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July 24, 2019 32 mins

Catherine returns to Arkansas to investigate the death of Janie Ward. Janie died mysteriously in 1989 at a party at a cabin on the backroads of Marshall, Arkansas. Catherine meets journalist Mike Masterson, who has written over 200 articles about Janie, along with Janie's mom, Mona, and her sister, Krystal. The Ward family gives Catherine a box of materials that Janie's late father Ron collected over the thirty years since her death. 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:08):
School of Humans. I get a lot of emails about
cold cases all the time, and I always google it
and kind of look and see if it would be
something that, you know, maybe we could help with. And

(00:31):
this one first, I was kind of struck by the
fact it's another girl, it's another situation where there are
a lot of suspects, potential suspects. Usually when I look,
you know, doing a lot of true crime stuff. And
usually when I look at a story, I can tell
in the first five minutes will probably happened. But this
one's really strange. As I drive the long and winding

(00:59):
roads into the Ozarks, I think about a conversation I
had in a high school physics class. The teacher was
talking about time travel. Where would we go? He asked
if we could be instantly transported to any point in history.
Some people said they would pop back to see a
dinosaur or visit Jesus, But the response that stopped everyone

(01:22):
cold was from the quiet kid in the back. I
would go back to the day my mom was murdered,
he said, so I could be there and stop it.
And if I couldn't stop it, at least I could
see who did it. Investigating a cold case murder is
the closest thing I will ever get to time travel.

(01:46):
A lot has happened since last season. After spending months
in the Ozarks, I went back to New York City
for my job, and I tried to get on with
my life. But wherever I am interviewing an FBI profiler,
riding the subway, and drinking beers with a date, A
big part of my brain is stuck replaying September twentieth,

(02:10):
two thousand and four, the day Rebecca Gould was murdered.
Six months after our last season wrapped, I'm back in Arkansas.
Like I said back then, when we started Rebecca's case,
we thought we knew who the good guys were and
who the bad guys were. But now I'm not so sure.

(02:34):
We have given all kinds of information to the police,
piles of documents and letters, uncut audio clips, as our
intention has always been to help the investigation, and yet
in many ways, the investigation feels just as still as
it was before. For now it's a waiting game. But

(02:54):
patience has never been my strong suit. Since the end
of season one, I've received hundreds of messages about other
unsolved cases in Arkansas. People reach out at all hours
of the night on social media. I had no idea.
There were so many unsolved murders and so many people
who needed help. Then one night I get a Facebook

(03:18):
message that says I should look into the mysterious death
of Olivia Jane Ward. It started on September ninth, nineteen
eighty nine, sixteen year old Janey headed out to a
cabin in the woods outside the tiny town of Marshall, Arkansas.
It was just another weekend, another high school party, But

(03:39):
a few hours later, Janie was dead. The story goes
that she died from falling off a porch, a porch
that was no more than ten inches tall. As Jane
lay there, dead or dying, her friends made the decision
to load her into the back of a pickup truck
and drive her to the middle of town. They ended

(04:00):
up at the bank parking lot. One of the paramedics
to examine Jane noticed that she was wet and covered
in debris. The paramedic immediately concluded that she believed this
was a suspicious death. In the thirty years since she died,
her body has been exhumed twice. There have been three
different autopsies conducted by three separate people and several investigations,

(04:25):
both by police and by private detectives, but no one
has been able to explain the inconsistencies, and no one
can answer the question what or who killed Jane Ward?
Was it an accident or could it have been murder.
On a recent trip back to Arkansas to visit my dad,

(04:47):
I saw a huge black pickup truck drive by. On
the back I saw a faded bumper sticker. It read
Justice for Jane. It hit a nerve with me because
I've been waiting for justice for Rebecca. I'm going to
see if I can figure out what happened to to Janey.
So once again we have to go back in time,

(05:11):
but this time we're going back to September ninth, nineteen
eighty nine, the night Jane died. I'm Catherine Townsend and
this is Helen Gone. So we're right off the main

(05:56):
highway in Marshall. Marshall is a small town with a
population of about thirteen hundred, half the size of Mountain View,
where we spent last season. We're next to Kathy's flea market,
which has knives and tools and lots of knick knacks.
The main drage two lane Highway sixty five is lined
with flea markets, a few churches, and sonic At one

(06:20):
intersection is the business district. There's the Daisy Queen, an
old school burger joint that's been serving up fried Twinkie
Sundays to locals since nineteen sixty six. Just past Harp's
grocery store, a road veers off toward the woods. This
is the route that Janie took toward the party on
Zach Road on the last night of her life. I'm

(06:42):
riding with Gabby, one of our producers. Head north on
Spring Street, then turn left onto East Main Street. We
don't have time to see the site for thirty nine miles. Yeah,
continue street, it's easy, right, Yeah, here's We're headed north
to meet with our first contact, Mike Masterson. I guess
could you talk about him? And like, yeah, Mike is

(07:03):
a real old school investigative journalist And how I met
him was after getting tipped off about this case, the
Jane Ward case, I started looking into journalists who might
have written about it locally. And Mike has written over
two hundred articles for the Arkansas Democrats at opinion pieces
on the Jane Ward case. He's been a really strong
advocate for getting justice for her. Like I said last season,

(07:26):
in this neck of the woods, you're either from here
or you're from off, and since I'm in the latter category,
it helps to find someone local who understands the case.
We meet him and his wife at his home office
in here. So that's my Chuado Winston. Since I don't

(07:47):
know when I'll be going home, I brought him with me.
Mike is friendly and smart, and he has a great
sense of humor. Framed copies of his many expose as
from the Chicago Sun, Times and other newspapers cover the
walls of his home office. Yeah, on these wall, associate.
The accumulation looks kind of like a museum, doesn't it.

(08:09):
Maybe forty six year, seven year career in journalism. There's
a cowboy hat on the back of his chair and
a display bottle of Crown Royal on his shelf. He's
eager to talk about Jennie. Jennie Ward case is I think,
by far of the complex cases that I've been involved in,
matters that I consider to be injustice that remains today.

(08:33):
Mike didn't start writing about Jane until two thousand and four,
fifteen years after she died. He got interested in the
case after her family was trying to get her body
exhumed for another autopsy. Mike had investigated numerous murder cases
in Arkansas, so a colleague of his thought he could
help with Jane's and a reporter from this newspaper in
Harrison called me one day and he said, Mike, there's

(08:54):
a case you need to look at and involves the
death of a young girl in high school. So I
got in touch with Ron. Ron is Janie's dad, and on,
being the dedicated father he was to his daughter, his
late daughter, had been collecting every scrap of information he

(09:16):
could get. The more I looked at it, the more
I realized this thing. Thanks to Hi, I haven't you
know she didn't fall off a nine inch tall porch,
which I described at one column as the length of
my shoe and tear her spinal column in half. None
of it made any sense. To this day, Mike is
not convinced that Jane simply fell off a porch and died.

(09:38):
And I want to trust him because he's seen the
underbelly of this state, and for him, a cover up
is never out of the question. We'll be right back
in his two hundred columns about Janney. Mike kept asking
his readers, what if Janie Ward was your daughter. After

(10:01):
I'd been writing about this for probably a year, they
had a at the Capitol Justice for Jenny rally. Some
went down there and probably two hundred people from around
Arkansas showed up at that big rally. It was obvious
to me that this case had really touched the nerve.
I think a lot of people in this state and

(10:22):
other states, but in this state have had injustices happened
to them, and so in many ways, I think they
could relate to what the words were going through trying
to get answers. Can't get answers. When I get answers,
nobody does anything. And I told Ron when we first
started this, I said, you know, Ron, I can write

(10:43):
a million words about what happened to Jenney, but you
need to understand that at some point the system has
to work. The system doesn't work. It doesn't matter how
many words I write, or how many people in Arkansas
know how bad this was and can see a lot
of the truth of this case. It won't matter because
nobody will take action that has the authority to take action.

(11:09):
While he was writing about Jane. Mike Masterson became close
with the Ward family, and he's agreed to set up
a meeting with Janie's mom, Mona. Janie's dad, Ron passed
away last year. You never met Ron, but what was
he like as a person? Straightforward, six foot five three
d and thirty pounds, big big man, had hands twice

(11:32):
the size of mind, very driven. Ron was an extremely
driven person to find out what happened to his daughter.
The next day, we head to the Townhouse Cafe in Harrison.
Mike is already there. He directs us to a table

(11:52):
at the back of the restaurant, near the kitchen that's
gearing up for a very busy lunch hour. Mona arrives
along with her daughter and Janie's younger sister, Crystal. They
hugged Mike. Their familiarity is almost like that of soldiers.
They've clearly been through a lot together. Mona is emotional,

(12:14):
but she's also tough. It's obvious that, no matter how
hard this is for her, she wants to get her
daughter's story out. I can recall it, but I've blocked
out a lot on purpose to keep from dwelling on
it because it's painful. Mona immediately dives into what happened
on September ninth, nineteen eighty nine. All Right, the night

(12:37):
happened a distant cousin he came and said that Janie
had had an accident and she was in the hospital
in Harrison, and so we just jumped in the car
with him. And when we got to sixty five, instead
of taking a left to go to Harrison to the hospital,
it took a ride and Ronnie said, where are you going?

(12:59):
What are you doing? He said, we got to go
by the Sheriff's office, and we knew then something was happening,
and right, and when we got there, there was probably
over one hundred people, parents and children, and we just
had to elbow way in. And when we got in
it was lined with people, you know, small sheriff department.

(13:20):
And then I was asking people, well, what's wrong, what's wrong?
And when we got in the Sheriff's office, you know,
he said, Jannie was there no explanation. After the sheriff
told him the news, Mona said, he abruptly walked out
of the room and didn't answer any of their questions.

(13:41):
And I just lost it and Ronnie did too, and
then they said you have to go. We had to
take you to the moor again. I couldn't do it.
I did not want that to be my last memory
of Jane. I couldn't do it. Still in shock from
the news, Ron went with the police to identify Jannie's body.
I was going to say that I remember Ronnie when

(14:03):
we had a long talk about this too several times.
But he mentioned when he saw Jannie in the mortuary
that she was wet, had the sand, and that he
he touched her her neck just he could tell her
neck was broken. Ron described Haimona what he saw. Janie
was lying on a table and he immediately noticed her neck.

(14:26):
It looked broken. He saw bruising on her face and
down her neck. He ran his hands through her hair
and felt what he believes to be sand, and he
saw the condition she was in. And he told me
and later I wish I had it so I could,
you know, confirm everything he saw. But although I knew

(14:48):
he saw what he saw. And they said to him,
they said, do you want to use this funeral home,
our funeral home or the other funeral home, And he said,
I want an autopsy. Ron was suspicious that the coroner
didn't immediately suggest an autopsy, but once he insisted, the
police took Janie's box to the State Crime Lab in
Little Rock, and when she got there, she was dressing

(15:11):
all together different clothes than what he saw her in
and what she let the house in, so naturally, you know,
he knew then, and I saw the pictures of what
she was in. She was in a T shirt that
she wouldn't have ever worn. It was a T shirt
with a scaping mouthed skeleton on it. And she would

(15:34):
have never mourning thing like that. She wasn't even into
that sort of thing or heavy metal music. It just
wasn't hear at all. When Ron saw Janie's body, he
said she had been wearing a blue and white pin
striped shirt, but by the time Jennie was delivered to
the State Crime Lab for the autopsy, a photograph taken
of her showed her wearing a black T shirt with

(15:57):
the band def Leppard on the front when he saw
her at When Ron saw her at the morgue, was
she wearing the pin striped shirt or the T shirt?
Ronnie said she had on pinstriped shirt. She buttoned her
top shirt buttoned because it was bloused and he buttoned it.
That's how we know it must have been changed at
the morgue. And also she didn't she didn't do drugs,

(16:19):
she didn't smoke pot, and there was two rolled marijuana
joints in her pocket, not in her system, so they
depicted her. You know, it's like picking her as a
wild child or something. And I'm not being naive. I
knew my daughter very well, and I knew her friends,
and she was totally out of her element, her league

(16:40):
of friends. None of her friends were there that she
ran with. Uh. I mean, she went to school with
the kid. These kids were there that were there, but
they were the the wablins, you know, And that wasn't her.
It weren't her type. Mona has already raised a lot
of questions for me. First, what happened to Janie's shirt?

(17:02):
Ron insisted that she was wearing a different shirt at
the crime Life than what he saw her in at
the Morgan Marshall. He also saw injuries on her face
and neck, So why didn't the coroner suggest an autopsy immediately?
As an investigator, I know that every suspicious death should
be treated as a homicide until it can be proven otherwise,

(17:23):
And why was Jane at the party in the first place.
According to her family, it seemed out of character when
you said that she wasn't part of the crowd at
the party that night. Can you just tell us a
little bit about what she was like, what her life
was like at that time. I she was she had
her crowd, you know, everybody does. They have their little

(17:44):
Bruce and hers worth saying more like the giddy twosy girls,
you know more more so, you know not and once
she those girls, these people at this part were the
the snobs, the preppies. You know. Ever seen Rome and

(18:06):
Michelle's high school reunion. This is Crystal, Janie's sister. Well,
my sister was like the B group and the other
girls were the A group, And that's kind of like
how they treated her. And she had a job, right
she was, Yes, she worked, and she was smart Maga grades.

(18:27):
Everybody that knew her, unless they were in the A group,
loved her. She really was. Jennie was a wonderful person,
and I mean she just did. She just was for
the underdog. She always worked and she would spend her
money on other people. She would, she really would. If
there was somebody poor than we were. She'd go out
of her way to make sure that they had something. Yeah,

(18:49):
Crystal told Jannie the story about a little girl on
her grade who said all she wanted for Christmas is
that she just wanted a Barbie doll. Oh, she didn't
never have a Barbie doll. And Crystal told Janie, and
Jane said, well, Crystal, you got it new Barbie doll.
And you got Barbie dolls, plenty of Barbie dolls. And

(19:10):
she said you could give her your new Barbie doll.
And christ was like, come out, and Janey's relented, you know,
I said, okay. So Janey bought balloons, you know, for
the little girl because it was Valentine's Day. So she
brought her balloons, and Chrystal contributed the new Barbie doll

(19:32):
and had it put in the bag, and then Crystal
had it sent by the flower shop to the little
girl in her classroom. Chisticated for a kid to do that. Actually,
that's the way she was. She just always did things
like that. After Janie's death, Ron started obsessively collecting articles

(20:01):
about the case, interviewing witnesses, and demanding everything piece of
paperwork from police and from the Arkansas State Crime Lab.
He was the one that had pursued it all this time,
promise I'd carry it on. But you know, I can't
do that because I can't do it. Do it like
he did, because I can't. I can't handle that. But

(20:23):
I guess by doing it like this, I am keeping
my promise to him that I would would. Was it
a heart or cancer or it WASDPD. Yeah. Yeah, he
was a changemoker ever since Chaney died, and he would
have been sixty nine in September. And I mean we all,

(20:43):
we all three smoked cigarettes, but Dad really he did
eat them. I mean like one after the other, because
that's all he pretty much did it. Laid in bed
and smoked the last set, got on the computer, read
and stuff. The last several months, that's all he did. Yeah,
he was a change smoker. Last several months. Ron wrote
a letter to Jannie, promising her that he would get justice.

(21:06):
He put it in her coffin before she was buried.
I've never asked you that. I didn't get a chance
to ask Ron. What did Ron say in that note?
What did he tell her? You know, the promise that
he would he would avenge her or you know the
original letter. I think it was the original letter where

(21:26):
he made the promise that he would have there would
be justice for her, or that he would pursue justice
as long as he lived. After two hours of talking,
everyone is exhausted. Mona mentions that she's brought everything Ron
collected over the years, and she's agreed to let us

(21:46):
look through it. We pay the bill and head outside.
The main box is a blue plastic bin. It's huge,
and there's a second one. It's a little smaller. It's
it brown. They're both a lot heavier than he was.
Do you put the seats down? We don't know if

(22:08):
we can even fit them into our car, and I wouldn't.
We were going to go to Mount View and oh
yeah no, We'll all right, we'll get it to you
the next few days and I'll have Yeah, we're gonna
guard it with our lives like it's gonna be well
looked after. I mean, I feel good about it. I'm

(22:29):
just saying, you know, I understand it. It's a huge
It's just it's just a really huge saying because it
so much to our family. And just promise my dad,
you know, carry you're carrying the torch right, the torch
hadn't died, right, but we take it extremely seriously. Run
runs responsible for her being here too. It is yep. Otherwise,

(22:54):
I mean, why this case years later, as long as
E been since we were I was doing this. It's
gonna fifteen years. You say goodbye to the family, giving
them our word that we won't let anything happen to
the boxes. Gabby and I get in the car and
watch moaning Crystal drive off. Then all of a sudden,

(23:16):
the emotion of the case hits us. Yeah, I'm not
gonna cry in front of them because they you know,
I don't do that, because like they shouldn't be humping me.
You know. She just seemed like I was kind of
trying to read it. She just seemed like I'm here,
you know. So I was like, okay, let's just roll then. Yeah,
so she doesn't repeat yourself. Yeah, I don't think they

(23:37):
would have handled that box to anybody else. I'll tell
you that right now, like unless Mike got involved, you know,
unless we roll. And I just feel like, yeah, for them,
they have to balance. They have children and families and lives,
so you can't spend the rest of your life leaving
it for your you know, you can't spend. At some
point you do have to detach emotionally going with your life.

(23:58):
But so it's really good when someone comes in and
does that stuff for you, because it's also I can't
imagine being like the Bravery. The dad had to have
to do that investigation himself, to hear all that stuff
over and over and you know, try to be objective.
After a long day, we make our way back to

(24:20):
my dad's house in Mountain View. We take the elevator
and put the boxes in my dad's game room on
the top floor of his house. Actually, I call it
my war room because it's where I started investigating Rebecca's
case all those years ago. But should we opened first?
Maybe this big one, Yeah, I'm just curious how heavy

(24:40):
it was? It probably one hundred pounds. Yeah, easy, because
I carried the when I did for Rebecca's case, I
was seeing a heart abeat to carry one hundred pounds
demy and I don't think it was that heavy. Maybe
it's just that seems to bulk here. But I opened
the blue box wow, and immediately am hit by the
overwhelming smell of stale cigarettes. I close my eyes and

(25:04):
I can almost see run chainsmoking late at night, obsessing,
making notes, circling, highlighting, trying anything to get answers. The
first thing I see is a Manila folder labeled to
do to do file he left us. Wow, this is
information on It's like press clippings, some emails of my

(25:32):
This looks like an autopsy. There are more folders and
binders full of documents like transcribed interviews with witnesses, police notes,
letters from Arkansas citizens interested in the case, and old
newspaper clippings about Janie. The box is also packed with
photos of Janey and at the bottom there's an aluminum

(25:52):
tin with an imprint that says Dad on the top.
Inside is a pocket knife. It's likely one of Janey's
last gifts to her dad. So there's cassette tapes garried
on Snow seven twenty four zero seven Part two. Wow,
these are all interviews that looks like what are the
only HG? How are we gonna watch that? These boxes

(26:16):
are like a time capsule. There are multiple types of
media DVDs, CDs, VHS's, and cassettes. We also find dozens
of microcassettes. Fortunately, Ron's left behind his reporter it's beaten
up in dented, but when I press play on another cassette,
it works, and the war room is filled with Ron's

(26:39):
deep booming voice. Okay. Now, when I went and saw
my daughter, they're in the board up here. She had
on a white pinstriped shirt. She lying over her head,
turned like this out on the floorescent line on this table.

(27:00):
And there was a loud blue jacket laying beside her.
And how cool to shirt down and button the bottom
button up. And it felt down to my touch, and
I thought, what what's this? What? Uh huh? I said,
what's this? What's this? You? So? You know, I touched
felt over her hands and arms, and she was beginning

(27:21):
to get it kind of stiff, and I had to
touch her head, you know, and it tears my eyes
and all. And when I I had it fell over
her neck and her head to kind of roll just
a little bit like that, and I saw this disfiguration.
Her ear was purple up the hear was purple. It
was purple all the way down the here down to
the right here. Okay, nice f purple. Okay. I rum

(27:47):
my fingers stare of her like this, and this stuff
kept coming out it was like sand and flas. This
was a fine sand also, you know it find it
out before uh huh it was. Her hair was stiff
and it cause you know, it started getting I was
coming off on this flat table and one of her
ears was half like four of their substance in it's

(28:08):
owner face and uh, I thought, wow, you know and
uh then I uh, I was told she fell off
his porch. Well, and I wanted him on the hell
that she get this huge bruise here, you know, and
her earss like you know it's purple. It it's I mean,

(28:30):
it was, it was coming out. Okay. What they done
is they washed her and they cleaned her up. Well,
when I saw her, I would might buy the story
that she fell off at the porch. It's only about
the etall. My daughter was beaten to dead. We signed

(29:04):
the Arkansas State Release's six thousand page case file. On
a disc on it are Jane's autopsy photos. Autopsy photos
after a person that's been dug up are extremely graphic
and disturbing. I can't imagine a grieving father having to
look through these. The original autopsy concluded that she died
of an upper spinal cord and neck injury. I found

(29:27):
myself asking the same question Ron did. How could a
healthy sixteen year old girl fall off a short nine
and three quarter inch tall step and die? What really
happened at that party? We'll be right back. As I

(29:56):
said at the end of season one, We're all in
this together. Unlike Rebecca's, Janie's case, at least on paper
is closed. That means we have full access to Janey's
case file, all six thousand pages of it. We can
take a look at the entire investigation from beginning to
end to tell Jane's story. We can see all of

(30:19):
the facts. At least we should be able to see them.
That night, after we met with Monan Crystal, I wake
up at two am. Being back in Arkansas is weird
but also familiar in many ways. It's like nothing has
changed since I was a kid. Around here, things happen slowly,

(30:41):
and big things are measured in geologic time. That's what
geology is, the study of pressure and time. We don't
notice the tiny changes every day as rain slides over stone,
but over time, this is how mountains are formed and
rivers change course. This theory applies to cold cases too.
New DNA is found witnesses come forward, Journalists knock on

(31:05):
a lot of doors before actually getting to the right
people who can break the case. Years, sometimes decades later,
killers are finally arrested. With enough pressure and time, anything
can happen, and there is no statute of limitations on murder.
I'm Katherine Townsend and this is Helen Gone. Helen Gone

(31:35):
is a joint production between School of Humans and iHeartRadio.
It is written and recorded by me. Katherine Townsend. Taylor
Church and Gabby Watts are our producers and story editors.
Executive producers are Brandon Barr, Brian Lavin, and l. C.
Crowley for School of Humans and Connell Byrne and Chuck
Bryant for iHeart. Our Field producer is Miranda Hawkins. Theme

(31:59):
and original score are by Ben Sale, available wherever you
get your music. Please visit us at home and Gone
podcast dot com, or follow us on social media. School

(32:39):
of Humans

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Catherine Townsend

Catherine Townsend

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