I’ve learned even more about the importance of research while working on my true crime podcast. When I first developed the concept for Missing in the Carolinas, I was determined to try and make it different from other podcasts already out there. I’ve listened to episodes where it appears all the host/writer did was lift notes directly from a Wikipedia page. I don’t want to be known as someone who does that. So, I read articles. I comb through photos and stats on the Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. I visit NamUs. I watch episodes of documentaries and true crime shows featuring cases from the Carolinas and take notes. I brainstorm creative ways to “package” episodes, such as the one where I pulled two separate cases of missing children from the 1960s. This was the episode description for “Four Lost Children of North Carolina”:
Two stories. Four missing children. What happened to Diane Moon, Mark Yoli, and Alan and Terry Westerfield who went missing from North Carolina in the 1960s?
I found these cases interesting because both sets of siblings had parents who were affiliated with the military. In one, two brothers, Alan and Terry Westerfield, were last seen in the company of their stepfather, who was estranged from their mother. Diane and Mark were young children who went missing after heading to a nearby park to play. I watched archives new stories and dug through newspaper articles (thanks to some investigative reporters working on cold cases, I found actual copies of the news articles that ran in the 1960s) to help put this episode together.
Imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a man who is the older brother of Diane Moon and Mark Yoli (he was born the year after they disappeared). Never in a million years would I have considered that a surviving family member would hear the episode and send me a message. He was very kind, thanking me for covering it, and told me it brought up memories of the investigation that resurfaced back in the 1980s. He also mentioned he learned some new information he didn’t know before in the article, which as a podcaster working on a show for no compensation, lifted my spirits at a time when I needed it.
A lot of archived newspaper articles require a paywall for access these days, so this week found me diving into the digital archives available to me through my public library card. I am going to need a magnifying glass to read the articles I printed out, but they are all from the original published news articles from the 1980s and I’m simply thrilled to have found them. They contain information you won’t find on Wikipedia pages about the crimes. I’ve been inspired to keep on digging.
Have you learned any new skills as a writer lately? I’d love to hear about them!
Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. Learn more about her work at FinishedPages.com.