it already happening.

Do you think that the sugar industry will be eventually treated like akin to the tobacco industry in terms of how it's vilified?

On some level, that's already happening and much of the sugar industry's dismay. It's funny, I did a NPR thing a few weeks ago with Michael Moss, the author of Sugar, Salt, Fat or Fat, Salt, Sugar, whatever it's called. And the president of the Sugar Association, a young woman, former college basketball player named Courtney Peterson … No, Courtney, I forget her last name.

And, anyway, afterwards, I got it. Just yesterday, I got a nice card from Courtney thanking me for being on the show with her and discussing it. So, actually, it was really nice to do, but it's sort of like getting a nice card from the president of Tobacco Foundation. They are being vilified. They know it. They see the writing on the wall, you know, the soft drink industry, the purveyors of sugar rich foods.

On one level, they know they have a product that's going to continue to sell. So, they're not going to get rid of it because people are going to continue to consume it. It's just like some, I don't know, I think, 17% of Americans still smoke. So, the percentage has come way down, but there's some people. Kids are going to start doing it just like kids are going to continue consuming sugary beverages.

But they see the writing on the wall. They know where it's going, and they're diversifying. Like. man, you could see them diversifying. And, you know, they're in a bad position because, as I've argued in press, unlike the tobacco industry. So, the tobacco industry's job was to somehow try to convince the world that the research community was wrong, and to sow confusion about what the research community was saying.

What the sugar industry had to do was remind the research community that what they believed in general was true of sugar, in particular. So, the obesity researchers were saying a calorie is a calorie is a calorie when it comes to obesity. And if that's true, then sugar is harmless. You can't vilify a food for being too good to eat.

Yeah, yeah.

You know, it's all about calories. And then, the nutritionists and cardiologists were saying dietary fat causes heart disease. So, the sugar industry paid nutritionists and cardiologists to write articles saying, "We believe dietary fat causes heart disease because they did." And then, they had to remind people that the conventional wisdom is a calorie is a calorie.

So, you almost can't blame them. And I don't really blame them because had the nutritionists and the obesity researchers gotten it right, they would have put the sugar industry in a position where they had to change, rather than more all they had to do was argue that, "Hey, look, guys, we're harmless. The community says we're harmless. Don't blame us."

But, now, again, you know, once you have epidemics of obesity and diabetes, and it's clearly not being caused by dietary fat consumption, and, you know, sugar is the likely cause whether it's just because people consume too much of it, whatever that means, or because it's toxic, and it's a different world. So, now, when they fight back, people point out how they're fighting back, even if their fighting back is only a delaying tactic to give them time to diversify.

What practical tips would you offer somebody who wants to know like, "I want to do something about this. What's a step that I can take?"

You mean about the epidemics in general or about-

My health, my personal health.

Okay. And it's interesting, that's what I've spent the last two months talking to researchers about. So, you know, I clearly think that of all the … So, the problem is the carbohydrate content in the diet. And I think the fat content for the most part is benign, if not healthful.

And this is what I would tell my family, and my kids would tell you that I would tell it to them too much. So, worst of the carbohydrates is the sugars, and the worse of the sugars is the liquid sugars because we consume them and digest them so quickly. So, you get rid of sugary beverages, and ideally switch to non-sweetened beverages, which means, for the most part, water or red wine. And if you're going to drink it all day long, water's probably the better choice, or I'm a caffeine addict, so I'm fine with coffee whether I'm right or wrong.

I just want to go back there for a second. Wine is okay?

Wine is the one area or alcohol where I talk about where I think moderation is meaningful.

Okay.

So, you know, life … This is one of the lessons I came away from the sugar books. In what I'm doing, and particularly when I go on to sugar, there's clearly a Grinch Who Stole Christmas aspect to it. I'm taking away people's joy, or I'm suggesting that their joy is killing them, and they should get rid of it themselves. You know, it was my wife who like she sees part of her job in life to sort of squelch my Grinch-like tendencies. And she may be right.

So, in doing the book, you know, one of the revelations was basically, like, the human existence is not all that great. It's getting better because television is getting better. But, you know, for the most part and for most people, it's hard, it's laborious, it's tiresome, and there isn't a lot of pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And so, for the great bulk of humanity, intoxicants, something we can do to intoxicate us makes it worthwhile, gets us through the day. And, you know, that's what addictive substances do. That's why, you know, when I was a smoker, I looked forward to my next cigarette. That literally carried me through the day. With the caffeine addiction, by about 6:00 at night, I'm thinking about the first cup of coffee in the morning, and how good that's going to taste. We need intoxicants.

The drugs of abuse, their side effects are too severe, and they occur too quickly for most people, and they create behavior that are also dangerous. You gotta have something. And if it's not, sugar. You know, a lot of us self-medicate with sugar. I mean, I'm depressed, I want a doughnut. Let's be serious. What do you do with that?

And then, the question is, you know, there are people who can tolerate it. There are people who are relatively healthy, who are not, you know, pre-diabetic, or diabetic, or overweight, or obese; and aren't going to get metabolic syndrome; and can eat, you know, cupcakes twice a day their whole life, and be absolutely fine and happy. And I think, they're the luckiest people on earth.

The problem is they don't know when they're eating the doughnuts. Like smokers don't know whether that cigarette is going to get lung cancer until it's too late. With sweets, you probably have time to reverse it with these strict diets.

But all that said, I would get rid of sugar. And because I'm an ex-smoker, I could say that when I was a smoker, I couldn't imagine life without cigarettes. And cigarettes, like I said, I lived for my next cigarette on some fundamental level. And you smoked after everything. You know, after a meal, after a workout, after sex. Like most of us don't eat dessert or have a lollipop after sex, but smoking after sex, was like that's what you did. It just made your life worth living.

And then, you give it up. For three months, you're miserable. For a year, you're unhappy. And you're hoping at the end of the year, you haven't lost all your friends because you overreact to everything because you have no cigarettes to, like, moderate your emotional responses. And then, after a couple three years, you get to the point you can't imagine why you ever smoked.

So, you can give up sugar, I believe. And I've gotten there where it's like I don't need sugar to make my life worth living. And I think that can be true for most people. But maybe I'm just lucky that I have a particularly challenging, interesting life. So, that's the first thing. Second thing is high glycemic index, grains, starchy vegetables.

What are the worst in terms of starchy vegetables?

Well, it's hard to say. And I don't really know. You know, there are people who would say wheat is clearly the worst grain because of the gluten and these other issues. Bill Davis describes in Wheat Belly that starchy vegetables are fine, that sweet potatoes are fine, or if you only eat potatoes and nothing else, you'll be healthy, and lean, and happy. And I don't know if any of that is true.

What's your take on gluten?

I don't know. I really don't know. It would be … The way I think is, I mean, I know a lot of people have gone gluten-free. People used to sort of make fun of my low carb lifestyle who are now gluten-free and proud of it, talk about it too much. But when they give up gluten, they end up giving up most carbs.

Right.

And then, you find out, they've given … You know, in Wheat Belly, where it recommends Grain Brain. They say give up wheat because of gluten. That's the prime problem, but don't eat sugar either. And other starches can be problematic because they stimulate insulin secretion. So, people who go gluten-free. So there are clearly people who get healthier, and there are clearly people who have gluten-related disorders, who when they don't eat gluten don't have those disorders. It's that simple. And that's supposedly about 5% of the population, if I'm remembering correctly.

But the these other people, have this sort of general issues. I don't know if they're getting better because they're giving up gluten, or giving up all carbs, or giving up sugar with the gluten or-

Well, often, when you give up gluten, you give up a whole bunch of packaged foods. I mean, your food selection just totally changes.

Yeah. Basically, you have to give up many processed foods.

Yeah.

So, it wouldn't be an easy experiment to do. That's the fascinating thing. And I know one very high level self-experimenter who did this who said he basically gave up wheat. 400 calories a day of wheat, and replaced it with 400 calories and rice, and got healthier. And I believe in his case, he did. So, the question is, what makes it a relatively easy nutrition experiment to do is you just have to replace gluten-rich foods with gluten-free versions of them.

So, say, 400k one, you take their thousand subjects, and 500 get, you know, regular wheat bread. And they're supposed to eat four slices a day, and the other get gluten-free bread, and they're supposed to eat four slices a day. And those are the only sources of gluten. And then, you run it out for a few years, and you see-

The effect on the-

The effect. So, you're not having to worry about it. One of the big problems with nutrition studies, if I want to study sugar, if I'm going to remove that 18% of our calories that come from sugar, I have to replace it with something. Do I replace it? I can't replace with diet soda because, then, I'm not getting the calories that the sugar has. I could replace with glucose, so I could replace it, you know, with starch. I can replace it with fat, I replace with protein. All of those will have a different effect, and you won't know if any benefit or detriment you see is caused by the absence of the sugar or the presence of whatever you replace it with. But gluten would be easy to do the study if anybody wanted to, just at which point I would have more confidence that I know what to believe.

Talk to me about fasting.

Fasting is another way to approach metabolic disorder that's come on the scene in the last three or four years driven by British clinician named Michael Mosley, and Jason Fung, a nephrologist in Toronto, and Valter Longo, I think, at UCLA. So, you know, it's interesting. The idea used to be if you're obese, breakfast was the most important meal of the day. The reason breakfast was the most important meal of the day was one of these typical sort of simplistic nutrition obesity thinking.

So, obesity researchers noticed that obese individuals tended to skip breakfast, and have most of their calories from early afternoon on into the evening. And they decided that if they skipped breakfast, and they're obese, maybe they're obese because they are skipping breakfast; and therefore, they should eat breakfast. So, we should all eat breakfast, mistaking an association for a causality and never really testing it.

So, somewhere along the line, and I have to read Jason Fung's work more closely. or Michael Moseley's, people start saying, "What if you actually do skip meals?" So, the idea mind that carbohydrate insulin hypothesis is that as long as you're keeping insulin levels low, you're mobilizing fat, using it for fuel. So, you're actually getting fat out of your fat tissue, which is literally what you want to do when you want to lose weight, and you're burning that fat for fuel.

So, if you extend the periods, you know, in the morning before breakfast, when you're fasting, that's when your insulin levels are lowest. And the reason you don't get up every three or four hours to eat during the night or every two hours is because your insulin levels have dropped, and you're living off the fat you stored. You're burning fatty acids for fuel at night. So, the idea is as long as you haven't eaten in the morning, your insulin will stay low. You'll continue to burn fat. You can extend the period between meals, and you'll burn more fat, you know, and it's got to be the fat that you've stored because you're not eating anything.

So, I don't know if that was the original logic. That's why I think it could work. But people found out that if they, you know, extend the period between meals from like 12 hours to, say, 18. So, you have dinner at 7:00 at night, you don't have any snack that night, you skip breakfast the next morning, and your first meal is at lunch at noon or 1:00, you might accelerate fat burning, to use a cliche. And it might not be that hard to do because as long as your insulin is low, you're going to be mobilizing fat and burning it.

And it does turn out to be relatively easy for people to do. And then, some people, particularly Jason Fung, have realized that, you know, not only can people on low carb diets pretty easily do 18 hour fast, they could actually pretty easily do three-day fast or even three-week fast. And, now, you know, whatever I mean by pretty easily is totally relative.

And this is a way to get diabetes under control to sort of rest the pancreas, so that when it does start dealing with food again, it's may be restocked. Some of them may have given the beta cells to create insulin time to, you know, get their biological act together. There's a lot of things we don't know, and a lot of things I would like to see clinical trials to document.

But, again, talking to these practitioners, clearly, a lot of them are embracing intermittent fasting as a way to get people, you know, who go on low carb diets, and they tend to lose a lot of weight to begin with, but then they plateau. You can use intermittent fasting or longer fasting as a way to break through plateaus or to accelerate fat burning. I worry that it's a fad, and that it will turn out that it's harder, you know, that people just get bored of doing it after a while. And if they get bored and go back to the way they used to eat, they're likely to go back to being obese and/or diabetic.

Right.

But there's no way to tell. I've actually been experimenting with it myself recently because just I've been talking to people about it so much, and it is remarkably easy. Yeah, I'm surprised at how easy it is to skip breakfast. And I was just going to say it's 12:40 here in California, and I haven't eaten since dinner last night, and I'm clearly energized talking to you.

That has more to do with me though, right?

It does, it does. And, also, that I clearly like talking about this stuff some of it is interesting.

You've written about the history of nutritional sciences, the alternative hypotheses of obesity, and why we get fat, about the harms of sugar, what's the next thing you're writing about?

Well, I have to write … Again, I'm interviewing practitioners around the world who, you know, have transitioned to using low carb, high fat, or paleo diets to prescribe to their patients for obesity, or diabetes, or other disorders. So, that's going to become a book; although, I have no idea, at the moment, how I'm going to write it. It's been fascinating talking to these people.

And I would also like to, if there are any listeners, I would like to talk to doctors who are prescribing being in a vegetarian diet now or Mediterranean diet to try and understand what they're seeing with their patients, and the feedback they're getting, and try to take care of the sort of selection bias of, you know, me interviewing people who follow my Twitter feed, that kind of stuff.

How can they get a hold of you after lunch?

My website. [email protected] I don't understand Twitter enough to know when people tweet at me. I don't see how people have time in their lives to pay attention to Twitter feeds or Facebook, even though I do tweet.

I would like to write a book, and you and I have talked about this, about how science should be done, sort of, functional trench science. So, there's a lot of books and a lot of courses on the philosophy of science over the millennia, literally. And they're fascinating, but all my books have been about this sort of idea that Richard Feynman capsulized what he said, the first principle of science is you must not fool yourself into the easiest person to fool. And I think we've gotten away from that. The incentives of science today are about, "Hey, fool yourself if you can fool other people and get funding," all that's, you know, that-

Yeah, it's so much about that.

To live in facetious way to phrase it, but you know. So, a lot of it is about the kinds of learning to recognize or being aware of the kind of cognitive biases that your blog posts are discussing, and how they manifest in science and scientific experiments.

And when I did my first book. So, I lived at CERN for ten months back in 1984-'85, and I was embedded with these physicists who discovered nonexistent elementary particles, and then had to realize how they had screwed up. And that became my obsession, this question of how easy it is to get the wrong answer in science, and how hard is to do it right. And that's the book I wanna write and interview, you know, experimental scientists who have thought about these issues their whole career. Theorists are a different species entirely, but, you know.

And from them, and the history, and the literature, I'm reading memoirs of scientists now, and, you know, how you have to think and how you have to approach this because I think a lot of the problems with modern science, when people talk about the reproducibility crisis, I think we're kind of putting band aids on the fundamental problem, which is that the research community really doesn't get the mentoring that they need to truly understand the nature of this scientific endeavor, and what it takes to get the right answer, and how you have to act and communicate steps along the way. So, that's the book I want to write.

Well, if it's half as good as the books you've already written, it's going to be phenomenal, and I look forward to reading it. Listen, Gary, this has been an excellent conversation. I want to thank you so much for taking the time.

Well, thank you, Shane. You know, I'm a fan of your website, and one of the few newsletters I still look forward to receiving.

That's generous of you. Thank you.

Hey, guys. This is Shane again. Just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at FarnamStreetBlog.com/podcast. That's F-A-R-N-A-M-S-T-R-E-E-T-B-L-O-G dot com slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript. And if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of brain food, go to FarnamStreetBlog.com/newsletter. This is all the good stuff I found on the web that week that I've read and shared with close friends, books I'm reading, and so much more. Thank you for listening.

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In the Dark: S1 E9 The Truth

Previously on In the Dark.

Today, October 12th, I'm five feet tall. My whole name is Jacob Erwin Wetterling.

911 Emergency.

Some of their boys went down to Tom Thumb to pick up a movie. And on their way back, someone stopped them.

What they called an abduction of a child. Well, my initial thought was you don't think that happens here.

When you ran, did you look back?

Yeah, once we get way down there.

What did you see?

Nothing. He wasn't there anymore.

It was just like, what do you say? What's going on? I was so confused.

Time's your biggest enemy in investigation. People have short memories. They don't remember everything correctly. You got to get out there, and talk to people, and find out what the hell is going on.

So, no one came and knocked on your door that night?

No.

And nobody came and searched your house that night?

No.

And nobody searched any of, as far as you know, the buildings, the farm buildings right around your house?

No.

I had expectation that this was hot, like, "My lead, this stuff in Paynesville, you can't ignore this, guys." I mean, I went in with that mentality.

Nobody's ever asked me a single question about this, other than you, guys. I've never been interviewed by police. I've never been talked to by any law enforcement ever. Not one person.

We haven't had a lot of luck in some of these big cases that we're working on. And sometimes, just good old fashioned police work and a little bit of luck go a long way.

Seven weeks ago, Jared Scheierl was sitting in a courtroom as Danny Heinrich was brought in. Jared had been waiting for this moment for 27 years, ever since a strange man forced him into a car off the side of the road in the town of Cold Spring when Jared was just 12, and drove him to a gravel road, sexually assaulted him, and then drove them back to town.

You know, this guy, he took a part of me that night that left me to try to understand a lot of things. And that's, I guess, as a victim, that would be … You know, I want to to hear him say it or have an opportunity to talk to him directly.

For years, Jared had done everything he could think of to try to find the man who had done this to him. He'd gone through lineups and told detectives over and over exactly what the man had done to him. As an adult, Jared had tried to find other victims of this man, and discovered a whole separate string of assaults in the town of Paynesville, and met all these other victims, other men like him, and realized that all of these crimes could have been done by the same man.

After all those years, the man who assaulted Jared had finally been caught. This was the moment when everyone would finally get to hear the truth about what happened to Jared and what had happened to Jacob Wetterling.

This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran. In this podcast, we're looking at what went wrong in the case of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped in a small town in Central Minnesota in 1989.

And in this final episode, we're going to take a closer look at the story Danny Heinrich told in court, and the story law enforcement told us about him, about why he was so hard to catch because those stories don't exactly hold up.

As part of the plea deal, Danny Heinrich had cut with prosecutors. He would not be charged with Jacob's murder, and prosecutors would drop all but one count of child pornography against him. Heinrich could be sent to prison for 17 to 20 years, and he would finally have to publicly admit what he'd done.

The confession that Heinrich made in the courtroom that day was graphic, and horrible, and detailed, much more detailed than people expected. Heinrich laid out a whole story with plot, action, second guessing, reflection, and much to the horror of everyone who listened, dialogue, lines he said Jacob told him, things he said he told Jacob just before he killed him. Jared was sitting just a few feet away listening to all this as Heinrich transfixed the courtroom with a story of what he did to Jacob.

I mean, for me, to listen to the details in court, you know, his life, his final minutes, you know, I could have been that child. I could have been Jacob.

Once Heinrich was done confessing to his crimes against Jacob, he got to what he had done to Jared. He laid out the story the same way, with all this detail and dialogue. And then, Heinrich started going into a part of the story that Jared had never heard before. Heinrich described in graphic detail a sex act he said he forced on Jared.

And then, he said that as he did it, he told Jared, "If you throw up, I'll kill you." The line was so specific. Jared told me that when he heard it, he started to feel sick to his stomach because as far as Jared remembered it, this line that Heinrich's said, with this really specific threat, it never happened. It just wasn't true. Jared was sure of it.

You can look at the dozens of other statements that I've given law enforcement. I never once stated this. And it may seem like a small detail in some people's eyes, but same time, to me, you know, it's putting truth on the table.

I've read all the public law enforcement documents relating to Jared's abduction and all the statements Jared gave at the time and in the years after. And I've talked with Jared for hours, and I'd never heard that phrase either. Jared told me that he just sat there in the courtroom as Heinrich went on and on, captivating everyone with this graphic story, and Jared started to get pretty angry.

I personally took it as a shot at me, you know, directly. It was kind of, you know, here's my account of what happened that night. And that's the moment where I just kind of want to stand and say, "You don't you have a right to tell your accounts. You know, I'll tell you my accounts."

Jared just had to sit there in silence and listen. After it was done, Jared went to the news conference, and sat in the front row. He listened as US Attorney Andy Luger addressed reporters.

Finally, we know. We know the truth. Danny Heinrich is no longer a person of interest. He is the confessed murderer of Jacob Wetterling.

And Jared delivered some remarks as well.

We're willing to create something positive out of all of this tragic news. And I promised Patty three years ago when I got involved that I was going to try to keep it positive.

But when I went out to see Jared at his home a few weeks after the press conference, he told me he couldn't stop thinking about what Heinrich had said, and that one line, in particular.

I keep going back to those details lately. And I know you can't understand the level of questions I have in my own head.

Jared said he'd started to think that maybe there was another reason that Heinrich said that line. Maybe, he thought, Heinrich got him mixed up with someone else. Maybe there was another kid.

Are there are other victims out there? You know, do we want to believe that there was no other victims after Jacob?

I also had that same question. Did Heinrich really stop with Jacob? The way US Attorney Andy Luger talked about it at the news conference after Heinrich confessed was as though this whole question of whether Heinrich harmed any other kids wasn't something we're saying much about.

You think there are any victims after Jacob?

We're not aware of any. Yes? We got somebody over here. Yes?

Just along those lines, is he being looked at as possible suspect in any other child disappearances?

Not that I'm aware of.

These were fair questions and kind of obvious ones to ask. Danny Heinrich had admitted to kidnapping and sexually assaulting not one but two boys, and is suspected of attacking several other boys in Paynesville before then.

And when authorities searched Heinrich's home in 2015, they didn't just find child pornography, they also found four bins of boys clothing in the basement and a set of handcuffs in a drawer in the kitchen next to a roll of duct tape. And they found hours and hours of videos spanning more than a decade. The US Attorney Andy Luger described the videos this way in a news conference last year.

Dozens of VHS tapes of young boys engaged in routine activities like delivering newspapers, playing on the playgrounds, and riding bicycles. The videos appear to have been filmed by the defendant, and some of them appear to have been shot from a hidden camera.

Some of the videos had a kind of elaborate setup. And several of them, Heinrich would drop a coin on a set of stairs in an apartment building, and secretly record as a paper boy would come up the stairs, see the coin, and then bend over to pick it up. Heinrich also recorded a video that's kind of an informal tour of his home. In the video, at one point, Heinrich opens the door of a safe and focuses in on a loaded pistol.

So, I went looking for other unsolved cases of strange men trying to kidnap children. We sent a researcher and an intern to the State History Center to go through microfilm of old newspapers from the Paynesville area, and we found something.

In February of 1991, about a year and a half after Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped, a notice appeared in the Paynesville press. "Be on the alert," it said. It warned that in the past three weeks, there had been three calls to police about a suspicious man spotted by school children in the Paynesville area watching them and trying to approach them. A man described as medium sized, a man who drove a blue car.

And then, about a month later, the Paynesville Police called the Stearns County Sheriff's Office because they'd been getting reports of a car following paper boys on their morning routes. An officer from the sheriff's office showed up, and found the car. It was following a paper boy. He ran the plates, and realized the man was Danny Heinrich. But Heinrich wasn't breaking any traffic laws, so the officer didn't pull him over.

There are other reports like this in small town papers all across Minnesota in the years after Jacob was kidnapped, reports of suspicious men in cars following around kids or even trying to kidnap them. Whether any of those men was Heinrich or whether Heinrich actually did kidnap and murder anyone else, we may never know because as part of the plea deal, law enforcement agreed to only ask Danny Heinrich about Jacob and Jared. They agreed not to ask Heinrich about any other crimes.

So, how did law enforcement get to this point, to this point of accepting a plea deal with Heinrich, a deal that meant they couldn't ask about any other crimes, a deal that meant that Heinrich would never be charged with the abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling, and would get out of prison in 17 to 20 years? The prosecutor who agreed to the deal, US Attorney Andy Luger, told me they agreed to it because they just didn't have a better option.

We had belief but not evidence before he told us. So, my job is under all of these awful circumstances with no really great choices was to do two things: Put him behind bars for a long time and get the answers that this family and the State of Minnesota have been looking for for almost 27 years.

So, it's the best deal that could have been made?

In my view, it's the best deal that was available.

And to hear law enforcement talk about it in interviews with reporters in the days and weeks after, the reason they didn't have any options wasn't because of anything the investigators did or didn't do. It was because Danny Heinrich was just uncatchable. He was that rarest of rare criminals, the kind of murderer who hides the body in a place so remote and so random that no one would ever find it, the kind of killer who didn't have any friends, who never talked to anyone, not about his crime, and not about anything really.

So, it was almost impossible to find out what kind of person Heinrich was, how he made decisions, where he liked to go for fun, the little things that can help investigators piece together what a person might have done, and how they might have done it. Here's Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall.

One person did this. One person never told anyone else. And it literally took this long, following up absolutely every lead they had.

You know, we didn't have the proof in the case. When you're a lone actor and you never tell anybody what happened, and we have no reason to believe that he ever told anyone, you're making a deal with the devil here. There is evil in the world.

And Stearns County Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold.

That's the bogeyman, the monster that your parents warned you about growing up.

The way they talked about it, it was like Heinrich was the perfect criminal who had committed the perfect crime.

Over the past seven weeks, we spent some time looking into this picture that law enforcement had painted of Danny Heinrich. And we started by trying to find out more about who Danny Heinrich was. One of the people we found was a trucker named Roger Fyle who knew Heinrich from his early days in Paynesville.

Oh man. We were in Mr. Snyder's third grade class. He and I were both in the same class then already, so, you know, I've known him that long, you know.

And Roger said that even though he, now, knows that Danny Heinrich is a rapist and child murderer, he still looks back fondly on their childhood together.

No, I do cherish the times that we did have because we had a lot of, you know. A lot of laughs. We laughed a lot together. But I don't want to know if he's fucking just, you know, got the dick, you know.

Roger remembered Heinrich as a kind of nervous and shaky kid, indecisive.

He would think about something for a long time before doing it, meditate on it. Is this is the right thing to do? Is that the right thing to do? Should I ride my bike or should I walk? You know, these simple things. These simple things in life, he had trouble with.

Roger says Heinrich was so indecisive that he wasn't surprised when he heard that Heinrich had gone back to the burial site a year later and moved Jacob's remains.

He never could make decisions, you know. Had a hard time making decisions.

Growing up, Roger and Heinrich would just run around town a lot, mostly at night. As for what they did-

I really don't want to say it. Yeah, we were naughty little boys, you know. There's some good-looking girls out there, you know. And they were probably in their house, you know, and we were running out the backyard. But I got to see a few of them.

Basically they would go around at night looking in girls' windows. As Roger put it, peeping tom stuff.

They were 18-year olds, you know. We we're like, "Wow, I got to go." "Hey, she is over." Go a little bit over there, so we'd run over there and over here. He were curious, you know. He's always Curious George.

Roger remembers Heinrich is not the most popular guy by any stretch but not a recluse either. He said, as an adult, Heinrich was the kind of guy who you'd go out for beers with. Roger ran into Heinrich in Paynesville in the early '90s, a few years after Jacob had been kidnapped. Heinrich was working for a granite company at the time.

I saw him getting out of his pickup. So, I hollered at him, "Heiny." We called him Heiny. And we chatted for a while. He invited me inside. We had a beer.

The scene Roger described was oddly domestic, Roger said Heinrich's apartment was very clean, and that Heinrich even gave him a gift, something he had lying around from his job at the granite company.

I asked him if I could get a piece of granite for one of my table tops. The glass had broke, and he said, "Sure." He gave me one, and that's the last time I saw him. We never got together again after that.

Over time, Heinrich settled into a job as a laborer at a company called Buffalo Veneer And Plywood. He started working there about 11 years ago and was still working there at the time of his arrest last year.

I was his direct supervisor for quite a while, so I worked closely with him, you know.

Heinrich's boss, Derrick Bloom, said Heinrich didn't really stand out

Pretty much a standard paid employee. You know, he'd come to work, did his job, and it didn't really have a whole lot of problems with him.

Pretty average, except for one little thing.

You know, like I say, when he was here, he's pretty normal person, other than the fact that he did openly talk about being investigated.

Being investigated for the Jacob Wetterling case.

He openly talked about being investigated on that abduction the whole time he worked here. I ,mean it started probably the day, or, you know, shortly after the day he started, he openly talked about being investigated on it. So, I got …. You know, I don't know that it was real, real big shock to anybody that, you know, there may have been more to it.

Heinrich was not exactly a loner. He had other friends besides Roger. He had a drinking buddy. He had co-workers. He even liked to talk about the Wetterling case. But it's not clear whether law enforcement knew any of this because when we asked all these people – the people who said they knew Heinrich pretty well, his friends, his boss – whether they had ever been contacted by law enforcement, they all said the same thing, "No, not back in 1989 right after Jacob was kidnapped. Not in 1990 when authorities brought in Heinrich for questioning. And not even in the past year when Heinrich was sitting in jail on child porn charges." And authorities were hoping he would confess to the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping.

So, Danny Heinrich wasn't exactly hiding out. He talked to his neighbors, talked to his friends. invite people over. He lived with his brother. As best they can tell, he was kind of a chatty guy, awkward but chatty.

Still, there was one group of people that was expecting Heinrich, the guy who'd gotten away with the most notorious crime in Minnesota, would really not want to talk to. A group of people it would be downright reckless to talk to, law enforcement. But when we requested records from small town police departments and sheriff's offices in Central Minnesota, we found out that actually Heinrich called the cops for all kinds of things.

In 2008, he called about some drunk guys who were being annoying. In 2005, he called police twice, once for his car window getting smashed, another time to complain about some kids who were yelling and fighting outside near his house.

In 2003, he called police in the small town of Benson, where he was living at the time, to report a burglary at his house. When the officer showed up to investigate, Heinrich invited him in. And as the officer looked around, he didn't find much evidence of a burglary. As he put it in his report, "Mr. Heinrich had many items of value located on both levels of his home including televisions, VCR, DVD players, computers, collectibles, including Diecast model cars, knives, swords, and an extensive collection of DVDs and VHS tapes, all of which was easily accessible and not taken."

This man whose home the Wetterling investigators had wanted to get into for years had actually invited a police officer inside, himself, voluntarily to look around to see what was there. But as far as we can tell from the police report, the officer had no idea that Heinrich was one of the top suspects in the Wetterling case because the officer just treated it like any other call.

I want to tell you about another person Danny Heinrich's spent time with growing up, a man named Duane Hart. Heinrich was just a kid when he met Hart for the first time. Everyone I talked to described Duane Hart or Dewey, as he was known, as a kind of psychopath, someone who would talk about setting people on fire and tying people to trees without using any rope.

Roger, Danny Heinrich's childhood friend, said the kinds of things that Dewey Hart would talk about really freaked them out.

But I remember him telling Danny stories when he was 12 years old about things he did and did not, you know. I mean, it's so scary that you couldn't sleep at night. But when he came around, there was something that came with him. There was a darkness that came with him and you could feel that. Yeah, you could feel the darkness.

Hart would buy alcohol for some of the boys in town, including Danny Heinrich. And he always seemed to have a group of boys around him, a lot of them drunk or high. I talked to another person who knew Hart as a kid, a guy named Brad Froelich. And Brad told me that Hart sexually abused him and lots of other kids. For Brad, it started when he was about nine.

When it first started, you know, he'd offer us money, a $50 bill. You know, a $50 bill, I've never seen one of them probably in my life. But he started with the money, and then it was the booze, and then it was pot, you know, getting us high, you know, drinking when we're nine years old. And then, you know, you're a little kid, so you think, "Wow, I'm getting high. I'm getting drunk. I mean, this is what we're meant to do." He had us all twisted and confused, you know. We didn't know what was right and what was wrong.

In 1990, Brad came forward and reported hard to police. Hart pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting four boys. He's now being held at a secure sex offender treatment facility. He's there because he was committed as a sexual psychopath. He didn't respond to my request for an interview, but I did talk to someone a few months ago who'd spent a fair amount of time talking to Dewey Hart.

My name is Larry Peart. I'm a licensed private investigator in the State of Minnesota. License number is 549.

Larry Peart served in Vietnam. He says he was exposed to Agent Orange while he was serving there.

And that's why my voice sounds this way.

Back in 1990, Larry was hired by a defense attorney to go talk to one of his clients, a guy named Dewey Hart, who had been charged with sexually assaulting Brad and several other boys. The attorney was concerned because he knew Hart was on a short list of suspects in the Jacob Wetterling case. So, he wanted Larry to go talk to Hart to get a sense of how concerned he should be. Larry told me he talked to Hart for 60 hours or so, and he came away convinced that Hart wasn't the one who took Jacob.

Mr. Hart was not that type of pedophile. He was for the want of a six pack of beer or a couple of joints of marijuana. He had all the sex he could handle, okay.

And, in fact, Larry told me that Hart had even tried to come up with some names of people he knew who he thought could have been capable of kidnapping Jacob.

He was providing me with a lot of information on his known pedophile acquaintances, so to speak, up there.

Larry took notes and all the people Hart mentioned. I have a copy of his notes, and they run for 25 pages.

He was trying to give names of everybody that possibly could be involved. And Dan Heinrich was the most notable one that he provided.

He was even known as the most notable one back then?

Yeah.

So notable that Larry even drew a circle around Heinrich's name, and put an asterisks by it. Larry can't remember exactly why he thought Heinrich was such a good suspect, but his best guess now is that it probably had to do with certain things Hart was telling him about Heinrich, things that matched pretty exactly what law enforcement had told the public about the person who kidnapped Jacob and Jared. This is how Hart described Heinrich.

This guy has a raspy voice when he's excited or angry. And he wore military fatigues. He has all the scanners in the car and drove that kind of car.

Larry said, Hart also told him he would party with Heinrich and other boys, and that he even had sex with Heinrich at some point.

And here's the really interesting thing about Dewey Hart, he had a spot he liked to go to, a place where Brad Froelick has said Hart would take him and other boys to get them drunk and sexually abuse them; a spot where you think the investigators on the Wetterling case would have searched, especially because both Hart and Heinrich were top suspects in the Wetterling case; a little place out by a field near a gravel pit just outside of downtown Paynesville right off the main road into town; a place where Roger Fyle, Heinrich's childhood friend, said Hart and Heinrich's older brother Dave would go to party. Roger said Danny Heinrich could have been brought there by his older brother.

Oh yeah. It was a hangout place for some of the older kids. Dewey spent a lot of time down there and some of their friends. Yeah, you go down there and smoke weed, you know, a drink beer, foxfire, party.

They had a name for this place.

They used to call it The Big Valley.

The Big Valley.

One day in late August of this year, investigators went and got Danny Heinrich out of jail. They put him in handcuffs and loaded him into a car, and Heinrich brought them to the area near where he'd taken Jacob Wetterling, on the night of October 22nd 1989, sexually assaulted him, killed him, and buried his body.

The way the Sheriff of Stearns County, John Sanner, later talked about this area where Heinrich brought them was as if it was miles away from anything.

This specific area, I'm not sure if it was ever searched. It was on private property. It was very remote.

Someplace so remote that it would have been impossible to find if Heinrich hadn't shown them the way; a place that had no connection to anything. But no one in law enforcement would say exactly where the spot was. All he knew was the general description that Heinrich gave when he confessed to the crime in court. So, I asked a reporter I worked with, Curtis Gilbert, to try to find it. Curtis pieced it together by looking at old property records, plot maps, and by talking to people in the area. He showed it to me on a map.

Okay. So, I can show you. So, Okay, if we look here. So, this is 1991 aerial photography. This is 23. This is 33 coming up north.

Okay.

This is the grove of trees that used to be a state gravel pit right there.

Last week, I drove out to the site with Natalie Jablonski, a producer on this podcast. We pulled over to the side of the road, next to a field lined with trees.

It's like this is just off the main road that leads into the town where Heinrich lives. It's like right there.

The site where Danny Heinrich killed Jacob Wetterling was just outside of downtown Paynesville, right off the main road into town, out in a field, near a gravel pit, not a random location, not a remote area. This was a spot Danny Heinrich knew well, a place he'd almost certainly been to before, a place that investigators might have searched on their own if they had talked to Heinrich's friends from back then, a place they should have paid attention to because this place had a name. It was called The Big Valley.

We tried to find out who owned The Big Valley back when Jacob was kidnapped. In 1989, the land was in the process of being sold because the elderly couple who owned it had died. We found the person who bought it, but we weren't able to reach him. So, Curtis found someone else, a guy named Bob Meyer, who bought some land right next to the Big Valley in 1997, eight years after Jacob was kidnapped.

Can you show me?

You know, just go here from the gravel.

And Bob told Curtis that he would sometimes go wandering around on to his neighbor's property, right in the area that we now know is where Heinrich killed Jacob; an area that Bob said, back then, was almost entirely covered by grass, trees, and brush. But Bob said there was one small section that stood out, a little patch of dirt that always struck him as strange.

There was a hole in an area that just looked out of place and just had my curiosity up for many years that I looked at it from a distance and until one time I looked at it closer, but nothing really registered other than it was out of place with everything else because it was a rocky bowl, and everything else was overthrown by grass, or trees, or brush. But this place just stood out as a rocky bowl.

How big was it? What did it look like?

Probably four foot in diameter or something, and little oblong-shaped with nothing but good sized stones in there with one big rock just off the center.

Bob told Curtis he wishes someone would have come and asked him back then if he'd seen anything strange because, now, he wonders whether this hole was where Jacob was buried. That would have been nice to let the people that owned the property in the area that kind of keep an eye out on. And if they see anything that stands out, maybe this thing could have gotten brought out a lot sooner or a lot better.

As far as we know, investigators still haven't dug up the Big Valley, the site where Heinrich says he sexually assaulted and murdered Jacob Wetterling, the main crime scene. Instead they focused on another site, the place across the street where Heinrich said he took Jacob's remains about a year later and buried them in a hole about a foot or two deep.

A few weeks ago authorities showed up with shovels to excavate the site. Today, it's a cow pasture owned by a farmer named Doug Voss.

Throughout the day, then, we made sure that the cattle weren't interfering with their work, and keeping them occupied, and seeing to it they could do what they needed to do.

The investigators plan was to use a metal detector to try to get a reading on the metal buttons from Jacob's red jacket that he'd worn that night. Jacob's red jacket was the most recognizable detail that people had been told to look for. Everyone in this part of Minnesota knew what the jacket looked like because after the kidnapping, the sheriff had a replica made of the jacket, and a lieutenant held it up to the cameras, and told everyone to be on the lookout for it.

He was last seen wearing a jacket identical to this one.

So, this red jacket would be the most obvious sign of Jacob. It was what everyone had been looking for for nearly 27 years. And out in the pasture that day, as they got closer, an investigator noticed something poking out of the dirt, a piece of red fabric. It was the jacket right there sticking out of the mud in Doug Voss' cow pasture, right across from the Big Valley, just out there for anyone to see.

Danny Heinrich was not the perfect criminal, and he didn't commit the perfect crime. He just got lucky, lucky that he committed his crime iin a place with the sheriff's office with a bad track record when it comes to solving crime, lucky that the investigators assigned to handle the case didn't canvass the neighborhood that night, didn't talk to all the people who knew him, didn't stay focused on the most likely suspects, and didn't listen to what the kids were telling them.

And, in fact, this whole notion of the perfect crime, all these TV shows, books, and movies about impossible cases, cold cases, unsolved mysteries, people who vanished without a trace, all that is turned our attention away from the actions of law enforcement, away from asking tough questions of the people who are supposed to be solving these crimes.

The perfect crime is just an excuse for the failures of law enforcement, and we buy it. But really there are no perfect crimes. There are only failed investigations. And the truth is there will always be people like Danny Heinrich. The question is, what kind of law enforcement will we have to catch them?

In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter, with help from Hans Buetow. Significant additional reporting for this episode by Curtis Gilbert, Tom Scheck, Jennifer Vogel, Emily Haavik, and Jackie Renzetti. The editor in chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington. Web editors are Dave Peters and Andy Kruse. The videographer is Jeff Thompson. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Corey Schreppel. Thanks also to Will Craft, Stephen Smith, Johnny Vince Evans, Cameron Wiley, Steve Griffith, Eric Skramstad, Sasha Aslanian, Brita Green, and Molly Bloom.

Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org to learn more about Danny Heinrich, about what his life was really like, the jobs he held, the police reports, the places he lived, and to sign up for our e-mail list, so we can let you know when we decide on our next project.

In the Dark is made possible in part, thanks to our listeners. You can support more independent journalism like this at InTheDarkPodcast.org/donate.

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In the Dark: S1 E7 This Quiet Place

Previously on In the Dark.

It's a case that defied logic then and now.

On the outskirts of his hometown of St. Joseph, a young boy's mysterious disappearance.

What they called the abduction of a child. Well, my initial thought was you don't think that happens here.

People of all ages and walks of life came out to keep the hope alive, hope that 11-year-old Jacob will return home safely.

I don't know. I know we reached the point after the investigation there, we had really nothing. At that point, we let Heinrich go.

They had all of that. None of it was new. None of it is new. Stearns County, the FBI, they've all had all of this. None of this was new.

Just like, "What? We lived here the whole time. He's just down the damn road all those years," you know. And it's like, "What?"

The people that worked on that case gave truly 110% every day they were there. And I don't know. I don't know that there's anything we could have done differently.

In December 1978, in a farmhouse in a remote part of Stearns County, the same county where Jacob Wetterling was later kidnapped, a woman named Alice Huling was getting ready for the holidays. Alice was divorced, and she lived with her four kids: Susie, Patti, Wayne, and Billy. Susie was the oldest. She was 16, and she worked part time as a waitress at the cozy cafe in a nearby town.

On the night of December 14th 1978, Alice and her four kids went to bed. Alice's bedroom was on the first floor. The kids slept upstairs. Sometime late at night, a man entered the Huling house. He cut the phone line, and then he went into Alice's bedroom, and attacked her. He hit her with some kind of heavy object, maybe a metal club, and shot her.

And then, the man headed upstairs. He shot and killed three of Alice's four children in their beds. And then, the man approached 11-year-old Billy who was hiding under his covers, trying to stay as still as possible. The man fired two shots in Billy's direction. Both hit the pillow, just inches from Billy's head. Billy kept still, hoping the man would think he was dead. Then, the man left.

The murders shocked the rural Stearns County community where the Hulings lived, and left State Crime Bureau investigators and sheriffs puzzled searching for some fragment of reason behind the slayings. No arrest had been made, and officials would say nothing about suspects.

The case was still unsolved 11 years later when Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped in the same county.

This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran. In this podcast, we're looking at what went wrong in the case of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped in a small town in Central Minnesota in 1989.

After Jacob was kidnapped, everyone, the media, law enforcement, neighbors, talked about how surprising it was that a crime like that could happen here in this quiet rural place.

The kind of place where you don't expect a child to be kidnapped at gunpoint.

Considered to be America's quiet and safe heartland has-

One night, one awful event has robbed this town of its innocence.

The implication was that the agency in charge of investigating Jacob's disappearance, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, had never worked a case like this before, a case so mysterious and terrifying. But that wasn't true. Jacob's kidnapping wasn't the first big case the Stearns County Sheriff's Office had dealt with. And it wasn't the first big case they'd failed to solve. The Jacob Wetterling case was just one in a long line of failed investigations.

After the killer left the Huling house, the boy who survived, 11-year-old Billy Huling, ran through the snow to a neighbor's house. He told them his family had been shot. Jim Kostreba was the first officer called to the scene.

I can still remember driving up to the house how cold it was and how bright the moon was shining. It was a beautiful evening, a beautiful night. And I think what I remember most about stepping inside the door was the smell of the gunshot powder. Then, I knew that something terrible have happened at that house.

Kostreba peered into the bedrooms.

And I can remember seeing those three children dead in their beds along with their mother. The four homicides at the house was a little unnerving to say the least.

Kostreba would go on to work on the Jacob Wetterling case. He even became the sheriff of Stearns County two years after Jacob was kidnapped, and held that job until Sheriff John Sanner took over in 2003. But back then, Kostreba was just a patrol deputy, not an investigator. So, he secured the scene until the investigators could get there.

Meanwhile, a young EMT named Steve Mund arrived at the Huling house. Mund later got a job as a deputy in the sheriff's office, and he worked on the Wetterling case too. But that morning, Mund was there to take the bodies to the coroner.

Obviously, this is a huge deal in the same quiet area in 1978. I mean, homicides are normally one person. You don't have an entire family killed or nearly entire family killed except for Billy.

Mund watched as the investigators arrive to collect evidence. They took photos of the inside of the house. In some of the pictures, you can see the kids' toy cars scattered around. I'd read a statement Mund gave later about seeing investigators at the scene do a few things that seemed pretty questionable. That statement later ended up in court.

And in it, Mund said that he saw a state investigator pick up a phone in the Huling house before he dusted it for fingerprints, and that a captain from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office realized the mistake and, "Said something like, 'Oh well.'" Mund wrote that at that point, he turned to his co-worker, and said, "Maybe we should wait outside until the sheriff's office is done."

While they waited, Mund said he saw the sheriff come out of the house holding what looked like the flashlight he'd seen on the Huling's kitchen table. The sheriff used it to search the woods for any sign of footprints. But that flashlight, it might not have belonged to the Huling's. It might have been the killer's. When I reached Steve Mund, he didn't want to talk about any of that.

From 1978 to now, police training and education, and crime scene processing techniques have improved a thousandfold. So, there's no doubt in my mind that people there did the best they thought they were doing at the time. And looking back, maybe they could have done better. But I think, at that time, they've done the best that they think they're doing, so.

The murder of the Huling family terrified people in Stearns County. Newspapers reported on how parents were arming the children with shotguns, and men were taking time off work to stay home with their wives and children. People sat facing their front doors with guns ready. One man told a reporter, "All I can say is I would hate to run out of gas at 2:00 in the morning and have to knock on any of my neighbor's doors."

I was talking to a woman in Stearns County named Jen Kulzer about the panic in the community back then.

When we moved out here in '72, he would never lock that door, never ever. We never locked the door. But all at once, we're locking doors because we live back here on the end of the road. Somebody could come in here, and nobody would ever know it. Actually, he started having a gun in the house, a pistol.

Wow. Because you're thinking like, "If this happens, I want to be…"

They're not getting in.

Jen told me a policeman actually gave her some advice on what to do.

If you have to shoot somebody outside, drag him in because he had to be in your house.

Okay, to be legal?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Okay.

And it would be a good idea to shoot a warning shot in the wall, so they could check.

The sheriff of Stearns County at the time seemed just as baffled as everyone else when he spoke to a TV reporter shortly after the murders.

Biggest question in my mind is how could this type of crime happen in this somewhat remote area of our county. And this one has to take a close look at determining a motive for this type of crime because it certainly is unusual.

Four days after the Huling murders, in the next county over, Wright County, a man named Joseph Ture stopped by a truck stop for something to eat.

I'm in there having breakfast, and I'm trying to get a couple of dates with a couple of the waitresses and all that. And, you know, that's how I get most my dates is with waitress because I eat out a lot. Everywhere I eat, just eat out, you know.

I talked with Ture on the phone, and he told me he used to go to that restaurant all the time. It was a popular place. Alice Huling used to go there sometimes for coffee. Ture was a regular. He'd been living in his car. And in the weeks leading up to the Huling murders, some of the waitresses had started complaining to their boss that Ture had been harassing them, and that, sometimes, he even followed them in his car when they drove home after their shifts late at night.

So, I guess, they called the cops and said that this guy was harassing them or something.

So, a deputy from the Wright County Sheriff's Office stopped by.

So, he comes in there, and he … I guess, he went around the parking lot, and my car was sitting right out there. And then, he comes in, and he says, "I got to talk to you outside for a minute."

The deputy thought the car Ture was driving might be stolen. So, he arrested him. It would later turn out that the car wasn't actually stolen. But what caught the officer's attention was what was inside the car, a small brown diary with a list of the names of waitresses, their addresses, and their license plate numbers, a metal club, and a little toy car, a Batmobile car, to be exact.

Immediately, the chief deputy of the Wright County Sheriff's Office connected it to the murder of the Huling family that had happened just four days earlier, and he contacted the Stearns County Sheriff's Office. He told them he had a possible suspect they should interview, a man named Joseph Ture.

Now, let the records show that we're at the Wright County Sheriff's Office. The time is 2:40. And Officer Kostreba and I are talking to Joseph Donald Ture. Date of birth is 2/7/51.

I got this recording from the archives at the Stearns County Courthouse. In the interview, two officers from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office are interrogating Joseph Ture. One of the officers is a detective named Ross Baker. He died a year later. The other is Jim Kostreba, the first officer called to the scene of the Huling murders.

In that 1978 interrogation, the officers sat down with Joseph Ture. And out of nowhere, Ture starts saying he didn't rape anyone. "Look," he says "just because I have this diary with a list of waitresses doesn't mean I took these women out and killed them." The officers put some items from Ture's car on the table in front of him, the toy Batmobile, the metal club. Detective Baker asked Ture about the metal club.

Did you make that?

No, I found that.

And where did you find it, and we're talking about that.

Well, what difference did we get from-

Well, just … I don't know.

That evening, well, they had another kind, a gun or a shotgun.

I don't know. No, I don't know. I don't think it's illegal to have it, but it might make a policeman a little unhappy if you step out of the car and have this thing in your hand.

And they asked Ture about the toy Batmobile.

And there was a little toy there, a little thing with Batman. Was that in the car when you got it too?

That's mine. I have grandkids.

Ture was just 27 years old. So, what he's saying here that the toy Batmobile was for his grandkids didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Oh, you have grandkids?

My daughter does. I'm uncle or …

Well, if your daughter had children, well, then, you'd be grandfather.

Yeah.

How old are you?

No. I mean, my sister.

Oh your …

Uncle, yeah, uncle.

Ture changes his story, and says, "Okay. So, no, no, I'm not a grandfather. I'm an uncle or whatever."

Well, what does a difference that a couple toys make?

Well, it might make a lot of difference.

The officers tried to ask Ture more detailed questions about the toy Batmobile. But Ture, he wasn't having it.

You'd sink in a ship.

Well, bury me once you dig a hole and throw me into some ditch.

Oh, that's because this is the first time I've ever even talked to you, you know, and everything was proceeding real nicely. And we mentioned this toy, and you get a take about the toy. If the toy was in the car, it belonged to your sister's child, there's nothing to get upset about really there.

The officers left. Ture stayed in jail. And over the next few days, the officers did some investigating. They had the seats and door panels torn out of Ture's car looking for a gun, but they didn't find one. They went to the place where Ture had worked as a mechanic and looked at his time card. It didn't give Ture an alibi for the night of the Huling murders.

They went back and questioned Ture again and brought up the Huling murders directly. Ture responded by asking them all kinds of questions about what kind of evidence they had, whether they'd found the gun, and whether anyone had identified him as the murderer, but there was one thing the officers didn't do.

They didn't take a closer look at that toy Batmobile that they'd found in Ture's car. They didn't bring it to Billy Huling, the boy who survived. They didn't ask Billy if he owned a toy Batmobile like this one, and then check the house to see if it was missing. The officers didn't do any of that. A week or so later, without any evidence to hold him, a judge let Joseph Ture go.

Once Ture got out, he went on a murdering and raping spree that's so complicated, I had to create a timeline just to keep track of it. He kidnapped a waitress from the side of a road in West St. Paul, drove her to a secluded area, sexually assaulted her, and killed her. He broke into a house and killed a teenage girl who was home alone.

He started driving around Minneapolis late at night looking for women outside. He grabbed, at least, two women off the street and raped them. And he kidnapped and raped a 13-year-old girl. He also tried to kidnap, at least, two other women, but they got away. One of them escaped by smashing a lit cigarette in his face.

Ture's crime spree didn't come to an end until 1980. And it wasn't the Stearns County Sheriff's Office that put an end to it, it was the Minneapolis Police. They arrested Terry for several rapes. And while Ture was in custody, he was charged with murdering the waitress from West St. Paul.

And then, everything broke loose, you know. All the shit hits the fan, you know.

You have one minute remaining.

Damn.

Ture received a life sentence for killing the waitress, and he's been in prison ever since. The Huling case remained unsolved until about two decades after the murders, an agency from outside Stearns County got involved, a cold case unit from the State of Minnesota. The State Cold Case Unit took a look at the case. They went to find Billy Huling, the boy who survived the murders. He was, by that point, grown up with a family of his own.

One of the people involved with the case told Billy there was some evidence they wanted him to look at, some evidence that might help solve the case. And Billy replied, out of nowhere, "Did you guys find my Batmobile?"

From there, the State Cold Case Unit investigators quickly built a case based not on high-tech DNA testing or advancements in police technology, but on the exact same evidence that the Stearns County Sheriff's Office had known about since 1978, the metal bar and the toy Batmobile. 21 years after Ture had killed four members of the Huling family; and after he'd gone on to kill, at least, two more people; and sexually assaulted, at least, three more. A jury finally convicted him of the Huling murders.

We still don't know exactly how many people Joseph Ture raped or killed. He's suspected of killing another girl in Stearns County in 1979, but he hasn't been charged with that crime.

I talked to a woman who told me she was attacked by Ture five years before the Huling murders. Lavonne Engesether was working as a waitress in Hudson, Wisconsin back then. And one night, she served a customer who just didn't seem right, a kind of greasy looking guy. And at the end of her shift, she left and started walking home.

He jumped out of some lilac bushes, and had a 12-pack in his hand, and he just swung it up, and hit me across the side of my head, and knocked me out into the street.

Oh my gosh.

And then, the next thing I knew, he was on top of me. I knew it was the customer guy. And he's on top of me and all. I don't know what he was doing, but I just realized that no cars were coming down Main Street, and nobody was going to save me, and I had to wrestle away.

Yeah.

And I just somehow threw him off of me, and I threw him off, and I ran.

Lavonne told me she reported it right away to the local cops in Wisconsin, but she said they didn't take it seriously. Lavonne got married and moved away. And she didn't think much about the attack until two decades later when she was watching a TV show about an unsolved murder. And all of a sudden, the face of the guy who tried to attack her was on the screen. And she learned his name, Joseph Ture.

The only sad part is that we couldn't have found this out sooner, and made sure, you know, other girls didn't have that happen to them. And, I guess, I would really stress to police, you know, pay attention, and just … And go after these guys.

I talked to Lavonne about the Huling case too.

What gets me, I guess, about it is that they didn't go and ask Billy-

If he had a Batmobile toy, I know. I think about that too that they could have caught him. And it just took too long.

I called Jim Kostreba, the officer who questioned Ture in 1978, and I asked him about this.

Why didn't you go to check with Billy Huling to see if he had a toy Batmobile?

That's a question that comes up in my mind many, many times. It's something that I think about quite a bit because it's something that should have been done, and it wasn't. And in retrospect, it should have been.

Over the past year, I've talked to a lot of law enforcement officers. Kostreba was the only one who acknowledged he'd made some mistakes.

I don't think it's unusual to look back and see what could have been done differently, or what was missed, or not done properly. And certainly, in this case, because of what he did over the years, certainly, makes it much more difficult, yes. I think experience is very, very important. And you learn from every case you do. And if you aren't willing to do that, then you shouldn't be an investigator.

But Kostreba said, as far as he knows, there were no changes made at the sheriff's office to prevent this kind of mistake from happening again. In fact, as best I can tell, there was never any formal training or review at the sheriff's office about how to learn from the Huling case.

This kind of looking back is something we're used to in other professions, even if it's not always perfect. Hospitals conduct postmortems when patients die unexpectedly. Companies do a review when a new product fails. Farmers reassess after a bad year. And the reason for doing this is to try to find out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

And it's not as though this was a one-time problem in Stearns County, having a case they couldn't seem to solve. One day, I went to the archive of the Stearns County History Museum to do some research on the Jacob Wetterling case. I was there to copy flyers from the early days of the search for Jacob, and to read old news clippings about the case.

But I got distracted, and I noticed a filing cabinet with a bottom drawer labeled "crime." I opened it and discovered file after file of unsolved murders from the 1970s and '80s, the years leading up to Jacob Wetterling's kidnapping, all of them in Stearns County.

There is a file about a bomb that had exploded in a small town post office in 1976. The blast had killed the assistant postmaster, and the case was never solved. There is a file about a murder of an elderly woman named Myrtle Cole in 1981, and how investigators had failed to take prints from her hands. So, they had to exhume the body. That case was never solved either.

There was one file in particular that caught my attention. It was labeled,"Murder, Reker, St. Cloud." It was about the disappearance of two girls, Mary and Susanne Reker in 1974, 15 years before Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped. I went to meet up with the mother of Mary and Susanne. Her name is Rita Reker.

It has happened so many years ago. In some ways, it's like yesterday. But most of the time, it's like 41 years has gone by, and it's still unsolved.

We sat on the couch at Rita's neat two-story house in St. Cloud, just a few miles from St. Joseph where the Wetterlings live. Rita has lived in this house for more than 40 years. It's where she raised six children. And one day, in September of 1974, two of Rita's daughters, Mary and Susanne, went out to buy school supplies. They never came back.

My husband and I went down to the police department, and we asked if there was … I forget what the term is, but a murderer squad or something. And the police department, like, they should have people there who would investigate murders and-

Well, shouldn't they?

And they just looked at me and said, "Lady, you watch too much TV." You know, that was … Yeah that's that. But yeah, I assume that if something serious happened to our kids that somebody would be there to investigate.

Right. So, what was the reaction instead?

That we were just imagining too much. We should go home and wait. And when they got hungry enough, they'd be back.

No one from law enforcement was looking for the girls. So, Rita and her family just started searching on their own.

Everywhere that we could think of, yeah. My husband took off work. And there were days we kept the kids home from school and just looked wherever we thought, you know. I mean, there's all kinds of … There's ditches, and water, and that sort of thing right in St. Cloud itself, you know. And how would we even know where to look? Yeah, yeah.

Rita and her family didn't find anything.

26 days after the girls went missing, two teenage boys were walking in a quarry on the outskirts of town, and they noticed something in the brush. It was the body of Susanne Reker lying face down, covered in leaves. Officers arrived, and they found Susanne's sister, Mary. Both girls had been stabbed to death.

Because the bodies of Mary and Susanne had been found outside the city limits, the case passed into the hands of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.

And, I guess, we expected a big time investigation to start from there on. But our case could not have happened at a worse time in history for an investigation. If you read the details over, I'm sure you'd know a little bit. You don't know too much about that?

No. What was that?

Rita told me that her girls' bodies were found five weeks before the sheriff's election in November.

So, some of those deputies on the sheriff's force were running for the office of sheriff, which was not a time for them to do a big investigation. They were busy with the elections and all, you know, before they could really get serious about an investigation.

The Reker case got really tangled up in the politics of the sheriff's office. The lead investigator seemed to want to have the case, so that he could use the solving of it to get elected as sheriff. When that didn't happen, he refused to let the sheriff even look at the case file.

And when the sheriff finally managed to pry the case away from his lead investigator four years later, the investigator held on to some evidence, a pair of eyeglasses that had been found at the crime scene. He kept them in his desk drawer. No one found them until he died nine years after the Reker girls were killed.

One year, opponents of the sheriff tried to spread a rumor that the sheriff was looking to arrest someone, anyone, right before Election Day to gain political points. A man running against the sheriff leaked a strange story to the local media about a possible suspect, a goateed sketch artist who'd used a knife to sharpen pencils in a taxi in a suspicious manner. That lead didn't pan out, but it did damage the sheriff. He lost the election. The case was a mess.

Meanwhile, Rita Reker kept waiting to find out what had happened to her girls. 42 years later, she's still waiting.

It's such a mystery to me. It's just that there are questions unsolved. All those little details about your child are important. Those are the last things that took place in their life. And, I guess, it's because you want to identify with your child till the last minute of their life. And somehow, you wish you could have been there to save them. Even now.

So, there were a lot of questionable things going on in the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, but it was hard for anyone to do much about it. There just wasn't much accountability for the sheriff. And I think part of the reason why has to do with the Office of the Sheriff itself. We talked to a former Stearns County sheriff's detective named Lou Leland. He worked on a lot of the big cases back then. And Lou said the sheriff back then and now just has too much power.

And they can't fire him. You know, unlike the chief of police, he works at the pleasure of the city council. They can fire him any day they want, and they don't even need a good reason. But, you know, the sheriff is … Oh god.

The thing about sheriffs is, for the most part, no one's in charge of them. And there are around 3000 sheriffs in the United States, and almost every one of them is elected. Sheriffs only answer to the people once every few years, when they come up for re-election. That's different from how it works for a lot of other law enforcement agencies. Most police chiefs are appointed, usually by the local mayor or the city council. If the chief messes up, the mayor can fire them. Sheriffs are the exception, and that exception has given them tremendous power.

Just look at Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona. He's a sheriff who set up a tent city outside in a hundred-plus degree heat for inmates of his jail. He's reinstated chain gangs, and forced inmates to wear pink underwear. And although Sheriff Arpaio has been sued, and subjected to court orders, and criticized by human rights groups, he's still in office because he keeps winning elections. As he put it in an interview I found on YouTube-

I can get elected on pink underwear.

And sheriffs are especially powerful outside of big cities. If you live in a rural county, it's usually the sheriff who's responsible for solving major crimes, not the police department. So, I wondered, had anyone ever, at any point, tried to do something about this, like tried to put a check on the sheriff's power in Stearns County to try to change the way sheriffs work?

And then we came across an old bill that had been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature in 1979, five years after the Reker girls were killed, and one year after the Huling family was murdered. It was written by a state lawmaker for the Stearns County area, a guy named Al Patton, that proposed getting rid of elections for Sheriff. Al Patton's been retired for a while. Our producer, Samara, called him up to see if he'd be willing to talk a bit about his bill.

What's on your mind, kid?

I was calling you because we came across a bill that you put forward about sheriff election.

Framing, it takes a while. Geez, after almost 40 years, we're going to stir up this cat again. Okay. Let's see what we can stir up. Where do you want to meet?

Samara and I drove out to meet Al at a coffee shop near his house.

How are you doing?

I'm doing fantastic. If you keep up with me, we're doing business.

Right.

Al told us that in the 1970s, he started hearing about problems in the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, problems with evidence handling, infighting among deputies, a lack of training, failed investigations.

Crimes are being committed that were unsolvable for the education and background of the individuals holding the position of sheriff.

And the way Al Patton saw it, the public wasn't doing a very good job of scrutinizing the sheriff before deciding whether or not to vote for him. There's just not that much information that comes out in the media during a campaign for sheriff.

The newspaper interviews, everybody, four or five candidates on the same page. Well, that page gets flipped over. No one's going to read that. And so, they'd read a couple of campaign ads, and that's how you elect your sheriff.

So, Al Patton came up with a possible solution.

It got to a point that I'm going to introduce a bill. We're going to try and flush these people out. You know, there's a bill to abolish the sheriff's department.

That is like a bold move.

Yeah.

The bill wouldn't have actually abolished sheriff's offices, but it would have gotten rid of elections for sheriffs, and turned the job into an appointed position. Sheriffs would be appointed by a county board. That would be a huge change. So, it's not a surprise what happened to Al Patton's bill in the Minnesota legislature.

Actually, the legislation that I introduced was not with mixed feelings, I'll tell you. It was very straightforward. It was resisted.

Al told me that lobbyists from the State Sheriffs Association came to pay him a visit pretty quickly.

I was met with severe backlash from the Sheriffs Association.

I tried to find someone from the Sheriffs Association who remembered this, and they said no one's around anymore from back then. But I did talk to the general counsel for the Sheriffs Association, and he told me they've always opposed any effort to get rid of elections for sheriff. He said switching to a system of appointed sheriffs wouldn't make the process any less political. And he said elections are good because that way, it's the public who gets to decide, and they can hold the sheriff accountable directly.

Al Patton told me the lobbyist back then made a similar argument. They turned it into a question about democracy and the will of the people.

"You don't want to take the power to vote away from the people do you, Al?"

Did they tell you, like, withdraw this bill or?

No, they're very … You need to understand lobbying. There's no threats available. They're just very nice, polite suggestions.

So, what did they suggest then?

Oh, yes, definitely, they'll look into it, and deal with it. "We'll do that for you. We'll do that right away." Yup, they dealt with it, all right. Next question.

They squished it, he said. The bill never even came up for a vote. Patton's effort had failed.

What has changed in those 40 years? Nothing has changed. So, the problems that were back 40 years ago and beyond are still with us today. But there has to be an element in there to have accountability. And when accountability is not there, disastrous things happen.

And this whole long history of the failed investigations, the murder of the Huling family, how they let a serial killer go, the murder of the Reker girls, the politicization of police work, the failed efforts to fix things, all of that had been more or less forgotten by the time Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped in 1989. When Jacob was kidnapped, it was like none of that had ever happened.

I've read and watched all the old news coverage I could find, hundreds of articles, and many hours of TV reporting. And as best I could tell, no one was writing stories about how the sheriff's office had a bad track record when it came to solving big crimes.

There are no editorials in the papers saying, "We should be concerned that the sheriff's office is the one in charge of this case. Just look at all these other cases, all those mysterious, violent, high-profile, unsolved crimes." No one mentioned any of that. Instead, they said what people always say about a place like Stearns County, "What a quiet, peaceful place. These small town cops had no idea what hit them. How could this happen here?"

Next time on In the Dark.

Headed for Cold Spring, 200 Main Street, behind Winners Bar, I'll get there in a minute. It looks like shots are fired, officer down.

Stearns County Sheriff's Office has quite a reputation for horrendous investigations, false accusations, leaving families in the dark.

How does Stearns County compare to the rest of Minnesota and the rest of the country?

And what's going on down there? Why can't anybody solve crime? I mean, why is everything such a secret?

You know, what you don't see on this are all the crimes we do solve. And I'm not trying to make excuses. I consider this unacceptable too.

In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter, with help from Hans Buetow. The editor in chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington. Web editors are Dave Peters and Andy Kruse. The videographer is Jeff Thompson. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Johnny Vince Evans.

Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org for a closer look at convicted killer, Joseph Ture, and to listen to audio from that interrogation in 1978, and to watch a video of Rita Reker talking about how she tried to get help with the search for her daughters.

In the Dark is made possible in part, thanks to our listeners. You could support more independent journalism like this at InTheDarkPodcast.org/donate.

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In the Dark: S1 E8 What's Going on Down There

Before we get started, I just wanted to let you know that we'd planned to have this be our last episode, but we're adding one more, and that's next week.

Previously on In the Dark.

This question in my mind is, you know, how could this type of crime happen in this somewhat remote area of our county?

The kind of place where you don't expect a child to be kidnapped at gunpoint.

The only sad part is that we couldn't have found this out sooner. And, I guess, I would really stress to police, you know, pay attention and just go after these guys.

I assume that if something serious happened to our kids, that somebody would be there to investigate.

I've been in doing major cases. I think, experience is very, very important. And you learn from every case you do. And if you aren't willing to do that, then you shouldn't be an investigator.

Over the past year, as I talked to law enforcement officers about the Jacob Wetterling case, there was one thing I heard all the time, "Things were different back then," they'd say, "Nowadays, we have all this new technology, new training. If a big crime happened in Stearns County these days, it would probably be solved right away."

But I had a reason to be skeptical about that claim that times had changed. And that reason had to do with the crime I'd been assigned to cover in Stearns County a few years before I started reporting on the Wetterling case, a type of crime that is almost always solved, the murder of a police officer.

I covered shootings of officers in Minnesota before, so I knew that most of the time, if someone kills a police officer, one of two things is going to happen pretty quickly. Either that person is going to be arrested, or they're going to be killed. But that's not what happened in this case.

This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran. In this podcast, we're trying to find out what went wrong in the case of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy who was kidnapped in a small town in Central Minnesota in 1989.

And today, we're going to look into whether the problems in Stearns County stopped with Jacob. We're going to do something that seems like it would be pretty straightforward. We're going to look at the agency responsible for investigating Jacob's kidnapping, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office. And we're going to try to answer one simple question, how good are they really at solving major crimes?

The first person in our newsroom assigned to cover the police shooting was a reporter I worked with named Conrad Wilson.

Here's what happened. So, I got a call really early from the morning news editor, and she said, "Can you go to Cold Spring? There's been a cop shooting." I get there, and it was a strange scene to cover.

And then, it's just like … It seemed like it just kept getting weirder.

Right.

Here's what we know from law enforcement accounts. On the night of November 29th 2012, law enforcement in Stearns County got a call from a woman asking them to go check on her son. He lived in an apartment above a bar called Winners in the town of Cold Spring.

Around 10:35 at night, an officer named Greg Reiter drove over. And when he got there, he called another officer for backup, a 31-year-old policeman named Tom Decker. When he arrived, Officer Decker got out of his squad car; while Officer Reiter stayed in his. And then, with no warning, and from out of nowhere, someone shot Officer Decker in the head and killed him.

After the murder, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office didn't say a whole lot about what happened next. But Conrad and I found some of the details in a leaked document from inside the sheriff's office.

So, I remember getting that document. I got it from a source. And I remember reading it, and it was stunning. I mean, it was this account of what just seemed like police ineptitude.

Once Officer Decker was shot, the other officer, Greg Reiter, didn't get out of his car and try to chase down the shooter. He didn't run out and try to see if Officer Decker was okay. Instead, Officer Reiter stayed in his squad car. And then, he put his car in reverse, and watched as the suspect walked away.

I mean, it's like-

It's crazy.

It makes no sense. And I even talked to like some … I talked to like a retired police chief in this tiny town in Minnesota. He had like four officers. I mean, it was a small town. And he was just … He couldn't believe it, you know. I remember when we're talking, he's like, "That's not what you do." Like, "You go towards the suspect. You pursue." And-

Yeah. I mean, we were like asking people these ridiculous questions like, "Is this normal when a police officer's shot?" And they're like, "No. No, it's not normal. How stupid are you, reporter?"

The first person to find Officer Decker was a woman at the bar who went outside and spotted him on the ground. Then, she ran back inside, and someone from the bar called 911.

Shots fired. Officer down. Headed for Cold Spring, 200 meters-

Deputies from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office raced to the scene. And right away, people told police they'd seen a black van with a loud muffler leaving the parking lot right around the time of the murder. While all this was happening, the man who lived above the bar, the man who Decker and Reiter had arrived to check on was fast asleep.

I was awoke to people screaming, "Police."

His name is Ryan Larson.

I've seen the flashlights bouncing around on the crack of my doors, my bedroom door. The door flew open, a bunch guys came in with assault rifles and flashlights. And they handcuffed me, opened up the backdoor, and led me outside. I mean, there are hundreds of squad cars, two or three helicopters. I said, "What is going on? This is crazy."

A few months ago, I started talking to someone who worked in the Stearns County Sheriff's Office back then. He asked that we not use his name and that we distort his voice because he's worried the Sheriff's Office might retaliate against him.

You know, I still live in Stearns County, so I don't need them following me around looking for anything and everything to harass me and retaliate against me.

This person told me that the night Officer Decker was killed, the lead investigators were convinced they had the right guy, that Ryan Larson was the one who did it, but that other officers who'd responded to the call weren't so sure.

There were other people on scene that were saying, "Hey, I think we should … You know, why don't we get the dog, and track, and do this, that, the next thing?" That's investigation 101. We're going to follow up on leads, and check all avenues, make sure everything checks out. And they said, "Absolutely no. We have the right person. Why would we go any further? Why would we do any more?"

The officers brought Ryan Larson down to the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, and put him in an interview room. Ryan said two investigators came to interrogate him, Stearns County Sheriff's Captain Pam Jensen and State Investigator Kenneth McDonald, the same team that had interrogated Dan Rassier about the Jacob Wetterling case a few years earlier.

Captain Jensen has came in and asked me, you know, why I did it. I'm like, "Why did I do what?" You know, I had no clue what they're talking about. "Why did you shoot the officer?" I'm like, "What? Excuse me." "Just admit it. Tell us why you did it. It's okay. You know, sometimes, some people snap." "No, I didn't do it."

Ryan Larson stayed in jail while investigators tried to build a case against him. I ended up finding out about this part of the investigation from that document that was leaked to us back then. The document was a two-page written statement from the Stearns County sheriff's Office signed by two officers. And it was created to get permission to hold Ryan in jail for a little while longer.

The document includes Officer Greg Reiter's accounts of what he saw that night. It's not clear from the document whether Reiter actually saw Officer Decker get shot. What it says is that Reiter heard two loud bangs, and then saw a man standing near Officer Decker's squad car holding a weapon, and that it was a handgun.

And that detail about the weapon was a big deal because when officers stormed into Ryan's apartment above the bar, right away, they saw a handgun next to him. But it turned out that wasn't the gun that was used to kill Officer Decker because Officer Decker wasn't killed with a handgun. He was killed with a 20-gauge shotgun.

And after five days, investigators still couldn't find any other evidence against Ryan that would have allowed them to charge him.

All of a sudden, on Tuesday, one of the jailers asked me what size shoes I wear and what size pants I wear. And, you know, I told my I wear a size 11 shoe and 34 pants. And he comes back, and he said, "All I can find is size 10 shoes, and a 38 pants, and this shirt." And I said, "Well, what's this for?" And he said, "Well, you're going home." And I said, "All right then. That'll work." I probably would have left there naked if I had to.

So, Ryan got out of jail. And, at some point, officers got a tip about a different guy, a 31-year-old man named Eric Thomes, a man who owned a dark van that matched the description of the van that people reported seeing that night. They went out and questioned him a few times.

And then one day, a little more than a month after the murder, investigators went to Eric's house to question him again. But this time, Eric fled and ran into a metal outbuilding close by. He refused to come out. And after a few hours, officers finally decided to go inside and found Eric dead. He had hanged himself.

Authorities held a news conference to explain what had happened. They said that after Eric killed himself, they found a gun on a property that Eric had access to, a 20-gauge shotgun. They tested it, and said they believed it was a gun used to kill Officer Decker. Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said a few words, mostly just praise for the investigation.

This was a real good example of how the community and law enforcement worked together to get to the point that we're at today. We had a tipster call in based on the information that we were asking for. It actually couldn't have worked even better. Thank you.

A few months later in August of 2013, a spokesperson for the State Crime Bureau told reporters that if Eric hadn't killed himself, he would have been arrested for the murder, and that Ryan Larson was no longer a suspect in the case. But it wasn't the State Crime Bureau that was in charge of the case, it was a Stearns County Sheriff's Office. And the Sheriff, John Sanner, has decided to keep the case open. When I went to see Sheriff Sanner a few months ago, I asked him why.

Because we're still hopeful that new information will come in. I have considered closing the case if it stays inactive for a period of time. If no new information comes in, that certainly is something we would consider.

Keeping the case open means the public can't look at the files. It means that none of us can see exactly what happened in the investigation into Officer Decker's shooting. And it means that the sheriff doesn't have to clear Ryan Larson even three years after the State Crime Bureau, known as the BCA, ruled Ryan out as a suspect.

I don't know if he was involved or not. I can't say that.

So, you're not prepared to say like, "He definitely didn't do it."

Oh, absolutely not.

Oh okay because the BCA has said that. Like the spokesperson, at least, said he's no longer a suspect.

Okay.

At this point, Sanner shrugged, and he provided no evidence that Ryan Larson had anything to do with the shooting.

Ryan Larson used to trust law enforcement. Growing up, he lived just a few blocks from Jacob Wetterling, right off the dead-end road. Ryan was the same age as Jacob. Their birthdays were just three months apart. Ryan still remembers the night Jacob was kidnapped.

I was woke up just before midnight by search lights in my bedroom window. I got up just to see police vehicles, helicopters all over the place.

Investigators even came in to Ryan's house that night and looked around.

Checking closets. I believe they went through the kitchen, youk know, bathrooms, tubs, anywhere there could have been a child hidden, I guess.

And as an 11-year-old kid, Ryan was impressed by all the searching for Jacob. And it was what he expected from the cops because growing up, Ryan really looked up to law enforcement. By the time I met Ryan, that trust he'd felt in law enforcement was gone.

When I went over to his basement apartment a few months ago, Ryan showed me his laptop. The screen was filled with files from his own investigation of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office. Ryan told me he tried to figure out what really happened the night Officer Decker was killed. He'd even called up Greg Reiter, he left the force after the murder, and asked him what he saw.

Ryan said there was one thing in particular that really didn't make any sense to him. And that was how Greg Reiter could have seen a handgun, the same kind of gun Ryan had, when really the crime was committed with a very different kind of gun, a shotgun. It was a difference that should be obvious to anyone with any experience with guns, and especially to a cop.

And Ryan said Greg Reiter told him that despite what was written in the statement that was used to hold Ryan in jail, he actually didn't see much at all that night. And that matches what I heard from my law enforcement source who told me that inside the sheriff's office, investigators were saying pretty much the same thing.

But when Ryan tried to get Greg Reiter to come forward and tell the public what he really saw or didn't see that night, Greg Reiter hesitated. Ryan showed me texts they exchanged, including one he said was Greg Reiter's last message to him, sent on July 1st 2013, about seven months after the murder.

It said, "I talked with my attorney and Captain Jensen last week. I did give them, again, the details that you and I talked about. They, then, told me that if I said anything that I would be interfering with the investigation, and would be sued and/or charged. They also said that we are not to have any more communication."

Ryan said he hasn't heard from Greg Reiter since. I couldn't reach Reiter either. I tried to ask Sheriff Sanner about this and Captain Pam Jensen, who since left the sheriff's office, but they didn't respond.

All of this has really damaged Ryan Larson's life. He said even today, four years after the murder, people still look at him differently.

You know, law enforcement kind of baited the hook, and threw my name out there for the media. But the public, the people, you know, that I walk amongst, you know, every day, some of the comments they were saying suggesting to build the gallows and all back, bring back public executions, you know, get the lynch mob ready.

Did anyone at the sheriff's office ever apologize?

No. No. And that's, you know, probably the things I have the biggest problem with. I mean, you publicly accuse somebody of one of the most heinous crimes that a person could be accused of, you know, and it doesn't matter. It's not going to go away. It will always be there.

Ryan started seeing a therapist. He was diagnosed with PTSD.

I haven't actually gone out with my friends since 2012. I spent a lot of time at home.

Ryan dropped out of school for a while and almost stopped leaving his apartment entirely. He started spending hours and hours late at night reading about other cases the Stearns County Sheriff's Office had failed to solve.

It's more than me that have a similar story to tell. The Stearns Sheriff's Office has quite a reputation for horrendous investigations, false accusations, leaving families in the dark. I mean, why can't anybody solve crimes? I mean, why is everything such a secret? I mean, what's going on down there? People of Stearns County just need to realize that something needs to change. You know, it might not affect them right now, but it's going to someday if something doesn't change now.

Ryan Larson had become a part of a kind of sad fraternity, a loose brotherhood of people who felt wronged by the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, people like Dan Rassier, the man who was named a person of interest in the Jacob Wetterling case, and the boys in Paynesville who were attacked by a strange man in the '80s, people without a lot of money or community support, people who are just out there on their own trying to figure out what happened, trying to solve their own crimes, or clear their own names.

And out of all of these people I talked to, no one seemed more alone than a man named Brian Guimond, whose son, Josh, had gone missing in 2002, 13 years after Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped. I went to meet up with Brian Guimond at his house. He's a landscaper and lives alone. He has boxes full of his own research into his son's disappearance.

All kinds of stuff in here. I haven't looked at these forever.

Like what's in this notebook?

Whatever happened that particular time.

Notebooks, each one numbered. Some of them had a copy of a missing person's flyer for Josh taped to the front. And inside were all his notes about phone calls with detectives, interviews with the media, and possible leads to check out.

It's the only way you can remember. There's a lot of things I got in here and times, you know.

In November of 2002, Brian's son, Josh, was a 20-year-old student at St. John's University in Stearns County. And one night, Josh was at a small party at a friend's apartment on campus. His friends said there was a little drinking but not much.

And at some point, Josh left. He was never seen again. Authorities found his car still on campus. None of his stuff had been disturbed. He didn't leave any kind of note behind. He just vanished. Brian said, right away, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office had a theory about what had happened to his son.

Right off the bat, we are told he's in Stump Lake. Pretty much, that was the end of the story as far as the Sheriff Department is concerned.

Stump Lake is right on campus. Josh would have passed it if he'd walked back to his dorm room that night. A dog that investigators brought in the next day appeared to track Josh's scent to an area near the lake or maybe to the bridge that crosses it.

Investigators did search the lake. And the family even paid for a separate search by a private company that specializes in this kind of thing. But none of them found any sign of Josh. Brian said investigators came up with an explanation for why Josh could still be in the area but not be found. That explanation, quicksand.

Okay. I went and got a hold of the soil and water guy for Stearns County. No, we don't have any quicksand around here. So, that's impossible. I got papers on it from him proving no, this can't happen.

Brian showed me the letter from the government soil expert.

I got that letter right here.

Oh, this is the letter.

And no. As far as the soil expert knows, there's no such thing as quicksand just lying out there in Stearns County. Brian told the sheriff's office about the letter. He says that investigators came up with a new reason why Josh's body wasn't found.

Turtles ate him.

Snapping turtles.

That was just one of their excuses. Now, he's in that swampy area, you know. And, now, you can't find anything. Well, let's see. They ain't going to eat the skull. They ain't going to eat the clothes.

We checked this out and talked to not one but two experts in snapping turtles. Both of them told us the same thing. No, a snapping turtle won't eat a whole human being like that. I brought these two theories, the quicksand and the turtles, to Sheriff, John Sanner. Sanner became the sheriff a few months after Josh disappeared. And Sheriff Sanner told me he still does think it's possible that Josh was sucked into some kind of mud and ended up completely submerged in it.

Did he have too much to drink maybe and wander off into an area that's very boggy and swampy? And then, of course, if you lay down, and become tired, or else, you get stuck. And you simply pass out because of the amount of alcohol you've consumed. These are just theories and possibilities.

And then, I got to the turtles.

And then, the other explanation he said that he got from the sheriff's office was that perhaps, like, Josh's body was consumed by turtles, snapping turtles.

I can't imagine. I can't imagine that happening.

Okay.

That didn't come from me.

Have you heard that before? Because that's what he's saying he heard from the sheriff's office.

I have. I think that was published in the St. Cloud Times years ago.

Okay.

Did it come from somebody in law enforcement? Possibly.

I asked Sheriff Sanner if he ever tried to figure out whether anyone in his office was the one who told Josh's dad that snapping turtles could have eaten his son.

What does it matter at this point?

Josh Gimound is still missing. The case hasn't been solved. You can probably find one or two stories like this of unsolved cases in any sheriff's office in the country. So, the question is, does the Stearns County Sheriff's Office have more than just these few cases? Do they have a bigger problem when it comes to solving crime? And to help me figure that out, I brought in Will Craft, our data reporter.

Hi Will.

Hello.

Will started out by looking at one number in particular.

So, there's this thing called the clearance rate.

Clearance rates aren't quite what you might think.

So, a clearance rate is not actually a measurement of how many crimes are solved. A crime is cleared when an agency arrests someone for a crime and charges them for the crime. There are a few strange things such as if they find out who committed a crime, but that person is dead, or they're overseas and can't be extradited. But, in general, a crime is cleared when an agency makes an arrest and charges them.

So, they don't actually have to convict the person?

No.

Wow. Okay. So, all right. Is there another … something else we can use then? Like, is there a solved rate?

No. Even though clearance rates are problematic, they're the best thing we have for measuring how effective an agency is.

So, Will want to look at the clearance rates for Stearns county. He found them in an office at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, also known as the BCA.

I had to go to the BCA.

So, that's a state agency.

Yeah. So, the state agency, they only keep one copy of these crime reports.

What? Like an actual one copy?

Yes, they have one copy.

But, so, do they hand it to you? Do they bring it to you and say like, "No water"?

Well, I did have to sit in a room with another person while they watch me read through these crime reports and take scans with my phone of all the relevant pages.

Okay.

So, I had to go, and I had to scan each page. So, I took my scans. I brought them back, and I copied them into a computer by hand. I sat down for a week and just transcribed crime reports.

Will is looking at one group of crimes, the major crimes, also known as Part 1 crimes.

In technical terminology, these are Part 1 crimes. And they are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.

So, we're not looking at like DWI, or my mailbox has been vandalized, or there's graffiti at the school?

No.

Will looked at more than 40 years worth of clearance rates for these Part 1 crimes in Stearns County.

So, I looked from 1971 to 2014.

Okay.

So-

And you've got a graph there of all this?

Yes, I have graph.

Will showed me the graph he made. It's just one line. It goes from 1971 to 2014. And it's the percentage of Part 1 crimes the Stearns County Sheriff's Office has cleared. The line goes up and down a lot. It starts out in the 1970s. Well, some years, barely above single digits. And then, it starts to go up in the 1980s. It reaches its highest point in 1984, five years before Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped.

In 1984, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office cleared 38% of Part 1 crimes. They haven't had a better year since. Under the current sheriff in the past 10 years or so, the line mostly bounces around in the teens. And for some years, the clearance rates are so low, the line is almost touching zero.

In the year 2000, the Part 1 clearance rate was only 8%.

8%?

It was 8%. And the second lowest was in 1978 when they only cleared 9% of their Part 1 crimes.

What could explain this?

I have no idea.

In 2014, Stearns County cleared 16% of its Part 1 crimes. And I want you to think about that for a moment because what it means is that if you were the victim of a major crime that year in Stearns County, it's way more likely than not that your crime wouldn't be solved.

I wanted to know how that number, 16%, compared with the rest of the sheriff's offices in Minnesota that year. So, I asked Will to figure that out. And he found that there was a wide range of clearance rates from 98% all the way to 0%. But Stearns County's rate was definitely low. It was in the bottom third for the entire state.

I wanted to run these numbers by an expert, so I called the researcher in Pennsylvania named Gary Cordner. He spent a lot of time looking at rural crime, in particular.

Way back in the day, I was a police officer and a police chief in two different departments. I'm actually retired from about 30 plus years of teaching at two different universities.

I told Gary Cordner what we'd found out about clearance rates in the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.

So, in the '70s, in the mid '70s, it dropped as low as 9%.

Wow.

Yeah, which is remarkably low. I mean-

It is.

Gary Cordner was especially surprised by how low these numbers were because Stearns County is a mostly rural place.

In general, police departments in non-urban areas solve a higher percentage of crimes than in cities.

What Gary Cordner is saying here that rural areas are usually better than big cities when it comes to solving major crimes, I think that's the opposite of what a lot of people assume. When you think about our culture, we have these two main images of law enforcement, and we see them all the time on TV shows and in movies. There's a small town bumbling cop who has no clue what he's doing. And then, there's the big city detective with all the fancy CSI gear who could solve almost anything. So, why would it be the opposite? Why are rural areas usually better at solving crime?

Since my background is in small and somewhat rural policing, I'd like to say, you know, it's because of, you know, the smarter and more savvy police that we have out there, but-

Right.

But I don't think that's actually the main reason. I think police departments in more rural areas, first of all, all-in-all, are less busy. So, they might actually spend more time investigating crimes.

Okay.

That's one reason, but I don't think that's the whole story either. I think, in general, solving crimes is easier in rural areas, in small towns than it is in cities. If you got to witness, the witness would be more likely to have literally recognized the person, maybe even know their name, you know, tell you where they live, which is not as likely to be true in a city.

Right.

And then, you know, if it's a burglary, let's say, in a small town or a rural area, police are right away going to have several suspects in mind. You know, it may be even just one suspect just because of the local knowledge that you tend to have an in a more rural area.

Right. You know, like a short list of, like, this kind of crime, that's either like John, Steve, or Joe. That's like a classic Steve crime.

Exactly.

But these are all just guesses. The reality is there's just not that much research on why one place does a better or worse job than another when it comes to solving crime. We just don't know. In fact, there's a whole lot we don't know about law enforcement. The federal government doesn't even know how many police departments there are in this country.

One expert I talked to said the best estimate is somewhere between 12,000 and 18,000. The whole system is so decentralized, split between police departments, sheriffs offices, state crime bureaus, each with their own data and their own procedures. But even getting the most basic facts can be really difficult.

And this is surprising when you think about it. In this country, we're obsessed with crime rates. It seems we always want to know whether crime is going up or down. But once the crimes happen, plenty of us don't seem to be all that interested in whether or not law enforcement actually solves them.

I was talking about this with a guy named Thomas Hargrove. He used to be an investigative reporter. Now, he runs a nonprofit called the Murder Accountability Project. The group collects information on murder clearance rates from across the country, and posts it on its website, so the public can be better informed. And one of the most striking things about Hargrove's website is just how wide the range is. Some places clear almost every murder. Other places clear almost none.

We were a little concerned about making this data available because if you wanted to kill someone, you would be well advised to go to our site. You'd find the many cities in America quite easily where it is statistically unlikely that you'll get caught for murder.

So, you actually … You have that as a legitimate concern like, "I'm providing the data to…

Yeah. Yeah. In the end, we decided the only way that we were going to make improvements on murder clearances was to make this information very available. The people have the right to know this. I mean, they simply do, and they should be holding politicians accountable.

And Thomas Hargrove told me something else I found interesting.

In the case of a well-performing department, you ask the police chief what his clearance rate is, he knows to the decimal point and can cite those statistics year after year. He's watching very carefully. In those underperforming police departments, it's common for the chief to say, "I don't know." And he genuinely may not know. After all, why would you want to study things that don't make you look good? So, they don't.

So, I went to the sheriff of Stearns County, Sheriff John Sanner, and I asked him Hargrove's question, "Do you know what the clearance rate is?".

Right now, today, not off the top of my head.

Okay.

You obviously know what it is.

I do. So, I can just jump to that.

I showed the sheriff the graph that Will had made, the graph that showed the clearance rates in Stearns County for major crimes, the ones known as Part 1 crimes.

Okay. So, we looked at Part 1 crimes. And we went back from 1971 to 2014. It was the last year that we had. This is our diagram.

Sheriff Sanner took the sheet of paper in his hands, and stared at it.

So, this is the percentages of the clearance rate. So, highest in the '80s, 38% in '84. And then, kind of 20s, 30s. And then, as low in 2000 as 8%. And then, 16% in 2014. These seem very low to me. Like, is this an acceptable clearance rate?

I don't think anything under under 100% is. I want to clear everything that we get involved in.

Sure, but you're not going to be able to clear 100%. So, it's like-

No, but I would-

… what's the threshold of, you know? Is there a bar that's, you know, every year, let's aim to clear 60% or let's aim to-

Actually, the bar is we aim to clear them all.

So, then, why is there such a gap then between like-

I don't know. I have no idea why there is. And again, I'm not satisfied unless it's 100%. I shouldn't be satisfied unless it's 100%.

Given the clearance rates though, I mean, how can people in Stearns County trust that law enforcement will solve crimes?

You know, what you don't see on this are all the crimes we do solve. And I'm not trying to make excuses here. I'm just telling you that I consider this unacceptable too.

I ask Sheriff Sanner what he thought could be done to improve his office's clearance rate.

I suppose what you're thinking about in answering that question is more training, that type of thing.

I actually don't know.

Sheriff Sanner told me a lot of crime solving comes down to one key factor.

I guess, the one factor that is kind of out there in any investigation is you have to factor in a certain amount of luck.

Luck, and Sanner said, sometimes, you get lucky, and sometimes you don't.

We haven't had a lot of luck in some of these big cases that we're working on; although, it doesn't deter us from continuing to work as hard as we possibly can and do everything we possibly can to get them resolved.

But if you're looking at specifics as to how do we improve this, the first thing that would pop into somebody's head is we need to do a better job of training our investigative staff or we maybe need to do a better job of collecting and preserving evidence, so it can be used. Those are the easy things. It's the intangibles, that luck thing I'm talking about, that's hard to gauge. And sometimes, just good old fashioned police work and a little bit of luck go a long way.

About two months after I talked with Sheriff Sanner, as we were putting this episode together, the State of Minnesota released the latest Part 1 clearance rates, the ones for 2015. The Stearns County Sheriff's Office rate had dropped from 16% to 12%.

I also wanted to ask Sheriff Sanner about what he thinks of the investigation of the Jacob Wetterling case. At the time I talked to him, it was still a few weeks before Danny Heinrich confessed to the crime and led officers to Jacob's remains.

When I first started looking to this case, it was always described as like this giant mystery that, you know, Jacob just vanished, it's dark, and there is like nothing that could have been done differently to solve it.

But then, when I started looking into it, the way that I looked at it has changed, and especially some of the failures of the policing 101 stuff, like not knocking on all the doors that night, not searching nonstop, you know, calling off the search in the middle of the night. And then, you know, the decision to name Dan Rassier as a person of interest. Like all of these things strike me as mistakes of the investigation or things that could have potentially negatively affected the investigation. And I just want to give you a chance to respond to that.

Of course, if things weren't done in the right order, if things weren't done at all early on, looking backwards more than 25 years ago, I can't do anything to change that. No. So, I'm not going to get wrapped around the axle about things that law enforcement did or didn't do. Do I wish some things would have been done differently? Sure. Can I talk about that in this particular case? No.

I just wonder about like to the people in Stearns County whether it would make sense to say, "You know what, we really messed up some things in this. And we're going to tell you that we're … This is what we did that we wouldn't do again." Is there some accountability to the public that's needed?

You know, I guess, I've never really looked at it like that. When I've looked back and looked at things that, "Boy, I wish we would have done this," or "I wish this would have been done," again, that's all we can do is wish about that, but I can't go backwards and change time. Nobody can.

So, this is what we settled on in this country as the best way to handle solving major crimes, to leave it up to people like Sheriff John Sanner, sheriffs who don't know their clearance rates, have no clear plan about how to improve them, and who refuse to look back and see what they could have done differently.

And Stearns County isn't the only place with a crime solving problem. There are all kinds of places all across the country with Part 1 clearance rates in the single digits or not much higher. Farmington, New Mexico, your average clearance rate from 2005 to 2014 is 13%. Chicago, Indiana, your clearance rate is 9%. Honolulu, your clearance rate is 6%. Assumption Parish, Louisiana, your clearance rate is 12%. King County, Washington, your clearance rate is 5%.

The way our country handles law enforcement with complete local control and no oversight means that you could live in a place that hasn't solved a single crime in 50 years and nothing would happen. Your sheriff's office could have a zero percent clearance rate, and no one from the government will step in and say, "That's unacceptable. Here's what has to happen," or even just ask the question, 'What's going on down there?"

And what this all means is that you are stuck with the law enforcement you've got. If you or someone in your family is murdered, you just have to hope that the place where you live has a law enforcement agency with a good track record of solving crime. And if your case is never solved, nothing will happen. No one will come in and take over the investigation. And eventually, your name will be forgotten. Thomas Hargrove put it to me this way.

You essentially disappear from the radar. Your name is not recorded in any central authority. There is really no one out there who is assigned to review what happened to your case, and whether more needs to be done, or even who you were. You know, you become anonymous. Nobody can put together a list of the names of those 216,000 Americans who perished in unsolved murders. And that really is kind of a national tragedy.

And in Stearns County, what this means is that no one can intervene when the sheriff's office took nearly 27 years to find out that Jacob Wetterling had been killed and buried about a mile from the home of a man they all suspected had abducted a kid before, a man whose car a witness saw that night, a man whose name had been in the Wetterling case file since almost the beginning, a man who investigators had sat face-to-face with, a man named Danny Hiner. Everyone just had to wait and hope that somehow the Stearns County Sheriff's Office would managed to solve the Wetterling case.

So, this is where the story was supposed to end with the sheriff's office that doesn't get held accountable in a case that took nearly 27 years to solve. This was supposed to be the last episode of In the Dark, but over the past six weeks, as we've been airing this podcast, we've kept reporting, and we found out some things about the Jacob Wetterling case and about Danny Heinrich, the man who confessed to Jacob's kidnapping, that we want to tell you about. And so, we're releasing one more episode. That's next week on In the Dark.

In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. Significant additional reporting for this episode by Will Craft. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter, with help from Hans Buetow. The editor in chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington, Web editors are Dave Peters and Andy Kruse. The videographer is Jeff Thompson. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Johnny Vince Evans.

Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org to learn more about the case of Officer Tom Decker and the case of Josh Guimond, and to learn more about clearance rates, and for a link to find out the murder clearance rate where you live.

In the Dark is made possible in part, thanks to our listeners. You can support more independent journalism like this at InTheDarkPodcast.org/donate.

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