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story.lead_photo.caption On Jan. 26, 2007, Ron Ward was interviewed near his daughter's grave at Canaan Cemetery near Marshall. Olivia Jane "Janie" Ward died during a teen cabin party in September 1989, leaving her parents questioning the circumstances and feeling forgotten by what they saw as a ragtag investigation of her death. The case is the subject of Hell and Gone, a Katherine Townsend investigative podcast from iHeartRadio. It began July 24 and continues for seven more Wednesdays. (Photo by Danny Johnston via AP)

On Sept. 20, 2004, 22-year-old University of Arkansas student Rebekah Gould disappeared from the Izard County town of Melbourne (population 1,848). Seven days later, her body was found at the bottom of an embankment along a rural highway.

No one was ever arrested and the case remains open — but dead cold.

In 2018, the mystery caught the attention of writer and investigator Katherine Townsend, who made her probe of the case into a popular iHeartRadio podcast, Hell and Gone.

Flashback to Sept. 9, 1989, when 16-year-old Olivia Jane "Janie" Ward of Marshall died mysteriously at a teen party in a cabin in the woods near that small town in Searcy County. Officially, her cause of death was left undetermined, and the case was eventually closed. It was said that the girl had fallen off a 9-inch-tall porch and broken her neck.

Ward's parents didn't buy it, nor did Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette journalist Mike Masterson, who took up the case in 2004 and wrote about 200 columns describing what he calls "alarming omissions, alterations, inadequacies and falsehoods surrounding her death" and the subsequent investigation by Arkansas State Police.

Masterson's July 23 column reports that Townsend has returned to Arkansas, this time taking up Ward's case. The first episode of the latest Hell and Gone podcast premiered July 24, and new episodes are being released on Wednesdays, for a total of eight. The podcast is free and available at hellandgonepodcast.com, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Townsend, who Masterson said has family ties in Mountain View, told him, "I want to talk to everyone who was at the party and anyone who was in town that night ... who may have information about Janie's death. Please contact me anytime at Catherine@lovedetective.com or (213) 453-2165. Contacts can remain anonymous.

"In a very real sense, we are covering the stories in real time, as we release each consecutive episode even while new information is still coming to us," Townsend said.

CATEGORIES, COMPETITION AND CASH

People who write about podcasts were watching closely at the end of July as Apple began a major overhaul of its Podcasts app. If you opened the app a week ago, you may have noticed that Apple had done away completely with the Categories tab. They are back, but they are changing.

Podcast hoster BluBrry said in a blog post to its community that some 75% of podcasts will be affected, with Apple moving from 67 top and subcategories to 112. According to the blog post, Comedy, Music, News & Politics and TV & Film gained 37 subcategories, and "the most shocking subcategory to be eliminated was Podcasting, found under Technology, since there are nearly 10,000 shows found in that subcategory ..."

The Apple move is a big deal because its Podcasts app is the granddaddy of them all and its categories became the industry standard.

Changing categories is just one step Apple is taking to ensure its place in the podcast world is not overwhelmed by a very ambitious little company in Sweden known as Spotify.

In January, the hip music streaming service that also features podcasts threw down somewhere between $200 million and $500 million — depending on who is reporting it — to buy podcast publisher Gimlet Media as well as podcast hosting startup Anchor.

Apple, according to multiple reports, is said to be contacting podcast publishers and media outlets to perhaps produce original 'casts and make its content exclusive to Apple Podcasts.

Financial Times speculated that the podcast posturing is because, "in the past five years, weekly listeners have doubled in the U.K., as have monthly audiences in the U.S." Podcasts that once were considered a hipster pastime with no clear way to make money are now raking in millions in ad revenue. Advertisers recognize that podcast spots are an effective way to reach a wide, coveted demographic.

Before you grouse about the ads on podcasts, consider that if they weren't there, podcasts would likely not be free.

Discoverpods.com, a website with listening recommendations, announced at the end of July that its "Podcast Trends Report 2019" is in the works. The 2018 report included the following tidbits: 86% of podcast consumers say they've listened to podcast ads; 49% of podcasts listeners have bought an item advertised on a podcast; 77% of people listen to podcasts for more than seven hours a week; and 61% of respondents spend more time listening to podcasts than watching TV.

WHAT'S NEW?

Comicbook.com reported at the end of July that CBS is giving Trekkies something new to obsess over. Prime Directive: The Official Star Trek Podcast, coming this fall, will be hosted by comedian Tawny Newsome, whose voice stars in the CBS All Access animated show Star Trek: Lower Decks.

Prime Directive will be available to download at startrek.com as well as other podcasting apps.

"Star Trek has always been a touchstone for a larger cultural conversation. Prime Directive will continue that legacy by being a launching point for wider discussions of social issues, literature, music, philosophy, popular culture, space explorations, the environment and other topics that spring out of this vast universe," said Veronica Hart, executive vice president of Global Franchise Management at CBS, in a news release.

Send questions, comments, recommendations or podcast news to Jerry McLeod at jmcleod@arkansasonline.com.

Style on 08/06/2019

Print Headline: Hell and Gone investigates death of Janie Ward

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