February 9, 2024
Mark Spawn ’06: Doing Detective Work With a True Crime Podcast
When Mark Spawn ’06 worked as a detective in the 1990s, he brandished a badge, a gun, and a fingerprint kit. Today, as the co-creator and host of “APB Cold Case,” a new true crime podcast, Spawn is doing detective work using a microphone, a script, and a website.
For the Fulton, NY native and career law enforcement professional, the weekly podcast marks a return to his favorite era of police work — as a detective. “The last 11 years of my career was as a police chief, so I didn’t have hands on in the detective aspect anymore,” says Spawn, who now lives in Costa Mesa, CA. “This is allowing me to go back to an area that I didn’t think I’d ever go back to again. That is very rewarding.”
Spawn launched “APB Cold Case” in early 2024 with his wife Jeanna, a television producer. The podcast uses Spawn’s deep baritone voice to narrate stories about old, unsolved crimes, in the hopes of achieving a resolution.
“There’s no set number of years when a case goes cold,” Spawn says. “It could be a matter of months. Most of our cases are years or decades old. It’s when the investigating agency has exhausted all reasonable leads. They basically have nowhere else to go.”
Spawn says he hopes the podcast can bring about some kind of resolution, whether it’s finding a body, pinpointing a suspect, or uncovering a surprise link between two crimes. “We just want to resurrect these old cases, shine a new light on them, make a compelling story, and then point the listeners to the police agency if they have a memory of something from that region or from that time,” he says.
Doing it Better
The idea for a cold case podcast began when his wife Jeanna came home from a workout after listening to a podcast on true crime, one of the most popular genres. “She told me we can do better than this,” Spawn recalls.
The couple decided to combine Jeanna’s background in television production in Hollywood and Spawn’s lengthy experience in law enforcement and criminal investigations to create a podcast on cold cases. “It was literally and figuratively a marriage of our skills,” he says.
Spawn sent an email blast to his connections in law enforcement, asking for unresolved cases that still gnawed at them. He also reached out to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, seeking cases that were ripe for renewed publicity.
The couple got dozens of leads. When it came time to select the most viable, they decided to focus on those where they could interview people originally associated with the case and bring the story to life.
“We like to reach out to the original detectives and responding officers so we get the pure context of what they saw, and what they did, whether it was in ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, or 2000s. We also strive to get a family member or friend to give us the victim perspective. That’s one thing that’s really important to us, victim sensitivity.”
Some cases are so old that they have no witnesses, suspects, cops or prosecutors. In those cases, and if the facts are compelling enough, Spawn relies on authors and biographers or people familiar with the case files to produce a podcast.
The Path to Police Work
Spawn spent most of his life in Fulton, N.Y. After graduating high school, he joined the EMS, determined to work in a job where he wasn’t confined to a desk. Three years later he was a police officer. Within five years, he was working in criminal investigations, a job he did for 10 years before being promoted to chief of police.
Knowing that one day he would do something else, Spawn decided to get a college degree. He attended an orientation session for Empire State University and was instantly attracted to the flexibility. He was also thrilled to learn his experience in law enforcement translated into 96 prior learning credits. He graduated from SUNY Empire in 2006 with a degree in community and human service.
Two years later, he retired from his job as chief of police and went to work as director of research and training for the NYS Association of Chiefs of Police. Part of his job involved creating audio podcasts, which taught him to write and edit scripts. “It’s really paying off now,” he says.
Today, Spawn and his wife are doing all the work behind creating the podcast, from script development to audio editing to media outreach. Like real detective work, these cases operate on theories with no clear answers or direction. “You beat the bushes and you do what you can, and the facts take you wherever it is they take you,” he says.
A few calls have come in on the first podcast on January 2, which was about the 1984 disappearance of Josephine Despard of Olean, NY. Spawn is also hopeful that someone will have information possibly linking the murder of two hitchhikers, Wayne Rifendifer and Marty Shook in the early 1980s. The two men’s bodies were found 2,000 miles and nearly a year apart. But both were found on Interstate 80 and similarly killed.
“After a while, you may get witnesses who have a change of allegiance or have decided to participate,” Spawn says. “We hope the renewed publicity that we can give to these cases will get somebody to pick up the phone, call a detective, and say ‘Here’s a piece of information for you.’”