Cincinnati Enquirer reporter discusses her hit true-crime podcast 'Accused'
Amber Hunt is no stranger to the criminal world. The author of three true-crime books, Hunt is also an investigative reporter for TheCincinnati Enquirer and previously covered crime for the Detroit Free Press.
But when an editor told her about the unsolved murder of Miami University student Elizabeth Andes, who was killed in her apartment in Oxford, Ohio in 1978, the case stood out. Andes' then-boyfriend, Bob Young, was accused of the killing and went to trial but was acquitted, and later, in a civil trial, Young was found not liable. And yet the Oxford Police Department appeared to have stopped investigating.
“I've covered unsolved cases before, but I've never really dealt with one where the officials charged somebody, he walked, and then nothing happened after that,” Hunt said recently by phone. “Either it was a crazy case where two separate juries just let a guy walk because he had a good lawyer, or it was a case of officials not considering the possibility that they might be wrong.”
Hunt began looking into the case, and it soon grew from a front-page Enquirer story to a multi-part series told through a new medium. “The more I dug into it, the weirder it got,” said Hunt, who partnered with fellow Enquirer journalist Amanda Rossmann to reinvestigate the case. “We thought, ‘Maybe it's a couple stories and supplemental audio.' And then once we started going down the audio path, it became incredibly apparent that this was an audio story.”
Hunt said the wildly successful true-crime podcast “Serial” had proved that well-told, regional stories could reach a national audience in an audio format, so, over the next year, Hunt and Rossmann immersed themselves in the case of Beth Andes, re-interviewing all the major and peripheral players, making countless FOIA requests and learning how to make a podcast for the first time.
“At first, we're gathering all this sound, thinking, ‘How hard could this be?'” Hunt said. “It turns out it's pretty fucking hard. But luckily we were blissfully ignorant when it started, because if we had realized how involved it would ultimately become, we probably would have been scared off of it.”
The resulting podcast, “Accused,” debuted in September of last year and soon became the No. 1 podcast on iTunes. On Thursday, May 11, Hunt will discuss the podcast at the Wexner Center as part of Flyover Fest (the talk will be followed by a screening of “The Central Park Five,” a documentary about the wrongful conviction of five juveniles in the 1989 assault of a female jogger in Central Park).
The Andes case embedded itself deep into Hunt's psyche during the reporting process. In one episode of “Accused,” Hunt speaks into her recorder in the middle of the night, sounding audibly shaken. “That was a pretty dark period,” she said. “As a crime reporter I've dealt with threats before, and yet it was still enough this time in the reporting that I ended up getting a security system.”
The blood-spattered, macabre aspect of true crime is not what attracted Hunt to the genre. “The part that drew me to these types of stories was the empathy I felt for the families,” she said. “My mom died when I was 12. It was cancer — nothing as horrific as these people have gone through — but I know how much a traumatic event shapes the rest of your life.”
“I wouldn't be able to do this if I didn't want to try to figure something out for these people who are suffering,” she continued. “If I'm able to help by telling their story, then, to me, it's worth the time to do it. I keep trying to get out of true crime, and I'm always drawn back into it, and it's all because of the people.”
Hunt and Rossmann are currently working on a second season of “Accused” and hoping for a fall release. This time around, they're investigating two cases simultaneously.
“For the first season, we never set out to do a podcast. It happened organically. So I want to have the freedom if one of these falls through, then I just walk away from it,” she said. “One is another cold case. Nobody is currently in prison for it. The other one is muddier because it's not ruled a homicide. We'll see how that one plays out.”
And while Hunt said she has been trying to give the Oxford police time to reinvestigate the case of Beth Andes since the podcast first launched, her patience is waning.
“We're getting to the point now where I'm starting to get pissed off, because as far as I know not much has happened,” she said. “So we're giving [the police] time, and then we're going to come back in and look again, because I don't want to let it go. I can't arrest anyone, so I need them to do their jobs. I want to give them the room to do it, but at the same time if you think I'm just gonna shut up and go away, that's not gonna happen.”