To Live and Die in LA is a podcast by Neil Strauss investigating the 2017 disappearance of Elaine Park, a 20 year old girl from my hometown, La Crescenta, CA. Strauss quit his job and dedicated his life to helping find Elaine, or at least find answers for this missing girl, even though he never met her. The podcast investigates different leads and theories, some followed by the police, others not. Strauss brought to light lots of evidence that had been overlooked by the police – most notably Elaine’s volatile relationship with her mom. The police interviewed Elaine’s mom, but never believed her to be a suspect while Strauss’s podcast all but says Elaine’s mom killed her. Though he has significant evidence, which has all been brought to the police, she is still not considered a suspect.
Elaine’s mother’s life, because of this podcast, has been ruined.. Everyone in our community has become invested in this case again because of this podcast and now believes her to be the murder. There are Facebook groups and forums that blame Elaine’s mom and the whole community knows not to talk to her or associate with her. Rumors have been spread that she lost her job in the community and does not even shop locally anymore. Though there is evidence for her involvement, Strauss has no police background. He is an author and knows how to write a good story. If the evidence was significant enough, the mother would be on the police’s radar, but she is not. Strauss’s podcast has completely ruined this woman’s life and I cannot imagine as a mother how hard it must be to not only lose your child, but also be blamed for her death.
Struss often relied on other listeners of his podcast to bring forward evidence. This was an extremely effective way as he got first hand accounts of everything. He also relied on those same Facebook forums for new evidence and often asked for the help of the public. Through Facebook, he was able to compile thousands of pictures and found exactly when Elaine’s car was abandoned in Malibu. This would not have been possible without the help of the common citizen participating.
Citizen journalism can be an extremely effective tool. A 25 year old missing person case was recently solved with a similar podcast when they interviewed new witnesses and suspects who could not be located previously. This podcast was called “Your Own Backyard” and ultimately helped bring answers to Kristen Smart’s family.
I am sure this was Neil Strauss’s intention in creating this podcast. He wanted to bring answers. But because his podcast came to no solution, listeners were left jumping to their own conclusions – most concluding that Elaine’s mother likely killed her. This is extremely dangerous and led to the ruin of a woman’s life. A woman who could very well likely be innocent.
Citizen journalism can be an effective way to solve crime, however it can also be extremely detrimental. Podcasts like Strauss’s have raised awareness for what happened, which may eventually lead to a conviction or at least answers for a heartbroken family and community, but as of right now, this podcast has done more damage than good.