Q&A with the Creators of the ‘New Orleans Unsolved’ Podcast

Abigail Karas

“New Orleans Unsolved” is the latest in a series of true crime podcasts that center around unsolved mysteries in the backyards of America. According to data from the Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media, which cites Edison Research and Triton Digital survey data, 51 percent of Americans ages 12 or older have listened to a podcast and the numbers are increasing. Podcasts like “My Favorite Murder” and “Last Podcast on the Left” which typically focus on true crime narratives seem to be undeniable fan favorites, enjoying critical and fan acclaim across the United States. 

This new true crime podcast centers around the mysterious drowning of Eddie Wells in New Orleans. Wells was a 17-year-old boy whose body was pulled from the Mississippi River in 1982. The teen reportedly drowned in a wharf between Piety and Desire streets, prompting the name of the podcast’s first episode, “Piety and Desire.” (The episode debuted on February 26, 2020.)

Narrators Anna Christie and Thanh Truong (formerly of WWL-TV) introduce us to Eddie Wells, laying the groundwork for the case and the question of who this boy was. The audience hears first-hand accounts of people in New Orleans who knew and loved Eddie. The two creators, who don’t live very far from the scene of the crime, discovered glaring inconsistencies in the articles published at the time of the preliminary investigation in 1982. The latest episode ends on a nail-biting cliffhanger as we hear a voicemail by a woman to Truong and Christie worriedly discussing Eddie Wells’ death.

The podcast follows a serial structure, and podcast fanatics will appreciate the ways in which the episodes are released weekly. Thanh’s deep, modulated voice narrates the collaborative investigation into the case. Pre-recorded interviews with witnesses and sources are also featured, making this New Orleans podcast feel truly homegrown.

Driftwood asked the creators a few questions about what it takes to make a podcast and what drew them into this particular story. 

 

What prompted you to start the podcast?  What are your professional backgrounds?

We are strong advocates and supporters of in-depth, documentary-style storytelling.  Given our particular professional and community-based backgrounds, we believed we could effectively shed light on stories that often wouldn’t or couldn’t be covered in a traditional media.  With podcasts, the constraints of time or article length don’t really apply. This medium allows for intricate and often necessary details to be included. It blends some of the old-time radio reporting with a new distribution platform that allows people to listen on their terms, on their own schedule.  The podcast format also allows us, the creators and producers, to tell a richer story and cover a larger narrative arc. As for our professional backgrounds, Anna Christie has more than a decade of experience in aiding victims of exploitation, abandonment or human trafficking. She established a non-profit organization, The Learning Tea.  Through her organization she provides housing, education and health care to a group of young women in Darjeeling, India. Through her work in India, she has gained invaluable knowledge of investigative research and combatting criminality in often neglected communities. She’s also an entrepreneur. Most of the proceeds of her business in Atlanta, Ga, go to funding the mission of educating and empowering underserved women in Darjeeling, India.  Thanh Truong has 20 years of reporting experience at the local and national levels. He’s covered major events and disasters, including the aftermath of 9/11, the 2008 Democratic National Convention and also Hurricane Katrina. He was a local reporter in New Orleans when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. He was part of 27-person team for WWL-TV that remained in the city as the storm made its initial impact. He eventually went to report in other cities including Denver and Atlanta.  He spent four years as correspondent for NBC News. One of his assignments included a month-long reporting rotation in Afghanistan. Before he and Anna created the New Orleans Unsolved Podcast he served as an anchor and reporter at WWL-TV.

 

What are some podcasts that inspire you? 

 

Our interests in podcasts are quite wide and diverse.  We found the CBC’s approach to its “Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo ” podcast to be an excellent blend of true crime story telling and solid journalism.  “Criminal” is also a good example of singularly focused reporting, where one episode is dedicated to one case or issue. Of course, the first season of “Serial” established quite a standard for the episodic approach.  The first season of “Up and Vanished” and “Monster” built on the popularity of podcasting. “This American Life” is arguably the precursor to all podcasts. 

 

In a city where there is a lot of unsolved crime, what was it about Eddie Wells’ story that made you want to dig further? 

 In both our experiences, we’ve never come across a story or a case like Eddie Wells’.  What we’ve discovered, and as people will discover through each episode of our podcast, is this case is multidimensional.  It goes far beyond the mysterious death of Eddie Wells. As we mentioned before, the podcast medium allows us to pursue stories that may not have interest or the ability to be visible in traditional media.  The life and death of Eddie Wells, and also the corruption involved in the details connected to the case, deserve attention. We believe it can also raise awareness about community safety, and if we can in any way bring about that awareness, then we’ve done our job. 

 

Have you been met with pushback in investigating? How do you get sources to talk? 

In any investigative endeavor, there will be pushback and reluctance.  We’ve certainly experienced it on many levels. Through experience, we’ve learned that building trust within your community allows people to approach you with their concerns.  Anna has worked with victims and protective agencies through her organization in India. Thanh has worked with victims and protective agencies in his career as a journalist. We’ve also invested and made New Orleans our home.  When you live in the community, you care about it. When you show that care in a fair and impartial way in your reporting, it hopefully sends the message that your mission as journalists is rooted in facts and not based on the agenda.     

 

What detail about the case (that you can share) surprised you the most?  

 We can’t pick one because the surprises keep coming, even as we release the episodes. We don’t know the conclusion of the case, but do you hope that this will have a similar outcome to a show like “Up and Vanished” that led to the prosecution of a killer in a cold case. We don’t want to compare our podcast to others, as popular or as well produced as they are.  We feel the accounts of the people involved in our podcast need to be heard. That has been a major motivation for our work. We do feel that after the podcast is finished, there will be little question about whether Eddie Wells accidently drowned. 

For students interested in making a podcast of their own, what advice would you give?

Be ready to give a commitment of time and work.  If you want your podcast to meet the standards of the ones you follow, the production of a podcast requires a tremendous amount of research, interviewing, writing and editing.  Also, concentrate on the writing aspect. With all the bells and whistles of digital effects and sound design, many podcasts can “sound” great. What can truly define a good journalist or a storyteller, and what can set you apart from other great works, is her or his writing.  

 

Listen to ‘New Orleans Unsolved’ here: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/new-orleans-unsolved