Can Up and Vanished help solve another cold case?
The hit podcast is attempting to go 2-for-2 when it comes to figuring out what exactly happened in the two cases of missing women host Payne Lindsey and the rest of the Up and Vanished team have taken on since launching in 2016.
In season one, Payne, 30, played a key role in helping determine the two men who've been arrested for the alleged murder Tara Grinstead, the former beauty queen and local teacher whose death in 2005 rocked the small town of Ocilla, Georgia. Yes, a curious arm-chair detective-turned-millennial-podcaster cracked the case.
The case and all of the developments that have happened since the podcast's first season ended in August 2017 were the focus of Oxygen's new limited event series, Up and Vanished, which aired last Sunday, riveting viewers will all of the twists and turns in the story of Tara's two former students who are currently awaiting trial for her murder.
But for fans impressed by the investigative (and storytelling) skills of Payne in the special, they don't have to wait for Oxygen to officially announce another Up and Vanished outing, as the podcast's second season is about to wrap up...and the case might even be more wild than the first one.
While Payne found the cold case of Tara by literally Googling unsolved murders that were close to him in Atlanta, he decided to go beyond state lines for season two, which looks into the bizarre disappearance of a Colorado woman.
"Google it all you want, but you're not gonna find much, and that's why we're spending so much time in this tiny town, to give answers to people," Payne said in an interview with The Wrap ahead of season two's release.
Originally from Arizona, Kristal Anne Reisinger was 29 when she was last seen alive on July 13, allegedly attending a full moon drum circle.
And if you thought Ocilla, Georgia, was a weird, small town full of secrets, just wait until you step into Crestone, Colorado, the small mountain town Kristal moved to in 2015, when she was in search of spiritual enlightenment. And that element of the case is a major change from season one and cannot be ignored as many of the players were tapped into the spiritual world, including Kristal, who was "pretty psychic" and practiced tarot.
"There definitely are a lot of spiritual people in the story," Payne said. "I think spiritual people tap into their feelings more and pick up on certain things that other people don't. We're not going around talking to physics to try and find out what happened to people just because there are spiritual people in this story."
(Including Kristal's young daughter, who whispered to Payne in episode one: "My mommy's in the spirit world.")
While that may sound odd, it actually isn't an uncommon story for people who end up in Crestone, a town considered sacred by the Navajo with a population of just 150 people, and is considered the "New Age Religious" capital of the world. Kristal was just one of thousands of "truth seekers" that have descended upon the area, one that has over 15 different spiritual centers, one that doesn't have a strong police presence but definitely has a strong wildlife presence.
And, of course, like all small towns, it likes its secrets.
"There are people in town who don't want this solved and we don't know all their motives," local investigative reporter Chris Halsne warned Payne.
And he wasn't kidding, as Payne and listeners would learn as the episodes unfolded, introducing strange characters with nicknames like Catfish, Big Cat and Dready Brian.
"A person can only disappear on a count of some wrongdoing by the wrong people," David, a longtime Crestone resident/organizer of the drum circles, said in episode two. "We're a community of mixed people and there's bad eggs in there, there's bad eggs. And we know it."
But was Kristal one of those bad eggs? Described as deeply intuitive, clairvoyant, and sensitive to a lot of energies, she also had a troubled past. She became a ward of the state at a young age, and struggled with substance abuse, with her father figure Rodney describing her as "a lost soul," but noted "she just wanted to be a good person."
But from the beginning, some listeners took issue with the podcast's characterization of Kristal and the breezy explanation for some of her choices, especially willingly moving away from her now five-year-old daughter, Akasha, who lives with her father and Kristal's ex-boyfriend, Eli.
In their first Q&A episode, the Up and Vanished team defended Kristal when a listener who was a mother admitted she had a hard time relating to her due to her parenting decisions.
"It's important to note that Akasha wasn't with Krystal's ex-boyfriend, Akasha was with her father and Eli is a wonderful father," producer Meredith Stedman said. "The reason for Kristal's move...was not because of some terrible falling out between Kristal and Eli. Kristal had to make some important life changes. She had a really difficult life...she herself grew up without any real parental presence and I think she really did want to be a great mother."
As for the move to Crestone, "it was something personal, but it wasn't out of neglect," Meredith said, adding she talked to both Eli and Akasha daily, and her daughter would often come stay with her.
And later, Payne took to social media to ask fans to be open.
So what were the biggest rumors going around Crestone about Kristal's disappearance over two years ago?
The biggest one is that she was last seen at the drum circle, really, because as Payne talked to more and more people who were at the gathering, no one had really seen her there...and it actually happened on July 18, after she was last seen.
"At this point, I personally think the whole drum circle theory to begin with was a rumor that was spread around intentionally to throw everyone off," Payne said in episode seven.
But the biggest pieces of evidence to debunk the drum circle theory is that she last spoke to Eli on July 14, which was also the date of her last Facebook post, a page she updated daily.
One thing most people seemed to agree on is that Kristal was hanging out with a group of guys who were bad news, and her former landlord and her ex-boyfriend told Payne that Kristal revealed to her she was sexually assaulted at a party just before she disappeared, on or around June 28. According to Eli, Kristal said she believed it was three guys, but "it's fuzzy to her because of the way that they drugged her. They sneaked it on her. She didn't know that they did that."
"I think she was in with a bad crowd and I think she knew it," Halsne said in episode three. "I don't know whether she tried to get out or figure out a way to be sage and it came to an end, or whether or not she didn't realize it in time. I think the people that were in Kristal's life at the very end were dangerous. Are dangerous, because they're still out there."
So who were the people in Kristal's life at the very end, the group of guys she was apparently spending her time with?
Let's run down the list:
Crestone Boyfriend: After learning Kristal had a boyfriend in town, Payne eventually tracked him down and interviewed him in episode four, choosing not to reveal his real name. He revealed they got into a huge argument just before she went missing and that they were going through a break-up.
But he also told a story about Kristal calling him on June 28, a few weeks before she went missing, asking him to pick her up at a guy named Catfish's house, saying she was being held there against her will. "I've never seen her that scared," he said.
Catfish: Consider him the prime suspect in Payne's investigation, as his name constantly kept coming up throughout the podcast, with many alleging he was the person who Kristal said sexually assaulted her.
"We've learned that Catfish is the son of a very wealthy family, a family that has been in Crestone for decades now. His family also owns a few spiritual centers there," Payne helpfully detailed in episode seven. "Catfish is 40 years old. He's been hanging around Crestone since his early 20s, and in that time, he's garnered quite the reputation there."
Catfish's name actually comes up in the 2016 police report after Kristal was reported missing by her landlord on July 30, as a deputy had heard through social media that he was one of the last people to be seen with Kristal. When the police visited his property, Catfish (whose real name is John) said a traumatic brain injury and hadn't left the house in months.
But he also stated that Kristal had come over around his birthday to watch a movie, smoke weed and drink wine. (Interesting to note here: His birthday is July 21, about a week after she was last seen.) He offered to let the police search his property, as he had no idea where she was.
Throughout the podcast, Catfish's name kept coming up as a suspect, with many alleging that Kristal had told them she had been raped at his house.
And then something crazy happened in episode nine: Payne interviewed Catfish...and it was even more bats--t crazy than you could possibly imagine. It was compelling and it was horrifying, sort of like the aftermath of a car crash you can't look away from.
It was an hour-long podcast filled with insensitive jokes, weird tangents and odd accusations, with Catfish going from sarcastic to scary in the blink of an eye. He seemed to be asking for money from Payne, but was he serious? "I would like some money," he said at one point. "I'd like to know how much some files would be worth to you."
He claimed he was being harassed by listeners of the podcast and people in the town because of all of the allegations made about him on it.
"Listen, you understand my frustration isn't that I got some kind of vendetta against you or something like that. I don't have that kind of mentality," Catfish said. "What I've got is, I lived there for 17 years and now I've got a bunch of gossip f--king tweakers f--king talking to me about how ... Why would I hurt the girl? I barely knew her."
His key defense? "I have obviously every ability to watch the podcast or something, and have yet to see what's being said about me is not something a guilty person would do," he said.
As for the allegations that Kristal was drugged and raped at his house, Catfish said, "It is not true," also claiming he had "never even kissed" her.
Another defense he went with was using Kristal's body type. (Yes, really.)
"She weighed, what? 200 pounds, something like that? I weigh 140," he said, later adding, "I don't know what any man could have done to her, because quite frankly, she was not a small-framed woman."
(According to entry in the Missing Persons database, she was 155 pounds.)
Dready Brian: According to some friends, Dready Brian (sometimes referred to as Tall Brian) is the one who ended up bringing Krystal to Crestone, and they had a complicated friendship for years. Brian had once totaled her car, with some believing it was on purpose, resulting Kristal taking him to small claims court in 2014.
"They were friends and stuff but she really didn't like him...but he definitely was kind of in love with her for a little bit," Crestone Boyfriend alleged in episode five.
Eli, her ex, added, "He was staying at my house and s--t, dude, after she went missing. If he did have something to do with it, that's pretty f--ked up. I mean, he knew Kristal probably just as well as I did."
Brian and Catfish used to be friends,
Big Cat: Another Cat came in the picture after Catfish alleged in his conversation with Payne that Kristal had left his house one night to meet up with someone named Big Cat. While Payne (and listeners) initially thought he might've been making this name up, Big Cat turned out to be a real Crestone resident.
After reaching out to Payne directly after hearing his name being mentioned, Big Cat admitted to hanging out with Kristal, but it was weeks before she went missing. "She kind of invited herself over, having a beer," he said in episode 10. "She didn't seem like she was strung out on drugs. She seemed fine. She didn't seem sad."
He attempted to get in touch with Catfish after the other Crestone Cat brought his name into the mix, but Catfish soon deactivated his Facebook. Cat-fight avoided... for now.
And in episode seven, Payne listed off several other men who were allegedly part of a small circle of friends with a reputation in Crestone: "A few more players emerged, and I gave them all nicknames: Calvin, Landon, and Jack. Basically, all these guys know each other. From what I found, they've had varying degrees of friendship, but regardless of who's friends with who, at one time or another, they all ran in the same circle in Crestone, a very small circle."
Of those men, Calvin was the first to go on the record with Payne, alleging he initially believed Kristal had been killed, but defended Catfish.
"Once I started talking to Catfish, I got to basically know Catfish, it wasn't him at all," he said.
Next up, Landon spoke with Payne, who alleged he had seem Kristal at Catfish's house and said, "There was an element of manipulation dynamic between the two of them."
So those are the major players Payne has been investigating, as their names continue to come up, though the case has three major challenges: A somewhat unclear timeline, no physical evidence, and, like the Tara Grinstead case, there's no body (yet).
To ramp up the search toward the end of the season, Up and Vanished teamed up with Tad DiBiase, nicknamed "The No Body Guy," who specializes in cases like Kristal's: a homicide with no body.
"The repeated rumor we hear is that Kristal could be at the bottom of a mineshaft," Payne said, so they searched the mineshafts using cadaver dogs, but nothing turned up.
Just like Tara's case, Payne's investigation eventually started happening in real-time in season two, with Payne even admitting, "Things are developing so fast at this point that we almost had no choice but to slow down for a second."
But will viewers get the same closure they got in season one, which saw the arrest of two men?
"No one, including myself, could've predicted what unfolded with Tara Grinstead's case," Payne admitted in the most recent Q&A episode. "The two arrests came out of nowhere 12 years later, a complete shock to me...obviously, I want the same result for Kristal's case, but there are so many factors that we can't control...all I can do is expose the truth, find new information and hopefully just get people talking again. And in Tara Grinstead's case, that proved to be extremely helpful. I think now in Kristal's case, most of the main players are talking, but there;s still a few people hiding out there."
So no, it doesn't seem likely that Payne & Co. will end the season with a shocking arrest. But he is hopeful that justice will eventually be served.
"I definitely think Kristal's case can be solved, I think it's going to take some time though," Payne said. "I think we learned a lot at this point, but there's still a lot of missing pieces. I think in a matter of time, we'll get them."
And, of course, there's always the Oxygen docu-series to turn to to continue the investigation. "I think now we may have a new opportunity with the TV show to cover it in a whole different way."
Up and Vanished season two's finale episode will be released on Monday, Nov. 26.
(E! and Oxygen are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)