Monday, September 25, 2023

True Crime podcaster visits MTSU


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Story and photo by Angel Perez

Middle Tennessee State University hosted private investigator and true-crime podcaster Catherine Townsend on Monday as part of their Distinguished Lecture Series.

Born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Townsend was a gossip columnist for New York Magazine before she realized her true passion was investigative journalism. 

She became a private investigator around 2011 when she opened Townsend Detective Agency and started her first true crime podcast, “Hell and Gone,” in 2018, where she investigates a new crime every season.

In later years, she hosted “Red Collar,” a podcast on white collar criminals that kill. 

Townsend has authored three books and has been published in the UK’s The Independent, The Atlantic, Phys.Org, ELLE and many others. 

“A story I did for the Atlantic, it was a martial arts piece on how to fight like Sherlock Holmes, like with umbrellas,” Townsend responds when asked about her favorite piece published.

“Having someone in that field, having students hear from someone is a great advantage for them,” said School of Journalism and Strategic Media professor Sally Ann Cruikshank on the importance of Townsend speaking. The interdepartmental event was organized by Cruikshank and Criminal Justice professor Beth Wright. 

“Be tenacious, there’s usually a way to get the answers you want. At least one piece of information or FOI [Freedom of Information] request could help a lot,” Townsend told her audience of up-and-coming journalists. 

Townsend talked about the first case she covered on “Hell and Gone:” the murder of Rebekah Gould in the Ozarks. She conducted real-time, onsite investigations of cold cases in hope of bring justice for victims. 

She spoke about her encounter with law enforcement and when she realized that original investigators were going in the wrong direction. 

“If someone underestimates you, that is your strength, and you should use it to your advantage,” said Townsend. 

She spoke about Janie Ward, a cold case from 1989 about a girl that fell off a porch and passed away. Townsend said, “What I learned about this case was you have to follow the facts not your feelings…I wanted someone to be punished.”

“Don’t retraumatize people without a reason. You have to have a purpose, [I] want to move a case further,” Townsend said. 

Townsend mentioned her favorite quote by Cloud Atlas: “My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drop?” She pushed that no case is too small.

Angel Perez is a contributing writer for MTSU Sidelines.

To contact News Editor Kailee Shores, Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams and Assistant News Editor Zoe Naylor, email

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