In the Dark
Presentation
Hosted byMadeleine Baran
Genre
  • Investigative journalism
  • True crime
LanguageEnglish
UpdatesWeekly
Production
ProductionSamara Freemark
Theme music composed byGary Meister
Audio formatPodcast (via streaming or downloadable MP3)
No. of seasons2 (plus 1 limited-run special report)
No. of episodes40
Publication
Original releaseSeptember 7, 2016 –
October 14, 2020
Cited forPeabody Award (2017, 2020)
Cited as"Transcending the [crime story] genre and advancing its scope of possibility" (2017)
"Offering a master class in true-crime podcasting and in journalism that matters" (2020)
ProviderAmerican Public Media
Related
Websitewww.apmreports.org/in-the-dark

In the Dark is a podcast produced by American Public Media (APM), with episodes released between September 2016 and October 2020. Hosted and narrated by Madeleine Baran, and produced by Samara Freemark, the series featured investigative journalism and in-depth reportage from APM's investigative reporting and documentary unit, APM Reports.[1] The series produced two full seasons, each focusing on a high-profile case and the actions and conduct in the policing or prosecuting of those cases — the kidnapping/murder of Jacob Wetterling (Season 1) and the quadruple homicide case for which Curtis Flowers was tried 6 times (Season 2). A subsequent "Special Report" series, released in spring 2020,[2] reported on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Mississippi Delta.[3][4] The series was cancelled in May 2022 as part of APM's dissolving of APM Reports and "incorporating select programming elements" from the unit into its MPR News operation. [5][6] In March 2023, In the Dark joined The New Yorker to produce and distribute the upcoming third season.[7]

Series overview

In the Dark's hallmark was focusing not so much on a crime itself but more on the behavior of law enforcement and prosecutors in their investigation of those crimes, as well as how such behavior affected the accused and their families, the victims' families, and surrounding communities. In discussing the show's first season with Esquire in November 2016, host/lead reporter Madeleine Baran noted that the APM team's "clear line of reporting" (her term) focused less on who kidnapped and murdered Jacob Wetterling, and instead more on how and why the crime went so long without resolution and the resulting impact. In comparison to other true crime podcasts (e.g. Serial) that attempt to investigate a crime, Baran told Esquire that the In the Dark was "not a mystery novel" and that APM Reports did not set out to play detective and solve the case, stating that "we saw ourselves as investigating the investigation."[8]

The inspiration for In the Dark's title came from not only the time when Wetterling was kidnapped (just after 9:00 p.m. CDT on October 22, 1989) but also the lack of transparency by the Stearns County, Minnesota Sheriff's Department in the case. As Baran put it to MPR News, "There's this crime that happened in the dark and, also, there's this investigation that happened in the dark."[1]

Season 1

Season 1 of In the Dark explored the case of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old boy from St. Joseph, Minnesota who was kidnapped and murdered on the night of October 22, 1989. Wetterling's case went unsolved for 27 years until his remains were discovered in a pasture near Paynesville, Minnesota on September 1, 2016. The location was revealed by Danny Heinrich, a long-time person of interest in the abduction of another boy, Jared Scheierl, in the nearby town of Cold Spring. On September 6, 2016, Heinrich admitted to kidnapping and murdering Wetterling as well as the abduction and sexual assault of Scheierl.[9] Heinrich would be sentenced on November 21, 2016, to a 20-year prison term for a federal child pornography charge.[10]

Production on Season 1 had been underway for 9 months and was in its final stages (it was scheduled to premiere on September 13, 2016) by the time Wetterling's remains were discovered and Heinrich confessed to the crime. The developments, which host/lead reporter Madeleine Baran and the APM Reports team were not expecting ahead of time,[8] prompted them to re-edit and re-record the first two episodes (at least the first of which was already finished) and move up their release to September 7, one day after Heinrich's court appearance.[11]

The edits to the first two episodes of In the Dark turned out to be minimal, for by then, the reporting team's focus wasn't so much about who may have been responsible for Jacob Wetterling's disappearance but more about the investigation of the crime and its effects on the community. The team focused on systemic failures in the Wetterling investigation, in particular how the Stearns County Sheriff's Office handled not only the case but other similar cases.

In addition to examining the actions of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office, broader repercussions of the Wetterling case were also explored, including the impact on Jacob's family and friends (Jacob's parents, Jerry and Patty Wetterling, were extensively featured); its effect on the immediate Stearns County area; and national implications, including the establishment of a federal law, named in Jacob's honor, that requires states to implement and contribute to registries that track sex offenders and crimes against children.

Episode summary

As indicated above, the release dates of In the Dark's first two episodes were initially scheduled for a September 13, 2016, release date. The developments that led to Danny Heinrich's confession in the Jacob Wetterling case prompted APM to re-record those episodes and release them on September 7, six days earlier than scheduled. The third episode was released on September 13, with one new episode released each Tuesday thru October 25. Follow-up episodes were released in December 2016 and September 2018.

No.TitleLength (minutes:seconds)Original air date
1"The Crime"34:46September 7, 2016 (2016-09-07)
A look at the Jacob Wetterling abduction itself, as well as early actions by the Stearns County Sheriff's Office that would hobble their investigation for decades to come.
2"The Circle"38:29September 7, 2016 (2016-09-07)
How investigators, rather than start in small circles, allowed the case to grow into a statewide and eventually national concern.
3"The One Who Got Away"44:49September 13, 2016 (2016-09-13)
Jared Scheierl recalls his January 1989 assault by Danny Heinrich, as well as his efforts to investigate his own case (which Heinrich wouldn't confess to until decades later).[12]
4"The Circus"36:34September 20, 2016 (2016-09-20)
The Wetterling case gains national attention, as everyone from national journalists to talk show hosts to psychics get involved. Meanwhile, local investigators entertain farfetched vagaries.
5"Person of Interest"47:30September 27, 2016 (2016-09-27)
Twenty-one years after Jacob's disappearance, police declare local music teacher Dan Rassier a person of interest; their actions produce no evidence, yet ruin Rassier's reputation.[12]
6"Stranger Danger"36:47October 4, 2016 (2016-10-04)
A look at how the Wetterling case, and other preceding and subsequent high-profile cases, created a national sense of worry over "pedophiles lurking around every corner"; such fear resulted in the establishment of sex offender registries that Patty Wetterling believes may have gone too far.
7"This Quiet Place"40:34October 11, 2016 (2016-10-11)
How a "lack of introspection and accountability" led to several unsolved cases in the Stearns County Sheriff's Office backlog, including cases that occurred long before Jacob's disappearance... and that state investigators solved by asking questions the Sheriff's Office did not.
8"What's Going On Down There?"46:06October 18, 2016 (2016-10-18)
A focus on accountability (or lack therof) in the Stearns County Sheriff's Office in particular and other sheriff's offices nationally, as it is revealed that Stearns County has a very low clearance rate in investigating serious cases such as murder.
9"The Truth"42:00October 25, 2016 (2016-10-25)
A profile of Danny Heinrich and how the wrong moves of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office allowed him to go free — and commit other crimes.
10"Update: Sentencing, A Demand, No Closure"36:36December 2, 2016 (2016-12-02)
In this follow-up, Madeleine Baran recounts the sentencing hearing for Danny Heinrich, speaks one more time with Jerry & Patty Wetterling, and reports on Dan Rassier's plans to sue the Stearns County Sheriff's Office over his being wrongfully implicated in the Wetterling case.
11"Season 1 Update: The Wetterling File"28:05September 21, 2018 (2018-09-21)
This update comes one day after a file into the Wetterling case (over 41,000 pages in size) is released by Stearns County. As a very critical Don Gudmundson, who became sheriff in May 2017, admits in a press conference, "All of us [in law enforcement] failed."

Season 2

The second season of In the Dark explored the legal odyssey surrounding Curtis Flowers, who was accused of shooting four people to death inside Tardy Furniture, a Winona, Mississippi store, in July 1996.[13] Flowers, who had worked at Tardy Furniture for only a few days and who had long maintained his innocence, faced trial for the murders six times. The first five of those trials resulted in either hung juries or reversals on appeal. A sixth jury trial, in 2010, ended with Flowers' conviction on four counts of capital murder, but the United States Supreme Court remanded the case to a lower court to review racial bias in jury selection. After Mississippi's Supreme Court upheld Flowers' conviction by a 5–4 vote,[14] Flowers once again went to the U.S. Supreme Court, who heard oral arguments on the appeal in March 2019,[15] and ruled, by a 7–2 decision on June 21, 2019, to overturn his conviction and send the case back to the lower courts.[16] Flowers was moved from death row that September, and released on bail the following December.[17] The Mississippi Attorney General's office reviewed the case and moved to dismiss the indictment against him with prejudice; a judge granted the motion on September 4, 2020.[18]

While the APM Reports team never set out to prove Flowers' guilt or innocence, the investigation featured in In the Dark was credited with alerting the public and turning the case around.[19] Indeed, much as with how its first season focused on the conduct of those investigating Jacob Wetterling's disappearance, Season 2's storyline — which began with an e-mail tip to APM Reports and led to a nearly year-long investigation — pivoted from the murders Flowers had been tried and convicted for to the conduct of the district attorney's office in Mississippi's Fifth Circuit Court District. Actions by two figures in the D.A.'s office are specified, D.A. Doug Evans (who prosecuted Flowers and expressed certainty of his guilt) and office investigator John Johnson (lead investigator in the Tardy Furniture case).

In its investigation of Flowers' case for In the Dark's 2nd season, the APM team revealed four noteworthy actions by the D.A.'s office that appeared to ensure Flowers' conviction, actions were mentioned in the state's motion to dismiss:

In addition to examining Flowers' case, In the Dark's second season profiled Curtis' family. Historical anecdotes about racial issues in Winona (which has a majority Black population) and northern Mississippi were also incorporated.[22][23]

Episode summary

Season 2 of In the Dark began with the release of its first two episodes on May 1, 2018, with one new episode being released each Tuesday through, initially, July 3, 2018. Later developments in the Flowers were covered bu additional episodes, the last of which (an interview with Curtis Flowers himself) was released on October 14, 2020.

No.TitleLength (hours:minutes:seconds)Original air date
1"July 16, 1996"42:22May 1, 2018 (2018-05-01)
A look at the day of the murders at Tardy Furniture, Curtis Flowers' personal background, and the first of six trials against him.
2"The Route"52:39May 1, 2018 (2018-05-01)
Conversations with the witnesses who said they saw Flowers walking through downtown Winona the morning of the murders, and how and why some of their stories now waver on key details.
3"The Gun"47:03May 8, 2018 (2018-05-08)
The strange story of the man whose stolen gun investigators allege was used in the murders — even though it has never been found and may not have been the actual murder weapon.
4"The Confessions"52:55May 15, 2018 (2018-05-15)
How three jail inmates claimed they heard Flowers confess to the murders, whether their stories have any veracity, and whether the prosecution and investigators had any influence in their testimony.
5"Privilege"48:14May 22, 2018 (2018-05-22)
The focus turns to Odell Hallmon, a career criminal and the jailhouse witness the District Attorney's office relied on the most. D.A. Doug Evans' zeal to retain Hallmon as a witness against Flowers helped Hallman stay out of jail and become, as one law enforcement veteran put it, a "monster."
6"Punishment"43:48May 29, 2018 (2018-05-29)
Now serving three consecutive life sentences without parole for a 2016 murder spree, Odell Hallmon surreptitiously reaches out to APM and makes an admission: His trial testimony against Flowers (in exchange for Doug Evans granting leniency for his own crimes) was a fabrication. The status of Flowers' appeal is profiled, as is the emotional toll his family and friends feel over his imprisonment.
7"The Trials of Curtis Flowers"1:01:08June 5, 2018 (2018-06-05)
Examining the makeup of the juries in Flowers' trials, a pattern is revealed: The juries who convicted Flowers were all white or had only one juror of color, the result of D.A. Doug Evans seeking to use as many "strikes" as possible to seat as many white jurors as possible. Also examined is the plight of James Bibbs, a Black juror in the 5th trial whose doubts about Flowers' guilt prompted a mistrial — and led to his own indictment, for perjury.
8"The D.A."1:01:30June 12, 2018 (2018-06-12)
Before Madeleine Baran's brief interview with Doug Evans (during which he is noncommittal and holds to his belief of Flowers' guilt), a profile of Evans' background and rise to D.A. is featured, as is his office's history of disproportionately striking more Blacks than whites for juries even outside of the trials against Flowers.
9"Why Curtis?"56:32June 19, 2018 (2018-06-19)
Why did the D.A.'s investigation focus exclusively on Flowers? A look into John Johnson's background reveals an investigation based on uneasy feelings Tardy Furniture employees had for Flowers, an incident involving damaged golf cart batteries, failed attempts to get a recorded confession, and notes containing statements witnesses say weren't entirely true or were completely made up.
10"Discovery"1:04:04June 26, 2018 (2018-06-26)
It is revealed that the prosecution withheld from Flowers' attorneys evidence that could have benefited Flowers' defense. A search of county records in a musty warehouse reveals that another person was questioned in the Tardy Furniture murders. That person, Willie James Hemphill, admits to APM that authorities held him as a suspect and collected evidence on him.
11"The End"35:22July 3, 2018 (2018-07-03)
Winona resident Jeffrey Armstrong offers two revelations that suggest someone else may have committed the murders: His 2001 finding and turnover to Winona Police of a firearm similar to the one used at Tardy Furniture (which the state has no record of), and a path from where the gun was found to the store's location that is in the opposite direction of Flowers' alleged route. An update on Flowers' appeal is offered, as are thoughts from his parents.
12"Season 2 Update: Back to Winona"33:43September 18, 2018 (2018-09-18)
Two months, and a lot has happened: APM's investigation has Winona talking, though opinions remain divided along racial lines. Jeffrey Armstrong and his family have gone into hiding, Jeffrey's personal safety threatened after his Episode 11 revelations. Doug Evans has not faced sanction, but interest in filing complaints against the D.A. have percolated. And Curtis Flowers remains incarcerated, not receiving permission to attend his mother's funeral.
13"Season 2 Update: SCOTUS Takes the Case"9:50November 2, 2018 (2018-11-02)
A quick update offers important news on Flowers' fate: The U.S. Supreme Court has granted his writ of certiorari and will hear arguments on whether his conviction should be upheld or overturned.[15]
14"Season 2 Update: Q&A + A Fire in Winona"1:04:59November 27, 2018 (2018-11-27)
Madeleine Baran and senior producer Samara Freemark field listeners' questions about the Flowers case. They also offer an update on Pastor Nelson Forrest, whose house was gutted by fire 4 days after eulogizing Curtis' mother; the timing of the fire is seen by some Winona residents as possible retribution for Forrest's outspokenness about Curtis' defense.[24]
15"Before the Court"40:55March 19, 2019 (2019-03-19)
A preview of oral arguments in Flowers' appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court and a look at the allegations at the heart of the appeal: Doug Evans' attempts to keep African Americans off the jury in Flowers' 6th trial.
16"Oral Arguments"47:06March 26, 2019 (2019-03-26)
Reports from inside the U.S. Supreme Court and analysis on the High Court's hearing of oral arguments in Flowers' appeal.
17"The Decision"15:04June 21, 2019 (2019-06-21)
An update posted hours after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision examines their throwing out Flowers' 6th conviction (on grounds that the trial court committed errors in striking Black jurors), and what comes next now that the case has been remanded to lower courts.
18"Revelations"56:16July 2, 2019 (2019-07-02)
A look at major developments since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, including the recanting of a second major witness against Flowers and the whereabouts of Willie James Hemphill on the day of the murders.
19"A Hearing"47:51December 16, 2019 (2019-12-16)
A recap of the hearing when Flowers released on bail, 23 years after first being incarcerated for the Tardy Furniture murders.
20"Home"42:27December 22, 2019 (2019-12-22)
Flowers' release from jail, in time for Christmas, brings joy to his family — a feeling not all in Winona mutually feel. A look at the about face by the judge who granted Flowers bail — and also presided over Flowers' two most recent trials.
21"The Recusal"18:00January 6, 2020 (2020-01-06)
What happens in the Flowers case now that Doug Evans voluntarily recused himself from future involvement in the matter.
22"Freedom"17:49September 4, 2020 (2020-09-04)
A report on that day's big decision from Mississippi's Attorney General: After 24 years and 6 trials, and citing "facts and circumstances in the case," the state drops all charges against Curtis Flowers in the Tardy Furniture murders — making Curtis a free man at last.
23"Curtis Flowers"1:02:46October 14, 2020 (2020-10-14)
During its 3-year investigation, APM Reports had access to lawyers, witnesses, jurors, family members, investigators, politicians, and residents of Winona... but was never granted permission to talk with Curtis Flowers. With Curtis now cleared of all charges in the Tardy Furniture murders, Madeleine Baran at long last has a sit-down interview with the man himself.

Special Report: Coronavirus in the Delta

In spring 2020, In the Dark would return to Mississippi for a limited-run special report. Rather than focus solely on matters of crime or jurisprudence, the special series would instead examine the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on rural America, in particular the Mississippi Delta. Six episodes, released between April and June 2020, would be included in the special report.

No.TitleLength (minutes:seconds)Original air date
1"Greenville"40:47April 30, 2020 (2020-04-30)
Greenville's mayor issues an order prohibiting drive-in church services, raising the ire of two Baptist pastors and creating a firestorm in conservative media.
2"Parchman"30:31May 6, 2020 (2020-05-06)
A look at fears of COVID-19 by inmates of the Mississippi State Penitentiary (often referred to as Parchman), a location where they can't readily self-isolate to counter the virus' spread.
3"The Hospital"29:33May 14, 2020 (2020-05-14)
The staff of Greenwood's Leflore Hospital brace for the pandemic and an influx of patients. Then the virus strikes one of their own.
4"Watermelon Slim"20:58May 21, 2020 (2020-05-21)
Bill Homans, better known as Watermelon Slim, looks at the pandemic's impact on his livelihood (performing blues music) and the lives of those around him.
5"Geno"32:59May 28, 2020 (2020-05-28)
As a precaution against the virus' spread, a judge in Indianola orders every inmate in the local jail released — except for Geno McShane, who was kept incarcerated after his arrest for shoplifting.
6"Delta State"29:46June 11, 2020 (2020-06-11)
Members of Delta State University's football team struggle to find structure and purpose in a COVID-impacted offseason.

Awards

In the Dark was a two-time recipient of the Peabody Award. The show's first Peabody honor came in spring 2017, with the award's governing body applauding the program for its "immaculate storytelling talent and journalistic precision" in its probing the investigation of Jacob Wetterling's disappearance as well as its "deftly incisive" way of telling the human side of the case and its broader policy implications.[25] The second Peabody came in June 2020, recognizing the show's work in not only "systemically dismantl[ing]" (the jury's term) the case against Curtis Flowers, but also building a case against the District Attorney who prosecuted Flowers, and recognizing those who have lived under the shadow of the case.[26]

Award Year Category Result Ref.
Peabody Awards 2016 Podcast & Radio Won [25]
2019 Won [26]
Academy of Podcasters Awards 2017 Best News and Politics Podcast Won [27]
iHeartRadio Podcast Awards 2019 Best Crime Podcast Nominated [28]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b "APM investigative unit announces podcast series on Wetterling case," from Minnesota Public Radio, August 29, 2016
  2. ^ "Coronavirus in the Delta: The Trailer – In the Dark: Coronavirus in the Delta – Podcast op Spotify". open.spotify.com (in Dutch). Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  3. ^ "Podcasts des Monats – Das sind die Podcast-Tipps im Mai – Medien – SZ.de". Sueddeutsche.de (in German). May 20, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  4. ^ "Coronavirus in the Delta, from In the Dark – Podcast – APM Reports". apmreports.org. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  5. ^ "Minnesota Public Radio drops award-winning program 'APM Reports,'" from Star Tribune, May 27, 2022
  6. ^ "Award Winning 'APM Reports' Podcast Cancelled By Minnesota Public Radio," from Inside Radio, May 27, 2022
  7. ^ ""In the Dark," the Acclaimed Investigative Podcast, Joins The New Yorker and Condé Nast Entertainment". The New Yorker. March 9, 2023. Retrieved March 9, 2023.
  8. ^ a b "In the Dark Host Madeleine Baran Explains How the Year's Best True-Crime Podcast Was Made," from Esquire, July 11, 2016
  9. ^ Williams, Brandt, "Heinrich confesses to taking, killing Jacob Wetterling," from Minnesota Public Radio, June 9, 2016.
  10. ^ "'Truly sorry for my evil acts': Jacob Wetterling's killer gets 20 years," from Minnesota Public Radio, November 21, 2016
  11. ^ "Missing a Murderer: In the Dark Is Not Your Typical True-Crime Podcast," from Vulture.com, September 15, 2016
  12. ^ a b "True Crime Podcast In the Dark Is a Harrowing Spiritual Sequel to Serial," from Esquire, May 10, 2016
  13. ^ Beveridge, Lici. "Curtis Flowers, wrongfully incarcerated for 23 years, will get maximum compensation, judge says". USA TODAY. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  14. ^ Flowers v. Mississippi, 240 So.3d 1082 (Miss. 2017).
  15. ^ a b Baran, Madeleine. "Supreme Court agrees to hear Curtis Flowers appeal". www.apmreports.com. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  16. ^ Parker Yesko and Dave Mann, "Reversed: Curtis Flowers wins appeal at U.S. Supreme Court", APMreports, June 21, 2019.
  17. ^ "Curtis Flowers released on bail," from APM Reports, December 16, 2019
  18. ^ "Charges against Curtis Flowers are dropped," from APM Reports, April 9, 2020
  19. ^ Zhu, Alissa. "How an investigative podcast helped free Curtis Flowers". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "Supplement to reply in support of motion to lift stay of post-conviction proceedings" from Courts.MS.gov (filed June 28, 2018, and Retrieved March 7, 2018)
  21. ^ Decision in Flowers v. Mississippi, from APMReports.org, accessed June 22, 2019
  22. ^ In the Dark Season 2 trailer on APMReports.org (accessed July 5, 2018)
  23. ^ "Supreme Court Strikes Down Conviction Of Mississippi Man On Death Row For 22 Years," from NPR.org, June 21, 2019
  24. ^ "A fire in Winona," from APM Reports, March 12, 2018
  25. ^ a b In the Dark on PeabodyAwards.com (accessed December 1, 2018)
  26. ^ a b "In The Dark: The Path Home," on PeabodyAwards.com (accessed October 6, 2020)
  27. ^ "Academy of Podcasters: Past Winners". Academy of Podcasters. Podcast Movement. Archived from the original on October 3, 2017.
  28. ^ "iHeartRadio Podcast Awards: See The Full List of Nominees". iHeart. October 22, 2018. Retrieved April 27, 2022.