Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM094: The Fatigue of Violence

In the nearly 20 years that Susan Randall’s been working as a private investigator, she’s seen Vermont’s most disadvantaged people struggling to have life’s most basic amenities.  Sometimes her job is to interview people addicted to crack, to help determine whether they’re suitable parents. Sometimes her job is to examine blood spatter at gruesome crime scenes.  She recently helped defend a client who murdered a DCF worker in broad daylight.


Content Note:

Descriptions of violent crimes

Susan has seen how humanity’s worst instincts become possible where cyclical poverty, incarceration, and drug addiction wreak havoc on communities.

There’s a necessary split screen in Susan’s mind.  One screen shows a home life: dropping her kids off at lacrosse, helping them with school projects.  And another screen shows a work life: prison visitation rooms, run-down trailer parks, the color-shifted skin of a corpse.

Producer Erica Heilman interviewed Susan over the course of three years.  Erica is a private investigator herself, and Susan was her mentor. The two talk about the mechanics of the legal system, poverty and how to survive a job that takes such an emotional toll.

Erica produces the podcast Rumble Strip. Some of the audio on this episode came from here and here.  Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton re-purposed this audio for Here Be Monsters.

Music:  The Black Spot

HBM093: The Brain Scoop

In school, Divya Anantharaman used to get teased for having long skinny fingers like ET.  But now she sees them as valuable asset for the intricate work she does.  Divya runs Friends Forever Taxidermy in Brooklyn, New York.  


Content Note: 

Fleshy Sounds

In this episode Divya carries a recorder with her while as she slowly disassembles a deceased pet parrot: snipping joints, scooping brains, removing eyes, separating the skin from the body. Birds’ skin is very thin—Divya likens the peeling to removing a delicate silk stocking.

Jeff Emtman edited this episode with help from Bethany Denton.  We found out about Divya through Erika Harada, another skilled artist in the Brooklyn taxidermy scene.  

Divya Anantharaman with a deceased Himalayan pheasant.

If you have an episode idea for us, please reach out via email, twitter, facebook, or instagram.

Music: Serocell (new album out!) and Phantom Fauna

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.


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.


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.


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.

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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”.


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 Daniel Greene, Rachel Schapiro and Tony Baker.   

Music: The Black Spot | | | The Other Stars

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