News

Slow-burn podcast to find the truth in real-time

Alison Sandy has been investigating a decades-old mystery as people around the world listen in.

By Tatiana Carter

It reads like a feature film synopsis. “A much loved mother, teacher and friend steps on a plane for an overseas adventure and is never seen again. Marion Barter, the former wife of Australian soccer great Johnny Warren, went missing in 1997. The circumstances surrounding her disappearance are bizarre. Her daughter has never given up hope of finding her. This is her quest.”

The Lady Vanishes explores the disappearance of Marion Barter. Photo: Supplied.

And for the past three years, 7News Freedom of Information editor Alison Sandy has joined that search for answers in The Lady Vanishes podcast. 

It has uncovered bizarre details about Ms Barter’s disappearance – the secret name change before her trip to the UK, the mysterious use of her passport several weeks later by someone returning to Australia, the series of daily cash withdrawals from her bank accounts.

I soon realised due to the story’s complicated nature and its many twists and turns, the only way I could do it justice was through a podcast.

Alison Sandy

In the decades since Ms Barter disappeared, her daughter Sally Leydon has never accepted officialdom’s conclusion that her mother disappeared of her own accord.

Then, Alison met Sally. 

Sally Leydon and Alison Sandy. Photo: Supplied.

The journalist wanted to investigate the disappearance of Ms Barter and her efforts have garnered international attention in the process.

The Lady Vanishes was created in 2019 by Ms Sandy and Bryan Seymour, with Sally Eeles and Marc Wright. 

With a background in FOI, Ms Sandy felt she could assist Ms Leydon in the search for her mother.

“Sally had spent more than 20 years trying to find her mum and was hitting brick wall after brick wall,” she said.

“As someone who had specialised in FOI for more than 20 years, I knew I could help her with that. 

“When Sally told me her story, I was outraged and wanted to help her anyway I could. 

“I soon realised due to the story’s complicated nature and its many twists and turns, the only way I could do it justice was through a podcast.

“They had really taken off as a medium in 2019 and continue to be one of the best story-telling mechanisms particularly if you’re trying to unravel a mystery in real-time.”

The podcast, which has 33 episodes to date, has recorded more than 10 million streams and downloads. 

And some of those listeners have become active participants in the investigation.

“The best thing about podcasts is the reach they have,” she said.

“The internet has made a big difference in being able to access a global network of listeners/readers, but podcasts help to engage and capture their interest and imaginations in a much more cost-effective way than TV or movies.

“It’s incredible how many people want to help and continue to do so.”

The podcast inspired a team of “super sleuths”.  One of these researchers,  Joni, uncovered a critical clue when she found a personal ad posted under the name M.F. Remakel. 

About a month before Ms Barter embarked on her UK adventure in 1997, she changed her name via deed poll to Florabella Natalia Marion Remakel –  a  highly-unusual last name.

A young Marion Barter. Photos: Supplied.

The ramifications are explored in the podcast, which has also had significant impact.

Since The Lady Vanishes was launched, Ms Barter has been reclassified as a missing person.

There is now a $250,000 reward for information about her disappearance and a coronial inquest is under way.

The Lady Vanishes has been a slow-burn project for Ms Sandy who considers it the most rewarding experience of her career.

“It really has been a fly by the seat of your pants’ experience but I don’t know if I’d do anything different in terms of the podcast,” she said.

“This is a journey to solve a mystery and find out the truth in real time and we are authentic in our portrayal of what that takes.

“And I think that resonates with listeners, many of them who have been listening for years now say they feel like our friends, because we are joined in this journey together.”

When encouraging other women to create podcasts, Ms Sandy believes having a good team is essential for building and maintaining a successful production. 

“My advice to anyone else starting out is to make sure you have a good team in place who are as devoted and passionate as you are about the project,” she said.

You can stream The Lady Vanishes on most platforms including Spotify, iTunes, and Acast or visit the website here.

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