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A local professor is launching a podcast that focuses on missing person cases that the media ignores

Renee Michelle Nelson

A Cheyenne English college professor was amazed by how the Gabby Petito case struck a chord with the nation while there are so many other missing persons in the state of Wyoming. So Renee Michelle Nelson decided to create a podcast focusing on cases from marginalized communities called Unsolved Wyoming (release date June 3). Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska asked Nelson what stood out to her about the Petito case.

Renee Michelle Nelson: I was teaching a true crime lit class, and the Gabby Petito case broke out. And these amazing, insightful conversations about lack of representation and visibility for marginalized groups of people started happening. It just really started weighing on me that maybe I need to do something different on the side and do my own podcast. And really help be a platform for folks who get forgotten. You know, their case happened so long ago, and that's hard, right, the rest of the world moves on. But for that person, it's still an everyday very real thing for them. We just don't have the media representation that folks should be getting in terms of having a crime committed against them.

Kamila Kudelska: Can you go into a little bit of detail? I'm interested in that crime lit class that you probably still teach. What were you teaching?

RMN: For me to pick a case, there had to be three components. And so there had to be a book, because literature, but then also a podcast, and then as well as a documentary. And so then what we did was we looked at all three simultaneously. So we were continuously reading the book. So we'd read the first half and listen to the podcast, read the second half, and watch the documentary. And it was to look at the rhetorical standpoint that the authors of each genre took in terms of telling the story. And so I wanted to make sure that I covered a good variety of cases, one that was going to be interesting to the students, but also to really discuss those marginalized groups. And this was really bothersome to me. So when I started doing research in 2019 to do this class, I wanted to tell a story about an American Indian, because I knew that, obviously, there is a huge issue with crimes against indigenous folks in the country. I could not find a case that met all three criteria. I could not find one. That's changing. It is, as of right now, that is changing. So I ended up having to tell a story about a Canadian Indigenous woman, girl who was murdered in Canada, Winnipeg. And we were actually covering her story when the Gabby Petito case was breaking. And so it was very tied…and I shared that with my students, right, that I couldn't find all the information that I needed to tell a case in our class from the United States. It created a really important conversation about representation, visibility, media coverage, etc.

Renee Michelle Nelson
Renee Michelle Nelson

KK: And so how did it come about that you decided you felt like you needed to create your own podcast?

RMN: Definitely that conversation with my students, and the lack of representation. And sometimes I think… sometimes I think you just have to do it, right?

KK: Yeah. So you keep on mentioning how in the podcast, you're hoping to address the lack of representation. So how are you hoping to do that?

RMN: So, that's definitely something that I'm not necessarily struggling with, struggling isn't the right word. Because one of the other issues within true crime is that sometimes stories get told without permission or even the support of the family. That's tragic, right? Especially, that's not something people want out there, retraumatizing them. And so I really want to help families who want to have their story out there who are like, 'Yes, I need to tell this story, I want people to know who my loved one is. Help me tell that story.' One part of this, the problem that I want to try to help fix, is that I want to tell stories for people who want their stories told, but then also reaching out to those families who maybe have a marginalized identity of some sort. So rather, a person of color, a part of the LGBTQ community, or an indigenous individual, reaching out and asking them, like, 'Would you like your story told?' and helping them do that. So it's definitely going to be kind of twofold. And understanding cultural backgrounds and such. There's some people who don't want their stories told regardless. And so respecting that, but also giving them the opportunity to say 'We have a platform, like, let's make this happen for you.'

KK: How are you trying to identify and choose which cases you want to tell the story of?

RMN: When I started doing this, I just started reaching out to people. It's like, 'Oh, yeah, that's an amazing idea. Let me give you this person's name', like, 'Oh, gosh, yes. Let me give you this person's name.' And so I've had this incredible amount of support, you know, and helpfulness from this very small community in Wyoming. And so that's been incredibly helpful.

KK: Would you say the goal of the podcast is more about telling the story of the person that is missing and trying to get that story out?

RMN: Yeah, first and foremost, I'm a word enthusiast, right? And so you don't get into English literature unless you just love stories. And that is something I am good at is telling stories and that's why this seems to be the angle that I wanted to take.

Anyone with a case they'd like to share with Nelson can contact her at unsolvedwyoming@gmail.com or (307) 631-8646.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. She has won a regional Murrow award for her reporting on mental health and firearm owners. During her time leading the Wyoming Public Media newsroom, reporters have won multiple PMJA, Murrow and Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism Awards. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.

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