April 5, 2021

Episode 6: The Last Year

by Stolen: The Search for Jermain

Background show artwork for Stolen: The Search for Jermain

The year before Jermain disappeared was one of the most challenging of her life. But her family says, by the time she walked into the Badlander on June 16, 2018, things were starting to turn around for her.

Where to Listen

Transcript

Connie Walker: A quick warning before we start the show: this episode contains descriptions of domestic violence, suicide and self harm. Please take care while listening.


Connie: Hi, is the public search area available?


Courthouse staff: Let me double check.


Connie: Great. Thank you. I've never been here before, so ...


Courthouse staff: So you go around there, and there's one computer back there that you're welcome to use.


Connie: Thank you very much.


Connie: I'm at the county courthouse in downtown Missoula. I'm here because I've heard there may be public documents about Jermain's case that I might be able to see.


Connie: Okay, so here I am. I searched Jermain Charlo.


Connie: A document pops up. It's a search warrant application. It was filed on July 13, 2018, less than a month after Jermain disappeared.


Connie: It's an application for a search warrant from a Missoula County Sheriff's Department police officer—not Guy Baker. Page one of four. Wow, it goes on and on. Okay.


Connie: Police need a judge's permission to search any kind of private property, to go into a house, to track cell phones, to get access to private accounts. Guy Baker has told me that his search warrants are sealed, not available to the public. But this is an application from a police officer named Stephen Deibert from the Missoula County Sheriff's Department, not the Missoula City Police Department where Guy works.


Connie: Stephen Deibert of the Missoula County Sheriff's Department. That he has reason to believe that the following crimes have been committed in Missoula County, Montana. Unlawful restraint. Unlawful restraint?


Connie: Detective Deibert says that he thinks Jermain was being held somewhere, and he wants to look at her EBT card—it's a card she uses to buy food. He wants to look at the date, time and location of her transactions around the time she went missing. As part of the application, Detective Diebert outlines some of what police know about Jermain's disappearance so far. This document tells the story of the police investigation in the days after Jermain went missing.


Connie: On June 20, 2018, Missoula City Police Officer Geher spoke with Valenda Morigeau regarding her missing niece, Jermain Austin Charlo.


Connie: Valenda was at the police station on June 20, five days after Jermain was last seen. This must have been the day that Jermain was officially reported missing.


Connie: While Officer Geher was speaking with Valenda, Jacob Love came to the Missoula Police Department.


Connie: We know that Jermain was staying at her boyfriend Jacob's house, but then Valenda and Jacob tell the officer something I haven't heard before.


Connie: Officer Geher, Valenda, and Jacob discussed the possibility that Jermain was trying to hide the fact that she was staying at Jacob's residence that night. Officer Geher was made aware that Michael Defrance does not know that Jermain has a boyfriend.


Connie: So Michael might not have known about Jacob. Is that why he said Jermain told him that she was going to meet a friend named Cassidy? Did Jermain make up that friend to hide the fact that she was staying at Jacob's?


Connie: Valenda reported that Michael Defrance and Jermain have a violent history as a couple.


Connie: Then the detective goes on to explain his expertise, and says why he thinks Jermain and Michael's violent history could be relevant in her case.


Connie: "Based on my training and experience, I also know that persons with or in an intimate relationship are more likely to be a victim of violence following a breakup or following the discovery of a new relationship." Oh, my gosh. Okay. Wow. So this is a lot more information than Guy Baker shared with us.


Connie: So based on everything I've read here, it sounds like multiple jurisdictions were working together to investigate Jermain's disappearance. And they were all interested in Michael and what he knew about her new relationship with Jacob. The way this search warrant is phrased makes it sound like Michael wasn't just a person of interest because he was the last person seen with Jermain; it was also because of the circumstances of their relationship. At this point, Jermain and Michael had been broken up for a while. Why was she hanging out with him at all that night, and did Michael ever find out about Jacob?


Connie: From Gimlet Media and Spotify, this is Stolen: The Search for Jermain. I'm Connie Walker.


[00:05:22.05]***


Connie: In relationships where there is intimate partner violence, people often ask women, "Why don't you leave?" The question is built on this assumption that leaving equals freedom. Freedom from the controlling behavior, from the abuse, from danger. But as the detective wrote in that search warrant application, one of the most dangerous times in an abusive relationship can be when it ends.


Connie: From what we've learned in talking to Jermain's family and friends, reading court documents and Facebook posts, the year before Jermain disappeared could be pulled from a textbook about domestic violence—how difficult it is to stay, and how hard it can be to leave. We don't know what happened to Jermain on the night she went missing, but a year earlier she was ending her relationship with Michael.


Connie: For years, she had presented this picture online of a happy relationship. But in that Facebook post from May of 2017, she spoke out about the abuse. She said that Michael put his hands on her, and then she made a more serious allegation. She said that Michael threw her up against the pull-up bar at her house and he choked her. She said she didn't have any marks on her neck, but that she felt the burn all day.


Connie: Jermain was probably unaware, but four days after she posted that, strangulation of a partner or family member became a felony in Montana. A felony carries a much harsher sentence—up to five years in prison. The change in the law was due to the work of a group called the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission.


Joan Eliel: You know, we would love if there were no more intimate partner homicides, right? That's the ultimate goal.


Connie: Joan Eliel works for the Montana State Department of Justice in victim services. She's also the coordinator of the Fatality Review Commission. It's a group of experts on domestic violence who work specifically on the issue of intimate partner homicides.


Joan Eliel: So we were wondering, you know, why—what creates the intimate partner homicide? What are some of the indicators? Is it something that you can predict? If it's something you can predict, maybe you can prevent? And so I think that was kind of the premise going in there.


Connie: The commission started in 2003. Twice a year, over one weekend, they come together to study and dissect an intimate partner homicide. They do a deep dive into a couple's relationship, they interview family and friends, They talk to prosecutors, police, advocates, anyone the couple interacted with in the years leading up to the homicide. They're trying to figure out where things go wrong, where people fall through the cracks and what are the warning signs that the violence is escalating. When the commission met in 2016, they zeroed in on strangulation.


Joan Eliel: You know, we're hearing this, it seems like a lot of these cases where he choked me, which is—we don't use that terminology, but victims often do. We've come to recognize that that's a serious precursor because that's very intimate. That's very personal. You have to be very close to actually put your hands around someone's neck and cut off their air supply. You know, that's a pretty major red flag that things are getting out of hand.


Connie: Strangulation can be done with hands or an object like Jermain alleged. And although she didn't say she lost consciousness, it can happen within five to ten seconds, and victims can die within minutes. Oftentimes there are no external signs of injury. According to one study, the odds for intimate partner homicide increase 750 percent for victims who have been previously strangled.


Connie: After the commission saw strangulation come up time and time again, they recommended a change. The next year, the state of Montana created this legislation that made strangulation a felony. The hope is, that if a woman is strangled by her partner and he receives a harsher penalty, it could be the intervention needed to save her life.


Connie: And it's not just strangulation. Experts have identified several factors that increase the risk of an intimate partner homicide. They include: violence in pregnancy, the killing of pets, stalking, death threats, sexual assault and the possession of firearms. The more of these things that occur in a relationship, the higher the risk that it will end in homicide.


Connie: But experts say it's important to remember that these factors don't predict or cause a homicide. In fact, even if they're present in a relationship, the vast majority of women survive. Intimate partner homicide is very rare. We don't know what happened the day that Jermain said that Michael choked her. We didn't find any record of it in police documents. But her aunt Dani remembers hearing about it.


Dani Matt: I know she was very fearful in that moment. And it's a scary place to be, to not be able to breathe, and your life in somebody else's hands is what it is when they take the air from you. It doesn't take much to take somebody's life that way.


Connie: Did she tell you about it, or did you see the Facebook post?


Dani Matt: Connie, I wish I had the answer on that. I don't know if she called me or if I'd seen it and I called her, or it was one of the conversations where, you know, she just spills and tells you about all of the different events, and you don't know which one is which because she's talking about so many different things that had happened.


Connie: In the weeks following Jermain and Michael's breakup, she posted a lot about missing her kids. She said that Michael had them and wasn't letting her see them. Then on May 27, Jermain said that Michael made a threat about her children. She wrote, "Really fucked me up when he said he'd find my kids a new mom. I left because I didn't want to be abused any more and called worthless." Jocelyn, Jermain's best friend, remembers that this was really upsetting for Jermain.


Jocelyn Stevens: After she broke up with him, it was either she took him back, or he was finding them a new mom.


Connie: Was she, like, mad when she says that? Was she upset? Like, how did she sound?


Jocelyn Stevens: She was upset. She—you could definitely tell that she was broken. It was a rough patch for that girl.


Connie: Jermain posted a few more times about wanting to see her kids, and feeling frustrated that she couldn't. Then a few days later, on May 30, Jermain posted a selfie. She's got a bandana in her hair, and she looks like she's ready for a night out. She's on her way to a Def Leppard concert in Bozeman, Montana. And even though they were broken up and having custody issues, Jermain went with Michael.


Connie: After the concert, around midnight, as Jermain and Michael were driving back home on I-90, something happened. She posted on Facebook, "Someone call my dad or brother, please. I'm fucking scared. I just got pushed out of car"


Vicki Morigeau: He literally pushed her out of the car and left her. I mean, the way I understood it is his car was still going. And he just ...


Connie: Oh my goodness! Who told you about it after?


Vicki Morigeau: She did.


Connie: Oh. What did she say?


Vicki Morigeau: Well, I know she called and she was crying. She was telling me—she said, "He booted me out of the car." A cop had picked her up, and she just asked me if I could get a hold of somebody, you know, friends or somebody to go get her.


Connie: I got the court documents. A notice to appear written by a police officer says that around midnight in Boulder, Montana on I-90, Michael Defrance "Pushed female partner out of a car." He was charged with Partner or Family Member Assault. It says second offense. But we know that this was actually the third time that Michael was arrested for PFMA.


Connie: The court documents listed a witness. I was able to get in contact with her. She said she didn't speak to Jermain, but she was driving on the freeway after midnight, and saw a woman walking on the side of the road without any shoes. Concerned, she called the police. That's how Jermain ended up stranded at a police station in Boulder, Montana, three hours away from home. At 1:48 a.m. she posted she needs a ride. Quote, "Shit fucking sucks. I'll give you money on my next check, $200. Just someone get me out of here." Naomi Stevens is Jocelyn's sister. She went to get Jermain that night.


Naomi Stevens: It was still dark out when we left, and when we got down there the sun had come up. And when she came out, she obviously seemed pretty distraught. You could obviously tell something really bad had just happened, and it was causing her a lot of emotional distress.


Connie: Was she physically hurt?


Naomi Stevens: No, she was not physically hurt. It was just mainly emotional. All she kept saying to us was that it was just unbelievable what had happened to her.


Connie: Dani told me that when Jermain got back to Dixon Agency, it was the early morning. She remembers that Jermain called her very upset. Michael was in jail, and she tried to get the kids from Michael's parents.


Dani Matt: She came back and tried to get the kids from down the road, down at his parents house. And she was, again, almost hysterical and frustrated because they wouldn't let her. Like, they just kept refusing to let her have the kids.


Connie: We contacted Michael's parents, Jennifer and Shawn Defrance, to ask about this, but they didn't respond. Dani thinks that Jermain was eventually allowed to take her kids that day, but when Michael was released from jail, he took them back.


Connie: He was living with his parents at the time, and it seemed like the boys spent a lot of time with the Defrance family. There's photos of them on Facebook, getting ice cream, going swimming and camping. Two days after Michael's arrest, Jermain posted on Facebook again. She said, "I want my kids back. When tribal jurisdiction says they can't help you get your kids, really, after all I've fucking been through."


Connie: Then, several weeks later on July 29, an officer was called to Jermain's home. I read a police report about it. It's another issue with Michael. The officer says that Jermain called police. She says she has a case pending with Michael, but that he's at her house because she let him stay with her. She tells the officer that Michael was getting, quote, "handsy" with her, so she asked him to leave. He left and he took their kids with him.


Connie: The officer asks if there's a parenting plan in place. She says there isn't, which I find interesting. So there was no official arrangement for custody with the kids, but Michael seems to be able to take them and withhold them from Jermain.


Connie: The officer writes that since a physical altercation didn't take place, it's a civil matter. Which ends his involvement. It doesn't say if the officer asked Jermain what Michael getting "handsy" meant. It reminded me of her post from May where she alleged that he tried to make her kiss him. Shortly after, the charges against Michael for pushing Jermain out of the car were dismissed. We don't know why. In the documents, Michael said his defense was going to be that he was justified in his use of force.


Connie: It seems all through the summer and into the fall, Jermain and Michael were together on and off. But even when they were split up, having kids meant they had to maintain a connection. And her family says that withholding them from her allowed Michael to maintain some control over Jermain.


Dani Matt: She had to learn how to deal with that because they weren't together. He's seeing somebody else, but he's still trying to control her life. Like, "Oh, you're a whore. You can't date anybody. You can't have those people around my kids."


Connie: Leaving a violent relationship is extremely complicated—and can be dangerous. But leaving one where you share children with your abuser is infinitely more difficult. It's something Jermain's aunt Dani knows all too well, because she also tried to escape a violent relationship with the father of her children—and she almost didn't survive.


Connie: Can I ask, like, how did you get out of that situation?


Dani Matt: Oh, Connie, I tried for a lot of years to get out of it. And I'd had my youngest son in March, and I was beaten to my pregnancy with him. I mean, I was hit the day I came home from the hospital. I mean, it was—it was bad. And one night he was—you know, I couldn't even tell you what we were fighting over. Like, 99 percent of the time, he'd just get angry over dumb stuff, food was cold, I mean, took too long at the grocery store, the toys weren't picked up. I mean, just dumb stuff. And he had me, like, clean over the couch and he had his forearm into my throat. And he's on the phone with his dad, and he's telling his dad he's gonna fucking kill me. And why his dad didn't call the cops, I thought he was gonna kill me that time. and somehow, you know, he let me up, and his dad talked him into going to the transitional TLC, it's a place there in Pablo. And I mean, I gave him pots and pans and bowls and everything he needed to get started. "And I'll still let you see the kids. It's okay. You know, just go. We can't be fighting like this. Please just go."


Connie: Dani says that after her ex left, on one hand she was relieved, but she said in some ways it was more frightening when he was gone because she didn't know when or if he would come back—and what state he would be in.


Dani Matt: The day he was gonna come watch the kids while I took my oldest to soccer and he didn't show up. And so I just got the kids ready, and I was putting them in the car. And I turned the lock on the door, but I couldn't pull it closed because my hands were full. So I was like, I'll put the kids in the car and come pull the door shut and we'll go. So I get the kids all buckled in, and I start to walk up to the door to pull it closed, and he came walking up from across the way and shoved me into the house. And well, more or less told me as I was trying to close the door, "I want to talk about us." And I told him there is no us. You know, I'm leaving. And I could smell the alcohol, and he'd been drinking. And I knew the door was locked, so I was trying to pull it closed so that way we couldn't go into the house.


Dani Matt: And I couldn't get the door full closed and he shoved me into the house. And my head went through the wall, and then I ended up on the floor. And he choked me and then he let go, and then he slapped me and he'd choke me again. And then he'd let go and he'd slapped me. And it felt like that went on forever. And then I don't remember anything. And then I went to sit up, and the kids were coming inside. He'd gone out and got the kids.


Connie: Oh, my gosh.


Dani Matt: So I don't know how long I was out for on the floor. And so my son didn't get to go to his soccer game. That was, like, 9:30-ish in the morning. And God, he made me cook him breakfast. And, oh, he did some really awful things. Awful enough where they charged him with rape, kidnapping and intimidation. He wouldn't let me leave. It probably—I mean, he beat me before, but this—it was almost like torture. Told me I was his wife and I was always gonna be his wife, and if I was ever with somebody else, he was gonna kill them and he would kill me. And just crazy shit. And he fell asleep on the couch finally, after a couple of hours. And I had a bag made that had, you know, birth certificates, Social Security cards in it. And I put all that stuff in the bottom of the diaper bag and let the kids go outside to play. And I started to put stuff outside the door because he was asleep thinking, okay. And I remember telling Cedric, "Get your sister and get in the car." And I grabbed a cloth out of his walker and I ran to the car hoping he wasn't behind me. And quarter tank of gas, $5 to my name.


Connie: Dani drove straight to the police station. They arrested her ex-husband. He had been arrested for partner or family member assault before, but that never stopped the abuse. This time, she told her sister Jen—Jermain's mom—everything that happened.


Dani Matt: And she said, "Dani, you don't tell them what he did, I'm going to." And they convicted him, and they gave him 20—or 50 years with 20 suspended. And it's been 15 years, and I'm still afraid of him. And I'm still scared that he really will hunt me down and kill me. And I don't want him to ever get out.


Connie: It's been 15 years since that day, but Dani says it's still something she's healing from. Yet she considers herself one of the lucky ones—because she was able to get out, and her abuser is still behind bars.


Dani Matt: I've had to contest his parole twice. And I was granted custody and was able to file for divorce after he was incarcerated. And I still go see a therapist once a month to make sure that I can carry myself through every day.


Connie: In spite of everything, Dani was grateful that getting custody of her kids was straightforward. Her husband was incarcerated, so she didn't have to negotiate with him. For Jermain, things were different.


Connie: Coming up after the break, Jermain and Michael head to court.


[00:25:10.21]***


Connie: A few months after Jermain and Michael split up, in the fall of 2017, they went to tribal court. Even though the hearing was meant, in part, to determine what was in the best interest of their children, Jermain and Michael entered the courtroom on radically different footing. In large part because of money.


Vicki Morigeau: And they just did things day by day. You know, the best we could. You know, and we talked about getting a lawyer, and we just didn't have the money.


Connie: Jermain wasn't working outside the home. She couldn't afford a lawyer. And in most courts, you aren't provided an attorney for civil cases. There's a local organization called Safe Harbor. They help support women experiencing domestic violence, and they can sometimes provide legal services.


Connie: Jermain's family said that she had reached out to them, and while they may have given her some support, they didn't provide legal representation.


Dani Matt: I remember her sending me some documents, you know, and "Auntie you look at these, read these to me, help me understand them." And she didn't understand the documents very well, and she'd just cry over it. She was completely heartbroken over that.


Connie: Jermain's family members told me that it was only one hearing, presided over by tribal judge named Brad Pluff. I imagine what he saw from his bench. On one side, sat Michael and his attorney, and behind him, both of his parents, who were already helping to raise the boys. And on the other side, Jermain sat by herself. She had only a high school diploma, no legal experience. She was on her own, trying to convince this judge that she deserved custody of her children.


Dani Matt: And so she's sitting there pretty much, you know, a little bit of guidance, but self-represented in all of this stuff. You know how intimidating that would be? And she's already been a victim to this man for years, and now I have to go face him in court to try and keep my children?


Connie: At the time, Dani was living in Texas, and Vicki says that she wasn't allowed in the courtroom because she was a witness. She only went inside when it was her turn to testify.


Vicki Morigeau: Because when they called me in, they asked me one question, "Was Mike a good dad?" And I said, "Yeah." I mean, he was. He was good to his boys. He wasn't any good to her. They didn't ask me any other questions. That was it.


Connie: Tribal child custody hearings are private and confidential. We don't know who else was called to testify, or what other evidence was presented. We don't know if the judge had access to Michael's criminal records. If he didn't, it was up to Jermain to introduce them in court. But did she? Did she talk about the number of times she was abused by Michael? Did she say that he had been convicted twice of partner or family member assault, and arrested two other times, once for assaulting her and once for assaulting her aunt? What would it have been like for her to bring up that history, with him sitting at the next table with his parents and his lawyer?


Connie: We don't know what, if anything, about Michael was questioned, but her family says that Jermain felt like her life and her mental health were picked apart.


Dani Matt: I went through lots of years of counseling after my stuff. I encouraged Jermain to go seek counseling, and she did. And I almost felt bad because when they went to court for the kids, he tried to use it against her, saying, you know, she had mental health problems. But all the mental health issues that you get from being a victim of violence, sometimes I think well, if I wouldn't have encouraged her to go get help, maybe he wouldn't have had that to use in court. But she needed to help herself, and I was really proud of her for helping herself.


Connie: We don't know what factors the court considered about Jermain's fitness as a mother, or what Michael even brought up, though he once accused Jermain of being abusive to their son. It was during a heated exchange on Facebook with Dani after Jermain went missing. Michael wrote, "LMAO. Jermain is only their biological mother. My boys have never missed Jermain or even ever called her mother. A toddler doesn't miss a mother when she puts him in the hospital for kicking him in the privates severely. She's never cared for them anyway. All she is a psychopathic, pothead drunk."


Connie: Jermain's family denies that she was abusive, and we never found any record of it. We reached out to Michael to ask him about this allegation and the custody hearing, but he never responded. According to her family, in the hearing, Jermain also faced allegations that she had abandoned her kids.


Connie: Again, we don't know what was said in court, but before the hearing, Michael wrote on Facebook, "Pisses me off how a woman who wanted nothing to do with her kids and left them with me the entire summer so she could go sleaze around and drink and do drugs. I begged her all summer to not walk out on her kids like that, but she did it anyway. Then as I finally move on and file for custody, she suddenly comes back home and fights to get custody."


Connie: Her family says Jermain went to Texas for a week after her great grandfather Sonny died, but other than that, she was there in Montana and wanted to see her kids. Dani says that October 23, 2017, was the day Jermain had to go back to court to learn who would get custody of Thomas and Jacob.


Dani Matt: She was texting me, "Court starts in five minutes. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm scared." And I told her, "Keep your head up, keep your cool. I love you, and it will turn out the way it's supposed to."


Connie: A little while later Dani got a text from Jermain. It said, "It's done, and I'm not happy about it. I only get them Monday through Wednesday and every other weekend." Her family said Michael was given residential custody.


Connie: How did that affect her?


Vicki Morigeau: It was hard. She cried.


Connie: We don't know why Judge Pluff made the decision he did. We contacted him to ask, but he declined to talk to us. Her family says it was a devastating decision for Jermain.


Connie: Were you surprised when she told you about what happened in court that day?


Dani Matt: I really didn't expect court to go that way. The thing that shocked me more was the child support that they put on her. And that really bothered her because she wasn't working. And I think they ordered her to pay, like, $800 a month.


Connie: In the tribal court system, the amount of money that parents have to pay for child support varies widely, and is supposed to be based on income. Most people who aren't working have to pay $25 per child per month. But her family says Jermain owed Michael $800 per month. We don't know why, and we haven't been able to get any confirmation of this from the tribal court. According to their website, most people who are required to pay that much per month take home $4,000 a month after taxes. Jermain's family says she didn't make anywhere near that, and that she struggled to pay child support.


Connie: After the custody battle, Vicki says the tension between Michael and Jermain continued.


Vicki Morigeau: I just remember not long after the court thing, he went to her house because he was no longer in the household. I told her, I said, "If you don't want him there, Jermain," I said, "I will go over." And I said, "Or I'll call the cops and have him removed." And she says, "Don't call the cops, because every time the cops are called to the house, you know, they take away points," because she lived in HUD housing.


Connie: Jermain lived in rented tribal housing. Her tenancy was dependent on a point system. If she got too many points, she worried she would be evicted. It's true that points can be given for things like for noise violations, property damage or when police are called to your home. But an official in the tribal housing department told us it has a special provision to make sure that women are not penalized for calling police because of domestic violence. But based on what Vicki said, we're not sure if Jermain was aware of that.


Vicki Morigeau: I don't know the whole story, but I just know the next day when she came over, she had a bruise on the side of her face and on her arm. And I said, "Jermain, did Mike do this?" "No." I said, "Well, what happened?" And she said, "I fell in the tub." She said, "I slipped." And I said, "Don't lie to me." She said, "I'm not, Yaya." She said, "I did it." She said, "I'm—I'm the one." She said—she said the kids had been in the tub and I know how, you know, kids are. She said, "I was trying to hurry because I had to be someplace." And I think she finally told her mom that it was Mike.


Connie: Although it seemed like sporadic and complicated, Jermain did get to see her boys. And when she had them, she often posted photos and videos. In early November, there's a short, 10-second video of her with baby Jacob. He's almost two years old. He's sitting on her lap facing her, and pretending to hit her with his tiny little fists.


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jermain Charlo: Whoa!]


Connie: Jermain pretends to feel each of his little blows, and at one point he stops and is concerned for his mom. But once he sees that she's okay, he goes back to play fighting.


Connie: On December 9, Jermain wrote, "Congrats to my ex on his engagement." Michael is engaged. Jermain was posting a lot about wanting to see the boys, and a look on his fiance's social media shows that around that time, she was spending a lot of time with Thomas and Jacob. "Love these boys" she wrote on a photo with them. Jermain posted again three days before Christmas. She said, "How can someone withhold information about their kids to the mother of their kids?" Dani commented and asked, "You okay?" Jermain replied, "Trying to figure out what's going on with Thomas. He won't tell me why he went to the ER." Dani told her to call the hospital, that as Thomas' mother she has a right to know what happened.


Dani Matt: She's got to try and co-parent with a man that's hurt her for a lot of years. You know, this man took her children, beat her for years and she's lost everything.


Connie: It sounds like the winter before Jermain went missing was a very difficult time for her. Her friend Gabriella remembers hearing from Jermain after she lost primary custody of her kids.


Gabriella: And it really put her in a bad place for a while, because from time to time, she would tell me that she's drinking and that she's feeling super bad, and that she misses her kids.


Connie: Jermain had struggled with her mental health before. In 2017, she wrote a Facebook post talking about a suicide attempt that she made after her boys were born. She said, "I had two beautiful boys. My life sounded great, right? But I was in a one-sided relationship where I was still abused and treated like shit with words and abuse. I tried to give myself alcohol poisoning. Pull the pain to where I couldn't feel." Jermain said she took a dog chain, hung it from a tree, and wrote a suicide note. She says, "I stood there and imagined myself hanging from that tree. And I stopped." She says that she called a suicide hotline and talked to them for four hours. That winter, after the custody battle, Jermain was again struggling with her mental health. Another friend, Danielle Adler, remembers getting a message from her.


Danielle Adler: I believe she was in the hospital for a little bit for harming herself.


Connie: Okay.


Danielle Adler: But I can't exactly remember. It's kind of patchy.


Connie: Did she—did she try to take her own life?


Danielle Adler: Huh? I'm assuming so from how those looked.


Connie: What did it look like?


Danielle Adler: It was pretty rough, they were on her arms, and she had bandages for a couple weeks.


Connie: Oh! what did she say about it?


Danielle Adler: She just said she was going through a hard time, and that she was sorry and all that.


Connie: Danielle showed me a message that she got from Jermain at the time. Jermain writes, "I'm kind of in the hospital. It's my kids' dad. He's been a problem and it's been hurting me." Danielle responds in all caps, "WHAT? YOU'RE IN THE HOSPITAL? WHAT HAPPENED?" Jermain says, "Don't freak out. I'm okay now. I tried killing myself. I had a mental breakdown and blacked out. I don't know what happened, but I'm okay now. I just want to go home and sleep."


Connie: That December, Jermain posted on Facebook that she was in a relationship with a guy named Clinton Haymaker—or C.J.


Clinton Haymaker: We hit it off right away. It was awesome. Like, we just hung out all the time. She was a good girl. Like man, she was—she was fucking cool.


Connie: At the time, C.J. was living in Missoula. He said Jermain would come into town to stay with him, and that sometimes Michael would drop her off, but never at the house, always a few blocks away.


Clinton Haymaker: When we were, like, dating, her baby daddy would, like, drop her off all the time. And that was a weird thing. Like, I didn't know, like, where they stood. Our whole time together, like, I don't feel she told him she was dating me, you know? Like, it was—it was really kind of sketchy waters.


Connie: It seems like Jermain didn't want Michael to know about her relationship with C.J. It reminds me of what Jacob told police after she went missing, that maybe Jermain was trying to keep their relationship from Michael too.


Clinton Haymaker: From what I remember is, like, he was not a good guy. And I don't—I don't know how to say that without making him sound terrible but, like, he was a fucking prick to her. And, like, after he dropped her off, like, it would be like fucking just complete chaos, like, if her phone would ring it would be him, like, just freaking out. Like, you're not gonna see your kids again.


Connie: Like, he would tell her, "You're not gonna get to see your kids again?"


Clinton Haymaker: Yeah, totally. Yeah. I knew that she would try to make shit right with him to where she can see her kids, but at the same time, like, we're having fun together and, like—and it sounds terrible to say but our kids weren't our, like, priority at the time.


Connie: Did Jermain ever do any drugs that you knew of?


Clinton Haymaker: Yeah, a couple of times we did some drugs together.


Connie: What kind of drugs were you guys—did you do together?


Clinton Haymaker: We did meth a couple times together. And I know she didn't pursue it. She wasn't really about that. Like, she would only do it because I was doing it. We mainly just got drunk and, like, she had like stomach ulcers and shit. Like, she was told by a doctor, like, not to drink. And she would drink anyways.


Connie: This is maybe a weird question, but I'm gonna ask it anyway. Was Jermain ever violent with you?


Clinton Haymaker: No, not at all. Not at all. Not one bit.


Connie: C.J. and Jermain broke up that spring when he moved away. Around that time, it seemed like there was a shift in Jermain. She seemed stronger and bolder. About a month before she went missing, Jermain wrote, "All I want are my kids back. I'll do what it takes to get them back. They are my all." It seemed the drive to see her kids led Jermain to start making some changes.


Dani Matt: The freedom you get when you get out of a relationship, and I could see Jermain experiencing some of that freedom, it was when I talked to her and she wasn't upset about him, like, Michael constantly texting her and stuff. Like, she was making friends and she was talking to people and she was getting out of the house and, you know, doing normal adult things.


Connie: She was working at the Big River Cantina in Dixon, and she got another job tree planting for a few months. She worked that job with Jocelyn's sister Naomi.


Connie: What is that day like, what is that job like?


Naomi Stevens: Exhausting. [laughs] We were covering 90 acres. And we—basically, we would all just get in the line and plant trees.


Connie: Jermain quit the tree-planting job a few weeks before she went missing, because she was getting ready to become a firefighter. Jocelyn remembers Jermain telling her about it. It was the last time they spoke.


Jocelyn Stevens: She called, and was actually telling me that she passed her drug test to go firefighting. And she was actually pretty excited about that. She wanted to be a firefighter because her mom was.


Connie: In June, a week before she went missing, Jermain changed her relationship status on Facebook. It said she's in a relationship but it didn't say with whom. It was her final public post.


Naomi Stevens: She was saying, you know, there was—there's this guy I'm talking to, or this guy is making me feel a lot better than Michael is. And that's why she had—she had a lot of confidence in the things that she was doing, to the point of her wanting to—wanting to do more better for her kids which led to her wanting to get another job, wanting to get more money for them, wanting to be there way more for them than Michael was allowing.


Connie: The Friday night that Jermain went missing was June 15. At that point, Jermain and Michael had been broken up for months. Michael had recently split up with his fiance, but Jermain was in a new relationship with Jacob. It seemed she had moved on, so why was she hanging out with Michael on the night she went missing? Vicki has a theory.


Vicki Morigeau: Doing what she could to be able to see her kids. That was my thought.


Connie: Did that—had that happened before, like, she had to spend time with him to see the kids before?


Vicki Morigeau: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I think, you know, she would not have lost the kids. She wouldn't have to be around Mike so much.


Connie: Is that what you think happened?


Vicki Morigeau: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I mean, he—he knew she couldn't pay no $800. It's—it's control. He played that. Like, he had that hold on her even though he had a girlfriend.


Connie: But on Facebook, after Jermain disappeared, when Dani asked Michael why he was with Jermain that night, he said it was to "Help her get back on her feet and quit being a drug addict, and to start giving a damn and want to actually be in her kids lives." Jermain's aunt Valenda Morigeau remembers giving her a ride that night.


Valenda Morigeau: So I took her to the grocery store and I was like, "Well, who's picking you up?" And she goes, "Michael." And I was like—and they were already broken up at the time. So I was like, "Do you think that's a good idea?" And she was like, "Yeah. No, it's fine. We're gonna go to the monster trucks." That was like my last conversation with her. And I was like, "Well, I'll see you later, kiddo. I love you." And she was like, "Love you too, Auntie." And then she walked into the grocery store. And that was the last time I saw her.


Connie: We don't know if they went to the monster trucks, or if Jermain saw the boys at all that night. But before Jermain left to see Michael, Jermain's uncle Sam, talked to her about their plans.


Sam Matt: She said they were gonna stick around town and wanted me to go with them. And I told her I couldn't because I had to watch kids the next day. That's the last I seen her.


Connie: Then Sam told me something else that I didn't know.


Connie: Why that Friday night? Like, was it for anything in particular?


Sam Matt: It was actually a Thursday.


Connie: Oh.


Sam Matt: That's why I had to watch kids the next day. It was Friday.


Connie: Sam said that the night that Jermain asked him to go with her to meet Michael in Missoula wasn't actually the Friday night that she went missing, it was the night before. So Jermain and Michael saw each other on the Thursday and Friday night. So this whole time I've been trying to put together the information about Friday, but actually, Jermain and Michael were out together two nights in a row. Why? What happened on Thursday?


Connie: Back at the courthouse, as I read through the search warrant documents for Jermain's EBT card, I find that towards the bottom of the page, there's an account of what happened on Thursday night, the night before Jermain disappeared.


Connie: Jermain told Jacob that Michael gave her a ride to the Orange Street Food Farm.


Connie: So Michael did drop off Jermain at the Orange Street Food Farm, but it was on Thursday night.


Connie: Jacob was messaging with Jermain, and said he would meet her at the Food Farm. By the time he got ready, he noticed Jermain running down the alley.


Connie: It's about a five-minute walk from the Orange Street Food Farm to Jacob's house. Why was she running?


Connie: Jermain told Jacob that Michael had been yelling at her, asking if she was dating anyone, and wanted to get back together with her. Asking if she was dating anyone and wanted to get back together with her? Jermain told Jacob that she was keeping their relationship a secret from Michael.


Connie: If Jermain was keeping her new relationship a secret from Michael, it sounds like he confronted her about it the night before she went missing.


Connie: Coming up on the next episode of Stolen: The Search for Jermain.


Valenda Morigeau: And then I've had dreams where we're out fishing and I snag my line on something, and I pull it up and it's her jacket.


Connie: The information provided by Verizon Wireless indicated that the cell phone Jermain was using was located approximately 3.6 miles north/northeast of the Evaro cell phone tower.


Dani's husband: When you go to court, you want to make sure it's a shut—open and shut case. Right now, they got a lot of circumstantial.


Connie: If you or someone you know has been affected by abuse and needs support, free, confidential help is available 24/7 through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or by texting "LOVEIS" to 22522.


Connie: Stolen is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. It's hosted by me, Connie Walker. Our producers are Meg Driscoll and John White. Our editor is Devon Taylor.


Connie: Additional help from Jennifer Fowler, Anya Schultz, Nicole Pasulka and Heather Evans. Theme song and mixing by Emma Munger. Original music by Emma Munger and So Wylie. Special thanks to Lydia Polgreen, Collin Campbell, Reyhan Harmanci and Rachel Strom.