Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo ★★★★★
Missing and Murdered (CBC Radio) is a podcast about missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada whose disappearances and deaths are dismissed by police. Their families and loved ones insist there is more to the story than what they’ve been told by authorities.
Season 2, subtitled Finding Cleo, examines an indigenous family’s loss of a sister and child, Cleopatra Semaganis, first through adoption and then through death. As of this publication date, eight episodes have been released with a handful left to air. (Season 1 of Missing and Murdered profiled another woman, Alberta Williams, and the search for her killer.)
Cleo’s sister Christine wants some closure: the family doesn’t know exactly what happened to her after adoption, because most of the siblings were adopted into separate families. Most stayed in Canada, but some ended up in the United States, and they lost track of each other immediately. The family had been told that Cleo was murdered in Arkansas as a teenager but had never been given any details. Enter host and reporter Connie Walker, an indigenous woman herself, to help track down what exactly happened to Cleo.
Walker’s team tries to find out where Cleo’s adoptive family lived, and once she finds them and gets some big answers about Cleo, she shares her findings with Cleo’s siblings. (Cleo’s mother, Lillian, died a couple of years ago, never having closure about her daughter’s death and never seeing her again after she was adopted.) She also visits the reserve where Cleo was from and talks with some of the leaders, who ultimately lead her to Cleo’s father, who is still alive.
Generational impact is a huge theme in Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo, especially in the middle episodes where we learn more about Cleo’s biological mother, Lillian, and about the Sixties Scoop. The Sixties Scoop took children from native mothers, many of whom had endured their own placement in residential schools as children. These children were placed with predominantly white families through programs like AIM (Adopt Indian Metis program), though a creator of AIM (who is interviewed in the podcast) has denied that its intent was to eradicate the native culture. Cleo and her siblings were a part of the Sixties Scoop, and Lillian was educated (and allegedly abused) at a residential school. Generation after generation, children were taken from their homes and assimilated into “white” culture, away from their parents. It is horrific to imagine my kids being taken away from me by the government because they feel they know what’s best for children, and it’s not being with their mother, simply because of race.
The cliffhanger is executed so artfully in this podcast, and since the show is about true crime, the heart-pounding episode endings could easily veer off into sensationalistic or exploitative territory, but Walker never goes there. She is so respectful of the victims, their families, and the indigenous culture – largely because it is her culture, but also because she just seems to be a thoughtful, careful reporter. I love that she includes audio clips of the reality of investigating someone’s death: she confesses how uncomfortable it is to be the first to tell someone how their loved one died, she admits to taping someone who asked the recording be stopped, and she shares the anger one of the siblings expressed at finding out this information from a reporter. But we also get to hear an indigenous leader sharing how he appreciates her looking into this and other cases.
The investigative reporting story here is about why these women’s disappearances and deaths were treated with less care and desire for resolution than non-indigenous victims, and I suspect that is where the podcast is going in its final few episodes. What is the government doing to change the way indigenous people are treated in Canada? How will these families heal long-term?
I rate this show at the top of my list, especially in investigative journalism, with In the Dark and Someone Knows Something (two of my all-time favorites), and better than S-Town. While it was an incredible, well-told, and almost unbelievable story, S-Town verged on exploitative which the other shows I’ve mentioned simply don’t do. In the Dark, SKS, and Missing and Murdered are so well-researched, thought out, caring toward victims and families, and earnestly seeking the truth in these stories not for personal gain or Peabody awards, but to help the families involved find some closure and expose where the government is not doing its job.
Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo is an absolute must-listen. It is investigative reporting done extremely well, and yes, it’s about true crime, but there’s no gore or disrespect, so don’t let the genre turn you off if you’re more of a storytelling or listen-to-learn podcast fan. If you are a true crime podcast junkie, you’re already listening to this one … if not, stop reading, and download it now.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (5 / 5)
Learning about residential schools and the Sixties Scoop has been fascinating to me, and extremely sad.
Pop Culture Value (4 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
Humor (1 / 5)
Investigation (5 / 5)
True investigative reporting – hard work definitely paid off in this season of the show.
Storytelling (5 / 5)
A subtle audio decision I really appreciated was how the episodes have been released so far – two or three episodes at a time are published and they segment the story very nicely. There is just enough happening in each block to make me zip through the episodes, but then I’m not left with a lot of questions when the next week’s block comes out. (Sometimes I forget what happened in the last episode but this is compartmentalized really well.)
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
As I said previously, I’m glad to know about the residential schools and other efforts to assimilate people into the “white” – and Christian – culture. It’s a nasty side of Canada’s history.
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (5 / 5)
Start with These Episodes:
This podcast must be listened to in order, and it’s a great binge show. Once you’re done, you’ll probably also enjoy season one, about Alberta Williams.
You May Also Like …
Someone Knows Something, Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?, Finding Tammy Jo, Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder, S-Town, Serial, Atlanta Monster, Black Hands, In the Dark
See all my reviews at this fancy index, dating back to 2015!