EXCLUSIVE: The story of the murder of six Black girls in the Washington, D.C. area in the 1970s is to be turned into a podcast and scripted series.
Jay Ellis, who starred in Top Gun: Maverick and HBO’s Insecure, is behind both projects.
The podcast series, Freeway Phantom, will launch May 17. It comes from Ellis’ Black Bar Mitzvah, Tenderfoot TV and iHeartPodcasts and is hosted by public radio veteran Celeste Headlee.
It will tell the story of how Carol Spinks, Darlenia Johnson, Brenda Crockett, Nenomoshia Yates, Brenda Woodard and Diane Williams were murdered between 1971-1972 and discarded alongside D.C. highways. The killer taunted police with a chilling note claiming responsibility, and terrorized victims’ families with calls to their homes. Five decades later, their killer has never been brought to justice.
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Freeway Phantom will share the stories of the six victims and explore new evidence that could crack the cold cases wide open. Headlee has spent the past two years sifting through boxes of documents and interviewing investigators and family members still haunted by these murders for the 10-part series.
One of Headlee’s most notable contributors throughout the podcast is retired D.C. police detective Romaine Jenkins, who spent a great deal of her career working on the Freeway Phantom murders. The series also explores racial disparities, how strategies for solving murders have evolved over time, the lack of trust between law enforcement and local communities — a theme that persists today — and the role of community action in bringing forth justice.
Tenderfoot TV is the company behind series such as Atlanta Monster, The MLK Tapes and To Live and Die in LA. Black Bar Mitzvah, which Ellis runs with Aaron Bergman, is currently in production on feature documentary Sue Bird: In the Clutch, and its unscripted series All the Single Ladies premiered on OWN in January.
Ellis and the producers are already working up plans to develop a scripted series based on the podcast.
“This is an engrossing story, not only because of how much has changed in the way we track down serial killers, but also what has not changed,” said Headlee. “Our effort to protect the public is still hampered by racism, mistrust between communities and authorities, and a lack of cooperation among those whose job is to protect and serve. This series answers so many tough questions and asks just as many.”
“What struck me when I first heard about these cases was both the tragedies that these families have had to endure for so long, and the parallels happening today with other missing Black and Brown girls throughout the country,” added Ellis. “That’s what fueled my desire for Black Bar Mitzvah telling this story — to shine a light on the stories of the victims and their families, and the inequities that continue to exist 50 years later.”
“The lack of coverage, then and now, surrounding the murders of these six Black girls is shameful,” said Donald Albright, co-founder and CEO of Tenderfoot TV. “We are grateful to collaborate with iHeartPodcasts and Black Bar Mitzvah to not only tell their stories, but to further investigate these horrific crimes, and address many of the same systemic issues that persist today.”
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