[EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW] “I Used To Think Of Laramie As A Very Mean Place”
Over a week ago, The New York Times and Serial Productions announced a new limited podcast series that focuses on a cold case in Laramie, nearly 40 years ago.
The eight-part series podcast is titled, “The Coldest Case in Laramie.”
Barker, originally from Billings, Montana, lived in Laramie, Wyoming for about three years during her high school years. The podcast talks about Barker resisting an unsolved homicide that took place while she was in high school in Laramie, Wyoming, nearly 40 years ago.
Barker confronts the conflicting stories people have told themselves about the crime because of an unexpected development: the arrest of a former Laramie police officer accused of the murder.
Barker took time out of her busy schedule, and despite her throat almost giving her no voice at all, she sat down with Laramie Live to talk about this new podcast series of hers.
Laramie Live: How did you end up being in Laramie?
Barker: My dad was an architect and I grew up in Billings, Montana, and when I was about 13 years old, my dad decided to look outside Billings for a job and was offered a job in Laramie, and he was so excited about it because that meant that we could stay in the mountains and stay close to our family in Montana. My mom was a nurse, working at Ivinson.
Laramie Live: Three years isn't a very long time that you stayed in Laramie. Do you have any fond memories of the place?
Barker: Before this podcast, I used to think of Laramie as a very mean place. I used to live there at a very weird time and I think those who were in high school around the same time as I was would have said the same thing. That memory solidified in my mind, but I think in going back there, I was like, oh, how great it was to be able to go to Vedauwoo in the morning before school. We went rock climbing there for AP gym in Vedauwoo, one of the most premier places to climb is pretty great. I live in New York now, and going back there, I'm like, ah, I miss fishing, I miss hiking, and all these natural beauties that Laramie has. I went from thinking "Laramie, mean, ugh" to "Laramie can be a pretty great place to live if you like the outdoors.
Laramie Live: What inspired you to pick this story back up in 2021?
Barker: It was the pandemic still, and this was a case that I have always talked about, I would google it every few years, trying to keep up with it. I googled Shelli's name again, and I found that person who was arrested in 2016, has his charges dropped, so I was like what? So I thought maybe I could look into this as a side project, and see if could be something there. From the very beginning, I was not going to do it if her family would not want me to do it, it's asking a lot of a family to go back in time, to the most painful time of their lives. I'm a stranger, I didn't know Shelli. But, they wanted to. They wanted to know what happened with the case. So, that gave me the ability to push forward.
Laramie Live: When it happened, do you remember how the town was?
Barker: There were lots of rumors going around, and a lot of fear. It was tough to translate how weird it was. It was just a weird time.
Laramie Live: Before we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to add?
Barker: I hope people listen to it, and I'll be curious to hear from folks who were around that time, or even if they weren't what they think about it. I hope they don't see it as a big-city reporter coming in to slam Laramie. That's not my intention. My intention was to do a thoughtful job on something that I had thought about for decades.
Listeners can subscribe to “The Coldest Case in Laramie” and listen to the series now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are available.
Listen to the podcast:
About Kim Barker
Before joining The New York Times in 2014, Barker was an investigative reporter at the online nonprofit ProPublica. She was also the press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the South Asia bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009.
Her book, "The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan," published by Doubleday in 2011, became the basis for the movie "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot." Before joining the Tribune, Barker worked for The Seattle Times, The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., and The Times in northwest Indiana. She has won investigative-reporting awards from organizations such as Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2022, her work on fatal traffic stops by police helped win the Pulitzer Prize in national reporting.
About Serial Productions
Serial Productions is the maker of the blockbuster podcasts “Serial” and “S-Town,” with more than 743 million total downloads. In July 2020, Serial Productions became part of The New York Times Co. Together they have launched several shows, including “Nice White Parents,” a chart-topping series about the powerful forces shaping public schools; “The Trojan Horse Affair,” an investigative series about the mystery behind a scandal that rocked Britain; and, most recently, “We Were Three,” an intimate look at how Covid affected one family.