Lafayette podcast takes a bite out of true crime

Podcasters Michelle Jeanis, left, and Scarlett Davis
Podcasters Michelle Jeanis, left, and Scarlett Davis Photo by Robin May

With the launch of Missing Magnolias, Scarlett Davis and Michelle Jeanis want to do more than create a true crime podcast with a Certified Cajun stamp.

Their goal is to fill a gap in the genre by flipping the perpetrator-focused script and helping victims reclaim their narratives.

“We want to counter people's need for violence,” says Davis. “At their core, these are human interest stories.”

Davis, a Lafayette-based writer and true-crime buff, says she dreamed up the podcast during the pandemic and recruited Michelle Jeanis, a UL Lafayette professor with a doctorate in criminology, as her co-host.

Jeanis researches missing persons and the effects of media attention on crime. She says the podcast is committed to spotlighting victims from diverse backgrounds, especially those from Louisiana.

“If media attention is our only understanding of crime, then we see individuals of color are more likely to be perpetrators and white people are more victims — which isn’t true,” says Jeanis.

Jeanis says by amplifying voices that might not otherwise have a platform, she hopes Missing Magnolias can help broaden people’s awareness of the victims’ experience. So far, they haven’t had much trouble getting people to open up.

“There are so many people who are so desperate to tell their stories,” says Jeanis.

Recent episodes of Missing Magnolias feature notable guests, such as Holden White, a Lafayette hate crime survivor who was attacked following a Grindr date; Larry and Amber Douglas of the TLC show “Ultimate Cleaners”; and Donna Wyble, who talks about discovering, more than five decades later, the man responsible for her mother’s murder.

Not a bad lineup for the duo’s first foray into the crowded, true crime podcast scene. “We’re baby podcasters,” laughs Davis. “We’re learning as we go.”

Davis says they have about 25 episodes scheduled for Season 1 and already have plans to do a deep dive into Louisiana serial killers in Season 2.

However, their commitment to telling stories from victims’ points of view remains their core mission, even when it flies in the face of pop culture’s obsession with true crime as escapism.

“What I like about what we’re doing, you get a good perspective of victim experiences, which is the harder thing to digest,” says Jeanis. “We don’t want to sit in the shoes of the victim because that’s hard and scary.”

Both Davis and Jeanis admit to being punched in the gut by some of their guests’ interviews.

“We call it the crying podcast,” says Davis, who explains they’ve shed more than a few tears over Zoom while taping and producing the show.

Still, Jeanis, who was recently featured on an episode of Peacock’s “Monster in the Shadows,” says as someone whose day job involves researching missing persons cases and teaching a course about sex offenders and serial killers, the podcast is “a release.”

“It’s heavy, but it’s inspiring,” says Jeanis, referring to how some victims like Holden White have become focused on advocacy. “In the face of their worst experiences, they created a thing that makes these burdens easier for people.”

Jeanis adds anyone can make a difference and get involved in solving missing persons cold cases through civilian organizations like Adventures with Purpose.

Just don’t forget to take your earbuds out before you go.

Missing Magnolias releases new episodes weekly on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher. Email [email protected] with any tips or to share a victim story.