A Canadian Broadcasting Corp. audio series has the sound and feel of an old-timey radio detective serial, with footsteps, dogs barking, hushed voices and confrontations with suspicious characters.
But this case, “Someone Knows Something: Donald Izzett Jr.” is all too real.
The five-part podcast series, released May 12, takes an in-depth look at the unsolved suspected murder of Izzett, who disappeared in 1995 at the age of 19 and may have been killed in Fernwood.
The podcast by investigative filmmaker David Ridgen has a new installment each week.
The first installment, which lasts 50 minutes, opens with the voices of Pike County District Attorney investigator Truett Simmons, Izzett’s mother Debra Skelley of Maryland and former Pike County sheriff’s investigator Chris Bell as they investigate the suspected crime scene at a remote site in Fernwood, with a dog barking in the background.
Skelley then describes her last encounter with her son, when he announced he was going to take a break from college and go on a road trip. That was May 9, 1995.
On May 14, Mother’s Day, Skelley got a phone call from him.
“Right away I realized he was upset, and he told me he needed me to wire him some money,” Skelley said. “I asked where he was at. There was a scuffle — I don’t know what it was — in the background, then a scream, and the phone went dead.”
Her son didn’t call back.
“It was less than a month later that I sat straight up in bed and I told my husband, ‘Don is dead, I know he is. I don’t know how to explain it, but I know.’”
Skelley reported her son missing, but Maryland State Police found no evidence of foul play and didn’t officially list him as missing until August.
Skelley said her son had been a good student and track runner who loved books. They had a brief falling out in 1994 when she learned he was gay.
“Somebody asked if I was going to bring that up and I said yes, it would be dishonoring him if I didn’t,” she said.
Izzett tried to lose himself in the military. He enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1993 but withdrew, then the Air Force, from which he was quickly discharged. He enrolled in college to study journalism but dropped out in May 1995 to travel.
In October 1995, Skelley — who has a degree in criminal justice and psychology — got a break in the case when she received a letter from authorities in Buckeye, Ariz., threatening Donnie with arrest for not appearing in court for a speeding ticket issued eight days after the Mother’s Day call.
Skelley contacted Buckeye authorities and learned Donnie had been driving a green Mazda Miata registered to George “Shane” Guenther of McComb.
She called the Guenther residence and spoke with Shane’s mother Sue, who said Donnie had indeed been at her house with Shane.
“She told me that he and Shane had gotten into a huge fight. They left. Shane returned and Donnie wasn’t with him,” Skelley said.
Skelley notified Maryland police, who discouraged her from pursuing the investigation.
Years passed with no progress until 2016 when a Maryland officer let Skelley copy 340 pages from Izzett’s file.
According to the file, Shane and Donnie met in early 1995 and drove to California, where Shane said he told Donnie to call her for Mother’s Day.
They drove back to McComb, then to the New Orleans French Quarter, where Donnie met another man and he and Shane temporarily separated.
They then returned to McComb, spent the night at the Guenther house, and decided to separate. Shane claimed he took Donnie back to the French Quarter, dropped him off and never saw him again.
Armed with a microphone, podcast producer Ridgen went to Guenther’s home in Washington State and rang the door bell.
Guenther opened the door a crack and Ridgen identified himself as working with the CBC on the Izzett case.
Guenther replied, “My attorney told me not to comment. I can’t make any comments.”
When Ridgen pressed the case, Guenther said, “Hey, I said please, no comment.’”
Ridgen left his business card and Guenther shut the door.
Skelley had also learned of another key person, named Kyle, who had apparently been with Guenther and Izzet in McComb in May 1995 but had never been interviewed.
Ridgen called Kyle’s residence, a woman’s voice answered — and the first episode ended.
For that and future episodes, visit the website cbc.ca.sks or the Facebook page “Someone Knows Something.”