“Podcast of Interest”: Columbus’ True Crime Garage is a killer hit

This profile originally appeared in (614) Magazine and was published in the February 2018 issue.

In the corner of a cold bar, the walls echo with discussions of suspicion, deceit, and general human malevolence. The two men producing these echoes sip their drinks, hats pulled tight over their heads, their speech steeled by eerily extensive knowledge of murder and mayhem.

These two men aren’t plotting a crime—although they have no last name as far as the author knows. No, they’re carrying on their favorite hobby—one that has turned into a career—which is breathing new life into cases long forgotten, and rarely solved.

These two men are Nic and The Captain, and from a two-car garage they’ve built an unlikely empire on the unlucky—and in the process become de facto experts in a sordid field.

As it turns out, Nic and The Captain aren’t the only two “true crime dorks” out there. Their weird shared conversations became the foundation for True Crime Garage, now one of the most downloaded podcasts of its genre, swimming in the same sea as My Favorite Murder and Serial, riding the wave that started splashing down a few years back with Making a Murderer and The Jinx.

Nowadays, the grisly stories ripped from the headlines aren’t being portrayed by shoddy reenactments on TV—they’re being combed through by average, everyday dudes.

The pair has logged more than 200 episodes since they began in 2015, and today the show ranks as one of the most well regarded podcasts of the genre, winning acclaim from “casuals” and serious enthusiasts alike. The two didn’t set out to become leading voices in the true crime world, but they have readily adapted to a job that includes the responsibilities of investigators, journalists, and storytellers.

And in “re-opening” some of these cases—and with the powerful platform their popularity has endowed them—they’re helping to keep unsolved cases alive. They’re often in regular contact with victims’ families and work to expand the available information about a case in an effort to bring loved ones home. 

“In true crime, you often know who did the murder, but you don’t know who the victim was,” The Captain said. “We want to extend that respect to the family.”

By dint of their hard work, the podcast has become more than a passion project. True Crime Garage, which did in fact start in a sweltering and freezing garage, is now financially successful enough that the hosts have taken true crime full-time.

Close friends their whole lives—playing on the same elementary sports teams and later getting drunk in each other’s garage—TCG dates all the way back to two school kids carrying on strange conversations. The Captain recalls being on the bus in elementary school and hearing Nic and friend talk endlessly about Unsolved Mysteries, and that he later wrote lyrics about Law and Order for a band they were in. Makes more sense when you realize their fathers are detectives—something the comes in handy when researching for the show.

It could be that respectful experience that drives Nic and The Captain to avoid a true crime pitfall, in which programs often seem like exploitation. Nic admires authors like Ohio’s James Renner, who not only writes about cases but invests himself in uncovering new information. Similarly, they wanted their show to add something to each case.

“From the beginning, [Nic] wanted everything to be as accurate as possible, and to leave out information if it can’t be verified,” The Captain said. “He takes his job very seriously.”

While true crime exploded as a genre, the boys were still shocked by their sudden popularity—especially when their unpolished first shows reached nearly 10,000 downloads.

Fittingly, it was a local story that really put True Crime Garage on the map. Episodes 16 and 17 focused on Brian Shaffer, an OSU student who disappeared from Ugly Tuna Saloona in March 2006 and was never seen again. As The Captain recalls, the number of listeners skyrocketed after the episodes were published, as they provided the first truly extensive look into the crime.

“It’s actually weird how much the case has done for us,” The Captain said. “I hope we’ve done something for it.” (The Shaffer episodes remain some of the most downloaded of the show.)

Those episodes provided a turning point for the podcast in other ways, too. TCG has always tried to bolster their reporting with a tremendous amount of research—no article, documentary, police report, or local news coverage goes unturned, Nic says, but their approach in this case led them beyond the library. The Captain took to exploring the South Campus Gateway complex personally, taking photos of buildings and filming himself retracing Shaffer’s last known steps. They even followed up on a tip about a body recovered in one of the Great Lakes that fit the description of Shaffer. (It was later determined to be someone else.)

Putting all of this information together in a cogent, linear program serves a larger purpose, Nic said. It creates a sort of information clearinghouse that allows the average person to stay on top of a case, which will in turn hopefully lead to a break. For that reason, it is not uncommon for family members of the disappeared to get in touch with tips and information. The father of Joey LaBute, for example, who went missing in Columbus in March, 2016, reached out in gratitude for what the show did to popularize his son’s case.

“I prefer to cover unsolved disappearances—it’s sad when someone is ripped out of this world and you Google their name and nothing comes up,” Nic said. “To hear from relatives that you covered someone’s case well, that’s really the best email you can get.”

Things continue to look up for True Crime Garage in 2018. A new season is in the works; they renewed contracts for a year of steady advertisements, and there are plans to visit a few true crime conventions. There have even been discussions about converting the podcast to a visual medium. Many people have aspirations of doing creative projects with friends for a living; True Crime Garage’s DIY success shows that it can be done, and that it can be more than entertainment in the process. But while they get plenty of offers to sponsor the show or help with merchandise, thus far they’ve spearheaded their own success and are comfortable doing things on their own terms.

“When we started, we were just seeing if we could do it,” The Captain said. “My advice for people just starting out is to do an episode a week, do it for a year, and don’t expect a dime. But if you focus on the actual content, everything else will follow.”

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