Rank #1: HBM060: The Predators of McNeil Island [EXPLICIT]
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)
- They must have been convicted or charged of a sexually violent crime.
- They must be suffer from a "personality disorder" or a "mental abnormality", and
- 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
Apr 20 2016
Rank #2: HBM123: Water Witches
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
Rank #3: HBM097: Fox Teeth
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.
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.
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
Rank #4: HBM100: Faraway Minds
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.
Jun 06 2018
Rank #5: HBM034: The Grandmother And The Vine Of The Dead
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
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
Rank #6: HBM091: Hypnosis of Hunger
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
Rank #7: HBM022: The Holy Ghost Fixes David's Brain
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
Aug 07 2013
Rank #8: HBM024: The Friendliest Town In Texas [Explicit]
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/
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
Rank #9: HBM121: True North
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.
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
Rank #10: HBM080: The Ocean of Halves [EXPLICIT]
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.
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
Rank #11: HBM038: Do Crows Mourn Their Dead?
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:
Flower Petal Downpour: @flower-petal-downpour
The Black Spot: theblackspot.bandcamp.com/
Sep 10 2014
Rank #12: HBM108: Witch of Saratoga
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
Rank #13: HBM120: Own Worst Interest
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
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
Rank #14: HBM125: Deepfaking Nixon
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
Rank #15: HBM084: Are You Sure You’re Awake?
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.
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.
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
Rank #16: HBM059: When Cthulhu Calls
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.
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
Rank #17: HBM096: Are We Still Afraid?
Here Be Monsters is almost 100 episodes old. It’s grown a lot since Jeff was a scared 22 year old learning audio editing in his basement. So as we approach the milestone, we take a look back, check in with some of our memorable guests, and take the chance to answer some listener questions while we’re at it.
On this episode we’ll hear updates from or about:
Luke Eldridge and his sons Griff and Ira from HBM076: Griff’s Speech,
Remi Dun from HBM080: An Ocean of Halves,
Muhammad Tariq from HBM077: Snow on Date Trees, Then on Pines,
Tyler Higgins from HBM052: Call 601-2-SATAN-2,
Patti Negri from HBM054: Flaming Sword of Truth,
Erin from HBM064: A Shrinking Shadow
And Jacob Lemanski from HBM015: Jacob Visits Saturn and HBM072: Ant God.
You can call us any time at (765) 374 - 5263.
Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Nick White is our editor at KCRW.
Apr 11 2018
Rank #18: HBM040: The Reformation Bible Puritan Baptist Church [EXPLICIT]
Eric Jon Phelps knows a lot of things. He knows that the Pope controls the world. He knows that it was the Jesuits who poisoned him in Tampa. And he knows that we can avoid the Vatican's plans to incite global race wars is to keep the races separate. Eric is the pastor of rural Pennsylvania's Reformation Bible Puritan Baptist Church.
The strange thing about Eric is that he's completely open he is about his views--and he doesn't shy from criticism. He's exceedingly knowledgeable about the Protestant Christianity which makes him a fantastic and outspoken preacher. However, the teachings of his church have landed him a spot on the Hate Map of America, which is where HBM Producer Emile B Klein found him.
In this episode, Emile visits the church to investigate the story of Eric's rise and fall in the bizarre, radical, niche world of anti-papal internet talk radio and finds out how Eric's upbringing in the Civil Rights Era informed his views on white supremacy.
Emile also speaks with Mark Potok, who is a Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who thinks that Eric should be ostracized and shunned by society.
Eric Jon Phelps speaking about the dangers of The Vatican at a conspiracy theory convention while wearing a black, hooded cloak.
This episode, more than any other in our archive, is morally troubling, for many reasons. One resource on that Emile recommends as supplementary reading for this episode is Jonathan Haidt's wonderful book, The Righteous Mind.
The Righteous Mind was essential for Emile's epiphany [spoiler alert] that hating hate is unproductive. Emile says:
"All in all, I know that I am taking a pretty unlikable stand, but it's a stand I think is decent in the long run."
This episode contains a 6 minute excerpt from a roundtable intervention between multiple First Amendment Radio hosts. It has been highly edited for time. The original intervention lasted 2 hours and can be heard in its entirety right here.
Please note that this episode is full of bad language and bigoted ideas and factual errors. We tread on some pretty delicate subjects on this episode, please let us know how we're doing.
Emile B Klein and Jeff Emtman co-produced this piece. Emile is a radio producer and a painter who’s been touring the country by bike for the last 4 years. He is the Director at You’re U.S., which is a non-profit that highlights the qualities that tie together modern Americans through arts and craftsmanship.
This episode is Dedicated to Roy Silberstein, who always fought for the underdog.
Music on the show from
The Black Spot | Olecranon Rebellion | Serocell | Cloaking | Lucky Dragons
Oct 29 2014
Rank #19: HBM071: The Evangelists of Nudism
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.
Jan 18 2017
Rank #20: HBM112: Negative Space
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.
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