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The Big Problem with Up & Vanished

Aug 9, 2017

The Big Problem with Up & Vanished

Up & Vanished was great—until it wasn’t. What began as our favorite show eventually became the show we needed to delete from our curated podcast feed. By episode 14, we couldn’t get past its first 10 minutes. Now we have our very own mystery to solve: How did our sweet love affair turn sour?

Let’s rewind a bit to the origins of Up & Vanished.  Creator Payne Lindsey isn’t a private investigator, a retired officer, or a journalist. He is a filmmaker, living near Atlanta, who decided to pair his love for true crime with his expertise in audio mixing.  Payne looked through the cold cases in the south to find a story that interested him most. He settled on Tara Grinstead’s murder. Tara was a middle school teacher and former beauty queen, living in Ocilla, Georgia . On October 22, 2005 Tara didn’t show up to school. When police responded to the missing person’s report, they found nothing missing except her purse and keys. The only thing out of place was a broken clock lamp and a random latex glove on the lawn. After endless efforts to find her, a probate judge deemed her legally deceased in 2008. Her friends, family and neighbors had been left without justice for over a decade and Payne was going to try whatever he could to solve the case that so many others couldn’t. Of course, such a cold, cold case makes for a great narrative as well.

Beyond the heartbreaking story of her murder, Payne endeared us. His southern twang makes it easy to paint a picture of him and we’re always interested in someone who hustles and is resourceful. We even like how cheesy the show is at times—with hired actors to play out hypothetical scenarios—because it reminds us that Payne is no professional, but an interested citizen who is learning as we’re learning.

He slowly earned the respect of those who knew her and knew about her case. He combed through suspects—who he called “white rabbits” for episode upon episode. He started adding ad reads, which is to be expected. Payne needed a roof over his head and food to eat while he solved crime.

Episode 12 began with a closer look at Tara’s ex-boyfriend and wanted to understand why a mystery man, under the psuedonym George Harrison, kept contacting him. Payne was looking at everything to find anything, even proclaiming that it is interesting that Tara chose to eat pork that evening when she’d always opted to avoid red meat usually. He got people talking nationally about this middle class, small town woman, but there was no sign that anyone was any closer to finding her killer.

And then Episode 13 aired and Payne began its 40 minutes by playing voicemail messages from news stations reporting that the case would get its first ever press conference for the victim. Payne rushed to the conference with The Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Ocilla. According to his recording, officials started the event with a pastor’s prayer and then announced that a man named Ryan Duke was arrested—a name that Payne never investigated.

Now, we must commend Payne for putting Tara back in the headlines. We imagine the attention that his podcast was getting was what made Ryan Duke nervous enough to come forward and confess. We acknowledge that Payne played a role in bringing her brutal murder to justice. However, Tara’s mother also pleaded, on that very same podium minutes later, for the media to leave her alone so she can process everything that happened. Instead, Payne immediately extended season 1.  In that very same episode, it became very obvious just how much Payne enjoys being praised. Suddenly, attention turned away from Tara and toward him—to the excellent work he is sure that he did. To the excellent work his grandma believes he did. Seriously, he plays his grandmother’s voicemail message to his mother stating how proud she is of him over and over again. And then he plays of reel of broadcast news outlets talking about him.

The tone shifted from serious, inquisitive and centered on a deceased woman to something jovial. Even though Tara is still the subject matter in episode 13 and beyond, she is overshadowed by Payne. We would have preferred that once the arrest was made, Payne would leave the law to do their job. Regardless, Payne kept following leads, kept reading ads even though the crime was solved.  Is there any other reason why he would keep going except to stretch out the attention he was garnering?
In the live finale he describes the making of the podcast as “emotional and fun.” He then went on to say he couldn’t have solved the case without “everyone here” and signs off by saying “I love you guys.” Is it just us, or does that sound eerily similar to an acceptance speech for an Oscar? Now, Payne is going on a live tour to blow up the victim’s face on a jumbo-tron. He’s charging $30 per seat.

For more on Up and Vanished, visit the site and follow on Instagram + Twitter.