ALEX GOLDMAN: This week we're not posting an episode of Reply All, uh, we're off for the holidays, but what we are airing is a story from Jonathan Goldstein who has appeared on the show before. It’s a story from the show he hosts called Heavyweight, absolutely one of my favorite shows in the universe. And I’ve got Jonathan here with me. Hello Jonathan Goldstein.
JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: Hello, Alex. It's so nice to be here.
ALEX: Uh yeah, it's a pleasure to have you. I sound like I'm being sarcastic, but I meant that sincerely. [laughs]
JONATHAN: I know. I have the same problem. It's a part of why I didn't do good on public radio pledge drives. I just always sound like I'm being sarcastic. Like, “Please, please give me your money.”
ALEX: I remember doing pledge drives for my college radio station, and I was like, “I'm not very good at this, but I'm going to give it a shot”. And then I did the, like, pledge training when I worked in public radio and they're like, “You know what? We're not going to put you on me. We're not going to put you on the air.” [laughs]
JONATHAN: Ah, and look at you now.
ALEX: Yeah, uh, I guess [laughs]. So, um, for the listeners of our show who haven't ever heard your show, Heavyweight [JONATHAN: mhm], can you tell them what- what it's about?
JONATHAN: Um, uh, how to describe it, well, I think what happened was I looked at the common denominators among all of my stories that I had previously done, and I saw that they all sort of dealt in some way with regret and deep dives into the past almost to kind of like a petty extent, you might say. [ALEX: mhm] And I thought, uh, you know, I can maybe turn this into a cottage industry.
ALEX: Right. So like the idea is you- someone, usually the listener writes in and says, “Hey, I have this thing from my past I would like to revisit or correct or somehow...work through”.
JONATHAN: Yes. Yeah. Like, uhh, there was one with my friend Gregor, who, uh, had lent some CDs to his techno, electro-pop musician...well, Moby. Not gonna be fancy [ALEX laughs]. He lent his CDs to Moby. Uh, Moby used these CDs to sample on his platinum selling album Play. And me and Gregor journey to L.A. to get these CDs back from Moby. We took care of business. And, uh, there was one guy who when he was a heroin addict, he pawned a gun that was a family heirloom that belonged to his grandfather that he had in World War Two. Uh, he pawned it for heroin, and now that he had gotten clean, he wanted to get the gun back to return to his father. So li- yeah it's a lo- it's sometimes it's about settling old scores or debts or, you know, mending the past in some way.
ALEX: Um, I will say, like the first season there's a lot of Jonathan Goldstein stories that have kind of like a, a lightness to them. And as the series has gone on, I feel like this season especially people are coming to you with much heavier questions.
JONATHAN: Yeah, this one feels kind of like, I hate to say it because like, we're not a true crime p-podcast, although there's nothing wrong with that, uhh, but it's kind of murder-ey.
ALEX: Yeah. So we're going to be playing the first part of a two-part episode on our show, this episode is called Barbara Shut. Would you, uh, like to try and introduce it?
JONATHAN: Yeah, I'm told that my mother-in-law has a little story. And honestly, initially, we thought- we were doing check ins at the time and we thought, “OK, this might be a cute little phone call, you know, for five minutes, it'll be endearing”. We didn't expect it to turn into a two-part odyssey. I can't explain exactly why, but it- it's one of the stories that I'm proudest of that we did.
ALEX: I- I mean It’s definitely one of my favorite Heavyweight stories, it’s really incredible, it goes places. [laughs] Um, so this is the first part of a two-part series . This episode is called Barbara Shut. Um, the second episode, which is called Barbara Wilson, is available on Spotify. All right. Here it is. Enjoy. Thank you, Jonathan.
JONATHAN: Thank you. Oh, sorry. Wait. Try that again. Thank me one more time.
ALEX: Thank you, Jonathan.
JONATHAN: You're welcome.
JONATHAN: This is Becky, my mother-in-law. Last April, at the start of the pandemic, my wife Emily told me that her mom had a mystery to solve. “Phone her,” Emily said, “Immediately.” It was all very dramatic.
JONATHAN: How are you?
BECKY: I’m fine.
Becky, it should be said, is not the dramatic type.
There’s a famous story about how while making brunch for the family her oven caught fire, and as everyone ran around phoning 9-1-1, searching for the instruction manual to the fire extinguisher, Becky sat at the dining room table, silently eating fruit salad.
So while Becky may not have a flair for the dramatic, her daughter does. “There’s no time to waste,” Emily said.
BECKY: These events, um, happened 52 years ago, by the way. So, I would–
JONATHAN: [laughs] Wait a second! Emily said that they hap—like, she was like, you better pounce on this!
BECKY: Uh, there were new revelations today.
JONATHAN: Oh, I see, ok, ok.
BECKY: About an hour, 2 hours ago. Yeah.
BECKY: Did she tell you anything about it?
JONATHAN: She told me nothing. She said just call, just call my mother.
BECKY: Okay. You wanna hear this story from the beginning?
JONATHAN: Yes, that’s a good place to start.
BECKY: Okay. I’m trying to help out with Theo’s homeschooling just a little bit.
Theo is my nephew, and Becky’s grandson. Last April, his school shut down because of COVID. So Becky stepped in to tutor him over Zoom.
BECKY: So Theo, do you know what the word “biography” means?
THEO: Biography is a book written by the person that it’s about.
THEO: Oh, that’s an autobiography.
BECKY: Yes. If I wrote a book... [FADING]
Becky and Theo met weekly, and for each lesson, she gave him a small homework assignment.
BECKY: So the first assignment was to write a description. You know, a person, a place, a thing... just, you know, a couple paragraph description.
Theo and Becky each did the assignment and then shared their essays. Theo wrote about a World Cup soccer game. And Becky...
BECKY: What popped into my head was this friendship that I had in 1968. Before you were born. [laughs]
In 1968, Becky was nineteen years old. [MUSIC] She lived in small town Minnesota and had never been out of the country. She wanted to see Europe, so she linked up with a work-abroad program that got her a job at a commercial laundromat in Copenhagen.
BECKY: But it was kind of lonely because there was a language barrier. And there was no one else my age, so it was kind of lonely. And then the third week, another American girl came.
JONATHAN: What is her name?
BECKY: Barbara Shutt.
My wife Emily says that when she was growing up, about once a year, Becky would remove the pictures above the living room couch, and project slides from Copenhagen. Emily called this “Becky time,” a journey back to when “Becky” was “Becky”, not “mom”. And right there with Becky, hovering above the couch, was Barbara Shutt. Becky and Barbara Shutt on a park bench eating sandwiches; Becky and Barbara Shutt partying in a room full of young Danes.
JONATHAN: Do you have it in front of you, the thing that you wrote?
BECKY: My story? Yeah, I do.
JONATHAN: Would you feel comfortable reading it?
BECKY: Yeah. Here it is. Um...
Looking for adventure, in the summer of 1968, I found a job in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first two weeks were lonely. But when a new worker started at the factory, everything changed. Her name was Barbara Shutt. She was thin and wiry with short, dark hair and big eyes. She was 21 years old and had just graduated from college. She was rich. Her mother was a doctor and her father, a retired college professor.
Because her mother was a doctor, she loved dispensing medical advice, whether it was asked for or not. The only advice that stuck with me was how to pop a zit with a razor blade, something she did regularly. She loved checkers, and when she couldn't find a checkers set in all of Copenhagen, she made the board and pieces out of cardboard. I hated checkers, but in the way that rich girls who are doted on by their parents can be, she was very persuasive. Barbara always knew what she wanted. So we played checkers.
She bought a bike as soon as she arrived and rode all over Copenhagen. She only managed to persuade me to ride with her once. Though I was terrified of the traffic, we spent a lovely Saturday biking all over the city until the bike she had borrowed for me gave out. For eight hours each weekday we worked at the same table folding bath towels. [MUSIC] It was a boring mind-numbing job, but I loved it because we had so much fun. We had silly nicknames for all the other workers. We sang to the pop music coming over the loudspeaker. We laughed our way through each day. As our time in Copenhagen was coming to an end we were excitedly planning our next adventure. Barbara, who loved horses more than anything in the world, was going to a fancy riding camp in England. I left first. Riding the train across Italy, Austria, Switzerland, I missed the laughter. The singing along to “Winchester Cathedral” a dozen times a day, our endless checker games. She was my best friend, but it wasn't forever.
JONATHAN: That’s lovely, Becky.
It wasn’t forever, Becky says, because at the end of the summer, in spite of their closeness…
BECKY: We never exchanged any information, any phone numbers or anything.
JONATHAN: Why do you think that was?
BECKY: I think it was because we... we didn’t... our lives seemed so different.
Becky was from Waconia, Minnesota, population two thousand. Barbara was from Cincinnati. Her parents were professionals. They had 4 cars. 5 TVs. A horse.
But Becky wasn’t envious of Barbara’s material possessions. What she did envy, though, was Barbara’s close relationship with her dad. Becky had lost her own father a few years earlier.
BECKY: She was very close to her father. She talked about him a lot. She just was so in love with her father, and he wrote her these long, beautiful letters every single day.
When Becky left for Copenhagen, she was still feeling grief over her father’s death. For Becky, those letters had to have seemed every bit as magical as Tivoli Gardens lit up at night.
BECKY: So I was writing about her. And I thought, you know... In all these years, I've never tried to find out what happened to her. And so I Googled her and I found her immediately. It's easy to find people who are dead, and she is dead.
Which brings us to the mystery Becky stumbled upon.
BECKY: She died in 2012 at age 67. And I read the obituary and I thought, wait a minute.
Becky’s sadness over the death of her long-lost friend was suddenly overshadowed by another feeling - confusion.
The more Becky read, the more the obituary seemed to contradict everything Barbara had told her that summer. There was no mention of growing up in Cincinnati. No mention of her doctor mother. And most surprising of all...
BECKY: There is no mention of a father whatsoever. You know, it had the people that preceded her in death, no father. The people who survived her, no father. There is no mention of a father and that is what she talked about constantly. “She was”—and I'm reading this to you now from the obituary—“she was raised at the Galilean Children's Home near Corbin, Kentucky, where she also attended primary school and had numerous friends.” Does that sound to you like she was raised there? I mean, it says raised, does that mean orphanage? To me it sounded like orphanage. So... it doesn't sound like anything I knew about her.
BECKY: My thought was, wait, what?! I was kind of stunned when I read this. The details were so different from what I would have expected. Then I started thinking, well, I'm stupid. Why didn't I figure out if she was so rich, why was she working this, this menial job? She could have probably afforded to...
JONATHAN: That's true, yeah.
BECKY: Yeah. I think that what she had told me was mostly fiction. I don't know how I should think about it. Was she just playing me for a sap? I mean, why? If that's it, it's a cruel thing to do.
JONATHAN: If you were able to find somebody who is still around, who can speak about her and tell you about her, like what, what would you want to know?
BECKY: Well, first of all, I want to know the truth. You know, what was her life if it wasn't what she was telling me it was, what was it, and why was she telling me the things that she was? I don’t know.
At the bottom of the online obituary is a comments section where several people have posted short notes about Barbara. Becky figures there must be someone among them who knows the truth. If only some brave soul would reach out and ask. Some brave soul other than Becky.
BECKY: I would never in a million years do it, Jonathan! How well do you know me? [JONATHAN laughs]
Becky doesn’t like to make a scene. And if there is a scene, that’s when she reaches for the fruit salad.
BECKY: I want the information but I want someone else to get it.
JONATHAN: Sure sure sure. You know, and if at any points you’re made uncomfortable and need to hide behind my skirts, I’m very happy to supply the skirts.
BECKY: Oh yeah, I need skirts. [laughs]
– BREAK –
THEO: A biography is a book that someone else has written about another person.
If an obituary is a kind of biography, then an online obituary is a collaborative one. People leave comments that exist as windows onto a life. But the comments on Barabara’s obituary page contain no stories or anecdotes, nothing to shed light on who she really was.
There is one comment, though, that feels like a lead. It’s from a guy who would’ve known Barbara around the same time Becky did. He says they were good friends from college. His name is Chris.
I have questions for Chris, so I send him an email telling him about Becky, and her connection to Barbara. But after about a week without any response, I dial a telephone number I find online. Someone picks up on the fourth ring, and what ensues is one of the stranger conversations I’ve ever had.
“Is this Chris?” I ask. “Yes,” Chris says.
“I sent you an email last week. Do I have the right person?”
“Yes,” he says.
“I got your name from Barbara’s obituary page,” I say. “Yes,” he says.
Chris isn’t what you’d call “chatty”. When I ask a question, he replies with only “Yes,” or “No.” When I ask if he can elaborate, he bristles.
“I won’t give you things,” he says, “but I will verify what things are true or not true.”
There’s a Deep Throat quality to the interview. For whatever reason, Chris has cast me as the intrepid journalist; himself, the shadowy source. In fact, when I ask Chris if I can record him for broadcast, he brings up Watergate and threatens legal action.
But in spite of that, there are moments when Chris seems eager to talk, like this is the call he’s been waiting by the phone for, for fifty years.
In the end, Chris and I talk for over an hour and a half. During that time, and almost in spite of himself, he reveals details about Barbara’s life that are precise and top-of-mind.
Like at one point, in response to a question about Barbara’s childhood, Chris points me to a 1940’s issue of the Saturday Evening Post. It features an article about the Galilean Children’s Home. The Galilean Children’s Home, he says, is the orphanage in Kentucky where Barbara was raised.
So it seems the obituary was right. Contrary to what Barbara told Becky in Copenhagen, she was actually an orphan. She had no fancy home, no doting father. I’m not looking forward to telling my mother-in-law that her friend Barbara lied to her.
But then, Chris tells me something else. At the age of seventeen, Barbara was adopted. By a couple named Charles and Jane Shutt.
The Shutts were wealthy. They lived in Cincinnati and had a horse. Her adopted mother was a doctor and her adopted father—who Chris tells me Barbara was very close with—was a college dean. Those were the parents that Barbara always talked about in Copenhagen, her adopted parents. So, while the story from the obituary is true; the story Barbara told Becky is also true.
I ask Chris if he knows why Barbara’s adopted family wasn’t mentioned in her obituary.
“Not that I would talk about,” Chris says.
“Would you say that Barbara’s life after the adoption was a happy one?” I ask.
“Until she graduated from college,” Chris says.
“And what happened around graduation?” I ask. “That I won't discuss,” Chris says.
I feel like he’s baiting me. But I have no idea why or for what.
“Whenever any of this stuff happens,” Chris continues, “You have to ask yourself what’s in the public domain, and what isn’t.”
“You could look up legal information about Barbara,” he says. He pauses.
“Well, this part I can tell you, because it's in the public domain.”
“In May of 1969,” Chris says, “Barbara killed her mother.”
For a few moments, we sit in silence: Chris waiting for me to react; me not knowing how to.
“Her adopted mother?” I finally ask. “That is correct.” Chris says.
“How was the murder committed?” I ask. “Gun.” Chris says.
“Do you know the circumstances?” I ask and this next part Chris says almost like he’s proud:
“I knew some of the details that the police never knew.”
STEVIE LANE: Oh my god.
After hanging up with Chris, I try to unpack what I just heard with my producer, Stevie.
JONATHAN: Oh my... I-- I can’t... Yeah. I um...
JONATHAN: [sighs] I was not expecting that. Like, it just froze me.
JONATHAN: Um... I don’t know that I even want to share that with Becky?
I have to admit that when my mother-in-law tasked me with looking into Barbara’s obituary, I assumed I’d discover the story of a fabulist, someone from humble origins who thought Europe a good place to reinvent herself, if only for a summer.
I never thought murder would be in my report. And now that it is, a part of me feels protective of Becky. Her summer with Barbara is a memory she cherishes. I don’t want to compromise that.
But at the same time, I know Becky as someone who flips to the end of novels because she just can’t wait to know what happens. [MUSIC] She’s curious. And so am I. So I start digging.
Over the next several days, I’m buried in news clippings with headlines like this: “Woman Doctor Found Slain in Her Office-Home.”
At the time, the trial of Barbara Shutt for the murder of her adopted mother Jane dominated Cincinnati headlines. And just a quick warning: some of the details I’m about to share are disturbing.
The newspapers describe the murder in gruesome, nearly pornographic detail. “Her almost nude body was found lying face down,” says one article. “A full blown bloodbath,” says another. As well as being shot, Jane was also beaten with a fireplace poker. Struck seventeen times in total.
Just a few days ago, I’d thought of Barbara as my mother-in-law's European summer friend, with whom she gossiped and rode bikes; now, I was reading about her violently beating her mother to death. It’s like they’re two different women.
In the photos I’ve seen of her, Barbara is striking. And the papers couldn’t get enough of the mysterious 23-year-old who’s referred to as “slender,” “olive-skinned,” “elfin-faced,” “pixie-faced,” and “gamine-faced.”
One headline, rather than referring to the trial as a murder trial, refers to it as a “waif’s trial.” The newspapers carry descriptions of Barbara’s hairstyle and clothes. On her first day in court, the Cincinnati Enquirer calls her dress, “fashionably short but not mini-mini.” It’s almost like Barbara is a movie star.
From the papers, I learn that Barbara had initially confessed to the police. But recanted her confession a few days later. Why would someone admit to a crime only to take it back immediately? To find out, I contact the Hamilton County Court in Ohio and request the trial transcript. What I receive is a document over 1200 typewritten pages long.
From it, I learn that the prosecution’s case was mostly built on Barbara’s confession. Which told the following story: On the morning of May 25, 1969, Jane told her that she and Barbara’s adopted father Charles were separating, and it was time for Barbara to go out on her own.
An argument ensued; Barbara grabbed a gun from her father’s dresser and shot Jane. She then dragged her down two flights of stairs to the basement, where she beat her to death with the poker.
“If she was alive,” Barbara explained in her confession, “she was going to tell everybody and I was going to be in a jam.”
The defense’s case, on the other hand, was built around the fact Barbara later recanted her confession. Barbara maintained her innocence throughout the trial, claiming the confession was given under false pretenses.
According to her lawyers, Barbara was horseback riding that morning and came home to find Jane dead at the bottom of the basement stairs.
“I was thinking that daddy had done it,” Barbara testified on the stand. She feared Charles had commited the murder and so she confessed in order to protect him.
“I was going to do anything that I possibly could to take the guilt off him,” Barbara said. “Anything.”
This meant cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of the gun in the Ohio River. It wasn’t until later that she learned her father was innocent.
During the investigation, police found blood on Barbara’s riding boots and gun powder residue on her hands. Also, Barbara had no defensible alibi. She was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for murder in the first degree.
BECKY: I hope my voice is okay. You know, we’re very froggy around here because the allergies... [clears throat] I’ll sound like Demi Moore.
Late one Friday evening, my mother-in-law Becky and I meet up in her den.
JONATHAN: I've been looking into Barbara's life. And uh, I'll just get in front of it by saying that some of it is... shocking.
JONATHAN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Um... the interesting thing is, in the end, I think generally the things that she told you are true, [START FADING] and the things in the obituary are also true.
I begin with the information Becky had asked for: I tell her that Barbara had not played her for a sap. Though she grew up an orphan, she was adopted by a wealthy family. But then I tell her the other stuff I learned.
JONATHAN: In May of 1969, Barbara murdered her adopted mother. Jane.
BECKY: Oh no. Really?
JONATHAN: Yeah. Yeah.
BECKY: Oh my god. [JONATHAN: Yeah] I last saw her in... August, of '68. So this was... you know, 9 months [JONATHAN: Yeah] later.
Becky says that in Copenhagen, she never saw any evidence of violence or temper.
BECKY: Boy, I never saw that would've been in her. I can’t wrap my head around it. I don't know what to think of it. What- what should I think about that? I... I thought she was a really nice person. We had so much fun together.
In fact, the time Barbara and Becky shared in Copenhagen came up in the court transcript. Barbara’s lawyer asked her about her trip to Denmark and the work she did at the laundromat. Reading it, I half expected my mother-in-law’s name to appear, but Barbara doesn’t mention Becky.
But while Becky’s name doesn’t make an appearance, another familiar name does. [MUSIC] Someone I’d spoken to just weeks earlier. Barbara’s old college friend, Chris. Chris, who wouldn’t let me record our call.
A week into Barbara’s trial, Chris is called to the stand for questioning.
“Were you in the vicinity of 122 Glenmary in Cincinnati,” the Defense asks, “on the morning of May 25th, 1969?”
“I respectfully decline to answer that question,” Chris responds, taking the fifth.
“Did you kill Dr. Jane Shutt?” they ask. Again, Chris takes the fifth.
Chris and I spoke for an hour and a half and at no point did he ever say anything about being questioned as a suspect. What the hell was going on?
Was this why Chris had been so cagey with me? Was this connected to what he knew that the police never knew? Becky wonders, too.
BECKY: What does Chris have to do with all of this? What did he have to say that he didn't feel he could say because it would be incriminating? Why did he do that? Does he know something that nobody else knows?
CHRIS: I respectfully decline to answer that question for the answer to that question might incriminate me in this jurisdiction or any other jurisdiction in the United States.
This is Chris. Reciting the fifth amendment for me now, 52 years later.
CHRIS: I remember it today.
A month after our first conversation, I received an email from Chris that I didn’t know what to make of. In it, he told me he now wanted to talk to me. And if that wasn’t surprising enough, he also said I could record the conversation.
“I think maybe we could achieve more,” he wrote, “if you’re still interested.”
JONATHAN: Hey, hey Chris.
CHRIS: Well, I’m glad we, uh, finally made contact...
JONATHAN: Yes! Yeah yeah yeah... [FADING]
I ask Chris my burning question: Why did he take the stand?
CHRIS: It was to protect Barbara. And it was suggested to me by Bernard Gilday Jr., who was her attorney. Gilday said they needed another suspect. It didn’t have to be somebody who actually did it.
The effect Barbara’s lawyers were looking to achieve was exactly the one it had on me: Chris pleading the fifth raised suspicion. With all the evidence against Barbara, Gilday was just hoping to cast a shadow of a doubt.
JONATHAN: So her lawyer, Gilday, was just looking to sort of, um... to muddy things somehow.
CHRIS: Yeah. And have a second suspect.
But why would Chris, Barbara’s college friend, implicate himself in a murder trial? It turns out that while they were friends in college, they weren’t just friends.
CHRIS: We were engaged. She sat right in front of me in the German class in the summer of ‘67. And um, one time I made a joke or something and she turned around and smiled at me, and that's when I started talking to her. That was the beginning. And, um, it went pretty quickly.
The end came pretty quickly, too. Chris was going away to California for graduate school, and the relationship would be long distance. They began to bicker. The enormity of the commitment started getting to them. So just a few months after they were engaged, and well before Jane’s murder, they called it off. But Chris’ feelings for Barbara endured. It was something her lawyers took advantage of when they asked him to testify.
CHRIS: It’s just a strange thing what you’ll do to help someone.
It was a desperate if not legally questionable move- but the defense didn’t have much. [MUSIC]
Chris was never taken seriously as a suspect. In fact, the judge ended up telling the jury to disregard his testimony altogether, claiming it had no real bearing on the case.
And today if you ask Chris if he thinks Barbara was guilty, he’s unequivocal. This is the part he learned later, that the police never knew.
CHRIS: She had purchased a gun in Richmond, Kentucky. And she went over to some woods, and she practiced with a gun. So she knew she was gonna use it. Because she practiced with it.
I’m unable to verify if Barbara bought the gun, but it is true that when her adopted father Charles took the stand during the trial, he testified that he’d never owned a gun or kept one in the dresser where Barbara claimed to have found it.
After the trial, Barbara was sent to a women’s prison in Marysville, Ohio to serve her sentence, and Chris says he visited a few times but most of their contact was by mail.
He kept Barbara’s letters and sends me a photo of one. It’s written on prison stationary and most of it is pretty mundane, but what strikes me is how Barbara records the date. Rather than the day, month, and year, she instead writes: “Mother’s Day.” Chris also tells me that Barbara was given a wide berth at Marysville.
CHRIS: She was favored by Miss Wheeler, the superintendent. For example, Miss Wheeler loved Ohio State football and she would invite Barbara only of all the prisoners to come over and watch the game. No other prisoner could go into Miss Wheeler’s house.
In that, he sees Barbara’s special talent for manipulation. In prison, Chris says, Barbara was somehow allowed to keep a camera, and even a small dog. And, she was paroled after 15 years-- 5 years earlier than the minimum stipulated by her sentence. It’s all part of a bigger pattern, he says. Like how his parents put up half the money for Barbara’s bail.
CHRIS: She used people, okay? She could get me to do things. [MUSIC] I drove her weekly to her horse riding lessons. I bought her presents. I started smoking with her. She had this feeling of entitlement, I think. I would say that was part of her character. [JONATHAN: Hmm.] She wanted to get her way.
My mind returns to what Becky said about being with Barbara in Copenhagen, the checkers games she was forced to play, the bike rides she had to take.
In 1972, Chris got married, and he and Barbara fell out of touch. In 1984, Barbara moved to Columbus, Ohio after being paroled.
Then, in 1991, Chris’s marriage ended. He didn’t wait long before reaching back out to Barbara and beginning a correspondence.
JONATHAN: Why, why do you think you reached out to her after all those years apart?
CHRIS: Curious. And I still had strong feelings for her.
Talking to Chris on the phone fifty years later, it still feels like Barbara exerts a strange force.
Chris tells me about this one day in 1991 when he was passing through Columbus, on his way to visit family in Cleveland. The way Chris describes it, it almost sounds like his car started driving itself.
CHRIS: I had my daughter with me. And Barbara had sent me a picture of her little Toyota or Mazda, whatever she had with a flower on the antenna. And I remember stopping and looking at the house and telling my daughter, who was maybe 13 at the time. I said, that's Barbara's car, and this is where she's living. And I’ll never forget, um, my daughter said to me, “Uh, Daddy, are you going to go in and see her?” And I said, “No, I just want to know that she's OK.”
Hearing the story, I can’t help but wonder if the real reason Chris changed his mind about speaking with me was simply because he longed for someone with whom to share Barbara stories.
When I ask Chris if, in the years after Barbara committed the murder, he’d ever heard her express remorse, Chris says no. But then he tells me one more story, from Barbara’s life after prison.
CHRIS: She was cutting the grass— wet grass. And wet grass sticks to the bottom of where the blade is and you have to clean it out. So she stopped the engine but she didn’t disconnect the wire to the spark plug. And she moved the blade to get all the grass out. And the- the motor started. And so two of her fingers were cut off. And later at some point, she said she thought it was punishment for killing her mother. She didn't say it as bluntly as that. But that's what she was saying.
BECKY: What started this all was the obituary.
BECKY: And although everything in it was accurate, it sure didn't tell the whole story.
Which is what Becky wonders about now. The whole story.
Because while the evidence against Barbara is overwhelming, neither Becky nor I are convinced by the motive the Prosecution presented. Why would being told to move out cause a twenty-three year old college graduate to fly into a murderous rage? Plus, if Chris is to be believed, Barbara had been planning the murder for months. What was her motivation?
Before Becky met her in Copenhagen, before Charles and Jane adopted her, Barbara Shutt was a girl named Barbara Wilson. Barbara Wilson was born in Kentucky, raised in an orphanage. Who was this girl the Shutts ushered into their home at the age of seventeen? And why did she kill Jane?
BECKY: [MUSIC] There’s so many questions I still have so... maybe some of those questions, you’ll find answers to.
On the next episode of Heavyweight…
PERSON 1: When you want to solve a murder, you discover the secrets that spawned it.
I set out to unlock some secrets.
PERSON 2: The story we got was that she had no family. And it wasn’t even true!
YOUTUBE: What’s this place called? Galilean Children’s Home. Galilean Children’s Home!
I search for the Kentucky orphanage where Barbara was raised.
YOUTUBE: There’s a kid-sized boot right there.
And the kids, now grown, who were raised there with her.
PERSON 3: Memories. I try to forget the bad ones.
JONATHAN: There were bad ones?
PERSON 3: Well...
PERSON 4: From the outside, it looked like candy and cookies. What was going on on the inside was far from that.
Part Two is out now. It’s available only on Spotify. Go there right now, and search Heavyweight to listen to the conclusion.
This episode of Heavyweight was produced by Stevie Lane, along with me, Jonathan Goldstein, and Mohini Madgavkar. Our senior producer is Kalila Holt. Special thanks to Emily Condon, Alex Blumberg, Brendan Klinkenberg, Mitch Hansen, Phia Bennin, Justin McGoldrick, JT Townsend, Rachel Strom, Mark Barlett, Jason Alexander at the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, and Jackie Cohen. Bobby Lord mixed the episode with original music by Christine Fellows, John K. Samson, Blue Dot Sessions, and Bobby Lord. Additional music credits can be found on our website: gimletmedia.com/heavyweight. Our theme song is by The Weakerthans courtesy of Epitaph Records. Follow us on Twitter @heavyweight. We’re always looking for new stories, so email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Part 2 of this episode is available right now, only on Spotify.