Cover image of Here Be Monsters
(1051)

Rank #40 in Philosophy category

Arts
Society & Culture
Philosophy

Here Be Monsters

Updated 7 days ago

Rank #40 in Philosophy category

Arts
Society & Culture
Philosophy
Read more

The Podcast about the Unknown

Read more

The Podcast about the Unknown

iTunes Ratings

1051 Ratings
Average Ratings
758
221
28
17
27

Thank you!

By ToDdRanD - Oct 18 2019
Read more
Love the podcast, the content is so unexpected and thought provoking. Keep up the great work!

New favorite podcast

By Nkay666 - Jun 30 2019
Read more
I can’t stop listening-been binge listening for 2.5 days. I wish I’d found it sooner! Thank you! 🙏

iTunes Ratings

1051 Ratings
Average Ratings
758
221
28
17
27

Thank you!

By ToDdRanD - Oct 18 2019
Read more
Love the podcast, the content is so unexpected and thought provoking. Keep up the great work!

New favorite podcast

By Nkay666 - Jun 30 2019
Read more
I can’t stop listening-been binge listening for 2.5 days. I wish I’d found it sooner! Thank you! 🙏

Listen to:

Cover image of Here Be Monsters

Here Be Monsters

Updated 7 days ago

Read more

The Podcast about the Unknown

HBM060: The Predators of McNeil Island [EXPLICIT]

Podcast cover
Read more

Please Note: This episode is largely about sexual violence towards children. Most of the descriptions throughout the audio are clinical, but one description from our court recordings is particularly graphic and disturbing. Keep this in mind, especially if you are listening within earshot of children.

McNeil Island sits in Washington State's Puget Sound, just three miles northwest of Steilacoom. For much of its existence, the island served as a fishing outpost for indigenous coastal people. But for the last 150-odd years, McNeil Island has been a place to house society's undesirables. Soon after white settlers claimed it in the 1850s, they built a prison there--Charles Manson served a stint there, long before his infamous Hollywood killing spree. At that point, McNeil Island was a sustainable community that consisted of the prison staff and their family members. There were houses, an elementary school and a graveyard.

But the world changed, and the island prison became too expensive to operate. In 2011 the prison closed, the inmates were relocated, and the staff moved to the mainland.


McNeil Island's abandoned prison visible from the city of Steilacoom, Washington. The Special Commitment Center is hidden behind the crest of the hill.

But by then, McNeil Island had sprouted a different kind of facility, also nested inside razor wire. It wasn't a prison, but its residents weren't exactly allowed to leave.

It was a late summer morning in 1989 when Washington Governor Booth Gardner came to work at the state capital to find thousands of empty tennis shoes dumped at the capital steps. The shoes were left there by demonstrators calling for harsher punishments for sex offenders. The group did it in response to several gruesome crimes that had happened earlier that year; crimes which the activists argued were enabled by lax sentencing laws and early releases for violent prisoners. The group called themselves the Tennis Shoe Brigade, and the shoes they brought were meant to represent the forgotten victims of rape. Their action prompted Governor Gardner to assemble the Task Force on Community Protection.

That fall, as the Governor Gardner's task force deliberated, serial child rapist Westley Allen Dodd raped and murdered three young boys in Vancouver, Washington. Despite Dodd's long criminal history of child molestation, he never served a full prison sentence for his crimes. Even Dodd himself felt the legal system had failed him and his victims, telling one reporter, "If you add up all the prison time I was given but never made to serve, I'd be in prison until 2026... and those boys would still be alive." Dodd wrote a pamphlet advising children on how to avoid violent sex offenders like him.


One of several patrol boats that puttered around Steilacoom Ferry Dock.

In the wake of Dodd's crimes, the task force penned the Community Protection Act of 1990. This act required law enforcement to keep a sex offender registry, and allowed for the civil commitment of Sexually Violent Predators, or SVPs. This meant that this special class of sex offenders could be legally and indefinitely detained after they'd served their criminal sentences if the court deemed them likely (aka. more than 50% likely) to re-offend, if released into the public. But, per the law, civil commitment would be rehabilitative, not punitive, and therefore wouldn't violate double jeopardy. The act passed into law RCW 71.09 also known as the Sexually Violent Predator law.

In order for a sex offender to be deemed an SVP in Washington, they must meet three criteria (per RCW 71.09)

  1. They must have been convicted or charged of a sexually violent crime.
  2. They must be suffer from a "personality disorder" or a "mental abnormality", and
  3. That condition must make them likely to commit predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility.

In Washington State, that secure facility is the Special Commitment Center (SCC) on McNeil Island. It's not a prison, but a treatment facility administrated by Washington State's Department of Social and Health Services. DSHS told us that (as of publish date) 242 people are confined on the island.


An empty boat meant for transporting vehicles at the Steilacoom Ferry Dock. 

There have been two supreme court challenges to Washington's SVP law (other states have challenged too). One plaintiff claimed inadequate treatment, the other claimed they were serving a second prison term. Both times, the court ruled in favor of Washington's law.

This episode is about a man named Chris. To protect him, his family and his victims, we're only referring to him by first name.

According to court documents, Chris was nine years old when he started molesting his younger siblings in the mid 1980s. Eventually he started molesting other children in the neighborhood, and even had sexual contact with one of the family dogs. The documents say that In 1995, at age 16, Chris was caught with a 12 year old neighbor boy who he'd pinned down; both boys were naked from the waist down and Chris had either penetrated the boy with his penis or had inserted it between the boys legs (records vary). By the time he was convicted, further questioning established that Chris had forced sexual contact on other children hundreds of times, including his younger siblings. He was sent to juvenile detention for two years, where he stayed until he was 18. He was released on parole.

Throughout his life, Chris has been medicated with psychotropics for a number of diagnoses: ADD/ADHD, Bipolar, Tourette Syndrome, Bipolar 2, Tardive Dyskinesia, Anti-Social Personality Disorder. His medications included Lithium, Luvox, Clonidine, Anafranil, Risperdal, Paxil, Serzone, Effexor, and Tegretol.

Within a few months of his release, Chris checked himself into an inpatient mental health facility in Seattle for a psych evaluation. Court documents say that Chris kissed up to three other residents during his stay, and later asked staff repeatedly for contact information for one of the women. He started telling staff of his violent sexual fantasies about rape. The documents also say he disclosed fantasies about having sex with human organs and body parts, as well as fantasies about having sex with large sea and land mammals.

Given his history of forced sexual contact and the graphic and deviant nature of his fantasies, the hospital staff filed a petition to have Chris classified as an SVP. He was given a number of tests to measure the severity of his sexual deviance. One of these tests was a penile plethysmegraph (PPG) in which they wrapped a pressure-sensitive, plastic band around Chris's penis and measured his arousal to sexual visual and audio stimuli. He was also analyzed through an actuarial tool called the Static 99R which attempts to statistically predict a sex offender's chance of recidivism. Near the time of his commitment, one of the doctors analyzing Chris wrote this:

"Christopher clearly presents an extremely high risk of sexual assault of younger or vulnerable persons of either sex…Under no circumstances should he return to live with his family now or in the foreseeable future."

As a result, the SVP unit of the King County prosecutors' office drew up a stipulation for Chris. This stipulation would designate Chris as an SVP and send him to live indefinitely at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. However, Chris would be allowed to challenge his civil commitment in front of a jury of his peers. And when he did so, the burden of proof would be on the state to prove that Chris continued to meet SVP criteria.


Trains regularly pass by the Steilacoom Ferry Dock. This one carries military equipment. Presumably, this shipment is bound for nearby Fort Lewis.

Soon after he got to the island, Chris said he changed. Nearly immediately, he requested to take a medication holiday. According to documents written by his lawyers, soon after he stopped taking the medications, the most egregious fantasies dissipated. He describes being on the medications as being in a mental fog, as if he were drunk. He does not claim that his offenses were a result of being overly medicated, but he does believe his inhibition was lowered. By the second year of his commitment, Chris stopped attending group therapy with the other SCC residents. He says that by then he no longer experienced deviant fantasies, and that recounting his offenses week after week was not conducive to his recovery. We found no evidence that he's sexually assaulted anyone since arriving on the island.

In late 2015, per the stipulation he signed when he was 18, Chris received a trial for his unconditional release. One of his attorneys, Andrew Morrison, contacted us to see if we were interested in attending the trial. We said "yes."

A month-long juried trial ensued. The verdict came back unanimously against the State of Washington. They had failed to prove that Chris continued to meet the definition of an SVP. On March 17th, 2016, Chris was released from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. According to Andrew Morrison, Chris registered as a Level 2 sex offender shortly after his release, as was required of him.

The topic of recidivism for sex offenders is hotly contested, since sex crimes are often unreported and good data for long-term recidivism is sparse. However, some of the best numbers we have come from a report put together by the Office of Justice Programs. They reported that, compared to other criminals, sex offenders are re-arrested at significantly lower rates. They also report that after three years after a sex offender's release, five percent were re-arrested a sexual crime. After 15 years, 24% were re-arrested for a sex crime.

It's been almost 26 years since the Community Protection Act of 1990 paved the road to civil commitment laws in 20 states and the District of Columbia. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which instated a federal system of civil commitment.


Detail of the abandoned prison on McNeil Island.

In 2015, an advocacy group called Disability Rights Washington drafted a lawsuit against the SCC on McNeil Island. They claimed that the SCC failed to provide adequate treatment for mentally disabled residents, making commitment there more punitive than rehabilitative. This claim is backed by a 2013 Washington State Institute for Public Policy Report that cites special needs residents who were receiving just 2 hours of treatment per week in 2011.

That same WSIPP report cites that the cost of Special Commitment Center is roughly $150,000 per resident per year (and significantly more for those in transitional programs). The center received $47,609,000 in the 2013 state budget. Civil commitment at the SCC is roughly five times more expensive than incarceration in a Washington State prison.

Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton produced this piece. George Lavender fact-checked the audio for this story. Nick White did content editing.

People who appear on tape (in order of first appearance):

Bethany Denton - Host
Jeff Emtman - Host
Andrew Morrison - One of Chris's Defense Attorneys
Chris - Former SVP
Jennifer Ritchie - King County Prosecutor's Head of the Sexually Violent Predator Unit
Alison Bogar - King County Prosecutor
Bill Bowman - Judge
Dr. Harry Goldberg - Expert for Prosecutors
Dr. Joseph Plaud - Expert for Defenders
Dr. Holly Coryell - SCC's Head of Clinical Treatment

Others who provided background information, but were not heard in audio:

Christine Sanders - Chris's other defense attorney
Kristen Richardson - King County Prosecutor
Chris Wright - Communications for Washington's Department of Social and Health Services

For this story, we were originally granted permission to visit the island to interview Dr. Coryell and Chris. However, that permission was revoked because our scheduled date happened to coincide with Chris's release date. The SCC was unwilling to reschedule us. Mark Strong, the CEO of the SCC declined our request for an interview.

Music: The Black Spot

Photos: Jeff Emtman

This episode marks the end of our 4th season of shows. We'll be back soon. Please stay in touch via Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Apr 20 2016

40mins

Play

HBM120: Own Worst Interest

Podcast cover
Read more

In the fall of 1989, in Vancouver, Washington, a short, 29 year-old man named Westley Allan Dodd raped and murdered three young boys. The boys were brothers Cole and William Neer, ages 10 and 11, and four year old Lee Isli.

A few weeks later, police arrested Westley at movie theater after he tried and failed to abduct another boy. He quickly confessed to the three murders. The prosecution sought the death penalty, and Dodd pled guilty.

Death penalty cases take a long time due to all the appeals built into the process. These appeals are designed to make sure the state hasn’t made any mistakes in the death sentence. They check for things like juror misconduct, incompetent defense lawyers, new evidence. Death penalty cases take years, sometimes decades.

Westley Allan Dodd did not want that. Instead, he wanted to be executed as quickly as possible.

In letters to the Supreme Court of Washington, Dodd urged the court to allow him to waive his right to appeal his death sentence. He believed he deserved to die for what he did, and wanted it done as soon as possible. Dodd was what’s known as a “volunteer”–someone who gives up their rights in order to hasten their own execution. The Death Penalty Information Center cites about 150 cases of “volunteers” in the United States.

Dodd’s case sparked debate both among people who supported and opposed the death penalty. Some argued he had the right to choose whether the court would review the validity of his death sentence. Others argued that the law ensures that all defendants have due process whether they want it or not.

In the meantime, Dodd continued to advocate for his own execution in interviews and in exchanges with his pen pals. He said he felt remorseful, and even wrote a self-defense booklet for kids to learn how to stay safe from men like him. The booklet was called “When You Meet A Stranger”.

The debate made its way to the Washington Supreme Court.  In a 7-2 ruling, they decided that Dodd did, in fact, have the right to waive his remaining appeals. After just three years on death row (5 years shorter than the national average at that time) the State of Washington hanged Westley Allan Dodd.

On this episode Bethany Denton interviews  Dodd’s former attorney Gilbert Levy. And defense attorney Jeff Ellis, who was a young lawyer during the time of the Dodd trial.   Bethany also talks to Becky Price, who was one of the recipients of Dodd’s pamphlet  “When You Meet A Stranger”.

Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 1 of 5 Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 2 of 5
Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 3 of 5
Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 4 of 5 Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 5 of 5 Westley Allan Dodd’s Sentencing Verdict, in which a jury unanimously agrees that he should be put to death.  Page 1 of 1

This is our last episode of season 7. We’ll be back sometime in the fall, and we’ll let you know when as soon as we know on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

In the meantime, check out our Art Exchange. It’s like a Secret Santa, only it takes place in the summer and each gift is an original piece of art: sculpture, photography, poem, song, painting, all kinds of things. Click here to sign up (the deadline is June 12, 2019)

Jun 05 2019

26mins

Play

HBM097: Fox Teeth

Podcast cover
Read more

In the Westfjords of Iceland, people wait for birds to come ashore so that they can gather the feathers they leave behind. These birds, called Eider Ducks, are the source of eiderdown, a ridiculously expensive and rare stuffing for bedding.


Icelandic Language documentary on the production of eiderdown

This has (literally) landed the Arctic Fox in the crosshairs. These relatively common foxes are opportunistic eaters who snack on eider ducks if they get the chance.

So the Icelandic government placed a bounty on each fox killed (if you can provide its tail as proof). Hunters of the Westfjords set up elaborate baiting ambushes for the foxes, and wait in darkened houses with rifles in the middle of blizzards.


An Arctic Fox (vulpes lagopus).

But foxes are smart enough to not always take the bait.

Megan Perra heard a rumor of a three legged Icelandic fox named “Tripod” that beat the odds. A fox that grew to almost twice the normal size from stealing food from traps for three full years (or so the legend goes). Megan is an illustrator/journalist from Portland, Oregon, and she’s currently working on a video documentary about the foxes’ interactions with humans.

Megan retraces the steps of Tripod, from his birthplace in the Westfjords, to the lab in southern Iceland where he was dissected, and to his current home in a glass case at the Arctic Fox Centre.


The taxidermied body of “Tripod”, a three-legged fox. 
Pictured here carrying the body of a seabird (a razorbill).

She visits a rural gas station where she finds Jóhann Hannibalsson, the hunter who finally shot Tripod after years of trying. The two of them go on a snowmobile ride that brings them to a cabin where, in the dark, Megan witnesses Jóhann’s version of a fox hunt.


An Icelandic hunter, Jóhann Hannibalsson,
at a remote cabin where he intends to shoot a fox

Megan Perra produced this episode. Jeff Emtman edited with help from Bethany Denton. All visuals accompanying this episode are courtesy of Feral Five Creative Co / Megan Perra. Along the way, Megan also speaks to Ester Unnsteinsdóttir (a fox researcher), Siggi Hjartarson (a hunter), Stephen “Midge” Midgley (Manager at the Arctic Fox Centre), and Þorvaldur “Doddi” Björnsson (the taxidermist who preserved Tripod’s body).


                            The Northern Lights over an Icelandic mountain range.

Music: The Black Spot ||| Serocell

In other news, if you live in the Boston area, and would like free shipping on our HBM Meat Poster, Jeff will deliver you one on his bike (while supplies last). Just purchase the poster as usual, then we’ll refund you the shipping cost. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to know if the offer’s still good or to see if you live within delivery range.

Apr 25 2018

20mins

Play

HBM100: Faraway Minds

Podcast cover
Read more

Anna Klein thinks that tea tastes better on the Faroe Islands than in Denmark. She thinks the water’s more pure there, and the Northern Lights let the sky be whatever color it wants to be. She often thinks about moving there.


A sandy beach in Skagen, the northernmost town of mainland Denmark

But she also worries that her fantasies of running away to the remote corners of the world may be a familial urge to isolate herself, the same way her father did...a tendency that ultimately contributed to his early death.

It was a loving and hurtful relationship that led Anna to retrace her father's life. From her home in Aarhus, to his dying place of Copenhagen, to his hometown of Skagen, and then back to Aarhus again via the museum at Moesgaard.


(L) Anna Klein’s mother and father, (R) Anna's parents on their wedding day


Childhood photo of Anna wearing face paint

Anna Klein produced this episode. Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton edited. Nick White is our editor at KCRW, where there are a lot of people we don’t often get the chance to thank, but help us to make this show: including Gary Scott, Juan Bonigno, Adria Kloke, Mia Fernandez, Dustin Milam, Christopher Ho, Caitlin Shamberg, JC Swiatek, and many others.

We’ll be back in the fall with new episodes. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for updates from the off-season. Rate us on iTunes and tell a friend too.

Music: Lucky Dragons ||| The Black Spot

Jun 06 2018

34mins

Play

HBM034: The Grandmother And The Vine Of The Dead

Podcast cover
Read more

Ayahuasca is one of the most powerful and most illegal hallucinogens in the world. It contains DMT. But, for as long as anyone can remember, it's been used by people who have wanted to know more about the universe.

These people have traditionally been involved with shamanic tribes of the Amazon Rainforest, but in recent years, more and more people have had access to Ayahuasca through ceremonies lead by shamans in countries near the South American Equator.

Ayahuasca (also called Iowaska, Yagé, Vine of the Dead, La Madrecita, El Abuelo, etc.) is not a party drug. In fact, it can be absolutely terrifying...Ayahuasca has a reputation for spewing up the taker's darkest fears in front of visuals of multi-dimensional cosmic weirdness and forcing them to confront every dark thought they've ever had. But it also has a potential for intense healing.

In this episode, producer Lauren Stelling visits her old boss Cherub, who was facing a lot of grief after her best friend's daughter, Zippy, was killed in a freak accident of nature.

Cherub was seeking alternatives to the common American treatments for grief, so, she flew away from her home in Washington State, down to a tropical rain forest where shamans guided her on a week-long Ayahuasca journey to find healing from her grief.

The episode was produced by Lauren Stelling. She's a photographer living and working in Seattle, Washington. Check out her beautiful photographs. laurenlstelling.com

Big thanks to Choque Chinchay Journeys, who provided the recordings of icaros for this episode. biopark.org

Music:

Serocell unclassedmedia.com ←New!

Monster Rally monsterrally.bandcamp.com/ ←New!

Half Ghost gloriaandjohn.bandcamp.com/

Please rate the show on iTunes and/or tweet it to all your pals.

Learn more about the show here: http://HBMpodcast.com

Jun 04 2014

1hr

Play

HBM024: The Friendliest Town In Texas [Explicit]

Podcast cover
Read more

Shoppingspree Clark showed up on the side of the road outside the “Friendliest Town in Texas” with nothing more than a sketchpad and the burnt-out ruin of the RV he’d just bought.

Coleman, Texas’ self-claimed title is true because it used to be on a billboard above the highway. And the people that live there are diverse, troubled, religious, unusual…and friendly.

This episode contains many adult themes, including suicide, prejudice, and racism. There are also unbleeped swear words and racial slurs. Use discretion.

This episode was originally released by Shoppingspree Clark in June 2013 right here: User261897410 – Friendliest-town-in-texas-aac

Most of the music on this show comes from Shoppingspree himself. His moniker, Crunchy Person, has music on Bandcamp: crunchyperson.bandcamp.com/

Other tracks are by Javelin: javelinjamz and Seagull Invasion: seagullinvasion.bandcamp.com/

Show your HBM Love! Hit us up on the internet: HBMpodcast.com and on the ol’ FB: is.gd/HBMfacebook/

This episode of HBM is brought to you by Squarespace. For a free trial and 20% off your new website (this month only), go to squarespace.com/ and use the promo code monsters9.

Sep 04 2013

1hr

Play

HBM108: Witch of Saratoga

Podcast cover
Read more

Angeline Tubbs may have been as old as 104 when she died alone in the woods, in a hut she made with her own hands. She came to America with a British officer who fought in the Battle of Saratoga (see HBM074: Benedict Arnold Makes People Nervous).


Only known photograph of Angeline Tubbs. Circa 1860.  
Republished in the January 30th, 1959 issue of The Saratogan.

It’s uncertain what happened to the officer, but soon after the battle, Angeline began living a hermit’s life, on the outskirts of society, alone in the forest with her cats. She foraged and hunter her food. Only rarely did she venture into the newly forming town of Saratoga Springs, where she made money by telling fortunes.

On this episode, producer Alessandra Canario walks into the woods near where Angeline Tubbs lived and died. She builds her own shelter, makes a fire, and cooks her own food. Alessandra wonders if she too might be a “witch,” due to a kinship she formed with trees as a child. But she also hears echoes of her mother’s warnings against being outside without a man for protection.


Alessandra Canario camps in a homemade shelter in the woods near
Saratoga Springs, New York.  Photo by Alessandra Canario.


Leaves falling in the woods.  Captured by Alessandra Canario.

Dec 19 2018

18mins

Play

HBM038: Do Crows Mourn Their Dead?

Podcast cover
Read more

Crows have really strange habits around death. When a bird dies, crows gather, squawking loudly and gathering as many other birds as they can find to come and look at the dead body.

Much of what we know about crow funerals comes from the work of John Marzluff a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. He and Kaeli Swift (one of his grad students) are trying to get to the bottom of these strange phenomena using taxidermy crows and masks and Cheetos and raw peanuts.

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, We look at the strange behaviors of crows and how they might be able to teach humanity about the origins of funerals and emotions.

We have a great photo album from the show up over at HBMpodcast.com. Check it out.

This episode was produced by Jeff Emtman.

Many thanks to David Kestenbaum of NPR's Planet Money for his help on a short version of this piece made for radio...keep your ears peeled. Listen to Planet Money here: www.npr.org/blogs/money/

Many thanks to Brian Emtman for tipping us off to this story.

Some of the crow sounds in this episode came from Cornell's Macaullay Library. Citation: macaulaylibrary.org/audio/45291

Other sounds came from the users of Freesound.

Creative Commons Attributions:

LukeIRL: freesound.org/people/LukeIRL/sounds/176128/

RTB45: freesound.org/people/RTB45/sounds/149186/

renatofarabeuf: freesound.org/people/renatofarabeuf/sounds/242122/

klankbeeld: freesound.org/people/klankbeeld/sound/208165/

Music from

Flower Petal Downpour: @flower-petal-downpour

Serocell: unclassedmedia.com/

The Black Spot: theblackspot.bandcamp.com/

Sep 10 2014

1hr

Play

HBM043: Last Chance To Evacuate Earth

Podcast cover
Read more

Marshall Applewhite met Bonnie Nettles in 1972, and together they built a religion. It was called Heaven's Gate, and it drew heavily from the bible, astrology, and Star Trek. Applewhite and Nettles believed they were placed on Earth to deliver a holy message. They were the leaders of their new religion, and they changed their names to Do and Ti (pronounced "doe" and "tea"). After Nettle's death, the group developed a larger, stronger following, its doctrine evolved—incorporating more and more elements of outer space and astronomical phenomenons. In 1997, Heaven's Gate became known to the public as the world's most infamous UFO cult, when 39 members (including Applewhite) ate poison and died in their Californian mansion. They believed that the comet Hale Bopp was their exit to a higher life.

But before all this, Heaven's Gate supported itself financially through web design. The cult created a small company called Higher Source, and together, members of the group would travel to different businesses and build them their first websites. It was through Higher Source that Heather Chronert met the members of Heaven's Gate. She was an employee of the San Diego Polo Club, and it was her job to work closely with two Higher Source web designers on the design and execution of the polo club's website.

Steven and Yvonne Hill of Cincinnati, Ohio found Heaven's Gate online. The two were unhappy with their lives in Ohio, and when they happened on heavensgate.com, it seemed like they'd found a religion tailor-made for them. Steven and Yvonne abandoned their lives in Ohio and moved to California to join the cult. Steven was one of the last people to defect from Heaven's Gate before the comet lit up the sky and the believers of Heaven's Gate killed themselves.

If you're feeling suicidal, or know someone who is, know that help is available for you and that suicide is preventable. We recommend reaching out to The Samaritans, who operate a 24 hour hotline at (877) 870-4673. Callers outside of the US should look at organizations available in their country on this list from Suicide.org.

For background on this story, Lina Misitzis emailed a representative (or representitives) of Heaven's Gate. The linked document is their correspondence.

This episode was produced by Lina Misitzis. The episode was edited by Jeff Emtman, Bethany Denton and Nick White. Special thanks to Amy Isaacson.

Music: Flowers ||| Swamp Dog ||| Serocell ||| The Black Spot


Screenshot of Higher Source's Website as of April 1997.


Screenshot of the San Diego Polo Club's Website as of April 1997. Website designed by Higher Source.


Heaven's Gate's website as of July 2015. The website is still maintained by 2 surviving members.


Heaven's Gate's statement against suicide.


Screenshot of Marshall Applewhite speaking in a Heaven's Gate recruitment tape. Abnormal coloration is due to VHS artifacts.


Screenshot of Marshall Applewhite speaking in a Heaven's Gate recruitment tape. Abnormal coloration is due to VHS artifacts.


Screenshot of Marshall Applewhite speaking in a Heaven's Gate recruitment tape. Abnormal coloration is due to VHS artifacts.


Screenshot of Marshall Applewhite speaking in a Heaven's Gate recruitment tape. Abnormal coloration is due to VHS artifacts.

Please review us on iTunes and follow us on Twitter.

Jul 22 2015

39mins

Play

HBM080: The Ocean of Halves [EXPLICIT]

Podcast cover
Read more

Please Note: This episode is about sex. And there’s swearing.

Remi Dun enjoys her job. She's good at it, she makes good money, and she generally enjoys her clients’ company. And although her job rarely gives her sexual pleasure, one client with a curious tongue gave her two surprise orgasms. Another client doesn’t know that she stops making sexy faces as soon as he can’t see her. And another client simply wants companionship—his dad died recently and he’s still emotionally raw. And yet another client wants a rubber band around his balls—the thick blue kind you find on broccoli in the grocery store.

Remi is a part-time sex worker. She uses pseudonyms. She’s not out. She worries that her friends would see her as destitute and her parents would convince themselves they’d been bad parents. Still, Remi finds joy and security in her secret second job. She hopes to someday be out and proud, like the ones who have inspired her.

Balancing her “daytime” and “nighttime” selves is part of a bigger plan: to create a financial stability, to be fierce, to practice her feminism, and to develop her own romantic relationships with partners outside of work. Though, sometimes she feels lost in her identities, swimming in what she calls “the ocean of her halves.”

Remi contacted us to share her secret. We mailed her a recorder for several months to record diaries and sounds from her life. If you have a secret you’d like to share, please get in touch.

Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Our editor at KCRW is Nick White. We are a part of the Independent Producer Project of KCRW.


The contents of Remi’s bag, laid on a bedsheet.  Contents include coconut oil, wet wipes, money, mouthwash,
hosiery, lube, tampons, pepper spray / mace, condoms, cell phone charger, deoderant, eye drops, and cosmetics.

Music: The Black Spot ||| Serocell

Want to help us design our next round of HBM merch? Submit a t-shirt design! If we pick your design, we’ll give you a couple of shirts and $450.

We’re on Season break! We’ll be back with Season 6 starting in the fall. Thank you for your supporting comments on Twitter, your reviews on iTunes / Apple Podcasts, and your likes on Facebook. We’re already working on Season 6. It will be even better.

Jun 07 2017

30mins

Play

HBM022: The Holy Ghost Fixes David's Brain

Podcast cover
Read more

David Blackshire Key has been called a douchebag more times than he can count. It's probably because he used to wear big sunglasses--day and night, indoors and out. He wasn't a movie star, he just had brain cancer.

One of his side-effects was a strange sensitivity to light called "photophobia". Even after doctors removed the tumor, his painful sensitivity continued. So he turned to his faith, looking for healing from a supernatural force.

Writer and radio producer Bridget Burnquist produced this show.

In this show, we reference Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, California. For more information on them, visit ibethel.org

Music from:
Lucky Dragons luckydragons.bandcamp.com
Swamp Dog: swampdog.bandcamp.com/
The Black Spot theblackspot.bandcamp.com/

Visit HBM around the web:
Homepage: HBMpodcast.com
Facebook: is.gd/HBMfacebook
iTunes: is.gd/HBMitunes
Stitcher: is.gd/HBMstitch

Aug 07 2013

1hr

Play

HBM112: Negative Space

Podcast cover
Read more

Back when HBM host Jeff Emtman was a photographer, he used to solve his problems with walks in the woods. There, he’d see the ways that branches frame the sky. As an artistic concept, negative space gets hogged a lot by the visual arts. In this episode, Jeff attempts to wrestle the concept into the sonic world; address his current problems by listening to the spaces between words and by listening to the ambiences of a semi-empty, possibly haunted hotel.

Music: The Black Spot
💀👉
Buy our book!👈🐏


Joe, photo by Jeff Emtman, 2011
Lizzie, photo by Jeff Emtman, 2011
Kelsey, photo by Jeff Emtman, 2011

HBM021: Potential Energy, the version with words.

Feb 13 2019

21mins

Play

HBM059: When Cthulhu Calls

Podcast cover
Read more

The most notable monster created by Howard Phillips Lovecraft was completely omnipotent, yet completely uncaring. A massive, tentacled being that sleeps in the depths of the ocean--Cthulhu. A creature that will one day rise again from its watery home to reclaim the Earth for itself.

In this episode of Here Be Monsters, we team up with Eric Molinsky of the Imaginary Worlds Podcast from Panoply Studios.

Eric speaks with Sheldon Solomon, a psychologist who co-founded the study of Terror Management Theory. Solomon explains the absurd lengths that humans go to avoid realizing their own mortality. And thus, Eric embarks on a fictional journey to find out why a creature so loathsome is constantly being turned into Cthulhu plushy toys and Cthulhu onesies for babies.

Eric visits a store call Love Craft in Redhook, New York, where he meets Roberta Suydam (played by Ann Scobie). Roberta tells him to look in the water off Rockaway point, Cthulhu is real. Seeking confirmation, he visits the Lovecraft Archives, deep in a basement lab in Lovecraft's hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. There, professor George Angell (played by Dan Truman) introduces him to the re-animated brain of "Howard" (played by Bill Lobely). Howard Lovecraft turns out to be just as racist in death as he was in life. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Eric rents a boat to see what's out there in the waters off Rockaway Point, but as he draws closer to the dome rising from the water, he finds himself at wits' end.

Balancing the literary genius of Lovecraft's dark mythos with his unabashed xenophobia is no easy task. Readers must either choose to ignore the troubling aspects of his personal character, or disgrace him for his beliefs. Or possibly, they may superposition themselves in both camps at once, trying understand Lovecraft as if he's a just another creature in a universe of his own making.

Music: Serocell

Hey, by the way, we're having a Season 4 wrap party in Seattle in May.  Let us know if you can make it.

Mar 23 2016

24mins

Play

HBM084: Are You Sure You’re Awake?

Podcast cover
Read more

Chrissy was having trouble remembering who she was when she woke up.  First she thought it was early-onset dementia, then she thought it was schizophrenia.  She had recurring hallucinations about being stalked by a beast that would talk to her while she slept.
Chrissy's bed

A doctor eventually told her she was waking up frequently throughout the night, some 30+ times per hour.  It was this inability to maintain a regular sleep cycle that helped her get a diagnosis of narcolepsy, explaining Chrissy’s excessive sleepiness, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and episodes of cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle control after an emotional response).
Chrissy’s diagnoses frightened her. She tried to pretend it wasn’t true. But this attitude was forced to change one day when she woke up in traffic, driving 100kph with her kids in the back seat.  She finally accepted her illness, recognized it as a beast, and looked for ways to feed it that wouldn’t affect her children.  She says that’s the only way it’s won—if it gets her kids.


Some of Chrissy's Medications

This episode was produced by Bec Fary. Bec is a freelance audio producer and creator of the podcast Sleep Talker. Bec’s show is about sleep, dreams, and nightmares, and she’s covered narcolepsy before.

This episode was edited by Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman. Our editor at KCRW is Nick White.

Music: Phantom Fauna | | |  The Black Spot

Before you go…

There are two things you can do to help us out.

First, KCRW wants to know more about you - who you are, and how you listen. Head over to kcrw.com/survey. It’ll take just three minutes of your time, and we’d really appreciate it.

Second, we want to hear from you for an upcoming episode.  Here’s the question, what is unknowable to archaeologists of the future? A lot of knowledge can be preserved in writing, or in landfills, or in collective consciousness. But there must be things that the archaeologists, 3 million years from now, fundamentally can't understand about the world today. Maybe it's the smell of snow melting after a long winter. Maybe it's the softness of a stingray's skin. Maybe those archaeologists will look in vain for those "complete breakfasts" we were supposed to be eating with our Corn Pops.

Leave us a voicemail at (765) 374-5263.

Nov 08 2017

19mins

Play

HBM025: The Sasquatch Of Pumpkintown vs Motley Crue Jon Bon Jovi

Podcast cover
Read more

Homemade Bigfoot costumes can get you in a lot of trouble. And in gun-toting community of Pumpkintown, SC, a fake Bigfoot costume might get you killed too. But when the recession caused a local outfitter’s store sales to sag, it was a risk he was willing to take.

In the episode, Ben Becker tells the story of a disgusting hound dog named “Motley Crue John Bon Jovi”, a tobacco-juice soaked Sasquatch suit, and the world’s worst hot sauce.

Sharp listeners should note that no one fact-checked a single claim in this story. Wait, actually, we did look up Pumpkintown on Google Maps. It’s a real place. Use discretion before you use anything else in your term paper.

Music from:
Flowerpetal Downpour flowerpetaldownpour.bandcamp.com/
Lucky Dragons luckydragons.bandcamp.com/
NYM music.ratsofnym.com/
Swamp Dog swampdog.bandcamp.com/

Show HBM your love by liking us on Facebook (is.gd/hbmfacebook) and reviewing us on iTunes (is.gd/hbmitunes)

This episode is sponsored by Squarespace, the easiest way to create a professional website. They’ve got a great deal for HBM listeners. Go to squarespace.com and use the promo code “monsters9” to get 10% off and a free trial.

Sep 18 2013

1hr

Play

HBM091: Hypnosis of Hunger

Podcast cover
Read more

Producer Bethany Denton found a box in her basement storage room with two old cassette tapes inside. It took her a moment to realize what they were.


Bethany at Disneyland with her brother Jared and her sister Shelby. 2001.

Bethany has been fat her whole life, even when she was a kid. She ate hidden stashes of food when she felt anxious. By the time she was eleven years old, Bethany’s parents worried she would have health problems as as an adult, and they thought weight-loss hypnotherapy could help. The hypnotherapist tried to guide Bethany’s subconscious mind into making choices that would help her lose weight, like developing the ability to control her hunger with an imaginary dial in her mind. The hypnotherapist had Bethany visualize her favorite greasy, salty potato chips covered in vomit. She had Bethany visualize her ideal, thin body, and affirmed that this ideal body was “who you really are.” The therapist recorded their sessions and gave them to Bethany on cassette tapes. She was supposed to use them to relax.


Bethany at Disneyland with her sister Ashley and her brother Jared. 2001.

Fifteen years later, Bethany never lost the weight, never achieved that ideal body. But she doesn't really eat potato chips anymore either. For information about treatment for disordered eating, visit The Emily Program.

Bethany Denton produced this episode and Jeff Emtman edited it. Here Be Monsters is part of KCRW’s Independent Producer Project, edited by Nick White and managed by Kristen Lepore.

Music: The Black Spot

→ Be sure to check out our merch, and don’t miss Meat Poster -- just in time for Valentine’s Day. ←

Do you have questions about how the show is made? Ever wonder how Jeff and Bethany work together? Who the hell is this “Nick White” guy? Give us a call, and we’ll answer it in an upcoming mailbag episode. Call us at (765) 374 - 5263 or send us a voice memo: HBMpodcast@gmail.com.

Jan 31 2018

23mins

Play

HBM031: The Roman Slug Death Orgy

Podcast cover
Read more

In a strange, small, moss-covered forest in Bellingham, Washington, Jeff stumbled on to the most gruesome scene of hedonism he's ever seen.

While it's not common for humans to witness slug death orgies, every once an unsuspecting human wanders into one of the most perverse rituals on the planet.

These slugs are most likely European Red Slugs (Arion Rufus), which were first noticed in the Western United States by a Californian biologist who found one in a lawn in Seattle.

Now, the slugs are commonplace, and have incredible omnivorous, cannibalistic, and genetalial (not a word) appetites.

Some parts of slug life are akin to aristocratic Roman life under the rule of Caligula, a figure that historians love to hate...prostitution, incest, murder, insanity, sloth, greed, etc. While the stories of Caligula's perversity and violence are often debated and overblown, no one in their right mind argues that he was a good emperor or even someone you'd want to grab lunch with.

This episode marks the launch of the long-awaited third season of Here Be Monsters. Be sure to rate us on iTunes and tell your friends---is.gd/HBMitunes

Visit us online: HBMpodcast.com

Music: 
Phantom Fauna phantomfauna.bandcamp.com/
The Black Spot theblackspot.bandcamp.com/
Lucky Dragons luckydragons.bandcamp.com/
Olecranon Rebellion <--New!

(please note that Olecranon Rebellion doesn't have a website. Send us an email if you want a copy of his CD)

Further reading/listening/watching
theoystersgarter.com/2008/03/24/per…fic-northwest/
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dJ919x_kVE
www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2…zy-as-they-say
thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/the_histor…-rome.html
www.historylink.org/index.cfm?Displ…fm&file_id=9421
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophallation
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_slug

This episode is sponsored by Squarespace, the easiest way to create a professional website. They’ve got a great deal for HBM listeners. Go to SquareSpace.com and use the promo code “monsters” to get a special deal on your new website.

Apr 23 2014

1hr

Play

HBM071: The Evangelists of Nudism

Podcast cover
Read more

Growing up Mormon in Montana, Bethany Denton had a phrase drilled into her mind from an early age: “modest is hottest.”  To her, it became a mantra even while many of her friends, especially other girls, struggled with Mormonism’s strict modesty standards. But never Bethany–she was fat enough to know that no one wanted to see that anyway.

By the time Bethany moved to Washington State for college, she had rejected the church and was looking for new, broader experiences.  She got a job as a campus security officer, started drinking, and began wading into feminism.  She looked for new, non-Mormon role models to help her find adventure. That’s when she met Helen, a punk rock pirate who invited Bethany to join her for an all-expenses paid nude vacation, courtesy of an eccentric tech millionaire who evangelized the merits of nudism.

Bethany said yes, and went with Helen to California to bake in the sun for a week, and to learn about the body she’d been hiding for the past 20 years, learn to de-couple nakedness from sexuality.

And when she returned, she felt utterly changed.  But she’d soon tearfully discover she was not entirely untangled from childhood guilt.

Names in this story have been changed.

This episode was written and produced by Bethany Denton, and was edited by Jeff Emtman. Nick White is HBM’s editor at KCRW.

Music:  Nym | | | Half Ghost  | | |  Lucky Dragons

Review us on iTunes and follow us on Twitter.
"Artist's" Rendering of what Bethany saw:

Jan 18 2017

22mins

Play

HBM103: Fate’s Notebook

Podcast cover
Read more

Somewhere in Maritza Gulin’s basement, there’s a typewritten notebook that belonged to her father, Reynaldo. The notebook contains essential advice and warnings to Reynaldo, his wife Flora, and their five children. 


Young Flora Gulin.

In his younger life, Reynaldo’s atheism was strong and biting. But chronic migraines would often flatten him for days at a time. A stranger approached Reynaldo one day on the subway to tell him that he’d always suffer until he got right with God.


Young Reynaldo Gulin.

Reynaldo subsequently became an adherent to two related Afro-Cuban* religions: Palo Mayombe and Santeria. Palo focusses on veneration of spirits of the dead and of the earth. Santeria focusses on a pantheon of demigods called “Orishas”, who are usually represented by equivalent Catholic saints.

The notebook in Maritza’s basement is notable for its specificity. When she recently rediscovered it, she found warnings for her father against eating beans, sleeping with all the lights off, a requirement for white pajamas, a prohibition on horseback riding. Reynaldo followed these rules. He believed in fate, and was pretty accurate at predicting the time of his ultimate death from old age.


Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore
on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Michelle Santana is a childhood friend of Maritza’s. She’s a psychic medium who’s not been formally initiated into Santeria, but she often consults the Orishas and the dead while working with her clients. She’s done a number of readings with Maritza. Michelle, too, believes in fate, saying that, cruel as it seems, some people are just destined live bad lives, die young, and nothing can be done to change that.

Maritza’s youngest sister, Vanessa, was born when Maritza was already an adult, so Maritza helped take care of her youngest sister. Vanessa experienced severe depression, especially after the birth of her first child. She committed suicide.

After her Vanessa’s death, Maritza and her mother Flora lost their faith. They asked: if the future’s written, why weren’t they warned? Why weren’t they told either in the notebook or during their regular psychic readings. Flora says she’s mad at God. Maritza says she no longer believes in destiny.


Flora Gulin in home in New Jersey.

Despite this, Maritza still treads lightly around some of her father’s belongings. Some of this is due to respect for her father’s desires, and some of it is based on an abundance of caution. She recently deconsecrated a black metal cauldron that her father used in ceremonies. Michelle told her to bury it in her backyard or throw it in a river. Marita did the former. Inside, she found a toy revolver, a pair of ram’s horns, railroad spikes, and other small items.


Maritza Gulin in her home in New Jersey.

Santeria’s practice of live animal sacrifice wound up in the US Supreme Court in the early 90’s as Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, in which a city in Florida passed an ordinance banning the practice of killing animals “in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption”. The court ruled unanimously that this ordinance was unconstitutional, citing its attempt to restrict religious practice.


A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water,
as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton.

Music: Circling Lights | | | The Black Spot | | | Serocell

If you are feeling suicidal, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help in the USA (phone: 1-800-273-8255). Outside the USA, consult Suicide.org’s list of hotlines. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, Postpartum Support International has links to local organizations that can help you.

*Today, Santeria and Palo are practiced across much of the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Other areas of Caribbean diaspora like Florida, New York and New Jersey also have significant populations of believers. However, solid numbers of followers are hard to estimate due to the religion’s decentralization, which also contributes to the varying beliefs across adherents of different origins. If you practice or used to practice Santeria/Palo/Ifa, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode. Tweet at us @HBMpodcast.

Oct 10 2018

38mins

Play

HBM063: The Art of the Scam, by Malibu Ron [EXPLICIT]

Podcast cover
Read more

Presumably, any given mystic falls into one of two groups: true believers and scam artists. But it's near impossible to know which they are unless they tell you outright.

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, Jeff Emtman has a conversation with a scam artist. Vice Media would call an "Etsy witch"; he calls himself a "haunted demon seller". Regardless, he doesn't give out his real name.

For the purpose of this show, let's just call him "Malibu Ron". Malibu makes his living selling trinkets supposedly imbued with spirits: sex demons, werewolves, mermaids, djinn, vampires, etc. Malibu sells the intangible beings and spells for as little as $5 and as much as $11,000.

Malibu got into the business, ten-ish years ago, while he was very sick. He had to take extended leave from his job selling cell phones. In his months of recovery, he read a lot online. He found out about Etsy Witches and, as a joke, tried to sell a cheap ring imbued with a sex demon. It sold for $12. He decided not to go back to his old job and instead focus on expanding his magic business. He now manages many (he won't tell us how many) identities and stores online.

Malibu spends his money shoes. He values his personal collection of Nike Dunk SBs and Air Jordans at over $20,000. Several of his pairs are one-offs, meaning he's the only one in the world who owns them. His home, his clothing, and all of his other outward appearances (apart from the shoes) are modest. Malibu says that he lives well, but that he's no Donald Trump--he's not rich.

Malibu feels no guilt in his scam. He doesn't sell death curses, or sex enslavement enchantments, or spells that could heal you from a terminal illness. That's where the moral line is, and he doesn't cross it. And further, he says his clients are mostly rich.

Why do some believe in magic? Malibu says it's to protect them from realizing their cosmic insignificance. And he doesn't believe in magic (except for God, and maybe aliens).

Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: Serocell ||| The Black Spot

Like the show? Please review us on iTunes. Want to send us a sex demon? Do it on Twitter @HBMpodcast



Malibu Ron's shoe collection, sans several pairs that are one-offs that only he owns.

  Malibu Ron.

Sep 14 2016

21mins

Play

HBM125: Deepfaking Nixon

Podcast cover
Read more

There’s a beautifully written speech that was never delivered. Written for President Richard Nixon by Bill Safire, the speech elegizes astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11, who’d become stuck on the moon, and were left to die there.  In reality, Buzz and Neil made it home safely, but this contingency speech was written anyways, just in case. Sometimes it’s called The Safire Memo and is sometimes called In Event of Moon Disaster.

The latter title share its name with an installation that’s (as of publish date) on display for the first time at IDFA in the Netherlands.  This project by Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund explores an alternate past where Aldrin and Armstrong don’t make it home from the moon.  The film portion of the installation heavily features a reading of The Safire Memo by a computer generated version of President Nixon sitting in the Oval Office, reading from notes, making all the familiar facial expressions, sharing the same vocal tics, presidential timbre, and some of the Nixonian je ne sais quoi that makes the fake nearly believable. 

But it’s not Nixon.  And it’s not entirely accurate to say it’s an actor.  It’s a kind of mix of the two, a synthetic Nixon generated by a booming form of artificial intelligence called “deep learning” which creates mathematical models of complex systems, like speech.  Lewis Wheeler  (the actor tasked with providing the voice of Nixon) did not have to imitate Nixon’s voice, only provide a proper pacing an intonation.  From there, the artists hired several companies (including Re-Speecher and Vocal ID) trained a computer model to translate Lewis’s voice into Nixon’s.

This kind of deep-learned fakery (called “deepfakes”) currently usually falls somewhere in the uncanny valley—the tech is good enough to get create a strong impersonation of a voice, but one that sounds still a bit mechanical, or metallic.  This won’t be the case for long though, as more and more convincing deepfake voices emerge with each generation of new code.  

And on the visual front, current video deepfakes are often so good as often pass the gut check of credibility.  This may have been most famously demonstrated in a Buzzfeed article where comedian Jordan Peele impersonates President Obama’s voice and a video deepfake moves his face along with the spoken words.  

With the 2020 presidential elections looming, it seems almost inevitable that deepfakes will enter the media fray that’s meant to discredit political enemies, creating scandals that never happened.  And outside of politics, deepfake pornographers take up the task of swapping pornographic actresses’ faces with those of celebrities or the faces of female journalists they seek to discredit.  

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, Francesca and Halsey tell producer Jeff Emtman that deepfakes aren’t going to rupture society.  We’ve dealt with this before, whether it’s darkroom manipulations or photoshop, societies eventually learn how to detect deception. But the adjustment period can be rough, and they hope that In Event of Moon Disaster will help educate media consumers on the danger of taking media at face value, regardless of whether it’s deepfakes or just old-fashioned photo mis-captioning.

Also on this episode, Ahnjili Zhuparris explains how computers learn to speak, and we listen to some audio examples of how computer voices can fail, using examples from the paper Location-Relative Attention Mechanisms For Robust Long-Form Speech Synthesis.  Also heard: a presidential  parody deepfake from user Stable Voices on Youtube. 


Excerpt from the installation In Event of Moon Disaster by Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund.  This video is a deepfake.

Nov 27 2019

1hr

Play

HBM124: Banana Softies

Podcast cover
Read more

“Gene” says it started because he wanted to be a veterinarian. So he took a job as a research associate at a vivarium that studied cancer drugs. He was often alone in the lab at night with hundreds or thousands of research animals around him.  The monkeys were his favorite, especially the rhesus macaques. He loved to give them treats, play movies and Celine Dion for them. And sometimes he’d lean up against the cages to let his monkey friends groom him. He knew the work would be hard, but he believed his  was justified because the primate research helped people in the long run.

In his two years at the lab, Gene radiated a lot of monkeys.  He and his colleagues studied the deteriorating effects of radiation and the side effects of experimental cancer drugs seeking FDA approval. Once a monkey became too sick and lethargic, it was Gene’s job to euthanize them. He would hold them as they died and tell them he was sorry. 

After one study with a particularly high radiation doses, Gene found himself alone again in a lab late at night, euthanizing more monkeys and thinking to himself, “Those were my friends... Those were my fucking friends.” These words became the screamed lyrics to the unfinished, unpublished song that Gene performs in this episode.

Gene left the job shortly after writing the song, but he still works in medical research. He no longer performs euthanizations. 


Gene says that the monkeys enjoyed watching this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. 
An island in South Carolina where rhesus macaques are bred for scientific study

Nov 13 2019

16mins

Play

HBM123: Water Witches

Podcast cover
Read more

Some time in the 90’s, Kathy Emtman received a gift from her husband, Rick. It was a pair of bent metal rods, each shaped into long ‘L’. Nothing special, not imparted with any kind of magic, just metal rods. Colloquially, these rods are called “witching rods” or “dowsing rods”. 

HBM producer Jeff Emtman (child of Rick and Kathy) remembers a scene that took place the night of that gifting: each family member taking turns holding the rods, testing who had the gift of water witching. Each person held the rods by their short end with the long ends waving around in front of them. Gripped loosely enough, the rods spin freely, seemingly with a life of their own.  And believers say that when the rods cross, that’s where there’s water underground. That is...if a true witch is holding the rods.

Who’s a water witch? Well it depends who you ask. Some say that the gift is rare, some say that it’s in nearly all of us. It’s a folk belief, one not canonized in any central text and one not well supported by science. However, it persists (strongly in some places) as a regular thing for people to do when they need a well dug—cited as a way to gather a second opinion before paying a well driller to dig on their property. 

And this desire for a second opinion seems quite understandable. Wells in the Palouse Region of Eastern Washington State (where Jeff grew up) often require digging hundreds of feet to find water of sufficient quality and quantity to sustain a family or a farm. These wells might cost $10,000 to $30,000 each. Further, the well drillers charge per hole dug, regardless of whether there’s water down there. So, picking the right spot is paramount.

Well driller Brett Uhlenkott calls water witching a “farce”, preferring to drill based on his understanding of the landscape, his readings of the geologic maps and his knowledge of nearby successful wells. But he’s had clients who request he drill in a spot a witch found. And if that’s what his client wants, then that’s where he drills. 

Brett says there’s no mechanism for any information to travel the great distance between a witcher’s rods and a tiny vein of groundwater that runs hundreds of feet below the surface. Despite this, Brett keeps a pair of rods himself, saying that it might work for things closer to the surface. He cites an instance where he was able to locate a pipe or cable located several feet underground using the rods.  Brett thinks it might have something to do with minerals, or that it might just be something that we imagine in our heads.

The mechanism most often cited for the seemingly organic movements of a witcher’s rods is so-called ideomotor movement, which is the same thing that makes Ouija boards work.  Simply put, these motions are the result of unconscious movements we make when we feel something should work.  With witching, these motions get amplified by the long rods, resulting in movement that seems to emerge from nothing.  

Attempts to prove the validity of witching exist. Proponents cite a study by Hans-Dieter Betz that claimed incredible success rate in witched wells in countries with dry climates.  This paper received criticism for its unusual methodology.  Betz published another paper on water witching in a controlled environment, where he found a select few people who he claimed could reliably witch water, however that study also received criticism for its method of data analysis.  

Back in the 90’s.  Jeff held the rods, and he was able to find the pipes in the house, the sprinkler lines in the yard.  The rods moved convincingly, crossing where they were supposed to, uncrossing where they weren’t. 

In this episode of Here Be Monsters, Jeff revisits his hometown, debates the merits of black-box thinking with his parents (Rick and Kathy Emtman), talks with his grandma (Peggy Emtman) about the desire to have a talent she can’t have, interviews three farmers and a former farmhand (Ian Clark, Asa Clark, Ron Libbey and Owen Prout) about their experiences with witching, and asks his parents’ pastor (Wes Howell of Trinity Lutheran Church) to explain the origin of the term “hocus pocus”.

Others who helped with this episode include Lindsay Myron, Nick Long-Rinehart, Brandon Libbey, Mary Clark, Joe Hein, and Kirsten O’Brien.


Owen Prout and Ian Clark look for metal rods suitable to turn into witching rods at Clark Farms outside of Albion, Washington.
Owen Prout bends a metal rod to make it into the “L” shape of a witching rod. 

Pastor Wes Howell of Trinity Lutheran Church in Pullman, Washington. 

A drilling rig used by Brett Uhlenkott Well Drilling.  

When the boom arm is up, it is approximately 30 feet tall. 

Well digging on a currently vacant lot outside of Winchester, Idaho. 

Brett Uhlenkott estimates this well will cost his client about $9000. 

Farmer and amatuer water witch Ron Libbey. 

Ian Clark demos the characteristic crossing that happens when a witcher stands over water. 

Brandon Libbey (Ron LIbbey’s grandson) is not a water witch. 

Ron Libbey holds his grandson’s elbow saying that sometimes the skill can be

transferred to another person temporarily if there’s physical contact. 

Kathy Emtman, Rick Emtman and a formerly stray cat named Bert in the field behind their house,
looking for the pipe of a geothermal line. 

Kathy Emtman holding a the witching rods that her husband made for her in the nineties. 

The Emtman’s witching rods, which normally hang on a nail in the basement. 

Smoot Hill, near Albion, Washington. 

A proposed scientific mechanism for water witching.  

Oct 30 2019

48mins

Play

HBM122: Should Cows Have Names?

Podcast cover
Read more

Mike Paros lives in two worlds. In one world, he’s an animal welfare specialist and mixed animal vet, meaning he works with both “companion” animals like cats and dogs, and large animals like horses, cows, goats, and sheep. He spends much of his time as a veterinarian working with animals that eventually become meat, and most of his human clients are farmers that lean right politically.

In the other world, Mike is a college professor at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. There he teaches anthrozoology and agriculture to a predominantly liberal student body -- lots of vegans and anarchists. Crossing back and forth between these two worlds invites Mike to have many discussions about how to ethically treat animals, within and outside of the meat industry.

Producer Bethany Denton spent a day shadowing Mike as he disbuds and castrates dairy calves, and she asks him whether he thinks meat can be eaten ethically.

Bethany interviewed Mike in 2018 about a class he was teaching called “Liberal Education in the College Bubble: Crossing the Political and Cultural Divide.” You can listen to that story here.


Iris, the “pretty little heifer” just after being disbudded. Thurston County, Washington. Photo by Bethany Denton.
Dairy cows in stanchions waiting to be examined. Thurston County, Washington. Photo by Bethany Denton.

Oct 16 2019

30mins

Play

HBM121: True North

Podcast cover
Read more

Angels saved Here Be Monsters’ host Jeff Emtman once.  They picked him up and took care of him after a bad bike crash.  It was just one of many times that Jeff felt watched over by God.

Jeff used to think he might be a pastor someday.  And so, as a teenager, he made an active effort to orient his thoughts and deeds towards what God wanted. 

In this episode, Jeff tells four short stories about faith (and the lack thereof) through the metaphor of declination, or the distance in angle between the unmovable true north, and the ever shifting magnetic north.  

We have new stickers, commissioned from the incredible artist Violet ReedGet your HBM Can O’ Worms sticker at our store.


A 180 degree panorama in the middle of Holden Village, where Jeff spent his Junior year of high school. 
Trees discussed on the episode are pictured far left.  

Fields of wheat near Jeff’s childhood home.

Summer stars in the field behind Jeff’s childhood home.

A country highway near Jeff’s childhood home.

Meadow in the North Cascades near Holden Village. 

Jeff in the mountains near Holden Village several years after he attended high school there.

Spider Gap, a high mountain pass near Holden Village in the North Cascades. 

Oct 02 2019

34mins

Play

Season 8 = October 2

Podcast cover
Read more

KCRW’s Podcast about the unknown is back! Season 8 begins October 2nd, 2019.  Subscribe to Here Be Monsters for unusual audio documentaries about water divination, animal husbandry, seeing auras, deep sea exploration, and plenty more. 

New episodes every other Wednesday.  More about the show at HBMpodcast.com.

Sep 23 2019

1min

Play

HBM120: Own Worst Interest

Podcast cover
Read more

In the fall of 1989, in Vancouver, Washington, a short, 29 year-old man named Westley Allan Dodd raped and murdered three young boys. The boys were brothers Cole and William Neer, ages 10 and 11, and four year old Lee Isli.

A few weeks later, police arrested Westley at movie theater after he tried and failed to abduct another boy. He quickly confessed to the three murders. The prosecution sought the death penalty, and Dodd pled guilty.

Death penalty cases take a long time due to all the appeals built into the process. These appeals are designed to make sure the state hasn’t made any mistakes in the death sentence. They check for things like juror misconduct, incompetent defense lawyers, new evidence. Death penalty cases take years, sometimes decades.

Westley Allan Dodd did not want that. Instead, he wanted to be executed as quickly as possible.

In letters to the Supreme Court of Washington, Dodd urged the court to allow him to waive his right to appeal his death sentence. He believed he deserved to die for what he did, and wanted it done as soon as possible. Dodd was what’s known as a “volunteer”–someone who gives up their rights in order to hasten their own execution. The Death Penalty Information Center cites about 150 cases of “volunteers” in the United States.

Dodd’s case sparked debate both among people who supported and opposed the death penalty. Some argued he had the right to choose whether the court would review the validity of his death sentence. Others argued that the law ensures that all defendants have due process whether they want it or not.

In the meantime, Dodd continued to advocate for his own execution in interviews and in exchanges with his pen pals. He said he felt remorseful, and even wrote a self-defense booklet for kids to learn how to stay safe from men like him. The booklet was called “When You Meet A Stranger”.

The debate made its way to the Washington Supreme Court.  In a 7-2 ruling, they decided that Dodd did, in fact, have the right to waive his remaining appeals. After just three years on death row (5 years shorter than the national average at that time) the State of Washington hanged Westley Allan Dodd.

On this episode Bethany Denton interviews  Dodd’s former attorney Gilbert Levy. And defense attorney Jeff Ellis, who was a young lawyer during the time of the Dodd trial.   Bethany also talks to Becky Price, who was one of the recipients of Dodd’s pamphlet  “When You Meet A Stranger”.

Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 1 of 5 Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 2 of 5
Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 3 of 5
Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 4 of 5 Letter filed to the Supreme Court of Washington state on behalf of Westley Allan Dodd where he asserts his desire to be executed quickly and waive his remaining appeals. Page 5 of 5 Westley Allan Dodd’s Sentencing Verdict, in which a jury unanimously agrees that he should be put to death.  Page 1 of 1

This is our last episode of season 7. We’ll be back sometime in the fall, and we’ll let you know when as soon as we know on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

In the meantime, check out our Art Exchange. It’s like a Secret Santa, only it takes place in the summer and each gift is an original piece of art: sculpture, photography, poem, song, painting, all kinds of things. Click here to sign up (the deadline is June 12, 2019)

Jun 05 2019

26mins

Play

HBM119: An Episode of Pebbles and Twigs

Podcast cover
Read more

The end of our seventh season draws near! Just one more episode until we hang up our podcasting hats for a few months.  

We don’t want you to miss us too much though, so on this episode, we’re tying up some loose ends, answering some questions, and sharing ways that you can stay connected with us even when our podcast feed is quieter.

Here are five ways to stay connected during the dry months:

  1. HBM Summer Art Exchange.  You like to make art?  You like to get art? Exchange something with a fellow HBM listener.  All you have to do is fill out this form. It’s free (well, except for postage).

  2. Merch. Did you know that we have HBM shirts, stickers, art prints, books, sweatshirts?  Already have those?  Fear not, we’re working on a something new for next season.

  3. The VOICE Hotline Dataset.  In 2017, Jeff FOIA’d Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the records of the calls made to their VOICE hotline.  The (heavily redacted) spreadsheet contains 5,164 calls with many pieces of metadata for each call record.
    Get the data:

    1. Google Sheets Version. This is a version that we’ve cleaned up a tad, added some useful analysis to.  You can view and comment collaboratively here.

    2. CSV Version. This is a version that you can use offline in software like Excel and Tableau.

    3. ICE FOIA LIbrary Version.  This is straight from the source.  Our FOIA is listed under Reports → VOICE Log: Apr. 2017- Oct. 2017

  4. Super Secret Facebook Group.  We have a top secret Facebook group.  If you want to be a part of it, just find it.  That’s the only test to get in.

  5. Voicemail Line.  Call us anytime.  Tell us your stories or record strange sounds, or ask us questions.  We love it when you call. Our number is (765) 374-5263.

More reporting on the VOICE Hotline on Splinter and the Arizona Republic.

May 22 2019

31mins

Play

Listen to Lost Notes

Podcast cover
Read more

Lost Notes is a podcast that we love.  It’s about music. We think you should subscribe.  This episode comes from the new season and it’s about Suzanne Ciani, an early user of the modular synthesizer.  Ciani wound up being nominated 5 times for a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album, but gained her biggest audience from her iconic commercial work for Coca Cola and others.

May 15 2019

40mins

Play

HBM118: Mountain Seabed

Podcast cover
Read more

Life on earth began in the oceans.  And it used to be simpler. For the first few billion years, life consisted of microbes that didn’t really swim or hunt; they mostly floated and, if they were lucky, bumped into something they could engulf and digest. But that changed during the Cambrian period.

Over a relatively short period of time known as the Cambrian Explosion, organisms started becoming larger and more complex. For the first time they grew limbs and exoskeletons; intestines and eyes. Animals from this period developed strange body plans that look almost alien to the modern eye. It was an unprecedented surge of biodiversity.  But many of the animal groups that emerged during the Cambrian Period died soon after during an extinction event, their bizarre body plans perishing along with them. To paraphrase the evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, these were “early experiments in life’s history.” Among the survivors of the Cambrian extinction event was metaspriggina, a tiny fish the size of a human thumb. This tiny fish is one of the oldest ancestors of all vertebrate life on earth - including us.


A metaspriggina fossil. Metaspriggina is an ancient relative to all vertebrate life on earth. Photo by Molly Segal.
Animation of a metaspriggina swimming.

Over millions of years and tectonic shifts, Cambrian-era seabeds became modern-day mountains. Today, one of the best places in the world to study fossils from the Cambrian period is at the Burgess Shale fossil deposit, high in the Canadian Rockies. The animals fossilized in the rock were buried quickly in mud that had the right conditions to preserve the soft tissues like brains, organs, and muscles, giving paleontologists a detailed glimpse at some of the first complex life on earth. Scientists have been mulling over the Burgess Shale fossils since they were first excavated in 1909.

Stephen Jay Gould was one of those scientists fascinated by the Burgess fossils. He paid attention to the research coming out about them and started wondering what life would look like if a different set of animals had survived and our ancestors had died out. Would humans - or something like us - have ever evolved?  Gould thought not. In his 1989 book Wonderful Life, he came up with the ‘tape of life’ thought experiment. Gould wrote, “Wind back the tape of life to the early days of the Burgess Shale; let it play again from an identical starting point, and the chance becomes vanishingly small that anything like human intelligence would grace the replay.” This idea is called Evolutionary Contingency.


An interview with Stephen Jay Gould from the 1993 Dutch documentary series called A Glorious Accident.

Not everyone agreed with Gould. Most notably his contemporary Simon Conway Morris, another evolutionary biologist and paleontologist. Simon Conway Morris spent years studying the Burgess Shale, and it was his work that Gould had cited for his book about Evolutionary Contingency. Conway Morris disagreed with Gould’s interpretation that human intelligence was a fluke. He wrote his own book in 1998 called The Crucible of Creation and posited that, while life may have looked very different after a replay of the ‘tape of life’, consciousness may still have emerged in other forms. He wrote, “There are not an unlimited number of ways of doing something. For all its exuberance, the forms of life are restricted and channeled.” (p. 13) This idea is called Evolutionary Convergence.

A 2016 interview with Simon Conway Morris about evolutionary convergence, among other things. Part of Cambridge University’s Darwin Correspondence series.

In August 2018, producer Molly Segal joined a group of paleontologists, including Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum for their biennial dig at the Burgess Shale.  Caron believes that Contingency and Convergence both play a role in evolution, their debate has informed discussions about evolution ever since.


PhD student Joe Moysiuk examines the Shale. Photo by Molly Segal.
Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum,
uses a saw to split the Shale. Photo by Molly Segal.

Maryam Akrami holds a broken fossil. Maryam manages the invertebrate paleontology
collections at the Royal Ontario Museum. Photo by Molly Segal.

A specimen nicknamed “the spaceship” that has yet to be identified. Hammer for scale. Photo by Molly Segal.

May 08 2019

21mins

Play

HBM117: Grave Oversight

Podcast cover
Read more

Sudan has been involved in ongoing civil wars since 1983. The wars were about religion, culture and resources. By 2005, approximately two million civilians had died. In 2011, the southern part of the country voted to secede from the north, creating the new country of South Sudan.  But there were still three regions that were claimed by both north and south: Abyei, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. These regions are rich in oil and have fertile farmlands, so politicians and humanitarians predicted there would be violence following the secession. Civilians in these regions, mostly farmers and shepherds, would be caught in the middle.


Checkpoint near Kadugli, South Kordofan, Sudan. January 13, 2011. From the Satellite Sentinel Project report "Evidence of SAF Deployment in South Kordofan,"  Image credit: DigitalGlobe.
Checkpoint with barriers north of Abyei Town on road to Diffra. January 13, 2011. From the Satellite Sentinel Project report "Evidence of SAF Deployment in South Kordofan," Image credit: DigitalGlobe.

Nathaniel Raymond is a human rights investigator. He was looking into an alleged massacre in Afghanistan when he was introduced to the idea of using satellite imagery for humanitarian purposes. At that time, satellite images were sometimes used for documenting force swells and finding the locations of mass graves. But Nathaniel wondered if he could figure out a way to use satellite imagery proactively; what if he could figure out a way to see an attack coming and sound an alarm before anyone got hurt?


Nathaniel Raymond, former Director of Operations at the Sentinel Satellite Project. Photo by Jeff Emtman.

Nathaniel wasn’t the only one who had this idea. Actor George Clooney had also been researching ways to use satellites as “anti-genocide paparazzi” in Sudan through an organization he co-founded called The Enough Project. The Enough Project and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and others sponsored the project. The Satellite Sentinel Project partnered with the private satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe, who gave the SSP permission to point some of their satellites where they pleased and take pictures. By December 2010, the Satellite Sentinel Project was in full swing, inventing a new methodology for analyzing satellite imagery of active conflict in real time.

The mission of the Satellite Sentinel Project was threefold:

  1. Warn civilians of impending attacks,
  2. document the destruction in order to corroborate witness testimony in later investigations, and
  3. potentially dissuade the governments in both Sudan and South Sudan from returning to war in the first place.

“We wanted to see if being under surveillance would change the calculus… If they knew we were watching, would they not attack?” The Satellite Sentinel Project would release their reports at midnight so that they would be available in time for morning news in East Africa.

Critics of Satellite Sentinel Project say that South Sudan shouldn’t be a playground for experimental humanitarian efforts bankrolled by a foreign movie star. And Nathaniel says the critiques are valid. “It was always a Hail Mary pass. And, we must be clear, it was always an experiment, which in and of itself is problematic. But… what else are we going to do, sit on our hands?”


Fire burning near Abyei town.  May 24, 2011. Image credit: DigitalGlobe.
Three alleged mass graves in Kadugli, South Sudan. July 4, 2011. Image credit: DigitalGlobe

Satellite Sentinel Project released a total of 28 reports over 18 months. The methodology Nathaniel and his team developed is still being taught at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Today Nathaniel Raymond is a lecturer on Global Affairs at Yale’s Jackson Institute. Special thanks to Ziad al Achkar, one of Nathaniel’s colleagues from Satellite Sentinel Project that helped us with this episode.


Nathaniel Raymond’s 2018 talk on Satellite Sentinel Project at the EyeO Festival 2018.
PBS Newshour Reporting on Satellite Sentinel Project’s documentation of burned villages in South Sudan.

Apr 24 2019

30mins

Play

HBM116: Finest and Most Rotten (Going Forward)

Podcast cover
Read more

Mar 21, 1919 - NEW YORK CITY
An anonymous writer for the New York Tribune stands at 154 Nassau.  The writer asks passers-by a simple question: “Do you think this is a good world?”  It’s just four months after Armistice Day, and on the tail of a flu pandemic that killed 55 million worldwide.  The writer publishes five answers, ranging from “damned rotten” to “the finest”. Mar 21,

Mar 21, 2019 - NEW YORK CITY
Producer Ula Kulpa stands at the same spot and flags down passers-by 100 years later and asks the same question, “Do you think this is a good world?”  Today, life expectancies are up, yet we still fight wars. We are still sometimes cruel to loved ones and strangers. So, with the perspective of an additional century, what do New Yorkers think about the world’s goodness?


New York City letter carrier wearing mask to protect against Spanish Flu in 1918. Via The National Archives.
The original column from 1919 in which “The Inquiring Colyumist”
asks their question for a piece in the New York Tribune.

An Armistice Day celebration on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in 1918. Photo by Paul Thompson via The New York Times.

Apr 10 2019

17mins

Play

HBM115: Bound in Walton et al.

Podcast cover
Read more

A highway robber with many aliases lay on his deathbed after contracting a bad flu. He dictated his life story to his captors before succumbing to his illness in July of 1837.  His captors published the highwayman’s story posthumously with the title: Narrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman. Being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison.  


The cover of James Allen’s book, which states in Latin that the book has been bound in “Walton’s” skin, where “Walton” was a pseudonym used by Allen.  Also a warning to wear gloves while handling the book, as the binding may contain residual arsenic or other dangerous substances from the tanning process.
Title page of James Allen’s memoirs.

The story he tells details common robbery, horse theft, jewel trafficking, many jailbreaks, and several yellings of the phrase “Your money or your life!” with pistols drawn.

The book might have passed into obscurity if it weren’t for a dirty grey leatherbound copy that resides at The Boston Athenaeum. It bears a Latin inscription on its front cover: “HIC LIBER WALTONIS CUTE COMPACTUS EST” or (roughly), “This book is bound in Walton’s skin.”

As legend has it, the highwayman Allen (aka. Walton) requested that his memoirs be gifted to a man whom he once tried and failed to rob, Mr. John Fenno Jr.  Further, the highwayman requested that the book be bound in his own skin.

Books bound in human skin are rare, though not unheard of.  As of publish date, the Anthropodermic Book Project has confirmed 18 such books, and identified another 12 books previously thought to be human, but revealed to be of more customary leathers.  Narrative of the life of James Allen… resides in the former category, being confirmed as human skin via a test called Peptide Mass Fingerprinting.

Dawn Walus, Chief Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum told HBM host Jeff Emtman that when they sent a sample of the book’s binding off for PMF testing, she and other athenaeum staff hoped the results would come back negative.  Dawn considers the binding to be a bit of spectacle, and a distraction from the hundreds of thousands of other books in their collection, “I don’t think we want to be known as ‘the place that has the skin book.’…It seems out of place today.”


Dawn Walus, Chief Conservator of the Boston Athenaeum, standing in the conservation lab.

Mar 27 2019

22mins

Play

HBM114: Envisioning AIDS

Podcast cover
Read more

In a warm and dark room in the winter of 1987, people lay on the ground with their eyes closed.  A facilitator from the Shanti Project guides those assembled on an intimate visualization through the process of dying from AIDS.  

This took place at the Interfaith Conference on AIDS and ARC for Clergy and Caregivers in San Francisco.  The conference hoped to give religious organizations tools to help their dying congregants. The conference featured speakers representing Catholicism, Judaism, many Protestant denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religions.  

AIDS was a major issue at the time, with no cure in sight, and many many deaths per year.  And anti-queer rhetoric (see Jerry Fallwell), laws (see Bowers v Hardwick) and attitudes (see Pew poll on political values 1987) were all common.

Around the same time as this conference, the FDA approved a drug called AZT for the treatment of HIV.  It was highly anticipated, but ultimately considered a failure.  More years would pass and many more people would die before the approval of effective anti-retroviral drugs.  And even more years before the first (and possibly second) cases of HIV would be cured.  


News Clips from the 80’s and 90’s regarding HIV and AIDS, which were also known
as “HTLV-3” and “ARC” at the time.

But back in that darkened room in 1987, people laid on the ground with their eyes closed for an hour, while they tried to imagine what it would feel like to be covered in lesions...to sit in a doctor’s office when the receptionist refuses to make eye contact...to watch from above as people try to resuscitate their dead bodies...and to observe their own funerals...all in effort to better understand better the questions people with AIDS were likely asking of themselves and their loved ones—a practice that AIDS scholar Lynne Gerber says was common at this time in the new age circles of the Bay Area.

On this episode, Lynne explains some of the context around queerness and medicine and religion and AIDS.  She’s writing a book about these topics, and also making an upcoming podcast series with audio producer Ariana Nedelman.  Ariana provided us with the audio from the visualization practice via the UCSF Archives.

Mar 13 2019

36mins

Play

HBM113: The Last Ones

Podcast cover
Read more

Bethany Denton’s been thinking about grief a lot lately. In 2017, two of her friends, a mother and a daughter, died unexpectedly just two months apart. Since then, Bethany’s started seeing grief in just about everything, including a caribou at Woodland Park Zoo that dropped her antlers after a miscarriage.

Bethany’s good friend, Jesse Brenneman has also been thinking a lot about grief. It was his mother and sister who died in 2017. And shortly after that, his grandfather and father died too. So over the span of a year and two months, Jesse lost his entire immediate family.

When Bethany told Jesse about the grieving caribou mother who’d dropped her antlers after miscarriage, Jesse suggested contacting his next door neighbor Ben Long. Ben is a writer and conservationist with an affinity for caribou.

On a snowy January morning, the three of them drove out to the Flathead National Forest outside of Kalispell, Montana for a walk in the woods. They hoped to find caribou tracks in the snow. Caribou used to be plentiful in northwestern Montana and throughout the continental United States. These days, due to deforestation and destruction of their habitat, the caribou population in the lower 48 could be as low as three animals.

You may recognize Jesse’s voice from his time as a producer for WNYC’s On The Media. Today he is a freelancer of many disciplines living and working in Missoula, Montana.


Bethany Denton and Ben Long walking along a ridge near Finger Lake in the
Flathead National Forest in Montana.  Photo by Jesse Brenneman.
Stillwater Creek frozen over.  Photo by Bethany Denton.

Ben Long and Bethany Denton on the trail to Finger Lake in the Flathead National Forest.

Photo by Jesse Brenneman. 

Jesse’s dad Joe eating a Jolly Rancher with his dog Sam.
Joe died a few weeks later. Photo by Jesse Brenneman.

Jesse’s mom Cathy and sister Erin at Flathead Lake.  Photo by Jesse Brenneman.

Music: Jesse Brenneman | | | The Black Spot


Face the Racist Nation, a piece produced by Jesse Brenneman for WNYC’s On The Media.


HBM064: A Shinking Shadow, in which Bethany talks to Jesse’s sister Erin about her eating disorder.

Feb 27 2019

28mins

Play

HBM112: Negative Space

Podcast cover
Read more

Back when HBM host Jeff Emtman was a photographer, he used to solve his problems with walks in the woods. There, he’d see the ways that branches frame the sky. As an artistic concept, negative space gets hogged a lot by the visual arts. In this episode, Jeff attempts to wrestle the concept into the sonic world; address his current problems by listening to the spaces between words and by listening to the ambiences of a semi-empty, possibly haunted hotel.

Music: The Black Spot
💀👉
Buy our book!👈🐏


Joe, photo by Jeff Emtman, 2011
Lizzie, photo by Jeff Emtman, 2011
Kelsey, photo by Jeff Emtman, 2011

HBM021: Potential Energy, the version with words.

Feb 13 2019

21mins

Play

HBM111: Waiting for Earth

Podcast cover
Read more

Motherhood always seemed non-negotiable for Bethany Denton. Her upbringing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints certainly instilled this. Mormons believe in what’s called a “premortal existence,” a place up in heaven where the eternal souls eagerly wait their turn to be born on Earth so they can prove their faith to Heavenly Father, and then return to glory in the afterlife.

For Mormons, life on Earth is just a short test, an opportunity to practice free agency and serve God’s will. That’s why leaders of the LDS Church like Elder Dallin H. Oaks are concerned about falling birth rates among members of the church. They believe that “one of the most serious abuses of children is to deny them birth.”

This belief in pre-life gives additional weight to God’s commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.” It’s about more than maintaining the populations; it’s about giving other children of God a chance to live.

As an adult, Bethany lost her faith in the LDS Church. She stopped believing that her primary purpose in life was to be a mother, and for the first time, she started to seriously consider what her life would be without children.


Bethany Denton and Roberto Molina on their wedding day. Photo by Zephyr Wadkins.
Bethany Denton as a child.
Roberto Molina as a child.
Bethany Denton and her little sister Shelby in 1994.
LDS Elder Neil L. Andersen on Childbearing
Saturday’s Warrior, a 1989 Mormon Musical about the Premortal Existence and childbearing.
Alexandra Paul’s TED Talk on Overpopulation.

Music: The Black Spot ||| Lucky Dragons

Jan 30 2019

29mins

Play

HBM110: Big Numbers

Podcast cover
Read more

For two thirds of his life, HBM host Jeff Emtman has been thinking about the distance to The Moon in terms of corn snacks. Bugles specifically. It was a factoid written on the packaging that purported to convey information about the distance to the moon. The number itself has been long forgotten, but the taste of degermed yellow corn meal lingers.

In this episode, Jeff takes issue with the significance that is placed on large and round numbers. And he talks to his 2 year old nephew while they play the piano. And he interviews his brother about larger and smaller infinities. And he makes podcast music on a tiny sampler. But mostly he complains about turning 30, a number that’s round, if you count in base ten.

But not everyone uses base 10. Several languages of Papa New Guinea use base 27, using not only their fingers, but parts across all their upper body. And many others from across the world have settled on base 20.

It’s possible that numbers are an advanced technology of language to make the abstract more palatable. Homesigners are people who develop their own sign languages independent from established sign languages. In a 2011 study called Number Without a Language Model, researchers contacted several homesigners who lived in numerate societies, but apparently had not developed strong words for numbers past three or so.

Big thank you to Alan Emtman, Brian Emtman, Ariana Nedelman and Ross Sutherland (who produces the fantastic podcast Imaginary Advice [this episode contains excerpts from Episode 49, “Re: The Moon”]).

Music: The Black Spot | | | Serocell

FYI our voicemail number is (765) 374-5263. Give us a call sometime.

Jan 16 2019

26mins

Play

HBM109: Untitled Noises of New York (Sound Matters)

Podcast cover
Read more

HBM host Jeff Emtman travels to New York City in an effort to fulfill open-ended recording assignments issued from afar by Tim Hinman for an episode of Bang & Olufsen’s Sound Matters podcast.

It should be noted that in this episode, Tim incorrectly states that Jeff is from the “lentil capital of Washington State.” In fact, Jeff is from the self-proclaimed lentil capital of the world.

This episode was produced and scored by Tim Hinman. Tim also hosts the fantastic podcast Third Ear.

Read an interview with Jeff about the creation of HBM over on Bang and Olufsen’s blog. Interview by Nathaniel Budzinski.

Buy our new book!


A tree in an unnamed location of Central Park.


Jeff dangles most of his recording equipment into the Hudson River.

Jan 02 2019

27mins

Play

HBM108: Witch of Saratoga

Podcast cover
Read more

Angeline Tubbs may have been as old as 104 when she died alone in the woods, in a hut she made with her own hands. She came to America with a British officer who fought in the Battle of Saratoga (see HBM074: Benedict Arnold Makes People Nervous).


Only known photograph of Angeline Tubbs. Circa 1860.  
Republished in the January 30th, 1959 issue of The Saratogan.

It’s uncertain what happened to the officer, but soon after the battle, Angeline began living a hermit’s life, on the outskirts of society, alone in the forest with her cats. She foraged and hunter her food. Only rarely did she venture into the newly forming town of Saratoga Springs, where she made money by telling fortunes.

On this episode, producer Alessandra Canario walks into the woods near where Angeline Tubbs lived and died. She builds her own shelter, makes a fire, and cooks her own food. Alessandra wonders if she too might be a “witch,” due to a kinship she formed with trees as a child. But she also hears echoes of her mother’s warnings against being outside without a man for protection.


Alessandra Canario camps in a homemade shelter in the woods near
Saratoga Springs, New York.  Photo by Alessandra Canario.


Leaves falling in the woods.  Captured by Alessandra Canario.

Dec 19 2018

18mins

Play