America loves a mystery. Throw in small town suspicions, no body, and no leads and you have a bonafide murder mystery on your hands. In the last few years we’ve been treated to some excellent real-life murder mystery stories. The O.J. miniseries and 30 for 30, Serial, Making a Murderer, and S-Town are all examples of the pinnacle of non-fiction murder mysteries we’ve been able to experience recently. Last August, the podcast Up and Vanished premiered. Host Payne Lindsey introduces us to the missing person case of Tara Grinstead, a Georgia teacher who went missing in October, 2005. What separates Up and Vanished from the previously mentioned murder-mystery stories is that it explores a case that is ongoing as opposed to examining a previously concluded case. Basically, Up and Vanished allows you to come up with theories and explanations as the investigation unfolds…and then you find out if your sleuthing skills are up to par!
Season one, which just aired part one of its season finale on July 31st, consists of 25 episodes and several bonus episodes which feature Q and A’s with the host and various evidence experts. There are also case evidence episodes which further examine the previous episode’s evidence material. Listeners are able to call in to a voicemail line or send twitter messages to ask questions that come up throughout the podcast. Imagine being able to ask the host of Serial or Johnny Cochran a question during their respective cases, you can actually do that here. I would be lying if I said I didn’t put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and tried to fit all the pieces together into a working theory. I’ve done that many times. I’ve also been wrong quite a few times as well, but that’s part of the fun!
One of the best aspects of the show is the host, Payne Lindsey. It’s easy as a listener to get caught up in the case, especially once the new evidence starts coming out. Lindsey admits about halfway through the season that he has become emotionally invested in trying to see this case to the end. Despite his personal attachment, Lindsey does a really good job avoiding a particular narrative and just goes where the evidence leads. As the case branches out into different areas, Lindsey brings in various experts to address new evidence and theories as they emerge. These experts include a private investigator, lawyer, Nancy Grace, and others. The best interviews we get, however. are the interviews with local people directly and indirectly tied to the case.
Up and Vanished really gives you a good feeling what this case is like in rural, southern Georgia. The interviews with local residents paint a picture of what people thought during the initial investigation and their reaction to case updates. The town of Ocilla is initially very hesitant to open up to Lindsey, treating him like an outsider and shutting him out. After a couple people give him a break and talk to him, the flood gates start to open and people start talking left and right. I feel like I could go to Ocilla right now and be among friends.
There are a lot of unique aspects of Up and Vanished. In addition to the ongoing nature of the investigation, there is also a community message board where you can interact with other fans and there is occasionally an appearance by people involved in the case on the board. Overall the feeling you get from the podcast is that you’re involved, even if indirectly. America loves a good murder mystery, so start the podcast and enjoy the ride.
Got a theory on what happened or just want to discuss the podcast so far? Put your thoughts in the comments below!