Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: IRE Podcast – The Shooter

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IRE Podcast: The Shooter

IRE. IRE. IRE Radio.

February 14, 2018. It was a Wednesday and a relatively calm one in the Sun Sentinel newsroom in South Eastern Florida. City Hall reporter, Brittany Wallman was chatting with the managing editor at her desk about new technologies in journalism. But their conversation was cut short when they heard someone in the newsroom say, "Oh my gosh Stoneman Douglas is on CNN and the headline said something about a shooting".

We want to bring you up to date on a still active and developing situation. I am sorry to have to report here that we're talking about a high school. Shots have been fired. This is Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School if you know it, this is Parkland Florida.

We have no information on whether there are any victims. We know we've seen one person coming out on a stretcher.

The beginnings of what would become known as the Parkland mass shooting were unfolding before the newsroom's eyes. Before the day was done, 17 people would be dead and 17 more would be wounded. And one of the deadliest school shootings in modern American history. On this week's episode Sun Sentinel reporters Brittany Wallman and Megan O'Matz walk us through how they investigated the shooter, Nikolas Cruz in the chaotic hours after he walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas with a semi-automatic rifle in tow. Their reporting pieced together a profile of Cruz as a lost and lonely killer.

What we've discovered through a whole lot of records and interviews was that Nikolas Cruz had a very troubled life starting very early on and that he had many many many interventions from people in a position to have done something over the years. There were a lot of red flags and a whole lot of when you look at it now, eerie exclamations from him that he wanted to kill people.

I am Tessa Weinberg and you're listening to the IRE Radio Podcast. As the number of victims from the shooting continue to grow Sun Sentinel reporters mobilized and began to look for answers.

So much was happening all at once. That first day we didn't know how serious it was of course how many were dead. You know who the shooter was. All those things were just, you know mysteries that were coming together very fast. On that first day or so, there's a lot of confusion a lot of chaos. Even the authorities don't even know what's right. They're trying to understand what happened as well.

That's Megan O'Matz an investigative reporter at the Sun Sentinel who worked with Brittany and a team of reporters to dig into Cruz's background. Megan had been driving back from an assignment when she heard news of the shooting. Her home was closer than the office. So she headed there to start making calls. Back in the newsroom, Brittany's first thought was about her own teenage daughter who attends a different public school.

And I just knew how petrified they must be even of being a journalist for 20 years have not numbed to something that humongous.

There was no mass email to the newsroom saying, "All hands on deck". After covering numerous hurricanes and an airport shooting the year before Sun Sentinel journalists knew how to respond to breaking news. They looked for ways in and started reporting. Brittany's first step was to see what was unfolding on social media.

I was on Twitter because I'm a big Twitter fan and I'm always on Twitter. And that really in this story was a great tool for not just finding out information but finding videos or actually first-person accounts, it was really amazing because students were on there.

Brittany was sending note-worthy tweets around the newsroom and making sure to monitor what other outlets were reporting. In a breaking news situation of this scale. Brittany wanted to be mindful of what other journalists were finding.

This was something where not just everybody in our newsroom was converged, but every single major news organization in the country was covering this in a breaking news story. Different reporters are finding different things. So if we saw a source and witness that some other outlet had come across somebody had to make note of that name, is this somebody we want to come back to or here's a record we want to get.

To find sources who might know Cruz personally. Brittany turned to Facebook. Lynda Cruz, Nikolas' mother had died in 2017, but her Facebook page was still active. So Brittany started there and began to send friend requests to Linda's friends.

Everybody that uses Facebook knows that if you're not friends with the person and you send a message they're not going to see it. But you do see when somebody tries to friend you. So I started trying to friend people.

As Brittany scoured social media, other reporters began to dig for records.

To me, there's sort of a triage, an order of operations when you're covering something big. You've got to first get your records request in because those are going to take awhile. And there are a lot of public records in this case. There's probate stuff and there were some school records. There were sheriff's office records. 911 calls, and transcripts and just all manner of records.

Cruz had moved as a child. So one of the first things reporters wanted to pin down was the addresses of everywhere he had lived.

That was key so that we could then request any police incidents at those addresses. And he had lived in addresses that were covered by different law enforcement agencies, so that's different requests that had to be made.

Putting those requests in early was an enormous help.

I would say some of the most interesting records and 911 calls were from the sheriff's offices just asking for all activity at these addresses over the years. And that was how you see that everything from when he was little and he threw a rock at someone to going to buy a gun when he was older.

While those documents told reporters more about Cruz's home life. There were still holes in the story. But they found that many of the records that would tell them more weren't public.

You're dealing with confidential student records. You're dealing with mental health records. You're dealing with a child, for most of his life. So a lot of these things are not open records. We're dealing with an active criminal investigation and a nationally high profile case that the whole country in the world is watching. So officials are clamping down. People are scared to be quoted.

The reporter's next option. Asking sources to leak them records for example, Cruz had changed schools over the years, and the reporters wanted to see what school disciplinary records might tell them. But those were confidential.

His school record was complicated because I mean when he did the shooting he was already 19, so he had a full school history.

We just had to sort of get together and say do we know a teacher who might be willing to leak us his disciplinary records? And what kind of teacher would have a motivation to do that? Should we try to find this kind of teacher? And so just really trying to strategize who might help us the most.

Getting sources to leak records required persuasion and empathy.

They want to tell you things, but some people are reluctant to get your records or are afraid their fingerprints will be found on them if they go into a system and pull them out for you. So those things are just challenges that we deal with on a daily basis is making people feel comfortable with helping us.

Basically, we said we're trying to tell the story and help people understand what went wrong and how this could have been prevented and what is wrong with the system. And you know we want the truth to come out. A lot of people if you appeal to the idea of the truth and getting to the truth, most people are agreeable to that.

Everywhere they looked they found anguish parents, family members, government officials.

So there was so much outrage in so many different elements of the story that people wanted to get that out there. And I think in something like this you're weighing that you're going to get in trouble for releasing a record. I mean are you really going to get penalized because you released a record of somebody that shot 34 people and 17 of them died?

And in some ways, the fact that the shooting happened in the Sun Sentinel's backyard gave them an advantage. They had well established relationships with sources in the community and they knew they could trust them.

We're in this community. We covered this. We know our sources. We know who's reliable. And so when people were giving us information it wasn't that we doubted that the documents that we were getting were not correct. And that's because we have such deep ties here. I think if I were parachuting into another community where I didn't know who I was dealing with, I would have more concern about the authenticity of documents. But in this case, we knew precisely who we were dealing with.

As information rolled in it became essential that reporters stay organized. They traced Cruz's life using a timeline. In a situation like this with so many moving parts, they needed more than one.

I mean we have various timelines going for him. One a timeline of his interactions with the police, another timeline of his school events, another overall timeline of his life regarding when he was born and when his father passed away and when they moved to a certain place and when they bought their house. I mean timelines are really helpful in this. So you can see a pattern of a life a lot easier when you write down dates and what happened.

They noted every detail they learned and put it into chronological order.

And that was how we realized that three days after he was kicked out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School he bought the gun that he used to kill both students and educators.

Megan knew from an arrest report that Cruz had bought the gun he used in the shooting in February 2017. And she also knew from school records that he had been expelled, that same month.

So I wanted to match up how many days was it in between being expelled and buying the gun. And those are in separate records. You have to know that a, that information exists and try to know that they could fit together.

And since another Sun Sentinel reporter had interviewed the lawyer of the gun shop where Cruz had purchased the weapon, they were able to find out the exact date he bought it. A fact that was in any public record.

So indeed it turned out that he had bought the gun three days after being expelled. I mean he didn't use it for another year. But just the fact that he had bought it within three days was, I think very interesting and telling and we use that in the profile.

And that to me was just a profound fact. And so it was a lot of collaboration with other reporters and going across the room and saying, "Hey, do you know this and do you know that," which we continued to do because we'll be the ones that will keep the story alive.

Bit by bit the records and interviews, reporters were able to stitch together a snapshot of Nikolas Cruz. He had been adopted at birth and raised in a loving family. An anecdote from a source helped the reporters better understand his childhood. A tipster had told Brittany that if she went to a local park she would see how devoted Cruz's mother, Lynda, had been to the community and to her sons. The source said Cruz and his adopted brother's names can be found at the park because Lynda had helped build it.

We sent a reporter out to the park. She looked all over the place and she found the boys' names. They were on fence slats, and there was a fence slat that said Nikolas J Cruz on it and the one next to it said Zachary Cruz. We took a picture. And of course, as soon as the city saw that in the story, they went and took those fence slats out. But it was just such a cool detail to have in there that really was very telling about what kind of mom Lynda Cruz was.

But Lynda would have to raise Cruz who had been diagnosed with developmental delays at age 3 on her own.

For much of his life his mother was a single parent. His father died. He had an adoptive brother as well who also had some emotional struggles. So this was a woman who was dealing with very challenging boys. You could see that in the police report she was calling regularly.

Cruz had been diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disorders. And Megan generated a long list, noting each time one was mentioned.

Some of them were in school records. Some were in things that mom would tell the police when they came. So I came up with a list of ADHD, emotional behavioral disability, mom said obsessive compulsive disorder, anger issues. So this was clearly a child who had many problems.

As Cruz got older, his issues intensified. He caused problems at school and in eighth grade switched facilities to one that offered a program for emotionally and behaviorally disabled children. A school system report lead to the reporters showed how he began to lose control.

It was before he went to Stoneman Douglas. It was sort of evaluating whether he was ready to go to a "normal" school and it talked about it, he checks on his grades a lot. I mean he was very interested in his academics and getting good grades. And then it would just say like, "Oh, but he has poor judgment. A peer told him to jump off the back of a bus and he did. And he is very interested in terrorists and guns and killing. And then the next sentence would be, "Nikolas doesn't always raise his hand in class." And reading that it was just so stunning.

School officials took note of Cruz's concerning behavior. So did state agencies and the FBI. Someone close to the family had tipped off the FBI that they were concerned Nikolas Cruz might become a school shooter based on posts on social media accounts. And before that a blogger had alerted the FBI that a user named Nikolas Cruz had commented on his YouTube page writing, "I'm going to be a professional school shooter."

It showed that there were failures at every single level. And it was so strange in this case where you might as well have been walking around with a billboard on that said, "I want to shoot up a school," because he essentially said those things the police had numerous numerous encounters with him. I mean there were just for so many things.

Cruz's difficulties in school were only compounded by his mother's death in November 2017, just a few months before the shooting. Cruz was devastated and lost, sources told the reporters. And the brothers went to live with a former neighbor. It didn't last long. Cruz got into a fight with the neighbor and her son and he was kicked out. In a transcript of a 911 call, Cruz can be heard describing the fight to a dispatcher.

And you were just staying at this house and you got mad and you were punching things and then they came after you.

Yeah.

Alright.

The thing is I lost my mother a couple of years ago. So I'm dealing with a bunch of things right now.

I understand.

His voice started to crack and you can hear a little bit of emotion in this young person that lost his mother.

These were just some of the moments reporters unearthed about Cruz's troubled life. As reporters learn more and more about the teen they tried their best to accurately represent who he was.

People have histories and things and events that shaped them. And it's up to us to try to explain that fully so that others can understand it. So we don't know the true motive for this shooting if we'll ever know one. I mean he's just a really seriously disturbed individual. But these all point to stresses on him. So we are just trying to portray the major events in his life and a little bit more about his background and what he was suffering from and dealing with throughout his life.

Brittany drew on her own life experiences as she thought about how to write about Cruz.

My dad was a prison warden and I lived my whole younger life around people that had committed crimes basically. And I know are human beings and it's not a black and white deal and everybody has a story to tell and that Nikolas had a sad life. I mean it was sad. The truth is the truth. And it's important for people to understand what leads to something like this and especially in this case we don't really have a motive per se. We don't know that he targeted specific people. We don't know why he chose that day a year after he bought the gun. And so to understand the only place you can go is his history and his childhood.

And when Megan went to one of Cruz's first court appearances after the shooting, it struck her that no one from his family had appeared in court for him.

Here was sort of a profile of this lost and lonely person and when he finally went to court for this, his first appearance there was nobody in the courtroom for him.

One thing that really rang out was how alone he was multiple people had used the descriptions of lost and lonely in describing him which really struck me. And people that commented on the story some people did criticize it for being too sympathetic to him which is what I figured would happen. But I think it's important to be fair even to a mass murderer.

Not long after the shooting national media outlets packed their cameras and headed out to cover the next breaking story. So it's up to the local reporters to report on the aftermath the shooting is having on their community.

Nothing that we've ever covered here has had such an impact on the community and just saturated the entire community with sadness. The first two weeks I could have cried at any moment. I probably still could just thinking about all of the different losses. And some of the videos that we saw that we didn't use that were just horrible seeing what these children went through. It hasn't been the same. Everywhere you go, everyone's talking about it.

Reporters have pitched in to cover the shootings aftermath while still maintaining their regular beats. They've seen the effects of the shooting spill into other areas as the debates ensue about school safety gun laws and active shooter drills. For even the Sun Sentinel's most experienced reporters, the Parkland shooting has been unlike anything they have ever seen before.

This is not a typical story. This is not the kind of story that I've experienced in the past. It is of an intense nature that is keeping on day after day with many many new elements. And I don't know when it will be "over". We are all heartbroken by what happened. We can't not be affected by the idea of all these children dying in their classrooms and it tears you up.

It's the small gestures of support that have made the relentless reporting a bit easier. Journalists across the country have sent the Sun Sentinel candy and stuffed animals. They've paid for bar tabs and offered reassuring words.

Actually right now in the newsroom we have some therapy dogs because journalists need therapy. But some of the therapy dogs that went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas to make the kids feel better are here in the newsroom today.

Outside of the newsroom, the reporters have tried to take the occasional day off for mental health, but it's been hard. Things at home began to slip, whether it's the laundry, groceries or the kid's daycare. Megan had just started a kitchen renovation when the shooting happened.

You just kind of come home at the end of the day and you collapse. And for me I'm sweeping up sawdust and just hoping I can eventually get my kids in together again. But you know you do put it into perspective because that's a minor thing versus what all these families are dealing with who lost loved ones and there are many many many professionals in our community whether they're school officials or police that are also doing their jobs in a way that is very intense and long long hours. And it's not just the media.

The community has noticed the paper's dedication. The Sun Sentinel has unearthed new information in the case and dedicated teams of journalists to cover the aftermath.

People thanked us so much. We got so much positive feedback from the community thanking us for giving this 100 percent attention and so much coverage. And so we definitely did the right thing with that.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the school district put out a statement asking the media not to reach out to the victims' families.

This is such a great illustration of why that is an offensive and ridiculous request asking the media please don't invade the space of victims' families because of what happened here. They had something to say and it became an entire movement.

From nationwide marches to new gun laws in Florida, the reporters know that this is just the beginning. Going forward some of the most important aspects of the reporting will be circling back to previously hesitant sources and keeping meticulous track of records requests. Staying organized is huge Megan said. She said she likes to make copies and backups of records, whether that be on flash drives emailing them to another private server or making printouts.

And all of that may not look very flashy or may not be evident initially, but it really really helps as you're putting these stories together. Is to gather every record you can know where it is, keep track of it keep track of your record request and be able to identify pieces that will fit together down the line. Because again, this story is going to go on for months and months and months.

The reporters may not know when things will go back to normal in Parkland Florida if they ever will, but they do know this. They'll be around for however long it takes.

It is an endurance event. You know you have to come back to it. And you have to have enough, the mental energy to keep digging into the story after everyone else goes on to other stories. I think we owe it to the community to not give up.

Thanks for listening. Take a look at our episode notes for links to the Sun Sentinel's investigation, as well as resources for reporting on guns trauma and breaking news. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play or wherever else you get your podcast. And you can spend hours listening to the stories behind some of the best investigative reporting in the country. At IRE.org/podcast. The IRE Radio Podcast is recorded in the studios of KBIA. Blake Nelson draws our art for each episode. Sarah Hutchins is our editor. From Columbia Missouri, I am Tessa Weinberg.

IRE. IRE. IRE Radio Podcast.

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: IRE Podcast – Homeless on the Road

Sonix is an automated transcription service. We transcribe audio and video files for storytellers all over the world. We are not associated with the IRE Podcast. Making transcripts available for listeners and those that are hearing-impaired is just something we like to do. If you are interested in automated transcription, click here for 30 free minutes.

To listen and watch the transcript playback in real-time 👀, just click the player below.

IRE Podcast: Homeless on the Road

IRE.IRE.IRE Radio.

If you're walking down the street in San Francisco it's impossible to ignore. On any given night there are nearly 7500 homeless people in the city. And for those who can't find shelter they're sleeping on the streets. It's not hard to find encampments or tents or people bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets to stay warm.

And these are people who are suffering really horrible conditions. Often they don't have anywhere to wash. They don't have anywhere to use the restroom and so they're forced to use the restroom where they can effectively. So the circumstances are very degrading and very dehumanizing and very very sad.

For cities like San Francisco that are struggling with their homeless population, it's an overwhelming issue to tackle. But some places have found a cheap solution. One way bus tickets out of town. On this week's episode Alastair Gee and Julia Carrie Wong of The Guardian walk us through their 18 month nationwide investigation. Through their reporting, they created a database that revealed the extent to which cities were abandoning their homeless. For some a bus ticket provided a path out of homelessness and a support system. But for others it just made things worse. Sometimes they ended up right back in the city they left still homeless. The reporters found one city that went as far as banning people who accepted bus tickets from using homeless services like shelters if they ever returned.

I think bussing has come to be seen as a Band-Aid as a quick fix. I think that helps to explain its prevalence, but of course it's not addressing really the root causes of homelessness which is a rental affordability prices, people struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues.

I'm Tessa Weinberg and you're listening to the IRE Radio Podcast. It started as a rumor. When The Guardian opened its San Francisco Bureau in 2016, the editors thought their focus would be on technology and the Silicon Valley. But they found one of the major topics that demanded their attention was the thousands of homeless people who sleep on the city streets each night. Alastair Gee is a homelessness editor at The Guardian's San Francisco Bureau and he'd heard rumblings that some cities bussed out there homeless.

They couldn't quite tell if it's another myth if it's kind of folklore that people say along the lines of homeless people go to various cities. They just go there for the services or whatever or not they go there for the weather, is this really true.

So they decided to investigate and made the question the focus of a series called Outside in America.

These programs always get covered by the local news. But what could we bring to the story that would go beyond just saying you know this is happening?

That's Julia Carrie Wong, a Guardian reporter who is part of the team that worked on the project. To get a better sense of how bussing program started. Julia began by searching through clips and LexisNexis. She found that sifting through old stories helped her trace the history of homelessness in America.

Most people would date the kind of chronic homelessness that we see today to both the twin shocks of the country kind of shutting down mental institutions and also the massive cuts to HUD funding that came under Reagan and that those twin things kind of helped to create the situation of chronic homelessness that so many US cities have today.

The idea of bussing away the homeless was sometimes controversial like during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The news that city officials had been sending their homeless to other parts of the South before the games created an uproar. But the first full fledged bussing program Julia and Alastair could pinpoint was in America's largest city.

And so the first bussing programs that we could find came about in the late 1980s. And the first one that we found was in New York and that's actually today the biggest homeless bussing program in the nation. And then you can see it spreading around the country.

By the time bussing programs reach San Francisco in 2005, then Mayor Gavin Newsom has started to sanitize the programs working to remove the stigma surrounding them. He reframed the conversation from one of relocation to that of reunification and name the program Homeward Bound. Newsom's idea caught on. Today bussing programs are everywhere from Fort Lauderdale to Salt Lake City and they are especially popular on the West Coast. City officials say bussing is a way to get homeless people back on their feet and it's cost effective too. Instead of paying for a bed in a homeless shelter for months on end cities can shell out a couple hundred dollars for a one-time bus ticket. In some cases relocation programs are privately funded. But in many of the largest cities, they're paid for out of the city budget. Homeless people who hear about the program can apply for a ticket although they can get turned down for a handful of reasons such as having an outstanding arrest warrant. But despite the existence of bussing programs, homelessness has continued to be an issue. A federal study found that in 2017 America's homeless population rose for the first time since the Great Recession. While searching through clips helped Alastair and Julia get a better sense of the history of these programs, it wasn't an exhaustive search.

It gave us a lot of leads, but we need to just be more methodical as well. So then after that, we just went through a list of the 25 largest US cities in the country, and we just contacted officials in all of those cities to find out if they have programs.

Once they had a short list of cities with bussing programs they sent out records requests. Going in, they envisioned what their ideal data would look like.

We knew that what we wanted was individual journey level data. We wanted to know how many journeys someone took on. I don't know. March 23, 2005 for instance. And we wanted to be able to say it was a man or a woman who went from this city to this city and maybe this was how much the city cost, and this was the outcome of that journey.

But they also wanted to know details like had the city made any follow up calls once a passenger reached their destination. And who was waiting in the new city to meet them? In general they asked for a lot knowing that depending on the city they might not get everything. But wrangling the data they received was a challenge. Cities vary in what kind of data they collected on bussing programs and how they kept it.

Everybody had a different form of compiling it. Not everybody just gave it to us in a spreadsheet. So there was a number of hours of just converting PDFs into something and then trying to clean that data.

For instance, in the case of San Francisco there were just a bunch of empty fields where they should have marked down, here's where we did follow-up with this client to ensure that once we've given them a bus ticket out of the city that they were housed at the other end. There were just blank spaces for several thousand people that were taking tickets from the years 2010 to 2015.

Alastair and a team of reporters had to figure out, was San Francisco keeping information from them or did the city simply not have that data?

And both cases are interesting right? And so eventually what the city of San Francisco said to us was, "As you've seen, our data keeping hasn't always been very good". So that was fascinating. The very justification for having a bus program is that it works to rehouse people at the end that it creates stability to people. But for this whole five year period, they had zero data to testify to that at all. So that was very interesting.

All of this pointed to shortcomings in the system. When San Francisco reports how many people have exited homelessness, it includes a number of people who received one way bus tickets. The Guardian found that from 2013 to 2016 nearly half of the 7,000 homeless people the city said it helped lift out of homelessness had been relocated with bus tickets. And yet the city often lack data to show if the tickets had actually helped. From 2010 to 2015, the city's record showed only three people had been contacted for follow up calls after they left.

That became one of the main focal points of the story. Because if you're going around saying that just sending someone home to a relative is the right solution to homelessness, well not only does that face headwinds when you consider the fact that many people are homeless because of where they came from or because of family conflicts. It's also difficult if you're saying that without having good long-term data to back those statements up.

The longest follow up they found was Santa Monica which checked in with travelers six months after they were bussed out; only 60 percent remained housed six months later.

And that was the absolute longest. Many cities didn't do any follow-up at all.

It became the reporter's goal to essentially do the city's jobs for them and find out what impact bussing programs were having on the homeless people who use them. While San Francisco lacked data , one city, Sarasota, Florida, gave them a trove of it. They supplied The Guardian with dozens of PBS, photocopies of handwritten forms that hopeful travelers had filled out at the local Salvation Army.

So in that case it was just deciphering handwriting and dealing with what felt like third generation photocopies.

But despite the extra time it took to examine the forms it was worth it for the additional information they were able to glean. Sarasota was unique in that it required homeless people to provide the name of the person they planned to meet at their destination, their relationship to that person, and their address and phone number.

So that was the only city where we were able to obtain more about the destination of a person than just the city that they were going to.

While most people went to stay with family, there were a few instances where that wasn't the case.

I think that there were two people that were being sent to a bail bondsman. So that's obviously not anything to do with family reunification. That's just getting back in time to meet a court date. And other cases where it was like a former employer.

With records of who had accepted tickets and where they were going they began to reach out using the names and numbers they did have.

Out of these 35,000 data points, there were about a thousand names that cities for whatever reason haven't redacted from the data. And so we just run all of those names through Nexis looking for phone numbers and contacts. We'd searched for these people on social media. And we tried to reach out to people that way.

They didn't have a ton of luck making phone calls.

But by their very nature a person who's experiencing homelessness is going to be hard to track down.

Phone numbers no longer worked. The last known address could have been a decade old.

Reports on homelessness that's just a constant issue that you face that you meet people on the street. And even if they happen to have a phone with them at that time maybe they're not able to charge it. Really frequently these phones get stolen all the time and that's that. So it's often hard to stay in touch with homeless people unless you know where they live or you can try and find them through friends of friends.

But Julia found they had better success reaching the family members on the receiving end. And for her, speaking with those relatives changed her thinking.

I spoke to some family members who said, "Yes, that's my family member. And no I never agreed that you could come back here." For a variety of reasons people just said, "You know he burned that bridge three years ago and and I wouldn't agree to have them back".

Others weren't surprised to hear from Julia.

At least with some of the folks it was like, "Oh you're calling about Jaylen. Somebody is always calling about Jaylen." You kind of got the sense that this was a person who was close to somebody who was potentially often in and out of situations where their next of kin would need to be contacted. I was surprised with people's candor, but also really appreciative of people's candor. Folks were talking about a very difficult situation that I've never been in myself which is to have this sense of responsibility towards another adult who really needs a lot of support, and yet they're not necessarily equipped or have the resources to provide that support but still feel that sense of obligation.

All this gets at a central question. Who should be responsible for helping the homeless? Bussing shifted the burden away from the city and onto an individual.

If you give somebody a bus ticket and ship them to their elderly parent or their retired sister it privatizes the responsibility and it puts it onto an individual family. It makes it easier and cheaper. But the burden is then placed in a very specific place and those folks aren't always really equipped to handle it.

The data led them to a couple dozen homeless people who had accepted tickets and their families. But the reporters also wanted to experience firsthand what it was like to take a bus out of homelessness. The initial reporting for the project had started in early 2016. By this point it was already the summer of 2017 over a year later. It was always in the back of Alastair's mind that it would be challenging to find someone to ride along with, but it was proving increasingly difficult as the reporters struggled to meet someone before they accepted a bus ticket. Cities hadn't always been helpful in facilitating those interactions.

So cities weren't so open to introducing us to some of their clients. We tried various cities. And it just became very hard because it became apparent that the city was really trying to manage the process by which we would meet that person and they clearly want to make sure it was a successful case.

When officials didn't seem eager to help they decided to take matters into their own hands. August rolled around, and Alastair and another reporter had started spending their days outside of the San Francisco office that distributed bus tickets. They made it a routine to spend a few hours there every couple of days in hopes of meeting someone who had just accepted a ride.

And so, we ended up just like finding a place in this office that was kind of out of line of vision, line of sight of the staff members. But just so we could keep an eye on basically who is going and who is coming out. Once they got out we just like ran out. And I've run up to them and say, "Hi. I am a reporter with The Guardian doing this thing about bus tickets. I guess you were just on that counter. So what's going on? Are you hoping to get a ticket? I'd be interested to hear more about it. Can I take you for a coffee?" All that kind of thing.

It took patience and persistence. Once Alastair set up a time to meet a homeless woman for coffee the next day. She never showed. But the effort to establish those connections was worth it. When it comes to on-the-ground reporting concerning issues of homelessness one of the most important things you can do is simply meet people where they are, sit down and listen Julia said. You'll learn things that you wouldn't from policymakers or nonprofits.

One of the really kind of striking things especially about folks who are living on the streets is just how ignored they are all day by people on the sidewalks. People don't like to make eye contact. They don't like to look and see that kind of poverty. It makes housed people uncomfortable. But if you go and talk to people I mean my general experience is that you know a lot of folks are very willing and eager just to have a conversation and to talk and to have somebody you know treat them like a human being for once. I think that so much reporting on homelessness kind of ignores homeless people and their agency and their voices.

That's how Alastair met Quinn Raber. Quinn was in his late 20's and had been homeless for about three years. He'd struggled to find a stable living situation and keep a job.

When I first met him in San Francisco coming out of the ticket office he seemed really physically tired and run down. He was reddened and he had red face and was stubble with sunburns. He seemed physically tired. He was really bundled up.

Here's Quinn describing to The Guardian what it was like to be homeless.

The roughest part about being homeless is the wear and tear from the concrete and the constant walking. And it's hard to use the restroom, because a lot of businesses don't want homeless people in their restrooms and messing them up. It really breaks you down.

When Alastair approached Quinn outside of the office, he was in a hurry. His bus was set to leave in just a few hours and he didn't have time to talk. But he agreed to meet Alastair at the Greyhound station later that day, Alastair stood with Quinn in line as he was about to board the bus and quickly got down his name, the gist of his story and his contact info. And then Quinn was off. He would travel 2,275 miles over three days to his hometown of Indianapolis where he planned to stay with a friend and get a job.

I couldn't get on the bus with him because it was just way too short notice. But I stayed in touch with him. I spoke to him when he was back in Indianapolis, it wasn't going so well there. And then a couple weeks after that I spoke to him again on the phone. And I said," Where are you?" He said, "I'm on a Greyhound Bus." And he said. "I'm coming back to San Francisco from Indianapolis."

It hadn't worked out in Indianapolis. The friend Quinn was staying with had to enter into rehab, he told Alastair. And now he was homeless once again. So Alastair quickly coordinated with Quinn and planned to meet him in a town south of the Bay Area, so they could finally get the ride along they were hoping for and see a part of Quinn's journey.

And so we went to this kind of podunk town in the middle of nowhere loitering around, again, waiting for this bus at 9-10 PM at night. So we jumped on. And we met Quinn on the bus. And we went back to him as he completed his return journey to San Francisco. And so this is a guy, mind you, that presumably now is on San Francisco's list of people who have officially been rehoused or rescued from homelessness. They gave him a ticket and said that's how they account for people getting tickets. But as we found accompanying him back to San Francisco. He was then homeless pretty much in the very, very same place that he had been before he even gotten the ticket in the first place.

Quinn was back in San Francisco. He paid for the return ticket out of his own pocket. He's still without a permanent home. But ultimately the trip to Indianapolis had seemed to have a positive impact.

Even though it hadn't worked out and that was sad, nevertheless he seems like he was in a better place that he was more setup for the rigors of dealing with homelessness in San Francisco. And I think he came back to San Francisco because earlier he told me. It was just the cities that he loved. He just felt he knew people here. He have had a setup here before he'd left even if he was homeless. He had someone he could stay with off and on. And so he come back under his own steam believing that, that was the better place to be for him than Indianapolis.

Not everyone who accepted a bus ticket ended up in Quinn's situation. For some the bus program worked as intended leading them back to a support system that got them on track. Take Tiffany who is 22 and living in Fort Lauderdale. She'd grappled with alcoholism to the point where she would have to drink a can of beer as soon as she woke up to stave off the nausea.

She was like in this dreadful dreadful spiral. And she was admitted to hospital. She had chronic pancreatitis. She had early stage cirrhosis of the liver. And so she was in a really bad state. In her early 20s, she was close to death.

Her doctor recommended that she take a bus ticket to stay with her mom who lived on the other side of the state. Tiffany did and she credits that bus ride with saving her life. With her mom's help, she told The Guardian she's on the road to recovery. But for others stepping on a bus just left them homeless in a new city and often without access to key services.

In the city of Key West, it takes all a step further. They have homeless people sign a document when they get ticket saying that if you come back to Key West because we were so generous to give you a ticket you agreed that you won't use homeless services on Key West when you come back.

A provide a source who worked at the shelter in Key West leaked The Guardian a copy of the document. The Guardian found that some homeless people didn't fully understand the terms of their ticket. Here's Willie Romines a homeless man who said he was never informed about the restrictions.

It's like close the door and get out of here. We bought you a bus ticket. You can't come back and that put a burden on me. I felt like I was swindled.

But shelter organizers told The Guardian that barring homeless people from returning to Key West is the easiest way to get locals to support the bussing program. That I figured was the easiest sell when organizer said to The Guardian, "Give us money and we'll ship our homeless problem to somebody else". With The Guardian's investigation primarily focused on the over 20,000 homeless people who've been bussed across America. They also reported on a relocation program unique to New York. Almost half of the 34,000 journeys The Guardian analyzed originated in New York. That's about 17,000 relocations. And about 20 percent of those people were flown, not bussed, to their new destination. Some even cross borders to places like Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Canada. Within the US, Orlando Florida and Atlanta were the most popular destinations.

As far as we can tell, it was the only city that is regularly flying people around the world. The farthest case we found was someone flown to New Zealand. We found people that had flown to India and other distant locations.

One family, the Ortiz family, ended up in New York after living with a relative in Delaware didn't work out. When Jose Ortiz reached out to New York's Homelessness Department for assistance they told him he was ineligible for services because they had housing options in Puerto Rico. The city wouldn't give them housing assistance, but it could offer the family for one thing a plane ride back to Puerto Rico.

And it was a difficult case because the city of New York would say like if somebody is newly arrived and we can divert them back to someplace that they have housing that's all for the best.

And so, Jose really didn't want to leave. He thought that he was given no choice that you're basically saying you either go or you're on the street in New York. And so, he felt like he was between a rock and a hard place.

The Ortiz family took the ticket in order to stay off the streets. A few months later in September Hurricane Maria devastated the island. By the time The Guardians investigation was published in December the reporters still hadn't heard from the family. It wasn't until recently that the Ortiz family replied to a reporter's Facebook message letting them know they're okay. After nearly 18 months of coordination between a team of reporters editors filmmakers data experts and freelancers the project was finally ready to be published. With records from 16 cities and counties, The Guardian team had created a national database that analyzed more than 34,000 journeys.

A lot of the response that we saw was exactly what we were hoping for, which was folks saying, "Oh I kind of heard about this. I had no idea that it was so big. I had no idea that this was going on so widely". And folks kind of take in the conversation to the next step which is the step most homelessness stories end up with which is how is this happening? How is this the richest nation in the world and this is what's happening?

They heard from advocates like the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing who was horrified by the findings. They heard from readers who felt compelled to take action and wanted to know what they could do to help. And they heard from some of the people they have featured in their story who told the reporters, they felt like their story had finally been heard.

They thought the story was their story. In most cases when we heard back from people. People were just again grateful that we had shared their stories.

Thanks for listening. Take a look at our episode notes for links to The Guardian's reporting and resources for covering homelessness. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play or wherever else you get your podcast. And you can spend hours listening to the stories behind some of the best investigative reporting in the country at IRE.org/podcast. The IRE Radio Podcast is recorded in the studios of KBIA. Blake Nelson draws our art for each episode. Sarah Hutchins is our editor. From Columbia Missouri, I am Tessa Weinberg.

IRE. IRE. IRE Radio Podcast.

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In the Dark: S1 E3 The One Who Got Away

Previously on In the Dark.

On the outskirts of his hometown of St. Joseph, a young boy's mysterious disappearance.

And he looked at me, and then he grabbed Jacob, and he told me to run as fast as I could in the woods or he'd shoot.

Time is your biggest enemy in an 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.

Did the police ever come knocking at your door since you lived in the neighborhood? Did you ever have to talk to the cops about it or?

No. No, they never did.

They never did, okay.

Yeah, I remember just leaving out of there just so angry because they weren't listening to anything that I had to say.

We are here today because of the perseverance of the investigative team.

We got the truth. The Wetterling family can bring him home.

Earlier this year, I went out to meet up with a guy named Jared Scheierl.

Good to see you.

I'm Madeleine.

Hi.

Nice to meet you.

Jared is 40 now. He lives in a house in Central Minnesota down a long dirt driveway with a big, friendly, black dog.

Bear, come. Come on. Here. Stay.

It's peaceful here. 80 acres of land, old trees, the Crow River running through. I came here to talk to Jared because Jared or more specifically what happened to Jared was most likely the single best clue law enforcement had in the case of 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 investigation of the kidnapping of an 11-year-old boy named Jacob Wetterling in Central Minnesota in 1989. Today, we're going to see just how close law enforcement got to solving this case, so close they even sat face-to-face with the man who killed Jacob. And then, they let him go.

Jared Scheirel grew up in a small town called Cold Spring, just ten miles southwest of St. Joseph where the Wetterlings lived.

Cool Spring was a safe rural community. Everybody knows everybody, attended church every Sunday.

Jared grew up biking around town, playing outside a lot. People thought of Cold Spring as a safe place. And one night in 1989, about nine months before Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped, Jared went ice skating with a bunch of friends. He was 12 at the time.

And we … After ice skating, we decided to walk on to the Side Cafe to get a … We had a chocolate malt.

Jared was with his best friend, Cory Eskelson. Corey still lives in Stearns County. And earlier this year, I went out to meet up with them at his house to talk about that night.

After having the malt, some kids drove away in cars outfront. Jared and I, there's a little alleyway out back. And we walked through the alleyway. And the one thing that I will always capture was Jared asking me to walk him home, and I said no.

It was probably 9:00 – 9:30 when I started walking home. And as I was walking, a car approached me.

It was a blue car. The driver stopped and asked Jared for directions.

So, I started giving this guy directions, and at same time, I was on the sidewalk, and I was walking towards the vehicle, the man had got out of the car. And when I was in range, he grabbed me at the shoulders, and he said "Get the fuck in the car. I have a gun, and I'm not afraid to use it."

The man told Jared to lie down in the back seat and pull his stocking cap over his eyes. He started driving. There was a walkie talkie type scanner in the car. Jared thought he heard local law enforcement dispatch come across it. At some point, the man shut it off. He drove for 10 or 15 minutes. Jared tried to keep track of where they were going by counting left and right turns, paid attention to when the car crossed over train tracks. And then, the man turned onto a gravel road and stopped. It was dark, but Jared thought he could make out the lights of a nearby town in the distance.

He assaulted me. However, we won't go into those details. We're focusing on necessary details.

This phrase "necessary details" is one that Jared uses a lot when he gets to the part of his story about exactly what the man did to him.

That's how I can separate from that. I'm just going to focus on necessary details.

Here's what law enforcement records say happened. The man sexually assaulted Jared inside the car. He kept Jared's jeans and underwear, but gave him his snowsuit back. Then, the man drove Jared back to Cold Spring and dropped him off two miles from Jared's house. He told Jared to run and not look back or he'd shoot. He said something else to Jared, something that would stick with Jared for a long time.

He had said, "It's okay to talk about this, but if they come close to finding out who I am , I'll find you and kill you."

Jared's family was wondering where he was.

Where the hell would he be? It doesn't take an hour to get from the restaurant to the house.

This is Jared's twin brother, Jed.

He came through the door hysterical. That was crazy.

What was he saying? What was he-

I wouldn't want to comment on that.

The parents called the police, and Jared left with his dad to go down to the station.

And my dad gave my older brother a shotgun, and he said, "If anybody comes to that patio door or through that front door, you pull the trigger." And that's … I mean, he have that responsibility to his son. And I mean, that's how it changes the family. You know, at first, in life, there's no violence, and you think life is happy-go-lucky, and it's peaceful, and life is great. And then, things happen. Life changes. All of a sudden, you realize, "You know what, there's evil in the world."

Jared didn't go to school the next day, and his best friend, Cory, didn't know why.

I had no idea. FBI agents came to my classroom. I had no clue who they were or what they were doing. I didn't know they were FBI. They asked for me. And I walked into the hallway, and they asked for my hat. And I said, "Sure. You need my hat? Okay." I thought they were maybe going to make some hats or something. Well, it ended up that the hat that I had was a Cold Spring hockey hat. And Jared said it looked or resembled the hat that the abductor had on.

Cory was the last person to see Jared before he was assaulted. He was also out in the dark that night. So, our producer, Samara, wondered about something.

So, I know that you said the FBI came and took your hat after Jared was abducted. Did they ever question you in any way?

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.

Investigators from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office did try to find the man who had assaulted Jared. Law enforcement records show that Jared described the man as short, maybe 5'6", 5'7", about 170 pounds. He wore black army boots, and camouflage fatigues, and a military style watch. His voice was deep and raspy. He drove a dark blue car. Officers had Jared try to retrace the route the man drove that night.

That's had the picture, but in order to do that, I had to lay in the backseat of the squad car with my eyes covered and just go off my memory. Where are we going now? Where are we going now?

They traced it to a spot off a main road, Highway 23, somewhere in between Cold Spring and a small town called Paynesville.

Three days after Jared was assaulted, a deputy from the Stearns County Sheriff's Office came up with the name of a possible suspect, a man from Paynesville named Danny Heinrich. At the time, Heinrich was 25. He was short, about 5'5", and stocky, and drove a blue car. He dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and worked a bunch of low-paying jobs. He was a member of the National Guard. He lived with his mom. And he's had several run-ins with the law, often minor and kind of bumbling crimes.

One time, Heinrich broke into a consignment store looking for money to pay off some gambling debts. And when an officer got there, he found Heinrich hiding behind some boxes. Heinrich was arrested, and he ended up confessing to another burglary in town that same night. Heinrich told the officer, "I don't know what got into me. I don't know why I do these things." Heinrich had a few DWIs too. At one stop, a cop noticed Heinrich had a police scanner in his car that he was using to monitor Stearns County Sheriff's Office radio transmissions. The officer confiscated it.

So, when Jared described a short, stocky man with camouflage fatigues on, driving a small dark blue car with a scanner inside, to the deputies, that sounded a whole lot like Danny Heinrich. They put together a photo lineup of Heinrich and five other guys. Jared ended up picking out two people who he thought somewhat resembled his abductor. One of them was Heinrich.

So, the next day, two detectives from the sheriff's office found Heinrich's car parked outside a plastics company where he worked. Jared had described the car as having a luggage rack and a blue interior, but when the officers went over to look, they noticed that Heinrich's car did not have a luggage rack and the inside was a grayish color. They didn't charge Heinrich. They didn't charge anyone. The case remained unsolved.

Jared didn't know it at the time, but he wasn't the only one who'd been attacked by a strange man in Stearns County. In the years leading up to his abduction, from 1986 to 1988, in the town just down the road, the town of Paynesville, the town where Danny Heinrich lived, boys were being grabbed off the street by a strange man in the dark.

My friend and I were riding our bikes back from downtown to our houses, and we didn't live that far apart.

I talked to one of the guys who reported the attacker to police as a kid. His name is Kris Bertelsen. He was 12 or 13 at the time.

And as we rode our bikes towards our houses, we were around a corner by people's house where they had a real thick, dark row of, I think, they were spruce trees. And we came around the corner, and out of nowhere from behind those trees, the attacker came running out and basically clotheslined my friend off of his bike.

Kris couldn't get a good look at the man.

He had a hat on, and it was all dark, combat, you know, kind of fatigue-looking clothes, like real dark clothing on, like this was like a mission.

I've read some of the police reports from these attacks. A lot of them were destroyed years ago. But from the ones that remain and the interviews I've done, it's clear that these attacks were all pretty similar. A short and stocky man would jump out of the dark, and try to grab a boy, and grope him. Sometimes, the man wore a mask. Some of the boys were riding their bikes. Others are just walking.

One of the boys was a paperboy out on his route. Most of the attacks happened at night. One boy said the man's voice was low and static-filled. Another said it was a deep whisper. Several of the boys said the man asked them their ages or what grade they're in. Sometimes, the man would issue a warning, "Don't move or I'll shoot."

We were all afraid like, "Who's next?" I mean, it was pretty systematic. It was a group of us who hung around together and hung around downtown. To be marked, like that is terrifying. So, we almost had sort of a feeling like we got to take care of each other. You know, we got to watch out for each other. We were very concerned.

The police in Paynesville tried their best to solve these assaults. There were front page articles about them in the local paper. One sergeant told the paper, "After this guy grabs the boys, he tells him 'Don't turn around or I'll blow your head off.'" People were so concerned that the cops even considered imposing a curfew. Instead, they decided to just keep warning parents and kids, "If a strange man approaches you, scream and run away as fast as you can."

You know, I never forget one of the other victims telling me, "The molester got me." And he described what happened. And, you know, it was just, you know, heart wrenching. I mean, I'll never forget that. But, you know, we all had knives. Once this happened more than one time, I would suspect that just about every kid had a knife. I mean, that's how we lived for that year and a half, two years. I mean, it was terrifying.

The attacks in Paynesville were never solved.

Jared Scheierl's family never saw the articles in the Paynesville paper. They never knew about the other boys. Jared thought he was the only one. He started having dreams of being chased by a big, black dog, and he'd wake up panicked and sweating.

I think I slept on my parents' bedroom floor for the first year. You know, the level of fear that you go through with the emotions or the anxieties that you learned to overcome.

Nine months passed, and then, in October of 1989, Jared heard that another boy had been kidnapped by a strange man. That boy's name was Jacob Wetterling, and lived just ten miles away. Jacob was also kidnapped on the side of a road while heading home after dark. He was with a brother and a friend when it happened. The man told the other boys to run away, and don't look back, or he'd shoot.

There were details that I recognized right away that indicated it was the same demeanor. Some of the words or some of the phrases were similar. Description of the voice was similar. There are a number of details that were pretty consistent to my case.

The Jacob kidnapping seemed like almost a repeat of the Jared kidnapping. And the night Jacob was kidnapped, the name Danny Heinrich was already in the files of the Stearns County sheriff's office. And not just in the files, one of the deputies on the scene that night, a detective named Doug Pearce had investigated Jared's case just nine months earlier.

Detective Pearce had talked to Jared, shown Jared the lineup with Heinrich, and even gone to look at Heinrich's car. When Jacob Wetterling was abducted, Detective Pearce was one of the officers who took the statements from the two other kids who are with Jacob that night, the statements that describe the abductor and how it happened. We tried to talk to Doug Pearce, but we weren't able to reach him.

Here's why I think that information that night was so important. It's not just that Jacob's abduction seemed similar to another crime, it's that this kind of crime, the kidnapping of a child by a stranger, is among the rarest of all crimes. And here in this one county in Central Minnesota, it happened twice in one year. But according to what we know from the documents that have been released and the best recollections of law enforcement who I talked to, no one went to look for Danny Heinrich in those first few critical hours after Jacob was kidnapped.

After that first night, as the investigation ramped up, investigators began to take a close look at the earlier kidnapping of Jared. They talked to Jared over and over. They would go to his school and pull him out of class.

The kids in the class were taking notice of me coming in and out of class. And although we were protecting my identity, the word was getting around within Cold Spring that I was that boy.

Jared said investigators told him he was their best shot at finding Jacob because the man who took Jacob was the same man who took him. So, they kept pressing Jared to remember more.

Who does he look like if you had to compare him with somebody else? And who does he look like? Who does he resemble?

One time, Jared told investigators that the man who assaulted him kind of looked like his sixth grade teacher. He didn't think it was his sixth grade teacher. He was just trying to come up with a description. Jared was just 13. And Jared's best friend, Cory, said the whole thing got pretty confusing.

The teacher uprooted his family from Cold Spring and moved out of the area due to all the pressure that he got. And it was not this guy. Jared just described him as looking like this guy, and they bugged that guy to the point where he was gone.

Jared said all of this got so overwhelming and so stressful.

To the point where I broke down. You know, there was one particular interview, it was a hard one. They brought me into a room, and my parents weren't allowed in the room. And I was drilled with all the necessary details, and then questioned in regards to how certain I was on those details. And it led into, "You know who this person is?" And, you know, as much as I wanted to provide the answer, I didn't know the answer. And after time and time again me not knowing the name, I finally broke down in tears, and came out of that room, and my parents had seen me and said, "We're done."

After that interview, Jared's family ended up moving out of town. They wanted to get away from all the stress and questioning about Jared's assault. So, they moved to a place they thought was more peaceful, calmer, a town called Paynesville, the town where Danny Heinrich lived.

So, Jared couldn't remember every last detail about the man, but what he could remember turned out to matter a great deal because those details were very similar to how Jacob Wetterling's brother and friend described the man who took Jacob. Law enforcement became so certain the cases were linked that they decided to announce it to the public.

New evidence tonight leaves the FBI to believe that Jacob Wetterling's kidnapper may have struck before.

Agents say there are many similarities between Jacob's abduction and the kidnapping and sexual assault of a Cold Spring boy in January.

In December of 1989, authorities held a news conference. The top FBI agent on the case, Jeff Jamar, said without any hesitation that the abduction of Jacob Wetterling and the abduction of a Cold Spring boy — Jamar didn't use Jared's name — were connected. It was the same man.

We knew from the very beginning. The question was how precise are the facts. How well or how good was the witness? How much do we know about what happened that night? It's taking this long to get that down.

And this is where the case against Danny Heinrich for the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling starts to build. About a month and a half after Jacob was taken, two days after the news conference, investigators go to talk to Heinrich. They asked him, "Where were you on the night of October 22nd 1989, the night Jacob was kidnapped?" "I can't remember," Heinrich says. So, no alibi.

Heinrich agrees to give authorities a sample of his hair. He agrees to turn over his shoes. He agrees to let officers take the tires off his car. Law enforcement compares the shoes and tires to prints and tracks found near the abduction site. They get the results back. And to use the language of forensic scientists, the shoe print was similar and the tire tracks were consistent. In other words, not a slam dunk but promising.

Investigators even go back to Jared, and have him sit in Heinrich's old car. Jared says, "It looks like the right one." He tells them he wouldn't change a thing. One of the lead FBI agents on the case back then, Al Garber, told me authorities were watching Heinrich 24/7 for weeks.

We pulled out all the stops and turned them upside down.

Authorities get a search warrant for Heinrich's father's house. Heinrich had moved there shortly after Jacob was kidnapped. Inside the house, they find black boots, camouflage pants, two radio scanners, and several locked trunks. Inside one of the trunks is a photograph of a boy in his underwear and another photo of a boy coming out of a shower with a towel wrapped around him.

I can't tell you anything more about what those photos looked like because law enforcement doesn't have them. During the search, Heinrich objected to the officers seizing the photos. According to documents filed last year, he told them the photos "just didn't look right." So, law enforcement let him keep the photos. and Heinrich later burned them.

The investigation continued. Heinrich appeared in the lineup. Officers brought in Jared. And although Jared wasn't able to pick out anyone, for sure, he did say two of the men kind of look similar to the man who assaulted him. One of those men was Heinrich.

Then, the FBI connected a fiber found on Jared snowsuit to a fiber sample taken from the seat of Heinrich's old car. On February 9th 1990, about three and a half months after Jacob was kidnapped, law enforcement decided it was time to bring in Heinrich to see if they could force a confession out of him for the abductions of both Jared Scheierl and Jacob Wetterling. They sent in an FBI agent named Steve Gilkerson.

We felt that he was the key to the case at that time.

That he did it?

Yup.

So, Gilkerson and the other officers got to work preparing for the interrogation.

Three people from the FBI Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico came out to help us prepare for the interview. I mean, that's how important it was.

Gilkerson wouldn't say much about what the FBI profilers recommended.

I don't want to go into too much detail because, you know, criminals might be listening to whatever you do here, but you want to prepare the room setting in a certain way.

Fbi Agent Al Garber was also involved in getting things set up.

The profilers told us where to put certain furniture, and where to seat him, and where to see the investigators.

They used a small interview room. They put an American flag inside, and a floor lamp, and some chairs. They got a file and stuffed it full of papers, and wrote Danny Heinrich's name on it, and placed it conspicuously on a desk.

We didn't understand what they were doing but we thought we would try it. Why not?

The goal was to intimidate Heinrich to make it seem like they already had a ton of evidence against him, that they already knew he did it, so he should just confess already. So, they brought in Danny Heinrich. Al Garber's first impression of him wasn't much.

Average everyday Joe. I don't know. Nothing stood out for me about him.

Did he seem smarter?

No, not particularly. Not particularly ignorant either. You know, just an average person , I thought.

Gilkerson, the other FBI agent, remembers the interview lasted almost two hours.

We accused him, told him we had evidence that he did it. We tried a number of different ways to get him to talk to us about it. He didn't get angry, or defiant, or anything like that. He just steadfastly denied. Just kept denying it, and denying it.

He said, "I didn't do it." And that was the end of it.

Heinrich was held overnight in jail. But the next day, the county attorney decided they didn't have enough evidence to charge Heinrich with anything. So, they let him go. And Al Garber told me there wasn't much more they could do with Heinrich after that.

It goes like this, you investigate as much as you can. You do everything you can think of. You either get the evidence, you find that the person conclusively didn't do it, or you just have no more to do. So, you have to leave that suspect. You can't stay with the suspect with nothing to do, nothing more to do forever. Sometimes, you just can't get it.

I kept coming back to this moment, the moment they let Heinrich go. And I wondered, what else could they have done? So, I asked lot of the investigators who worked on the case back then about this. They all told me the same thing. They needed something that could hold over Heinrich, another charge, something they could work with to make a deal. And the way everyone talked to me about it, there just wasn't anything. All they had were two cases: Jacob and Jared. No one mentioned the Paynesville cases. That seemed strange. So, I asked Steve Gilkerson about it. He's the FBI agent who interrogated Heinrich.

Did you ever hear about the assaults on the boys in Paynesville back then?

No, no.

If you had known that, what do you think would have been different?

Well, certainly would have interviewed those kids, try and come up with more evidence and all.

I wonder if it just got lost somehow, you know, with all the leads coming in and all the activity.

I don't know. I know we reached a point after the investigation there, we had really nothing. At that point, we let Heinrich go.

The top FBI agent on the case back then, Special Agent in Charge Jeff Jamar, said he couldn't recall any of this Paynesville stuff, but that it would have been really helpful.

I said it more than several times during our press conferences that we had, if you're a victim, or you're a police department, or anything else, if you have a case that's similar to this, tell us about them.

So, I told Jeff Jamar about the Paynesville cases, and he said that kind of information was exactly what they were looking for.

That's one of those incidents where we could have something to hold over his head. Maybe more investigations where he lived and more victims if we could have found them and piled up cases of abuse by him then. To me, it's just something, again, where we failed. It still bothers me.

But law enforcement had heard about the Paynesville assaults. We know this for sure because in the limited batch of documents that are available to the public in the Wetterling case, there's a mention of the police chief of Paynesville telling the investigators about the assaults in early January of 1990. The police chief even told them the name of the man he believed should be considered a suspect in those assaults, Danny Heinrich. Kris, one of the kids from Paynesville, made the connection between the cases in his own mind right away.

I'll never forget that. I was locking on St. Germain and St. Cloud, and a girl ran up to me, and handed me a piece of paper, like a flyer, with his picture on it. And she said, "This little boy was abducted in St. Jo, was taken in St. Jo." And I remember, I had like a flashback, you know. When she said that to me, I thought, immediately, it was a trigger for me. And I remember thinking, you know, "Is this the same guy?" I mean, I was thinking, "Could it be? Is this possible, you know, that … How does this happen?"

And did anyone from law enforcement on the Wetterling case ever reached out and contact you?

No.

Kris told me he and his dad went to law enforcement themselves and gave a statement to the Wetterling investigators about the Paynesville assaults. He can't remember the names of the investigators. He was just a teenager at the time.

I had expectations 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 because I thought, "Look, this is very similar. Jacob was on a bike. We were on bikes." I mean, just lots of things.

Kris said the investigators didn't seem all that interested. They didn't ask him to do a lineup or to look at any photos. In fact, they never called him again.

I think we all kind of gave up on them taking a look.

By February of 1990, law enforcement had struck out with Danny Heinrich. There were lots of reasons to think he did it, but no solid evidence. But there was something else they could have done. At the same time, all over Stearns county, there was a massive search underway for Jacob. It was one of the largest searches for any missing person in the history of the United States. Stearns County sheriff's office was in charge, but this search involved hundreds of officers from many agencies and thousands of volunteers. Steve Gilkerson, the FBI agent from back then, told me the search went far beyond just the town where Jacob was kidnapped.

We did all. Well, statues. We had searches, ground searches all over the place out there. And the sheriff's office, they had mounted patrols out there. They had the National Guard out there searching.

Gilkerson told me they even searched the area around the town of Cold Spring where Jared Scheierl lived.

Where he was kidnapped because we thought at that time, you know, there's a possibility that, you know, maybe Jacob was in that area there.

But Gilkerson told me they did not look for Jacob in the tiny town of Paynesville, a town of just 2300, just about two square miles, the town where all those boys had been attacked, the town where Heinrich lived.

We didn't search any of that area at that time.

About a year after Jacob went missing, late one night around midnight, Danny Heinrich went for a walk to a spot just a third of a mile or so outside of downtown Paynesville, the site where he had buried Jacob Wetterling's body.

We don't know what led Heinrich to go back there or what he was planning to do. All we know is what Heinrich's said last week in his confession. He brought a flashlight, and a garbage bag, and a collapsible shovel. He shined the flashlight over the grave, and he saw something, Jacob's red jacket. As he moved closer, he saw something else, bones just lying there on the ground as though the site had been uncovered.

So, Heinrich gathered the bones, and the jacket, and everything else he could find, and put them into the garbage bag. Then, he walked across the street, and used the collapsible shovel to dig a hole about 2 feet deep. And Heinrich put the bones in the hole and then the jacket. And then, he covered up the hole and left. The remains wouldn't be found for 26 years.

Heinrich stayed in Paynesville for a long time, and he didn't stop being interested in boys there. I found a sheriff's report from 1991, a Paynesville cop had spotted a tan Buick driving around town following paperboys on their morning routes. And the cop had asked a Stearns County sheriff's deputy to check it out. The deputy followed the car and realized the driver was Heinrich. But the deputy decided no further action could be taken by the sheriff's office. He wrote a report, and that was it.

Jared Scheierl grew up. He starred in his high school wrestling team. He played football. And after high school, he moved to Alaska. He got a job drilling for a gold prospecting company. He came back home to Paynesville, got married, raised kids, got divorced, and ended up buying his childhood home there from his father before he died. But for all that time, Jared stayed pretty quiet about what had happened to him as a kid. He remembered the man's words, "If they ever come close to finding me, I'll kill you."

And then, one day, about three years ago, Jared got a Facebook message from a blogger named Joy Baker. She come across some old newspaper articles about the assaults in Paynesville. She wanted to know if Jared knew about them.

You can imagine my eyes when when I'd seen that and just thinking I live here.

Jared had never heard of the assaults before. And at that moment, Jared realized something.Mmaybe the man who attacked all these kids in Paynesville was the same man who attacked him, and even the same man who kidnapped Jacob Wetterling. He thought, "Maybe I could find all these guys who were assaulted, and ask them what they remember, and try to piece it altogether to figure out who this man is."

I told myself, I said, "I'm going to give it 110 percent. This is it. You know, as much as I've done, this is it. And if the answer's out there, and it pertains to any of this, then I'm going to find it."

Jared thought about how to get started. And then, he remembered something an older boy had told him when he first moved to town after he'd been assaulted. The boy had said, "Look out for Chester the Molester." At the time, Jared thought it was a joke. But 20 some years later, reading these stories, Jared wondered about that comment.

So, he got back in touch with the boy — Now, a man — and asked him what he'd meant. The man told him he wasn't joking. There had been this creepy guy who'd jumped out of the bushes in his parents yard and attacked a kid. Jared asked the man for any names of kids who'd been attacked.

Within the first week, I talked to one of the victims. I approached one of them and just got details of his attack.

How do you start that conversation?

You start with your own story.

Okay.

You know, I approached him and said, "Hey, I just want to ask you a few questions. I'm going to tell you something about me, and if you are comfortable enough, maybe you share something with me."

Jared kept talking to men in town. One person would lead to another.

And they knew who I was. They were comfortable talking. And it led to a domino effect.

One of the guys Jared found was Kris.

And so he called. I don't even know how he got my number. He asked my name. You know, he said, "Is this Kris? You know, are you the one that was involved in Paynesville?" And it just feels like a ghost. I mean, "What? Yes, I was."

Jared, Kris, and all these guys started swapping stories about what they remembered about the man who assaulted them, and a lot of these stories sounded pretty similar to what happened to Jared and Jacob, like it really was the same guy. For Jared, it was comforting in a way to share the same experience with so many other men. For so long, he thought he was the only one who escaped. Jared and all of these men formed a kind of brotherhood. They were on a mission to find out what had happened to them. And by doing that, to try to find out what had happened to Jacob Wetterling.

Jared gave us a voice. And, you know, we've gone through this once. And as you can imagine, it's an up and down. You know, you hope they're going to catch this guy and things like that, And then, they don't catch him, they don't catch him, they don't catch him. Years go by after Jacob, you know, it's like it's part of us, right.

Jared and several other men got back in touch with the investigators on the Wetterling case. They wanted law enforcement to see what they saw, that these cases in this one county in just a few year period almost certainly were done by the same guy. Jared said he hoped to find answers for Jacob's parents.

And I was. I felt like I was Jacob's strongest hope.

Finally, two years ago, investigators went back and looked at those Paynesville cases. They looked at Jared's case too. And it's hard to know for sure because most of the Wetterling case file is still sealed, but the best they can tell is that this effort by Jared and by all of these men from Paynesville is what led authorities to go back to the man who was in front of them all along, Danny Heinrich.

Kris, the guy from Paynesville, told me the way he sees it, it shouldn't have taken so long.

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.

And once authorities made the decision to go back to focusing on Heinrich, things moved pretty quickly. Authorities still had a hair sample from Heinrich from all those years ago. They sent it off to a lab, and it came back as a DNA match to Jared's clothing. They used that match to get a search warrant for Heinrich's house to try to find evidence of Jacob Wetterling, but they didn't find any. What they did find was some child pornography. So, they charged Heinrich with that, and threw him in jail.

Authorities told Jared about the DNA match. After a quarter century, Jared finally had an answer from law enforcement, but there was a catch.

"It's Danny Heinrich, but because of statutes of limitations, we can't prosecute him in your case." That made me angry. You know, that made me feel like I have worked hard to get to here to find this answer. And I get the answer, but I don't get prosecution. And it's not fair. It's not justice.

Jared's brother, Jed, took the news hard.

Just like, "What? We lived here the whole time, and he's just down the damn road all those years," you know. And it's like, "What?" Throughout all the years of wondering, and not knowing, and then, all of a sudden, here's your answer, but there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

Law enforcement officials haven't said anything publicly about why it took so long to connect the dots to Heinrich. And Kris, the guy from Paynesville, says that's one of the things that bothers him the most.

I just feel like it's … Yeah, I feel like they haven't said there was anything wrong. It's an unexamined life.

Last month, the U.S. attorney decided to make Heinrich a deal, "Show us where the body of Jacob is, and you won't be charged with killing him. And we'll drop all but one of the charges of child pornography against you. You won't spend the rest of your life in prison." Under the deal, Heinrich will serve 17 to 20 years. He'll be in his early 70s when he gets out.

It was a highly unusual deal for a federal prosecutor to make. It almost never happens. And in Minnesota, it made some people angry. So, I called up the U.S. Attorney, Andy Luger, to ask him why he made a deal like this.

We had belief but not evidence before he told us. So, my job, 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.

Heinrich took the deal. And on Wednesday, August 31st, Danny Heinrich led officers to the spot just outside of downtown Paynesville. Jacob had been there the whole time.

Next time on In the Dark.

Investigators say the kidnapping that occurred here in Cold Spring is just now coming to the forefront because of the overwhelming number of leads.

The FBI says it took so long to connect the two cases because of the overwhelming amount of information it has to process.

We've been running so many white cars down, and red cars down, and tan station wagons, and vans. And we've been just getting a tremendous amount of calls in here.

What can they, the Wetterlings, do? Are they, in a sense, powerless now to the whim, the whimsy, the awful capriciousness of this madman? That would be my opinion.

Sunday, 7:24 p.m.

I just want to tell you that Jacob is all right.

Are you happy again?

Yeah.

I would say this is really unusual. It strikes me as a very bad idea.

In the Dark is produced by Samara Freemark. The associate producer is Natalie Jablonski. Significant additional reporting for this episode by Jennifer Vogel. 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. Additional reporting by Curtis Gilbert, Will Craft, Tom Scheck, and Emily Haavik. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Johnny Vince Evans.

There's a lot more that we couldn't fit into this episode, so please visit our website, InTheDarkPodcast.org. You can read stories about the DNA evidence in this case, and why it wasn't tested right away, and find out more about how unusual the plea deal with Heinrich was. And you can watch a video of Jared Scheierl talking about his search for answers, as well as find out about places to get help if you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted.

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Full Transcript: In the Dark: S1 E4 The Circus

Previously on In the Dark.

Danny Heinrich is no longer a person of interest. He is the confessed murderer of Jacob Wetterling.

Just like, "What? We lived here the whole time, and he's just down the damn road all those years?" you know. And it's like, "What?"

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.

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

I had expectations 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.

Within a few weeks of the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling, there were close to a hundred investigators working on the case. That's one of the most unusual things about this , just how many people were assigned to it.

So, it's hard for me to understand why those investigators didn't do some of the basic policing 101 stuff. They didn't talk to all the neighbors who lived on the dead-end road where Jacob was kidnapped. They didn't contact all the boys who were attacked by that strange man in Paynesville. And, perhaps, most importantly, they didn't talk to everyone they could find who could have known something about the very similar kidnapping of the boy that same year in that same county in the town of Cold Spring.

They certainly had enough people to do all that. So, what could explain it? I spent months trying to figure this out. And then, one day, the wife of the former police chief in the town where Jacob was kidnapped handed me a dusty VHS cassette tape. It was all the TV news coverage from the early months of the Wetterling case. She'd recorded it back then, and was planning to throw it out. On that video, I found a clue from a news report in December of 1989, two months after Jacob vanished.

Investigators say the kidnapping that occurred here in Cold Spring is just now coming to the forefront because of the overwhelming number of leads.

The overwhelming number of leads. In every major criminal investigation, law enforcement has to make a choice: Keep the case local or go big.

This is In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran. Today, we're going to look at how investigators in the Jacob Wetterling case decided to go back, and it cost them. It would end up leading them farther and farther away from the man who took Jacob.

One of the first things law enforcement did in the Jacob Wetterling case is they turned to the public to ask for leads. They did it right away, even before they talked to most of the people closest to the crime, the people who could have seen something on the road, the people who had also been attacked by a strange man in a mask. Investigators started appearing on local news and on national news. So did Jacob's parents, Jerry and Patty.

I wanted everybody in the world looking for Jacob. It was like my son, you know, we're talking getting him home. We did what we had to, what we felt we had to.

The surest sign that the Jacob Wetterling case had become a big story came just three weeks after Jacob was abducted. When the case attracted the attention of the 1980's clearinghouse for human tragedy, daytime talk show host, Geraldo Rivera.

Every time it happens, it puts an entire community into a state of shock. It's like a giant punch in the gut because all we can do, all the police can do really is to speculate as to the intentions of the kidnapper. And just the options are horrifying.

Geraldo's TV crew showed up in St. Joseph and set up a satellite feed from the Wetterling's basement. The cameras showed Patty and Jerry sitting next to the Stearns County sheriff and the FBI supervisor assigned to the case. On the wall behind them, there were these big sheets of paper covered in handwritten messages of hope and concern.

As the days, Patty, turned to weeks, is it something that causes you nightmares as you try to pursue a reason why? Why your boy? Why that night?

I can't answer those questions, and I choose not to think about all the horrible options you've made mention of at the beginning. I just won't allow those into my mind at this point. I just want to believe that he's fine. We're going to get him home. I don't have nightmares. No.

The show also featured a young intense John Walsh as a kind of straight talking expert. John Walsh is the guy from the Hunt and America's Most Wanted. His son was murdered by a stranger in 1981.

I know what they're going through. They're going through the nightmare of not knowing. They're going and hoping that, sometimes, in a rare incidence, a child has gotten back that's been gone for a long time. But all of the people there sitting there today know the harsh reality that lots of kids that are taken are not taken by some caring person and taken to Disneyland. They're taken by someone who is into sexually assaulting children. And if you're lucky, you'll find the body in a field.

While all this was happening, Patty was just staring at the ground like she was trying to redirect all her anger away from Geraldo and John Walsh and onto a few inches of basement carpet.

What can they, the Wetterlings, do? Are they, in a sense, powerless now to the whim, the whimsy, the awful capriciousness of this madman?

That would be my opinion.

It went on like this for a while.

And here's a song of hope. I want to thank everybody. John Walsh, you, especially. All the parents, thank you. Here's a song for Jacob and for all these children. Let's play it.

The show ended with a song that it become a kind of anthem of the search for Jacob, a song called Jacob's Hope, written by a musician in Minnesota.

To all our parents, to their children who are out there, our prayers to you. We love you. Come home soon. We thank everybody for being here. Thank you, folks, at home for watching. We'll see you next time. Bye-bye.

Here's what they did, they used us. They used us. We had this sensational kidnapping, and they used us. I remember taking that mic off, and throwing it, and coming upstairs, and throwing things off the deck. I was going to write him this scathing, "How could you do this to us?" And my sister told me, "You get more bees with honey. You might need him down the road." So, I wrote him a thank you note.

The Geraldo interview and all the other TV appearances were painful for the Wetterlings, but they did generate leads for law enforcement, lots of them.

The sheriff of Stearn's County, Charles Grafft. Sheriff, what's the latest on the investigation?

Well, we received just overnight, I mean, within the last 24 hours, over 300 telephone calls and tips. Different descriptions of vehicles, different descriptions of different people that were not supposed to be in the area.

With every day and every news story, more leads came in. First dozens.

As early as yesterday morning-

Then, hundreds.

… we had received more than 300 phone tips.

Then, by the end of the second week, thousands.

Then 500 leads. Now, more than a thousand calls to this location.

There were so many leads that law enforcement had to set up a 24-hour call center just to keep up.

Through the more than 14,000 tips and hundreds of suspects that have come since Jacob's kidnapping.

There were leads about strange men spotted in other states.

Had been located in Texas.

Leads about cars spotted weeks later in other parts of Minnesota-

A small red car with-

… driving suspiciously slow or suspiciously fast. Leads from all over the U.S. And pretty soon, some of those leads started sprouting leads of their own.

I was talking with an FBI agent who worked on the case back then, Agent Al Garber. He's now retired. And Garber told me how this would work. Investigators would get a tip, say, about a white van, and they publicized it. And all of a sudden, people all over the state were seeing white vans everywhere and calling them in. It happened with all the cars they asked about.

If you are looking for a blue jeep, you're going to see blue jeeps. Do an experiment. See on your way back to wherever you're going how many blue jeeps you see. I bet you're going to see a whole bunch of them. And I bet on the way up here, you didn't see any.

All right, Sheriff, where did those reports of the white Chevrolet come from?

Well, they came up from anonymous tips from all over the State of Minnesota. And we've been running so many white cars down, and red cars down, and tan station wagons, and vans. We've been just getting so tremendous amount of calls in here on this particular case here that it's kind of mind boggling.

People started calling leads into the Wetterling's house too. So many people that the sheriff even gave Jerry and Patty a special phone with a built-in mini cassette recorder.

Sure. It's in the back. It was sitting on our desk here for years.

They still have it. When I visited a few months ago, the phone was on a dresser in a spare bedroom.

This is the kid and grandkids'room.

Patty and Jerry kept using it for years.

Yeah, this was the phone the sheriff's department gave us.

There was still a tape inside.

It sounds like it's getting to the end too, but okay. So, we'll listen.

You know, you can see all the work that I've done in 20 years of history.

Sure.

They're doing copies of-

There are hundreds of phone calls recorded on these tapes. Patty and Jerry would fill the calls, and then pass along the leads to the command center. In a sense, they became investigators on their own case, and the house became a kind of secondary call center.

Wednesday, 4:58 a.m.

Yeah. I work for a carnival. We just did a show in Omaha, Nebraska. And I've seen a picture of this kid called Jacob Wetterling. I have a feeling that's working for a small show called Rainbow Amusements.

People called with all kinds of leads like this. Sometimes, Patty answered the phone, and sometimes Jerry did.

December 28th, and this was the McDonald's in Maple?

In Maplewood, right. Right.

Okay.

And then, I presumed the boy was trained because he started alerting this man that I was staring at them. So, I tried to be nonchalant, and go up, and order something, so I could get a hold of the manager and have him call the police. And I looked back, and they were gone.

Okay. And you had the best that you could tell going by the photos, this boy did have a lot of similarities to Jacob. Is that what you're saying?

This boy looked heavier and pale. I would imagine he would have been indoors, and it would been several months since he was captured. He was abducted in what?

October 22nd, so it was about maybe nine weeks.

Yeah. And so, I presume that he would have been indoors and eating. I don't know what, but it certainly seemed reasonable to me.

So, that was one type of call people calling in to report possible sightings of Jacob. But then, there are these other calls. And these calls, well, I'll just play some of them.

Hello, good evening.

Hi. Is this the Wetterlings?

Yes, it is.

How was it been there?

Well, it's 12:30 at night. Can you help me?

Okay. I'm very sorry.

So, people would call Patty to tell her about dreams they had or seen Jacob somewhere.

Well, it's all right. Just tell me what you know.

Okay. He was in a farm. It was a farmhouse.

Yeah, we've received a lot of farmhouses.

Oh okay.

And they'll often say something like, "I can't sleep. I had to call. You know, I couldn't carry this anymore." So, then, they'll call, and it's sort of like dumping it. They'll dump it off on us, so that, then, they can sleep.

Hello.

Hello.

Hello. Who is this?

This is the Gillespie's in Missouri. I want to ask you a question real quick.

Okay.

Is there anybody in your family, even the side, with their legs off?

Not that I know.

I see. One of the man that got your son don't have no legs. I am sick of seeing what this man has done to this boy, the legless man. This boy was raped on the side of a school bus. It's right there where you live.

You can't tell me that information without telling me where Jacob is. That doesn't help me to know.

Yes, yes, yes. I know I hurt you. I don't want to do that.

Good. Well, thank you.

But your boy's all right.

Good.

Your boy is all right. He is alive.

The Wetterlings put up with all this. And I want you to really think about this, what if someone in your family went missing, and there was a phone in your kitchen that was constantly ringing. And every time you picked it up, the person on the other end had a new horrible story of what had happened, and you had to listen carefully, and write it all down on the off-chance that it would help solve the case. It got to be so much that, sometimes, Patty and Jerry asked their friends to answer the phone.

Sunday, 7:24 p.m.

I just want to tell you that Jacob's all right.

Are you happy again?

Yeah.

Sometimes, they even got calls from people claiming to have Jacob.

Can we speak to him?

Yeah. Wait for a minute. Jacob.

I'm all right. I'm all right.

Okay. Where are you at now, Jacob?

I don't know.

None of these calls turned out to be Jacob.

The phone, you know, it's a gift and a nightmare. You know, you'd sit waiting for that call. And then, there's this, and there's that, and there's another. But you never know. You can't not answer the phone. And that's a killer.

And then, there were the psychics.

My name is Ferris. You mind discussing this or not?

Can you help me find him?

Well, I'm a psychic.

Psychics, it turns out love these kinds of cases.

Everybody keeps asking me, "Did you ever think of contacting a psychic?" It's like, "You don't have to. They come out of the woodwork. They do."

And these psychics in those early months, they created some trouble for the Wetterlings. When Jacob first went missing, the Wetterlings were this united team, Patty and Jerry. But as the investigation dragged on, Patty and Jerry started to go their separate ways a bit as they each tried to make sense of what had happened.

I was just all about talking to the cops and the investigation. Just give me the facts. I can deal with facts. Jerry, meanwhile, had all of these spiritual connections and psychics. And he was-.

That was until about a month after that I had started doing that.

Right. So-

After he wasn't home, it's like, "Whatever, you know. If straight law enforcement isn't solving it, you know, maybe there's another method out there." So then, I went down that road for a couple of years of craziness.

The craziness?

Yes, it's crazy. He called it abductor hunting. And they'd tell him to go out on a county road, and say something, and turn around three times, he'd do it. I mean, it was like you do anything, you know. But, meanwhile, I was alone because he was out abductor hunting with these crazy people. He had midnight Margie who became … I called her Midnight Margie or maybe you did.

Midnight Margie?

She'd call, and they'd talk all night long. And she was just-

You're exaggerating. We didn't talk all night long. There was always people around here, there was there was craziness, the investigation. Then, about 11:00 at night, you know, things would kind of get a little quiet. And I would talk with her about psychic stuff, pretty much, leads, but it wasn't all night long, but anyway.

Because they all wanted some of Jacob's clothing. They wanted a toy. They wanted some something. And I watched, and Jerry would would package up his stuff and send it off. It was a desperation. And, you know, how can you not do everything, but it was so painful.

You can hear that desperation on a lot of these tapes, like this one that's a recording of a phone call between Jacob's dad, Jerry and a psychic named Sylvia Browne.

I mean, what happened?

Your son wasn't about to have this. Your son wasn't about to be victimized by this. And then, unfortunately, he started fighting back, and I think out of desperation or out of fear. The thing about it is it didn't last very long because they're trying to quiet him down, they hit him in the head.

I'd be afraid too. There's so much fear.

Oh, I think he did out of fear.

Sylvia Browne was a pretty big deal back then. She was a regular guest on The Montel Williams Show, and had a habit of inserting herself into high profile cases. She wrote books with titles like Contacting your Spirit Guide and All Pets Go to Heaven.

I've watched some old videos of Sylvia Browne from back then, and she was quite a sight, dyed blonde hair, cheeks with so much blush that it bordered on clownish, an inch-long fingernails with bright red polish, curved like talons, and her eyebrows, they were dark and penciled in, and she'd raised them almost conspiratorially. Like you and I, we're the only ones smart enough to believe all this.

But I'm convinced there was another man there. I don't think there was just one male. I think there was two.

Okay. And where are these guys from?

Illinois.

Both?

Both. See, I think it was a Chicago license plate. I don't know what the thing, but it seems to be Illinois. But I mean, it was from Chicago.

Okay. Interesting, interesting.

All this information, all of these leads from people claiming to be psychics, from people with weird dreams, from people claiming to be Jacob, it all went into the pile with everything else at the command center. And the surprising thing is law enforcement checked out a number of these leads from psychics. Retired FBI agent Al Garber told me, sometimes, it wasn't because they necessarily believed the person was really psychic, but more because you never know.

What I believe about psychics is really not important. I thought maybe there were times when a person might claim to be a psychic because they didn't want us to know the source of their information. So, when psychic information came in, we looked into it carefully. There were some cases where it was just either too general or we had ruled out what the psychic would say in anyway. But we did some things. We did a search in Iowa, immense search based on psychic information, and came up with nothing.

The search on a 25-mile stretch of road near Mason City, Iowa was prompted by a vision from a New York psychic. The search took place in October of 1989, about a month after Jacob was kidnapped. It lasted two full days, and it involved the FBI, the Iowa State Patrol, local cops, and deputies from several sheriffs' offices.

And I want you to keep this in mind, while investigators were chasing down the psychic lead in Iowa, they still hadn't talked to everyone who lived on the dead-end road where Jacob was abducted. They still hadn't talked to one of their most likely suspects, Danny Heinrich. They still hadn't searched the area around where Heinrich lived.

And yet law enforcement kept on pursuing these out-there leads, these leads that seemed to have almost no chance of panning out. And when the leads didn't pan out, it's not like investigators said, "Hold on. Maybe we don't want any more of these crazy leads." In fact they went further. They did something that was pretty much guaranteed to bring in lots of bad leads. It involves someone law enforcement called the man with the piercing stare.

In those early days of the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, law enforcement started to circulate sketches, sketches of strange men spotted around the area. One of the people investigators were most interested in sketching was a mysterious character known as the man with a piercing stare.

The man with a piercing stare was a guy a few people had seen at the Tom Thumb, the store where Jacob and two other kids had biked that night to rent a movie. Here's how FBI agent, Byron Gigler, described the man in a TV interview back then.

His normal demeanor would be to stare at customers with piercing eyes who would not speak to him. He would oftentimes follow them around the store, and simply position himself in front of the store, and follow them around the store with his eyes.

I talked to a couple who claimed to have seen the man with a piercing stare. Kevin and Marlene Gwost were in a band called The Nite Owls. It was a polka band.

Oompah, German.

Oompah, polkas.

Minnesota style.

Two steps.

On the day Jacob was abducted, there was an all-day polka festival in town at a ballroom close to the Tom Thumb store. The Nite Owls played an early set. That afternoon, after the Nite Owl's set was done, the Gwost packed up and headed off to play another show. On their way out of town, they stopped at the Tom Thumb. They think it was around 4:30.

We're going to get something to eat, so we hit the road, and play another job that night.

We had sandwich there, heated it in the microwave. And that's when we noticed.

They saw a man standing by the coolers, late 20s, early 30s, watching the front door.

Right away, I picked on him. You know, you could tell he was intense upon something else. Like he was thinking about something else at the same time.

What did he look like?

Well, he had a baseball cap on. Kind of, I want to say a wider face. When you just looked at him, you just had a funny feeling, like people just don't stand there staring, you know, looking over aisles the way he did.

The Gwost didn't know what to make of this guy. They headed to their next show. And later that night, they drove home.

You know, on the way back, we're coming up 71, and we had the radio on, and they mentioned about this kid disappearing, and saying Jo.

We just kind of looked at each other, and like, "That had to be him," you know.

I remember saying, "Yeah, we got a call in the morning."

Yeah.

I talked to another guy. His name is Steve Gretsch, and he was also at the polka fest that day. Steve worked for a radio station called KASM that organized it. And he told me he also saw someone strange.

There was one guy in there that didn't fit. He had a beard, you know, real dark beard here. And he had all black. Nobody dresses like that to go to a polka fest. You get your Sunday best on to go dancing.

In the weeks after, Steve Gretsch and Marlene Gwost both talked to a law enforcement sketch artist about the strange man they saw. They both described a similar process. They remember sitting down with this book of images of ears, eyebrows.

So, you're like going through, "Here, all of those eyes."

Eyes, nose, yes, chin. forehead.

They have like different noses and stuff like that, and they just flip through it. And they go, "Yup, that's more like it." Then, they put it together in the face, and then you tweak it a little, and then you get your sketch.

I wanted to know more about this whole process of making sketches. So, I called up a woman named Karen Newirth. She's an expert in sketches and eyewitness ID. And she works for an organization called the Innocence Project. The group tries to exonerate people who've been wrongly convicted of crimes.

Karen told me this whole process of making sketches is far from scientific. She says, "We had this idea that it's really easy to describe a face. We see them everyday. They're the first thing we notice about a person." But Karen says, "Describing a face is way harder than we think."

We tend to process faces holistically, right. Like we see a face as a whole, as opposed to, "Okay, those are, you know, two almond-shaped eyes. And that is a nose that is wider than mine and shorter than my mother's," you know, or however. We don't … We're not processing separate features. It's very difficult to capture either in words or through the composite making the actual nuances of human features and the human face.

There are studies about this, about just how hard it is. And those studies found that most of the time, sketches aren't going to look much like the people we see. I tried this myself with another reporter on our team, and we were so bad at it. We even made a video about just how bad at it we were. You can see it on our website.

Whoa.

Oh wow.

I don't know what I was picturing, but it wasn't that.

They look like two different guys.

In the Jacob Wetterling case, law enforcement used a lot of sketches including one based on a description from Jared Scheierl, the boy in Cold Spring who was abducted earlier that year. That sketch looks sort of like Danny Heinrich, but it looked like a lot of other people too.

This reliance on sketches in a criminal case is pretty standard, despite what Karen is saying about how unreliable they are. But investigators on the Wetterling case went a step further. Law enforcement took sketches of the man with a piercing stare and other sketches of suspicious people spotted in different towns, and they combined them into a completely new sketch.

Let me just say, these people from these sketches don't look at all alike. One of the men in the sketches looks to be in his 70s. He's balding with heavy bags under his eyes and a sloping nose. Another man looks like he is maybe 50, different eyes, different nose, different everything.

And so, when law enforcement combined all these people into a new sketch, it didn't look like any of the earlier guys. It looked like a different person entirely. A white guy, maybe in his 60s, kind of mean looking, and it doesn't look at all like Danny Heinrich. I couldn't find anyone who remembers making the decision to create this combined sketch. So, I sent these sketches to Karen, the expert at the Innocence Project, to see what she thought.

I would say this is really unusual. I've not heard of what … I'm not sure even how to respond. I think this is … It doesn't sound like there was even necessarily reason to believe that the witnesses were describing the same individual. This strikes me as as a very bad idea.

What law enforcement did next is they took this new combined sketch, and they sent it out to the media, along with the sketch Jared helped make. These two sketches, the combined sketch and Jared's sketch, did not look like the same person. Not at all. Law enforcement put both sketches on a flyer, and they sent it everywhere. There are thousands of copies.

Flyers were taped to doors, to restaurant windows, and even onto pizza boxes. The flyer said, "We must find these men, so Jacob can be found." Investigators would point to the flyer and say, "Look closely at these faces and call us right away if you see these men," and people did. They'd call into the command center saying, "That guy I'm flyer, I think that's my neighbor," or my mailman, or a guy I met on vacation four states over. And the leads poured in.

By 2016, there were at least 70,000 leads in the Wetterling case. That's more than 20 times the number of people who lived in St. Joseph back when Jacob was abducted. I went to talk to the lead investigator on the Wetterling case, Chief Deputy Bruce Bechtold in August, about a month before the case was solved. He told me they were still getting leads.

There are people that think Martian's took him.

They say this?

There's all kinds of odd things that come into us, so. I got a report last year that Jacob was riding on an elephant in a parade in Philadelphia last year.

Deputy Bechtold came the closest of any investigator I spoke with to saying maybe all of these leads and all this publicity weren't so great after all.

Perhaps it did go too big too fast instead of staying close in. If you spend so much time on leads that go nowhere, it may be taking you from the lead that may take you somewhere.

But in the end, even Deputy Bechtold wouldn't go so far as to say that trying to get so many leads from all over the country was a mistake. He just couldn't let go of the idea that one of these leads, even one of these bizarre leads, could solve the case.

Was there a sense that like those leads have to be checked out, like there's no matter like kind of how maybe out there that you just have to check just to be sure?

I would say with most, you have to be sure.

Every law enforcement officer I talked to who worked on the case said something similar to this that they had no control over the number of leads and no choice but to check them out. To a person, they said, "There's no such thing as too many leads. Information is always good."

When I talked about all this with Patty and Jerry Wetterling in July before Jacob's remains were found, they told me that questioning the investigation, what could have or should have been done, doesn't get them anywhere. It doesn't help find their son. And they said it's not as though investigators didn't work hard. They were working nonstop on this case. But Patty and Jerry did wonder whether all of those leads made the case harder to solve.

I just think, almost, there probably was too much publicity and too much interest because there were too many leads for everything to be, you know, totally looked through. I don't know. It's hard to say. I don't know.

What happened was his story was out and became national quickly. Investigatively, it's like two-thirds of the time, it's somebody who's in the region. You know, somebody who's from the area. So, I think, that they were forced to look at a lot of things that probably … They triage. They had to sort, but that's a lot. That's a lot of leads. So, do we have the the one guy in there? Probably. But it's like Jerry was saying, it's almost like too many to, you know, to have him stand out because it was just so much.

There was so much noise. 70,000 leads, psychics, white vans, the man with the piercing stare, people claiming to be Jacob. And for nearly 27 years, investigators say they reviewed every single one of those leads. It kept expanding the investigation more and more, even years later asking the public all across the United States for help solving this case.

Somehow, in all that noise, law enforcement failed to see what was right in front of them, the man who lived two towns over, the man already in their files, the man who had confessed to the crime nearly 27 years later, Danny Heinrich.

And after years of chasing down pointless leads, in 2004, a new sheriff did something different. He turned his attention to one of the few people who witnessed something the night Jacob was abducted. And instead of believing what that witness had to say, he turned him into a suspect.

Next time on In the Dark.

They were saying, "You took him. How did you do it? Would you just please admit that you did it, and we can make this a lot easier for you?

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 or Dave Peters and Andy Kruse. The videographer is Jeff Thompson. Additional reporting for this episode by Jennifer Vogel and Will Craft. Our theme music is composed by Gary Meister. This episode was mixed by Cameron Wiley and Johnny Vince Adams.

Go to InTheDarkPodcast.org for a closer look at the use of police sketches, including a video about our experiment; and to read stories about the investigative use of hypnosis and polygraphs, which the Wetterling investigators also used; and to hear some of the calls the Wetterlings received at their house after Jacob was kidnapped.

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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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript and Video: Royal Wedding Ceremonies Compared, Prince Harry & Meghan Markle & Prince William & Kate Middleton

We transcribed both Royal Wedding Ceremonies from today with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and 2011’s Royal Wedding with Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Here are the full transcripts and associated videos.

Full Transcript: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wedding vows

I Harry take you Meghan.

I Harry take you Meghan.

To be my wife.

To be my wife.

To have and to hold.

To have and to hold.

From this day forward.

From this day forward.

For better for worse.

For better for worse.

For richer for poorer.

For richer for poorer.

In sickness and in health

In sickness and in health.

To love and to cherish.

To love and to cherish.

Till death us do part.

Till death us do part.

According to God's holy law.

According to God's holy law

In the presence of God.

In the presence of God.

I make this vow.

I make this vow.

I Meghan take you Harry.

I Meghan take you Harry.

To be my husband.

To be my husband.

To have and to hold.

To have and to hold.

From this day forward.

From this day forward.

For better for worse.

For better for worse.

For richer for poorer richer.

For richer for poorer.

In sickness and in health.

In sickness and In Health.

To love and to cherish.

To love and to cherish.

Till death us do part.

Till death us do part.

According to God's holy law.

According to god's holy law.

In the presence of God.

In the presence of God.

I make this vow.

I make this vow.

Heavenly Father by your blessing let these rings be to Harry and Meghan a symbol of unending love and faithfulness. To remind them of the vow and covenant which they have made this day. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Meghan I give you this ring.

Megane I give you this ring.

As a sign of our marriage.

As a sign of our marriage

With my body I honour you.

With my body I honour you.

All that I am I give to you.

All that I am I give to you.

And all that I have.

And all that I have

I share with you.

I share with you.

Within the love of God.

Within the love of God.

Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Harry I give you this ring.

Harry I give you this ring.

As a sign of our marriage.

As a sign of our marriage.

With my body I honour you.

With my body I honour you.

All that I am I give you.

All that I am I give you.

And all that I have.

And all that I have.

I share with you.

I share with you.

Within the love of God.

Within the love of God

Father Son and Holy Spirit.

Father Son and Holy Spirit.

In the presence of God and before this congregation. Harry and Megan have given their consent and made their marriage vows to each other. They have declared their marriage by the joining of hands and by the giving and receiving of rings. I therefore proclaim that they are husband and wife.

Those whom God has joined together. Let no one put asunder.

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Full Transcript: Prince William and Kate Middleton wedding vows

William Arthur Philip Louis. Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife to live together according to God's law in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her comfort her honor and keep her in sickness and in health and forsaking all other keep the only unto her so long as we both shall live.

I will.

Catherine Elizabeth. Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband to live together according to God's law in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love him comfort him honor and keep in sickness and in health. And forsaking all other keep the only unto him so long as you both shall live.

I do.

Who giveth this woman to be married?

I William Philip Louis.

I William Arthur Philip Louis.

Take thee Catherine Elizabeth.

Take thee Catherine Elizabeth.

To my wedded wife.

To my wedded wife.

To have to hold from this day forward.

To having to hold from this day forward.

For better for worse.

For better for worse.

For richer or poorer.

For richer for poorer.

In sickness and in health.

In sickness and in health.

To love to cherish.

To love and cherish.

Till death us do part.

Till death do us to part.

According to God's holy law.

According to God's holy law.

And thereto I give thee my troth.

And thereto I give the my troth.

Catherine Elizabeth

I Catherine Elizabeth.

Take the William Arthur Philip Louis.

Take the William Arthur Philip Louis.

To my wedded husband.

To my wedded husband.

To have to hold from this day forward.

To have to hold from this day forward.

For better or for worse.

For better or for worse.

For richer for poorer.

For richer for poorer.

In sickness and in health.

In sickness and in health.

To love and to cherish.

To love and to cherish.

Till death us do part.

Till death us do part.

According to God's holy law.

According to God's holy law.

And thereto to I give you my troth.

And thereto I give the my troth.

Bless O Lord this ring and grant that he gives it and she who shall wear it may remain faithful to each other and abide in thy peace and favour and live together in love until their lives end. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With this ring I went.

With this ring.

With my body I thee honour.

With my body I thee honour.

And all my worldly goods with thee I share.

And all my worldly goods with thee I share.

In the name of a father.

In the name of the Father.

And of the Son.

And of the Son.

And of the Holy Ghost.

And of the Holy Ghost.

Amen.

Amen.

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Announcements Laurel vs Yanny: AI speech recognition leaders Google, Amazon, Sonix, and IBM can’t agree either

Sonix, an emerging leader in speech recognition, compared its speech recognition engine to the biggest players in this space including Google, Amazon, and IBM.

The results are mixed with Google & Sonix recognizing “Laurel”. Amazon recognizing “Year Old” which is closer to Yanny. And IBM recognizing both “Yeah role” and “Laurel” which is like a mix of Yanny and Laurel.

To conduct the test, Sonix used the Yanny vs. Laurel version that Cloe Feldman first posted on Twitter.

Here are the results:

Google’s Speech API

Amazon Transcribe

Sonix

IBM Watson Speech to Text

Did you know? Original audio: Yanny vs Laurel – here’s what our AI engines think

We ran the Yanny vs Laurel audio file through Sonix AI engine and here is the resulting transcription. Laurel it is.

Redditor RolandCamry was the one who originally posted the clip last Saturday. The recording comes from vocabulary.com. If you click the audio button next to the word you’ll hear the truth. It’s Laurel.

Our machines engines can’t be wrong can they? 🙂


Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: Trader Joes (inside) Episode 2: It’s About Values

Sonix is an automated transcription service. We transcribe audio and video files for storytellers all over the world. We are not associated with the Trader Joes (inside) Podcast. Making transcripts available for listeners and those that are hearing-impaired is just something we like to do. If you are interested in automated transcription, click here for 30 free minutes.

To listen and watch the transcript playback in real-time 👀, just click the player below.

Trader Joes (inside) Episode 2: It's About Values

How long have you been shopping at Trader Joe's?

I've been shopping at Trader Joe's for ten years.

Why do you shop here?

I shop here because the deals… I'm a marketing person. You guys are marketing people. So innovative, it's interesting, engaging. And yeah, I like to see how you guys work with retail and work with bringing in brands and how you do your own brands. I like bringing home good food. All that stuff.

From the Trader Joe's mother ship in Monrovia, California…

Let's go Inside Trader Joe's.

We're in the kitchen getting ready for a Trader Joe's Tasting Panel. And it looks like we're going to be evaluating some products that might be headed to the shelves of your neighborhood store, maybe later this year. Maybe not. I'm Matt Sloan.

And I'm Tara Miller. Thanks for listening to this five-part series that takes you inside Trader Joe's. The theme of this episode is values. Values aren't just good deals on good products. There are seven values that we try to live by at Trader Joe's, every day.

And not to be schmaltzy, but many Trader Joe's Crew Members will tell you, lots of them, that these values have helped each of us in our own lives, too. It's true.

And later on, we're going to share the history of Trader Joe's, including a few words from Joe himself.

And yes, Virginia, there is a Trader Joe.

I'm Dan Bane. I'm the Chairman and CEO of Trader Joe's. I view my job as more of a person who is conducting an orchestra and working things so that that Crew Member that's taking care of customers has all the tools that they need to do a great job.

What I wanted was a song that everybody could understand and sing together. So seven things that we preach to people all over the company, all new Crew Members, one of the key things would be integrity.

And if you boil it down, it means treating people the way you'd like to be treated. A little Golden Rule-ish.

Number one's integrity.

Our second value is product-driven company.

Well, customer service.

No bureaucracy.

Kaizen.

The store's our brand.

We're a national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.

The company values are so rich that they're not something that… and a lot of people may think this is corny but are not just in the store for me. They transcend into my personal life and how I treat other people and how I expect people to treat me. And I think that's the biggest thing. Integrity.

One of the key values guides is Kaizen. And for us, that means everybody in the company owes everybody else a better job every day, every year, in what they do. Because of that, we don't really do budgeting which, as a recovering CPA, is, you know, heresy. But we don't do budgeting. We just expect stores to do a little bit better every year. They create their own targets. And it's really paid off some big dividends for us.

One of the things that makes Trader Joe's really different is that we taste everything before we decide to sell it.

While we're not secretive, there are some things that we do that are closed off. And really, among them, are our Tasting Panels. We want the Tasting Panel to make decisions on behalf of our customers. So none of our vendors, our suppliers, can buy access or be present or help sway those decisions. It really is all about that product and, "Is it great to eat or drink?"

We once let a newspaper reporter into the Tasting Panel. And photos were taken only if the Tasting Panel wore bags over their heads.

It was a great-looking group. I mean the bags were just a necessary requirement.

The tasting kitchen, as a place, shrouded in the secrecy that it is, is interesting. It's a harsh environment. Fluorescent lighting; gleaming white countertops; no fun, inspirational posters. There's no kitten saying, "Hang in there", although maybe we should put that in there. There's nothing in there that makes it comfortable. It's like a Cold War interrogation booth because we want the products that succeed to go through this like ultra-Darwinian exercise to say that they could stand up even to that harshest light of critical evaluation.

We all love the glass of wine that we had on the Amalfi Coast after a long day traipsing up and down the Cinque Terre. But that same wine tastes differently at 10:00 a.m. under fluorescent lights on a Thursday.

And if it's great at that Thursday, then we know we've really got something. So we want to remove the romance for a little bit. We want to remove that story that will so carefully tell, and really just focus on the thing itself. Is that thing great? And if it's great, and it has this really nice story, then we know we've got something interesting that we'd love to share with customers.

Yeah. Tasting Panel's meeting right now. So follow me.

So (Restaurant Name) is known as probably one of the best Italian restaurants in L.A. They have a dish there called tagliolini al limone. And it's… yes, it's one of my favorites, too. So it's made with lemon cream and Parmigiano Reggiano. Very simple dish. And this was the inspiration for what I'm proposing today. It's a shelf-stable pasta sauce in grocery. Our version is made with cream, Parmesan cheese, butter, lemon juice concentrate, basil, salt and spices. So very simply ingredient deck. So we would be in this 15-ounce jar for $3.49. This is served with spaghetti and a little bit of shaved Parmesan and Romano on top and a little bit of pepper. I have the sauce on the side, if you just want to taste it.

The flavors are so bright. I mean it's really a nice sauce. It's heavy and creamy, but it kind of still tastes light which is magical.

Did that pass?

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

All right. So I think thin Joe-Joe's are great. Don't get me wrong. But today I have a cinnamon toast version for you in the classic format. As you know, we've been looking for a lot of new seasonal in-and-outs. We're proposing this for sort of the January, February, March time frame. We would be $1.99 for 10.5 ounces which is in line with our other Joe-Joe's. This is just a really fun cookie. It's got sort of a cinnamon sugar dusting on the cake part, the cookie itself. And then there's a cinnamon and vanilla bean filling. It's really fun. It's really different. And I think you'll enjoy it, so please give it a try.

Does anyone feel like the cinnamon has something approaching like… it's like Big Red gum.

I think there's too much cinnamon.

I mean if I'm going to promise cinnamon, I want to deliver cinnamon. But if there's too much, I mean we can definitely back it down.

So we have a group of people who convene on a regular basis. And basically, we eat. But we eat with intention.

Membership is granted, and you are chosen to be part of this group. And it's a diverse array of crew members.

And then to wrap things up, I have a product that I'm really excited about today. It is a popcorn that is enrobed in salted caramel and then enrobed in chocolate.

And our intention is to figure out what tastes great and what our customers are going to love.

Does the combination of great quality and great price make itself so known that we have to bring this in because every time we bring something new in, we've got to get rid of a little thing or two to make some space.

All right. To rein the conversation back in, do we feel like the salt level is enough? Do we feel like this delivers? If you're getting a salted caramel, is this what you would expect?

Someone might say, "Well, you have dog treats. I mean who tastes the dog treats?" The dog treats get tasted by panel members' dogs.

I will cop to having eaten some biscuits intended for animals other than humans recently. But I can say with conviction we taste everything.

Yeah.

What does a dog biscuit taste like?

Well it depends. I mean I actually tried this one thing recently. I was like, "Oh, I don't know if I should have eaten that". It was a salmon/sweet potato treat. It was pretty fishy. I haven't eaten the tuna for cats. Just full disclosure. You've got to draw the line.

Well, thank you all. I think that's all we've got.

For like a minute? Nothing's live. So if we don't, don't worry.

This is Jenny. Jenny is one of our product innovators. And I'll let Jenny tell you what that means.

So we basically travel the world and find products for Trader Joe's that you can't find anywhere else. We basically try to find the things that make the treasure hunt for our customers so fun.

Sort of the things we don't know we want or need until we taste them, and then we need them.

So we have Tokyo coming up in March. And I mean as you guys know, ramen is really hot. So we're going to see some suppliers there and hit up some restaurants. So I'm really excited. It's my first time.

Do you have a tasting panel nightmares?

No. I have nightmares about missing my flights.

Up next, the history of Trader Joe's. But first, ready for more ideas on what to try from Trader Joe's?

Hi. I'm Jay Jay Sweiss.

She's our store Captain, that's manager, in Sherman Oaks, California.

Hands down, my favorite new item is our cookie in a dish. The frozen one. We had it yesterday, the crew, and I've had it at home, so it's amazing. It's just fantastic. Crazy how good it is. It really is.

My new favorite is the Jackfruit Yellow Curry. Have you had that?

Oh, that is really good. Very spicy and delicious.

So, where should we start? How about at the very beginning?

That is a good place to start.

The king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley, checks into Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, to begin his two-year Army hitch, courtesy of the Memphis draft board. Meanwhile in Washington, President Eisenhower meets with leaders of Congress…

So it's 1958, and Joe Coulombe, Joe, he takes over a small chain of convenience stores around the L.A. area. These are called Pronto Markets. The whole idea is fast. It's pronto, it's quick, right? And they're convenience stores before we really even know what convenience stores are. This is before 7-Eleven becomes the thing that it is. These are little, tiny corner markets.

The kind of place where you could get anything from, say, a pack of gum to some pantyhose to a box of ammunition.

You know, it's really a special assortment. I mean it's like who would make sense of this? Nobody could; nobody did. So it changes.

We'll let Joe pick up the story from here.

I spent ten years running Pronto Markets. Towards the end of that, I really did not like the convenience-store formula.

Joe is the classic entrepreneur. Joe's really good at looking for, finding and developing opportunities.

The demographics were changing in the United States because of the G.I. Bill of Rights which was the largest experiment in mass higher education in the history of the human race. And I thought that these people would want something different.

But the first Trader Joe's store opened in 1967 in Pasadena, California. That store's still there. It's still operating. It still has the same parking lot.

Rosalio Medina is the current store Captain. That's what we call our store managers.

People come in and ask, "Is this really the first Trader Joe's?" Had a guy the other night. He was here. I think his aunt was in town from Japan. "My aunt wanted to come here. This was a place she wanted to come see." And I was like, "That's pretty cool".

Why did Joe choose the nautical theme for the stores? Why did he make the folks who worked there "traders on the high seas"?

I'd been reading a book called White Shadows in the South Seas. And I'd been to the Disneyland jungle trip. And this had all coalesced. And that is why, to this day, the employees wear Hawaiian shirts. And it kind of sort of worked.

Back in the early days of Trader Joe's, they made sandwiches in the stores. They cut and wrapped cheese in the stores. It was almost like a deli-counter kind of experience, but in a tiny little store. And they sold lots of wine.

We actually sold sandwiches by the inch. And I always wondered like did someone say like, "Give me an inch-long ham on rye?" Like who ordered like a two-inch sandwich? But maybe someone did.

There weren't a lot of customers at the beginning, though.

Robin Guentart worked for Joe back then. And he can tell you they'd do almost anything to get you into the Trader Joe's.

In the beginning, the store was not a success. In fact, it was scarily quiet. It was so bad that Dave Hetzel and I took turns dressed in a gorilla suit flagging people in.

And then in 1972, a total game changer for Trader Joe's, a new reason to love Trader Joe's, was born.

The 1972 breakthrough, not to be confused with the 1972 break in. That was Washington. This was Los Angeles. Different story.

Granola.

Not just any granola, though. This was the first private-label Trader Joe's product. And after granola, Joe never looked back.

You don't have to worry about all of the soft drink salesmen coming in and the bread salesmen coming in and the potato chip people coming in. You're just focused. And that solved so many problems.

I think it's fair to say most companies go through CEOs like we might go through a pair of shoes. You know it's like, "Oh, the earnings were down this quarter, we need to replace our leadership". "The wind is blowing west. We need to change our leadership."

Well, it's interesting to think about a business that is a little over 60 years, a little over 50 years as Trader Joe's, and having, through that entire stretch of time, three CEOs. That's weird in the best possible way. And so Joe, the founder, is leading the company for the first 30 years. And he is central casting, dyed-in-the wool entrepreneurial spirit.

It's the quality of the people which sets Trader Joe's apart. Forget the merchandise; forget all the other stuff. It's the quality of the people in the stores.

Joe starts this, sows the seeds of the idea and grows it to a point where he thinks it is basically what it could be. It's almost limited by what he could physically cover in a day, actually driving around from store to store. And in 1988, when Joe retires, Trader Joe's has 19 stores. John Shields takes over as CEO. The company goes from 19 to 150 stores. And really, you know, John Shields has been described as "the architect of Trader Joe's growth". He saw that this could expand beyond the original base, that area around Pasadena, California. And to facilitate that growth, John understood that decentralized decision-making, this idea that the Captain runs the ship, was really important. In 2001, when Dan Bane takes over as chairman and CEO, we have 150 stores. And we go up to now 474 stores and growing and counting. And Dan not only saw the opportunity to really capitalize on this growth directive but also to formalize the strategy to really focus the business and make Trader Joe's what I think is the best grocery store in the world.

It's great that we've only had three CEOs.

That's a crew member named Jon Basalone. And his more formal title, which is not on his name tag, is President of Stores.

What's really great is that it was sort of the right CEO at the right time. Throughout our history, I think that's really what's happened.

All right. We're ready for coconut oil.

Well…

The jokes just write themselves.

So sometimes we're on trend. And sometimes we're ahead of the curve.

And sometimes we're so far ahead of the curve, it might seem like we've gone around the bend.

Right. Like what happened with coconut oil.

Exactly. With coconut oil.

Once upon a time, going back several years, really before the general public understood that tropical oils, like coconut oil, were no longer deemed bad for you but were actually thought of as being good… before then, we thought we'd try selling coconut oil. And we were excited, and we brought it in in a big way, and we completely missed the timing of it. We were out ahead of everybody's interest in it. And it really was a failure. And it took us a long time to get through the product, to sell it, slowly, painfully, slowly. And we thought, "We are not going to make that mistake again". Flash forward a couple years, and we start hearing from customers that like, "Hey, we're seeing coconut oil. We'd like to buy it from Trader Joe's because we want you to do that Trader Joe's thing where the price is really good". And we kept resisting. And I remember the category manager at the time working on the grocery products where the coconut oil would really live, kept coming to the Tasting Panel and kept presenting it. And the panel kept saying, "Don't you remember when we had all that stuff in the warehouse, and we don't want this?" And finally, after multiple sessions, and really because of the number of customers saying, "We would love to see this in your stores", we tried it again. And it was a runaway hit. We had a terrible time keeping up and keeping in stock actually for like the first year and a half. And so we thought, "Wow. This is amazing. You know what we should do now", because there's been so many interesting studies and different pieces of writing about red palm oil. And red palm oil is a new tropic oil with great health attributes. This is when we should have really recognized what the Tasting Panel does. We taste. And the flavor of the red palm oil was just not that great. But we were too caught up with the idea of it, and we thought that we were going to capture lightning in a jar twice, as it were. Coconut oil onto red palm oil. We brought it in in a big way. We put it in a Fearless Flyer, I think. I remember that.

We certainly did.

Yeah. And, no one wanted it. And we were just way too… way too far out ahead of this. And maybe, maybe there's a red palm oil in our future that customers might want. I don't know.

You're listening to a five-part series that takes you Inside Trader Joe's. And if you like Trader Joe's, and you even liked this podcast, rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever it is you found this.

Oh, we'd like that. And here's what's on the next Inside Trader Joe's.

And so this… actually just also in from the mailbag here. Lot of Crew Members get this question. "How many Hawaiian shirts do you have?"

I'm not sure I can provide a count.

At the demo station. you never know what you're going to be. You may be a nurse, you may be a secretary, you may just be a counselor. You know, we are many things back there because everybody come to the table, as the bishop would say, from a different place of enlightenment.

You made me cry.

No, no, just… that was… you couldn't stage that, right? Like that's… because, sorry, you're not an Academy Award winning actress.

I'm a horrible actress.

On this episode, we're going to be informative. And seriously, not too serious.

I just was telling the gentleman at the register that I read the Fearless Flyer, cover to cover.

I wrote the Fearless Flyer for all those years.

A cross between Mad magazine and Consumer Reports.

And in hindsight, we probably should have known that some of those products were going to be misses.

Like what?

We thought chunk pilchard in a can would be great.

That's on the next Inside Trader Joe's.

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Trader Joes (inside) Episode 1: It's About The Products

Here's a taste of what's coming up on Inside Trader Joe's.

Why do you shop at Trader Joe's?

Because you have the most variety. I actually remember you guys when you guys just had like nuts and cheeses.

We actually sold sandwiches by the inch. And I always wondered like did someone say like "Give me an inch-long ham on rye"?

There really are hundreds of thousands of wines available in the market. We carry about 500 in our stores. So we're tasting every day, literally every day.

You know, there are people who work here at Trader Joe's whose job is to go out into the universe and find the foods we don't know we need.

There are very few places I go that I haven't really enjoyed but I love pears.

I will cop to having eaten some biscuits intended for animals other than humans recently. But I can say with conviction we taste everything.

Tasting panel's meeting right now. So, follow me.

I think our stores probably are all in the range of sharing from $600,000, $700,000 a year to over a million dollars with their local communities.

I'm a marketing person. You guys are marketing people. So innovative, interesting, engaging.

And in hindsight, we probably should have known that some of those products were going to be misses.

Like what?

We thought chunk pilchard in a can would be great.

You know we're in the people business. We sell groceries but we're in the people business.

We'll even hear from Joe himself.

The demographics were changing in the United States. And I thought that these people would want something different.

Why is everybody so nice? It's like, because they are.

Because they are.

Everything is editable. Nothing's going out live.

And really, we're not going to sound silly?

Well, you might. But that's okay.

From the Trader Joe's mother ship in Monrovia, California.

Let's go Inside Trader Joe's.

When you hear two bells at your neighborhood Trader Joe's, that means that someone has a question that needs to be answered.

Or a leaky thing of cottage cheese that needs to go back to the refrigerator. But really, customers have been asking questions about Trader Joe's for years.

We get a lot of e-mail and letters posted on social media, phone calls, people asking us what it is that makes Trader Joe's so special.

This isn't going to be a commercial. It's not a long ad. We're really not going to try to do that. We'd really like to just provide some insights into what we think makes Trader Joe's special and what we've also heard from those customers, too.

I'm Tara Miller. I'm the Director of Words and Phrases and Clauses, also sometimes known as the Marketing Director. I've been here at Trader Joe's since 2002.

And I'm Matt Sloan. I'm Vice President of Marketing Product. I work with a team of crew members covering product-related projects from the tasting panel, from the idea of the product through the actual product and all the work it takes to get it packaged, labeled accurately and out to our stores to be on the shelves. And gosh, I've been a Trader Joe's crew member since 1993.

Wow.

We have so much to cover.

We'll take you inside a Trader Joe's Tasting Panel. That's where decisions get made about which products you'll find in your neighborhood Trader Joe's.

How Trader Joe's customers and crew members are feeding people in need right in their own neighborhoods.

What a customer said to our CEO that got a big laugh and changed how we sell bananas. We'll let Joe explain why, to this day, we all wear Hawaiian shirts.

How the Fearless Flyer got so… fearless?

And our take on values, both what value means in our stores and our products, and the seven values we try to follow every day. This is the first of a five-part series.

And we're starting with a topic that's near and dear to many… Trader Joe's products.

Trader Joe's has a lot of products that I don't see at other stores that I really like. So I'll try stuff that they have. At the samples stands, I'll try stuff, and it's actually worked on me. So in that way, I get to experience new things that I wouldn't find at another store.

So Matt, how does a Trader Joe's product happen? How does it go from idea to shelf?

Well, it really is about that. It's about making something in your head real, about making something that's an idea into a tangible thing that we can show and offer and hopefully people want to buy. It's often best for us to get out into the world and not just wait for things to come to us. And so, once upon a time…

Once upon a time, someone who was out looking for products for Trader Joe's was visiting a place in Canada outside of Montreal that makes great frozen soup. And they make the soup in this very specific way. It's actually sold in little pucks. You might even think about the French onion soup that Trader Joe's has sold for so long in that format. And this person from Trader Joe's, this product-developing type person, who happened to be me at that point in time, so it was me. I was there and watching them make the soup. And at this point, I was thinking like, "Wow. What else could they do here?" They kept showing other soups and lots of soups and I kept thinking, "We don't need any more soup". But at this time, steel-cut oatmeal was really popular, and the biggest downside to steel-cut oats, at that point, was how long it took to make it, like 45 minutes. You know the pot's going to boil over. It's going to make a mess. All this for breakfast. How can we make it simpler? And so I asked the soup people, "Hey, do you guys every cook oatmeal in that giant machine over there?" And they thought I was nuts, and they thought I was crazy. "Cannot do it", in like your Quebecois accent. But we started working on it, and we started working on cooking steel-cut oats and putting them in these portioned pucks, if you will, and selling them. And we're actually still selling that product now. So it's often just thinking about how to solve a problem and looking at the immediate situation of where you're at, a frozen soup factory, and thinking like, "Wow, can I actually use these resources to solve this other problem?" So you took the soup situation and used it for breakfast.

What are the attributes that make a Trader Joe's product a Trader Joe's product? Why are Trader Joe's products different than any others?

There's so much variety in terms of what goes into products, but there is a very consistent thing that is hit, we hope, product to product to product. It's great. It tastes great. It's enjoyable to eat, to drink. That's really important. Our products really are about what they are. So you can have a laundry list of what's not in them, like artificial red dye. We might use juice from a beet to do the same thing to give a nice red color. But it really is about what that product conveys and what it is. Is it a great-tasting wine? Is it a delicious cheese? And to get there, there are a lot of things that we don't allow in our products. Synthetic preservatives… we don't use any genetically-engineered or genetically-modified organism ingredients. And while those are really important, and customers expect those attributes from our products, products live and die by whether or not they taste good.

Listening for tips on great Trader Joe's products to try for yourself? We'll have lots of them throughout our five-part series.

I really like the Trader Joe's vegetarian chili. And right now, they're out of it. So, they still carry it, but they're out of it.

Favorite Trader Joe's product? All the produce. I constantly am on the trail mix.

I was really into that almond jalapeno dip we are carrying, so I'm kind of waiting for that to come back.

My favorite Trader Joe's product would be that orange chicken which everybody loves, you know. It's so easy and it's so delicious and sometimes you just want something quick, fast and you can eat and you know it's going to be delicious and have it with some of that Jasmine rice and some of those peas and that's sort of dinner for me, you know. Yeah, yeah. I love that.

I'm Jon Basalone, President of Stores for Trader Joe's and been with Trader Joe's for 28 years. Held all sorts of jobs with Trader Joe's. Started as a crew member. Was the captain of a store in Arizona. Came to Southern California as a regional. Worked in the office for a while. You know, I'm kind of trying to find my niche, I suppose. Been in this position for about three years. Looks good on my business card. But, you know, we're all crew members, so…

One of the jobs you had in the Trader Joe's office along the way, as you looked to find your niche, was Vice President of the Merchandising Department which is leading up the buying group that brings in all the new products. Can you explain a little bit how we buy things has evolved over the years?

I think in the very early days, we were relying on outside sources to sort of give us a, you know, "Here's a list of products to choose from", or, "Here's some things you can look at". And it might have been a little more curatorial in aspect when it came to what was in a Trader Joe's store, where Joe was maybe the curator of, "This is the kind of stuff we should sell". And he just found suppliers that had, you know, lists of products, and he kind of chose what those were.

Over time, we sort of moved into, "Hey, you know, we could probably do this and make this really interesting if we went out and tried to find the stuff ourselves. Not be sitting around the office waiting for people to bring us stuff. Let's send them out and see what they can find". You know, "Hey, we're not like anybody else. We don't need all your advertising dollars; your marketing dollars. You don't need to buy space in our store. By the way, we want you to take all those other costs out of it because you don't have that cost with us".

The customers are very intelligent. They’re very smart with their shopping and what they want.

Everyone's so friendly. The prices are wonderful.

People talk a lot about value. And value means different things to different people. What does it mean for us?

A lot of times, value is equated as necessarily meaning the lowest price ever with no consideration for what you get for that price. And for us, what you get at a price is what really matters. We're interested in great quality at a great price. And you can't separate the two.

Really, who doesn't love finding something new? And then who doesn't love a little bit of a treasure hunt? It's really just become expected from our customers, of us, to be out there finding stuff. We need to be actively on the road looking for things. And we're going to talk with someone whose whole mission is just that, being those boots on the ground in a place we didn't think we needed to go; find something that we didn't know we can't live without. But now that we have it, we're so excited.

Oh, Paris. I love Paris. But there are a lot of places I really like. I mean I've been to so many countries and seen so many things and found really cool things I didn't know existed, a lot of which are in the store which I enjoy that aspect of it. I mean there are very few places I go that I haven't really enjoyed. But I love Paris.

That's Lori Latta. She goes all around the world as our V.P. of Product Innovation.

What I've done recently, which has worked really well, is I'll find… I go online or I talk to different people in the country that I'm going to and say, "I'm really looking for somebody who's really an expert in food. And I don't want to take the normal tour of the normal places. But I want somebody who can show me the markets and show me like really interesting, very traditional foods from that place".

So I've hired a couple of different people for a day or for two days in several countries. And that's turned out to be a really great way to do it. And I tell them exactly what I'm doing and, you know, where I'm from and such. And so far, I've done really well that way. So that's turned out to be a really fun way to see cities.

Can you pinpoint a product that you have guided through development that is the most unique?

Tara, people always ask me like, "What do you have coming?" And, you know, I do so many products that it's really hard for me to remember. I do have a very favorite product coming which I won't tell until the next time when we actually have it in the store. And that's something you will have never seen. But, I would say that in the store right now are the mango and sticky rice spring rolls.

Those are fantastic.

So that's probably one of my favorites right now. But there have been so many. The riced cauliflower? You know, you see it everywhere. I mean you never saw it in a grocery store until we did that. I think the cauliflower pizza crust is similar, and now you can find that around. But for a really cool product, I'd say that, the spring roll.

Here's an update since we talked with Lori, here at our Trader Joe's mother ship.

Right now, she's in France, and if you listen closely, you can hear her talking with a gentleman with a heavy French accent. They're at the world's largest Madeleine factory.

Sixteen hundred kilos an hour.

Knowing Lori, she's hitting up some great French restaurants and markets while she's there, too, looking for some flavors to bring back home.

And for a line and there are a lot of lines. So it's a lot of Madeleine.

You good level-wise and everything's good? Okay. So Dan, can you please tell us your name and your title?

Sure, I'm Dan Bane. I'm the Chairman and CEO of Trader Joe's.

And this is just in from the TJ's mailbag. We get this question a lot, actually. What's up with bananas? Why do we sell them 19 cents each?

Interesting story. I was in the Sun City store. And we used to sell bananas by the pound like everybody else. But that meant, because we don't have scales in the store, that we had to weigh them and package them in little plastic bags in the warehouse before they got shipped out. And usually the smallest bag you could buy, it was like four or five bananas. I was watching in Sun City, which was near a retirement complex, customer… nice little lady comes up, and she looks at all the packages but didn't put one in her cart. And so I asked her, I said, "Ma'am, if you don't mind me asking, I saw you looking at the bananas, but you didn't put anything in your cart". And she said to me, "Sonny, I may not live to that fourth banana". And so we decided the next day, we were going to sell individual bananas, and they've been 19 cents ever since.

And just like that. That's incredible.

I very specifically remember the Tasting Panel back in 2002 when we approved what would become Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken. I do remember the day because it was a phenomenal Tasting Panel. Everyone's like, "Oh, my god. We need to bring this in". It was so good. Everyone wanted it in right away. Mandarin Orange Chicken came about because a chef who had created a very similar dish for a Southern California restaurant had come to us and said, "I have this great recipe that I created, that I own, and I would like to make this for you at Trader Joe's". And so we all got really excited, and we wanted to bring it in. And we planned to put it in a Fearless Flyer relatively quickly. And everything got moving. And we were all excited about it, and we wrote the article for The Fearless Flyer. We printed the Fearless Flyer. And the Fearless Flyer was getting ready to be put in the mail. And we found out that the product wasn't ready. It wouldn't be ready for quite a while because the packaging wasn't printed. And the packaging needed to be printed in a very specific place. But the product was featured on the front page of the Fearless Flyer. That's how excited we were about it. So all we could think of was, "The Fearless Flyer is going to arrive in people's homes, and they're going to get as excited as we were about this product", because we wrote it in such a way to really show how excited we were. So we made a last-minute decision.

What we were able to cobble together was basically a clear, plastic bag with kind of a half-baked, if you will, sticker slapped on there. And I mean it really was a testament to the power of language and words that the Fearless Flyer article could describe what you were getting because it looked like you were getting a Ziploc bag of leftovers for several months.

And Mandarin Orange Chicken would not only go on to become one of our best-selling items, but it has been the overall favorite Trader Joe's product in every Customer Choice Awards survey that we have put out, nine years running.

You're listening to a five-part series that takes you inside Trader Joe's. And if you like Trader Joe's and you even liked this podcast, rate us on Apple Podcasts or wherever it is you found us.

Oh, we'd like that. And here's what's on the next Inside Trader Joe's.

We're in the kitchen, getting ready for a Trader Joe's Tasting Panel.

We once let a newspaper reporter into the Tasting Panel. Photos were taken only if the Tasting Panel participants wore bags over their heads.

All right. So I think thin Joe-Joe's are great. Don't get me wrong. But today, I have a cinnamon toast version for you in the classic format.

The theme of this episode is values.

The demographics were changing in the United States.

Joe is the classic entrepreneur.

And I thought that these people would want something different.

In the beginning, the store was not a success. It was so bad that Dave Hetzel and I took turns, dressed in a gorilla suit, flagging people in.

That's on the next Inside Trader Joe's.

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