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What Remains

Capitol Broadcasting

True crime meets forensic science in the What Remains podcast from WRAL Studios. With no ID, human skeletal remains often end up at medical examiners’ offices where they sit in storage closets for years, gathering dust as evidence slowly disappears. These are some of the most difficult cold cases to crack. Unsolved murders. Missing people never identified. Families without answers. Every year in the United States there are 600,000 missing person reports and 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains are found. But matching the remains to the missing people is not an easy task. Meet the passionate scientists, investigators and volunteers dedicating their lives to the seemingly impossible: matching missing persons to unidentified human remains. WRAL Studios presents What Remains, hosted by veteran crime reporter Amanda Lamb.


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True Crime


True crime meets forensic science in the What Remains podcast from WRAL Studios. With no ID, human skeletal remains often end up at medical examiners’ offices where they sit in storage closets for years, gathering dust as evidence slowly disappears. These are some of the most difficult cold cases to crack. Unsolved murders. Missing people never identified. Families without answers. Every year in the United States there are 600,000 missing person reports and 4,400 sets of unidentified human remains are found. But matching the remains to the missing people is not an easy task. Meet the passionate scientists, investigators and volunteers dedicating their lives to the seemingly impossible: matching missing persons to unidentified human remains. WRAL Studios presents What Remains, hosted by veteran crime reporter Amanda Lamb.




NEW PODCAST: The Killing Month August 1978

The events that took place in Chester County, Pennsylvania in August 1978 were unthinkable. Family killing family. A father calling for the murder of his own son. For years The Johnston Gang got away with everything—theft, burglary, violence—until the brazen attacks of August 1978 crossed a line, and the family crime empire began to crumble. Host and writer Amanda Lamb shares her own memories of the murders and the trials that followed. Her father was the lead prosecutor who helped bring the killers to justice. A fictional account of The Johnston Gang’s downfall was portrayed in the 1986 movie “At Close Range,” but this is the real story of a violent family crime operation and the long task of bringing its leaders to justice. You can listen to THE KILLING MONTH AUGUST 1978 ad-free and exclusively on Wondery+. Join Wondery+ in the Wondery App or on Apple Podcasts.


E20 Seeking Justice for Indigenous Women and Girls

Indigenous woman are ten times more likely to be murdered than the rest of the population in some parts of the US. More than 4 in 5 indigenous women experience violence in their lifetime. These are simple facts, facts that Brittany Hunt and Chelsea Locklear who are members of the Lumbee Tribe are trying to understand. They started “The Red Justice Project” podcast to shed light on these cases. In this episode, they share their insights on why they believe indigenous women are more often murdered and the cases are rarely solved. We also dive into the case of an indigenous woman whose skeletal remains were found in a storage unit in Durham, North Carolina in 2016, but were not identified for five years. Find episodes of The Red Justice Project here https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-red-justice-project/id1529944821 arv3bqmd


E19 Crowdfunding Cold Cases

Carla Davis isn’t your typical American living the good life in Dubai. While we sleep, she teases the knots out of stubborn cold cases as a self-taught forensic genealogist. But she doesn’t just give her time and talent, she opens her wallet. Carla has become one of our country’s leading cold case philanthropists, a group of people who are changing the outcomes of many of these cases by helping pay for DNA testing. In this episode Carla shares why she’s committed to forensic DNA analysis and takes us on a journey from solving her own family mystery to solving one of the most stubborn, high-profile cold cases in recent history.


E18 The Disappearance of Brittanee Drexel

17-year-old Brittanee Drexel went against her mother’s orders and traveled from New York to Myrtle Beach for spring break 2009. She disappeared on a crowded street and was never seen again. Thirteen years later, there is a break in the case when a tipster leads investigators to a killer. In a hand-dug grave outside of town they make a gruesome discovery. In this episode, the long search for Brittanee and justice on her behalf. Complete transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E17 Forty Years and Counting

Two men, with no connection, were both found dead in rural Chatham County, North Carolina more than forty years ago. To complicate matters, one man’s head and hands were removed to prevent his identification. Both cases had been cold for years, until the magic of modern-day DNA testing and a forensic genealogist got involved. In this episode, we share the story of a grieving and confused family who takes us on their journey from shock to heartbreak and finally acceptance. We also introduce you to lab in Texas that uses cutting edge technology to extract usable samples from degraded DNA. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E16 Isotope Analysis | It’s in the Water

You know the phrase, you are what you eat? Well, it’s true. Isotopes from the water we drink and the water in the food we eat can tell scientists where we live, and where we have traveled and lived in the past. Isotope analysis is quickly becoming a forensic tool that when paired with DNA testing can help solve some of the oldest cold cases. We introduce you to an expert in the field who breaks it down for us and explains how it’s been used to help solve one of the most heinous crimes in Ireland. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E15 The Somerton Man

What do you do with a cold case that happened a lifetime ago when things like DNA testing and forensic genealogy didn’t exist? If you’re a professor at Adelaide University in Southern Australia, you do everything you can to solve it. In December 1948, a man was found dead on Somerton Beach in a suburb of Adelaide. Tucked inside the watch pocket in his pants was a slip of paper with Persian words printed on it which meant “finished.” Over the years, dozens of people tried to identify the man with no success, but Professor Derek Abbott, who enlisted California forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, made it his mission in life to solve the case. In this episode, we walk you through how the mystery of the Somerton Man was finally solved. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E14 “Little Miss Nobody” The Abduction and Murder of Sharon Lee Gallegos

When a child’s remains are found in a remote area of Yavapai County, Arizona in 1960, the community comes together to bury the child with a card that reads “Little Miss Nobody. God’s little child. Date of birth unknown. Date of death unknown.” In 2014 Detective Michael Scott Perry with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with longtime volunteer John Shannon to crack the case. It would take them another eight years to find out the identity of “Little Miss Nobody.” In this episode, how they did it and what it meant for the family who never knew what happened to Sharon Lee Gallegos. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E13 A Lost Father and a Father’s Loss

Two families in Texas, grieving after separate tragedies, decided something needed to change. Alice Almendarez’s father, John, disappeared when she was just 16. She spent her later teen years visiting the local morgue looking for his body. She wouldn’t have answers for more than a decade even though his body was found just days after he died. David Fritts’ son, Joseph, was a veteran. When he disappeared, David had no idea where to turn. Enter a tenacious young woman running for the Texas statehouse. Together, the newly elected politician and these two unlikely community advocates helped pass a law that makes tracking missing people a priority. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E12 Paying the Price for DNA Testing

An unidentified man is found dead in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2010 in a rough part of town. Leads dry up quickly. The case goes cold. That is until one cold case investigator teams up with a forensic genealogist to solve the mystery. All they need is money. It takes money to do DNA testing and to load DNA profiles into national databases. Detective Matt Hefner soon finds out that solving this one case with the help of forensic genealogist Leslie Kaufman will open the door to possibly solving all his cases involving unidentified remains. In this episode, Hefner and Kaufman refuse to give up their quest to name this John Doe. Full transcript available at https://www.whatremainspodcast.com.


E11 Resolution | One of North Carolina's Oldest Cold Cases

In 1975, Priscilla Blevins vanished from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her parents reported their adult daughter’s disappearance to the police, but investigators didn’t seem very interested. Priscilla’s file was only two pages long. Ten years after her disappearance, human remains were found nearby, but no one connected them to Priscilla. Over the years, it seemed her disappearance had been all but forgotten. Another cold case, destined to remain unsolved. In this episode, we explore how DNA profiling changed the game for missing and unidentified person cases. It’s the perfect storm of everything we’ve talked about in this series – a passionate family member, a tenacious investigator, and forensic science all working together to bring closure to a case and a family yearning for answers.


E10 A Murder Trial Without A Body

What is justice? For some people, it’s finding the missing remains of the person they love. For others, it’s convicting the person responsible for taking a life. Sometimes, it’s both. In this episode, we take you into the belly of the criminal justice system and show you how it tries to find resolution for families in some of the most difficult cases. We tell the story of Monica Moynan, a young mother missing and presumed dead – and why the local district attorney believes she can prosecute the ex-husband for murder without a key piece of evidence – Monica’s body. Without human remains, is there a solid case? How do you take a case like that to court when you have no definitive proof a person has even been killed?


E9 Missing in NC | What Happened to Cole Thomas?

Unlike most of this podcast, this is not a story about skeletal remains. In this case, no human remains have been found. Cole Thomas is officially a missing person, but his father knows in his heart his son is dead. Imagine if your child disappeared without a trace. Given that there are so many ways of communicating and tracking people these days it’s hard to picture, but it happens. Children and adults seem to simply vanish every single day in America. In this episode we introduce you to a family whose adult son vanished in North Carolina in 2016. You’ll hear the heartbreaking story of Cole Thomas from his father, Chris, and the community advocate who is trying desperately to help this grieving father find his son – alive or dead. Chris Thomas refuses to give up, and he will go to almost any lengths to bring Cole home.


E8 The Art of Facial Reconstruction

When you think of an artist, drawing dead people is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, but that’s exactly what a forensic artist does. In this episode, we meet two forensic artists who piece together clues allowing them to take a human skull and turn it into a portrait of how a person looked when he or she was alive. Going from skeletal remains to a drawing or 3-D likeness of a person is part science, part art and part magic. In this episode, find out how they interpret the clues to turn a skull into a human likeness that helps solve cold cases and unsolved murders.


E7 Part 2 DNA Profiling | Forensic Genealogy Dream Team Solves First Case

In 2005 young boys playing near an abandoned house in Harnett County, North Carolina found skeletal remains. More than fifteen years later those remains are identified thanks to the work of The Carolina Cold Case Coalition. In this bonus episode, the coalition solves its first case, bringing closure to a family and a name to the unidentified. Learn how forensic science – in particular forensic genealogy – helped solve the case.


E6 Part 1 DNA Profiling | The New Tool in Solving Cold Cases

Sitting in each state is a collection of skeletal remains, unnamed and gathering dust. These are cold cases that have proven to be uncrackable, unwilling to give up the secrets of who they are or what happened to them. Unsolved murders that refuse to be solved. The newest crime-solving tool, forensic genealogy, came onto the scene when it helped solve two of the most highly publicized cases in the U.S.: The Golden State Killer and the Bear Brook murders. We introduce you to the rockstar behind the forensic genealogy in those cases, Barbara Rae-Venter, and how her success breathed a new kind of life into unsolved murder cases around the country. In North Carolina, one scientist is now on a mission to put a name to each of the state’s 124 unnamed boxes of bones. She and a dream team of forensic experts are starting this mission with 13 cases. In this episode we go step-by-step through the process, explaining how DNA profiling, web research and forensic genealogy work together to help identify victims and suspects.


E5 Cold Case Solved | The Boy Under the Billboard

Each investigator has that one case that haunts them, the one that just won’t budge. For Detective Tim Horne, the Billboard Boy was that case. He was just a young crime scene tech when the skeletal remains of a little boy were found beneath a billboard in his jurisdiction. With no leads, the unsolved murder turned into a cold case. But Horne kept the case in a box beneath his desk where he would literally bump into it for the next 25 years. It was a daily reminder that he needed to solve it. The unidentified remains couldn’t stay unidentified forever. When the clock starts ticking down to his retirement, he knows it’s now or never. Horne is determined to make something happen. That’s when he turns to forensic genealogy, and the research of Barbara Rae-Venter. Famous for her work on the Golden State Killer and Bear Brook cases, Rae-Venter uses DNA profiling to provide a single piece of information that could help Horne solve the case. But can he do it before time runs out?


E4 Cold Case Solved | The 30-Year Mystery of Tent Girl

As a teenager, Todd Matthews had an unusual obsession. He was fascinated by the human remains found along the side of a highway in a small community in rural Kentucky. The woman had been wrapped in a tent bag, and the tale of Tent Girl became a sort of urban legend. He never let go of his obsession with the case. Later in life, while working the assembly line at an auto factory, Todd created an early web page about Tent Girl, asking for the public’s help solving the case. That site helped Matthews do what police could not – solve an unsolved murder. And in doing so, it changed the way investigators across the country handle missing person cases today. Todd Matthews went on to create The Doe Network, a nonprofit database of missing persons, unsolved murders and cold cases. His search methods helped shape NamUs, The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. In this episode, Todd describes his first and most famous case, and how the work he started as a teenager sparked a revolution in unsolved murder investigations.


E3 The Body Farm

There’s this beautiful place in the mountains of North Carolina where death lives to tell a story. For people who have chosen to donate their body to science, their remains are laid out on the ground and left to decompose. Forensic anthropologists call them “human decomposition facilities,” but most people just call them “body farms.” In this episode we’ll take you to a place few people ever get to visit while they’re alive. Guided by the director of the facility and her husband, both anthropology professors, we walk through each step of how bodies decay, and how the variables of weather, location, and even vultures can impact the state of skeletal remains. Learn how the research that comes out of observing this process can help police investigate unsolved murders and cold cases.


E2 What is Forensic Anthropology?

Dr. Ann Ross is surrounded by bones, literally. Everywhere you look in her osteology lab at North Carolina State University there are skeletal remains on metal tables laid out like jigsaw puzzles – a mosaic of hundreds of pieces that only she knows how to put together. Ross is a forensic anthropologist, often called on to help solve murder cases using forensic science. In this episode, we walk you through the definition of forensic anthropology with the disappearance of Laura Ackerman, a young mother of two boys. The frantic search for her leads across state lines from North Carolina to the gruesome discovery of her dismembered remains in a Texas creek filled with alligators. The clues point to her ex, Grant Hayes, and his current wife. When the skeletal remains arrive in Dr. Ross’ lab, the work of solving the case with forensic science begins. But solving this takes creativity. That’s where a pig carcass and a reciprocating saw from a hardware store come in handy.