Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM092: Carry the Scent

Robert Larson does not have an easy job. He searches for missing people with his dog Captain Dexter as a K9 search and rescue volunteer. Robert often travels across the Midwest, and he does this work pro bono, relying on donations from his supporters to pay for gas, lodging, and dog food.

grey.png

Content Note:
Death of Child
Mention of Suicide
Coarse Language

Robert does not work with law enforcement. He’s not certified to do this work by any professional agency. He says that he has to work alone to do his best work, outside of the red tape of official search and rescue teams and law enforcement agencies.

In 2013, Robert felt compelled to search for a missing one-year-old named Bryeon Hunter. It was his very first search. Robert went at it alone without the permission or cooperation of law enforcement. He quit his job and spent a 30 days searching for Bryeon, falling behind on his bills all the while.

HBM092-01.jpg

Incredibly, despite his lack of training and lack of support, Robert found Bryeon in the the Des Plaines River.

Since finding Bryeon, Robert started his own search and rescue unit called K9 Specialties. He’s very active on Facebook, often using it to solicit donations and get referrals for missing persons cases from his followers. He’s gained a substantial following, but also hateful facebook group dedicated to disparaging Robert and his work.

The group RTL Fanclub posts rebuttals to Robert’s Facebook activity almost daily. Its members have even gone so far as to caution families of missing people against working with Robert, claiming that he’s a con man and inept at search and rescue. They often criticize him for not having a “real” job, and accuse him of inflating his abilities. The group has about 230 followers at the time of broadcast.

It’s not unreasonable for Robert to be met with skepticism and criticism. Search and rescue is a field that attracts scammers because families with missing loved ones are vulnerable to exploitation. After 9/11, scammers claimed to have found missing people. One K9 handler Harry E. Oakes charged hundreds of dollars a day for his services before he was debunked. Another K9 handler, Sandra Anderson, was indicted in 2004 for planting human remains for her search dog to find. Another fraud, Doug Copp, made hundreds of thousands of dollars after creating an unfounded theory to surviving an earthquake called the Triangle of Life.

According to former executive director of the National Association of Search and Rescue Kim Kelly, there is a profile of a typical search and rescue scammer:

  1. They’re driven by ego, claiming to be “the only one” who can help, or overstating their skills.

  2. They self-deploy, which is never done by legitimate search teams.

  3. They work alone.

  4. They use their dogs to play on people’s emotions and assumptions. As one search and rescue expert put it, “people don’t think it’s a real search unless there are dogs and helicopters.”

Robert occupies a grey area. He claims to help people the police have forgotten, people that the police don’t have time for. He points to his meager lifestyle as evidence of his pure motivations. To Robert, him doing something is better than nothing. To his detractors, Robert does more harm than good, making promises he can’t keep, and overstating his abilities.

This episode was produced by Lee Gaines and Alex Kime. It was edited by Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman. Nick White is our editor at KCRW, and Kristen Lepore is our manager at KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.

Music: The Black Spot

HBM091: Hypnosis of Hunger

Producer Bethany Denton found a box in her basement storage room with two old cassette tapes inside. It took her a moment to realize what they were.

grey.png

Content Note:

Descriptions of disordered eating

Bethany has been fat her whole life, even when she was a kid. She ate hidden stashes of food when she felt anxious. By the time she was eleven years old, Bethany’s parents worried she would have health problems as as an adult, and they thought weight-loss hypnotherapy could help. The hypnotherapist tried to guide Bethany’s subconscious mind into making choices that would help her lose weight, like developing the ability to control her hunger with an imaginary dial in her mind. The hypnotherapist had Bethany visualize her favorite greasy, salty potato chips covered in vomit.  She had Bethany visualize her ideal, thin body, and affirmed that this ideal body was “who you really are.”  The therapist recorded their sessions and gave them to Bethany on cassette tapes.  She was supposed to use them to relax.

Fifteen years later, Bethany never lost the weight, never achieved that ideal body. But she doesn't really eat potato chips anymore either.

For information about treatment for disordered eating, visit The Emily Program.


Bethany Denton produced this episode and Jeff Emtman edited it. Here Be Monsters is part of KCRW’s Independent Producer Project, edited by Nick White and managed by Kristen Lepore.

Music: The Black Spot

Do you have questions about how the show is made? Ever wonder how Jeff and Bethany work together? Who the hell is this “Nick White” guy? Give us a call, and we’ll answer it in an upcoming mailbag episode. Call us at (765) 374 - 5263 or email us a voice memo.

→ Be sure to check out our merch, and don’t miss Meat Posterjust in time for Valentine’s Day. ←

HBM090: Two Small Creatures with Human Eyes

Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus of Human Origins, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

Ian Tattersall, Curator Emeritus of Human Origins, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

Natural history museums are art galleries.  Scientifically focussed art galleries, but art galleries nonetheless.  

Ian Tattersall, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is a paleontologist who sometimes oversees the construction of models for the museum.  Of personal interest to Here Be Monsters producer Jeff Emtman are reconstructions of very lifelike early humans, one with an arm draped over the other.  Ian calls these the “Laetoli Figures”—named for the place in modern-day Tanzania where some remarkable footprints of two hominids were found preserved in volcanic ash.  

As far as early humans go, Australopithecus Afarensis are well understood.  There are 300+ individuals in the fossil record, including the famous ~40% complete fossil of “Lucy”.

HBM090-01.jpg

Given the evidence, there’s a lot scientists can be pretty certain in declaring: they lived in the trees, but they could walk upright.  They had small brains and big jaws, but their canine teeth looked a lot like a modern human’s.  

There are other questions that are answerable through inference, through studies of modern animals and other fossils.  These techniques can yield a strong degree of certainty.

But if the artist were to stop constructing at the edge of certainty, the models would never be completed. There are certain things that are essentially unknowable about these early hominids, like: “What did their skin look like?” “What color was their hair?” “Did they have the dark sclera of an ape, or the whites-of-the-eye of a modern human?”

These uncertainties are ultimately up to the artist to answer.  “When you’re making a museum exhibit,” Ian (not an artist) points out, “you’re trying to create an illusion.  And to work at all, the illusion has to be complete.  And so you have to have all the details in there.”

But these details are a form of artistry used as evidence by biblical creationists to lambast hominid reconstructions.  They see it as part of an effort to deceive the public, to lead them to believe that these ancient hominids were more human-like than they actually were.  Of particular interest to them is that question of the light sclera vs. dark sclera.  One author writes:

Notice that a fossilized eyeball was not found.  So how would anyone know that the sclera was white, which would cause it to look more human. [sic] The reconstruction is pure speculation about how Lucy’s eye looked.

A replica of the specimen of Australopithecus Afarensis colloquially named “Lucy”.

A replica of the specimen of Australopithecus Afarensis colloquially named “Lucy”.

Natural history museums are faced with a decision: create full-flesh reconstructions that by necessity contain elements of artistic license, or, present the public with mere bones.  Most seem to opt for the former, and understandably so.  The museum serves the public, and, like HBM producer Jeff Emtman, they want to see something relatable and remarkable, a piece of scientifically-oriented art.  

And this question the artist must face, the question of the dark sclera (more ape-like eyes) and the light sclera (more human-like eyes) reveals something interesting about the artist and the process used to create the art.  The choices an artist makes can speak to their worldview, their biases, and their knowledge per their location in the world and the current moment in time.  

Ian recognizes this, saying,

You could not do a reliable reconstruction of an ancient human being or a dinosaur, or an extinct mammal without the science; and you certainly couldn’t do it without the art.  And this is where the two really intersect in a meaningful way.

And the AMNH itself houses exhibits related to the ways in which modern assumptions about the past have affected the way the past is present, such as:  Griffins in the Gobi Desert (protoceratops), Cyclops of the Mediterranean (dwarf elephants), and the infamous unicorn horns of Western Europe (narwhal).

Ian says that, in the quarter century since the construction of the Laetoli Figures, dominant scientific perception has changed to suggest that Australopithecus afarensis might have actually had dark sclera. As he puts it, “science is a work in progress.”

Jeff Emtman produced this episode.  
Voicemails from HBM listeners including Rachel Schapiro and Tony Baker.   

Music: The Black Spot | | | The Other Stars


We want your questions for an upcoming mailbag episode. Maybe you’ve got a question about how we make the show.  Maybe you have a question for someone we’ve talked to on an episode.  Maybe you want some relationship advice.  Maybe you can’t fix your damn microwave and you just need someone to tell you what to do.  

Give us a call: (765) 374 - 5263 or send us a voice memo: HBMpodcast@gmail.com.

Also, check out our new meat poster, designed by Adam Fein, of HBM circle shirt fame.  Get your HBM meat poster today!

Here Be Monsters Meat Poster
Signed:
Quantity:
Buy That Meat Poster!

HBM089: Human Wish Tree

Tatianna Zichella is the sideshow performer also known as The Amazing Mazi Keen*. Sometimes, Amazing Mazi sticks swords down her throat and into her stomach juices. Sometimes she suspends her body from hooks in her skin. And sometimes she asks people to make a wish, write it on a piece of paper, and staple it to a fleshy part of her body. “Like a human wish tree!” she tells producer Bethany Denton, as she hands her a staple gun.

grey.png

Content Note:

- Language

Music: Lucky Dragons

* This name is derived from Mazikeen, a comic book character from the Sandman series, who (in turn) derives her name from the Jewish version of the Arabian jinn or genii.

A post shared by Mazi Keen (@theamazingmazi) on

HBM088: Riptides and a Sinking Ship

A riptide recently pulled Ariana into open water off the shore of Santa Monica.  She thinks it’s her closest brush with death thus far.  A lifeguard rescued her.

Even before the incident in Santa Monica, Ariana had a deep fear of water and drowning—so deep that she wondered if some previous version of herself sunk in a shipwreck.  

The are different kinds of panics, some more helpful than others.  

Music: The Black Spot

Episode produced by Jeff Emtman with help from Bethany Denton.  Please review us on Apple Podcasts.

IMG_20171024_231721549.jpg

The $1* DIY Hydrophone

1. Find a condom

2. Rinse the lube off

3. Dry it out

4. Put it on a microphone

5. Tie off end w/ rubber band

* Microphone not included.  Cheaper if you buy in bulk.