In the Dark
is hosted by Madeleine Baran and investigates the 1989 kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling and the way the case was handled, and mishandled, by local law enforcement. It's a painful and infuriating story told in nine parts, around 40 minutes each, and while it starts off steady enough, I didn't really get into it until about halfway through when all the pieces started coming together, but then I was hooked.
Baran and her team dig into archived records and interview investigators, experts, family members, and victims. It isn't always clear who's talking, and the interviews with Jacob's parents made me uncomfortable at first. I don't know if it's that Baran approached the subject wrong, was too blunt about it, or what, but I didn't like it. That wore off as Baran got past establishing the circumstances of Jacob's disappearance, and I was particularly impressed by Patty Wetterling, finding her to be a thoughtful, reasonable person. As an advocate for child safety, she's more interested in creating policies that prevent these crimes from happening than unfairly punishing those that commit them. In response, Baran goes into an episode-long tangent on the creation of Megan's Law, the sex offender's registry, and the problems with its indiscriminating scope and the restrictions placed on sex offenders after they've served their time and been released from prison. I appreciated the context.
At around the halfway point, the focus shifts to the investigation rather than the details of the crime. Because this story really is about the investigation and the repeated failures of the Stearns County Sheriff's department to properly canvass neighborhoods, interview witnesses, and process crime scenes. It's fascinating to listen to Baran uncover twenty-seven-year-old clues that had been available to the Sheriff's office at the time. If they had just asked the right questions, this case could have been solved a lot sooner, and Baran establishes this as a pattern with this Sheriff's department. It's really some fine investigative reporting, and that's where this podcast distinguishes itself.
It isn't quite as polished or as confident as some of the podcasts I listen to, and Baron at times stumbles a little in her presentation, but it's technically easy to listen to, with enough music and sound effects to set mood, but not so much that it interferes with the story. I say "technically easy" because the subject matter is, of course, not at all easy to listen to. Trigger warnings for child harm and sexual assault. And also just garden-variety scum—all the basic assholes whose apathy allows, or even encourages, the more dangerous assholes to hurt people. At one point Baran speaks to a man who used to be childhood friends with a now admitted murderer and child molester, and this man's complete lack of reaction to this revelation followed by his breezy remembrances of when he and his friend used to sneak around in the dark looking in girls' windows made me feel like I was going to explode. But I wouldn't be me if I listened to a true crime podcast and didn't get pissed off by some irrelevant detail that has nothing to do with the crime in question.
There's going to be a second season by Baran on a different topic, and I'll definitely give that a try when it's out.
I also listened to one and a half episodes of True Crime All the Time
, which is hosted by two guys named Mike and is exactly that exciting. Look, if you're going to be reheating true crime for me, you either need to have engaging personalities or awesome research skills. You can't be boring, play clips without identifying the source or speaker, and
preface half your statements with "it was said." I mean, you can? It's just that I'm not going to stick around for it.
And, to completely change the subject, I tried My Brother, My Brother and Me
, an "advice" show where three brothers "answer" "listener" "questions." I listened to one podcast, which was fine, but not exceptional, and watched the first couple of minutes of a Seeso episode where there's an unfortunate decision regarding a spider and a spiderphobic brother
and then I noped on out of there. That's just not the kind of brothers I want to hang with. I might try these guys again, but honestly, I spend enough of my time listening to men talk; if they're not going to be exceptional, I'm not going to bother.