A local podcast is trying to do more than just reach listeners—it’s trying to make a breakthrough in some long-forgotten cold cases. Upstate Unsolved, a true-crime podcast presented by iHeartMedia’s WGY in Albany, debuted last spring with a ten-episode season dedicated to the 1998 disappearance of SUNY Albany student and Ballston Spa native Suzanne Lyall. The podcast will return this Thursday, October 10 for its second season, which will focus on two mysterious murders—one in Albany and the other in Colonie—from more than half a century ago.
“One of the big differences this season is that we’re focusing on two different crime scenes that, though unrelated on the surface, have lots of physical evidence and police reports,” Phoebe LaFave tells saratoga living. LaFave is a WGY reporter who produces, writes and hosts Upstate Unsolved in collaboration with the Cold Case Analysis Center at The College of Saint Rose, LaFave’s alma mater. “We’ll also be concentrating on how the struggles of women have changed, and how homicide investigations, especially of women, have evolved over the last 50-60 years,” she says.
Season two will feature eight episodes revolving around the unsolved murders of Ruth Whitman in 1959 and Catherine ‘Kate’ Blackburn in 1964. Unlike the enigmatic disappearance of Lyall, which made national news and even inspired a number of bills in her name, including 1999’s “Suzanne’s Law” (or the Campus Safety Act), the Whitman and Blackburn cases aren’t nearly as well known. “The main focus of Upstate Unsolved is getting info out there for these cases,” says LaFave. “That was our goal with Suzie’s case, and with these two, in particular, the clock is really ticking to get this information out there.”
LaFave credits her longtime “fascination” with true crime to her father, a retired senior investigator with the New York State Police. When it came to deciding which cold cases to highlight for the second season, however, the local reporter didn’t have to do too much digging. “When the Cold Case Analysis Center was announced [last year], the family of Blackburn reached out to the center, and then the director of the center reached out to Albany PD,” says LaFave. All three soon got on board to bring Blackburn’s story to Upstate Unsolved. For Whitman’s case, LaFave was contacted directly by an investigator at the Colonie Police Department who was familiar with the unsolved murder. “He had heard the first season of the podcast, and he was really adamant that Ruth’s case be on this season,” says LaFave, who is currently working with both the Albany and Colonie Police Departments.
As for the future, LaFave already has plans for a third season to be released sometime next spring. “We’re trying to keep the ball in motion as much as we can, doing the legwork to make connections with different police agencies,” says LaFave. While she doesn’t want to reveal too much, she says that season three will likely focus on just one, more recent cold case. Also in the works is an update on the Lyall investigation from season one. “I’m still close with Suzie’s mother, and we’re still receiving tips that we’re passing along to the right channels,” says LaFave. “Hopefully, someone out there will listen, know something and help give answers to these families.”