Awards Daily talks to freelance journalist Anne Roderique-Jones about her editaudio podcast The Springfield Three: A Small-Town Disappearance, which traces the 1992 disappearance of three Missouri women.
Nearly 30 years ago, three Springfield, Mo., women retired to bed and were never heard from again.
It sounds like a fictional mystery worthy of Mare of Easttown or True Detective, but it’s a real-life true crime that has never been solved. Stacy McCall, Suzie Streeter, and Suzie’s mother Sherrill Levitt virtually vanished from Sherrill’s house the night of June 7, 1992. Since then, there have been many theories as to what happened, including more far-fetched ones like rapture and alien abduction, but still no one knows.
Freelance journalist and travel writer Anne Roderique-Jones grew up in Springfield and remembers hearing about this story as a kid. In her new editaudio podcast, The Springfield Three: A Small-Town Disappearance, she tracks the lives of these women and expands on the speculation surrounding this missing persons case, including the effect on the community.
I had the chance to talk with her about why she decided to do this podcast, how being a former Springfield resident helped her in getting information, and whether we’re any closer to solving this mystery today.
Awards Daily: You get to travel all over the world as a travel writer. What made you want to tackle this story, taking you all the way back to your hometown?
Anne Roderique-Jones: My job has given me the opportunity to travel around the globe, which is something I never imagined I’d be doing; I didn’t get a passport until I was 23. But there’s something really personal about going back to your roots and telling a story that deeply affects the town. I hoped that writing this from a local’s perspective would allow the project to be as authentic as possible.
AD: Do you think that because you grew up in Springfield that gave you more access to contacts, made it easier to get people to talk? I know it was hard to track down some people. Do you think the podcast would have been harder to put together if you didn’t have that history/link to the community?
ARJ: It was difficult to track some people down; there were people who had moved away, some who had passed away, and most of the people who worked the case had retired. And there were some people who just didn’t want to talk about the disappearance—for various reasons. That said, I definitely think that being from Springfield helped me to gain access. My family has been in the Ozarks for generations and I remembered this disappearance vividly. I know the local hangouts, the neighborhoods, and some of the people. Springfield was a smaller town back then and there is a small degree of separation.
AD: You talk to the families and friends of those who disappeared. What was that like? That had to be incredibly hard for both parties.
ARJ: One thing that I learned in my career is that I really enjoy talking to real people; meaning those who aren’t celebrities or athletes or chefs. To me, the interviews are so much more human. And this was sort of the epitome of that. The friends and family that I spoke with were so incredibly open with me; and it’s such a vulnerable position to be in and I’m very grateful for their time and their stories–which are often complicated and heartbreaking.
AD: Given the prominence of the Ozarks in popular culture, what do you think it is about the region that makes it so mysterious?
ARJ: During most of my time in New York City, I simply told people that I grew up in Southern Missouri. It wasn’t until the show Ozark came out that people knew where I was from—and then True Detective and The Act with Patricia Arquette. And they all have this common thread that revolves around a thrilling narrative in a tight-knit community. I think that the intrigue lies in that it’s not a wildly popular tourist destination (aside from, say, Branson) and that the area is not easily influenced by the outside world; it’s pretty raw. The people around here are proud and resourceful and unique. In addition, there’s the topography. Here, there are miles and miles of dense woodlands and lakes and just so much nature that can be beautiful but also a bit mysterious.
AD: In your opinion, what do you think happened to The Springfield Three? Did working on the podcast change your opinion or make it stay the same about ideas related to what happened?
ARJ: I wrote this podcast so that I could tell a story about where I’m from, but also to use it as a platform for others to tell their story. I had heard the same rumors or theories growing up—those that the town still buzzes about to this day. An example would be that the women are buried underneath a hospital parking garage. After a ton of research and talking with professionals, some theories seem to hold more weight than others. And I was certainly surprised by some of the stories—there were heavy details that I’d not heard, and frankly, that shocked me.
AD: What do you hope to gain from the podcast regarding the disappearance of The Springfield Three? Do you think we’re any closer to figuring out what happened?
ARJ: I hope that a podcast is a way to reach a broader audience. It’s a newer type of platform to tell a story—and allows you to really dig into details, all being told by multiple people. I don’t know that we’re any closer, but we’ve had people reach out since this has aired, so there’s hope that anyone with information will come forward.
LISTEN to The Springfield Three: A Small-Town Disappearance:
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.