It’s a true murder mystery fit for a campfire or a front porch. In 1970, West Virginia University coeds Mared Malarik and Karen Ferrell disappeared, last seen exiting Morgantowns’s Metropolitan Theater and hitch-hiking a ride back to their dorm. Four months later, police and national guardsman found their headless bodies decomposing in a field about six miles south of town. It’s a terrifying story, one that many locals recall with fear from their childhood. There were rumors of satan worship, psychic interlopers, recanted confessions, and the case is still considered unsolved by many. It’s a story that would come to shape the character of Morgantown, WVU, and the State of West Virginia, and it’s a story that one local podcaster is recording for generations to come.

The official title for the podcast is Mared & Karen: The WVU Coed Murders, and if you haven’t subscribed on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbay, or your own favorite podcasting app, run, don’t walk. Each episode is around 40-45 minutes and professionally produced to the quality of all-star podcasts like This American Life or Radio Lab. Co-producers J. Kendall Perkinson and Sarah Gibbons provide a professional retelling of the mystery, fully immersing listeners into the world of 1970’s Morgantown and campus life. If you’re interested in true crime stories, history, or West Virginia University, or good storytelling, Mared & Karen: The WVU Coed Murders is a must-download for your summer car trips.

Kendall, along with being the show’s producer, is also the show’s narrator. A Morgantown media man, you can find Kendall shooting professional photography for businesses or events, working as a graduate assistant at WVU’s Daily Athenaeum, and, full disclosure, contributing to Zackquill.com. The owner of Kromatic Media counts his roots Richmond VA, though he’s lived in the Morgantown’s South Park neighborhood for the past year and a half. It was on his South Park porch that the story for Mared & Karen fell into his lap. “I was introduced to my co-producer Sarah Gibbons totally unrelated to the podcast” recalls Kendall. “We were hanging out on our front porch, and she was telling the story. I recognized it immediately as a story that deserved to be told. It was so twisty and turny, it goes through these strange paths. It deserved to be told in a larger format than just on someone’s front porch.”

Co-producer Gibbons, long obsessed with the murder mystery, spent countless hours on the internet searching for clues and an answer. In her research, she found fellow case tracker Geoff Fuller discussing the murder in an online forum. “Sarah had done as much of the research as she could online,” explained Kendall. “Geoff had met a police officer who was there when a suspect in the murder confessed, and the officer told him ‘I want to write a book about this, but I don’t think I’m able to, so here’s my notes from the investigation.’ So Geoff has all this stuff that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.” Both Sarah and Geoff provide the majority of the research for the story, with the recording, editing, and mixing overseen by Kendall.

A 1970 news paper headline. Photo courtesy of Kromatic Media.

Podcasting is a unique medium, set apart from the visual world of screens and photos, and also different from the written word of books and letters. It’s not a coincidence that a story passed down on a front porch would translate so well into a medium meant for the ears and imagination. Kendall sees podcasting as a twenty-first century expression of the Appalachian storytelling tradition. “Podcasting is carrying on the oral storytelling tradition that goes on into pre-history. The difference here is that we have the opportunity to tell the story from more than one perspective, that we can take the stories from many people and combine them into a single narrative. It’s amazing that we have this amplified oral tradition with this technology, it’s a thing that’s fundamental to humanity.”

As a transplant from Richmond, Kendall hopes to see Morgantown develop so that it becomes to West Virginia what Richmond is to Virginia- an, arts, music, media, and food center with a statewide cultural impact. To that end, Mared & Karen features music exclusively from local Morgantown bands and voice acting from local residents. “I feel like we’re just on the edge of seeing what Morgantown could be, and I’m excited to be here and contribute to pushing it over the edge so that when kids graduate from college, the first thing they think about isn’t getting out” said Kendall.  “Morgantown’s poised to become a place for more than forestry and energy, but also for artists and media people like me.” As technology develops and becomes more accessible, Kendall hopes that spirit of local art and media will grab the hearts of more Morgantown residents. “It’s that spirit of DIY- ‘oh look, here’s a great local story, let’s write about it. Oh look, here are these great local bands, let’s do a local festival, things that aren’t necessarily run by foundations or businesses” shares Kendall.

Rescuers transfer Mared and Karen’s bodies to the ambulance. Photo courtesy of Kromatic media.

Episodes 1-3 of Mared & Karen are available for listening, and Kendall is kind enough to not ruin future episodes when asked “what’s next” for episodes 4-6. But the response to Mared & Karen has been so positive, he hinted at a potential season 2 for the show. “Now that the podcast has launched, we have lots more people coming out of the woods with their own information. One person contacted us, saying she had Karen’s belongings from her dorm room. So people are coming out of the woodwork to help add to the story.”

For more information on the research behind the story, archived photography and teasers of things to come, readers can visit kromatic.media. For the latest news on episode four, readers can follow the podcast on Facebook as well. Or perhaps, if reader passes on the opportunity to hear the story straight from the podcast itself, they’ll soon hear all about it on a friend’s front porch.