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Authors: Amy Tintera

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BOOK: Listen for the Lie
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Listen for the Lie Podcast with Ben Owens

EPISODE ONE—“THE SWEETEST GIRL YOU EVER MET”

I arrive in Austin on a Tuesday, and honestly, I'm disappointed by the lack of cowboy hats.

It's my first time in Texas, and I had visions of streets lined with nothing but barbecue joints and stores that sold boots and whatever else you need to ride a horse. Saddles? I don't know. I know nothing about horses. I've never even done that touristy L.A. thing up in the hills where you can ride a horse to a Mexican restaurant, load up on margaritas, and then ride back. Always seemed like a bad idea to me.

The Austin airport is extremely Austin. I can tell this immediately, even though it's my first time in the city. There are signs advertising that it's the live music capital of the world, and there's a band playing in one of the food courts, in case you doubted this. There are decorative guitars in baggage claim. There isn't a single Starbucks or McDonald's in the whole airport, because you know that saying?
Keep Austin Weird
? The second part of that saying, the part no one remembers, is
support local businesses
. There are only local businesses in the Austin airport.

I consider eating barbecue before I leave, but eating dinner at an airport after
arriving
seems sad. So, I jump in my rental car and head for Plumpton.

And this is where Texas is no longer as expected. It's very green. I guess I thought it was a desert. And just to really prove that I'm an idiot, it starts raining so hard that I have to pull over onto the shoulder for several minutes because I can't see the road. It's raining like the apocalypse is nigh, and I start to wonder whether it's a sign that this case was a poor choice.

I'm going to be honest with you guys. While I was sitting in that car, watching the apocalypse rain, I seriously considered going back to the airport and flying straight back home.

And honestly, I was still thinking about that barbecue.

When the rain finally lets up, I soldier on, hungry and nervous. About two hours later, I arrive in Plumpton, Texas.

[country music]

Plumpton is a quaint, charming town in the Texas Hill Country. It's home to about fifteen thousand people, a number that's growing every
year. It's a tourist town, due to its close proximity to several Hill Country wineries, but it's also become a popular spot for young couples looking to escape the big cities. The public school system is one of the best in Texas.

The downtown area is bustling with tourists when I arrive, but when I take a stroll around the block, several locals recognize me. One man even yells that he's looking forward to the podcast. My reputation precedes me.

The town is mostly local businesses, but a few chains have made their way to Plumpton as the town has grown over the past ten years. The first Starbucks opened here a couple of years ago, which at least five people complain to me about within my first two days in town.

But Plumpton's main claim to fame is Savannah Harper, to the chagrin of nearly everyone who lives here. Most people in this town don't want any part of the big-city life—they've either lived here for generations, like Lucy Chase's family, or they moved here specifically to get away from the city, like Savannah Harper's family. They don't like being known for a grisly murder.

It's a common sentiment in Plumpton—this wasn't supposed to happen here. This sort of thing happens in bad places, not in a town where all the locals know each other and attend the same church.

Norma gives me a few Plumpton tips when I check into my hotel. She's a friendly woman in her fifties, and she works the front desk until six in the evening every weekday.

Norma:
          And don't go to the bar on Franklin, that's where all the tourists go to get sloppy. A bachelorette party was throwing around penis confetti last time I was there, if you can believe that. I was finding penises in my hair for hours.

Ben:
               That's … unfortunate.

Norma:
          Go to the bar down the road a bit, on Main. Bluebonnet Tavern.

Ben:
               I'll keep that in mind, thank you.

Norma:
          You're from California?

Ben:
               Yeah, Los Angeles. Well, San Francisco, originally. I live in L.A. now.

Norma:
          That whole state is going to break off into the ocean after a big earthquake, you know.

Ben:
               I've heard that.

Norma:
          You know Lucy Chase lives out there too? Horrible woman. Savannah was an absolute peach. Just the sweetest girl you ever met. I hope you nail Lucy's murderous ass to the wall.

This, I should note, was a common theme in my first few days in Plumpton.

CHAPTER FIVE
LUCY

The house on Clover Street is the same house I grew up in. I sit in my rental car, parked on the street in front of the house, for several minutes and just stare at it.

They've painted it a new color—a subtle shade of peach that's an odd choice for the exterior of the house—but otherwise it's the same. There are bushels of purple flowers planted along the porch. A nicely trimmed lawn. A front porch swing that you can't sit on six months out of the year because it's too damn hot.

I finally muster the strength to step out of the car. It's six o'clock in the evening, still light out, and still hot as balls. The heat's relentless this time of year. It was a real dick move on Grandma's part to be born in August.

I grab my bag and trudge across the grass to the front door.

Dad opens it before I can knock. His smile is wide, friendly. Dad's so good at that Texas thing where you act polite to people's face and then talk shit behind their back.

“Lucy!” He steps forward and embraces me briefly.

“Hi, Dad.”

“I'm so glad you're home, finally. Come in!” He steps back, sweeping his arm out dramatically.

I step inside. It's cold and dark inside, as always. The house has never gotten good light downstairs.

He shuts the door behind me. His dark hair is grayer than last time I saw him. Dad's eyes are deeply set, giving him a soulful appearance that is always more pronounced when he looks at me. There's disappointment in every line of his face.

“How was your flight?” His gaze is on my suitcase.

“Fine.” Lies. I ate too much chocolate, we hit turbulence, and I almost puked. I spent the last fifteen minutes of the flight clutching the vomit bag.

He nods, briefly meeting my eyes, and then quickly looks away. He still can't look at me, apparently.

I turn away and survey the living room. The furniture is mostly new. Or new to me, anyway. There's a plushy brown sofa, and an uncomfortable-looking chair with ugly pink-and-orange-striped upholstery. The frame of the chair looks old, but the upholstery brand-new, like someone recently did that to the chair on purpose. Mom has always had questionable design taste.

On the table next to this awful chair is a picture of me and Savvy, with a few other women. It was taken at a wedding, not long after I moved back to town. We look like a photo shoot for
Southern Living
, a bunch of white ladies in pastel dresses with perfectly wavy hair.

The picture seems in incredibly poor taste to me for two reasons—one, most people think I murdered Savvy, and maybe they have a point; and two, she died after going to a wedding. Not
that
wedding, but people who come over don't know that. Do they react with horror and say, “
My god, was this taken the day she died?
” And then Mom has to launch into the whole story.

Actually, I just realized exactly why she chose that picture. Most people wouldn't want to talk about their maybe-murderer daughter, but not Mom. She knows how to work a room, and there is no better way to command attention than to tell the worst fucking story in the world.

“Your mother is in her bedroom. I think she was taking a nap,
but she's probably up now.” Dad smiles and takes a step back so there's a wide swath of space between us. “Why don't you go on up and say hi?”

The lamp on the table next to the sofa isn't new. We've had it for as long as I can remember. It's a long cylinder, solid ceramic, and heavy. But not
too
heavy. I could lift it, and swing it, and bash it right into his head. Maybe the lamp wouldn't even break. It's quite sturdy. Mom would appreciate that. She must like that lamp, considering how long she's had it.

She would not appreciate the mess, though. Blood would spurt out of his mouth and splatter across the walls. Maybe on the sofa too, and it does
not
look like the kind of sofa that's easy to get blood out of.

Not that I know which sofas are easy to get blood out of.

Maybe it would be less messy if I hit him in the back of the head. That would also be convenient, because now he's turned away from me. He wouldn't even see it coming.

Not in the moment, anyway. I don't think anyone—least of all my father—would be surprised by my murdering someone.

“You okay?”

Dad's words startle me, because he's turned back around while I was killing him, and now he's staring at me.

“You have a weird expression,” he says. “Is something wrong?”

“I'm just tired from the flight.”

I start to push the murder thoughts away, but every therapist I've been to (and I've been to several) has wanted me to deal with the violent fantasies instead of just trying to make them stop.

I recently admitted to my latest therapist that trying to avoid murdering people in my head has just resulted in me murdering even
more
people in my head. She was very supportive of my idea to just let the thoughts fly and see what happens.

So, I imagine Dad's brains splattering across the couch again and head upstairs to see Mom.

Listen for the Lie Podcast with Ben Owens

EPISODE ONE—“THE SWEETEST GIRL YOU EVER MET”

Savannah's body was discovered early in the morning, only a few hours after her death. Gil Bradford was out for a run when he came across the body.

Gil:
                Yeah, it was a Sunday, which is when I used to do my long runs. I was really into running back then, but my knees are pretty wrecked these days. Anyway, I used to jog on this trail near the Byrd Estate, which is where they have all these fancy weddings and stuff. Savannah had been at a wedding there the night before.

So, I was out on that trail when I saw this flash of pink out there in the trees. Her dress—Savannah's dress—was a pretty bright color, so I just saw her right away.

Ben:
               You saw her body right away? Or just the dress?

Gil:
                I saw her body maybe half a second after noticing the dress. She wasn't hidden at all. This was real early—like the sun had just barely started coming up, but I could still see her there, plain as day. So I ran over, and I think I was yellin', asking if she needed help.

But when I got close, I could tell she was already dead. Her eyes were open, and she was pale and soaking wet. Huge gash on her head, like someone had hit her with something. It rained real hard that night, I'm sure you heard. It had only just let up when I left for my run.

But I seen all those cops shows, so I moved away, didn't touch her at all, and called the police. Of course, it didn't matter, turned out that the rain had washed away all the evidence anyway.

(Just a note here, for those of you who are wondering—I tried reaching out to the Plumpton PD many times to see if anyone would talk to me about the case. They were … less than friendly, to put it nicely. The unsolved murder of Savannah Harper is a sore spot with the police department here, and it was made very clear to me that they would not be cooperating with the podcast in any way. We are on our own here.)

Ben:
               Had you ever met Savannah before that day?

Gil:
                 Nah, I live out on the edge of town, and I mostly keep to myself. I knew the Chases, of course, but no, I'd never met Savannah. I had no idea who she was when I called 911.

Ben:
               What happened when the police came?

Gil:
                 They sealed off the area, asked me some questions. Found her car on the side of the road—no one had been down the road that morning yet, because it got washed out in the rain. The cops had to come down the trail like me. It was hours before they could get to the car.

Ben:
               How did the other wedding guests get home?

Gil:
                 There are two roads out of the Byrd Estate. A little country road, and the main road. Savannah and Lucy left the wedding before it started raining, from what I heard later. So, they went down that little country road. But when the other guests left an hour or so later, it was already pouring, and that road was flooded. The people at the Byrd Estate roped it off. Everyone had to take the main road.

Ben:
               What happened after the police came?

Gil:
                 They had me come down to the station a couple days later. I gave them a DNA sample—I guess I didn't have to, but I said, “Look, if it'll help, just swab my cheek or do whatever you wanna do, I don't care. I know I didn't kill nobody.”

Lucy was found an hour later, walking barefoot down the two-lane road that led out of town, still in her baby-blue dress. A man named Billy Jack spotted her as he headed out of town to visit family.

Billy Jack
:      I was just driving, and I saw this girl walking. I hadn't heard nothin' about a missing person or anything like that, but she looked like she was in trouble, you know? She was barefoot and walking all funny. Staggering around like a drunk. She was wearing this dress—like a nice dress. And it was filthy. Like she'd been rolling around in the mud or got up to somethin'.

So I stopped, 'cause I'm not gonna just keep driving when this girl is clearly in some kind of distress. I rolled down the window and hollered, “Hon, you need some help?”

She stops, and she looks over at me. And I'll tell you what, I damn near had a heart attack. She had this huge welt on her forehead. Clothes soaking wet, and her makeup was all down her face. She had blood caked to her hair, I think, but it was hard to tell. Could have been mud. She was a mess.

You know how you can look at people sometimes and tell they're not all there? Man, when she looked at me, she didn't see shit. The lights were on but nobody was home. She looked like a ghost in a goddamn horror movie.

Anyway, she just turns away and starts walking again. Or staggering, really. So, I'm like, shit, I can't just drive away. And I'm sure as hell not going to drag this girl into my truck with me.

So I call the cops and tell them where she is and say I'm gonna slowly follow her until they get there because I'm real worried. I didn't know this at the time, but they had every cop in town out looking for Lucy because they'd already found Savannah's body and feared the worst, you know? Anyway, a cop gets there so fast. I could see him in my rearview mirror, doing like a hundred.

The cop catches up with her and I wait around for a bit because they want me to give a statement. An ambulance comes and at least seven other cop cars. I'd never seen such a ruckus in Plumpton before. One of the cops tells me about Savannah and I'm just like, shit, this girl must have gotten so lucky. And the cop was like, “Yeah, no kidding, hope she can tell us who did this to them.”

I don't think that a single cop at that scene was thinking that this girl was the one who killed Savannah. Everyone was so relieved. They thought that Lucy was dead too and they were so happy to have found her.

We didn't know. We couldn't have even dreamed it.

BOOK: Listen for the Lie
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