Since its debut “Unsolved Mysteries” has been sitting atop Netflix’s “Top 10” queue and while executive producer Terry Dunn Meurer is obviously “thrilled” with the reception of the streaming revival, Meurer also admits the production team “would be happier” if they could have solved the majority of cases explored within.
But perhaps they still can. The 33-year-old series never had the online support of millions of armchair detectives on social media before, nor quite the international reach of streaming giant Netflix. These things combined make for a pretty impressive army of concerned citizens looking to right a wrong.
Despite the decision to ditch its previous formula of actors recreating each mystery in favor of additional interviews with family members and other loved ones of victims, the purpose of “Unsolved Mysteries” remains the same today as it did when it began: to investigate cold cases and reignite hope when there often is none. And occasionally, it will even continue to dip into the paranormal, such as with UFO cases and ghost stories, the latter of which will be included in the upcoming batch of episodes Muerer says have been shot, edited and delivered, and are going to be released “sometime later this year.”
Here, Meurer provides Variety with updates on some key cases and offers a look ahead at the next batch of episodes, including whether or not they will look into ghosts.
How do you go about choosing each case?
We get story submissions, and we have a database of hundreds of story submissions. It is really challenging to figure out which cases to produce. We knew that we had an order for six [episodes]. So, out of that six, we wanted to make sure there was a variety of categories. There’s unexplained deaths and a missing person and a murder and paranormal. It’s always important to have a variety of categories — there’s something for everyone. Then we wanted to add in some international stories. Out of the 12 [episodes] that we’ve produced, three of them are international. Two of the international stories will be in the second [batch of episodes]. Then we look at every other kind of diversity: We’ve got international versus domestic, we have rural versus urban, we have age diversity, we have ethnic and racial diversity. They all have to have a lot of twists and turns and need to be very intriguing. If they’re intriguing to us, we know that they’re going to be intriguing to an audience.
There are also stories like the case of Patrice [Endres]. Is it an unsolved mystery? The internet seems to believe her husband Rob did it.
It’s totally an unsolved mystery. Jeremy Jones has not been ruled out as a suspect in this case, and neither has Gary Hilton. We really try and present balanced cases. As far as I’m concerned, Rob is innocent until proven guilty. We take everyone’s interview at face value. Rob’s a character, but he was very, very honest with us in his responses to the interview, and we believe him. We respect him, and we respect everyone we interview. As Mitch Posey, the investigator says, “Everybody remains a suspect until the case is solved,” but it is an unsolved mystery. Who abducted and killed Patrice? That’s the mystery.
What did her son Pistol [Black] think of Rob’s interview?
We haven’t spoken to Pistol. We’ve spoken to Pistol’s dad, Don, but we haven’t spoken directly to Pistol. We know he’s doing fine. With any of these stories, there’s always information that we can’t include. I wish there were a few other things that I wish we could have included. I think he’s pleased with how the story came out, but we haven’t gotten any comments from him about Rob.
How has social media changed the reception of “Unsolved Mysteries” in 2020?
It didn’t exist when we did the original episodes. The show would air on a certain day at a certain time on a network, and you could watch it once. You couldn’t rewind it. I guess you could tape it off the air. And then it would air again, usually in the summer, and that was it. Now the old episodes have been streaming, so people have an opportunity to look at those in more depth again if they want to. We didn’t have the kind of commentary, and the kind of armchair detectives who jump in and really do try and solve these cases and come up with theories. It’s been amazing to see the reaction on social media.
How many email tips have you received?
There’s probably around 2,000 tips and comments at this point [on unsolved.com] but not all of those are credible leads. Somebody asked me, “How many credible leads have you gotten?” I don’t have an answer for that because I don’t know. We pass the leads if there’s law enforcement involved. Like in the Alonzo Brooks case. We’ve been sending leads to them for Alonzo. I’ve been working on the [Rey] Rivera case. And then the lead for Endres is going directly to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. We know they’re working the leads we’re giving them, and I’m sure they’re getting leads of their own, but we just don’t know. There’s just no way to quantify how many credible leads there are. But a lot has come in. It’s been very active.
How do you assess a credible tip?
If someone names a name, that would be a credible tip [or] if somebody said, “I was a witness.” If somebody who was at the party where Alonzo was said, “I was a witness to what happened to Alonzo,” that would be a credible tip. We haven’t gotten that yet, let me be clear about that. Anything that has specific information is great. If somebody called and said in the Rivera case, “I own that money clip” or “I know where that money clip is,” that would be a credible lead. Or in Endres, if they said, “Oh, I know that blue Lumina with the wildlife tag.”
There’s some vague tips that come in that are very difficult to follow up on: “I know who killed Ray Rivera.” We email back and we say, “Could you give us more information? Can you give us some details?” We don’t pass those leads onto the FBI or to the law enforcement because we know there’s nothing they can do with them. We try to get whoever submitted the tips to give us more specific information as they can. We would rather have law enforcement vet the tips. We’re not investigators, and you never know what they’re going to see in a tip that we aren’t experienced to see.
How many people do you have reading tips on staff?
There’s a team of about five, six people on different shifts so that we have somebody on the website all the time, going through the tips. And we still have tips and leads in cases getting solved from the original shows. There’s a 30-year-old case, it’s probably going to get solved in the next month or two that we’ve been working with a detective on. I kind of always refer to it as a living, breathing television series where it has a life of its own. You never know when you’re going to get a phone call from the French police and they say, “You know what? We found Xavier [Dupont de Ligonnès].” That’s the mission of the show is to solve these cases. That’s the goal.
What’s the old case that you think is going to crack soon?
There was a young man who committed suicide in a church in Idaho. He’s a John Doe — he’s been a John Doe for 30 years. And the investigator in this police department of relatively new investigators decided he wanted to try and solve this case. My understanding is he went to the file, which was in a box, and the only thing that was in the box — the only information in the box — was a VHS copy of “Unsolved Mysteries.” He reached out to us and said, “Do you have anything? Do you have the note this man left behind? Do you have any of the details from the case?” And we actually had it, which was surprising to me after all these years. We gave him the information we had, and this investigator has been working on it. He just recently, in the last couple of weeks, reached out and said, “I think that we might have figured out who this man is.” My heart goes out to people who don’t know what has happened to their loved one. Even if they’ve passed away, they need to know. Solving these John and Jane Doe cases are really, really important to me.
Can we run through each new case? The world is really eager for updates on every episode. What’s happening with Rey Rivera?
There’s been a lot of conversation around the note that he left behind, and also the helicopter theory. When you have a case this mysterious and you cannot figure out how Rey came off of that roof and landed where he did — I was up on that roof and I’m baffled — I think people look for stuff. “Well, what other theories are there if he didn’t come off the roof? Well, maybe he was dropped from a helicopter.” That theory has been circulating.
I know with Patrice Endres, the GBI hasn’t shared the tips that have come in on that particular case. [People are] hoping to find Patrice’s wedding ring or somebody who knows what happened to that. Or the blue Lumina. Somebody could connect that to someone that. That would be great, but we don’t have any specifics on that case.
Alonzo Brooks was probably [the case] we’ve received the most emails on. Lots of theories that we had already heard when we were producing the episodes, but there are some new names that have come in and that we forwarded onto the FBI.
Has no one come forward who was at that party?
There were a lot of people there at that party, somebody witnessed what happened. We just hope that they’ll come forward. The FBI offering that $100,000 dollar reward, which they just announced in the last month. That was so incredible and hopefully motivates somebody to come forward with what they know in that case, because somebody knows.
Was the Brooks case reopened because “Unsolved Mysteries” was digging around? [Editor Note: The reward was announced before the show launched.]
We’re told that, when we were producing the episode over a year ago, the FBI started to look at it again and reopen it. But they just recently made the announcement that it was reopened and that the reward was being offered. Because we reached out to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the FBI about the case. At the end of the episode, Billy Brooks, Alonzo’s brother says, “This case needs to stay open. It should never have been closed.” And then, there you go. The case was reopened right before the show premiered. We feel like there might’ve been a connection, and we’ve been told there was a connection, our producers.
Sad, but good news.
Yeah. You know, people always say “sad” and they say “tragic” and that’s really true, but the show gives people so much hope. And the Brooks family has hope — Maria, Alonzo’s mom; everyone has hope. Rodney [English], who was his childhood friend, reached out to us by text and said, “Are there really a lot of tips coming in?” They’re so excited. I hope that their hopes aren’t dashed, but that’s what the show does. I think the audience hopes these cases will get solved. They get invested with these characters and they want to see closure. We want it for the families, but we also want it for the audience.
Do you personally feel that Brooks was where he was located the whole time, despite not being found by the KBI?
I go back and forth on that, honestly. That’s one of the most mysterious aspects of this case. Was Alonzo’s body there all the time, and was it underwater and then [it] popped up when a rainstorm came along? Or was his body placed there? We just got a tip from an entomologist, she was looking at these photos of Alonzo’s clothing and there were maggots on that clothing. She said those maggots often can tell a story of how long that body had been exposed. We passed that on to the FBI, and hopefully they have somebody in their system that could take a look at that. It’s probably not going to solve the case, but it could answer the question that you’re asking, which is: “How long was Alonzo’s body there?”
And what is going on with Lena Chaplin’s case?
Well, Lena, we just would hope that someone would come forward and say where Lena is buried. That would be the dream in that case.
Xavier, we got the most interesting tip. Somebody was actually in Chicago, I think they were on Lake Shore Drive, and they heard this guy talking French and they looked at him and they had just seen the episode. They sent us a photo, and it really did look like Xavier. It was striking. So we sent that tip on. But again, this is just a stranger — we don’t have a name, we don’t have anything specific. In the Xavier case, what we’re hoping for is that he’s remarried or he has a girlfriend or he lives next door to somebody or he has a coworker who absolutely 100% knows that’s him. We need a very specific lead, because those leads come in from all over the world. Xavier looks so much like so many other people. With Netflix’s global reach, if Xavier is going to be found, we’re really hoping that the Netflix audience will find him. If he’s alive. That’s the mystery. Did he kill himself after he went through the elaborate work that he did, or is he out there somewhere? So we’re hoping he’s catchable if he’s alive, because of Netflix reach, global reach, or national reach.
In the next six episodes, will there be a ghost episode?
Yes. But I’ll qualify that and say it’s an unusual ghost episode. That’s all I’ll say. It’s different. A bit different.
How has working on this show for so long changed you?
I don’t know that it has. I guess it makes me more cautious about myself and my children. I think that the scarier stories for people are the ones where somebody is doing everything right, and something goes wrong. But I’ve loved “Mysteries” from the time I was very, very young. I was a Nancy Drew fan and Agatha Christie fan. Recently in looking back, I’ve thought, “How lucky am I that I could take this passion of mine, which is mysteries and intrigue, and twists and turns, and actually have that be my career and almost my life’s work?” We’ve been producing “Unsolved Mysteries”, involved with the brand, created the brand and then been managing the brand for 34 years. That’s probably unusual in the television business where you’re involved with brand for that many years. So it’s been very gratifying, the number of cases that have been solved and the people that we feel like we’ve helped. We just want to keep it going. We just want to keep following more cases. I still have hope. I don’t think it’s changed me a lot. I still have as much hope as I did back when we did the first special that we’re going to solve a case. And I still get that same feeling of excitement when we do solve the case and we get some leads come in. It’s very exciting. And we just very hopeful. So we may maintain the hope that we’ve always had that we can keep solving cases.
“Unsolved Mysteries” is streaming now on Netflix.
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