In 2014, This American Life‘s 12-episode podcast series, Serial, singlehandedly made investigative journalism a binge-worthy medium. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Serial set out to piece together a 15-year-old murder mystery from Baltimore County, MD—and shed new light on the problematic trial of the man who had been convicted of the crime. That man, Adnan Syed, who was serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of his then-high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, has since been granted a new trial, no doubt thanks to the podcast. He’s also become the focus of a forthcoming, four-part HBO docu-series of his own, which is set to premier on March 10. Serial showed its listeners that investigative journalism was not the guts of some Nancy Drew novella, but in fact, a legit enterprise, one that led to real-life problems being solved. All audiences really had to do was listen; there was no 3000-word story to read after work or before bed. It made the medium easily digestible.
When I was still freelance writing for a living, my own experience listening to Serial got me interested in researching and writing about a cold case that had haunted my own neck of the woods as a kid. When I was a senior at Saratoga Springs High School, the local news had been glutted with reports about the disappearance of University at Albany student, Suzanne “Suzy” Lyall, who had last been seen getting off a bus at 9:45pm on March 2, 1998 in Albany, never to be seen or heard from again. A number of theories had arisen about what might’ve happened to Lyall, but nothing ever came of them. Her case had been cold for decades.
You have a lot of downtime as a freelance writer, if you’re not working a steady contract, and I’d spent countless hours poring over every tidbit of information that had been published online about Lyall’s case. I was hoping to someday publish my own investigative piece for a national publication about it (Playboy had hired me to write an investigative piece that I’d filed but they’d never published, so I felt there was hope to that dream). I never did get the chance to write that story, but four months into my tenure at saratoga living, on the 20th anniversary of Lyall’s disappearance, I was compelled to look back at the preliminary research that I’d done on the case and write a story about it for saratogaliving.com. A person had even emailed me afterwards, with a book’s worth of information about the case and a number of new theories, asking me to dig into them. But my editor and I both agreed that neither saratoga living magazine nor its website was the place to do it. I hoped that someday, a journalist would tell Lyall’s story again—and maybe even solve her case.
Somebody must’ve read my mind.
iHeartRadio Albany’s WGY (103.1 FM/810 AM) has partnered with the College of Saint Rose’s Cold Case Analysis Center to launch a brand-new podcast series, Upstate Unsolved, which looks to shine a spotlight on the Lyall case again—and maybe even open up some new leads on it. The podcast is the brainchild of WGY reporter Phoebe LaFave and Executive Producer and New Anchor, Diane Donato, who teamed up with the Saint Rose’s Dr. Christina Lane, Director of the center, to make it happen. (Saint Rose offers students from degree programs such as Criminal Justice and Forensic Science the opportunity to complete a one-year internship that digs into some of the Capital Region’s 200-plus cold cases. The first of many the center wanted to look at? Suzanne Lyall’s.)
The first episode of Upstate Unsolved is set to be released this Saturday, March 2, and the following episodes will queue up every Thursday afterwards (the first episode will also be airing at 5pm on WGY radio on March 2). Listen to the Season 1 trailer below.
I’m looking forward to listening. This could be the Capital Region’s own Serial moment.