March 15, 2021

Episode 3: The Dark Horse

by Stolen: The Search for Jermain

Background show artwork for Stolen: The Search for Jermain

To find out what happened to Jermain, first we have to question everything we thought we knew. We have to go back to the beginning: the night she disappeared.

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Transcript

Connie Walker: Sometimes the stories we think we know the best are the ones we have to be the most skeptical of. The ones we have to pick apart and scrutinize, because often they've been repeated so much that they become an entirely different story.


Connie: Like the story of how Montana was settled. The simplest version—or the settler version—is that colonists were moving west, encroaching on Indian land. So the parties came together and signed a treaty, an agreement to share the land. And here we are. End of story.


Connie: But the truth is much more complicated. When you look closer, you find that actually the real story is very different. The truth is, Jermain Charlo's ancestors, the Bitterroot Salish, didn't want to leave their homeland. They didn't want to sign the treaty that saw three tribes in Western Montana give up 20 million acres of their land in exchange for 1.3 million acres and $120,000.


Connie: The Chief of the Bitterroot Salish refused to move for three decades. But eventually, Jermain Charlo's great great great grandfather, Chief Charlo, along with hundreds of his people, were forcibly removed by the US military, and marched 60 miles north onto the Flathead reservation.


Connie: The US government said Chief Charlo had to move, that he had agreed to it. But that was a lie. The Salish chief had actually refused to sign the agreement, so his signature on the document was forged.


Connie: That lie impacted generations of Bitterroot Salish, and the story of how Montana was settled was repeated over and over and over, printed in textbooks, lectured in classrooms, until it might as well have been true. Because if you don't correct the record, the stories people tell can start to seem like the truth.


Connie: There are only a few things that we know to be true about Jermain Charlo's disappearance. She stepped out of a Missoula bar, walked down an alley, and was never seen again. The theories about what happened after she turned that corner are based on what people said, their stories about who she saw, what she did and where she went.


Guy Baker: You're always listening to what people are saying, and then obviously, you're trying to find evidence to corroborate or refute their statements. And then hopefully that leads you to the truth or as close to the truth as you can get.


Connie: And now, as I've been reporting on Jermain's disappearance, I've come across another story that needs to be scrutinized.


[NEWS CLIP: Missoula police are identifying persons of interest in the disappearance of Jermain Charlo, who was last seen in Missoula in the early hours near Orange Street Food Farm.]


[NEWS CLIP: She was last seen near the Orange Street Food Farm in Missoula.]


[NEWS CLIP: Near the area of the Orange Street Food Farm.]


[NEWS CLIP: Orange Street Food Farm between Orange Street.]


Connie: The story of where Jermain was last seen was told over and over. But what I've learned is that people told conflicting accounts about what happened the night Jermain disappeared. I need to find out why If I'm going to get any closer to understanding the truth.


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


Connie: Detective Guy Baker is walking a fine line. Although he wants to keep us engaged in Jermain's investigation, he seems keenly aware there's a danger in saying too much. I feel he walks that line every time we talk. I've interviewed him several times. He's told me about leads he's investigated, sightings of Jermain that were dead ends, and he's even talked to me about the person Jermain was last seen with on the night she disappeared.


Guy Baker: It's a person that she knew, and a person that she knew well, that was an acquaintance. So can't really tell you more than that just for the integrity of the investigation.


Connie: Another thing Guy is reluctant to tell me is this person's name. I understand why. It's an open investigation. But it only makes me more curious about who they are. This person could be one of the most important people in understanding what happened to Jermain.


Guy Baker: You know, a person who’s last with a person is usually your prime suspect until you can rule them out.


Connie: Although Guy never says their name, he does tell me some information about them.


Guy Baker: She was with someone whom she knew and had a prior relationship with.


Connie: The person she was last with is Jermain's ex-boyfriend. And I also find out he's the father of her two boys. Finding him and talking to him was one of Guy's first priorities.


Guy Baker: And then obviously, started looking into the person who was with her last, and getting them tied down to a statement that then we could either corroborate or refute.


Connie: Guy said he needed a statement from Jermain's ex about what happened that night so that he could try to verify it, but Guy wasn't assigned Jermain's case until 11 days after her disappearance. And before that, in the day or two after she was last seen, it was her grandmother Vicki, her Yaya, who was trying to find Jermain.


Connie: One of the first calls Vicki made was to Jermain's new boyfriend Jacob to find out if he knew where she was.


Vicki Morigeau: And I asked him. I said, "Jacob, have you heard from her?" And then I think he is the one that told me that she had been with Mike.


Connie: Vicki tells me that Mike is Michael DeFrance, Jermain's ex and the father of her kids.


Vicki Morigeau: I never really knew Mike that well. He was pretty outdoors-y. And I think that's something that drew Jermaine to him, because they did a lot of fishing and hiking. And I just know when Thomas was young, they would go camping and things like that, things that she liked to do.


Connie: Vicki said Jermain and Michael dated for years, but they had been broken up for a while. She said Michael had a new girlfriend, and Jermain was in a new relationship too. Vicki doesn't know why they were spending time together that night, but she was curious about where they went and what they did.


Vicki Morigeau: Then when I got scoops from some of the other people, I said, "Well, where was she?" And they said, "At The Badlander. And she's friends with one of the bouncers from The Badlander, this guy named Nick. And I know Nick because he'd been to my house. You know, him and Jermain were really good friends. I don't know if they kind of—I don't know if they really dated, but they hung out. And I even called Nick. I mean, this is a concerned Yaya, you know? And I said, "Nick, tell me. You know, tell me what happened." He said, "Well, Jermain was in here." Nick said, "Yeah. Oh, Ick was with her."


Connie: He called him Ick?


Vicki Morigeau: Yeah. He said, "That nasty thing." He said, "You know I won't say his name." I said, "I know." He didn't like Mike. Nick did not like Mike. He said, "We talked." Nick told me, he said, "We went out and had a cigarette." And he said, "We just talked about she wanted a tattoo, and we were talking about the design."


Connie: I'd like to talk to Nick and Jacob. Vicki doesn't have Nick's number any more, but Guy gave me Jacob's so I decide to give him a call. There's no answer.


Connie: I didn't leave a message. I didn't leave a message because I want to think about that before I leave a message, actually.


Connie: But a few minutes later, Jacob calls me back. He says he can't talk right now because he's busy. But I'm here for a few more weeks, so we make a plan to connect later. Jacob sounded nice on the phone. He said he's looking forward to talking to me and thanked me for getting in touch. I can't wait to talk to Jacob, but in the meantime, I decide to go to The Badlander to see if I could find Nick or anyone who might remember seeing Jermain and Michael that night.


Bartender: Hello. How's it going?


Connie: The Badlander is a big bar. There are only two people inside, and they both seem to work here.


Connie: I'm doing a story about Jermain Charlo. Did you happen to know her?


Bartender: I didn't know her, but I know who she is.


Connie: Okay, yeah.


Bartender: Was that a couple years ago?


Connie: Yeah, it was two years ago.


Bartender: I read a lot about it. I wasn't working.


Connie: Do you guys know a bouncer named Nick? He used to work here.


Bartender: He hasn't worked here for a year or more.


Connie: Oh, really? Okay.


Connie: Unfortunately, they're not sure how to get in touch with Nick. But The Badlander wasn't the only bar Jermain was at that night. Guy told me she was also seen at two other bars: The Golden Rose and The Dark Horse. And The Golden Rose is in the same building as The Badlander, so I go there next to see if anyone remembers Jermain.


Connie: I find the bartender.


Connie: I'm doing a story about Jermain Charlo. Did you know her?


Bartender: No.


Connie: But she doesn't remember Jermain either. The last bar I want to check out is called The Dark Horse. It's about a ten-minute drive away in another area of town.


Connie: Oh, I can hear people playing pool.


Connie: The Dark Horse looks like a metal bar that, judging by the album covers on the wall was decorated in the '70s or '80s. Definitely a different scene than the trendy bars downtown.


Connie: I'm a reporter, and I'm doing a story about a woman named Jermain Charlo. Did you ever hear of her?


Bartender: Yeah. She's the one that came up missing or something, wasn't she?


Connie: Yeah, exactly. So I just came to see if anyone here would remember her.


Bartender: You know, I vaguely remember seeing her that night, because I was bartending that night.


Connie: Oh, wow. Okay. You're, like, the first person I've talked to who actually remembers seeing her that night.


Bartender: Her and the guy that she was with came in, they ordered. The guy paid for the drinks, and then they—I went to grab something from the other side. And when I came back, they were gone.


Connie: Oh, wow. Do you remember what the guy looked like?


Bartender: Kind of skinny. Had a hat. I believe he had a Carhartt jacket.


Connie: Okay. And do you remember what she was wearing?


Bartender: She had a baseball cap on and jeans. And I don't remember what kind of shirt, it was too long ago.


Connie: Okay. What do you remember about her, just in general?


Bartender: Just that she was very pretty.


Connie: Yeah.


Bartender: I had to talk to the police about it. But yeah, it was—it's been quite a while.


Connie: Two years, actually. Two years last week was the anniversary. Do you remember what time of night they came in here?


Bartender: It was around 10:00, I believe.


Connie: If Jermain and Michael were here at 10:00 p.m., this must have been the first bar they went to that night. They probably left here and headed downtown.


Bartender: They sat right down there in those two end chairs and talked.


Connie: Did it seem like they were together, like they were a couple?


Bartender: They came in together.


Connie: But, like, were they, like, huggy, or ...


Bartender: No, they never actually—you know, there was no physical contact between them. They were just talking down there at the end of the bar.


Connie: What did he—like, what was his demeanor like?


Bartender: He didn't seem like he was, like, angry or anything. You know, he just seemed like he was trying to chat her up, you know what I'm saying?


Connie: What did it seem like—like, did you notice anything out of the ordinary about how they were talking?


Bartender: No. She seemed more interested in her phone than the guy that she was with. Texting back and forth with somebody on her phone, or doing something on her phone, anyway. You know, I'm not sure what exactly she was doing, I didn't get close enough to see. But yeah, she was more interested in her phone than the guy.


Connie: I know that Jermain was messaging with her new boyfriend Jacob that night. And that at some point, they even communicated over video, because the photo on her billboard was actually a screengrab that Jacob provided to her family and to police.


Connie: Thank you very much.


Bartender: Yeah, you're welcome.


Connie: What's your name?


Bartender: Luke.


Connie: Luke? Nice to meet you.


Bartender: Nice to meet you too.


Connie: I'm so glad to talk to someone who remembers seeing Jermain. But in some ways, I'm more confused than ever. Obviously, I do not know Jermain or Michael, I don't know when or why they broke up. But when I heard they were hanging out that night, I wondered if maybe they were getting back together. But what Luke says doesn't really support that. I wonder if Lowell has any insight. He's one of the only people who has seen the surveillance footage from outside the bar. I asked him what he saw between Jermain and Michael that night.


Lowell Hochhalter: You know, on what I watched, nothing was—at least from a physical standpoint, nothing looked like there was any tempers rising or hot conversations or anything like that. It just didn't seem like that.


Connie: Did she seem—like, did she seem like she was intoxicated?


Lowell Hochhalter: No, not at all.


Connie: Although the video didn't provide many clues about their relationship, Lowell says it was still interesting to watch Jermain and Michael hanging out at night.


Lowell Hochhalter: She was social, Jermain was. You could tell she was social. She liked to dance, she liked to play pool. Even in the video that, you know, we were able to see, man, she mingled with anybody that was around. If they would go back into the bar, yeah, she'd move over to the next group of people and start a conversation there.


Connie: That wasn't his personality?


Lowell Hochhalter: No, no, no. It didn't seem like it was like that to me, you know? But you could—I mean, even in that video, you know, he you could tell he was—I don't know, maybe the word's "third wheel." He kind of tagged along. Everybody that they seemed to talk to, she was in front. He kind of stood behind, and hands in his pockets, his baseball hat on, you know? Just kind of standing off to the side. Wasn't—you know, didn't push himself forward.


Connie: Lowell said Jermain and Michael come in and out of the footage until around midnight when they walked down the alley away from the bar.


Lowell Hochhalter: At least what we could see, it didn't look hostile. It didn't look like there was anybody that was angry or, you know, they just looked like they were walking. You know, they weren't hand-in-hand and they weren't arms around each other, but they weren't distant. But, you know, once they left the frame, you know, everything in you wants to be able to look around, you know?


Connie: Someone does know what happened after they left the alley. Coming up after the break, when Vicki still couldn't find Jermain, she called Michael.


Vicki Morigeau: And he said, "I knew I should have just followed her. Like, I had that instinct, like I should have followed her." And I thought, "What?"


Vicki Morigeau: So I covered my ground. I talked to all three of them.


Connie: Jacob ...


Vicki Morigeau: Nick and Mike.


Connie: After Vicky called Nick and Jacob to ask about Jermain, she also called Michael to see if he knew where Jermain was.


Vicki Morigeau: I got on the phone with Mike. I said, "Mike where's Jermain?" He goes, "What are you talking about?" I said, "Where's Jermain?" I said, "I've tried to call her." And I said, "Her mom has been trying to get a hold of her. You were the last person that they knew." And I said, "Where is Jermain?" And he said he dropped her off. That she was supposed to meet, or she wanted to go see this girl.


Connie: Michael told her that after they left The Badlander, he dropped Jermain off. He said Jermain was going to meet a girl named Cassidy, but Vicki had never heard Jermain mention anyone named Cassidy. She thought it was strange. She had no idea who Cassidy was or why Jermain would be meeting with her at that time of night.


Vicki Morigeau: That's when he told me he dropped her off at Orange Street.


Connie: So that's why it was reported that Jermain was last seen at the Orange Street Food Farm, because that's where Michael told Vicki that he dropped her off. And then Michael said something else that seemed even more strange to Vicki.


Vicki Morigeau: And he said, "I knew I should have followed her. Like, I had that instinct, like I should have followed her." And I thought, "What?" You know?


Connie: So you talked to him for 15-20 minutes and he said ...


Vicki Morigeau: All he said is, "Oh, I should have followed her." But he sounded like they had a really good time and blah, blah, blah. And he dropped her off. And that's last time he seen her.


Connie: So he told you, like, I was with her all night and then I dropped her off?


Vicki Morigeau: No, he didn't say all night. He just said that, you know, they had been together. And she was checking in with a friend on a tattoo and just, you know, like, trying to make it like everything was hunky dory happy.


Connie: Did you believe Mike when he told you that?


Vicki Morigeau: No, not really. And I think he knew it.


Connie: After talking to Michael, Vicki was more worried than ever. She was still out of town, but she called her kids in Montana right away.


Vicki Morigeau: Things just didn't sound right. And so I called home again and I told them, I said, "You guys need to find Jermain." And I said, "You guys need to do something." I said, "Get together, figure this out."


Connie: Vicki and her husband David headed back to Montana as quickly as they could.


Vicki Morigeau: I said, "Because we've got to go home. This is my granddaughter's missing.


Connie: And then you came home, and then what happened after that?


Vicki Morigeau: After that, then we've been just—everything we can to search for her.


Connie: Her family still has so many questions about that night, about what happened to Jermain after Michael says he dropped her off. So did police. We don't know exactly when, but some time after Jermain disappeared, Michael came in to talk to police. Lowell says he was there too.


Connie: You said you did eventually talk to him?


Lowell Hochhalter: Yes, absolutely. I personally talked to him. Yes. He agreed to let them look through his truck and, you know, different things like that. And so while they were doing that, of course, we're just off to the side and visiting. You know, he comes off as a pretty nice person, pretty normal person.


Connie: Lowell says it was a casual conversation, but that he watched Michael carefully while they talked.


Lowell Hochhalter: I mean, he was very conversational, very—you know, he didn't come across as being overly nervous. I've had a little bit of training in forensic interviewing and how to read body language, and—you know, and then part of it is just, you know, human, it's just a basic human instinct is to, you know, feel the energy that comes off an individual when you're—you know, it's like when you're visiting with someone, and you go, "Man. They seemed uptight." But I can't say that he seemed uptight or anything that night. There didn't seem to be an overt nervousness or anxious feel. But I mean, there was a concern that was there.


Connie: Lowell's not a police officer, so his observations and his questions for Michael were a bit more general.


Lowell Hochhalter: There were some questions that I just asked man to man, you know, and I asked about his little boys. The children that he and Jermain shared. And I said, "You know, I'm always concerned with little kids. You know, when their—especially when their mommy is missing." That's—I don't care how young they are. That's—I mean, there's a connection between mom and child. So we had that conversation.


Connie: What did he say? How were the kids doing?


Lowell Hochhalter: He said they were doing good. He said they had asked about their mom. And he didn't know how to necessarily present that to them. You know, being that he'd never gone through anything like that. I mean, he's a pretty young man himself.


Connie: Lowell says at one point in the conversation, Michael commented on how much time Jermain spent on her phone that night.


Lowell Hochhalter: She spent all our time on it, and you could see him get agitated, you know? And I'm not giving away anything. You know, they allowed me to be a part of that interview. And so what I'm telling you is what was in my conversation with him outside of that. You could see him get agitated when he talked about she was always on her phone and constantly texting.


Connie: That reminds me of the bartender from The Dark Horse who said that Jermain seemed to be more interested in her phone than the person she was with that night. I think it's important to say that Michael DeFrance has never been charged with any crime related to Jermain's disappearance. He's never been arrested or named a person of interest by police. But Guy told me that when someone goes missing, the person who was the last to see them usually becomes a prime suspect until you can rule them out. And it seemed that Michael's talk with police didn't lead to them ruling him out. Something Michael said to Guy about Jermain actually increased his interest in him.


Connie: Great, now we're rolling again.


Connie: Guy and I are in the car driving in Missoula.


Guy Baker: So this is Orange Street Food Farm.


Connie: Michael told Vicki that he dropped off Jermain at the Orange Street Food Farm. We're here because Guy wants to show me something. He's still careful about revealing too much. He never says Michael's name to me, but I know that's who he's talking about.


Guy Baker: But this is where she was reported to have last been seen, but the investigation determined she actually was seen west, several blocks west in this neighborhood over here. But this is the Orange Street Food Farm that's always mentioned in the media as where she was last seen.


Connie: But you mean—when you say, like, it was determined, what does that mean?


Guy Baker: Because the information the family initially had, the person said that they last saw her here, but I determined that that's not true, that she was actually seen a ways from here. So I don't know if it's because that person is not from here and they didn't know how far away they were from the store, or it's a lie.


Connie: Guy says his investigation determined that Jermain was not dropped off at the Orange Street Food Farm that night, and that Michael told him that he'd dropped off Jermain somewhere else..


Guy Baker: The information he provided to the family is not the same information he provided to me. So that—I was aware that early on. And, you know, that caused some interest to me if here's the last person to see her, because we only have one person claiming to where he dropped her off at. And we could not corroborate that with video or other independent eyewitnesses that said, "Oh, I saw her here," or "I saw a girl get out of the car and walk down there." That didn't happen. So we could not prove that things went down the way he claimed, but I do know some of the things he claimed were absolutely not the truth.


Connie: What does that mean? Why did Michael tell two different stories about where he dropped off Jermain that night?


Connie: Can you show me where you know that it was? Like, blocks west? Where's west?


Guy Baker: Sure. I'll show you real quick.


Connie: Guy and I drive away from the Orange Street Food Farm. We're driving through a residential neighborhood with not a lot of traffic. I'm going to play the whole thing so you get a sense of just how far we're traveling away from the grocery store.


Guy Baker: But the media picked it up early on because the family reported she was last seen at Orange Street Food Farm so that's what's always been in the media. But she was actually last seen near the intersection of South Fifth Street West and Prince Street, which I'll show you right up here.


Connie: That's not an insignificant distance then. Like, this is quite a bit.


Guy Baker: It does seem to me to be significant. I mean, we'll see when you get down here. You're not from here, and tell me if you think somebody could confuse that store with this location, or if they just were off by what they thought was a little ways. So you see where that traffic light is? One block this side of that traffic light is where she was last seen. So the person told the family one thing, and the person told me something else. And that's the difference of where it was. So do you think that's significant or insignificant?


Connie: Well, that's probably, what, 10 blocks, 11 blocks?


Guy Baker: It's eight, yes.


Connie: Yeah. No, it seems pretty significant.


Connie: This is a quiet, residential neighborhood. The distance from here to the Orange Street Food Farm seems significant, but I don't really know this area. Guy says Michael is not from Missoula either. And even though he was driving that night, people told us he was also drinking. Maybe that's why he was confused about exactly where he dropped Jermain off. Guy says Michael told him that Jermain got out of his truck, and he last saw her walking into the darkness.


Guy Baker: Right here. She was reported last seen right here.


Connie: Is this because somebody lives around here?


Guy Baker: No. This is where the person said they dropped her off.


Connie: Like, they're just like, "Oh, stop here. Dropping me off?"


Guy Baker: That's where she—the person claimed that she wanted them to drop her off there.


Connie: So you seem skeptical of that.


Guy Baker: No, I wouldn't be surprised if that's where they were dropped off. But why would the person tell the family he dropped her off at Orange Street Food Farm? That's a big difference to say I dropped her off at the store, or I dropped her off in a neighborhood a little ways from the store, or I dropped her off a ways from the store as opposed to the store. That seems weird to me. And obviously, you're always looking to see what is deception, right?


Connie: It seems like Michael telling two versions of where he dropped off Jermain is a red flag for Guy. Uncovering deception is obviously important in any investigation, but Guy says it's not cut and dry. You also need to understand the reasons behind it.


Guy Baker: So obviously, you've got to ask yourself why someone would be deceptive with the family. You don't have anything to hide, why are you deceptive? If you lie about little things, it can put a shadow of doubt over big things. You know, there's lots of reasons why people are not honest about things. And sometimes it's not because of criminal culpability, but sometimes it is. But I'm always very conscious to if you've got nothing to hide, you shouldn't lie. And why are you being deceptive?


Connie: Guy says Michael is the only person who claims to have seen Jermain after they left The Badlander that night. Guy's never found any other witnesses or video. And although he wasn't able to corroborate either of Michael's claims, I wonder if Guy was able to refute them.


Connie: But I was thinking about, like—because you said in your investigation, you were able to determine that she wasn't dropped off where the person said they dropped her off. And was that because they just told you, or is that because you looked at the cell phones and you were like, "She didn't go that way?"


Guy Baker: Yeah, I can't tell you that. But I know that what the family was told is not the truth. And I know the truth.


Connie: What is the truth about what happened to Jermain Charlo? Why would Michael tell two different accounts of dropping her off? Why did he tell Vicki he had an instinct to follow her? I want to talk to Michael, but first, I need to know more about Jermain's relationship with him and what led to that night in June.


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


[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jermain Charlo: Hi, I'm Jermain. This is my vlog about me.]


Jocelyn: She told me about this new guy on the block that she met.


Vicki Morigeau: She would have been better off if she would have stayed.


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 Schutlz, 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 Harmansee and Rachel Strom.