Word-of-mouth is a great way to receive recommendations. And it’s how I heard of the AMI podcast, What Happened to Holly Bartlett, narrated and written by Canadian journalist Maggie Rahr and produced by Ocean Entertainment. Recently, Toby Ball of the Crime Writers On… podcast mentioned it. I was interested when he said Holly Bartlett was a young woman who was blind and lived independently. Her friends don’t believe she would have ended up unconscious under a bridge near her home without foul play. When Toby said the investigation was affected by opinions of blindness, I knew I needed to hear Holly’s story.
On a night I couldn’t sleep, I subscribed to the show and started listening. I was happy to hear a Scarlett Johansson quality voice–the local investigative reporter Rahr–not a hype-man amateur bumbling around. She wasn’t creating episodes for ad revenue, entertainment, or to take undeserved credit for possible advances in the case like some podcasters. Rahr and her team want answers. In episode one, with the Bartlett family and friends participating, it signaled this wasn’t a sleazy operation. It’s earnest reporting plus a story about a woman living with my disability. I couldn’t be more invested in justice for Holly.
Yes, the wintry night of 2010 when Holly went missing sent a shiver through me. Only one minute and fifteen seconds into the episode though and rage flared, too, as I heard a clip from Peter, Holly’s former O&M specialist. “The initial police investigation was wrapped up really quickly,” he said. “Drunk, blind girl. Case closed.” An unfortunate accident? I don’t think so.
Family participation is necessary for me to respect, to trust a true crime story. One of Holly’s sisters appears in the initial episode. Even better, we hear Holly talking about living an active life and a struggle of hers via an old interview, “The biggest thing that I face, and that I have absolutely no control over, is other people’s assumptions about me and other people’s feelings and insecurities around that. I really try to be understanding about it.“
Holly’s personality emerges which humanizes her. Her determination and strong sense of humor, her academic excellence and her social nature. One time her sister sees her walking. She pulls over her car and said, “Holly, it’s Amanda.” Holly recognized her voice. Holly let Amanda know she was headed to a yoga class and continued on. I related to her independence. I paused to consider it when Amanda said her sister didn’t celebrate her victories, it wasn’t a big deal for things that were normal.
The first episode features Holly’s mother recounting her birth and childhood. Mom’s recollections of how she learned of Holly’s blindness as well as what doctors advised after they determined the blindness was caused by a genetic factor did irritate me. The family continues on as they would have had Holly been born without blindness. They lived in a neighborhood where the kids could walk to school. Holly will build on this.
Without giving too much away, a family member ends up in the hospital before Holly goes missing. When Holly is discovered below the bridge by a construction worker, she is taken to the hospital for emergency care. I can only imagine the stress the events caused for everyone.
Later, Rahr gives more details about the police investigation. For example, the bridge security footage proves whether Holly jumped or not. Her O&M instructor reached out to police about his qualified opinion of the “route” police supposed Holly must have taken. Additional concerns about a particular individual were reported. Those subjects seemed to be discounted in the initial investigation. Friends canvassed the area, one even took notes of each interview and discovered a lead related to a parked bus. He met with police to share the information, but they continued to focus on the notion of Holly not being sober. All of this shocked me.
There is so much more to this situation. In this excellent podcast, What Happened to Holly Bartlett, Maggie Rahr takes you through six episodes to carefully tell Holly’s story. It‘s worth it. If you listen, you won’t be disappointed.
Listen to What Happened to Holly Bartlett here. And let me know what you think.