ACT I

Episode 101: Homecoming

 

Paul: Hello. My name is Paul Hoffmann. I am the former CEO of (beeped out). This story is about a former employee of mine: Robin Dern, and her college friend, Emma Barnes. The following recordings have been under unmatched scrutiny by countless authorities but, finally, the investigations have come to a close.

The recordings you’re about to hear are from the few days that Robin spent in the town of Lonesome Pine with her friend Emma Barnes. They were looking into the unsolved case of June Barnes, Emma’s younger sister. Emma disappeared almost a decade ago.

I want the world to hear Robin’s work. My hope is that someone, somewhere might have information about what happened.

Emma Barnes and Robin Dern are both missing persons. Robin (pause) is presumed dead.

(Intro song: “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”)

Robin: Lonesome Pine. It’s a beautiful town tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, near the crossing of the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and North Carolina. It’s a town that’s as likely to have a parade celebrating a spelling bee winner as it is for a national holiday. Winter is bitter cold, summer unbearably hot, but autumn and spring are just right...and picturesque.

It’s small-town America, right off the front of a post- card. Friday nights mean football. Saturdays are devoted to family outings. And Sundays are for church and fellowship.

But could Lonesome Pine—this hidden American treasure-- possibly be hiding dark secrets?

My name is Robin Dern. I’m a researcher and reporter for beeped out). I’ve travelled from Washington, DC under the supervision of my editor in chief, Paul Hoffmann, to Lonesome Pine. I’m here to investigate a missing person or, at least according to Emma Barnes, a murder.

Robin:Okay,I’mrecording.WouldyoumindifIasked you the same questions I did when we met for coffee a few weeks ago? I’d just like to have the audio on file for [trails off]...

Emma:Thepodcast?Yeah,sure.

Robin:Great.Juststartbyintroducingyourself.Who

are you, what do you do, that whole thing.

Emma:MynameisEmmaBarnes,I’m20—uhhh,something (chuckle from Robin) and I work as a freelance photographer.

Robin: Full disclosure, Emma and I have known each other since college. We were friends, but I hadn’t spoken to her much since I finished my degree.

Robin:Ifitmakesyoufeelanybetter,Ijustturned 30. [Mocking Emma’s words, saying it more matter-of- factly]. Okay, so tell me, why did you contact me?

Emma:[pausing,thejovialityintheirconversation clearly gone] My sister, June Barnes, was murdered. And I want to find out why.

Robin:Officiallyshe’samissingperson,correct?

Emma:Officially?Officially,that’sbullshit.

Robin:Right...sorry...[notentirelysurewhatshe’s apologizing for]. To be clear, you do know I’m not really that kind of journalist, right? I usually write pieces about how a new law is going to affect a local family or fact check someone else’s report on the most effective ways to improve waste management services in DC. I don’t have much experience with murder investigations.

Emma:IcametoyoubecauseIrememberyoufrom school. You seemed like a nice person then, and for some reason, I think you’re the person that I can trust the most with this. You’re not from here, and you don’t know anyone here – an outsider – maybe that means, around here, you should be trusted less...but with this? It means I trust you more. And I’ve looked

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at some of your stuff...you’re pretty good at what you do.

Robin:Thanks,alwaysnicetoknowsomeone’sreading [false humor, trying to lighten the mood]. Well, let’s start with some basics and maybe get some of the obvious questions out of the way—why not go to the police?

Emma:Wedid...ormyparentsdidanyway,backwhen she...June...first went missing. They claimed to search for a while, but they worked barely over the minimum amount of time before they could close the case. They said she clearly must have just...run away. A rebellious kid who hated her parents, wanted to go out into the world and see what she could grab on to, tired of the small town life... That was over ten years ago.

Robin:And,obviously,youdon’tbelievethattobe the case?

Emma:No,likeIsaidbefore,it’sallbullshit.

Paul: As you might have gathered, Emma and Robin didn’t know each other all that well. Actually, Robin told me that they had barely known each other at all. Robin was a T.A. in one of Emma’s undergraduate classes. One semester helping with a few research papers; “friends” on social media; that was about it. I never met Emma, but, listening to these tapes now...there’s something about her that’s so...sad.

Robin:Alright.Let’sgetrighttotheheartofthe matter. What do you think happened to June?

Emma:Itoldyou.Ithinkshewasmurdered.

Robin:Averyseriousclaim.Whatmakesyouthink

that?

Emma:Toomanyissuesaboutthecasejustdon’tadd up. First, she wasn’t the kind of kid who would run away. (Pause) She was happy. She didn’t do drugs or hang with any kind of bad crowd, never talked about wanting to live somewhere else...she didn’t even leave a note or say goodbye to anyone!

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Robin:Ican’tclaimtoknowwhatmakesapersonmore likely to run away, but I do know that I was a pretty moody teenager. No one would have called me, “the type,” but I definitely considered running away on more than one occasion.

Emma:Yeah,butyouneverwentthroughwithit,did you?

Robin:No.GothalfwaythroughpackingabagbeforeI realized I had it pretty good at home.

Emma:Exactly.Junewasn’tunhappy.Shewasn’tbeing abused or teased. She got along with our parent (pause) and with me. She wasn’t perfect, but she was a good kid. What could she have possibly had to run from? Or to?

Robin:Okay,soyou’vetoldmewhyyouthinkshe didn’t run away. But why do you think someone killed her?

Emma:Forthesamereasons.Ifyouacceptthatshe didn’t run away, what are the alternatives? Kidnapped? Wouldn’t there have been a ransom? Accidental death? Like falling down a mine or some old well? I guess there’s a chance, a lot of those around here, but the search never turned up any evidence of that. Not that that’s a surprise, its not like June was a big camper. The closest she got to nature was sitting on the back porch reading. And our porch was screened in. I’d have an easier time believing the grand piano came alive and swallowed her whole while she was practicing one day than that she had up and decided to go hiking without telling anyone. No, my sister was murdered. I know it.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

Paul: Let’s take a step back. Emma contacted Robin out of the blue, but social media let’s us know what’s up with a person even without direct contact. Emma knew where Robin was, what Robin did for a living. Emma sent a message saying she was in DC for the weekend and was wondering if the two of them could meet up for coffee and chat, catch up. Robin figured she was going to be pumped for job opportunities, networking connections. As that conversation

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went on, Robin was convinced to follow Emma back to Lonesome Pine.

Paul: Robin occasionally would record voice messages directly for me. The following is one such message sent to me after she arrived for the first time in Lonesome Pine.

Robin: Hey Paul, Emma and I are here in southwest Virginia. The town has a kind of lazy vibe...nice, though. Kind of quaint. You ever see The Andy Griffith Show? Anyway, it’s really beautiful...we went to this overlook off the highway and the fog was rolling off the mountains into the valley...almost looked like a bowl of mashed potatoes, but I think the beauty is lost in that image... I’ve been told the leaves are about to change, and that’s when we’ll start getting the smell of bonfires, apple-cinnamon, clove. A lot different than the smell of DC. It’s ... charming. It’s hard to imagine that a 15-year-old girl could get murdered in such a sweet place.

Robin:Woulditbeokayifwetalkedalittlebit about your family?

Emma:Sure.

Robin:Great.(Pause)Tellmeaboutyourparents.

Emma:Mydadwasinthemilitarywhenhewasyounger, worked on Army vehicles and did base maintenance. When he got home, he just...kept on doin’ that. Mom stayed at home.

Robin:Andwherearetheynow?

Emma:Daddiedaboutfiveyearsago.Heartattack.Mom

passed away three months ago—ovarian cancer.

Robin:I’msorrytohearthat.

Emma:Yeah...[tryingtojoke]ifsocialsecurityruns out before our generation hits retirement, it won’t be because of the Barnes’.

Paul: I couldn’t help but wonder if the sudden interest in reopening a painful episode from her past was part of her grieving process now that both parents were gone. I

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couldn’t help but wonder—was she grasping for straws out of sorrow for her mom?

Robin:HowlongdidyouliveinLonesomePine?

Emma:Oh,IneveractuallylivedinLonesomePine.

Robin:What?Ithoughtyourfamilywasfromhere?

Emma:Nope.We’refromjustoverthemountainin Kingsport, Tennessee. I was already in my second semester of college when my family moved to Lonesome Pine. I only visited a few times before June’s disappearance.

Robin:Oh,wow.Ok,Iassumedyougrewuphere.You know, the accent and all.

Emma:Thisaccent,wellalotofvariantsofthis accent, is from all over these mountains. But no, I’m not from Lonesome Pine. I’m almost as much of a stranger here as you. I mean, I attended some church services and went to the occasional football game but I wasn’t around enough to really be a resident. People would recognize my name because of all the news coverage when June disappeared, but I doubt anyone would recognize my face here now.

Robin:DoyoumindifIaskyouabitaboutthenight June went missing?

Emma:Actually,canwetakeabreak[quicker, breathing heavier]? I know we just got started but I need to, uh...I don’t know...rest. I think being back here is stirring up a lot of ... stuff.

Robin:[Offbalance]Sure.Noproblem.Wecancontinue later...[quickly adds] whenever you’re up for it.

Emma:Thanks.

Paul: Before we go any further, a bit of background. Robin was a researcher and occasional journalist for a fledgling news site that I started called themarshcave.com (bleeped out). Counting myself, six people worked for this organization. In Washington DC, we covered the inner workings of the city. We focused on human interest stories

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that were related to current legislation up for debate or programs that were in danger of losing funding. Business had been...slow. Stuck may be more accurate.

We had a meeting a month before the Lonesome Pine assignment discussing how to increase traffic and subscriptions—Robin was assigned to look at the feasibility of doing a web series or podcast...a lot of news outlets are doing that these days. Shortly into Robin’s research, Emma contacted her. After listening to her story, Robin asked about the possibility of turning this into the podcast. It wasn’t DC oriented and had no connection to public policy, but, Robin argued, this was the kind of story that could capture attention.

Paul:ThisstoryhasnoconnectiontoDCorpublic policy.

Robin:No,butIfigure,worst-casescenario,wecould look at it as a learning experience!

Paul: For the record, I didn’t know I was being recorded at the time. I guess Robin wanted to show me how a podcast could work with just recording conversations.

Paul:(Pause)Hmmm.Iagreethatthestoryhas potential...but I just don’t know how it would fall in line with what we do—you know, the whole point of our organization? Also, have you ever even done a podcast before?

Robin:Nah,butI’llbeabletofigureitout!Iknow how to interview and I know how to write; the rest, we’ll figure out along the way!

Paul:(Pause)Prosandcons.
Paul: This was a game Robin and I would play when deciding

whether or not to pursue a story.

Robin:Pro:newexperience.

Paul:Con:doesn’tfitourmissionstatement.

Robin:Pro:let’susbranchoutabit,pullinnew subscribers.

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Paul:Con:It’llcostmoneywedon’thave.

Robin:Pro:I’lltakevacationtimetocoverthis,two

weeks tops.

Paul:Con:you’vealreadytakenyourvacationtimefor the year.

Robin:Pro:I’llfundeverythingexceptmyhotel.

Paul:Con:Ilosearesearcher.Ionlyhavetwoon

staff.

Robin:Pro:whatdoyoureallyhavetolose?

Paul:(Sigh)Twoweeks?Yeah,okay.Iwantdaily check-ins and we’ll pay for hotel, food, and gas. Keep all the receipts.

Robin:Ireallythinkthisisgonnabegoodfor business.

Paul:Likeyousaid,whathavewegottolose?

Paul: Full disclosure? The organization was bleeding money. I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it and I was grasping for anything that I thought could sustain us. If we’d been completely financially secure, I never would’ve agreed to this assignment.

(Music Interlude 10-15 seconds)

Robin: Hey Paul. I’m outside on the second floor walkway of “The Trail Motel.” Nice view of main street...or at least what passes as a main street. It should come as no surprise that I’m also hopped up on ultra black joe and running through a checklist in my head. The first stop has to be the police department, right? Hopefully, it won’t be too much trouble to access the case files and maybe interview a few people who were involved. Something tells me that a town like this, a lot of the people who worked on the force ten years ago are still around. Lonesome Pine...huh...a town named after a tree, you’d expect it to be pretty stable, right?

Ok...if the police department winds up being a no-go, I’ve got other places on my list...I know I want to talk with some

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of June’s friends...visit where Emma’s folks used to live...interview the neighbors.

Also, and I know it might not be the most ethical approach, but I’m thinking about coming up with a cover story. Emma mentioned that outsiders aren’t too trusted around here, and I’m coming in asking all these questions about something unpleasant in the town’s past...Oh I don’t know...I’m too honest, I’ll probably give it away anyway...ugh, I don’t know...Alright, If it leads to dead ends and doors slammed in my face, so be it.

Ahhh...I’ve got some editing to do on these recordings before bed. I’ll send you some in-progress roughs as I go so you can see what I’m going for. Later, Paul.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds, fade into the sounds of a mildly busy cafe)

• Millie:Heysweetie,what’llyouhave?

Robin: That’s Millie; she’s the owner, head cook, and often works as a server at The Stair-Top Story café. It’s called this because the first floor is a used bookstore. By what I can tell, she’s constantly chatting with her customers, cracking jokes, and being as much of a busybody as she can. Emma’s come along with me on my first round of interviews the day after we arrived in Lonesome Pine.

• Robin:CanIhaveoatmealandtoastwithacoffee?Two creams and sugar?

Millie:Cando,sweetie.Andyou,hon?

Emma:CanIgetscrambledeggsandhashbrowns?

Millie:Youknowit!Anythingtodrink?

Emma:Orangejuice?

Millie:Sure,sweetie.Thefood’llbeoutinafew minutes. Be right back with your drinks.

• Emma:So,what’stheplan?

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Robin:Well,Ithought,afterbreakfast,we’dtryour luck at the police station. Do you remember any specific names?

Emma:Uh,WilliamKing.

Robin:Washetheleaddetective?

Emma:LonesomePinedoesn’thaveanydetectives.He was just the Officer in charge, I guess.

Robin:Oh,right.Didyouhavealotofdealingswith Officer King?

Emma:Notreally,Italkedtohimonceduringthe initial investigation, but most of the other interactions were with my parents, and those were just phone calls giving us updates about the investigation. Or the lack thereof, I guess, since usually the only update was that there was no update.

Robin:What’sthedisposition?Niceguy?Ormoreof a...uh...

Emma:Hardass?

Robin:(Laughs)Uh,yeah.

Emma:(Laughs)No,nonothinglikethat.Imean,I guess he seemed nice enough. I think he was just in over his head. I remember he was pretty young and always seemed kind of anxious when he’d come over or call. I guess he didn’t really like having to be the bearer of no news.

Robin:Didhegiveyoumanydetailsaboutthecase? Like, who they interviewed, what direction they were going?

Emma:Youknow,that’spartofwhatmakesmeso frustrated. I feel like the police weren’t telling us everything. (Pause) I think they had King take the lead because he was young and inexperienced—like they wanted to keep him clean to give them all deniability.

Robin:(Surprised)Whatmakesyouthinkthat?

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Emma:It’sjustafeelingIhad...have.

Robin:That’saheavyaccusationtohingeonahunch.

Emma:Ilivedthroughtheinvestigation.Itriedtobe as involved as I could without really accepting the reality of the situation, but honestly I don’t recall a lot of the details. I took a leave of absence from school at first, but before long I was just driving back and forth every weekend.

Robin:I’msorry,Ididn’tevenknow.

Emma:Well,it’snotlikewehungoutallthetime.

And I kept it off social media. I didn’t want to...deal.

Robin:Youwerestillateenageryourself.You couldn’t be expected to...

Emma:Yeah,Iknow.I’mstillangry,moreoftenthanI should be.

Robin: There was an awkward silence for a moment. It was uncomfortable. Luckily for me, Millie was back with our breakfast.

Millie:Oatmealandtoastforyouandscrambledeggs with hash browns over here. Y’all need anything else?

Robin:No,thankyou.

Emma:Thanks.

Millie:Hey,areyourecordingya’ll’sbreakfast?

Robin:Oh,yeah.Sorryaboutthat.Ifitmakesyou uncomfortable I can shut it off.

Millie:No,no.(Laughs)That’sokay.Shoot,whatare you recording for? Some new secret show about the best diners across America?

Emma:Ha!Iwish.We’reherejusttohear...stories. Stories from a community like this and...big events that happened. It’s for a history project. I’m Em.

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Robin: That wasn’t a lie. But it definitely wasn’t what I would call truthful.

Millie:That’safabulousidea!MynameisMillie Pierce. That’s Millie with an “I-E”. Oh, we got a lot of great stories around here. I’m liable to talk your ear off myself if I get a chance! If you need anything from me, and I mean anything, you come on back here. The café is open six days a week, 6 am to 8 pm, except on Fridays. Fridays we close after lunch.

Robin:Why’sthat?

Robin: The room fell completely silent. Nearby patrons looked up from their plates to stare at us, and Millie looked at us with a pitying smile in her eyes.

• Millie:(Tosomeonesittingnearby)Now,youhushup Earl, we gotta forgive her for this one. She’s from out of town. (Turning back to Robin, the sounds of patrons clinking their silverware again audible) Friday night is game night. The Lonesome Pine Knights play football on Fridays.

Paul: This was, honestly, the first thing that happened on Robin’s tapes that felt...off to me. Lonesome Pine, like so many rural communities across the country, takes football very seriously...but this reaction seemed a bit extreme. A busy café, and an errant comment at a private table causes everyone to just...stop?

Millie:We’vegotagamethisFridayand,you’rein luck, it’s Homecoming! You picked the perfect time to visit.

Robin:Thanks.We’lldefinitelyhavetocheckthat out.

Millie:Youshould!Bestentertainmentaround. Alright, I’ll let you eat while your food’s still warm. Enjoy!

Robin: Once we finished our breakfast, Emma and I left the Stair-Top Story café and started walking down the street. The conversation was light, focusing on the things we were walking by and seeing, but then I had to ask...

[Conversation is outdoors]

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Robin:Ithoughtwedecidedthatweweregoingtobe honest about what we’re doing here?

Emma:Sorry,Ipanicked.

Robin:Why?

Emma:Idon’tknow.Itjustdidn’tfeelrightin there.

Robin:Anotherhunch?

Emma:Youcouldsaythat.And,technically,Ididn’t

lie.

Robin:Idon’tthinkthat’sgonnabringmuchcomfort to my boss.

Emma:Ijustthinkthatifpeopleknow,Imeanreally know, what we’re doing here, they’re going to shut down. We’ve got to ease into this.

Robin:Doyouthinkgoingtothepolicestationfirst is a bad idea, then?

Emma:Yeah.Istillthinkweshouldtrytofind Officer King and talk with him, but privately. Definitely away from the station. Maybe we should wait until a little later in the day to start asking questions...after everyone’s done with the working day.

Robin:Whatwillwedointhemeantime?

Emma:Thisisgoingtosoundalittledorky,but,

maybe the library has something?

Robin: Unfortunately, our trip to the library was fruitless. We chalked it up to it being a very small town’s library, but it did seem very strange that they would have so little in the way of archives. The librarian couldn’t even provide us with microfiche of the local newspaper from the time of June’s disappearance. When I asked about the event specifically, and my interest in reading the local coverage of the disappearance, I couldn’t help but feel like the librarian was being...evasive. She even said she didn’t remember such a thing happening in this town...

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After hours of touring the town, we decided to head back to whatever street to stake out the police station. That sounds so melodramatic, but it’s what we were doing, waiting for Officer King to leave the station for the day so that we could talk to him. However, instead of Officer King, we ran into Millie from the Stair-Top Story Café again, getting off of work herself for the day after closing up shop.

Emma:Isthatthatwaitressagain?Whatwashername?

Robin:Millie.Youknow,maybeweshouldaskherabout Officer King; see if she knows how we can get in touch with him?

Emma:Thatmightnotbeabadidea. (Sounds of Robin and Emma walking)

Robin:(Voiceawayfrommicrophone)Hey,Millie! Millie! (back on mic again) Hey, Millie, do you remember us from the café this morning?

Millie:Ofcourse,honey;thehistorybuffs!Y’all enjoying town?

Robin:Weare,it’ssolovely!We’vebeengoingaround seeing if there’s anyone that may be helpful for our...uh, project. We were wondering if you could help us.

Millie:Well,surehoney.WhatcanIdoforyou?

Robin:Wewerewonderingifyoucouldhelpusgetin

touch with Officer William King. Do you know him?

Millie:Willie?Ofcourse,everybodyknowsWillie! Nicest guy the force ever had; he used to come in every Tuesday and get an extra sack of muffins for the boys over at the hardware store on Lyndon, he liked to play checkers with them. What do you nice girls want to go talkin’ to Willie for? You hear about some of his stories about his time overseas?

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• Robin:No,uh...wewerehopinghe’dhelpuslocatesome information regarding some...events in the town some years back.

Robin: (Serious) Millie’s cheerful demeanor cracked and fell. What was once an almost youthful face with smiling eyes and an open grin deflated, revealing a previously unseen shadow as the lines in her face slowly spread out from her features, like a crack in a pane of glass spider- webbing...shattering.

Millie:Look,(partlyangry,butmostlyscared)I don’t know what you’re really doing here or where you’re from but it ain’t right. That poor girl up and vanished a decade ago and it took this town years to get over that mess. Now, I ain’t saying what happened should be forgotten but...just let it be.

Emma:Ms.Millie,I’mEmmaBarnes,June’solder sister.

Millie:Ican’t...Imean,Ijust...Imean,Inever.

Emma:Don’tworryaboutitMs.Millie.

Millie:I’msosorry.Ididn’trecognizeyou.I recognize everybody.

Emma:Youshouldn’thave.Ineverreallylivedhere.

Millie:Yourfamilypictureswereseenalotback

then. It was all over the newspaper.

Robin: There was a pause. Millie’s eyes were cast down to the pavement, and the two of us stood there, waiting for her to process, hoping she would volunteer the information that we needed. It wasn’t until later, when I was editing this together to send to Paul, that I noticed she mentioned the story being in the newspaper that the library said didn’t exist.

• Millie:Look,peoplewon’tbehappyaboutyouall asking questions. That missing girl was such an awful time; even channel five from over in Tennessee had a crew here for a while. No one is gonna be pleased about digging up the past.

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Robin: Millie looked back and forth between us a moment.

• Millie:[Sigh][Stillreticentbutresignedto helping] Willie King packed up and moved to Johnson City about five years ago. I don’t know where exactly, but I do know he got a job doing security down at the college. Now, git. Be safe. If you need anything, you come find me.

Paul: They thanked her again and left her there on the sidewalk. William King was no longer in town but Johnson City was only about an hour drive away.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

Emma:IthinkyoushouldheadovertoETSUandseeif

you can find Officer King.

Robin:Youdon’twanttogo?

Emma:No,Idon’tthinkso.I’vebeenherebarelya day and already those old feelings are boiling up. My head hurts and my stomach is in knots. I think I’d like to lie down.

Robin:Yeah,sure.Iunderstand.Thisisalotto handle.

Emma:Checkinwithmewhenyougetback?

Robin:Absolutely.Getsomerest.
Paul: On her way to East Tennessee State University, Robin

called me from the car.

Paul:Yourfirstleadtakesyouanhouraway?Jeez, how many receipts are you going to be submitting for gas?

Robin:Betternottosayjustyet.Anyway,couldyou do me a favor and look up some information on this university and see, specifically, where I’m going? Like, where is the security offices or something like that?

Paul:Whycan’tyou?

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Robin:I’mdriving.

Paul:Oh,right.

Robin:Andanyway,mycellreceptionandInternetare spotty. I’m lucky this conversation has lasted as long as it has. (No response from Paul) Hello? Paul? Shit.

Paul: The call dropped while Emma drove through the mountains of Western Virginia and Eastern Tennessee. I took a few minutes to Google the ETSU campus and texted the address of the Public Safety building and a link to the staff page of the security department on the off chance Robin could get data coverage there.

I was curious, so I looked at William King’s bio on the site. He looked older than what I expected, especially after Robin had said Emma remembered him being quite young at the time of June’s disappearance. But he was graying and had crow’s feet. In his picture, he wasn’t smiling but something about his eyes showed a lot of kindness...maybe it was wishful thinking.

• William:Hi,canIhelpyoumiss?

Robin: I pulled onto the ETSU campus and, after twenty minutes searching for parking, began navigating my way through the sea of undergrads. Eventually, after getting lost twice, I found my way to the security office.

Robin:Hi.Um,yes.I’mRobinDern.You’reWilliam King, right? I was wondering if you had a few minutes to talk?

William:(Friendly)FolkscallmeWillie.Miss,are you sure this is a matter for campus security? Maybe you need to see student affairs or, (quieter) maybe the campus chaplain?

Robin:Huh?Oh.No,nothinglikethat.I’msorry.I don’t know quite what to say. I was wondering if we could chat about your work in Lonesome Pine?

Willie:(Pause)Youareporter?

Robin:Yes.Well,sortof...

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Willie:(Quickly)Nocomment.

Robin:Please,ifIcouldjustaskyouacoupleof

questions....

Willie:(Emotional)Isaidnocomment,Miss.(More reserved) Now, if you don’t have any issue for campus security, I’ve got to get going on my rounds.

Robin:I’mjusttryingtohelpEmmagetsomeanswers!

Willie:Emma?(Realizing)TheotherBarnesgirl?You

know her? (Pause) Like know her, know her?

Robin:Yes.WetraveleddowntoLonesomePine

together. She’s there now.

Willie:(Quietly)Justleave.Please.

Robin:Whatwasthat?

Willie:(Pause)Howisshe?

Robin:She’s...surviving.

Willie:How’shermama?

Robin:Shedied—justafewmonthsago.Cancer.

Willie:(Tired)Igetit.Makessensenow.

Robin:I’msorry?

Willie:(Professionalanddistant)Ma’amyou’regoing to have to leave.

Robin:Yeah.Listen,Iunderstandifyoudon’twantto talk. Please, just take my card. If you do feel like helping, give me a call, send a text or email, or anything.

Paul: The two said their goodbyes and Robin shut off the recorder. When she got back to Lonesome Pine, she sent a quick message to me.

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Robin: Hey Paul, you’ll never guess where I’m headed. I got back to the hotel and the manager caught me before I could get all the way out of the car. He stopped me and said Emma has been arrested.

Paul: This is Lonesome Pine podcast.

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Episode 102 – A King’s Tale

Paul: Hello again. This is Paul Hoffman, and this is the second episode of what I’m calling the Lonesome Pine Podcast. Hopefully, someone out there will have some information about what happened. I would like to say that sharing this podcast and details about this case is the best way to help find her.

(Intro song: “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”)

Peter: My former employee, Robin Dern, was on her way back to Lonesome Pine from a rather short, unsuccessful interview attempt with former Lonesome Pine police officer William King. King was the Lead on the missing person case for June Barnes, but had since left the town, becoming a security guard at East Tennessee State University in nearby Kingsport, Tennessee. When Robin tried to interview him, King refused to discuss details of the case. When Robin arrived back in Lonesome Pine, she learned that her friend, Emma Barnes, June’s sister and catalyst behind this independent investigation, had been arrested for Trespassing.

●  Robin: Hi, I’m here about my friend, Emma, do I need to like pay a fine or sign something? My name’s Robin Dern.

●  Officer McKinley: Officer Rich McKinley. I’m sorry, what’d you say your friend’s name was again?

●  Robin: Emma Barnes. I got a message that she was arrested for trespassing? What’s going on?

●  McKinley: Oh, yeah, the dark haired girl. Yeah, we brought her in about two or three hours ago. She was pretty feisty at first, but she’s calmed down a bit since then [chuckles]. The property we caught her on is abandoned, so she’s not in too much trouble. But we got procedure to go through—ain’t nobody home, but breaking and entering is breaking and entering.

●  Robin: [quietly] Oh my god, Emma... [louder] Did she say what she was doing in an abandoned house?

●  Officer McKinley: She told us it used to be her family’s home. Records back that up, that’s why she

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ain’t going up the river for no hard time, I reckon [chuckles]. Gave the neighbors something to talk about at church this weekend, though. Don’t know what she was expecting to find, place has been empty for years. We got some paperwork we’re still dealing with before we can let her go, but I reckon we’ll just let her off with a warning; she didn’t cause any damage and there ain’t nobody really to press any charges. You can wait right in there. You can try the coffee if you like, but it ain’t no count. Ol’ Mildred down the road there makes some good joe if you want to come back.

● Robin: [absently] Thanks. I’ll just wait.
Paul: The recording cut out here, but picked back up with

Emma was released.

●  Emma: I told them, I wasn’t trespassing, it’s my

house.

●  Officer McKinley: Technically, that there house belongs to the First Union Bank of Lonesome Pine, miss, and your name ain’t on any records as a beneficiary of property. You may not be getting any charges pressed against you today, but that don’t mean what you did wasn’t serious. It’s private land, so stay away.

●  Emma: No one lives there; you can’t tell me that I’d be bothering anyone if I went inside and took a look around.

●  Officer McKinley: Yes, you said as much in processing. (quieter, at first comforting, but it fades as he goes on) I know the death of a loved one is never easy. It’s natural to want to seek out closure. Especially with what happened with your sister and all. But you’re not going to find what you’re looking for in that house, or anywhere in this town. What you’re looking for, you ain’t going to find it here. (He lets the words sink in.) [suddenly brighter] Alright, you ladies are free to go. But remember now, no more pokin’ round where you ain’t supposed to be.

●  Emma: [grumbles]

●  Robin: Come on, Emma, let’s go.

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(Music Interlude: 10-15 seconds)

Robin: I’ve been trying to remain professional during this investigation, but having to bail out my partner was something I wasn’t prepared to deal with.

●  Robin: What were you thinking Emma? Sending me out to chase down a bad lead while you’re back here getting yourself arrested? Did you know that King was a dead end? I feel stupid for thinking he was going to talk to me about this when he didn’t have anything to give your family then. Guh, that’s about 100 miles I’m billing Paul for nothing...

●  Emma: Calm down Robin it’s not that big a deal, I wasn’t even really arrested. (Pause). And I wasn’t planning on going back to my old place when you left...This wasn’t some insidious plot. I really thought King would have been more willing to talk after all this time, after so much distance...[quieter, obviously upset Robin feels betrayed] I just felt restless in the hotel room twiddling my thumbs, and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there had to be something in that old house, some clue that could help us.

●  Robin: [pause, trying to decide if she wants to pretend she’s still hurt] What did you find?

●  Emma: Nothing. I barely got inside the door before the cops showed up.

●  Robin: [grumble] Well, we’ve certainly done a crap job of this so far. Some investigator I’ve turned out to be...all we’ve done so far is aggravate anyone who might have the information we need, not to mention making a bunch of townies think we’re a couple of loons for not caring about a stupid football game, and we still have nothing to show for any of it! [quietly, to herself] What are you doing here, Robin?

●  Emma: [hurt, defiant] I know there’s something there! Why else would they tell us to stay away? We have to go back.

●  Robin: [starting to lose her composure] Emma, there’s no conspiracy here! They told you to stay away because it’s private property! People don’t want to talk about

23

 

this because it’s a tiny backwards town that doesn’t want to keep bringing up some missing kid from a decade ago!

●  Emma: Some missing kid that happens to be my sister.

●  Robin: Emma...I’m...I’m sorry. [sighs, looking for

something else to say but coming up with nothing]

●  Emma: [a long pause] You said King wouldn’t give you anything?

●  Robin: [glad for the change of subject] A very polite “no comment.” He’s not going to help.

●  Emma: I guess that isn’t surprising. He was useless 10 years ago, might as well be useless now.

Robin: Whether or not Emma knew King was a dead end was irrelevant at that point. I know myself, that I would have to trace that lead regardless...and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t fully ready to let that thread go. The information that William King is withholding may be critical to this story, and after so many not-very-subtle attempts by the townspeople of Lonesome Pine to slow me down, I wasn’t about to just accept no as an answer. But my only source of information at this point is Emma.

●  Robin: Well, where does this leave us?

●  Emma: I’m not giving up on getting into my house.

●  Robin: Bank’s house, remember?

●  Emma: My house could still have stuff in it. After my mom died, I came back here to help clean things out, but...things got weird and I left in a huff.

●  Robin: What do you mean things got weird?

●  Emma: Well...you know how we were at the library yesterday, and the librarian gave us that weird crap about how their old newspaper collection wasn’t around anymore?

●  Robin: Yeah, that still doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t most of that stuff digitized nowadays, anyway?

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●  Emma: Yeah, well, central butt-crack-of-nowhere isn’t likely to have a great digital archival budget...but anyway, the more I thought about it, the more it felt similar to what they were telling me when I was trying to square away mom’s paperwork. They kept shooing me around like it was all taken care of; mom didn’t have any brothers or sisters, and her parents have long been gone, so I was the only one that would have rights to her belongings, right?

●  Robin: I would assume, yeah.

●  Emma: But that’s the thing—some town lawyer kept telling me that there was another executor, something I had never heard about. Maybe mom and I weren’t as close as we used to be after dad and June, but I thought sure she’d be willing to tell me something like that. I didn’t have a leg to stand on, and they were all so...nice about it. Reassuring me that everything was ok. Before I knew it, I was back on the road to school and it was like I just forgot about it...let it go. I had accepted it for whatever reason, accepted that it was over and done with, and I went on my way.

●  Robin: [starting to give up] Emma, we’ve been going on your hunches for a while, but all of this can be easily explained and there isn’t anything that would show any conspiracy or cover-up or whatever it is you’re looking for...

●  Emma: Robin, you don’t understand. I keep getting these weird headaches and these waves of nausea, ever since we got to town. And something that occurred to me when you went to Kingsport that never really occurred to me before...and that it never occurred to me before makes me sick to my stomach even now...

●  Robin: Emma...what?

●  Emma: I never went to my mom’s funeral. I’m not even

sure there was one.
(Music Interlude: 10-15 seconds)

(Tires roll to a stop over gravel. Cautious, crunching footsteps as they approach.)

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●  Robin: I’m guessing this place has seen better days.

●  Emma: Yeah... it used to be really nice, actually. Cozy

in all its small town glory.

●  Robin: I bet [footsteps on gravel] So, best guess, what do you think we’ll find?

●  Emma: I don’t know. I feel like pieces of memory are starting to come back in...like a photograph being developed. And as much as I rack my brain, I can’t remember even going in the house after she died. [pause] I can’t remember if I even saw her after...she...[catch in her breath]

●  Robin: [footsteps stop] [quietly] Hey, you ok?

●  Emma: [gaining composure] Yeah. [deep breath] I’m thinking that there isn’t going to be much left. Whoever took over the estate probably scrubbed the house. The more I think about it, the more it seemed so off at the time. Most families in Lonesome Pine have been around for generations. My family was still pretty new when June disappeared. They never seemed all that worried about her. They looked for her the way your neighbor might help you look for your cat when it gets out of the house. They kept saying they wanted to find her, assured us they’d get her back safe...all the while our neighbors were telling us how she’d probably turn back up on her own, that kids did things like this. Here, let’s go around back...

[more footsteps]

Robin:Wait,letmegetthisstraight...yousaidyour family moved here when you were already at school. So you only lived here in the summers?

Emma:[footstepsstopabruptly]No...[likecomingoutof a daydream] I always had summer jobs... I came in on...some weekends and holidays... but, I actually never spent much time in this house at all...

Robin: Emma’s disrupted memories were upsetting. She often talked about the town like you would talk about a quaint childhood, filled with nostalgia and wistfulness, at least

26

 

when she was talking about anything other than her sister’s disappearance. But the timeline didn’t work out in a way that would give her that kind of feeling. She was practically a stranger, and it was becoming more obvious why no one seemed to recognize her. She was just that new family down the road’s grown up daughter, off to college, barely seen at all. This wasn’t her home, but she still talked like it had this integral place in the narrative of her life.

We had managed our way behind Emma’s mother’s house. It was a large house, set far back off the main road down a gravel driveway. Since it was dark and hidden behind trees, it would have been easy to miss the house, let alone us doing our best attempt at sneaking around in black clothes. It reminded me more of a cottage, something you’d see in those old cartoon fairy tales...green walls with a red door with a little circular window in it...ivy growing up the latticework on the porch up to the second floor...it was grown over, the lawn unkept, the gutters filled with leaves...but even under the detritus, it was charming.

● Robin: Anything we should ● Emma: Just copperheads, I

tall.

● Robin: [probably a little

be looking for outside? guess. This grass is pretty

too loud] What?

● Emma: Shh! You’ll be fine. We’ll get inside through a

back window.

Paul: If my opinion had been sought, I would have ordered Robin not to enter into this home. I wasn’t looking to spend what was left of our capital on bail money, but it also seemed like Emma wasn’t in an emotional condition to handle what she might have seen inside. I held off on voicing my concern for her during my final few conversations with Robin...something I now regret...but I trusted Robin’s instincts.

● Robin: Emma, you okay?
● Emma: I, yeah, I think so. I’m okay. ● Robin: You sure?

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●  Emma: No. [fighting back a panic attack] When I was here before, it was still daylight...I only made it onto the porch, looking into the windows when the police showed up.

●  Robin: As far back from the road as the house is, it’s weird they would have seen you, even if they happened to be driving by at the time.

●  Emma: Yeah...that occurred to me, too. (Footsteps sound and rain in the background).

• Emma:Well,wegotinintime...

●  Robin: [making notes into the tape recorder] We’re currently in the living room. To the right is a smaller room that I assume was a dining area and (shuffling) yeah, it looks like the kitchen is connected to that room. To the left is a short hallway (shuffle). There appears to be two, uh, three doors down the hall. (To Emma) Two bedrooms and a bathroom?

●  Emma: Uhh...[struggling to remember] I don’t know. I remember a basement, one of those doors might lead to that.

●  Robin: Basement? Yeah, that sounds great. Just great. Can’t wait to see that.

Paul: They wandered around the first floor for about twenty minutes looking at empty rooms, random cracks in the floor, pulling out drawers in the kitchen, opening up closets. Nothing of note really occurred. However, when they traveled upstairs...

(Sound of footsteps walking up creaking stairs)

●  Robin: We’re heading up the stairs. June’s bedroom is the first door on the right?

●  Emma: Yeah, this one right here. (Sound of door opening)

● Emma: (Scream of fear) What the hell? [Sounds of struggle and the girls shouting]

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● Unknown Voice: [muffled and distant, some struggle] No...[indistinguishable]...no, y’ain’t...[indistinugishable]...’at girl...[indistinguishable] Y’AIN’T!

(Sound of something heavy falling on the ground, heavy footsteps running, out the bedroom and down the stairs. Distant sound of door slamming).

●  Robin: [crying] Jesus Christ, Emma, are you okay?

●  Emma: [holding back fear, heavy breathing] Yeah, oh God...yeah, I’m okay. I just, I don’t know who that was and...God...yeah, I wasn’t expecting that...

●  Robin: [sniffing] Yeah, who was that? Some vagrant living up here?

●  Emma: Yeah, maybe. Probably.

●  Robin: What was he saying? I couldn’t understand a

word of it...

●  Emma: He had a pretty thick accent...and he was probably wasted...I don’t know... I thought I heard “you ain’t that girl” but...but I don’t know...

●  Robin: “You ain’t that girl?” Jesus, was he talking about you?

●  Emma: ...or June?

●  Robin: Just because some crazy old man was living in your mom’s old house doesn’t mean he knows anything about your sister Emma...

●  Emma: [a little louder than she’d probably like] Yeah, well he doesn’t know anything about me, because I never lived her, remember? And why else would he be here? If the cops are swarming this place enough to catch me after looking at it too long, how’d they miss that guy?

●  Robin: I don’t know, Emma, that’s a bit much...

●  Emma: Whatever...he’s gone now...and he left all his shit...

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Paul: They were quiet a moment while they calmed themselves. I could hear the sounds of their drying tears, their sniffing, attempting to wind back up all that had unraveled in their surprise by the vagrant. Their breathing steadied as the rain remained constant, loud enough to be captured on the tape. I could hear their shuffling feet as they began to remember why they were there, to search, ready to move past the incident and to focus on something besides their frustration.

●  Robin: Hey Emma, is this something?

●  Emma: What?

●  Robin: Here, inside this closet on the door.

●  Emma: Shine your light a bit higher.

●  Robin: That better?

●  Emma: [searching her memory] Yeah.

●  Robin: Looks like some kind of carving...it’s like, dug into the wood.

●  Emma: This is what we were supposed to find.

●  Robin: What?

●  Emma: Look at it Robin, it’s the tree.

●  Robin: What tree?

●  Emma: Even if I didn’t grow up here, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that nearly everywhere in town. It’s the town’s tree. The Lonesome Pine.

●  Robin: What do you mean?

●  Emma: You didn’t notice? I thought it was so annoying...it seemed like every school, every business, every municipal building, even some of the street names, all called Lonesome Pine whatever, just like the town.

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●  Robin: Well, yeah, it’s the name of the town. Of course it’s on the school. I mean, I guess that Lonesome Pine Stump Removal van we saw makes sense...

●  Emma: Robin...

●  Robin: What? What is this supposed to mean? You find a bum and something your sister probably did because she was bored one afternoon and this is feeding into this narrative you’re trying to build to justify why the police weren’t able to find your sister...God, Emma...I don’t know...what are we doing here? What are you looking for?

●  Emma: I don’t know...
(Sound of a car pulling into the drive.)

● Emma: Did you hear that?
● Robin: Oh, no! What if they’re back? ● Emma: Whose back?

(Footsteps on the porch and the front door opening)

●  Robin: The, uh, person from before. Maybe they’re back.

●  Emma: Robin, they didn’t have car.

●  Robin: I don’t know!

●  Emma: It’s probably the cops again.

[Footsteps on the stairs]
● Robin: Emma, Jesus, they’ll run us out of town. ● Emma: Hush! No, stop it, hide in here.

(The sound of Robin and Emma scurrying around, looking for a place to hide.)

● Willie: (In the distance) Hey, it’s okay, now. Come on out.

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●  Robin: Holy Christ on Cracker...

●  Emma: Who are you?

●  Robin: Emma, this is Officer King!

●  Emma: What?

●  Willie: Yeah, yeah, former officer. You ladies shouldn’t be here.

●  Robin: And you should?

●  Willie: No, I shouldn’t. Hey, Emma.

●  Emma: [confused, hesitant] What’re you doing here? What do you want?

●  Willie: It’s not what I want. It’s what I think. (Pause) It’s what I know.

●  Robin: Willie, what do you know?

●  Willie: Get in the car. I’ll drive you back to the

hotel. We’ll chat on the way.

Paul: When Robin resumed recording, sounds of the road, rainfall, and the low hum of an engine can be heard. They had left with William King.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

●  Willie: First, I wanna say that I’m sorry for yesterday. I haven’t had to deal with what happened here in Lonesome Pine for a while.

●  Robin: Don’t worry about it.

●  Willie: No. I do worry about it. I said I haven’t had to deal with what happened for a while—doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. I think about it a lot.

●  Emma: Therapy helps.

●  Willie: Yeah? Maybe we should both look into that.

●  Robin: Willie, what’s on your mind?

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●  Willie: You heard the name Calloway?

●  Robin: [pause, sound of her turning in her seat] Emma?

●  Emma: Yeah. [pauses] Some local ghost story, right? I... hmmm... one of those things that teenagers tell little kids to freak them out... has to do with a bridge or something...

●  Willie: (Laughs) Yeah, I guess that’s right. Tunnel, actually. Real close to the river. There’s all kinds of stories about that tunnel... used to connect this town up the line with coal trains, but that’s done dried up, y’know. Nowadays the stories about that tunnel have more to do with cannibals and demons, but that place...it’s had its own real horrors.

●  Robin: Like what?

●  Willie: This town used to be considered a real boom town, back in the 20s. They found a real thick seam of coal down here, town thought it had it made. Said we were gonna be the next Pittsburg. Well, that seam didn’t wind up bein’ as thick as they thought and the coal company moved on. Lots of people lost their jobs and things got...tense. This town has had it’s fair share of problems over the years, but one particular night, well after the mines got shut down and people started looking for who to blame, a man named Hershel Calloway got people whipped up in a right strong fury. Thought the seam drying up was God’s punishment for letting black people work and earn a wage. Bastard strung‘em up right next to that tunnel.

●  Emma: Holy shit...

●  Robin: Jeez Willie, are you serious?

●  Willie: You surprised? Just cause they had a black man on the force, you don’t think a small town in the mountains might have dealt with some real racist crap? Calloway was KKK, grand wizard some say, but there ain’t no records of any that.

●  Emma: No records? What else is new?

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●  Robin: Willie, what does this have to do with Emma’s family?

●  Willie: I’m saying that Hershel Calloway is the reason for June’s disappearance.

(Music interlude: 10-15 seconds)

●  Robin: [quietly, almost to herself] What the hell, Willie?

●  Willie: Hear me out, alright?

●  Robin: No, I thought you had something serious,

something real. This is...this is just bullshit.

●  Willie: Just listen for a moment.

●  Robin: A KKK grand master wizard turned urban legend from nearly 100 years ago is not responsible for the disappearance of a June Barnes in the 2000s.

●  Emma: Robin, he’s giving us a ride. Least we can do is listen to what he has to say until we get back. If you’re still fed up, you can just leave. Right?

●  Willie: Yeah.

●  Robin: Of course you’re willing to listen to this. This would fit right along with conspiratorial hobos and nefarious obstructive police forces...

●  Emma: We’re listening.

●  Willie: Okay, you may think this is crazy, but...

●  Emma: Willie, I said we’re listening.

Paul: It was clear to me that Robin had lost her patience with the story. What started as an investigative news story had slowly been corrupted by conspiracy theories and what was likely some mental illness on the part of Emma Barnes. Robin was typically very level-headed and very patient. To hear her so openly push back against the information she was receiving showed how much she had gone down a path of being ready to give up on Lonesome Pine and come back to DC ready to go back to writing about town hall meetings and

34

 

gentrification. Robin started out being charmed by the small town, but the mountain air, I think, was starting to get to her. And when I first heard this part of the story, I couldn’t blame her. But now...

●  Willie: Now, Calloway was real, and whether anybody in this town is willing to admit it, that really happened.

●  Robin: How do you know, then? If there’s supposedly no records?

●  Willie: One of the men that got lynched was my great- grand-dad. He was passing through town down by the river. Him and another fella he knew were going down the rail, hoping to find some work somewhere. Calloway and his pack didn’t take kindly to outsiders like that coming in to town on his watch, so they decided to string ‘em up.

●  Emma: Well, what does this have to do with June? I don’t think the KKK would necessarily be after my sister...

●  Willie: The KKK, that grand wizard junk, that’s just a coincidence. If you can imagine, Calloway was into some other evil stuff, too.

●  Robin: [breathes out her nose] Right. Go on.

●  Willie: Okay. Now be warned...parts are exaggerated. But there are some that say Calloway and his clan were involved in devil worship.

●  Robin: Exaggerations...[trying to be patient] And the other parts?

●  Willie: The fact is, or as close as I can tell, that the Calloway family showed up sometime in the 1800s. They started with a couple different families but Jasper Calloway was the oldest and the man on top. Best I can find, they came down from Massachusetts, but that part isn’t very clear. Anyhow, they showed up in the township here, in Lonesome Pine...they came in, set up shop out in the valley, brought in all their money and built this huge house. We’re talking a mansion for those times in these parts.

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●  Robin: So a wealthy family of cultists randomly decide to move into a small town in the mountains?

●  Willie: [trying to ignore Robin’s continued skepticism]. They weren’t just a family that kept to themselves. They’d farm their land, and had the whole bunch of ‘em living in that big house together, but they also had a tent set up six days a week along the main road trading whatever extra they had from their crops. They’d come to church on Sundays, they’d show up at town council meetings. Real civic minded individuals.

●  Emma: Where’d you get all of this information?

●  Willie: (Laughs) Whether you believe it or not, I was a pretty good cop. A lot of it’s word of mouth, piecing together stories, seeing pictures and stuff like that in people’s homes. There wasn’t any records of the Calloways at the station, and there isn’t any surviving newspapers from that time, but I did find a big stash of stuff in a big church up on Knob Hill.

●  Robin: Word of mouth? Stories? How is that reliable information?

●  Willie: I know that the same story told multiple times over 100 years is gonna change, but when the same elements hold, well, you start to think it’s at least based in truth.

●  Emma: Go on, Willie.

●  Willie: Yeah, sure. Where was I?

●  Emma: The church on Knob Hill.

●  Willie: Right. By everything I could find, the Calloways pretty much did blend into the town for the first decade they were here. They became part of the town, friends, neighbors...But, it was around that 10- year mark that I found the first official “missing person” account in Lonesome Pine, in a newspaper that wasn’t supposed to exist in the basement of that church. A five-year old named Holly McHenry. Family was some Irish immigrants came in, old country folks. She was taken from her home on Christmas Eve and she

36

 

was never seen again. At least, there is no record of her being found.

●  Robin: So we’re assuming the Calloways kidnapped the little girl?

●  Willie: Look, there was some real strong coincidences here, alright? I was able to put together that the Calloways started becoming real prominent in the town; in the past, Calloways have been preachers, aldermen, police officers and sheriffs, running for office...they were even responsible for bringing the coal into this side of the mountain in the first place...and that little Irish girl was just the first one to go missing.

●  Robin: I’d imagine a lot of kids could go missing over 100 years, Willie.

●  Willie: Not here. Some of the lowest rates of crime in the state. But there’s always, without fail, somebody goes missing...every ten years. And usually, it’s a little girl.

●  Robin: A little girl. Or a couple of guys that happen to be passing through by the river.

●  Willie: There’ve been a few times like that, where the timing seems a bit off, or the victim doesn’t fit with the pattern, but it holds up enough not to pass the smell test.

●  Emma: So... you think the Calloways are still kidnapping girls every ten years? And June was one of them? Why? How would they get away with it for so long? I don’t even know any Calloways from town, but...

●  Willie: I’ve caught on that maybe your memory isn’t the best.

●  Emma: But you don’t seem to be...I guess, in on it, or whatever. Why tell me this now?

●  Willie: During the investigation, it was implied I’d lose my job if I continued to press this particular matter.

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●  Emma: Who threatened you?

●  Willie: The chief of police, some other town

officials...even got a call from the deputy mayor.

●  Emma: And why were they kidnapping people in the first place?

●  Willie: What else would a devil worshipping family cult kidnap people for? Sacrifice.

●  Emma: For what?

●  Willie: That, I haven’t quite figured out...

●  Robin: So, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying that a family cult came into town in the 1800s, took over things behind the scenes so they could kidnap little girls without being questioned, and are still active and kidnapped June Barnes and sacrificed her on an altar to their dark God.

●  Willie: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.

●  Robin: You’re crazy. [to herself] This is ridiculous. [out louder] This is ridiculous! I’m going back to DC in the morning.

●  Willie: Emma, I want you to know I tried my best to find what happened to your sister, it’s just...

●  Emma: Just what? My sister is gone! You’re telling me my sister was kidnapped and...and...freaking SACRIFICED?

●  Willie: I tried.

●  Emma: You failed.

(Music interlude: 10-15 seconds)

Paul: When I first listened to this conversation, I, like Robin, thought Willie was a lunatic obsessive. I was also beginning to worry that Emma was buying into it all the same. It all seemed too convenient to explain away a bunch of tragedies in the town’s past, and to blame it on some rich family from the 1800s...there’s the need for closure, but this? Was Emma really willing to believe this rather

38

 

than accept that a random tragedy befell her family? We started this story with a theory about a botched investigation, but this? This was too far. Or at least, I thought.

●  Willie: I know this sounds crazy, and I know it isn’t enough for you to take my word for it. As far as you know, as far as I knew, there was no evidence. I had these papers in the church basement, but the next time I went to look over some more, they were gone. I thought it was over. I felt helpless. But, Emma, after your mom died, I managed to get back into your family’s house. And I found this...

●  Robin: What is that?

●  Willie: It’s a voice recorder. It records on tiny

cassettes. It’s June’s.

●  Emma: Why do you have June’s tape recorder? That’s personal property that should’ve been turned over to me.

●  Willie: I stole it. Haven’t you been listening? If I didn’t take this it would have stopped existing. I took it to protect it. I need you to take it now. We’re almost back to your hotel.

Robin: After that, Willie dropped us off and told us he was done, that he was prepared to wash his hands of the investigation. He had hoped that giving us the tape and telling us what he knew would exorcise some sort of demon that he was struggling with since he left Lonesome Pine. He told us not to come looking for him back at ETSU, that he wasn’t going back there. He said he might head to California. He seemed...relieved, but still afraid. He left us there.

Robin: Ok, Paul, you’ve gotten the tapes and my edits...sorry about the quality of the June tape. The tape recorder was so old, I didn’t have any way to record it digitally other than holding it up to the microphone here. Emma took it pretty hard. She’s asleep now; we’ve decided to stay together from now on. When you get today’s files, don’t let them worry you too much. We’ll be ok. I was skeptical before, but now I’m convinced. There’s something going on here in Lonesome Pine and I think it’s going to be up to me

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and Emma to find enough evidence to show what that is. I’ll talk to you soon, Paul. Goodbye. Good night...

(Music interlude: 10-15 seconds)

●  Robin: Ok, well, now that we’re alone, we might as

well play it. Are you ok?

●  Emma: [breathing heavy] I don’t...I don’t know. If this is June on this tape, it’ll be the first time I’ve heard her voice in a long time. I just...I don’t know what that’s going to do to me.

●  Robin: Hey, hey...I’m right here. We’ll listen to it. We’ll go to bed. It’s ok.

●  Emma: Do you really think there’s anything on here that’s going to tell us where she went? Do you believe Willie’s story?

●  Robin: Emma, don’t get your hopes up about this...Willie, he might be...I don’t know...suffering. And you might be, too, just...ready to find answers.

●  Emma: Maybe...

●  Robin: Hey, no... It’s ok. Let’s just...let’s just listen

to the tape...

●  Emma: Yeah...hit play...I’m ready.

June: Ah, this stupid thing...is this finally going to work? I should have left you at that garage sale, you piece of crap... Oh, it’s working now! [sound of tape being wound; June had stopped the tape and restarted it for the rest] Okay, this is June Barnes and this is the first recording for my study...my investigation. So, yeah—ever heard of The Calloway Family?

Paul: This is the Lonesome Pine Podcast.

40

Episode 103 – Digging Up Bones

(Opening Song—God’s Gonna Cut You Down)

June: This is June Barnes and this is the first recording for my study...my investigation. So, yeah—ever heard of The Calloway Family? It’s really a creepy and cool story. Apparently, it’s something all the kids around here talk about, but I just heard about it recently. The name stuck around because of the Honeysuckle Fork Tunnel, but the kids call it the Devil’s Mouth or the Calloway Tunnel. That name, Calloway, belonged to some crazy dude like, back in the 20s or something who hung some uh [uncomfortable saying it] black people, I think, down by the river. The kids around here say that Calloway was part of this cult family who would sacrifice people to some demon or something. Crazy, right? Who would have thought in this little town they’d have a Slayer video for a local legend. I have decided I’d like to look into this little legend myself.

Paul: That was the voice of June Barnes, Emma’s younger sister. She went missing approximately 10 years ago and she has not been heard from since. These recordings are from before that, in the months leading up to her disappearance. My former employee, Robin Dern, obtained these tapes alongside June’s sister, Emma, and had passed them along to me in Robin’s nightly report from Lonesome Pine. This was after Robin and Emma first heard the name Calloway from former Lonesome Pine police office William King, who related a story that was a bit too wild for any of us to accept. June may have changed all of our minds.

Robin: Wow. What do you think this means? (Pause) Emma, are you okay? ...Hey, Emma, I’m sorry...

Emma: [through tears] Don’t be sorry. It’s just, just a bit overwhelming. I haven’t heard her voice in so long...

Robin: Of course. Take some time, whatever you need. I’ll go get us some ice.

Paul: The recording was turned off. It was turned back on unclear amount of time later.

Emma: We have to listen to it all. Everything.

Robin: I know.

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Emma: There’s bound to be something that could let us know where she went. Why else would they have tried to hide it? Gotta be some sort of evidence that Willie’s theory is true!

Robin: [patient, trying to remain even] Emma, I know.

Emma: What are we waiting for?

Robin: It’s late. This isn’t going anywhere.

Emma: You wanna go to bed? Fine! I’ll listen to it all. I’ll listen by myself!

Robin: No, we should do this together.

Emma: I’d love to! You’re the one who wants to stop

now that we might actually be close to some answers!

Robin: [patient, trying to keep Emma calm] I don’t want to stop. I want to take a break. Rest and think clearly. Frankly, I’m concerned about you. When was the last time you actually got some sleep?

Emma: I can’t sleep after this.

Robin: We can’t listen to all of it right now. If our sleep-deprived brains miss something crucial, something that I can’t catch, that I won’t know is a clue, you’ll have to continue to live with unanswered questions.

Emma: Will you shut that damn thing off?

Paul: And, within the course of a few minutes, Robin’s recording device was shut off again. As far as I can put together, the next thing recorded with this personal message to me:

Robin: Hey Paul, dropping off a bit of an update again. It’s about two in the morning and Emma is sleeping, finally. We argued for a good 45 minutes when she finally gave up. [pause] Can I just say something? I’m starting to get scared. This assignment sounded fun and interesting and quaint when I first brought it to you. I honestly thought we’d just travel down here, we’d talk to the locals`, and we’d be telling the story of the disappearance more than ... whatever this is turning into. [pause, weighing what she’s about to say] I’m scared that Emma is unstable. I don’t know. I just think anything could set her off and I don’t

42

 

know what that will look like. Her memory is slowly recovering from whatever has been suppressing it...guilt? Trauma? I mean, I don’t think she’d be violent but...I just don’t want anyone to get hurt in all this. I thought listening to her sister’s stories all night long would do more harm than good. That squatter in the Barnes home almost made me shit my pants, [starting to cry] and what King said, I just—I don’t know. His story seems so stupid. How could anything like that have ever happened, much less still be happening? [pauses, breath catching from holding in tears] [sniffs] Anyhow, I’m gonna try to get some rest too. I’m setting the alarm for eight but something tells me that sleeping that long is hopeless. Later...

Paul: I wish she’d have actually called me and not just left this is my dropbox. I wish she’d have called me, even in the middle of the night and told me everything. I would’ve insisted she come back to DC immediately. I would’ve canceled the entire project. [quiet] Damn it, I shouldn’t have let her go in the first place. [losing a bit of the composure of professional voice-over] This isn’t even what we DO... (Pause) The recordings start up again the next morning.

Robin: How’d you sleep?

Emma: I didn’t.

Robin: Me neither.

Emma: Great. Can we listen to more June now?

Robin: Yeah.

June: [sound of an analog tape recorder held up to a microphone] I’m here at the town library and I’m looking through some local newspapers, local history books. Or at least, I’m trying to. Not really much of anything even here, much less anything that talks of the Calloway family in particular. The librarian wasn’t really helpful, either. Acted like wanting to look up an old local family was silly, told me, “what’s a little young’un like you want to go and read about some old dead folks?” Even had the nerve to suggest I go check out the newest magazines...Jesus, people around here sometimes... Anyway, what I’ve been able to look up on the internet is kinda interesting: The community was formerly referred to as Stonega, which sounds like some medeival crazy shit, right? They changed the name about a few decades after the founding. It was isolated

43

 

enough, it wasn’t until the coal boom of the late 1800s that brought any attention to the location at all, and suddenly it was being talked about in ways you would expect from hipsters talking about Portland. “Oh, yeah, man, you gotta check out Lonesome Pine, got some killer coal, real off the radar.” [snort] But of course, if you’ve been in town two seconds you know the rest of the story about the coal because everyone likes to shoehorn it into every conversation. Not long after the town was founded, prospectors and engineers discover natural resources out west were easier to mine and the coal seams here don’t seem too prosperous afterall.

Yeah. I’m not sure local history books are gonna lead me anywhere. The few I’ve flipped through haven’t mentioned the Calloways or the Pine, they’re just...tourist rags. I’ll keep snooping around.

Honestly? If this doesn’t get a little more interesting, I may just drop this entire idea, find something else to do with my summer. What? I don’t know. Not like there’s much to do in this little town. At least J-Town had a mall...

Paul: I actually have what I’m assuming is all of the audio from June’s tape. I don’t know, I think Robin left the thing playing next to her microphone while she was out...maybe she was afraid of the material getting lost somehow, didn’t want to risk the mail without a backup. Most of what June recorded wasn’t about anything that seemed significant to her disappearance or even her attempt at playing detective. As much as her opening message claimed that she was going to be researching the Calloway Cult and the mysteries of the town, she really just recorded her everyday life. Almost like an audio journal. A lot about her parents, more about school, but she occasionally got back to her original idea.

Robin: It’s almost lunchtime. Can we take a break and get some food. We skipped breakfast.

Emma: I’m not hungry.

Robin: Em, do we have to do this again? We have to be at our best if we’re gonna figure this out. There’s hours of material on this tape.

Emma: (Sigh) Yeah, fine. Let’s get some food.

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Paul: This was Thursday, right before lunch time. Around that time, I received a text from Robin. It said, “A lot has developed with the story already. I’ll try to call tonight. If not, definitely tomorrow.” My reply? A thumbs up emoji. A thumbs up emoji was the last thing I ever said to her. Christ...

(Music Interlude: 10-15 seconds)

Millie: Well, welcome back! Sit anywhere ya like.

Robin: Hey, Millie. How are things?

Millie: Oh, same ol’, same ol’. Just trying to make it through another day. Football game’s tomorrow!

Robin: Oh yeah. (In a hushed voice) What time does that start again?

Millie: Ha! Kickoff is at 7:30. But if you want a seat, you’d get down to the park around 5.

Robin: Good to know. Thanks.

Millie: You two look exhausted. I hope you been behaving better? Rumor has it you had a chat with the law.

Robin: Ha, yeah mostly. Wait, how’d you know?

Millie: Ain’t much that happens around here that people aren’t falling over themselves to chat about. (Pause) Truth be told, a few police officers were in here early this morning. They’d been out all night dealing with a wreck up the mountain. They may have mentioned your little incident.

Emma: Great, so everyone in town knows?

Millie: Not everyone. Everyone hasn’t come in to the café yet? Ha! Nah, I’m not one to spread rumors, I only listen to’em.

Robin: Thanks for that.

Millie: Don’t mention it.

Emma: Can we get some food? We’re kinda in a hurry.

Robin: And some coffee too, please.

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Millie: Sure, hun. What do you want to eat?

Emma: Some toast with jelly.

Millie: What kind of jelly ya want? We got strawberry, grape, boysenberry, peach...

Emma: (Interrupting) Grape is fine.

Millie: Got it. And you?

Robin: The same please. And some scrambled eggs.

Millie: Absolutely. Be out with that in just a few.

Robin: So, you want to go?

Emma: We just ordered. I thought we had to take a break?

Robin: No, I meant, do you want to go to the game tomorrow night?

Emma: Oh. (Pause) No.

Robin: I didn’t figure you did.

Emma: You can go. I don’t care.

Robin: Em, it was a joke. I knew you didn’t want to go. Guess my timing is off.

Emma: Sorry. (Pause) Look, I know you’re mainly here to help me. I’m not the easiest person to be around, especially now.

[quiet moment in the conversation; you can hear the sounds of the café in the background]

Robin: Shit.

Emma: What is it?

Robin: Oh, nothing. I just can’t get any damn reception. I feel like I’m missing a lot of messages. I’ve been able to get a couple texts to my editor, but I’ve mostly had to rely on voice messages from my computer. At least the hotel has wifi...

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Emma: You know, I’ve barely even looked at my phone since arriving. I think I left it in my bag back in the hotel.

Robin: I’m sure Paul is curious for an update after the message I sent last night...I imagine that news sounded, uh, dramatic.

Paul: It’d barely been 24 hours since she had last checked in. I was probably neck deep in a hundred other issues at the time. I had no reason to be concerned. As they finished up their meal, another patron entered the café.

McKinley: Mornin’ Millie.

Millie: (From the other room) Good mornin’ Richie!

Emma: (Quietly) Wonderful.

McKinley: Good morning ladies. Been staying out of trouble?

Emma: [non-commital grumbling].

Robin: Sorry, Officer McKinley. We’re doing great.

McKinley: That’s good to hear. Ya know, we had a few people swing by the old Barnes’ house last night. Someone radioed in that they thought they saw someone pulling out of the driveway. I stopped by earlier and didn’t see anything suspicious. Ya’ll know anything about that?

Emma: Hey, you can shove it man; we don’t need any of that profiling crap.

Robin: Emma!

McKinley: Ha! She’s still sour on me. That’s fine. No

skin off my back.

Robin: How are you this morning?

McKinley: Oh, I’m fine. I’m fine. Ms. Millie? Can I get a cup of coffee, please? Been up helping with a wreck that happened on the mountain in the early morn.

Robin: Yeah? Was it bad?

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McKinley: Yup. Car ran off the side. Crashed right through the guardrail and landed about 20 feet down. Nasty sight. Driver died. Hopefully he didn’t suffer.

Robin: That’s awful.

McKinley: Yeah. Don’t know what he was doing back in town. Thought he was over in Kingsport or Johnson City now.

Emma: What?!

Robin: Wait, what did you say?

McKinley: The driver was William King. He’s dead.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

Emma: Bullshit.

McKinley: Come again?

Emma: You’re full of shit. King can’t be dead!

McKinley: Don’t know why you’d say that. Mr. King’s vehicle went off the side of Norton Mountain a little after midnight.

Emma: But he, I mean, we...

Robin: (Interrupting) We were just talking about him

yesterday.

McKinley: Yeah? That’s quite a coincidence. Anything else I should know?

Emma: No.

McKinley: That so?

Robin: He was the lead on the disappearance of Emma’s sister. Just a coincidence we were talking about him.

McKinley: (Skeptical) Well, if you remember anything, you already know where the police station is.

Robin: Right.

Millie: Here’s your coffee, Richie.

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McKinley: Thanks Ms. Millie. You all have a nice morning now.

Millie: You too! Now ladies, here’s your breakfast. Well, what the hell is the matter with you two?

Robin: Millie, that car wreck early this

Millie: Yeah? I’m pretty sure I told you

Robin: The driver was Willie King.

Millie: No...

Robin: Yeah...

Millie: [quiet] What have you gals done? (Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

morning... all about it.

Robin: Hey Paul. I told you I was scared last night. Now I’m close to a heart attack. McKinley asked if it was a coincidence? Coincidence that the night Willie King comes back to Lonesome Pine to deliver information and evidence that he winds up dead? That’s hard to swallow. Emma is irritable and is always one step from irrational, and she’s been prone to buy into conspiracy theories since before we got here, but now? [pause] The local police seems like their suspicious of us, and even Millie asked us politely to give her some time—she did pack up our toast and jam to go without asking. I feel like we’ve done nothing significant and yet it appears we’ve set something in motion just by us being here. The skeleton of this mystery maybe should’ve stayed buried. We’re digging up bones and what’s uncovered is becoming more and more unsettling.

Robin: Should we stop?

Emma: What do you mean?

Robin: The question is pretty straightforward.

Emma: No. That answer straightforward enough?

Robin: Em, Willie is dead.

Emma: So?

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Robin: So? So?! You’re the one that’s been talking conspiracy since we got here, and this doesn’t have you rethinking our approach a little?

Emma: No. I’m not going to quit now.

Paul: Robin didn’t respond. Eventually she shut off the recorder. I’ve been able to scrounge around and find a few details about William King’s accident. The reports indicate he lost control of his SUV around a tight curve near the top of Norton Mountain just outside of Lonesome Pine. The vehicle hit the guardrail and flipped as it tumbled down the mountainside. They believe he died on impact with the ground. He was buried in Bristol, Tennessee and is survived by an aunt and uncle in Cincinnati.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

June: Hey, it’s me June again. Well, obviously it’s me again. So, I was talking to Lester about this project and he said that I should ask his Papaw about it. Well, that’s exactly what I did. I wish I had remembered to bring this stupid recorder with me but, well, I didn’t. But, I did take notes the entire time. He said that the Calloway stories have been embellished over the years, no shocker there, but the meat of all the stories, he said, are true! The Calloway Clan was a brutal, terrifying cult that worshipped some demon and they believed in ritualistic sacrifices! Crazy, right? When I pressed him for more details, he didn’t have much more to share. He waved his hand, seemed really evasive. He said he didn’t know anything else past that, but...I don’t know. BUT, one interesting tidbit he mentioned was that the old Calloway homestead and farm is still a place of worship, his words. It looks like in 1992, the town purchased the land and built a park, one that houses the Lonesome Pine Knights football field. Now THAT is interesting.

Robin: Who’s Lester?

Emma: [quiet for a moment] I...I don’t know... I... [gasp]

Oh, god...

Robin: Emma, what is it?

Emma: Lester was her boyfriend...

Robin: She had a boyfriend? I thought you said...

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Emma: No, Robin...Lester was her boyfriend... and I think I think he went missing, too.

Robin: Emma, what? You didn’t think this was a relevant detail until now?

Emma: Robin, my memory, it’s...it’s still so spotty... ugh, I’ve got such a headache right now...

Robin: Emma?

Emma:[catchingherbreath,recallingmemoriesleaves her exhausted] No, I’m ok... I just... It’s a weird sensation, having memories just pop back into your head... like they were there the whole time, just covered by a sheet and then...the sheet just gets yanked off...

Robin:Whatdoyouremember?

Emma:Lesterwasherboyfriend.Andsixweeksafter June went missing, he was found face down in the water in Nut Hull Creek.

Robin:Jesus...what,didhedrown?

Emma:Ithinkthatwastheword,butthatcreek...it’s hardly three or four inches deep...completely dries up during the dry season. They call it Nut Hull just because the creek bed is mostly just rocks and acorn shells from the trees above it...

Robin:Wow...IguessweshouldfollowupwithLester’s grandpa. Maybe he’ll be more willing to talk to us now than he was with June... if that was before his grandson died.

Emma:Yeah,Ithinkyou’reright.

Paul: At some point Robin and Emma made peace. I’m not sure how much time passed but I don’t think it was very long. And they were definitely back at the hotel by this point. Robin was able to use the WiFi to do some quick searching on Lester’s grandfather’s whereabouts. I wish she had called me...

• Robin: Alright, I found him. Clem Smalls, Lester’s grandfather.

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Emma: Where is he?

Robin: Three Forks Prison. (Muisc Interlude 10-15 seconds)

Paul: About twenty minutes up the mountain is Three Forks Prison. It holds approximately 500 inmates and employees around 650 people. When researching the prison, one local resident in the area was quoted in the paper calling it a “God-send”. With the failing coal industry, the prison, which was built about 30 years ago, helped ease the economy and provided the area with much needed jobs.

Emma:ThreeForksPrison.Ofcoursethat’swherehe is. Nothing can be easy.

Robin:Maybethisisablessing.

Emma:Howso?

Robin:Well,weknowexactlywhereheisandhe’snot going anywhere.

Emma:He’sacriminal.

Robin:Probably.Buthey,yaneverknow,hemightbe

wrongfully imprisoned.

Emma:Doyoureallybelievethat?

Robin:No,notatall.[groan]

Robin: Hey Paul. I’m headed to Three Forks Prison in just a few. Emma has decided not to go. The memory...uh, flash left her with a migraine and some stomach pains. She’s promised not to go snooping around without me this time. I’d say it’s a coin flip whether or not she’s gonna follow through with that promise. Anyhow, I had to check online to see what the procedure is for just casually dropping by a prison. I was pretty sure I couldn’t just waltz up to the door and asked to see an inmate. Luckily, this is a minimum-security prison. I was able to call up the facility and ask what the chances were of me visiting a loved one today. I explained that I was visiting from out of town and would love to stop in for a chat. [wincing] I maybe didn’t correct the lady when she assumed I was a relative. I got a

52

 

phone call a little later here in the room, the lady said Clem had approved for me to come see him. Guess he’s just curious ...or he’s just lonely. Either way, I hope he’ll be able to provide some answers. Later.

Guard:Inhereplease.

Robin:Wow.Thisisaniceroom.Kindacozy.

Guard:What’dyouexpect?

Robin:Idon’tknow.Ifiguredwe’dbetalkingthrough glass. Not in a lounge. Cushioned seats? Vending machines?

Guard:Ireckonyou’vebeenwatchingtoomuchtv.Have a seat, Clem’ll be here in a moment.

Robin:Thanks

Guard:[absently]Mm-hmm.

Robin: Hey Paul, I’m recording this from inside the prison. They let me keep my recorder and my cell phone. I still don’t know what crime Mr. Smalls committed. But it’s minimum security. Can’t be that bad, right? Maybe he knocked over a liquor store or something...

(Door opens)

• Clem:Ormaybehefiredashotgunovertheheadsof two damn police men that were coming around too close to his property.

(Music interlude 10-15 seconds)

Robin: Clemmons Smalls isn’t a very imposing figure. He’s in his mid to late 60s and is extremely soft spoken. He’s even a little hard of hearing. He’s incredibly bright and doesn’t strike you as a person who would choose to shoot at people that he believed was trespassing. Once again, trespassing isn’t looked at kindly around here.

• Clem:ClemSmalls. • Robin:RobinDern.

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Clem:Well,nowthatweproperlyknoweachother.What can I do for you?

Robin:First,Igottaask,whydidyouagreetomeet with me? I mean, you don’t know me.

Clem:That’sexactlywhyIagreedtomeetwithyou.I don’t have much family left and the ones I do have I don’t like too much none anyhow. And they don’t like me neither.

Robin:Butacompletestrangercallsupandwantsto meet with you and you’re onboard?

Clem:Hell,whynot?Itgetskindaboringinhere. Only so much you can take reading the same 15 books they got in that sorry excuse for a library they got here.

Robin:Fairenough.

Clem:So,Ms.Dern,I’mgonnatakeastabinthedark

and guess you’re here to ask about my grandson Lester.

Robin:Howdidyou...

Clem:(Interrupting)You’renotfromanywherearound here. You talk funny. We don’t get a lot of tourists down this way. The only other time I can remember outsiders wanting to sit down and speak with me was when Lester went missing and then was found dead.

Robin:Uh,yeah...I’minvestigatingthedisappearanceof June Barnes for [bleeped out name of website]. You said that you were arrested for shooting at the police?

Clem:Yup.That’swhattheyclaimedanyhow.Ifiredmy gun into the air as a warning. They had no right to be snooping around.

Robin:Whyweretheyonyourproperty?

Clem:Theyclaimedtheyreceivedananonymoustipthat I’d been wandering the neighborhood drunk with a gun tucked into my pants.

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Robin:Andwereyou?

Clem:Hellno!Iwasdrunkonmyownfrontporch.I

had a pocket knife out cleaning my damn fingernails.

Robin:Thatdoesn’treallysoundlikeacrime.

Clem:Yeah.It’snot.

Robin:Didyoupissoffyourneighborssomehow?

Clem:Nomorethannormal.No,thecopswerecalledon me because I was asking questions they didn’t want me asking.

Robin:Howdoyoumean?

Clem:Ifyou’reheretofigureoutwhathappenedto the Barnes girl. A piece of that puzzle, a big piece, is looking into Lester as well. I was asking the same questions. They wanted to shut me down, keep me away from answers.

Robin:They?

Clem:Theuppityupsintown.

Robin:PoliceChief?Mayor?

Clem:Yup.Schoolboardofficials,businessowners, all sorts of people. They’re all in on it.

Robin:Wow.Ok.Beforewegettospecifics,Whatkind of questions were you asking?

Clem:Iwantedaccessthepolicereportsthatwere filed regarding Lester and the Barnes gal. At first, they said I had to fill out some forms and wait for processing. Well, weeks went by and I didn’t hear a damn thing. So, I went back to the station and they told me that the forms had been misplaced and wanted me to fill them out again. I thought it was bullshit then and I still think it’s bullshit. I had been looking into the Freedom of Information Act when I got put in here.

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Robin:WhatdoyouthinkhappenedtoLester?

Clem:Hewasmurderedandleftinariver.

Robin:Whydoyouthinksomeonedidthat?

Clem:Idon’tknow.Hewasagoodkid.Notavery smart kid, he dropped out of high school at 16 and started working at a garage. He was a good, good kid.

Robin:I’msorry.

Clem:YourelatedtotheBarnesgal?

Robin:June?No,I’mnotrelated.

Clem:Youjusthopingtobethereporterthatuncovers it all then?

Robin:I’mherehelpingafriend.We’relookingfor answers, just like you.

Clem:Hmm.Yeah.

Robin:WefoundavoicerecorderthatbelongedtoJune back then. We’re trying to follow some possible leads from it. It’s what led us to you, she spoke with you the summer before she went missing.

Clem:Mygrandsonsayanythingonit?

Robin:NotthatI’veheardyet.

Clem:Domeafavor?Ifyoufindsomethingthat’sgot his voice, can you make sure I hear it?

Robin:I’mnotsure...

Clem:(Gently)Please?Imisshimsomethingfierce.He

didn’t deserve what happened to him.

Robin:I’lldowhatIcan.Ipromise.

Clem:Goodenoughforme.(Pause)TheHilltopchurch, the one that’s right next to the old pine, they’re hiding something.

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Robin:TheOldpine?

Clem:Yeah,theonethistown’snamedafter.Bigol’

thing.

Robin:Whatdoyoumeanthey’rehidingsomething?

Clem:Imean,thatcongregation,they’rehiding something about all of this.

Robin:WilliamKing...heuh,toldusthathis investigation into June’s disappearance led him to some information in a church. How do you know they’re hiding something?

Clem:Easy.Iusedtobeamember.

(Music Interlude 10-15 seconds)

June: Update: You know the old Hilltop Church? Get this—the Calloways built the damn thing! I can’t believe it! The two most notable landmarks in this town—the football field and the, THE Lonesome Pine—both are tied to the Calloway Cult. God, I wonder if there are any Calloway’s left in town? We haven’t been here long enough for me to know everybody... Anyway, I gotta go check it out. Lucky for me, I know someone who is a member of the congregation.

Robin:AmemberoftheHilltopChurch?

Clem:Yeah,manyyearsagoIwasaprettysteady member of the congregation. Three out of four Sundays a month.

Robin:So,what’sso—interesting—aboutthechurch?

Clem:ItwasbuiltbytheCalloways.Iassumeyou’ve

heard of them?

Robin:Yeah.

Clem:You’vebeenintheareaatleastadaysoI figured as much. (Pause) Anyhow, at first, I didn’t think nothing of it. It was just normal Christian church. Free-will Baptist, it said on the sign anyway. Sing a hymn, pass the plate, say a prayer, listen to

57

 

sermon, say one more prayer, go eat! Nothing out of the ordinary.

Robin:Goon.

Clem:Oneevening,thiswasrightbeforetheBarnes girl went missing, I’m helping fix the old van that they use to bus the old people back and forth when I notice a couple fellas walking over to the gated cemetery that surrounds the Pine.

Robin:(Surprised)Wait.There’sacemeteryaroundthe Lonesome Pine?

Clem:Ohyeah.Lotsofgravesupthere.

Robin:Why’dtheyputacemeteryaroundthePine?

Clem:Letmefinishmystory.

Robin:Sorry.Pleasecontinue.

Clem:Isawthesefellasheadintothecemeterywitha couple shovels. Well, my curiosity got the better of me so I went over to see what was going on. When I got to the gate, it was locked. I wasn’t scared, just curious, so I hollered out hello and one of the fellers come over.

Robin:Didyouknowhim?

Clem:Nope.Didn’trecognizetheuglybastardatall. Tall dude with short hair—military cut, face like an old catcher’s mit. Well, I asked what was going on and he said “funeral tomorrow”.

Robin:Whose?

Clem:That’swhatIaskedandhesaidsomekidin town. Then I asked “Funeral the day of Homecoming?” And he just nodded. I didn’t ask any more follow-ups, I just went back to the van and finished before heading home. My leg was getting’ swelled up anyhow, and I wanted to be rested up for the game.

Robin:Somethingtellsmeyoudidn’tletsleepingdogs lie.

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Clem:Ha!No,Ididnot.Iwentbackinthemorning and in the afternoon. The place was vacant. I considered trying to hop the gate but again, the swellin’. Well, I tried one more time after that. I went back up to the Hilltop Church that night after the game and that’s when they was having that funeral.

Robin:Nighttimefuneral?

Clem:Nighttimesomething.

Robin:Howdoyoumean?

Clem:Idrovemytruckuptothechurch,turningmy lights off a little ways out. The church looked pretty dark but I got out to give it a once over anyway. Well, I saw some lights flickering from over the wall to the cemetery. So, I crept up close and I heard well, uh...

Robin:What’dyouhearClem?

Clem:Itsoundedlikechanting.

Robin:Chanting?

Clem:Yeah.Thatcultlikeshityouhearonmoviesand all. Well, I’d had enough of that and I booked it out of there.

Robin:Thatsoundsfrightening.

Clem:Terrifying.Idrovedownthathillasfastas

was safe and didn’t let up till I was back home.

Robin:So,whydoyouthinkthattheHilltopChurch congregation and what happened to Lester and Emma are connected?

Clem:AweeklaterIreadinthepaperaboutachild from one town over that went missing, town called Coalburn. I didn’t think much of it at the time. But once Lester and that gal were gone, well, I started digging around. Came back across that article.

Robin:That’saprettylooseconnection. 59

 

Clem:Articlesaidthattheyounggalwentmissingthe night of the homecoming football game. Same night that Lester and June were last seen. We just so happened to beat Coalburn in the homecoming game that night, 42- 10.

Robin:Ok,thatthread’sgettingalittletighternow.

Clem:Yeah.So,aboutthetimeIstartedaskingmore

questions well, all this happened.

(Door opening)

Guard:Time’sup.

(Sound of people standing, chairs moving)

Robin:Clem,thankyouforyourtime.

Clem:Anytime.Andlisten,keepmeupdated?Please?

Robin:Absolutely.

Clem:Oh,yousaidyouwerehelpingoutafriend.Can I ask, who that friend is?

Robin:Yeah,it’sEmmaBarnes,June’soldersister.

Clem:(Surprised)Emma?Shit.Whydidn’tyoujustask

her about the Hilltop church?

Robin:Whywouldsheknowanything?

Clem:Hell,gal,shewasmember,too.WholeBarnes family was.

(Music Interlude 10-15 seconds)

June: I asked Emma if she’d take me up to the church and let me look around. She said no. She’s such a bitch sometimes. I mean, she’s rarely home, and when she is, she spends all of her time up at that church anyway. I don’t know why she doesn’t want to help me out with this and take me along! I heard her arguing with mom earlier. Emma wants to go to church tonight instead of going to the football game. Mom wants to go as a family to the game. I don’t even

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want to go to the game... That stupid homecoming game... This is only the second one we’ve been, too, but this town gets like, weird for football.

Robin: Paul, it’s Robin. Emma’s been keeping secrets. Why wouldn’t she tell me that she was a member of that church? I know her memory’s been acting up, but how could she just FORGET she was a member of the same church Willie found all that information in? And now that church seems like it’s at the center of the story. I don’t know what I’m more...angry, confused, scared... I’m currently sitting in my car at the hotel. Surprise, Emma’s not here. She’s gone again and, honestly, I’m this close to leaving Lonesome Pine and not looking back. (quiet grunt) I’m going to see if I can find her but don’t be surprised if I’m calling you in an hour from the road.

(Music Interlude 10-15 seconds)

Robin: Paul, I’ve spent the last few hours driving all over this godforsaken town and haven’t been able to make any progress. I came back to the hotel to upload some recordings, but it’s mostly just me complaining into the microphone. Thought I’d send you another message. I asked the guy at the front desk if he’d seen Emma, but he said he hadn’t. I tried going by the café to talk to Millie but she closed up shop early because of the football game. This town is DEAD, completely empty. I guess everyone’s at the game... [pause] Y’know, Paul, I’ve had a few hours to think, and though I am really frustrated, I’m ... really, really scared for Emma. What if she was...I don’t know...taken? I’m starting to wonder if going to the police is the right move. I don’t know. The only lead I have now is the Hilltop church. I don’t want to go up there but I feel like I have to.

(Music Interlude 10-15 seconds) (Sound of Robin’s footsteps)

Robin: (Hushed voice) Paul, I’m walking up to the Hilltop church now. I parked about halfway up the drive. I don’t know why I didn’t drive all the way up to the door. Clem’s story has me spooked. I can see the wall of the graveyard from here. Oh...hell...what the hell..., Paul... There’s lights... there’s a fire or something... There’s smoke... I’ll try to get closer... There’s so many of them...

(Whispering) I’m ... behind a bush near the cemetery wall. The door to the church is opening and some people are exiting. A half dozen people, maybe? It’s hard to see. I’m gonna try to lean out and...oh, God...oh, no...Emma? [gasp] SHIT

(Muffled sound of Robin gasping and screaming, running frantically through the woods, faint chanting heard. Some quiet voices, “Who was that?” “The reporter girl?” “Shit, get her over here.” Recording slowly fades out.)

Paul: This audio was sent to me that night but there was no message from Robin attached. Her rental car was abandoned at the church. The police investigated the matter and found nothing. They questioned every member of the Hilltop congregation and all of them, every single one, had alibis. (Pause) (Frustrated) No one recognized the voices on the tape. (Pause) Robin is still listed as a missing person but is presumed deceased. Emma she’s...well, she’s dead now, so I can’t get any answers from her. (Sigh) After numerous legal battles, I was granted the rights to the recorder and all of the information on it. I’ve listened to every second of what Robin recorded so many times, everything she sent me from June’s tape...tapes within tapes...voices within voices...

June: [from her tapes] I keep asking myself...if this is true? If there’s some family that got their hands on this small innocent town, some evil group working from within... Why did they go along with it? And if it’s STILL going on? Why would the town continue to go along with it? It’s not the 1800s anymore, the town isn’t THAT isolated...yeah, there’s no interstate down here, but c’mon, that four lane goes all the way to Tennessee... I mean, can it really be something that people just accept? Can something so horrible become mundane? Even comforting, because that’s the way it’s always been? That’s just the way it is?

Paul: I still have no idea what to make of it. But, there was another recording on Robin’s computer... I don’t know if she had broken into her room before she left and I have no idea if Robin heard it, but...here it is...

Emma: {voice over} Robin... I’m... I’m sorry... I just remembered... I just remembered and I have to go... I’m sorry I dragged you into this... I’m sorry you came down here to help me when the truth is, and I see this now...there is no helping me. Goodbye, Robin

Paul: I don’t sleep well. I have to do something else. Something more. This podcast is just the beginning. The answers are out there and I’m sick of just waiting for someone to bring me the information I need. I gotta...I gotta go down there...

(Music Interlude 10-15 seconds)

Jess: Tapes within tapes...voices within voices... I, uhm...I’m not sure how to start this... My name is Jess Redman, and the preceding that you’ve just listened to was produced by my friend Paul Hoffman as the Lonesome Pine Podcast. After he finished editing these previous three episodes, he sent them to me. He asked me to upload them to the internet. He gave me his material, all of these recordings, some of which he had chosen not to include here. I’m not sure what I’ll do with that material yet.

Along with this material, he sent me a text that said, “Finished the podcast. Headed to Lonesome Pine. Need answers.”