Pod-casting Light on Cold Cases

A Star-Telegram crime reporter steps into the world of podcasting to shed new light on cases gone cold.

By Sean Chaffin

It’s a tough day for Deanna Boyd, but even tougher for the family she’s interviewing. As her recorder rolls, tears well in her eyes as yet another family tells a story of murder and anguish.

The longtime crime journalist is working on the case of Jose “Martin” Munoz for her new podcast delving into North Texas cold cases, fittingly titled “Out of the Cold.”

Martin’s widow and two daughters relive the nightmare, detailing how he was shot dead at his shop in January 2007 over an argument with a customer. The family’s grief is as raw today as it was a decade ago. Reliving the pain is a struggle, but the family is hoping the podcast can help find some justice for someone who meant so much to them.

Boyd says, “It is heartbreaking and a case that really illustrates the collateral damage that happens to the family members left behind after a murder.”

A LIFE IN CRIME —
For Boyd, it’s been a life of crime — reporting and studying that is. As a child, she snuck into her parents’ bedroom to leaf through true crime books her mother checked out at the library — reading tales of murder and mayhem. She may have been too young for the bloody crime scene photos, but perused them nonetheless, fascinated with what motivates someone to take another’s life and what the families of the victims face in the aftermath.

Years later, her interest and fascination have become not only a passion, but a career. Born in Illinois, her family moved to Bulverde, Texas, (north of San Antonio) when she was in fifth grade. She attended the University of Texas and then went on to intern with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She has been a crime reporter for the publication for 22 years.

“Crime is kind of my passion,” she says. “Obviously not committing it, but writing about it. So I’ve really been reporting on crime pretty much the entire time. People always ask me, ‘When are you going to burn out on crime?’ And it’s like, ‘There’s nothing else I want to do. It’s what I find the most interesting.’”

And while tackling cases as a reporter has been rewarding, Boyd recently began taking on an additional role with the Star-Telegram. Along with editor Lee Williams and producer Steve Wilson, Boyd writes and narrates the new podcast delving into Metroplex cold cases — both solved and unsolved.

With two decades of chasing leads and interviewing victims, Boyd seems like the perfect host for a crime show. She’s worked on some of the biggest cases in North Texas. Among those was the 2001 “Windshield Murder Case,” in which Chante Mallard struck 37-year-old Gregory Glenn Biggs with her car in Fort Worth. Biggs, who was homeless, became lodged in the windshield of the car, and Mallard, who was believed to be intoxicated at the time, drove home and left the man in the windshield in her garage. He died several hours later. Boyd also covered the 1996 Arlington abduction and murder of Amber Hagerman, for whom the AMBER Alert warning system is named.

As the newspaper industry evolved in the last decade, Boyd’s role has changed. No longer required to be in the office early to handle breaking crime news, she focuses her time on following up on murder cases and enterprise stories that involve more investigation and digging.

“A lot of times I’m not the one doing the first-day stories on a murder, but I’ll come in and follow up on them when police make an arrest and try to explain what’s happened,” she says. “It’s never boring. True crime is just something that has always intrigued me. To me this is the perfect job.”


Wilson, Boyd and Williams recording the fourth episode of “Out of the Cold.”

PAGE TO PODCAST —
In recent years, true crime tales have become popular with podcasting. The Star-Telegram and its parent company have taken the pod plunge as newspaper companies look to expand their offerings in a changing industry.

“I knew at some point they probably wanted me to try one, but I have to admit I was not a podcast listener,” she says. “Between covering crime and my home life, I am so busy that I always feel like I’m behind the times on things. I’m the girl who didn’t start watching Netflix until five years after everyone was already binging on shows.”

Co-workers and friends suggested checking out the popular podcast “Serial,” which debuted in 2014 and details the Baltimore murder of Hae Min Lee and the subsequent conviction of her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, over several episodes. According to the Washington Post, the first season had been downloaded more than 80 million times by February 2016. After giving it a shot, Boyd was hooked — not only on the show, but on the platform as a whole to tell crime stories.

“As I was listening, I could just see myself talking about our own cases in our own backyard on this platform,” she says.

The new interest in the medium set Boyd in motion. Should she focus on a current case, as her editors originally thought? There were some problems with that approach. Police often don’t want to share much information about an active investigation. And families may not be willing to talk in the beginning of a murder case.

“Cold cases obviously are where police have worked every angle they can work and still don’t have an arrest,” she says. “So they’re usually frustrated and therefore more willing to talk and get some exposure on the case.”

Multiply investigators’ frustration by 10 for families affected, Boyd says, and a podcast opportunity is born — to tell a story from the angle of both investigators and family members.

“The family is still grieving a loss and, on top of that, still having to deal with the fact that no arrest has been made in their loved one’s case,” she says. “I just figured there would probably be more people willing to participate, and thus far, they have been.”

She also sought out help from area cold case investigators to make sure they were willing to participate and also to uncover lesser-known cases that may just need some fresh media attention.

Police have opened up their files — and families have opened up to share their stories.

“There are a lot of cases out there that have been talked about and people have theories on what happened, but I wanted to make sure that we could separate fact from fiction.”


Star-Telegram photo illustration of Donald Rodgers, who died on Aug. 7, 1973.
(Star-Telegram photo illustration/Family photos, Fort Worth Police Department)

MIC ON, EARBUDS IN —
After finding her first case, the podcast debuted in September. Boyd conducts all the interviews and writes a script for the show. Williams reads and edits the script, and Wilson produces.

Boyd, who has had limited experience in broadcast, has learned the ins and outs of writing and narrating for broadcast on the fly. Making the switch to broadcast hasn’t been easy. Williams offers help during production to make sure the narration sounds smooth and story-like. Boyd also says he gave her some key advice to help ease the transition to an audible narrative.

“I kept wanting to write it like a news story, and Lee kept saying, ‘Stop. You need to pretend you’re at a bar and you’re telling your friend the story; it’s not a news story,’” she says. “The first one, Lord knows there were a lot of revisions. And it took a while to get comfortable in that conversational tone speaking because I’m reading from a script, but I don’t want you to realize I’m reading from a script. That is harder than you think. I have a whole new respect for people who work in radio and do podcasts.”

But the result is a high-quality show that will thoroughly satisfy true crime aficionados. Beyond the crimes themselves, Boyd has a folksy storytelling style and smooth voice that make for a pleasant audible experience.

From beginning to end, it takes the three-person team about two and a half weeks to finish an episode. But for Boyd, finding time isn’t always easy as she carries on her regular duties covering the crime news of the day. She works on the production piecemeal — working on interviews and script writing when she can. Williams and Wilson also have other duties, and Boyd credits them with being a major force in the show’s success.

“Lee and Steve are a big part of putting this thing together; I couldn’t do this without them,” she says. “We just somehow manage to get it done in time. I don’t know how, but we do.”


Star-Telegram photo illustration of Melvin Knox.
(Star-Telegram photo illustration/Family photos, Fort Worth Police Department)

ON THE CASE —
For its first two episodes, “Out of the Cold” focused on the 1973 murder of 14-year-old Donald Rodgers, who was shot in his neighbor’s house while spending some time with his friend, Melvin Knox, who was 15.

At the time, Knox told police that a stranger had entered the house and shot Rodgers in the face with a shotgun that had been in the home. The victim had also been stabbed multiple times. Knox, who would have other run-ins with the law in the following years, was the only other person in the home at the time. The case was dropped by law enforcement four months after the murder and got lost through the years despite deep suspicion of Melvin’s story.

Cold case detectives began reinvestigating the case in 2015. The agony of the family members is palpable as they discuss the case. The podcast details the breaks in the case and the unique sequence of events that led to Knox’s confession and guilty plea in July after 44 years. Now 59, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison — welcome news to family who had waited so long for justice.

“For the last 43 years, [Knox] has lived his life, though it hasn’t been a great one from what I understand,” Donald’s older brother Jeff Rodgers Jr. tells Boyd. “But he’s been free, he’s been alive, he’s been with his family. My brother didn’t get that.”

The show’s third episode focuses on the unsolved murder of Margarett Terry, who lived through many heartaches before being murdered in her home. Terry’s son died at age 4 and her daughter died at age 25 after an auto accident left her bedridden for four years. Only 10 years later, her husband would also pass away, leaving her a widow.

Then on Aug. 25, 1989, the 68-year-old grandmother and Avon saleswoman was sexually assaulted in her home in southeast Fort Worth. Police found her body by her bed. She died from blunt-force injuries to her head. No valuables were taken, and there was no forced entry to the home. “Out of the Cold” details the story of the sweet woman who faced so much tragedy and the search for her killer after 28 years.

On the episode, Fort Worth cold case detective Jeremy Rhoden speaks of the challenges of solving decades-old murders. Memories fade. The crime scene was altered long ago, and investigators must rely on photos. Witnesses may have disappeared or are even deceased. Despite this, Rhoden believes the case is solvable. Because DNA was in its early stages in 1989, police did collect some material to obtain a DNA profile from Terry’s possible killer.

“There are some things that were done and some things that were collected that could possibly point to a suspect,” he says. “But so far, none of those things that they did back then have totally come to fruition yet.”

Investigators hope someday that profile will match with someone arrested who is required to submit a sample of his DNA. In the meantime, Terry’s granddaughter Renee Roach is left to wait.

“My hope is that there will be someone who knew someone a long time ago, but was afraid to give it up,” she says. “And maybe now they feel the time has passed enough that they can come forward, because someone has to know besides the person who committed the crime.”


Star-Telegram photo illustration of Margarett Terry, who was found slain on Aug. 25, 1989.
(Star-Telegram photo illustration/Family photos)

MOVING FORWARD —
Finding a niche in the world of podcasting may take some work, but Boyd has been pleased with the results. The Star-Telegram is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“It’s been really good,” she says. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, and I’ve actually got some people who have written in and said, ‘Would you please write about my loved one’s case?’ And I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from these true crime enthusiasts who are out there who swallow this stuff up. And even other true crime podcasters out there who are sharing it. I just didn’t realize how much of a community that the true crime enthusiasts really is. There have been tons of people interested.”

Throughout the process of putting the show together, family members have been willing to bring the story of their loved one’s murder to light. Desperate for answers and a resolution, most are eager to talk. As the podcast continues, Boyd hopes to spotlight dormant cases that have not received much media attention.

“I’m telling the detectives who I’m working with, ‘If there’s a case that has gotten only one news story, but you think it is a good case and one that has been on your mind, and you want to solve it and you think it’s solvable, then let’s do it,’” she says. 

In December, the podcast features the case of Cheryl Lynn Springfield. A mother of a young son, she was found dead on Christmas Day 1980 at her home on Whittier Street in Fort Worth. She and her ex-husband, Scott Springfield, were working on their relationship and getting back together. They planned to spend Christmas together with their son.

However, Scott found Cheryl dead that morning near her Christmas tree. Police say she was beaten and strangled and that Scott was eliminated as a suspect. A neighbor saw her speaking with someone in the early morning hours past midnight but was unable to give police a thorough description, and the case was never solved.

By shining a light on cases like that of Springfield, Boyd’s ultimate goal is that someone may provide much-needed tips for police — a kernel of information that just might help bring a murderer to justice.

“Maybe it’ll shake something loose,” she says of the crimes highlighted. “And someone who knows something will talk.”