Growing up I always wanted to become a pilot, flying passengers around the world while having the greatest view of any office at 35,000 feet. Jump forward several years, I landed myself in a position to study communication with an emphasis in news and journalism.
Throughout my education at Brigham Young University-Idaho, I took courses teaching me everything from video production, storytelling, presentation of data and more. The Scroll, the University’s student-run news publication, provided me a foundation to learn about reporting in a real-world setting. The experience ultimately helped me obtain an internship and subsequent job at EastIdahoNews.com. Since then, I’ve told hundreds of news stories not only published locally, but around the country in print and video.
All of these experiences and stories had me wondering what I would do for my Senior Project. Some of my favorite stories involved sharing them for those who can no longer share them because they have passed on due to some horrific acts of violence.
Becoming a respected and hardworking journalist able to tell the stories in a compelling and accurate way drives my career.
For the project, I decided to start telling the story of the Pocatello Five. The five preteen and teenage girls who disagreed from the eastern Idaho city between 1978 to 1983. I presented the idea with my mentor, and with the project’s enormity, the focus shifted to just that of 12-year-old Tina Anderson and her 14-year-old friend Patricia “Patsy” Campbell.
The project would include a written article for publication at EastIdahoNews.com with an accompanying video with interviews to tell the story. The idea would be to build a connection with those in the Pocatello area as well as respectfully share the story of a case long forgotten in the eyes of many around.
Tina and Patsy disappeared from a Pioneer Day celebration and Pocatello’s Alameda Park until their remains were found three years later in a remote area of a neighboring county. To this day, investigators have not publicly named any suspects or made an arrest in connection to their disappearance and slayings.
The 42-years on a story presented itself as the greatest challenge when it comes to obtaining information and sources. Many of those involved are deceased or are in their senior years with varying health difficulties. The goal of the project would be to talk to as many people as possible including surviving relatives, investigators and potential witnesses to their disappearance.
Overall, I developed a list of dozens of names to contact ranging from investigators, family members, potential witnesses and local cold case experts. To reach this list it required me to find the original stories published as well as chatter about the case on social media and to speak with sources I’ve built. The greatest challenge came to find those still alive by researching vital records, obituaries and building connections to who’s who.
The research of any story takes the longest, including building a timeline and structure of how to tell such a story. For this project, it took 42 hours just for this phase of the story.
Once my personal knowledge of the story developed, it came down to formally interviewing as many people as I could in relation to the case. Unfortunately, only two people agreed at this time for the story, a retired investigator on the case and a local cold case expert.
The production of such a project included several trips to Pocatello and Oneida County to speak with sources and shoot video for the project. This portion of the project took about 30 hours. The editing, writing and post- production of the project took the least amount of time at 10 hours. Total time for the overall project is 82 hours.
Over the past seven months I’ve learned to love the research of stories and gathering information to tell a story. Specifically, my work on another story involving two missing children in which I’ve spent hundreds of hours. The idea of this project allowed me to continue that passion of mine on a smaller scale without much support from my colleagues to see what I could do on what I would consider an even more challenging story to complete.
What made the story of Tina and Patsy challenging is building relations with people where none existed before. The story took me to places like Pocatello and Malad where I had never spent more than an hour in before. I spoke with detectives and attempted to connect with families of the two girls whose story is almost forgotten in today’s world.
I learned the challenge of establishing connections with a specific police department cold to the media. After weeks of calls and emails during the stay at home order, the lack of response required me to make an unannounced visit to the department in attempt to speak with someone. I also attempted to gather public information dispersed to the media decades ago, and even with a formal request, the department declined.
The challenge of having key information and the photos of the two girls released at their disappearance required me to ask for other journalists’ help. At East Idaho News we have a partnership with KPVI, the NBC affiliated station in Pocatello. Fortunately, KPVI had the photos of the girls needed as released by police. After a call to their news director Matt Davenport, I established that with credit to them, the ability to use the photos considered as public record and used by many news outlets under fair use.
The project also helped me to practice my beginner skills in photojournalism. The video component of the story allowed me to use techniques I’ve learned from video principles and practices, video journalism courses, and from experienced video photographers with national networks.
As a professional journalist, the production of such a story reminds me of the importance of compassion in telling stories of people’s worst moments of their lives. The experience led me to complete coursework through Poynter University on speaking with those who’ve experienced trauma. All of this helped me learn to put myself in the shoes of those experiencing the tragedy rather than looking for a chance to dramatize a horrific event.
As a journalist, the first ethical duty is to seek the truth and report it. Through my work I’ve come to understand how in stories of this nature that principle applies greatly. The idea is coming to know of the truth, what happened and accurately telling that story to people.
I’ve enjoyed this project greatly and am excited to give the Senior Showcase an early view of the completed project set for publication on the 42-year anniversary of the disappearance of Tina and Patsy on July 22.
Working on this story opened other doors for future stories of a similar nature, and I plan to continue to pursue this story as I try to gather more details over the months and years. I’m grateful for the education I’ve received and am excited to continue my career in journalism and see where it takes me.
Two girls disappear from Pocatello Park 42-years ago
POCATELLO – Many people think detectives solve crime in an hour like on TV.
For 12-year-old Tina Anderson and her 14-year-old friend Patricia “Patsy” Campbell, the investigation into their disappearance and deaths remains much longer. The two girls were last seen at a Pioneer Day celebration on July 22, 1978, in Pocatello Idaho and to this day investigators have not publicly identified any suspects.
The two friends reportedly spent the day at the city-wide celebration gathered at Pocatello’s Alameda Park. After Tina failed to show up at a babysitting job that evening across the street from the park, family reported the girls missing to the Pocatello Police Department. It took nearly three years until hunters stumbled upon their remains in October 1981 about 60 miles away in a neighboring county.
Patsy Sherman worked on the case at the Oneida County Sheriff’s office for almost two decades before her retirement as the Chief Deputy this spring. When she first looked at the case file in 2002, a single manila envelope held everything investigators knew.
“I knew other detectives in the past kind of looked at it and hadn’t gone very far with it and kind of ran into a dead end,” Sherman said. “I took the case and went through some old reports that were in there and just started making contact with some of the names.”
After years of work with investigators in multiple agencies, Sherman said the case file now includes bookshelves full of information gathered. The information and evidence gathered led police to believe they were close to solving the case at least twice over the years.
In 2007, then Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad told reporters they uncovered two key pieces of evidence and may convene a grand jury. Then again in 2016, the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office publicly announced they were on the right track.
“Investigators are confident in who the perpetrators of the murders are, what the motive was and how the murders occurred,” a Sheriff’s Office Facebook post read in part. “The case remains open and investigators are confident that it is solved. We hope to bring some type of justice through the courts for the families who have waited so long for some type of justice and closure.”
The announcement came with a catch, as investigators had lost pieces of physical evidence and in the post called their evidence “strong” but “circumstantial.” The next year, Oneida County Prosecutor Cody Brower told KPVI that with certain evidence being unavailable, he turned the case back to investigators.
“We as police officers obviously have a different job than prosecutors do,” Sherman said. “Oftentimes we feel we have enough evidence but sometimes when it reaches the prosecutor, it isn’t quite enough. And there’s nobody to blame, it’s an old case.”
Sherman explained that today law enforcement handles evidence differently than they did years ago. She reiterated that a lot of the evidence in the case remains lost, and the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have enough for prosecutors to feel they can ethically go forward.
“That doesn’t mean it’s ever going to stop,” Sherman said. “It’s always going to stay open. It’s always going to be investigated. Information still comes to us from time to time and we follow up on every bit of information.”
In 1981 when hunters in the Trail Hollow area of Two-Mile Canyon discovered the remains of Anderson and Campbell, they quickly alerted authorities in Pocatello. With the remains found in Oneida County, the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office contacted Oneida County who returned to the rural gorge a few miles from Malad.
While there, deputies discovered the scattered bones and a skull with a small hole. Investigators also found deteriorated clothing matching that of what Patsy and Tina were wearing. At the scene the Sheriff’s Office also retrieved .22-caliber bullet casings.
As investigators positively identified one set of remains belonging to Tina through dental records, investigators needed to backtrack. The girls, last seen years earlier, were assumed runaways, but evidence pointed to something more sinister.
Crystal Douglas founded Idaho Cold cases in 2013 as a way to help solve the area’s cold cases. She specifically wanted to help a small group of forgotten men and women either killed or missing with no resolution in sight.
“I just started researching cold cases and whatever happened to them,” Douglas said. “I love hunting for old information.”
Over the years, countless hours of Douglas’s life are spent researching the disappearance and killings of Tina and Patsy. Just as the investigators hoped to do, Douglas attempted to build her own timeline of the girl’s final known hours by meeting with families, witnesses, detectives and researching documents only seen by a select few.
Pocatello Police denied EastIdahoNews.com’s request to view the initial missing persons report.
During the Pioneer Day Celebration, Tina, Patsy and other youth from the area met up for a day of fun at Alameda Park. At some point, the girls and another friend visited a home blocks away from the park.
Excerpts of police reports obtained by Douglas show the adults at the home told investigators they and the girls piled in a truck on a drive to Moonlight Road, a popular drinking spot for teens and young adults at the time.
“At that point it’s still unknown how many people went,” Douglas said.
The adults claimed to have dropped the girls back off at Alameda park where Tina planned to babysit at a home across the street. The neighbor told police that Tina did in-fact show up at around 6:30 p.m. but said she could come back at 7 p.m. Tina did not return and was reported missing.
“I don’t think this was a stranger abduction, I don’t think this was a snatch and grab on the street in a creepy van,” Douglas said. “I believe the girls willingly went with whoever it was, maybe on the premise of it was doing something else, maybe a party.”
While many theories remain out there, people like Douglas and Sherman plan to keep seeking the facts into what led to the deaths of Tina and Patsy.
“The more that you work these cases the more invested you become in them and it’s just a determination that’s inside of you that you’re not going to give up,” Sherman said. “You are kind of being the voice for those that don’t have a voice for this anymore.”
Contact Eric Grossarth