By:
January 24, 2021

A new podcast from newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises is exploring not only true crime tales from across America, but also the stories behind those stories.

Called “Late Edition: Crime Beat Chronicles,” the podcast features stories reported in Lee’s regional newspapers, as told by the journalists who did the reporting. The first season premiered earlier this month and focuses on the 1977 Oklahoma Girl Scout murders.

Development for the podcast began last year when Lee decided to put together a national series to showcase the work of its 75 regional papers, said Lee podcast operations manager Chris Lay. True crime podcasts have been immensely popular in recent years, and the decades of crime reporting by Lee newspapers meant it had the resources to create an anthology series.

“It just seemed like a really good opportunity to flex into that area and put our stamp on the true crime genre with an influence on the behind-the-scenes journalistic endeavors that go into covering those stories,” Lay said.

Lee solicited stories from all of its papers, and one stood out as a natural choice to kick off the podcast — Tim Stanley’s six-part series on the 1977 Oklahoma Girl Scout murders for the Tulsa World. Stanley had originally reported the series in 2017 to mark the 40th anniversary of the unsolved case, which involved the killings of three Girl Scouts between the ages of eight and 10.

Both the subject matter and the episodic format of the Tulsa World series made it well suited for the podcast, Lay said. He had wanted to focus on an event that happened further back in history, and Stanley’s reporting fit with the “aesthetic” he wanted for the show.

“The vision I had for (the podcast) — and still have — is trying to find the right way to approach dealing with these events that were very traumatic to a community, and framing them in a way that isn’t going to be scandalous,” said Lay. “There have been other crime podcasts or even shows that are just journalistic endeavors that really lean into the scandal elements, and I wanted to find the right tone to talk about them.”

When the Tulsa World first published the series in 2017, it recorded audio of Stanley reading each part for a possible future podcast that never materialized. The Tulsa World sent those recordings to Lay, and they form the basis of “Late Edition’s” first season.

Each episode begins with Stanley reading one of the stories he wrote about the murders. Afterward, Lay interviews Stanley about the reporting process behind the story and additional details that didn’t make it to publication.

The Oklahoma Girl Scout murders is one of the state’s most infamous crimes. Stanley said he still remembers the moment when he heard about the killings shortly after moving to Oklahoma in 2002.

“The way it was expressed to me, it just sounded so wrong and so unjust and so — just appalling,” Stanley said. “You’re talking about, in this case, an extraordinarily tragic event that ultimately affected thousands of lives. Everyone in Oklahoma really, in one way or another, was touched. And some of those lives were changed forever.”

In revisiting the murders in 2017, Stanley wanted to tell the story through the eyes of those who lived it as a way of not just honoring their voices, but also untangling what readers could learn from the experiences of the families involved.

An empty and abandoned pool still remains at what used to be Camp Scott in Locust Grove, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Tulsa World/Jessie Wardarski)

The reporting took more than a year and deeply affected Stanley, who had never been a crime writer. He said that four years later, he is still haunted by the case. But he is also hopeful — hopeful because the victims’ families have “taken this tragedy and fashioned some kind of workable good out of it.”

“There’s a bigger story here of resilience in the face of some of the darkest things that could ever happen to a family. Finding a way to deal with that, to live with that reality and yet not be crushed by it,” Stanley said. “I think that’s why this story would be of interest and value to anyone really, not necessarily just native Oklahomans because it happened here.”

New episodes of “Late Edition” are released each week. After the first season concludes, Lay expects to take a two-week break before starting a new season on a crime covered by one of Lee’s Nebraska papers.

The format of future seasons will change to best suit each new story and the reporting materials available. For example, one of the stories Lay is considering for the second season involved the perpetrators calling into the newsroom, so he will be able to incorporate that audio into the podcast.

In the meantime, Lay said he hopes the current season will put a face to the people in the newsrooms who cover crime stories.

“I want people to come out of it with a better understanding of the care that specifically Tim and the rest of the editorial team at the Tulsa World had in putting the story together … and the balance between objectivity and subjectivity and where lines are drawn with journalists conveying empathy and trying to humanize people as much as they can,” Lay said.

This article was originally published on Jan. 21, 2021.

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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