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While the podcast world is filled with true crime podcasts, “Paper Ghosts” has been gripping so many listeners that it is currently at number one status: It's the top podcast on Apple Podcasts, even topping the ever-popular “Joe Rogan Experience.”
"Listeners have responded," true crime author and host of the podcast M. William Phelps told Oxygen.com. "I’m very grateful."
"Paper Ghosts" focuses on four girls who all went missing in the late '60s and early '70s in rural Connecticut: Janice Pockett, Debra Spickler, Lisa Joy White, and Susan LaRosa. And Phelps isn’t just the narrator of of "Paper Ghosts" — He also has a personal connection to the girls, as he lived through the cases.
As he explained in episode one of “Paper Ghosts,” he grew up in the area and went to school with the missing girls’ families. He reflected on how as the disappearances began, his community panicked and neighbors grew suspicious of one another. While fears escalated, possible leads eventually died out and all four cases remained unsolved for years.
“For more than a decade, I’ve been searching for the person or persons responsible for the abductions and probable murders of four missing girls in my New England hometown,” Phelps explained in an intro for the podcast.
He's been speaking to investigators, suspects, relatives and anyone he could to gather information and possible leads.
Spickler, of Mystic, vanished in 1968 at age 13 while visiting relatives in Vernon, the Hartford Courant reported in 2016. She was last seen walking toward a swimming pool at a park.
Pockett, the youngest of the girls who went missing, was just 7 when she disappeared in the neighboring town of Tolland in 1973 after she left home on her bicycle carrying an envelope; she was trying to find a dead butterfly to collect. The first episode of the podcast is aptly named “The Dead Butterfly.” A witness did see a blue station wagon blocking the road and a man walking in the direction where Pockett had biked, but the lead went nowhere, according to the podcast.
White, a Rockville 13-year-old, vanished a day after her mom grounded her in 1974. The podcast details how investigators wrongly suspected that she ran away and that her sister — Aprille White Falletti, who is featured on the podcast — was covering for her.
LaRosa was 20 and a mother of three when she vanished in 1975 in the same town. Her remains were found three years later by a construction crew in a wooded area in the nearby town of Vernon. As Phelps points out in "Paper Ghosts," it was just the three young girls' cases who were initially thought to be connected to one another. It would take years before LaRosa's disappearance was linked to their abductions.
"I grew up here and still live here," Phelps told Oxygen.com. "I’ve worked these cases 12 years. I’ve known all the families a very long time. They trust me. They’ve opened up to me."
A fifth woman, Patricia Luce, has also been linked to the other four cases, the Journal Inquirer reported in 2014. She vanished at age 18 in 1978 after one of her younger brothers dropped her off at a 7-Eleven near her family's Rockville home, the Hartford Courant reported in 1997. Luce's skeletal remains were found in a wooded area of Marlborough in 1979 and a chief medical examiner determined she was murdered.
The term “paper ghosts” refers to the many missing persons posters of the original four, which were tacked around businesses and telephone poles.
“A faded photograph on a piece of paper, the only thread of hope left: paper ghosts,” Phelps said in the podcast.
But more hope may be on the horizon for the mysterious cluster of disappearances. While the cases remained stagnant for decades, the podcast promises a breakthrough in the tragic stories. A task force was developed around 2014 in an attempt to locate Pockett, Spickler, and White, and detectives began taking a fresh look at the old cases with modern technology, NBC Connecticut reported at the time.
Phelps told Oxygen.com that the goal of his podcast is "to get the families’ stories of the missing and murdered out there to as many people as possible. [...] If I can get people to come forward with information for the families, I’ll do whatever it takes."
Four of the episodes are now available to listen to on Apple Podcasts. Phelps told Oxygen.com that he expects there to be around 10 in total.
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