'Murder in the Rain' podcast takes deeper look at horrific crimes
Emily Rowney has always been intrigued by the story of the "outliers" — people in society who snap and commit horrific crimes.
Her mother had dated somebody close to a man who committed murder, and later she read the newspaper stories about the crime. As she grew older, Rowney became interested in shining the light on such individuals, especially ones who commit crimes against children.
Alisha Holland said true crime has always interested her, starting when her grandmother introduced her to true-crime books. She and her mother would watch "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" and "The Twilight Zone," and later, shows such as "Rescue 911," "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Forensic Files" piqued her interest.
It's not the most pleasant of topics, but together the women examine heinous crimes committed in Portland and the Pacific Northwest for their "Murder in the Rain" podcast. One of them researches and tells the story and the other adds commentary.
"What we pride ourselves on is when somebody comes to us and says, 'Wow I hadn't heard that before,'" Rowney said. "Cases like that are hard, because there are documentaries everywhere and shows focused on it. We want to make sure we're bringing something unique and interesting to it."
Said Holland: "We take this very seriously, we don't sit and laugh over things. These are people's family members and victims of really horrible crimes."
They have produced 25 podcasts, which can be heard at MurderInTheRain.com.
They have other jobs, but their passion lies with telling the stories. They team with producer Josh McCullough to do research and conduct interviews with subjects close to the events.
"They've been friends for like 20 years, so it's very natural," McCullough said. "They have a great back and forth. They're both charming and personable and great at conversation —
very funny, quick-witted, great writers."
A recent topic was Canadian serial killer Clifford Olson, who confessed to murdering 11 children and young adults in the 1980s.
The podcasters also have told the story of Mulugeta Seraw, a black man killed by white supremacists in Portland in 1988, and Larry Hurwitz and the Starry Night Murder from the 1980s (researched extensively by The Tribune's Jim Redden).
"How do we tell the story in a new and interesting way, that isn't regurgitating the same things?" Holland said.
An upcoming podcast looks at notorious serial killer Ted Bundy and a young girl believed to be his first victim.
Holland told the story of Whitney Heichel, the Gresham woman abducted and killed by an obsessed neighbor and fellow church member, Jonathan Holt, in 2012.
It hit close to home, as Holland, 36, grew up in Troutdale.
"I was a nanny after school at the apartment building where she had gone missing from," Holland said. "I just remember those days, when everyone's out in the parking lot, people are searching, police are there. Very sad. She was about my age. It could have been anyone."
Another case that affected Holland was the 2014 Reynolds High School shooting in which student Jared Padgett opened fire and killed Emilio Hoffman.
"We spoke with Emilio's girlfriend at the time, and she had a brand-new perspective," Holland said. "That opportunity to get deeper into a case really paints a new picture for sure."
The Lovers' Lane murder of the 1960s, documented by Portland writer Phil Stanford, also interested her.
"It's this tie that it was perhaps the first killing of the Zodiac killer," Holland added. "But reading Phil's book, you see all the ties of people who got convicted for it that were released on parole within a couple years. It was this other guy, Ed Edwards."
Rowney, 38, who grew up in Corvallis, felt compelled to tell the story of the missing person's case of Brooke Wilberger from 2004.
The killer, Joel Courtney, agreed to reveal the location of Wilberger's body — on private property between Corvallis and Newport — in exchange for being able to stay at a prison near his family in New Mexico.
"I went to college (Oregon State) at the same time," Rowney said. "It was scary. It just resonated, it could have been any of us."
Rowney also told the story of two young girls found dead at Point Defiance near Tacoma, Washington, in the 1980s. They were Jennifer Bastian and Michelle Welch, and both were found in parks. They had been sexually assaulted.
"It was one of the first cases in the (region) where they used familial DNA to find the perpetrator," Rowney said. "It ended up being two people; they thought it was a serial killer."
Neither Rowney nor Holland have a journalism background. They realize it's sensitive material, and while it's satisfying to share stories, they don't take the subject matter for granted.
Said Holland: "We work really hard to say we are just people who are reading and writing what we're seeing. We try so dilligently. If there are people we can talk to, we'll talk to them, if there are more resources, we look at that to make sure it's as accurate as possible."
Added Rowney: "I love science, I love fact-checking and all that nerdy stuff. It brings a nice element of creativity. We are diligent about our facts. ... We're not just doing this because we want people to hear us, we want to help as much as we can."
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