The NPR podcast Serial became a sensation a few years ago, followed by S-Town. But you don’t have to look nationally to find a podcast telling a fascinating true story. MISTORY, a podcast featuring true crimes in Pensacola's history is produced at the University of West Florida.
Olivia Bittner is a masters student in the college student administrative affairs program at UWF and a Program coordinator for Mistory. She says a team of researchers from the UWF Graduate School have been looking for stories and characters in the archives at the Historic Trust. "True crime podcasts are definitely having a moment right now, and there are [certainly] no shortage of stories in Pensacola for us to be featuring. [The researchers] have come across a lot of great stories that feature some of the great locations we have here in Pensacola." Bittner says they hope listeners to the podcast will get out and explore some of the historic locations mentioned in the podcast's stories.
The first three episode MISTORY series focuses on a man named Hank Killam. Episode one is titled "Man Found Dead" - otherwise known as the one where Hank Killam slits his own throat by hallucinating and jumping through a window. One of the hosts of that episode is Dr. Jocelyn Evans, Associate Dean in the College of Art, Social Sciences and Humanities at UWF, and a professor in the Department of Government. She says when the researchers found the story of Hank Killam, which includes paranoia, a dead body on Palafox Place and a sort of direct connection to the Kennedy assassination, they knew they had a great subject for the first MISTORY podcast series. "There were many mentions of Hank Killam, right here in Pensacola, up and down Palafox Street, so we really developed scripts that would allow us to tell, in a good narrative fashion, who Hank Killam was, where he was in our town, how he was implicated in the Kennedy assassination, and then a little bit about his strange death that has not really been explained very well."
That first series of podcasts about Hank Killam was released back in June. Now, just in time for Halloween, there is a second series. It involves the case of the sweetheart murders in Pensacola. "These are stories of couples in Pensacola who were in secluded areas back in the 1920s and 30s" said Evans. "There were questions about whether or not we had a serial killer because there were multiple incidents in a very short amount of time. And so we go down all of those different conspiracy theories about what possibly was going on. It made national news. And that's what's really exciting about MISTORY is it's the public history of our local region about incidents where we became the national news."
Professor Evans also says they are hoping to include an interactive element to the podcast that will encourage listeners to get out and explore Pensacola’s historic district. "Our dream is that we can use Beacon technology to have a lot of the artifacts, these primary documents, newspaper accounts and clipping and photos [made] available to listeners, but only if they are around the exact spot where these events took place."
The podcast is produced with support from Story Lab, which is part of the University of West Florida Innovation Institute. Joshua Jacobs is a graduate student in the English department at UWF and is MISTORY’s producer and sound engineer. He says the main challenge was coordinating a lot of people and information. "It was a matter of logistics and it was trying to get a multi-track recording set up that was mobile and had very forgiving microphones that we could use for everybody because everybody here is either an intern or very new at podcasting. So [it was] basically just a series of gathering interviews, writing a script and putting everything together with appropriate music. And we've tried to use as many resources as we could from the [UWF] Historic Trust, including music."
Dr. Jocelyn Evans calls the project a great example of Faculty/graduate student collaboration in applied research. "Olivia is a graduate student, I'm a faculty member, and Josh is a graduate student too in English with a lot of experience in production. So we've drawn from various talents and really tried to involve graduate students through the entire [production] process"
The second series of MISTORY, the Case of the Sweetheart Murders is now available. You can find it at Mistory Podcast dot com, or search for MISTORY wherever you listen to podcasts.