Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: How to Get Your Podcast on New and Noteworthy in iTunes – Eric Siu

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Full Transcript: How to Get Your Podcast on New and Noteworthy in iTunes – Eric Siu

In this video, we're going to give a two-minute guide to getting your podcast on the New and Noteworthy. My name's Eric Siu and the reason I'm talking to you about this is because I have two podcasts; one, Marketing School over six point five million downloads to date. The other one, Growth Everywhere. About a million downloads, a little over a million downloads to date.

So I know a thing or two about podcasting. I've interviewed over 300 people and I do a daily podcast with Marketing School. So I'm going to show you how you can actually get there and get the numbers that we saw.

Alright, so let's dive in. What you have to do to get on New and Noteworthy is you have to get as many ratings, reviews, and subscribes as possible. You got to do that in a quick manner, right? So think about it as a PR bump. You get this really big like influx first and it kind of goes down.

There is a community called Podcasters' Paradise by John Lee Dumas. It's actually a podcasting course where people can help you rate, review every Friday or so, and they're all helping each other out.

That's a really easy way to do it and there's other podcasting communities out there that where you can help rate each other. But also if you're talking about online marketing for example, or if you're talking about interior design for example, you can definitely just join a community and do that.

Second is, blast your email list, your social channels etc. People tend to forget about the assets that they have. Your email list, social media channels, these are people that know you already. So, it's in your best interest to try to get that influx going, right?

You can even retarget these people by using paid advertising or Overcast is a podcasting app that I use. You can run ads on there as well.

You could also go to Marketinginyourcar.com. That's from Russell Brunson and he has a MP3 funnel that he used, and it was very strategic about how he basically for every one person he got to buy his little MP3 podcast stick, five people subscribed. So, you could see how it scaled really quickly that way.

The other solution is to get on other podcasts as well. So get on other podcasts in your niche, in your industry, or whatever. Try to get that big bump. When people are doing book launches, they get on a bunch of different podcasts. So think about, "How can I get on other different podcasts"

And, the final thing I'll say is, use Libsyn. That's L-i-b-s-y-n. That's a podcast host that I use, that allows me to blast my episodes or promote my episodes to multiple channels at once. To Linkedin to YouTube to Soundcloud all at the same time, and that makes my life a lot easier.

So if you enjoyed this video and you want more videos on how to grow your podcast? Just hit subscribe and we'll see you in the next one.

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: Collaboration and Competition – The Knowledge Project

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Collaboration and Competition – The Knowledge Project

(music) Welcome to the Farnam Street podcast called The Knowledge Project. I'm your host Shane Parrish the curator behind the Farnam Street blog, which is an online community focused on mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. The Knowledge Project is where we talk with interesting people to uncover frameworks you can use to learn more and less time, make better decisions, and live a happier and more meaningful life. Margaret Heffernan is on the show today. The former CEO of five businesses, she's learned how human thought patterns lead us astray. She's the author of a book called Willful Blindness which examines why businesses and the people who run them ignore the obvious and the resulting consequences, as well as a book called Beyond Measure which looks at how tiny changes can make a ginormous impact. Enjoy the conversation.(music)

Before I get started. Here's a quick word from our sponsor.

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Welcome, Margaret.

Thank you.

First of all you wrote a book called Beyond Measure which looks at how tiny changes lead to big changes. What one reviewer on Amazon said was, "This book is filled with specific and meaningful examples of how to transform the work environment in order to improve not only performance and outcomes, but also the collective and individual experiences of all employees." Let me begin with this, I'd like to hear about the smallest change you've seen make the largest difference in a wide variety of organizations.

Well, I guess the easiest one for me to talk about is the one that I did within one of my companies. So as you probably know I've spent most of my life in England, but in 1994 I moved to the U.S. My husband got a position at Harvard. And after looking around a bit, I ended up running tech companies for a venture capital firm. So the first company that I was running I did what you would expect, which is hired all sorts of extraordinary and wonderful people and gave them all sorts of hard problems to solve. And my observation was that everybody came into work and worked very diligently and went home again. I thing I chiefly remember is it didn't sound right. There wasn't a sort of what I think of as a sort of jolly hum. And it certainly didn't sound like companies I'd run in the UK. And I thought about this and I was trying to figure out what's wrong. Is it just that you know this is the US it's not a UK and companies are different? But I just felt it was all a little bit too task-y, it was some little bit too tactical. And I — you know what I chiefly remembered for my companies in the UK was at the end of the day or and definitely on a Friday, people would go to the pub and wait for the horrible London rush hour to subside.

Right.

And I thoughtm well, this is Boston and you know about eight months of the year it's winter and everybody drives and there aren't any pubs. So that's definitely not an option. (chuckles) And so I thought, well, what the heck. I'm just on Friday I'm just to tell everyone to down tools at Hoppus for and and every week three people are going to tell us who they are and why are they here.

And it was it really was beyond awkward, I have to say because it made it felt very clunky, but I honestly was at my wit's end and I just didn't know what else to do. So I thought, what the heck, let's give this a shot. And you know to be honest the engineers mostly did PowerPoint presentations and the marketing people mostly did kind of a standup comedy routine. But what it did is it stopped people looking at each other in terms of function and made them start to look at each other as human beings. And it was absolutely transformative in the way that people started to relate to each other and talk to people and you know talk to people in the lunchroom and sometimes even spend — you know, go to a movie together or see each other at weekends or whatever. And it was quite interesting because many, many years later I was talking about this at an HR conference in Boston. And unbeknownst to me one of my former employees was actually in the conference. And in the Q&A session she, you know, put her hand up and said, "I was there. It was absolutely transformative." And she remembered virtually every detail of these sessions. And you know so I think this is about as simple as they come. But it was really my rather lame, but effective attempt to get people to see each other as human beings, not as titles, not just tasks, not as experts, certainly not as rivals, but just to, you know, what I would now call build social capital.

Why do you think that we're more in tune with our workplaces or more productive or happier when we have a human connection to the people we're spending so much of our time with?

Well, I think the basic thing is that in any organization, you know, the whole premise of organizational life is that together you can do more than you can do in isolation. But that only works if people are connected to each other. It only really works if they trust each other and help each other. And that isn't automatic, and I would even argue and have argued at some length that in fact I think there's a lot that happens to people as they're growing up that if they did that naturally to begin with they learn how not to do it. Instead how to regard each other as rivals and competitors. So you're only really going to get the value out of organizational life to the degree that people begin to feel safe with each other, to trust each other, to want to help each other

And the way I think about that these days is, not surprisingly, I think of it as a network. And I think that all the collective knowledge of the organization flowing through that network. And what impedes the flow is distrust, rivalry, or not knowing what other people need. So to the degree that people are open and generous and information flows quickly, it'll find the problem that it is destined to solve. But all of the distances between people, all of the distrust or just ignorance as to who people are and what they care about slows that flow down.

Do you think a lot of organizations inadvertently create rivalry with incentive systems? Or how does that come to be? When you think about an organization as a whole entity there's very similar goals, but when you break it down into sub-entities you have maybe competing or conflicting goals.

`Yeah.

Why is it do you think that organizations develop such rivalries?

Well, I think there are a couple of things. So I think there are kind of sins of omission and sins of commission. In other words, there's some this happens organically and some of it does happen, sadly, deliberately. So the stuff it's deliberate is to do with definitely there are leaders out there who believe that the more people compete within an organization the smarter and the better the organization will be. They pretty spectacularly misread Darwin.

And you know Darwin, there's no evidence that Darwin was a social Darwinist. And they've introduced systems like forced ranking. And forced ranking in effect get — pits everybody against each other. And bear in mind, certainly in the US, that most people — the US and to be honest the UK, most people are coming out of competitive education systems. They may have had very competitive, pushy parents. You know that prompt predominant metaphors for business in the US is around competitive sports. So there's an awful lot of competitive mindset that comes into a company, whether you asked for it or not. And when you add on to that systems like forced ranking and hierarchies, you foment necessarily status contests. And what all that does is it implies that if I help you, you might do better, which is by inference means I do worse. So I'm not pretty, you know, if I'm thinking about this and if I feel threatened or anxious then I'm not going to help you. And I might know exactly the person who could help you solve your problem or exactly the piece of information that would, you know, help you develop your product or whatever. But I may be quite reluctant to do that because of both the kind of implicit and explicit kinds of competition that exists within the company culture. And I think that however much you say, you know, we're all in this together or we all need to help each other, you have to think quite carefully about where are — where are the sources of competition coming from? And what can I do to make it advantageous for people to help each other rather than compete with each other?

A lot of organizations in response to that seem to think that they have to make seismic shift to make seismic impacts. Part of what you're arguing is that, you know, I'm thinking about all of these grand restructurings we see in the business news almost every week. And part of your argument is that that's not necessarily the case.

Well I mean the data suggests that most of them won't work. The thing people do of course is they think about silo's, so what they do literally is knock down walls, which I think is kind of comic. (chuckles) So they knock down walls and they get a whole bunch of sofas and then they think they're done. And it's really interesting, I did to work with a big multinational chemicals business some years ago and they did exactly this. And two things happened. One is they really are one of the most viciously competitive cultures I've ever seen in my life.

And so none of that changed. In fact people were more withdrawn because they no longer even had offices in which they could be safe and generous to the few people they trusted. And the other thing is the chief operating officer acknowledged to me that actually the real — you know, they paid lip service to collaboration, but really the reason they done it is it just saved them a fortune in real estate costs. So I think, you know, I think there's a lot of — there's a lot of these restructurings that isn't necessarily strategic, although it's wrapped up as that. And I think there's also a lot in these restructurings that doesn't appreciate that actually the crucial thing here are the sort of social bonds between people. And that doesn't have to take a fortune to address, but it is going to take time. And it is going to require that people understand why it matters as a business issue. It's not that we've all just become Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. And it does require people understand what the kind of critical behaviors are really going to change a culture, which is after all a stupendously difficult thing to do.

What are the things that people do that change the culture that lend themselves to increasing the probability? I think I read somewhere when I was doing my MBA that the probability of changing a culture is, you know, under 5%. But there must be things that people can do that correlate to improved odds.

Yeah. Well, I think — I think it is very — I mean obviously it's really important who you hire. It's really important the signals you send to them as to the kinds of behaviors you want. I think that having kind of critical people who appreciate the generosity is a business characteristic. It's not something you just save for out of work time. (chuckles) I think that's really fundamental. You know that — that — if you really believe that the value of collaboration lies in the kind of aggregation or compounding of talent and creativity, then you have to have an environment in which people are really prepared to help each other. And people are only really going to be prepared to help each other if they will feel that they in turn will be helped when need it. And if you feel that, not egregiously, but respectably you might get a bit of credit for your contribution because people don't like to feel invisible quite rightly. So…

So basically people don't want to feel like they'll be taken advantage of.

They definitely — You know Adam ___ of course is brilliant on a subject. They don't want to feel that they'll be taken advantage of. And as Adam has shown, people have quite a good sense of who the takers are. But I think they also like to feel that their contribution has value. And the best way for them to feel that is for somebody to tell them. Now that doesn't mean that every day you go into work and make the equivalent of an Oscar's acceptance speech, you know. But it does mean that you kind of have to remember who helped you. And people whom other people want to help are very good in remembering those things. I mean, you know for me one of the most fun parts of writing books, actually the most fun part of writing a book is writing the acknowledgements, you know, because it's really fun to remember and to keep track of if you can all the people who helped you. But it's also — it's also a way of saying thank you.

Why did you start writing books in the first place?

(chuckles) Good question. Well I had writing five businesses and I had got to the point of thinking, "I don't want to do this anymore." I had hired and fired so many people, I was fairly burnt out. And I remember going to our first company retreat of people that, I don't know, writers and I think people they thought were interesting. And somebody there, and shame on me not remembering who, said to me, "You know Margaret just because you're good at something doesn't mean you have to do it forever."

And that really stuck with me. And I thought, "Well I don't have to run companies forever. That's cool." I thought, "So what I want to do next is I want some sort of business that requires no employees." Now at that point your options are pretty limited. And also at the time, so this would be in the early 2000s, coaching was a pretty kind of wild west arena. And it wasn't an area I want to go into. And a friend of mine who is a literary agent in London said, "Margaret you should write a book about the Internet." And I thought about it for a long time and I thought, "Actually it's either too early or too late. I'm not sure which, but it's — I don't have anything very interesting to say and the world is full of books with nothing very interesting to say. So let's not add to that." But it did get me thinking, "Well what would I like to write about?" And so I think, you know, those different things, the wanting a business with no employees, the encouragement by my friend the literary agent, and the great question is you know what — what is interesting enough to you that you might have something to say? I think that's pretty much the kind of combination of events that led to it. And it's fair to say, you know, before that I'd written a number of screenplays and radio plays and radio programs and people had always said, "Wow, Margaret, you wrote really well," so I didn't feel like a completely bizarre a concept.

I want to come back to — you having wrote plays, but first, are there — You've run five businesses, are there recurring patterns to the irrationality that you see happen in organizations you've observed from the outside and run? Do you think of it that way in terms of irrationality or are the things you write about simply kind of natural outcomes of bringing groups and people together to accomplish goals?

I don't really think specifically about rationality versus irrationality. I mean I'm pretty allergic to anything binary, which is probably strange having run software companies. But you know I really I think anytime I hear, well, it's either this or is that, I know I'm being sold a pup. I think my experience is there's always more intelligence and talent in organizations than manages to get out and to surface and to be deployed. And I've always wondered why and where does it go and why does that happen and where does it get stuck and trapped and why? And I think also I have always felt that it is in organizations specifically that very good people can go bad. And I've been endlessly fascinated by why or how that happens.

How does that happen?

Well you know that's — that is my whole book, Willful Blindness is really how that happens. But I always felt that that wasn't about rationality or irrationality, it was all sorts of stuff kind of distracting or sending people on detours from themselves. And I wondered, I wonder why. And you know, so I used to wonder why you'd have a huge number of creative people doing very uncreative work. I wondered how you'd get huge numbers of perfectly decent people doing really terrible things. You know I think I was highly driven to run companies in a desire to try to not do that. And this is very characteristic of female entrepreneurs, which is a sort of sense that, you know, I want to prove that it's possible to be successful and not do some of the crappy things that traditional managements do routinely.

So I think — I think all of those things were, you know, were kind of very, very big motivating forces both in the companies that I ran and in the books that I've written. Of course, it's a very — it's very scary, right? Because I've run five companies and I've written five books. And now I think if I were a numerologist I'd be extremely anxious and out looking for a new career right now.

I want to go back to something you said about people thinking in black and white. What do you think causes people to think that way?

Well it's much easier. It's much easier. It's much easier to think that something is either good or bad or black or white or alive or dead. And of course there are binaries in human life, right? You either are alive or you are not. And it's much more dramatic and we like drama. I just don't think it reflects the complexity or the richness of life very well. And I think that it — it oversimplifies to the degree that much that is wonderful, fun, and full of opportunity in life gets kind of run over when you simplify it that much. And it's kind of interesting because I think, I mean I think this quite a bit in the sense that I think a lot in my book are probably more complex than the genre likes, but perversely I don't really mind. (chuckles)

Right.

Because I'm really trying to talk about what I see as happening rather than trying to boil it down to a couple of: do these three things and everything will be okay, because I just don't believe it's true. And I do — This is going to sound really pretentious and pompous, but I do have a very bedrock belief that in as the writer Cyril Connolly said, you know, a writer should be a lie detector. And so I do care probably disproportionately about trying to get things right, and that means they're not going to be simple.

When you're writing it's really — it's probably easier to come at subjects from a place of nuance, but when you're in your day to day moment, when you catch yourself kind of thinking in black and white, how do you — how do you get out of that?

Well, I quite often say to myself, "Well, Margaret, if you think it's that simple, you've got to be wrong." (laughs) So–.

I like that.

You must be missing something, you absolutely must be missing something, so what's the counter argument? And some of that is, I mean, I just, you know, I just feel there's a sort of a demon on my shoulder saying, "Yeah, really? Who says so? How do you know?" And it's also of course that in my book Willful Blindness this is a story about the epidemiologist Alice Stewart doing a study of childhood cancers and her terrific collaboration with the statistician George Neal. And George who was very introverted once said of his work with Alice, "My job is to prove that she's wrong, because if I can't then she knows she should persevere." And you know I just think that's such a phenomenal model of collaboration, which is you know the argument is a gift. And I think about this both in terms of, you know, business or writing or family life. You know somebody who's prepared to listen and understand what you're saying well enough to argue with you. This is somebody who cares. And so it's just — it's you know, it's just a very kind of fundamental part of the way I think.

So often we see argument as a threat not only — probably to us. Why do you think that is?

Well sometimes of course it is. Right? I mean I'm not naive. I know there are times people have argued with me at work, you know, not because they had my best interest at heart, but because I wanted my budget. Right? So these things definitely do happen. But I think that, you know, when you're in a really good collaborative environment the argument is about that's not good enough, how do we make it better? Which is the crucial — the crucial kind of dialogue to have. But of course people will argue with you because their ideologies are different, in which case maybe they see something you don't, so it behooves you to listen to them. And it certainly sharpens your own understanding if you are prepared to take it on board and think about, well, if that were true what would that mean for what I see? Am I missing something? But I think, you know, obviously we're living through a phase where mostly people aren't prepared to argue with each other. They'll abuse each other in public, they'll abuse each other in social media, but they won't have what I think of is the real argument, which is let us together from different perspectives explore this territory and figure out what's going on here.

A lot of the people I seem to talk to who've run businesses or been in senior management often come to this understanding later. At first they see kind of argumentation or disagreement or thoughtful challenging as slowing them down.

Um-hmm.

And later, only later they come to see that as actually propelling them forward. Why do you think that is?

Well, I think you know often, especially when you're not wildly grown up, it's really easy to take it personally. So-and-so argues with me, that means they don't like me. Right? So you need a certain maturity to think beyond that, and especially if you have a very competitive mindset of course you've kid of got to get over that. So it takes a certain degree of maturity. It takes a certain amount of intellectual rigor. Which is do you want to get it right or do you just want to win. Right?

Right.

Those are two very different things. And I think it takes a long time, maybe — and maybe I'm just talking about myself. I think it takes a long time to look back and think, "Well, in those situations I did good work, in those situations I did less good work. What was the difference? Because obviously it's me in both places. So what were the conditions in which it was easier for me to do better work? And it's interesting because I think that, you know, we often tend to think, "Well, if I did good work that's me." Right? And I think one of the things I'm constantly probing is of course it's you, but it's also the environment and the context in which you're operating. So what is the content that's really conducive, you know, to creativity or productivity or, you know, perfectionism or whatever you're pursuing? Because I think this notion that you can do wonderful work regardless of context is romantic and naive.

I would 100% agree with that. What environment was conducive for you when you were running these companies to doing wonderful work?

Well, I had an investor who argued with me quite a lot. (chuckles) And was a brilliant guy. And I think we both understood it wasn't personal, so that was terrific. I had a hard core of people that I worked with for quite a long time and with whom I developed, you know, very high levels of trust and respect and freedom and safety, which is we could be very open with each other. I think a certain amount of pressure. I think that — when I worked at the BBC at one point I made a documentary of where I had a huge budget and a huge amount of time. And it's hands down the most boring thing I've ever done. I mean not for me, for the audience. (laughs) You know, it's just, you know, I researched it to death.

Right.

And what that taught me was actually I like having some pressure, you know, not insane pressure, but I do pretty well under pressure.

You need a constraint.

I need a constraint. And actually my biggest danger is that I'll accept insane constraints and only afterwards realize actually, "Margaret, you just agreed to do something impossible." But I like constraints. I like doing things I've never done before. I like trying to do something that I recognize from the outside is going to be difficult.

As you were running these companies, how did you make decisions? Did you have a structure for how you went about doing that?

Oh, I'm pretty sure I didn't. (chuckles) Which is to say to the degree that we had a structure, we had, you know, a good senior leadership team in which debate was pretty easy. I mean I remember for example having on my member — on my senior leadership team a really lovely guy named Will Richmond. And Will was what I think of, perhaps unfairly, as a classic Harvard Business School grad, which he was. So very, I think what you would call rational, very logical, very thorough, very careful, very different from me in other words. And —

He complimented you.

And he always asked some really hard questions that would always stop me in my tracks and they always made everything we did better. And I think he found us rather baffling. And I think some of us found him baffling, but there was no doubting his goodwill and serious intent. And so I think we, you know, to the degree that we had a process, we all had to feel in our different ways that the decisions that were being made were for the good of the business. And this has been a kind of, I guess you could say hobbyhorse of mine. Which is I always thought as chief executive my job was to do what was right for the business and which would not necessarily be what I wanted or what I liked or what was fun or what was easy. You know I just thought the only job description is what's right for this business. And I think we all, you know, I think we all felt that, that there was just a point at which when we came to discuss crucial decisions, that was the only question on the table.

I like how that frames the debate in terms of everybody might see things differently, but they're all coming at it from almost the same intent.

Yeah, and everybody wanted what was best for the business. Well, that was the you know the working assumption. And I think generally speaking it was true. But it's not, you know, it's not about me and it's not about sucking up to me. And I think that, you know, this is another very kind of recurrent theme in my work, which is, you know, power is incredibly disruptive. And you have to be very wary of it and try super hard not ever to have to use it.

Let's talk a little bit more about your work and selective blindness or what you call willful blindness. Can you define what you mean by that concept? What's the difference between blindness kind of in hindsight and blindness that could or should have been seen in real time?

Yeah. So willful blindness is a legal term and I first encountered it when I was writing two plays for the BBC about the collapse of Enron. And in the trial of Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay the Judge Simeon Lake referred to in his summing up to the jury. And he described it as if there are things that you could have known and should have known and somehow managed not to know, the law deems that your ignorance has been a choice and you are responsible for the choice that you made.

And so when I was writing that book, you know, the critical determinant for the cases that I chose was there had to be ample evidence that the information that was ignored was easily and freely available. So for example, at one point I thought of looking at the case, and I'm going to forget his name. There was a horrible case of a man in Austria who kept his daughter locked up in a basement for years and raped her repeatedly and had a child by her and so on. And I thought — and while his wife was and the rest of his family is living upstairs. And I thought, "Is this a case of willful blindness?" And as unpleasant as the case was, I read through, you know, everything I could find about it. And I determined that actually it wasn't knowable that this is what was going on. And there was no evidence that anybody knew what was going on, in which case it was not willful blindness, it was just ignorance. Right? So the ignorance wasn't a choice, there was just nothing to go on. Whereas if you take, for example, what I wrote about the deep water — not deep water, Texas City accident at the BP plant. There are years of consultant reports talking about how dangerous the site is.

So you know, that were commissioned by BP and sitting in filing cabinets in BP. So that was the really crucial defining characteristic of every case I looked at, which was: was it possible to know this? Because if it wasn't possible, it's not willful blindness.

Right. What circumstances do you think lead to people being willfully blind? If something is knowable, I mean what's the core of selective or willful blindness in organizations? Is it it's too hard to face the reality the way it is? So we deny something instead, or is there something that leads us to it?

Well there are lots of different things. I mean I think we — So there are a whole bunch of things. One is, you know, we all have mental models of how the world works. We have to because we couldn't make sense of the world otherwise if every day we started afresh. And the problem with mental models, also business models, also economic models, is they attract confirming data and they repel marginalize or trivialize disconfirming data. So our — what Alan Greenspan calls our ideology will be very useful in bringing to us information and prioritizing information that our model suggests is important. But it will fail to highlight the stuff that the mental model says doesn't matter. We would like to think that it being the nature of organizational life that we're surrounded by people who are different from us and will therefore might come with us to come to us without disconfirming piece of evidence. But of course we are individually highly attracted to people just like ourselves.

So we're most likely to be — to choose to be surrounded by people who roughly speaking share the same mental models and therefore will see the same things that we see and not see the things that we don't see. So they may sort of amplify our blindness. In addition, you know, there's this fabulous research on organizational silence by Morrison and Millikan at NYU that shows that people have issues and concerns at work, but they don't voice them either because they're afraid that they'll be labeled troublemakers.

Yeah.

Or it — just nobody will pay attention so why bother? It's more trouble than it's worth. And in addition to all that of course as human beings we're very obedient, we're very conformist, we want to belong. And if we see something going wrong and nobody else is making a fuss about it, we will take cues from them and think, "Well, maybe — maybe it's okay. Maybe everybody else knows something I don't and it's all fine." And I think that there are characteristics of hierarchy that exacerbate this. So I look up and see that my boss looks pretty happy so I'm not going to rock the boat, because my job description for myself is: keep the boss happy. So I think hierarchy exacerbates it. I think bureaucracy exacerbates it. So I have a job description and I have 25 KPIs and 37 targets, and none of those say if the house is on fire, call the fire department. So when the house is on fire, I don't call the fire department because I'm way too focused on like KPIs. And I can only think about one thing at a time and I'm already overwhelmed and I'm probably also quite tired. So you put all those things together and you can get Wells Fargo and Volkswagen and General Motors and the economic crash and so on and so forth.

What causes some people to buck that trend? Is it a personality trait? Is it something — a crusade? Is it — We've all, I mean I've worked in organizations where there are some people who are I would say relentless and they come from a good place, not malicious intent. But they're constantly challenging the status quo and making sure that other people can't be blind to information. What causes that to happen?

What is really interesting and it's a very very hard question to answer, because you know there's a lot of mythology around such people who are customarily described as whistleblowers, although that's quite a complicated term. So there's a mythology that says they're mostly women and the research doesn't bear that out. There's mythology that says they're people of faith, the research doesn't bear that out. The only thing I could find, and I've interviewed hundreds of such people, they tend to be a little nerdy. And I emphasize a little, because you know not spectacularly, but they are definitely people who like detail. And as a consequence of liking detail they may be slightly better than average pattern recognizers. So they'll start to see things that will prompt questions.

Hmm, I like that.

And they're very good at doing — you know this is how Hannah Arendt defined thinking. They're very good at having a conversation with themselves along the lines of, "Hmm, what does that mean? Does it matter? If it mattered, what else might I see? Oh, I've just seen that too. Oh, that's tricky." So they're — And they're doing that all the time. You know, that's not — it's not generally speaking, it's switched on by a problem. It's the way they experience life. So I think there's that. I think in general, and of course there are always exceptions to this, but in general such people are deeply dedicated to the organization that they serve. So they want to protect it. They want — they do instinctively hold it to a very high standard. And so when they see lapses they're quite concerned.

That's incredibly counterintuitive because organizations often see those people as troublemakers or making things difficult for other people or slowing things down or a variety of other things.

Right, Well I think that's true. but it's really interesting. I was talking to the head of the British Army last week and he said, "You know we now see that these people are helpful because they may see things before we do, and we need that." And I heard exactly the same thing from the chief executive of a big supermarket chain here in the U.K. that had some significant accounting issues leading to, you know, restatements of earnings and so on and also some issues around food quality. So I think part of what has happened is that as we've come to understand that in the cases of willful blindness there almost always are people who see early. That actually if we would would not rush to get them fired or silenced, but instead have the kind of poise and courage to listen to them, they might represent a really outstanding early warning system.

I think that's a good way to look at it. Can we explore Enron a bit, which is something I know you've done a lot of work on and a play on. I know it's also not current news, but nothing we talk about really on Farnam Street is current news. It's a story from business history that fascinates me as it kind of should for anybody.

Absolutely.

What do you feel was at the core of Ken Lay's unwillingness to see and address reality there? Like how did Enron morph from a sort of boring, steady company almost for retirees into the corrupt aggressive machine that it ended up becoming? And why do you think it wasn't stopped earlier by someone either internally or someone externally?

Yeah, it's — I mean I could talk about this for hours. I think Lay is a very, very interesting character. Partly because he's a preacher's son, he comes from a very, very poor background. He is, I think, seriously quite a religious person. And I think he had a very strong sense of himself as morally a very fine person. Now I know that could sound absurd. But I think — I mean I have interviewed so many people who knew him, who aren't necessarily defending you know Enron at all, but who will talk to this. Including his pastor in Houston, you know, who was rhapsodic about the effort Lay went to to get public transportation in Houston so that poor people could get to jobs.

So I think you know, my theory about Lay is that his sense of himself as a good person was so profoundly defended that he could not conceive that his company could do bad things. And and I had a long conversation with Albert Bandura about this because of course Bandura's whole life's work it's about the degree to which we have to think about ourselves –think of ourselves as good people. And we will bend our experience of life to keep that sense of good self intact. And so I think that's what was going on with Lay. And of course it's also important to remember when everybody says you're the greatest thing ever and they surround you with praise and wealth and accolades. That's very seductive. Right? So that I think, I think explains why he didn't see it. It doesn't explain why it went wrong. Why did it go wrong? I tend to believe that that's more to do with Skilling than with Lay, though I may really be letting him off the hook here.

You know? Skilling clearly did believe in social Darwinism to an extreme degree and absolutely played on the competitive instincts of people in the company. And everything in the company culture was designed around this. Now I think it's also true that Enron was packed full of people who were very uncomfortable with what was going on. And I remember talking to Sherron Watkins about this and her saying, you know, it was — I think it was with Skilling that they decided to do a kind of Christmas show of the Wizard of Oz. You know which is almost as big a clue as you could ask for, right?

Yeah.

That you know that this is all fake. So there is a kind of collective awareness there. And she also said something really interesting. She said she noticed a lot of people around her getting very overweight. And she wondered what was the emptiness they were trying to fill. In other words, they kind of felt something was wrong and they were overly driven to comfort themselves. And she talked also about, you know, private conversation that she had with people while working there about you know is this what happened in Germany? And so I think, you know, I mean Sherron's of course notable for having actually had the nerve to try to do something about it.

But I think — there's evidence that lots and lots and lots of people knew that it was going badly wrong. Now I think you know Skilling was a very intimidating character, quite — you know extraordinarily aggressive. So if people are afraid, which in a competitive environment like that they will be, and they have huge incentives to just shut up and deliver, they will. We know this.

What can we do to avoid a similar fate?

Well, it's a great question. I think we have to be very humble about how fragile our sense of good and bad is. And you know Stanley Milgram wrote about this brilliantly. He talked about how when we go into an organization, our moral focus shifts essentially from wanting be a good person to wanting to do a good job. And we implicitly assume that doing a good job is doing what we're told. And there is much in our organizational life that creates if you like a sort of special identity for us. The person you are at work is not identical to the person that you are at home. Which also is probably not entirely consonant with the person you are on the golf course or you know in the — on the baseball pitch. You know we — identities are not as absolute and fixed as we used once to imagine. And so we have to be very alert to how we change in different environments and pay attention to what we leave behind and what gets amplified. And it's — I mean I think it's a very hard problem. I work on a thing here in England called the Responsible Leadership Program where, you know, we work very hard with senior executives to try to alert them to the dangers that exist in organizational life. Not because the organizations are bad, but just because there are organizations. Right? And obviously some are more dangerous places to work than others. But the assumption that you're just, you know, that — the assumption that Ken Lay made if you like: I'm a good person and therefore nothing I do can be bad. That's just not safe.

I think that's a good place to end the discussion on Enron.

And we'll have to have an Enron–

I think so. Yes, we should definitely do and episode. We could just disect that case.

I know. But it's really funny because I remember talking to Frank Partnoy. And he said you know, it was when he was teaching corporate finance at University of San Diego. And he said, you know most students have never even heard of it.

Oh, that's so sad.

And he — and we were joking, he said, "You know what we need is we need a desk calendar of business catastrophes," (laughs) because otherwise everybody forgets.

Yeah, and you're doomed to kind of repeat them.

And we just repeat this stuff.

Yeah. I want to hit on maybe a bit of a touchy subject and switch a little bit more to some personal questions. The intersection of a couple of things that you've written about a lot is seemingly coming into the forefront now, so women in the workplace and this call this concept of willful blindness that we've been talking about. Do you think that the massive list of kind of previously unreported sexual harassment coming into the forefront is sort of a prime example of people having turned a blind eye for all of these years? And what has watching this unfold meant to you personally?

Well, it's interesting. Absolutely it's an epic example of willful blindness. And in fact off the back of that my publishers have just commissioned an updated edition of the book. (chuckles) You know and not only because of that, because obviously there are many cases that have occurred, you know, high profile cases that have occurred since the book came out. But all this is really just an epidemic. Right? So why? Also I became very uncomfortable at one point a couple weeks ago where, you know, people were just quitting left, right, and center and I — I felt like I was watching a production of The Crucible. And I talked to a friend of mine who is a lawyer and just said, "What's going on here? You know it makes me uncomfortable that this is getting such a head of steam."

And she said, "Well, Margaret, these individuals are being fired now because the companies have been keeping dossiers. They all knew. But as long as they could get away with it, these how high profile people are delivering real business value. And they are able to fire these people very quickly because they have the information.".

Oh, that's interesting. I hadn't thought of that.

I hadn't either and it made me feel a little more comfortable, although you know there's nothing about this that should really make anybody terribly happy, except that maybe now it'll stop or at least reduce. So the first — you know, the first chapter in Willful Blindness is about bias. And of course you know we inhabit a business environment that is — was built by men for men in their own image and not surprisingly favors men. And I think that concentration of power is always dangerous. And I think everybody is biased. You know the biology suggests that everybody is biased. And so when you have one group that basically holds power with bias in all of them, you are going to get what economist called perverse outcomes. Now you can look at it a different way too. When I wrote my first book about women's corporate careers I thought a lot about power and — because —

And the reason I thought about it was because so many women said to me they didn't really like the idea of power. And I always thought, "Really? How are we going to get anything done without it?" And I think what I concluded was that it isn't that women don't like power at all, but that we think of it differently. So many of the very, very successful women I interviewed for that book and from my second book which is about the rise of female entrepreneurship, Women On Top, thought of power as orchestration, the power to bring people together to do collectively what they couldn't do alone. I think there is another concept of power, which is about domination. And I think that specifically the kind of power which women were saying they rejected. And I think there are certainly many organizations, many corporate cultures where power is about domination. And in those environments the kind of harassment and intimidation that we've seen is possible. And you know harassment is an abuse of power it happens because people have power over others.

Do you think we're about to see a lasting change?

I don't know. I think — I guess I have two questions. One is: will it all blow over and everybody think, oh, thank God, that's over, we can go back to business as normal, whatever that is. And I have a second question, which is: will it trickle down, which is — I remember interviewing a young woman who worked in a car showroom talking about sexual harassment. You know, so this is not a famous young woman working in not a famous place for not a famous boss, and my question is will her life, her working life get better? Because if it doesn't, then this isn't good enough. All right. And I really don't know. I mean it certainly feels and I know everybody's saying it feels like a real sea change. And I would really love to think that it is, but I think for it to have lasting impact requires more than heads rolling. It requires a, you know, as well as the kind of negative let's get rid of this. It requires a positive, which is what is the concept of power that replaces it? And whether that will take root I don't know. And how far this is actually displacement activity, because some people in power can't be removed. I don't know. I really hope it marks the beginning of something quite different. But it's way too early to tell.

I share your hope.

Yeah. I mean it's, you know, it just beggars belief that women go into work and get underpaid and physically intimidated, you know? And people are saying, well, it really makes a difference to guys if they have daughters, you know, then they take this stuff seriously. And I find myself thinking, well, don't they — any of them remember that they all had mothers? (laughs).

Yes.

I mean really, you know, these — you know the notion that, well, we didn't really get it and we had daughters, it just feels very lame to me. But clearly it's — clearly we are very, very, very trapped in our biases. I remember hearing Satya Nadella talking about, you know, the terrible gaffe he made at the Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing when asked about the gender pay gap. And a year later he was talking — still talking about what an eyeopener the blowback had been and how his mother and his wife had talked to him about had he not seen how hard it had been for them? You know Nadella is a very thoughtful, sensitive human being and he'd somehow missed this, which suggests that, you know, we are very, very trapped in our own biases.

Hopefully we can help people step back and get a little more perspective and context in the sense that we can learn about some of these things with an enduring progression.

I certainly hope so. I certainly hope so.

What are the the most important things you've learned over your career that are perhaps not well appreciated by others?

Oh, golly. What have I learned? Have I learned anything? (laughs) Sure, I have somewhere. I mean the difficulty with learning if it's any good is it just becomes part of who you are and then you forgot that you didn't always have it. Right? It's like it's hard for us to remember what life was like before we knew how to read. I think certainly the thing of not taking argument/opposition personally, really fundamental. I think carrying with me this sense that I could always be wrong is really fundamental. You know there's just this great question, you know, if I were wrong what would I see? That really is kind of in my bloodstream now. And some of that's, you know, because — because there have been times when I have been wrong. I think something that I have really toyed with a lot, and I think many people do, which is when do I really dig my heels in and when do I let things go? So to take that out of the abstract, there was a time I produced a monster global co-production for the BBC. And it was for all kinds of reasons, you know, logistically ridiculously complex. And among other things it involved a number of live broadcasts from parents. And I've never done a live broadcast before in my life and I'm generally really up for things that are hard and that I've never done before. But on top of all the other programs I was producing this was just kind of way, way too much. And I remember going to my boss at the time and saying, "I have no expertise. I have no experience. I don't think it plays to my strengths. I'm absolutely drowning in the ten other programs I'm responsible for. I need help." And he put his arm around my — he put his arms around my shoulder and said, "Margaret, the only problem you have is you're just not confident enough."

And I thought, "Well, I guess he's right. I mean I'm not that confident. So maybe I can do it." And I mean to, you know, to cut to the chase, this is some of the worst programming ever seen on BBC television. I mean, it was a catastrophe. And I look back on that and think, he was wrong to say that and not to hear what I was saying. But I wrong to let him do that. I should have said, "No, actually I cannot do this. I just I'm at my limit. No." And so that's, you know, I think that those are very hard calls to make. At what point is this a stretch goal and at what point is this madness? So you know — so — So I think — I think that's something I've learned the hard way. I mean we always learn things, you know, the hard way.

Do you have a process for reflecting on your failures that enables you to learn from them?

Well, I don't think I have a process. I think I'm very, very interested in mistakes. And I'm very ready to acknowledge them when they occur, partly because I want people who work with me to feel that it's completely safe to do so. And they won't unless they see me do it too.

Right.

So I think because I've all — I've felt that for quite a long time I'm very comfortable acknowledging to myself, "Wow, you really screwed up there, Margaret." And I will then pretty quickly sit down and try to think about, "Okay, how did this happen?" So let's not say it was a fluke. It might have been a fluke, but let's assume it wasn't a fluke. What were the things leading up to it that caused this to happen? And can some of those things be changed?

And sometimes you know the answer is, no, actually everything went right, you just blew it. (chuckles) But mostly you can see, you know, that there were just — there was no margin for error, there wasn't enough margin for error, or I was being — working too hard to please or I didn't spot some early warning signs or — You know the classic mistake I made more than once was I thought I could do it for less money than I could or I could do it with fewer resources than I could. So I guess, you know, I don't tend to think this is a judgment on me. This is Margaret. Are you a good person or not? I tend to think what could you learn from this?

I think that's a good way to look at it.

And you know and I was very lucky because my chief investor once said, "You know, Margaret, I don't mind you making mistakes. I'm just going to be seriously pissed off if you make the same mistake twice because that's going to show you weren't paying attention." And I thought that was terrific. So I said, "Okay, my promise to you is I will make different mistakes every time." (laughs).

That's a good promise. What sort of things do you read? Like what's on your nightstand right now?

Oh, wow. All sorts of things. I read fiction in the summer or when I'm not writing. I mean I read fiction mostly in the summer because I think it's just good for me and good for my brain. I'm trying to think, I'm looking around my office. What am I reading? I'm reading a book called The Curse of History at the moment. Analogies at War is another book I'm reading. So I'm reading quite a lot of history at the moment. And I always read a lot of history, that's fair to say. There's a book across my desk on Thomas Beckett. So I read a lot of history. I read a lot of fiction. I read quite a lot of poetry. I read quite a lot of history of art. I read very, very few business books.

Has it always been that way or is that just as you've grown in life?

I think it's always been this — that way. I read a lot of biography. I'm looking across my office at a fantastic double biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, a mother and daughter. Yeah, I mean I — I do read some business books, but I read very few.

What's your process for reading a book? Are you — are you somebody who picks it up and goes cover to cover nonstop? Do you flip around? Do you look at the outline? How do you actually consume the book?

Well it depends. If I'm reading it as I think of for work I'll read it quite fast, I'll generally read it on my iPad and all annotate it quite carefully. If I'm not reading it, you know, with a specific purpose in mind, I'll read in a much more leasurly fashion and I'll quit if I don't like it. I care a lot about how things are written. I think a couple months ago I was reading Lionel Schriver's book The Mandibles and it stopped me in a — in my tracks because was just a wonderful sentence in it. And I thought, Oh, wow! Wow, this is really good writing. (chuckles) So I, you know, somehow subliminally paying attention to that kind of thing.

I read quite a lot of stuff by dead writers. So I read a lot of 19th century fiction, early 20th century fiction. I read a lot of old books. I mean, you know, a couple month's ago I was reading Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, which was not at all what I thought it was going to be. I'm very interested by, you know, how much great stuff there is that we think we know what it is, but we're wrong. (chuckles) The same happened when I read When Prophecy Fails, which is Festinger's wonderful book in which he comes up with the theory of cognitive dissonance. And it's — I mean I think it's kind of a hilarious read because it's clearly a scholarly piece, but you know the whole situation is so absurd that the contrast between academic writing and this insane situation is just kind of accidentally hilarious. You know?

Yeah.

And I definitely read what I think of as car crash business books. You know so books about businesses that go wrong. And I read some books about, you know, kind of happy ending business books. So American Icon I really enjoyed about the turnaround at Ford.

That was a good one.

Yeah, I thought it was a really good book. And it was fascinating as I was at Ford last week and so talking to people there and thinking about what's happening in between times, you know, it's really helpful. And the conversation I had — was having with Frank Partnoy about you know the business catastrophe desk calendar was very much because we both lamented the degree to which businesspeople often have very little sense of history and — and history is almost never taught in business schools. It's the live case studies or the case studies you know where the ending is known and therefore implicitly, structurally looks pre-determined. And I just — I just think that having a sense of what the longer story is is really important.

I agree with that. You've led a varied life. You've been involved with so much over time. Was there any grand design behind it or were you just putting one foot in front of the other?

(laughs)

What would you say to a young person who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Well, definitely no — absolutely no grand design. Absolutely none. I mean I've definitely experimented with lots of things. I think, so my advice to my kids is try stuff. Try stuff and whatever you're going to try to do, try to do it with the — with people who do at a really high level. So just try to work with people who you think are really serious about what they're doing. So don't mess around. If you're going to do it, do it with the very best people you can find. Because even if you then decide, actually, this is not my thing, you will have been exposed to high-quality thinking or high-quality doing.

Yep.

And that's just always more interesting. I mean it's interesting because when I — both of my kids went to school here in England which is notable for being a really outstanding music school, but they didn't specializing music. And 00 and what was interesting, and they said this to me, is the music in the school is so outstanding it just gives you a sense of what excellence is.

Right.

And I thought that was a really good way of putting it.

It's super insightful, yeah.

Yeah. So I would say you know try stuff, but try stuff down as well as you can find it. And contribute as much as you can, so be generous. Be curious, be reliable. I think reliablity is the most undervalued characteristic. If you say you're going to do something, do it no matter what.

Yeah.

You know be interested in other people because they are all interesting, no matter who they are, they're interesting. It's up to you to find what's interesting in them, but it's in there somewhere.

That's what I tell my kids, you can learn something from everybody. Your job is to be a detective and kind of like find out or uncover what that is.

Yeah, that must be the fun thing of what you're doing now, which is being able to have wonderful conversations with people.

Yeah, and you're definitely facilitating that.

Yeah, but you're facilitating that, too, you know.

Thank you. Yeah. Where can people find out more about you?

My website which is just www.mheffernan.com and that's the best place to look.

Awesome. Thank you, Margaret, so much —

— find out very much about me for the next nine months because I'm not doing any more speaking engagements so that I can get my head down and write something different.

Well, I look forward to when that comes out.

So do I. (laughs)

Thank you so much for agreeing to come on The Knowledge Project. This has just been an absolutely wonderful conversation.

Well, I've enjoyed it and — and Adam said I would. So I appreciate you making the time for it and asking such great questions, because I do often think it takes a lot more to come up with a good question than to come up with a good answer.

I don't know if that's true, but we definitely try to come up with interesting questions that we can ask people that we haven't heard before on their interviews. And the process that we use for the podcast is very labor intensive and time consuming in the amount of work that we put into a show.

Hmm, but preparation's everything; isn't it? Right? It's not necessarily that it will go the way that you think, but if you're prepared more interesting stuff will happen I think.

I a 100% agree with that, so that's why we do kind of what we do. I don't know how people put out shows like every two weeks, where we struggle to kind of do one a month at this point.

But it depends on what you care about, doesn't it? Do you want to do a huge amount of stuff or do you want to do something really well?

Oh, exactly. Yeah.

(music)

Hey, guys this is Shane again. Just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes from today's show at FS.blog/podcast. You can also find out information on how to get a transcript there. And if you'd like to receive a weekly email from me filled with all sorts of brain food, go to FS.blog/newsletter. The newsletter has all the good stuff I found on the Internet this week that I've read and shared with close friends, books I'm reading, and so much more. Lastly, if you enjoyed this or any other episode of The Knowledge Project, please consider subscribing and leaving a review. Every review helps us make the show better, expand our reach, and share message with more people, and it only takes a minute. Thank you for listening and being part of the Farnam Street Community. (music)

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Trader Joes (inside) Episode 4: The Store Is Our Brand

It's fun. You know when people come in and give me hugs, you know, 30 people one day and, it's amazing. I've made new friends. You know, they're family. We have such an eclectic, diverse, clientele base. There's a million stories.

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

Let's go Inside Trader Joe's. [MUSIC]

Welcome to Episode 4 of a five-part series that takes you inside Trader Joe's. I'm Tara Miller.

And I'm Matt Sloan. Later in Episode 4, we'll taste some wine, and we'll also visit Napa Valley, California, where we search for more great wines and great values. But first we'll explain one of the seven values that guides Trader Joe's. It says the store is our brand.

And I'm really excited for you to meet some of the customers and crew members in our stores. They really are some of the nicest people you could ever meet.

And if you've ever thought about applying to work at a Trader Joe's listen closely for some tips on how to ace the interview.

I'm Jon Basalone, President of Stores for Trader Joe's. I don't really use the title too much. But yeah, that's it.

But we're going to use it here. [MUSIC]

The store is our brand.

This store is our brand.

This store is our brand. People can't understand, "Why aren't you selling products online? How come you don't just sell wholesale to China? They want a bunch of your products. Why don't you just send truckloads and shiploads of products to other countries and make a bunch of money?" It's like, well because that's not what Trader Joe's is. You know, for us the store is our brand, and our products work the best when they're sold as part of this overall customer experience within the store, and so we're not, we're not ready to give that up. For us, the brand is too important, and the store is our brand.

More than 80 percent of the products we sell at Trader Joe's are private label. Keeping things in *our* label as opposed to the brand name label or a supplier's label helps us keep our costs low.

We don't collect slotting fees, we don't have the producers of the stuff that we sell, pay for privileged space or any space in our store.

And that happens everywhere else, by the way.

Totally normal grocery store stuff. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. And yet, there it is. There aren't a bunch of flat screen TVs and monitors and electronic signs, and why don't we have those things in our stores?

That's just not, that's not who we are.

Mitch Heeger, he started out as a part-time box boy, and now he's EVP of marketing and merchandising.

You know, when you walk into a store that has a big screen there, and you can see yourself on camera, you know the immediate feeling is someone's watching me and they must be watching me for a reason.

And just to be clear, we are not spying on you. We don't have access to your data at Trader Joe's because we don't *have* any data on you. Do you like cats? Do you buy a lot of chocolate bars, a lot of Belgian chocolate bars? We don't know that about you. We wouldn't share that information with someone if we had it. But we don't have it. That was weird, it's still…

No, it's actually kind of funny. [laughter]

We don't know what we don't know. That's a problem. [MUSIC]

God, you know we have so many great products, and they're so unique, and people come to our stores for that product. But what they really get excited about, and what they write in about, a lot of times is the interaction they have with the crew. A 93-year-old man wrote in about, he got to the checkstand, and they surprised him, it was his birthday, and they surprised him with a cake.

"Happy Birthday!"

Grocery store system, before,.

Anybody does…

But we do, and it's not something that we tell our crew to do. It's just something that we just do.

Oh, oh, you put it there, OK.

My name's Ray. I am purchasing level five colored bananas. They have green tips almost, almost ripe but not too ripe. I like to ripen them myself. And we're going to be making banana bread. There's about 100 bananas in there. [MUSIC] And I spoke to Josh, a sales employee, and I called him every day within the past three days, and he gave me an update on how the bananas are looking, when to come by, when to pick them up, so I really appreciate him. Thank you, Josh! Oh, he said "Ask for me, because I don't want anyone else to think you're crazy". So, I appreciate it! [Laughter].

Hi, my name is Rosario Medina. I've been with the company 23 years.

What's the part of being a Trader Joe's captain that you enjoy the most?

Talking to people. It's, it's, you know we're in the people business. We sell groceries, but we're in the people business. The absolute best part is, I get to come to work every day and talk to people, and smile, and meet new people, and it's… I'm really lucky. I'm really blessed.

Ever wonder what it's like to interview for a job at Trader Joe's?

You know when we do interviews, you know, I'll say, "So, what questions do you have for me? And they say, "Well what's… What do I not know coming in?" I said, "Well the work part, we could train you to do, that's easy. But it's all about the people. Just your ability to talk to people." We've got interview questionnaires, and I'll start with that. And then I tend to get off base a little bit. One of the best questions is "What do you like to do in your off time?" And then you'll see the passion, and then from there you could talk about food, and see how that works out.

You're not just trying to find someone who can fill a slot on your crew roster. You're interviewing a person to get to know a person because you're hiring a person, not a widget. [MUSIC]

Do you want to start, Tina, like just a little bit of your story as it relates to Trader Joe's. Like, what brought you here and why have, how long have you been here? And why have you stayed?

Ok. I've been with Trader Joe's for probably ten years. I have worked many jobs since I was 15, and this is, I just, like I see my other friends that don't work for the company, and the things they complain about, are how they don't have friends at work, and I'm just, I, and they don't get to drink wine at work, or any cheese! [Laughter] Yeah, this is, I fit in, right, I fit right in.

Same here, I worked for the company 12 years. Maybe like a couple of months into me starting here, they had me face paint. I'm artistic. Somewhat. And so for them to just ask me, "Why don't you start face painting some of these kids?" And I was like, wow, I could, yeah I could totally dig this. That's what helps. The fact that we could be ourselves. So, you know that translates with our energy, with the people, with our customers.

I could talk like myself, I could just be myself. I've never, ever felt out of place. [MUSIC]

Mrs. Schwartz was a great customer of ours in Sherman Oaks.

Dan Bain is chairman and CEO, but he still goes to Trader Joe's stores and helps out, just like any other crew member.

That day I was bagging groceries, and my name tag, which usually says crew member on it, but that day my name tag said Bagger First Class, and I was standing there bagging groceries with about a 20-year-old clerk who was running the cash register. And I still remember Mrs. Schwartz coming up to the front of the line as she starts having her items scanned by the guy, and she looks at my name tag and she reads aloud "Bagger First Class." I said,"Yes, Ma'am", and she said, "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" "No ma'am."

She said, "How old are you?" I said, "I'm sixty-five." And she said, "Don't you aspire to anything greater?" And I said "No ma'am." And the checker was like, almost laughing out loud, and he's having a hard time controlling himself. But I checked her out, took her bags out to the car, and she tried to tip me, and I said, "No, you know, the guys in the store take pretty good care of me." But she promised me that, you know every day when I shaved I should look in the mirror and think what I might become. And so, I do that every day.

Thank you, Mrs. Schwartz. [LAUGHTER, MUSIC]

Once again we ask:

Do you have a favorite Trader Joe's product?

Ooh. I love your Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups. Those are always the go-to. [LAUGHTER]

The grass fed buffalo burgers. I love those.

The roasted chicken. I love that. They have a cauliflower in the frozen section. Oh, love the tomato soup.

Have you tried the tomato soup crackers?

No!

They're called creamy tomato soup crackers. And it's like kind of having a bowl of tomato soup, but in a cracker.

My name is Chris Condit and I work with the wine. Here. Was that really your question, let's see. I am the category manager for wine for the company known as Trader Joe's.

We sell a lot of wine, and for a lot of people, Trader Joe's is synonymous with wine. It's that place that's always had wine, and historically wine has played an incredibly important part in our business, a real difference-making part of the store.

I'm going to give you the secret to Trader Joe's here.

So far they've all tasted like Tang, but not the good version, if there is one.

One thing that we do, that sets us apart, is we have a tasting panel. There's a lot of wine out there. 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. [MUSIC]

Yes, I mean it's got the color, the acid.

… a little more savory than fruity…

Yeah, it's pretty good, though.

Where's that from again? And you're going to tell me…

"…it's Russian River. So it'd be Trader Joe's 2016 Russian River Petite Syrah. Everybody had a chance to try and think about it. Who'd like to see that come in? Excellent. And lastly…" [fade to MUSIC]

The source of the wine for our various private-label and controlled-label programs might change over time, but the wines are always going to be great, because we get to pick and choose. We don't have to carry every wine, we don't have to always repeat that exact same thing every year. If it's not good, we don't think it's great value, in all of the wine, we don't buy it. There's a lot of people that sort of famously make a fortune in other businesses and then they love wine. So, "I'm going to open a winery!" right? It's kind of like buying a boat. You just throw money at that hole in the water. And they, you know, they make their wine, they open a little winery, and they grow some grapes, and then they wait for the customers to show up. Customers don't always show up, for the customers already buy X, Y, Z,, and they weren't, you know, they weren't just waiting around for this wine to appear before they would start drinking wine, or buying wine. They need to clear out those tanks, they need to sell the wine at some point, no matter how wealthy the person is. It's always a bad business practice to not sell what you make. So in those situations we're oftentimes willing to help them at a lovely price for our customers. And so those, we call them hustle buys. Those wines come out in our stores at tremendous prices, and people are just like, you know, that's ridiculous. How do you do that? And we sell through it quickly, and then we're onto the next one.

What do you hear from customers?

Our customers oftentimes have a crew member that they learn to trust. Like, "I like what Sue likes. Is Sue here today? Because I'm looking for a recommendation for whatever, and every time Sue recommends that, I love it." Or you know, "I'm with Bill. Is Bill around? Because Bill's tastebuds totally match my tastebuds".

So you have a long history at Trader Joe's. Is there anything about how the Trader Joe's wine business works now that's new, or changing, or…

When I first started, almost 30 years ago, it was "this blend, that blend, so and so's wine". And then the fighting varietal thing happened and people were like, "Oh, I don't want this blend. I really just like the Merlot, or the Cabernet, or the Chardonnay," and it became all about varietal wines, and that really took over 25+ years ago. And it's kind of stayed that way, but what's happened is some varietals have have grown in favor, and some have completely fallen off the map. [MUSIC]

Merlot is one of the great easy-drinking, you know, most approachable varietal wines there is, and people hate Merlot. They just hate it. "I don't want Merlot! Merlot! Merlot is dead to me."

You sound like a jerk if you order Merlot.

Yeah, if you order Merlot, you don't know what you're doing. You're a complete loser.

Yeah.

People still love Merlot. The Merlot didn't just like, all of a sudden stop growing or something. It didn't go away. They just relabel it all as red blends.

I mean can we, can we really trace it all back to that movie, is it that one film's fault, really?

It seems that that's where it began, that that's when people decided, "Oh it's not cool to like Merlot anymore".

Well, you know, Paul Giamatti. So what's funny, Sideways is the movie, and he's the one that slammed Merlot, which is fine. It was actually a great movie. Little known fact is, at the end of the movie he's drinking a Bordeaux in that burger joint, right? That was a Merlot-based Bordeaux that he's drinking. So his favorite most prized wine was a Merlot. Anyway, life imitating art. [MUSIC fade to CAR IGNITION]

So now you've met Chris Condit. I'd like to introduce you to Pat Andrus.

I started in the company in 1969. I was 17. And when I was 25 I became a Captain of the store, and here I am a 65. I've got this job that I wanted all my life.

Pat's got a great job. He rides around places like the Napa Valley looking for great wines to bring to Trader Joe's.

Well the basic job today, is sourcing wine that will fit into one of our programs, the highest quality juice that I can possibly find, at great prices. This is my new baby.

This is? this is Napa Valley Chardonnay? I'd be interested in this.

Yeah, this is…

And you haven't sold this yet, have you?

I haven't sold it.

Oh darn. Are you telling me this is $6.99?

No I'm not. I promise you, it's…

Oh I heard that. This is the best $3.99 wine I've ever had. [LAUGHTER FADE TO MUSIC]

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

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

Chicago is very situated, especially Chicago proper, by neighborhoods. So we do our best to make the stores a reflection of the neighborhood.

Yeah, you might see an end cap of prune juice in the Florida market… [Laughter] …before you're going to see that on the Chicago market.

The folks that come here they are, they're us. They are working, they are retired, they have grandkids, they have aunts, uncles. They have baby brothers and sisters, they have dogs and cats. They're just like all of us. They just happen to need some assistance.

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.

This place is a blessing to my home.

We started this podcast with the goal of answering some of the questions we often hear about Trader Joe's.

I love you, but what's with the parking lot? [LAUGHTER]

You know, people will ask all the time, "When do I get a Trader Joe's in my town?" and I said, "isn't your town like two miles from a Trader Joe's?" "Oh, yes, that's not, yeah, it's not close enough. We need, we need our own."

God, there have been a number of surprises…

…that we thought would work, but didn't.

Yeah. [Laughter]

We used to have an eggplant wrap, the fresh one, and I would eat that constantly. It went away, I was pretty sad.

I was really into that almond Jalapeno dip.

We're targeting to open 30 to 35 stores a year.

We could have a thousand stores, but what's most important to us is that we have a thousand Trader Joe's stores.

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

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: Trader Joes (inside) – Episode 3 – Informative and Seriously Not Too Serious

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Trader Joes (inside) Episode 3: Informative and Seriously Not Too Serious

It's going so fast and so hot in here.

Yes. [Laughter].

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

Let's go Inside Trader Joe's. [Music]

We're up to episode three of our five-part series. I'm Tara Miller.

And I'm Matt Sloan. On this episode, we're going to be informative, and seriously, not too serious.

Actually that's always our goal around here. We'll explore how and why we keep customers and crew members up to date.

I'll interview the editor of the Fearless Flyer, and I'm going to ask some really tough questions, too.

Uh-oh! Of course there's no better way to be informed about the new products at Trader Joe's than a visit to the demo station at your neighborhood Trader Joe's. We'll do that, too.

Also Hawaiian shirts, products that just didn't quite make it, and more. So let's get started.

My name is Mitch Heeger and I'm the executive V.P. of Marketing and Merchandising.

If there's a job to be done at Trader Joe's, Mitch Heeger has probably done it.

I've been with company a long time, 40 years with the company. Started off sweeping the parking lot and mopping the floors and actually vacuuming the carpet in the store. But I started off as a box boy.

There was carpet?

There was carpet. Yeah, and when you spilled the grape juice it wasn't a pretty picture. Or the bottle of wine. We used to have some really, really long wine tastings and the tastings were very different back then, and…

Was it drinkings or tastings?

Well they were they were tastings, but, and it's not about having a lot to drink. It's about really having some great discussion and having an ability to learn from people that could teach other crew members in the store. So, yeah there's probably some stories that I probably shouldn't share. [Laughter] Our business has changed so much that, you know where we might have opened up 12 bottles of wine and tried them and compared, and discussed, now a store may try a bottle of wine and a bunch of other products so they can learn on all the products in the store and that the focus isn't as much on wine.

Which really sets up in terms of this idea that we think of ourselves as wanting to be informative. We want to be an informative retailer.

We like to talk to our customers. You know, just seeing if they need some help, if they're looking for something, or they want some information on a product.

We're here at the Trader Joe's in Sherman Oaks California. We are releasing a podcast that's just sort of all about Trader Joe's. And a big part of Trader's Joe's are the people who shop here.

To be honest I only started shopping at Trader Joe's this past year, so I always ask, "Hey! Where is this? Or where is that?" And not only do they tell you where it is, but they show you. So, which is, I really like that. Unlike when you go to [BEEP BEEP], you say "Hey, where is this?" They're like, "Aisle 5." Here you say "Where can I find my almond butter?" and they'll direct you, and walk you, and give you recommendations on which is the best one, so I really like that.

We're not going to sound silly?

Well, you might. But that's OK. But what we're trying to do is really just get a sense of what are the things that make Trader Joe's an interesting place to work? Do you want to start, Tina?. You know

I love being here, it's like with my friends. It's my other family. There's good food, I get a discount. I laugh every time I come. It is nice to help people. It's amazing how much people, some people don't know, and some people do know. Like some people don't know that you, like our sliced Turkey is ready to eat. They don't know that they don't need to cook it, for example. Or like gluten free, vegan. It's nice to be helpful to the customers that have diet restrictions, or just started on diet restrictions and we can help them because we have all the knowledge here.

And in every section there's someone that's extremely knowledgeable. You've got wine, you've got cheese you got… I mean the list goes on and on. And for produce it's either me or MartΓ­n, me, Roberto.

You can come to me for anything. I know it all.

Our crewmembers do love to recommend the products. Just ask them.

We have a new frozen item that's a baked chocolate chip cookie that is really really good. Especially the scoop of vanilla ice cream on top it's amazing.

We've made a huge improvement in our new fresh salmon so that's certainly a favorite. I have that quite often.

And my favorite product at Trader Joe's is Charles Shaw wine.

Charles Shaw? Why?

And it's because it's our customers favorite product.

I think my current favorite would probably be our spatchcocked chicken. I've been cooking that a lot lately on the barbecue. Very good.

Right now, I would have to choose the Icelandic strawberry yogurt that we have. Oh, I can't stop eating it. It's so addicting! [Laughter]

We do try just about everything in the store, so our crew are very knowledgeable about our products. But we try to have a tasting once or twice a week, and our crew get an opportunity to not only fill their bellies but their minds, so they're able to pass on that information to our customers.

So we're at Trader Joe's store 49 in Sherman Oaks, California and we're talking to the store's Captain. I'll let her introduce herself.

Hi I'm J.J. Swayss.

How long have you worked for Trader Joe's, J.J.?

I've been with the company twenty-five years. I'm at the store where I got hired 25 years ago, which is pretty phenomenal for me. It was full circle. It was kind of a dream come true in some respects.

And your trajectory just kept going up from there?

Little by little. I had a couple of kids in between. Everybody who I had worked with at that point were so supportive and just wanted you to grow. The best thing about it, and I'm going to get choked up here, is that no one ever told me that there was an obstacle or I couldn't do it.

It's OK. This is OK. This is real, this is how you feel.

…that I was pushed, and made me feel like I can accomplish anything. They promoted me, pushed me on, gave me direction and always, always said "Keep going." So and that's the direction I went.

Is there anything that we didn't ask about Trader Joe's, or about you and your life at Trader Joe's and how it's how it's impacted you?

Well I hope I can put this in a nutshell. But it has changed my life. It's giving me opportunity. It's given me security. It's giving me hope in people. There's nothing standing in my way to achieve anything I want to achieve. Same thing for every single one of our crew members. You know, no matter what race, creed, religion you are, nothing ever stops you from achieving those goals if they're really your goals and you want to achieve them. You've got to put some work into it. Absolutely, it's not easy. None of it's easy. It shouldn't be easy if it's worth it, and it's definitely worth it.

Then of course, we also have to keep crew members informed about the products that are going away. Yeah, it happens.

The tasting panel does such a good job choosing products to bring into Trader Joe's, but even they miss sometimes.

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

Like what?

Well, like all good things that sound great on paper, or even when you're thinking about it, Laplander Cuisine Soup just…[laughter] is necessarily tricky stuff. So we had a line of soups that were cuisine from the land of the midnight sun, and this is on-the-go Laplander Cuisine for those of you pressed for time, but still wanting a bit of that authentic old-country taste, and we had Cream of Venison soup.

Ooh…

And it was in a very gold foil can. It looked fancy but really, no one wanted it.

We thought they might though, huh? OK.

We really did. And you know, a lot of times an opportunity will present itself, something that seems on the surface like a negative situation, and you turn it around and you try to make it positive, and you still wind up in that awkward negative spot. So there was actually a large peanut crop failure that led to a peanut shortage that led to a peanut butter problem. We didn't have enough peanut butter to sell. And people love peanut butter. So what we found was cotton seed. Cotton seed actually, is plentiful, abundant, and it produces lots of oil, and we thought, "Wow, if you just blend this up, whip this up, it's like a cottonseed butter. Who's not going to love this? Apparently no one loved this. [Laughter] So, swing, miss. Another similar situation: there was again, we're going back some time here into the late 70s really early 80s, there was a shortage of what they called chunk light tuna. We needed more cans of tuna to sell. Well, there's another fish it's sometimes known as an alewife, or a pilchard. We thought chunk pilchard in a can would be great.

Yeah.

And the rest is history. [Music]

And so this, actually, just also in from the mailbag here, we get this, a lot of crewmembers get this question: How many Hawaiian shirts do you have?

I'm not sure I can provide a count. But my closet has changed dramatically in the time that I've been with Trader Joe's. They used to be all like, you know, gray and blue suits, and now it's like, the brightest-colored Hawaiian shirts you could possibly find are in my closet. And about once a year I make a donation to a nice charity of Hawaiian shirts.

So Matt, how many Hawaiian shirts do you own?

Well, you know without giving an incriminating number, I have enough where I can wear a different shirt for each day of the week for at least two months. Although I have the same six that I always go back to.

So, we asked a bunch of our Trader Joe's crew members the same question.

"What did they say?".

I have 14.

Some people have a full closet. I only have a small row.

Probably close to 40. My kids laugh at me. But there you go.

A lot. Believe me.

Can you start off by giving us your name, and what city you live in?

Yeah, my name is Xavier Bert and I live in South Pasadena, California. I just was telling the gentleman at the register that I read the Fearless Flyer cover to cover because it's super engaging and the writing is really great and I gave it to another person I cook with because I was like, "You need to read this about food. It's really good". I came in last night and bought all the stuff I found in the Fearless Flyer that was interesting that I never had. So last night I made sunchoke. I'd never even had a sunchoke. And you know, just nerding out on food.

OK. Well, I write the Fearless Flyer so you just made my whole day. Thank you. That's fantastic.

This one's great. I just was sitting there and my wife was sleeping, and every time she woke up I was like, "I'm still reading this thing". And she like, dozed off. And I was like, I'm still reading this thing.

Lining birdcages near you. It's the Fearless Flyer Show. [Laughter]

So Tara, what is the Fearless Flyer?

The Fearless Flyer is Trader Joe's main way of talking to our customers. We call ourselves a store of stories, and the Fearless Flyer is that idea made manifest on paper.

But it's a specific set of stories, right?

Rather than just show people a product and a price like a traditional grocery store, or a circular would do. We tell stories about our products. We talk to the people who've developed our products. We want you to know a little bit about what's in it. We want you to know a little bit about what it tastes like, and what a great value it is, so we tell you the price.

The usual grocery playbook says item price or BOGO for you jargon fans out there (buy one get one). It's none of that. It's a lot of words. It's a lot of words but they are words that have a look, like you can spot it at 50 paces. And, why does it look like that?

Originally it looked like that because it was the least expensive way to put something on paper. So, our founder Joe Coulombe would type it on a typewriter and make mimeographed copies.

"I wrote The Fearless Flyer for all those years."

Originally, it was for crewmembers. It was intended to give information about products, specifically wines, to crew members. It was called The Insider's Report. And he started doing that in 1970 and customers got wind that this was happening and said, "Hey, I want to see that, I want to know about that wine. I want to know what that's all about." The cartoons that are in the flyer? You know it's got these old-timey Victorian-era art pieces.

"We've put in the cartoons. Lighten it up. Don't take them so god-damned seriously."

They were royalty free, and Joe didn't want to have to pay anyone to create art to put in it, and didn't want to have to put pictures of products in it because that was expensive, too.

These old engravings, that was absolutely out of necessity to not spend money on it. And it became over time a look.

A cross between Mad Magazine and Consumer Reports. The initial cartoon image on the flyer was of someone who looked like he was flying. And I don't know if he looked fearless or terrified, but Terrified Flyer probably wouldn't have worked very well at the name, so you know, fearless, fearless it was fearless it is.

Is there any option for, like a paid placement? Can someone buy a spot in this?

No, it's not an option. There's, that's just not part of how we do our business. We put things in the flyer that we think are interesting, and hopefully our customers agree that they're interesting.

I'm Tara.

I'm Curtis.

I'm the Marketing Director at Trader Joe's. Why do you shop a Trader Joe's?

I shop at Trader Joe's because I love the products. I love the staff. I love how helpful they are and friendly they are. And I love to sample their food! [Laughter].

Do you sample products from the demo?

Absolutely. And I get a lot of ideas for dinner, and for lunches for my boys.

So what a lot of people might not know, is the biggest marketing expense we have at Trader Joe's is actually just letting people try our food. Today we're with Angel at the Demo station in our East Pasadena California store. What's for lunch, Angel?.

Ooh,today we've got a little beef brisket. This is the corned beef brisket on rye bread with mustard, a little cabbage, and a Swiss cheese.

So you don't just put out the food, you actually make things that customers could make at home?

Yeah that's what we're striving to do. We're looking for ideas, for inspiration, things that are easy, and that they could do for themselves at home real quick.

I've got a tasty sample for you here. You're very welcome to try, guys. Please, have a taste.

I'm so full.

Good afternoon, Miss, how are you?

Fine, thank you. What is this?

This is actually a little sandwich we made with our corned beef.

Mmmm, really?

Not bad, huh? Want to try some grapes, too? Because they're really crunchy and good.

That was very tasty. Thank you.

Thank you, sir.

You need a glass of wine next time. Think about it.

I'll work on it.

Ray Miller at our original Trader Joe's in Pasadena California was one of the first crew members to work the demo station.

Well, in the early days, before we had potato salad I brought out my potato salad, and I was quite proud of that. Unfortunately it's not on the shelves but I thought it was delicious and the people used to love to have it when I would do that. 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, but because everybody come to the table, as the bishop would say, from a different place of enlightenment. And we just have to deal with the situations as they come, you know?

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

Oh, we'd like that. And here's what's on the next Inside Trader Joe's: we'll go to Napa Valley, California to sip some wine.

Merlot's one of the great easy drinking, you know, one of the most approachable varietal wines there is, and people hate Merlot. They just hate it. "I don't want Merlot! Merlot? Merlot is dead to me".

You sound like a jerk if you order Merlot.

Yeah, if you order Merlot you don't know what you're doing. You're a complete loser.

The store is our brand.

This store is our brand. People can't understand, why aren't you selling products online?

And just to be clear, we are not spying on you. We don't have access to your data at Trader Joe's, because we don't have any data on you.

I see my other friends, that don't work for the company, and the things they complain about, or how they don't have friends at work, and I'm just, I, they don't get to drink wine at work or any cheese…! [Laughter] I fit in…

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

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: In the Dark – S2 E2 The Route

Sonix is an automated transcription service. We transcribe audio and video files for storytellers all over the world. We are not associated with the In the Dark 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 πŸ‘€, just click the player below.

In the Dark: S2 E2 The Route

If you haven't listened to the first episode of In the Dark, stop, go back and listen to it first and this will make a lot more sense. One other note, this episode contains a word that's offensive.

Last time on In the Dark.

Do you remember how you heard that Curtis had been arrested for the murders?

On the radio. I thought it was crazy.

Curtis Giovanni Flowers murdered those four people. There's no doubt in my mind.

Curtis Flowers was sentenced to death on four counts of capital murder. That conviction actually marked the sixth time Flowers have been tried and the case.

It's too long, way too long and Curtis Flowers is still in prison and they're still dragging it on.

I know Curtis didn't do it. I will go to my grave believing Curtis didn't do it.

If you try a man and you go six times for the same crime, well, something is wrong about the entire system.

On the west side of Winona in the middle of a neighborhood with lots of houses close together, there's what looks like an abandoned parking lot. It's nearly a block long, it's overgrown, the grass isn't mowed. It's the kind of place you might drive by and never give a second thought.

But if you slowed down and looked more closely, you'd notice a row of bricks poking out of the grass along the edge of the lot and a set of concrete steps that lead nowhere. If you got out of your car and walked onto the lot and headed all the way to the back, you'd find an old desk overturned in the grass. You'd see that someone had taken a silver marker and written the words 'Merry Christmas'. This abandoned lot used to be a school.

Back in the 1960s, it was an all-Black school and it was in a Black neighborhood. But in 1970, the Federal Government ordered the City of Winona to integrate its schools and White and Black students started to go to school here together.

But then four years later, on the night before Valentine's Day, after all the students and teachers had left, a fire broke out. The flames lit up the sky and people could smell the smoke for miles. Within hours, the entire block-long brick building had burned to the ground. Nearly everyone I talked to about the fire Black and White, told me they think it was arson and that it was related to integration.

Right next to the field where the school used to be, there's a small, white house with a porch on the side. This is the house where Curtis Flowers' parents live.

Hello.

Lola and Archie Flowers have been married for 54 years. Everything in their house is just so. The dining room table is set perfectly with cloth napkins. In the living room, there's a curved, tan velvet couch with fringe on the bottom and a matching ottoman.

Lola and Archi are both retired and although they have five other children and many grandchildren, they have devoted most of their time in the past 21 years to their son, Curtis. Curtis' parents talk on the phone with him almost every day. They regularly make the 80-minute drive each way to Parchman Prison.

Every two weeks, we go.

Okay.

We see him the first and third Tuesday of each month. We don't miss a beat.

Can you bring him anything?

Mm-mm. When you get through getting searched and everything every time you go, you might as well leave your cclothes off and go on over there.

Well, they really search you there.

Yeah. Scan you and everythnig.

From the beginning, Lola and Archie Flowers have believed their son is innocent and they spent a lot of money on Curtis' case.

How much do you think you spent?

Shit, like I cannot add it up. It was like a hundred and some thousand dollars.

Oh, my gosh.

I'm telling you.

How could you afford it?

I used to work three jobs a day. He was working double [inaudible]. And then after that, we went and borrowed some from the bank and everything to pay for the next lawyers and stuff. We had some money then, but we don't have it now.

Over the past 21 years and six trials, Curtis Flowers has had every archetype of lawyer: the father-son legal team, the high-profile Black nationalist attorney, the dedicated public defenders.

When I met his parents, Lola and Archie, last summer, Curtis' case had been taken on for free by a new team of lawyers from the Innocence Project in a high-powered East Coast law firm. Lola was feeling optimistic for the first time in a while. She was thinking ahead to the next family reunion.

So we having the next one on Labor Day weekend, so I hope Curtis is out by then. Maybe it is a Supreme Court will say something. That's what we're waiting on now, to see what they've got to say.

Do you let yourself think about that moment? Like do you think about what that would be like if he…?

Oh, yeah. I think about that all the time, you know, what a good time we're going to have and everything. A lot of family say, "When they let him out, we're all going to be there." I say, "Yeah, we're going to have a good time."

Curtis' father, Archie, didn't say much the first time I met him. He sat next to his wife and when she talked, he would just sigh or shake his head. I asked the Flowers if they had any photos of Curtis. They told me they only had one because in 1999, just before Curtis' second trial their house burned down. Lola and Archie were out of town in Memphis when it happened. Their daughter was sleeping over at their house with some of their grandkids.

My daughter was home and she said it sounded like something blowed up or something. There was a loud noise and when she would look, everything was burning. It just burned everywhere.

As for the cause of the fire, according to the report from the fire department, which I got a copy of, there was no final determination as to what caused it. But Lola told me that after the fire, someone told her that they'd heard something from a White person in town.

But somebody said they heard say, "If they let that nigger go, another house is going to burn.

And what do you think of that?

What do you think I think of it? That somebody probably set on fire.

Many years ago, around the time of the first trial, Curtis' friends and family tried to organize people in town to help Curtis. I went with our producer, Samara, to talk to some of the people who were involved in it. Pastor Jimmy Forrest and his wife, Rosie.

Hi. Are you Reverend Forrest?

Yeah, I am.

Pastor Forrest had had a stroke the previous year. So, Rosie did most of the talking.

But what we were trying to do was family-wide was try to see if we need to raise money, get lawyers, find him a lawyer. Do we need to… We were just going to talk about and find out what it is that we can do to help Curtis.

[inaudible]

Yeah. Just be there for him.

Rosie said her husband, Jimmy, took the lead back then on organizing a community meeting. Rosie told me that it felt like there was some momentum there, like they could really get something going. But then one day, before the meeting it happened, a woman came into the salon where Rosie worked, a Black woman whom Rosie refused to name. And this woman told Rosie that she'd been asked to deliver a message to her husband,, Jimmy from the White side of town. The message was brief.

He needs to relax. He needs to relax, cool off.

Who was the message from?

We don't know exactly, but we didn't want our house burned or anything to happen to our family.

And so, did you still have that meeting?

Did we do it? No.

No, we didn't. Everybody just disappeared. We had planned to get together and talk about it. Nobody said… But so, we just didn't do anything else. We backed off.

Because it sounded like it's a threat, right, that you received.

It was. It was. It was. It was a threat. If you had been here… Matter of fact, if I had, if I knew enough about the law system, or lawyers or whatever, I would have investigated that incident. I would have tried to follow that up, but I didn't know enough. We don't have… The bad part about it, you can't prove none of this stuff.

Had you heard of things like that happening in Winona before?

I have. And so, that's what put the fear.

This is season 2 In the Dark, an investigative podcast from APM Reports. I'm Madeleine Baran.

This season is about the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man from a small town in Mississippi, who's spent the past 21 years fighting for his life and a White prosecutor, who spent that same time trying just as hard to execute him.

I was in Mississippi to find out what was going on in the case of Curtis Flowers to find out why the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had tried the case six times. I decided to start out my reporting by looking at the evidence that Doug Evans presented to the jurors in those six trials.

The way I saw it, the case against Curtis Flowers really came down to three main things: the route he said Curtis walked the morning of the murders, the gun he said Curtis used to murder the four people at the store and the confessions, he said, that Curtis made to his cellmates. The route, the gun, the confessions. I decided to start with the route.

I went with our producer, Natalie, to check it out for ourselves.

Okay, so we are standing in front of Curtis Flowers' house where he was living in 1996 and what we're about to do is walk the route that the State says Curtis walked that day.

And it's like 7 o'clock in the morning.

Yeah. So, it's about that time that he would have started out, according to the State.

Okay.

So, let's start walking.

To the right, basically.

According to Doug Evans, Curtis had walked everywhere that morning. He got up early on the morning of July 16th, left his house on the west side of town and started walking east. In the neighborhood where Curtis lived, the houses are small and close together. It's hilly, the yards are short and some houses are practically up on the street.

People are out in their yards, hanging out, waving to people as they drive by. According to Doug Evans, Curtis walked out of his neighborhood and he went east. He crossed over one of the town's biggest streets, Highway 51, and kept going. Curtis turned down a street that led to a small sewing factory.

We're coming up to Angellica Drive.

He walked up to the parking lot right outside the factory and stole a gun from the glove compartment of a car.

Then he's going to walk home.

Then, he walked all the way home, back to the west side of town, his neighbor.

We're crossing 51. Now we're back on Curtis' side of town.

Curtis was at his house for a few minutes. Then, he left again, this time, to go to Tardy Furniture. Tardy Furniture was all the way on the other side of town, on the side of town where Curtis just was. So, he headed back east to go to the store.

We're crossing another busy street.

He walked past bloack after block of houses and as he got closer to Tardy Furniture, he started to pass by businesses: an auto body shop, a dry cleaners. He arrived at Tardy Furniture, walked inside and killed all four people there. Then, he walked out the front door and headed west to go back home.

On the way, he stopped at a convenience store on Highway 51 to buy chips and a six pack of beer.

This is such a long walk.

It really is.

By the time Natalie and I were done, we'd walked for an hour and 36 minutes. The route the prosecutor, Doug Evans, said Curtis Flowers took was long. It was nearly four miles. And it's brazen. It would have taken Curtis all over the town of Winona that morning.

When Curtis Flowers talked to investigators on the day of the murders and later when he testified in court, Curtis said he never walked that route. In fact, he said he was never on the east side of town at all that morning. He'd spent the whole morning in his own neighborhood on the west side.

But the problem for Curtis Flowers was that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had found witnesses, who placed Curtis at almost every point on that route. These route witnesses were one of the strongest parts of the State's case. Each of them raised their right hand and swore an oath and testified to seeing Curtis that day as he walked by.

Although none of the witnesses testified that they saw Curtis carrying a gun or saw any blood on him, their testimony was powerful. Most of these route witnesses knew Curtis. A lot of them had known Curtis their entire lives. Most of them were Black and had grown up in the same neighborhood as Curtis. When Doug Evans put them on the stand and asked them to describe who they saw that morning, these witnesses could not have been more clear. They would point to Curtis and be like. "It was Curtis. There he is. I've known him for years."

It was hard for Curtis' lawyers to break the spell of the route they tried cross examining each of the witnesses. But it didn't seem to do much. If anything, as the trials went on, the witnesses seemed to get even more certain and even more angry at the defense attorneys for doubting them. It was easy to see how a jury would be convinced by these route witnesses.

To the jurors, these witnesses came across as credible, as people doing the right thing. Doug Evans told them that what the witnesses said, all their individual stories, it all fit together. It made sense as one story, one route, a clear, convincing story about a man walking to commit murder.

But there was something I found odd about this route and about these witnesses. I managed to track down the original statements that the route witnesses gave to law enforcement. There were at least 12 witnesses, who'd given statements about seeing Curtis Flowers walking on the day of the murders. Most of them testified at trial.

The statements are pretty basic. "Did you see Curtis Flowers. Do you remember what he was wearing?" that kind of thing. But it's when the statements were given that stood out to me. The first statement from a route witness naming Curtis didn't come until a month after the murders.

Some statements weren't given until four, five or even nine months later. This seems strange to me because what the witnesses were describing seemed totally unremarkable. They were describing a man they knew, who lived in their neighborhood walking past them, a man who wasn't doing anything strange. He was just walking. That was it.

I couldn't see any reason why on the morning of the murders, anyone would have connected that to an execution-style quadruple murder in a different part of town. And if you didn't make that connection in your mind that day, how in the world would you be able to make it weeks or months later? And even if you did remember it, why would you wait so long to tell the cops? That's what I wanted to find out when I set out with our producer, Natalie, to find these witnesses last summer.

I wasn't sure what to expect. A lot of people in Winona told me that these witnesses, they don't talk about their testimony. They don't talk at all about the case. I couldn't find a record of any of the witnesses ever giving an actual interview to a reporter. And when we found one of our first witnesses and asked him about his testimony, we didn't exactly get off to a promising start.

That is confidential.

This guy's name is James Edward Kennedy, but everyone just calls him Bojack.

It is confidential. We are not supposed to talk about that.

Oh. How come?

We're not supposed to talk about it because other people have gotten the wrong impression about talking to people like you all. So, me, myself, I don't talk about it.

You don't?

Mm-mm. I'm not going to talk about that, period, becuase it's confidential and it caused confusion on both sides.

Bojack had talked to the district attorney's investigator, John Johnson, in September of 1996, two months after the murders. He said that he'd seen Curtis Flowers walking by his house, smoking a cigarette on the morning of July 16th 1996, near the factory where Curtis had supposedly stolen the gun.

Bojack had testified in five of Curtis Flowers' trials and over all of those trials, Bojack never wavered. He was absolutely certain he had seen Curtis that day. I ended up talking to Bojack for nearly four hours over two days. And eventually, he did tell me a story of what he'd seen on the day of the murders. It was more or less the same one he told in court five times about seeing Curtis that day. Bojack told me he was out on his porch at the time when he saw him.

Walking there.

Walking back?

Yeah.

And did you say anything to him?

Oh, yeah. "Hey, man. What are you doing down here this early in the morning?" and he mumbled something and he never stopped.

But it quickly became clear that Bojack is the kind of guy who says a lot of things, the kind of guy who just likes to tell stories.

There's a lot that I know.

For example, Bojack told me that ISIS was in Winona.

ISIS. ISIS were here.

Like here in Winona?

Here, in Winona.

And that one time the river in Winona suddenly switched directions and started flowing backwards.

And then the rivers backwards. They didn't put that in the paper.

And also, he told me that he worried that my microphone might be transmitting messages to the Russians.

If Russia can hack into the election don't you think they're going to hack into what you say?

Bojack wasn't saying any of these things with any real seriousness. It didn't seem at all as though he really thought my microphone was in communication with Vladimir Putin. He was just messing with me. Bojack was happy to tell me about all kinds of things, but the only thing he wouldn't talk about was how he had ended up giving a statement to law enforcement two months after the murders.

I am not at liberty to say.

I guess.

That is all i want to tell you, that I'm not at liberty to say.

I didn't think it would be like a big question, actually,.

That's it. I'm not going to say anything more. I mean, I'm looking at, in the back of my mind, it's telling me not to talk no more. It's telling me not to talk no more.

As the summer went on, Natalie and I kept talking to witnesses and slowly, we started to piece together just how these route witnesses came to be giving statements to investigators. It turned out it wasn't like they just picked up the phone and called the cops to report what they'd seen. In the Curtis Flowers case, it worked the other way.

Hi, How are you doing?

All right. I'm Mary. Do you all want me?

Oh, yeah.

I talked to a route witness, named Mary Jeanette Fleming, who told me that how she got involved in this 21-year-long death penalty case isn't entirely clear to her. She said that one day, about seven months after the murders, she was working her shift at McDonald's when in walked the Police Chief of Winona.

He came up to McDonald's and told me to come to the police station and I asked why we're going to do that, that it was something that happened to one of my kids and he never did tell me something anyway.

You were worried something was up with your kids, did you think?

He just said said he wanted to talk to me at the station that day, you know.

Mary Jeanette asked her boss if she could leave work right then in the middle of her shift, and he said Okay. And then she drove herself down to the Winona Police Station. She said she still didn't know what it was about. And then, she ended up in a room with an investigator.

So, when I got there, he brought it up about the Flower case.

And so, did they ask you, like did you see Curtis a day of the murders, or…?

Yes, ma'am. That's what he asked me.

Mary Jeanette said she told the investigator that she remembered seeing Curtis walking past her on the sidewalk on the morning of the murders, seven months earlier.

So, I just, you know, told him I had seen him that morning. I didn't want no police over there anyway.

Mary Jeanette Fleming has had to testify at every trial that Curtis Flowers has had for 21 years. She said that all of this has turned her family against her. She said her family believes Curtis is innocent and that they think she went to the police with a made-up story so that she could get the $30,000 reward that had been offered in the case.

My own folk was against me, telling me I was lying to get more of that stuff like that. I didn't want no damn pay.

Why do you think they didn't want him to tell that story?

Because they were friends to him. [inaudible] tell me he was a church man. Well, oh so what? Me too. You know, so, he didn't win the deal. No, he couldn't have killed that many people that one time. I didn't say he did do it. I said I'd seen him that morning headed in that direction. I told them I don't know what he went to.

So, your own family accused you of being a liar.

Yeah. My own. Definitely, I got so sick, I've still got that [star].

We found another witness, Danny Joe Lot, lying on a bench out in front of a Dollar General Store, his arms slung over his eyes to block out the afternoon sun.

Are you Danny Joe Lot?

Sure am.

Great.

Back in 1997, Danny Joe had given a detailed statement to the DA's investigator, John Johnson. It was about 10 months after the murders when he gave it. When I found Danny Joe, he'd clearly been drinking and by his own account, Danny Joe's memory was terrible. He told me that back in 1996, he would get drunk almost every day. He told me he was actually drinking a beer the morning some officers pulled up in May 1997, 10 months after the murders and told him to go with them down to the police station.

They got me.

Who got you?

I don't know. Them White men, one of them the police. I dont know.

And they told you to get in the car.

Yeah.

Were you scared? Like they just come by. You don't know where they are.

Hell, yeah, I was scare. I didn't know who they were. I just got in. I

Danny Joe Lot had been picked up a lot by the police over the years, but this time was different. This time he said they didn't put handcuffs on him and they let him ride in the front seat.

They said, "We ain't going to… We ain't putting no handcuffs on you." I said, "Okay." He said, "Get in the front seat." I got in the front. He said, "You ain't dead and now we've got to ask you a question about Curtis."

Danny Joe told me that once he got to the police station, he was put into a room with the same investigator who talked to many of the other witnesses, John Johnson, the investigator for the District Attorney's office. That's when he gave a statement about seeing Curtis.

I kept talking to witnesses and as I did, it became more and more suspicious, not of the witnesses but of the investigation. Some people seemed kind of freaked out. They spoke to me through the screen doors, or out of car windows.

I don't need to talk about it, okay, beucase I [inaudible].

I knocked on one woman's door and she wouldn't come out at all. All she would say was that if Curtis had another trial, she would refuse to testify.

I don't want to be nowhere invovled.

I went to see a really minor witness. She didn't even testify at trial because all she said was that she saw Curtis in his own neighborhood on the day of the murders. But when I went to see this woman, she told me she actually did not see Curtis that day.

No. No, I didn't see Curtis.

And then she closed the door on me. One day, I ended up talking to a man, whose wife was a witness, but she never testified at trial. When I stopped by, his wife was taking a nap. And at first, he was very friendly and invited me inside. But when I asked about his wife's statement about seeing Curtis, he said I should go.

You know [inaudible] to talk about that.

That his wife would not want him talking about that.

She's not going to talk to you about it. I know that [inaudible].

When I asked him why, he said that his wife had felt pressured to by law enforcement.

She was pressured to talk [inaudible].

That they'd asked about things she knew nothing about. He wouldn't explain what he meant. On the way out, he made this really cryptic remark. He said they wanted everything.

They wanted everything.

They wanted her to make some commitments that she couldn't make. And then he told me. I've said more than I probably should have. And the interview was over.

And then one day, I met a witness named Ed McChristian. That's after the break.

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Ed McChristian lives in a neat, one-story brick house. As I walked up, an air conditioner was blasting in the window.

Can we sit down for sec? Do you mind. It's just so hot.

Ed McChristian was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt that became more and more soaked with sweat as we sat in lawn chairs on a little strip of concrete in front of his house. He held a little blue washcloth in his right hand and every minute or so, he would raise it to his head to wipe off the sweat that streamed down it. And then, he would neatly fold the blue washcloth and press it down on his jeans to dry it off.

I asked Ed McChristian all my usual questions. He told me how he saw Curtis Flowers walking by his house on the day of the murders. He told me he did not get in touch with law enforcement to tell them about this, that law enforcement got in touch with him, that he gave a statement to John Johnson at the police station. Ed McChristian had talked to John Johnson about a month after the murders. In court, Ed McChristian always testified that he was certain of what he saw, Curtis Flowers walking by his house on the morning of July 16th 1996.

He just passed, just like that. I never gave him a thought. I mean, you don't know nothing didn't happen, so I just looked up and seeing who he was and recognized him. That was it.

How certain are you that it was that morning that you saw Curtis.

I wasn't even really sure. They had more about it than I did.

I wasn't even really sure. They had more about it than I did. What did that mean? And then, Ed McChristian told me how it came to be that he gave such a detailed statement about seeing Curtis Flowers on July 16th 1996. He said that statement he gave, it didn't start with him. It started with John Johnson.

Ed McChristian told me Curtis Flowers did walk by his house at some point that summer, but he never remembered which day it was. They said that wasn't a problem because when he walked into that room at the police station, John Johnson already knew what day he'd seen Curtis, that he'd seen Curtis Flowers on July 16th 1996.

They had it down on a pad for me. So, all I had to do was go there and they asked me the question and I answered.

Ed McChristian said it's still not clear to him exactly how John Johnson knew this. He said Johnson told him that someone had turned him in, that someone had said that Ed McChristian had seen Curtis on July 16th. Johnson wouldn't say who this person was. The whole thing was kind of unsettling.

Somebody had told them I'd seen him, so I couldn't say I didn't see him.

So, Ed McChristian said, "Yes, I did see Curtis Flowers on July 16th 1996." He gave the statement and testified to it in six trials.

And so, if you hadn't been like called in there and they hadn't said like, "July 16th 1996," would you have even remembered that day?

No

Ed McChristian told me that every time another one of Curtis's trials came up and he found out he had to testify again, he didn't want to go, but he didn't think he had a choice. He told me he's not sure exactly what would happen to him if he straightup refused to testify, but that whatever it would be, it wouldn't be good, like he might have to pay a fine or could even be thrown in jail.

All they did they would tell me they would subpoena me every time.

So you didn't have a choice.

Mm-mm. Every time, I'd get a subpoena.

Did you ever say like, "I'm not doing this"?

You don't know how bad I wanted to. And I never did say it, but I sure wanted to. Don't do not good.

We had talked to almost all the witnesses on the route that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, said Curtis had walked on the morning of the murders. I had just two witnesses left and the story that these two witnesses told was critically important to the State's case against Curtis. Their names were Roy Harris and Clemmie Fleming.

They didn't talk to law enforcement until about nine months after the murders. Clemmie and Roy gave separate statements to John Johnson. But what they told him was more or less the same story. Clemmie and Roy said they were in a car together on the morning of the murders. Roy was driving, Clemmie was in the passenger seat. Clemmie had asked Roy to give her a ride to Tardy Furniture to pay her furniture bill.

Roy and Clemmie pulled up outside the store. It was right around the time of the murders, but Clemmie decided not to get out of the car because even though she had driven all the way down here, she later explained she wasn't feeling well because she was five months pregnant.

They left and as they drove around the corner and got about a block or two away from Tardy Furniture, they spotted a man up ahead, running across a field, running west, like he was running away from the direction of Downtown. Clemmie recognized him right away. It was her neighbor, Curtis Flowers.

She pointed him out to Roy, but Roy didn't know him. They didn't talk to Curtis. They couldn't remember what clothes he was wearing or what kind of shoes. They didn't describe seeing any blood on him or seeing a gun, but what they did see was bad enough; Curtis Flowers running west around the time of the murders, just a block or two from Tardy Furniture. Clemmie and Roy both testified in the first trial, but almost as soon as that first trial ended, the story of Clemmie and Roy began to fall apart.

Last summer, I went with our producer, Samara, to find Roy Harris. He lives in a little town about a half hour from Winona. Roy didn't have a listed phone number and we couldn't find anyone who had an address for him, so we just started stopping into gas stations and truck stops, asking if anyone knew him.

Do you happen to know where Roy Harris lives?

I have no idea.

Okay. All right.

Do you know where Roy Harris lives?

Who's that?

Roy Harris.

Roy Harris. I can't place him.

Okay. Do you happen to know where Roy Harris lives? No. Okay.

Finally, we stopped into a cafΓ© and asked the ladies working the lunch buffet if they knew where to find him.

Actually, we're trying to meet with a man named Roy Harris, but we can't figure out where he lives.

Isn't that him?

Oh, is that him there?

The cashier pointed to an older man sitting at a table with a woman. They were eating lunch. It was Roy Harris and his girlfriend, Joanne Young.

I don't want to interrupt your lunch.

[inaudible] sit down [inaudible].

Nice to meet you. Hi.

Nice to meet you. My name is Joanne.

Hi. I'm Madeleine.

Joanne told us that talking with Roy wasn't going to be easy because Roy was almost entirely deaf. He lost most of his hearing when he was a teenager when a tractor ran over his head. He didn't know sign language. He didn't use a hearing aid. We made plans to meet up with them a few days later at Joanne's house.

Hi.

Come on in. Do you all want me to head up to Roy and find him?

Actually no. Not at all.

Joanne was wearing a long, flowing skirt and red lipstick. Roy was wearing a baseball cap a T-shirt and jeans. We sat down at Joanne's kitchen table and right away, Joanne took charge of the interview.

He can hear the words, but he can't make it out what it is.

So, he can hear that someone is talking.

Right, but what it is, he don't. He can read your lips. My lips, he can read me good.

Yeah. Yeah. That's why it's good to have you here.

I mean, really, Roy, she wants to ask you some questions.

I know. I know.

Thanks.

Roy Harris told me that the morning of the murders, he did see a man running across the street, a block or two from Tardy Furniture. But he also told me that when he saw that man, it was much earlier in the morning and that he was alone in the car. Clemmie wasn't with him. Roy said he didn't take Clemmie for a ride until later that morning after he'd seen the man and that when he was in the car with Clemmie, they didn't see anyone running.

But she didn't see nobody running. The only time I've seen somebody running is when I was by myself. She wasn't with me when I'd seen the fellow running. And when I took her, we didn't see nobody running.

Nine months or so after the murders, law enforcement told Roy Harris they wanted to talk to him. Roy didn't know how they'd found him. He figures that somehow, someone must have told someone about the man he'd seen running. Roy said he went down to the police station and just like so many of the other witnesses, he ended up in a room with John Johnson, the investigator for the District Attorney's office.

So, what did he say when you met?

What did did he say when you all met? When he took you to the police station, what did he say to you?

He showed me Curtis Flowers' picture, like a school picture.

Oh. And how many photos did they show you?

How many pictures did they show you?

One.

Just one.

Mr. Flowers' picture. He asked me was that the fellow I'd seen running and I told him no. I told him that wasn't the fellow.

Roy Harris said that John Johnson pushed him on this point. Wasn't it Curtis Flowers he saw and wasn't Roy in the car with Clemmie when they saw the man?

And so, he kept on and kept on and kept on. He tried to make me, you know, say you did, you know, she was with me. But I told him she wasn't.

So, he he kept questioning you?

Kept on, kept on, kept on. and I didn't want to agree with it.

But eventually, Roy said, he broke down and told John Johnson. "Fine. I saw Curtis Flowers with Clemmie on the morning of the murders." Roy said he did it because he wanted to get out of there. He just wanted it to be over.

I was sort of afraid of Johnson.

Why were you afraid of Johnson?

Afraid he'd go have somebody do something to me or something like that, you know, because he was trying to get me all messed up anyway. So…

Oh. Okay.

What did you think he might do?

What would you think he might do?

I don't know. Anything. Aint no telling what.

But you was afraid of him.

Yeah, because he knew what I couldn't hear good and he was trying to get me in trouble, you know, like you know, by saying the wrong thing, you know, and stuff like that, he'd get me locked up, you know.

But it sounds like you felt threatened.

Yeah, I did. I sure did.

I tried to talk to John Johnson about this, but he did not respond to my request for an interview. Roy testified in the first trial that he and Clemmie saw Curtis that day, but after that first trial, Roy Harris went to Curtis' lawyers and told them that the testimony he'd given was not true.

After Roy Harris recanted his testimony, the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had a problem. The story of Roy and Clemmie had been one of the strongest pieces of evidence about Curtis' route at the first trial. Now, that story was falling apart. If Clemmie also changed her story that would be even worse. If that happened., Doug Evans would no longer have a story of Curtis running away from downtown. All he would have would be some stories of Curtis walking around. And so, after Roy changed his story, Doug Evans' investigator, John Johnson, moved to lock down Clemmie's story.

And this thing's recording. Clemmie, for the sake of the record, my name is John Johnson. I also am [inaudible].

I managed to track down the video that John Johnson took of Clemmie Fleming after Roy had recanted.

Today's date is February the 8th, 1999. We're in the District Attorney's office in Winona, Mississippi and we've asked you to come in and make another statement to us concerning Curtis Flowers [inaudible].

Clemie looks young in the video. She's just 22 then. She's barely talking above a whisper. She's wearing white spandex-y shorts and a long-sleeved striped polo shirt. Her hair is straight and down to her ears. She's wearing silver earrings. She's in a room with John Johnson and another investigator. Both of the investigators are off camera Clemmie is sitting in a blue office chair and she keeps swiveling left and right.

[inaudible] where were you going and what were you trying to do that morning?

[inaudible].

John Johnson and the other investigator take Clemmie through a whole story.

All right, Clemmie, from that point on, when you first saw him, what was his actions? What was he doing?

He was running.

Okay. In which direction?

He was running like toward the [inaudible].

Toward or… Okay. In other words, it would have been away from Tardies.

Mm-hm. Yeah.

Okay.

Throughout the interview. John Johnson and the other investigator keep guiding Clemmie back to the statements she gave at trial. They keep reminding her of what she'd said in the past.

I think in your statement or testimony, you had [inaudible] he was running like somebody was after him.

Mm-hm.

Then John Johnson tells Clemmie why they wanted to make this recording.

Basically, what we want to know this morning, Clemmie, the day that you came in and made this statement, did I lead you to say anything?

No.

Was your statement free and voluntary?

Yes.

Did I offer you money or any reward or any gratitude at all if you would make the statement?

No.

And also, you know, I didn't guide you as to the facts of what you saw that morning?

No.

It goes on like this.

Were you truthful in your statement that day, Clemmie.

I wouldn't be lying like that. Mm-hm.

And you've been unfaithful in your testimony. Under oath, you've raised your hand and swore to tell the truth. Is that correct?

I wouldn't be lying.

And in fact, you told the truth then, did you not? I think that's all that we need, Clemmie. We just want to record the fact that, you know, you've the truth, that we hadn't guided you as to what to say, that your statement's free and voluntary and that, you know, you have not backed away from being a truthful witness.

Yeah.

And thank you very much. And that will conclude the statement.

I've talked to a lot of people who know Clemmie:, her friends, her family, and they all said that despite what Clemmie has told law enforcement and despite Clemmie's testimony in all six trials, they do not believe that she actually saw Curtis that day.

I talked to Clemmie's sister, Mary Ella, who told me that Clemmie couldn't have seen Curtis Flowers on the day of the murders because, she said, Clemmie was with her the whole day. She said she remembers it because that morning, she and Clemmie had planned to go down to Tardy Furniture together, so that Clemmie could pay her furniture bill. But while they were getting ready to leave, someone came by Mary Ella's house and told them that there had been a shooting at Tardy Furniture.

Mary Ella said she and Clemmie went to the crime scene together to check it out.

And when we get down there, they had it all taped off and I told Clemmie, I said, "I'm glad we didn't go down there because we probably would have been, you know, caught up in there," and she said, "Sure would have."

Mary Ella didn't find out that Clemmie had given a statement to law enforcement until the first trial. Mary Ella wasn't at the trial. It was being held in Tupelo, about 100 miles away but someone passed along word to Mary Ella that her sister, Clemmie, was up there on the stand, testifying under oath that she saw Curtis on the morning of the murders.

Mary Ella's first reaction was to race to the courthouse to tell the jurors exactly what she told me that Clemmie's story couldn't possibly be true. But by the time she got there, the trial was almost over and the defense decided not to try to call her as a last-minute witness. Mary Ella did end up testifying for Curtis' defense in the second trial.

And it was like they were using me and Clemmie against one another. It like Clemmie's word against mine and Clemmie won.

I went to talk to one of Clemmie's best friends from back then, her cousin, a woman named Latarsha Blissett. Latarsha and Clemmie still live just a block apart. Latarsha lives in a trailer with her husband. It's in the backyard behind her mother's house. Latarsha said she remains convinced that Clemmie made up the story and that she did it because she felt pressured by law enforcement and because she thought she might be able to get some money.

And Latarsha said the reason she thinks this is because of what happened to her. Back in 1996, Latarsha was 19 years old and she said she was at high school one day when the cops showed up and told her she needed to come with them.

I was scared, but it was the police, so I'm going to go. I know I aint did nothing wrong because I will never do nothing that gives me no trouble, but I don't know. I just went. I was just doing what a kid's got to do.

Latarsha said she was taken to a police station and put in a room with two investigators. She said one of them was John Johnson. She doesn't remember who the other person was. She said they asked her about Curtis Flowers, whether she'd ever dated him, whether she knew what kind of shoes he wore, whether she knew anything that would connect Curtis to the murders at Tardy Furniture. She told them no, no and no. But she said they also asked her this other kind of question.

They were asking me was I trying to buy a mobile home. They asked me if I knew what $30,000 dollars could buy. "If, you know, you're trying to get a mobile home do you know what, you know, this amount of money could buy?"

Well, every time they were asking me something, they always would ask me do I know what this certain amount of money could do. So, they didn't just say, "Well, hey, we'll give you blah-dy, blah-dy, you go buy that trailer, or we'll give you…" They didn't do that, but they ended everything with this money to let me know that it's on the table. So, I didn't pick up on that.

Latarsha said that although the investigators implied that she could get money, they never actually said that if she connected Curtis to the crime, she would get a reward. Latarsha said she didn't tell them anything because she didn't know anything, but when she found out that her cousin, Clemmie, had talked to law enforcement and that Clemmie had told them that she had seen Curtis that day, Latarsha did not believe Clemmie's story. Not at all.

It was time to go talk to Clemmie. Natalie and I went to see her late one afternoon. Clemmie is now 42. She still lives in her childhood home in Winona. It's a small, one-story house about a block from where Curtis grew up.

Hi.

Hi.

Clemmie opened the door. It was hot out. She was wearing red shorts and a T-shirt and she was holding a plastic bag of lettuce in one hand. She looked at me with suspicion. She didn't invite me inside. Our entire conversation took place with her in the doorway, sometimes sort of closing the door a little bit, then opening it a little bit, like she was going to end this conversation at any moment

I just want to know like what this has been like for you.

I don't like it. Everytime you look up, somebody's saying negative stuff and say I lied and why did I lie on him and I got him killed, I'm about to get him get killed and all kinds of negative stuff. And I don't like it.

Clemmie told me more or less the same story that she testified to in court about seeing Curtis running away from the Downtown on the morning of the murders, although some of the details had changed. Clemmie told me she never wanted to get involved in the investigation in the first place. She told me that she would have never come forward by herself and that the only reason she talked to investigators is because someone overheard her talking about it at work and turned her in.

Why didn't you want to tell anybody about it, do you think?

Becuase I didn't know was going to get this, you know, this [inaudible] and I had to go to court and, you know, and people criticize you, you know how they…

How important do you even think what it is that you have to say is?

I don't know. I ain't the only one testifying. Yeah, other people testified, so…

Yeah. Do you have a sense of who's the most important witness?

No.

Yeah.

Who is that?

I don't… I mean, I think you're placing him closest to the store, you know.

So. Uh-huh.

Yeah.

When I tried to ask Clemmie more questions about her testimony and what she saw, she got annoyed.

So, then, like what happened after that?

I don't know. I don't know. Did you even read it in the paper?

Well, like, I…

I know you all saying my statement [and still] because I don't testify when [inaudible] world with this stuff. [inaudible] I had it happen and I'm not going to let nobody criticize me. Back then, I let you do anything you ever said to me. I ain't going to do it no more. I ain't going to let nobody just walk up and shit and me. So, they just like I'm not going to let no body just criticize me. So, I won't… I just wish that I… This shouldn't have happened. I hate my [inaudible]. I don't like it and I just want to live a normal life. I don't care nothing about it. It had to happen.

I told Clemmie what I'd heard from her friends and family, how they thought her story about seeing Curtis wasn't true and how a lot of them figured that she'd been pressured by law enforcement into saying it. Clemmie said all those people had it wrong. She told me that her story is the truth, but she also told me that even if her story wasn't true, coming forward now and saying that probably wouldn't help Curtis' case anyway.

It ain't going to help nothing. If I did say it, it ain't going to help him nothing because you've got other people testifying saying they'd seen him. So, what will my testifying help?

I think a great deal.

So, what they want me to do? Tell a lie and say I didn't see him? I'd seen him and like I can't erase it make it go away. If it happened, it happened. That's the truth. So, now you know the truth.

What do you think you'll do if there's a seventh trial?

You know, I ain't going to be [inaudible] caring about this stuff. I just wish it will go away. And I ain't [inaudible]. I ain't going to go [inaudible].

You're not going to do it?

Mm-mm. I don't want to and ain't nobody going to force me. I just ain't going to do it.

Clemmie wouldn't tell me exactly why she would refuse to testify if she was called for another trial and she wouldn't answer any more questions.

I was at the end of the route. By the time I was done, I talked to every person who's still alive, who testified about seeing Curtis Flowers on the morning of the murders. And after having done all that, I thought back on how Doug Evans had presented these witnesses to the jurors, how he described them as reliable, credible, as people with excellent memories, people with no reason to lie.

I thought about how Doug Evans had emphasized how many witnesses there were and how their stories have seen Curtis all fit together. It was supposed to be damning evidence. And at trial, it certainly was. It helped lead jurors to convict Curtis and sentence him to death. When I look at it now, I agree with the prosecutor, Doug Evans, that all of these witnesses do add up to solid evidence, but not evidence that Curtis Flowers walked around town that morning.

Instead, when I look at all these witnesses, all of these people I'd spent so much time with, I see evidence of a different kind, evidence that law enforcement was willing to rely on testimony from people who couldn't plausibly remember what they saw in any kind of detaile, evidence that law enforcement was willing to pressure people and evidence that so many of these people were just plain scared. So, yes, these witnesses were evidence, but not the kind of evidence the jury had ever heard.

Coming up next time on In the Dark.

You don't want to walk in the grass near here.

Oh, no? What's there?

No. You've got all kinds of snakes in the grass.

Snakes?

Mm-hm.

There's a lot more information about these route witnesses and how some of their accounts contradict each other, how their testimony has changed over the six trials. It's way more than we could ever get into even five episodes of this podcast, but it's worth checking out. We have it all on our Web site, inthedarkpodcast.org.

In the Dark is reported and produced by me, Madeleine Baran, Senior Producer, Samara Freemark, Producer, Natalie Jalonski, Associate Producer, Rehman Tungekar and reporters, Parker Yesko and Will Craft. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter. Web editors are Dave Mann and Andy Kruse. The Editor in Chief of APM Reports. is Chris Worthington. Original music by Gary Meister and Johnny Vince Evans. This episode was mixed by Veronica Rodriguez and Corey Schreppel.

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In the Dark: S2 E1 July 16, 1996

So, this is the tunnel.

Should we go through?

Sure.

It's kind of slippery. Don't fall.

You can walk right through.

It's been that way since I was a kid.

Wow. It goes straight through.

Long before I ever went into that tunnel, before I’d ever even heard of the town where the tunnel was, I heard about a man named Curtis Flowers. Curtis was from a small town in Mississippi called Winona, but he now lives in a one-man cell in Parchman Prison.

Back in 1997, he was convicted and sentenced to death for an awful crime, maybe the worst in the town's history, the murder of four people in a local furniture store. But what got my attention about Curtis Flowers was something else.

It was the fact that Curtis had been tried not once, not twice, but six times for the same crime. Six trials over 21 years. All along Curtis Flowers has maintained his innocence. Curtis kept appealing his convictions. He kept winning and he kept getting tried again all by the same prosecutor.

Trying someone six times is incredibly unusual. It almost never happens, but it happened here.

This is season 2 of In the Dark, an investigative podcast from a APM Reports. I'm Madeline Baran. This season is about the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man from a small town in Mississippi, who has spent the past 21 years fighting for his life and a White prosecutor, who spent that same time trying just as hard to execute him.

If you try a man and go six for the same crime, well, something is wrong about the Constitution, or something is wrong about the law, or something is wrong about the prosecution, or something is wrong about the defense, or something is wrong about the entire system.

For the past year, I've been working with a team of journalists looking into what happened in the case of Curtis Flowers.

It's too long, way too long and Curtis Flowers is still in prison and they're still dragging it on.

We talked to hundreds of people, who live in this part of Mississippi. And it's clear that the way people think about the Curtis Flowers case, for the most part, depends on whether they're White or Black.

You know, when everyone basically knows the guy is guilty, how much more evidence do you need?

They got the wrong person. That's what I feel.

I know Curtis didn't do it. I would go to my grave believing Curtis didnt do it.

We've tracked down witnesses, lawyers, law enforcement, people who have never been talked to before. A lot of people have told us things about the case of Curtis Flowers that they've never told anyone else. It's been a long year and I want to tell you about it

This story starts on a Tuesday morning, July 16th, 1996, in a Northern Mississippi town called Winona. That morning, a little after 9:00 a.m., a man named Sam Jones got a call from his boss asking if he could come into work.

Sam Jones was 76, but he still worked part time at one of Winona's oldest businesses, a family-run store called Tardy Furniture. Tardy Furniture was right downtown on Front Street. It was a red brick building with big glass display windows at the end of a row of old fashioned storefronts.

For the people of Winona back then, Tardy Furniture signaled respectability. It was the kind of place where you'd go to buy a nice dining room set or a sofa, where the sales clerk would help you match your rug to your lamps. More than one person in town described Tardy Furniture to me as a good Christian store.

When Sam Jones walked into Tardy Furniture the lights were on but he didn't see anyone. "Maybe," he thought, "they're playing a joke on me."

He kept walking further into the store and that's when he heard something. It sounded like someone was struggling to breathe. He looked down and he saw his co-workers, all four of them on the ground. They'd all been shot in the head.

Winona had only a few thousand people back then and that morning, hundreds of them made their way to front street. People started showing up almost as soon as the police got there. The mayor came by. So did reporters. Even the town's dog catcher showed up to see if he could lend a hand.

With shock and disbelief, onlookers stare at Tardy Furniture company, the site of Winona's quadruple shooting.

Some people walked right up onto the sidewalk and tried to peer through the store's windows. Butpolice shooed them away and the crowd gathered up on the train tracks up on a hill on the other side of the street to look down at the scene.

Friends and relatives identified the dead as Tardy Furniture's four…

Everyone knew the people who died at Tardy Furniture that day. There was the store's owner, a White woman named Bertha Tardy, who'd worked there for decades.

Locals describe Tardy as a person who was well known and we'll liked here. They say she was very active in her community and her church. For those reasons, many here are having a hard time believing her family business has become the site of such a gruesome crime.

There was Carmen Rigby, a White woman, who was married with two grown children. She was Tardy's bookkeeper and sales clerk. There was Robert Golden, a married Black man, who also had two children and who had just been hired to work as the store's delivery man.

A friend told us it was Goldman's first day on the job.

And there was a 16 year old White teenager, named Bobo Stewart. He was the only victim who'd survived the shooting.

The fourth victim, Derrick "Bobo" Stewart was taken to University Medical Center in very critical condition. Like the others, the teenage All-Star baseball player was shot in the back of the head, execution style.

Bobo's father, Randy Stewart, was at work that morning.

I was sitting on a bucket at Superior Asphalt repairing a conveyor belt to stack gravel with and a lady pulled up in a white Nissan car said, "Mr. Stewart, get in with me." I said, "Ma'am, I'm in a relationship. I'm not getting in that car with you." She said, "Do you have a son named Bobo?" I said, "Yes, ma'am, I do. Why?" She said he's been shot.

I went and told my supervisor. I said, Jerry, I'm going to the hospital. Bobo has been shot.".

Did you know how bad?

No, not 'till I walked in the emergency room. I reckon the lead surgeon or doctor or whatever told me. He said, "Mr. Stewart," he said, "if you're close to God," he said, "you need to go talk to him." I still see Bobo laying in the hospital when [inaudible] walked in the emergency room.

His head was swelled up like a basketball. And that's something I live with every night, every day, just seeing my child laying there like that. It still hurts to this day.

After Bobo was shot, Randy got a room at the Red Roof Inn near the hospital. Bobo's friends wanted to be there too. So, all of them, Randy, his girlfriend at the time and Bobo's friends piled into one room together.

It was like eight of us. That's what we did.

Were you sleeping much.

No. Mainly I'd go down and just lay down and rest, take a shower and go back and…

Was he able to talk at all?

No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He was on life support. And it was a little conflict between me and my ex-wife, but she finally agreed to go ahead and unplug it. The only brain function he had going was his stem cell and that was all. Had he lived and be on his own, he would have been a vegetable, but had he lived, we would have took care of him.

And how long did Bobo live for?

Six days and seven nights. [inaudible].

So a lot to talk about.

Oh, yes. Twenty-one years later. It's like it was yesterday. Nobody, nobody should have to bury their child.

The quadruple murder at Tardy Furniture was one of the biggest crimes in Mississippi in a long time and nearly every level of law enforcement got involved, the local police, the county sheriff, state investigators.

And it was a strange crime. It wasn't at all obvious why anyone would want to kill four people in a small-town furniture store. All four people had been shot in the head and nowhere else. There didn't appear to have been any missed shots. The victims weren't tied up and they didn't appear to have been lined up before they were shot.

Three of the victims were found within a few feet of each other. One of the victims was a few feet further away. Nothing in the store seemed to have been disturbed. There were no signs of a struggle. No one had witnessed the murders. No one had heard the gunshots. No one had come forward to confess. The case was a mystery.

Weeks passed with no arrests. People in the area came together to raise $30,000 for a reward. The newspaper ran stories about the reward on the front page. Still nothing. Most people in town had no idea what was going on with the investigation. There were very few updates.

People started calling City Hall to complain and after a few months, the case was no longer just a mystery. It was a political problem, for one man in particular, the top prosecutor in the district, a man who would go on to spend the rest of his career on this case, District Attorney Doug Evans

At the time of the murders, Doug Evans was 43 years old. He'd been elected District Attorney five years earlier on a promise to let no crime go unpunished. I found some of Doug Evans' old newspaper campaign ads from back then. Evans has a dark mustache and dark hair. One of his ads quotes a group of lawyers calling evans, quote, a fine Christian man with unquestioned integrity.

Evans' ads promised that if voters elected him, he would make sure that every single case was investigated and that victims and their families would be treated with respect.

Evans needed the Tardy Furniture case solved. So, he assigned one of his investigators to work on it, a man named John Johnson. Johnson started meeting with the families of the victims. But Randy Stewart, Bobo Stewart's dad, said that meeting with Johnson only made him feel worse, that there wasn't much Johnson would tell him about the investigation.

He said he almost came to blows with Johnson more than once, like one time when Johnson came by to see him.

He had a yellow notepad in his lap and I took my finger and I hit Bobo's name about six times. I forcibly hitting that notepad. "John Johnson, all I want is a conviction for that child, right there.".

And John Johnson say?

He told me I needed to calm down.

Bobo was the great love of Randy Stewart's life. There was no one Randy was closer to than his son, Bobo.

I mean, he had the personality of an angel, probably the most lovable human being you'd ever meet in your life. Sixteen years old, 6'1", 195lb and a 92 mile and hour fastball. Super kid.

Randy told me that he and Bobo were more like best friends than father and son. Back then, Randy's marriage had broken up andRandy and Bobo were living in an apartment together.

Randy said he used to own a bar and Bobo would be there with him almost every night. And the two of them had a tradition at the bar back then. Every night at closing time, Bobo would take 50 cents out of the register and put it in the jukebox to play their favorite song.

That was mine and Bobo's song. "My sweet child of mine, crank it up."

When that song would come on 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, everybody started easing out the door.

Randy sighed, he can still picture Bobo, standing next to the pool table at the bar like it was yesterday.

A pool stick, he'd run you off the table with it. Now, I've seen Bobo come out there on Sunday morning and counting out a little over $1,300 he had in his pocket shooting pool, $100 a game.

Wow.

So, yeah, he was a hustler. I know that's not right, but everybody in that bar loved that child.

The idea that someone would kill Bobo and get away with it because law enforcement couldn't solve the crime, that was more than Randy Stewart could take.

Six months passed, then one day in January 1997, John Johnson came to see Randy again. This time, Johnson finally had some news.Llaw enforcement had solved the crime. They knew who killed Randy's son and the three other people at the store. The killer was a Black man from Winona, a man who used to work at Tardy Furniture and was now living in Texas.

And he said, "I'm going to Plano, Texas, and get him." And I hugged his neck and I said, "Bring his ass back down. Go get him. Let's convict him."

His name was Curtis Flowers.

We'll be right back after the break.

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Do you remember how you heard that Curtis had been arrested for the murders?

On the radio.

What do you think?

I thought it was crazy.

This is a man named Kittery Jones. He's good friends with Curtis Flowers. He's also Curtis's cousin. I talked to him with our producer, Samara. Kittery actually saw Curtis the morning of the murders back in July of 1996.

When he heard about the killings around 11 or 12 o'clock that day, he rushed over to Curtis' place to check on him because he knew Curtis had worked down at Tardy Furniture and he worried that Curtis had been killed. Kittery was relieved when Curtis opened the door. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

I think he had a piece of chicken or something in his hand. I asked him, "Listen, man, did you hear about what went on down there at Tardy's?" and he said, yeah, he'd heard about it. And I asked him had he been down and he said no. I told him, I said, "Man, I thought you were still working down there," and he said, "No."

And what was he, what did he seem like? Like, did he seem nervous or…?

No, he weren't nervous at all. He was just the typical Curtis.

Typical Curtis. Usually in a story like this, you hear from the person in prison, but that's not going to happen in this story. You're not going to hear from Curtis Flowers because the Mississippi Department of Corrections won't allow it, even though the Department's own policy is to allow for, quote, reasonable access between inmates and reporters.

I tried to talk to Curtis for months. We even got a lawyer involved but the D.O.C. wouldn't budge. They wouldn't even let me talk to Curtis on the phone. I did write letters to Curtis, which I know from talking to his parents that he received. And Curtis' his parents told me that he was grateful that a reporter was looking into his case.

But Curtis' lawyers told him not to write back to me because they don't want Curtis writing letters to reporters while the case is on appeal.

Over the past year, I spent a lot of time talking to everyone I could find who knew Curtis Flowers, trying to get a picture of who he was, not just his friends, but his old schoolteacher, his ex-girlfriend from high school, his friends' friends, even the people who would later testify against him at trial and they all describe Curtis the same way, like how his childhood friend, Michelle Milner, put it.

He was just always very laid back. You know, smiling, laughing, talking, cordial. I've never seen him, you know, be an'gry or upset.

In the summer of 1996, the summer of the murders at Tardy Furniture, Curtis Flowers was 26 years old. Curtis didn't have a criminal record. He was living in Winona with his girlfriend and her kids in a house two blocks from his parents. He didn't have a steady job, but he did work for a few days at Tardy Furniture in late-June and early-July

He spent most of his time hanging out with his family, his five siblings and his cousins and uncles. They would go fishing or just drive around. Curtis didn't have big plans for his life. He'd graduated last in his class from high school.

In his high school yearbook photo, he's wearing a suit and Black bowtie. He has a round face and a wide smile. If Curtis was known for anything at all, it was for being a singer in his father's Gospel group.

He joined this gospel group with his dad and he was going to different churches and then they would sing.

I have a video of Curtis performing with a group back then. Curtis sings the lead. He's wearing a gray suit and tie. He's smiling nodding his head a bit to the music.

You know, it was a lot of attention for him and he liked it. He dated the first cousin of my best friend. She said that he was boring because he always just wanted to talk about singing. That's all he wanted to talk about was singing.

In the fall of 1996, a few months after the murders, Curtis and his girlfriend moved to Texas to live with his sister. He found a job at a Kroger grocery store. And every few weeks, he would make the seven-hour drive home to Winona to spend time with his parents.

When investigators came for Curtis Flowers in Texas in January of 1997, Curtis didn't fight extradition back to Mississippi. He just got into a car and was driven back. Curtis was put in a jail just outside Winona to wait for his trial to begin.

Curtis and his family didn't know any lawyers, so his mother asked around. She found out about a father-son legal team from a few towns over, Billy and John Gilmore. The Gilmores hadn't handled many high-profile murder cases, but the family scraped together their savings to pay for them.

In October of 1997, District Attorney, Doug Evans, brought Curtis Flowers to trial for murder. Evans had decided to seek the death penalty. The trial was held 100 miles away in Tupelo. The jury was all White. Doug Evans had been preparing for this moment for more than a year. It was his chance to show the people of Winona that their district attorney would not allow such a horrific crime to go unpunished, and Evans was ready.

There's no recording of that first trial in 1997 because the courthouse where it was stored, burned down. But Idid get a copy of the transcript.

Here's a case that Doug Evans laid out for the jurors. Evans said it all began about two weeks before the murders. Curtis Flowers had just gotten a job at Tardy Furniture. He'd only been there three days when the store's owner, Bertha Tardy, sent Curtis to pick up some batteries for a golf cart.

Curtis loaded these big batteries onto the back of his truck, but he didn't tie them down. And when he drove away, those batteries slid right off and crashed to the ground. And Curtis just looked at those batteries and the damage he'd done to them and laughed.

Bertha Tardy didn't think it was funny. She told Curtis that she had no choice but to dock his pay and fire him. Thirteen days later, on July 16th 1996, Curtis Flowers decided to get revenge for being fired.

He woke up early, walked across town, broke into a car and stole a gun. He walked to Tardy Furniture. When he got there around 10:00 a.m., he walked inside and shot all four people in the head. He grabbed the money from the cash register, maybe $300 or s and then he walked home.

No one witnessed the murders and no one saw Curtis steal the gun. But, Doug Evans said, he was able to recreate the route that Curtis walked that morning, the exact streets he took as Curtis walked to steal the gun, as he walked to Tardy Furniture and as he walked home.

Evans put a series of people on the stand, who testified to seeing Curtis at nearly every point on the route. Investigators never found the gun that was used in the murders, but Evans said they knew from examining the bullets at the crime scene that the gun that was stolen that morning was the murder weapon.

Evans told the jurors that investigators had brought Curtis to the police station on the day of the murders and found a single particle of gunshot residue on his hand. Evans said investigators found bloody shoe prints at the murder scene, made by a Fila Grant Hill basketball shoe.

Investigators never found those shoes, but when they searched the house where Curtis Flowers was living with his girlfriend and her kids, they did find a shoebox for Fila Grant Hill shoes, the same size that made the bloody prints.

And Doug Evans said he had something else, one last piece of evidence that was so strong that it took the case not just beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond any doubt at all that Curtis Flowers had confessed to the murders, not to law enforcement, but to two people he'd shared a cell with while he was in jail awaiting trial. They both testified.

Randy Stewart, Bobo's father, was sitting in the courtroom for all this. And as he watched Doug Evans tell the story of what his team had been doing for all those months, he marveled at how skillful it was.

It was a jigsaw puzzle. They told the pieces in and it fit. They tracked him from the time he left his house, 'til the time he got back. Okay, we didn't find the tennis shoes. We found a tennis shoebox though. We didn't find a gun, but we found the projectile. The evidence was there. You just had to sit down, listen to it with an open mind and then come back and read your verdict.

And was there ever a moment where you thought, "Well I don't know. Maybe Curtis didn't do it"?

Nope. Nope. The evidence was there. The ones that don't believe it didn't pay attention to the evidence.

Curtis Flowers' lawyers tried to poke holes in the case against him. They said those bloody shoe prints at the crime scene couldn't have come from Curtis. Curtis didn't wear Filas. The lawyers said the shoebox at Curtis' house actually belonged to his girlfriend's teenage son and that her son had outgrown the shoes and thrown them out.

They even had the teenager testify before the jury to confirm that the shoes were his, not Curtis'. The defense talked about the particle of gunshot residue on Curtis' hand. They suggested it could have come from sparkplugs, or from fireworks that Curtis had handled over the July 4th holiday.

They said that Curtis had an alibi. He'd started off his morning at home watching his girlfriend's younger kids before they went to their grandma's house. Then, around 9:00 a.m., about an hour before the murders, Curtis walked to his sister's house and hung out for a few minutes with some people there. Two of them testified about it.

Unfortunately for Curtis' defense that time he spent at his sister's house didn't cover the time that investigators said the murders happened. And finally, the defense decided to call Curtis himself to testify.

On the stand, Curtis denied killing anyone. He said he wasn't fired from Tardy Furniture. He just stopped showing up to work. He said Bertha was nice to him, that she even loaned him $30 to tide them over until his first paycheck.

After the defense was done questioning Curtis, the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had his turn and this questioning of Curtis would be the longest conversation the two men would ever have. Doug Evans said, "You were going to show Ms. Tardy. You were going to go down there and you were going to take a gun and you were going to get any money that you could get your hands on, wasn't you.".

"No, sir," Curtis said.

It went on like this. "You shot everybody in there in the head, didn't you."

"No, I didn't."

"But you made some mistakes, didn't you?".

"No, sir. I didn't do it.".

"You didn't wash all the gunshot residue off your hands.".

"I didn't do it.".

"And you forgot and stepped in the blood.".

"No, sir. I didn't."

"That is just a few of the mistakes you made, isn't it?".

"No, sir. I didn't do it."

The jury deliberated for just 66 minutes. They reached a verdict. Guilty. And they sentence Curtis Flowers to death.

The evidence showed that he was guilty.

We talked to the jurors who were on that first trial. They told us it wasn't difficult to reach that verdict.

There's no doubt in my mind that he did it. It's pretty cut and dry.

And it was obvious that Curtis Flowers was guilty.

The prosecution [signed]. They presented all the evidence, I thought, in a very sequential matter. That's what we call walking the dog, you know, just one step at a time, moving forward. It was well done.

The judge thanked the jury for their service. The trial of Curtis Flowers was over and Randy Stewart left the courtroom thinking justice had finally been served.

Curtis Giovanni Flowers murdered those four people. There's no doubt in my mind. I don't care how many choirs he sang or nothing. I believe in tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye. And I think he needs to fry in hell, where he's going.

If he was executed, would you go watch?

You're damn right, I'd go watch. I will stick the needle in him. I owe that to my son.

Randy Stewart is still waiting for that moment because that verdict in that courtroom in 1997, that was only the beginning of a court battle that so far, lasted 21 years with no sign of ending.

After that verdict in 1997, Curtis Flowers appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court and he won. But he didn't get out of prison. He didn't have that moment that you see on the news, where you win your appeal and the prison doors open and your family rushes past the TV cameras to hug you because the prosecutor, Doug Evans, just decided to try the case again, and again, and again.

In 1999, Curtis Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death for a second time. Again, he appealed and he won.

A death row inmate will get a new trial. Curtis Giovanni Flowers accused of killing four…

Doug Evans just tried it again. In 2004, Curtis Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. He appealed and he won.

Yesterday in a five to four decision, Justices agreed with Flowers' his attorney that prosecutores can't…

The reason that Curtis Flowers kept winning his appeals is that the Mississippi Supreme Court kept finding that the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had broken the rules. He'd misstated the facts. He'd asked improper questions not in good faith. He'd even violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by striking most Black people off the jury

… and disqualifying Black potential jurors. And Flowers wasn't…

But it didn't matter. Doug Evans tried it again. The case kept going. In 2007, the jury hung. They couldn't decide on a verdict.

The fourth trial of Curtis Giovanni Flowers has ended in mistrial with a hung jury. Flowers…

Doug Evans tried it again. In 2008, another hung jury.

Jurors deliberated more than 10 hours, when the judge declared a mistrial.

Doug Evans tried it again and again, Curtis Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death.

… Furniture store, Curtis Flowers was was sentenced to death on four counts of capital murder in June of 2010. That conviction actually marked the sixth time Flowers have been tried in the case. Flowers…

In case you're wondering, this isn't double jeopardy because double jeopardy would be if you're tried again after you've already been acquitted. And Curtis Flowers has never been acquitted. That last conviction was in 2010.

The verdict is still under appeal. Curtis Flowers has never gone home. The exit from one courtroom was just the entrance to another.

Six trials, over 21 years. Randy Stewart, Bobo's father, has been to every one. He's watched as the case went on, and on. As Curtis won appeals and avoided execution, Randy got more and more frustrated as the years passed.

Randy told me that at a certain point, he decided to take matters into his own hands, to do what the State would not, or could not.

I was planning on murdering Curtis Flowers. I even had it planned out. I was going to assasinate him [inaudible].

So how are you going to do it?

I was going to shoot him in the head with a 270 rifle. Oh, I even had a guy who was going to get me the gun.

Randy said his plan was to watch for Curtis to arrive at the courthouse and to kill Curtis as he stepped out of the van.

If you go to so many trials and if you go paying attention and watching, you can, you know, premeditated or plan it out. Yeah, I had it out in my head. And I would have carried it out. There's no doubt in my mind. It make me no difference. I was going to get rid of him.

Why did you wanted to kill him?

Huh?

Why did…?

Because he killed my son, an eye for an eye. I probably went straight to hell, at the time, it wouldnt make me no difference. I was in it for revenge. And if it hadn't been for God, I wouldn't be sitting here now. Bobo came to me in a dream said, "It's all right, Daddy. [inaudible] your life."

Randy resigned himself to waiting. I found a TV news clip from 2007 where he's talking to a reporter about Curtis's fourth trial.

The wheels of justice turn slow, but I'm willing to wait on the wheels of justice.

Curtis Flowers is now 47. He spent nearly half his life in jail or prison. He continues to insist that he's innocent. If a case has been tried six times, something has gone wrong.

When I started looking at the case of Curtis Flowers, I read the transcripts of the trials, all the appeals, all the motions. And right away, I learned that the prosecution's case against Curtis Flowers wasn't built on any one piece of evidence. There was no DNA match, no video surveillance footage, no witness to the murders, nothing that would absolutely prove that Curtis Flowers committed this crime.

Instead the prosecutor, Doug Evans, had lots and lots of smaller pieces of evidence, pieces that wouldn't mean much on their own. But Evans had managed to put all those pieces together, so that each one looked like part of a bigger story, a story that was clear and convincing. It was like Randy Stewart had said. It was a jigsaw puzzle. So, I wondered how this case would look if I pulled those puzzle pieces apart and held each one up to the light.

One of the first pieces I looked at was something Doug Evans had talked about in that very first trial. It was something the jurors heard right before they had to decide whether to sentence Curtis Flowers to death.

Doug Evans told them that when Curtis was a teenager, he'd done something that sounded really bad. He'd pointed a gun at another teenage boy, said, "I'm going to shoot you," pulled the trigger and shot him in the chest. The way Doug Evans described, it it sounded intentional.

Our producer, Samara, tracked down the boy who Curtis had shot. His name is James Douglas and he's now 46. The address she had for him turned out to be the address of his mother, Willie Mae. James lives in Chicago now, but Willie Mae called him.

Hello.

Hey, James. Hey, Woody.

Yes.

Okay, it's a lady here. She just wants to talk to you about Curtis Flowers.

[Inaudible]

Wait a minute, Woody. She just wants to… Okay, what did you say your name was?

Samara.

Tamara.

Samara, yeah.

Okay, I'm going to put you on the speakerphone, okay?

Okay.

Oh, hi. Hi, James. James?

Hello, yes.

Hi. Can you hear me?

Yes.

James told Samara what had happened. He said that one day, back in high school, he'd gone to Curtis' house between exams. Curtis' parents weren't home.

We was on the front porch and he was like, "Do you believe my daddy's got a gun?" I said, "Yeah, he probably do." And he went in the house and got the gun and he…

James said Curtis was playing with the gun, whipping it up and down, like he was pulling it out of a holster in an old Western.

And then it just boom. The gun went off. He pulled the trigger.

James said Curtis never told him what Doug Evans claimed he did, that line, "I'm going to shoot you." And he said he and Curtis weren't an argument or anything.

And so, were you guys having a fight at the time, like when he did it?

No. No, that didn't happen.

That didn't happen.

No, we didn't have no beef. We didn't have no problems at school, no problems.

And he just went and do something ignorant, I say. He was just ignorant.

Curtis had shot James in the chest, but the boys decided to just go back to school. James zipped his windbreaker over the bullet wound and they headed back. James sat down at his desk. It didn't take long for another kid to notice he was bleeding and James was sent to the hospital.

The shooting was investigated by the Police Chief of Winona at the time. The Chief said it appeared to be an accident, not intentional. And it seemed like Doug Evans should have known this because the Police Chief back then, who made the determination that the shooting was most likely an accident was John Johnson.

John Johnson, the same man who by the time of the flowers case, was Doug Evans' investigator. The story that Doug Evans had presented to the jurors that made the shooting seem intentional didn't seem to be true. That made me wonder about what else Doug Evans told the jurors.

The entire story that Doug Evans had used to try to convince them over six trials that Curtis Flowers was guilty, the story that had cost Curtis Flowers his freedom, that led to Curtis spending the past 21 years in a cell far away from a family, the story that could even cost Curtis Flowers his life. What about that story, the whole story the entire case? Was that story true?

In June of last year., I moved to Mississippi to find out. Coming up this season on In the Dark…

First of all that is confidential. We're not supposed to talk about that.

[Inaudible] full of empty filing cabinets and this one is full of records.

And he said that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that's how he got caught up in that.

I was young and stupid, that they're like, "Were you putting a gun to that man's head and blowing their brains out."

Did I lead you to say anything?

No.

Was your statement fre and voluntary?

Yes.

Mississippi and Mississippi, you know, we all know what goes on in Mississippi. Once we get to you in the courtroom, you're out. If you're Black, we've got you.

You have a sickness, probably. You have not been [inaudible]. I don't know who you think you are to storm out of this court and…

Don't anybody want to see justice? I mean it would be anybody. I want to see justice for anybody.

Are you confident that you have the right person, that Curtis Flowers is guilty?.

That I will answer, definitely. No question at all.

Okay, so I'm going to wrige, "I am not setting you up. I am a reporter. We just want to talk to you."

In the Dark is reported and produced by me, Madeleine Baran, Senior Producer, Samara Freemark, Producer, Natalie Jalonski, Associate Producer, Rehman Tungekar and reporters, Parker Yesko and Will Craft. In the Dark is edited by Catherine Winter. Web editors are Dave Mann and Andy Kruse. The Editor in Chief of APM Reports is Chris Worthington. Original music by Gary Meister and Johnny Vince Evans. This episode was mixed by Corey Schreppel.

Archival news recordings, courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History WLBT, WABG and WJTB. You can see photos and videos and check out documents from the case on our website, inthedarkpodcast.org. We'll be posting new stuff every week.

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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

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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.

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Popular Transcripts Full Transcript: In the Dark – S1 E3 The One Who Got Away

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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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