On 23 October 2015, an email with the subject 'Alberta Williams murder' and one line of text containing the name of the supposed culprit arrived in Connie Walker's inbox.
Alberta Williams was a 24-year-old woman from British Columbia, who disappeared one evening in 1989. She was found dead three weeks later and the email had been sent by a former police officer who had worked on her case almost three decades ago.
CBC News keeps a database with profiles of more than 250 indigenous women who have been killed or gone missing, whose cases remain unsolved, and Williams' is one of them. But Walker, an investigative reporter for CBC News in Toronto, who had been covering the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW), was not familiar with this particular case before she received the email.
Walker set out to investigate the case and her findings, along with Williams' story, are now being told as an eight-episode weekly podcast that launched on Tuesday (25 October). The broadcaster's TV and radio arms have done other investigative podcasts in the past, but this is the first time CBC News is experimenting with this format.
A podcast gives me a bit of flexibility to tell the story in a more intimate way, share a bit more of my voice and peel back the curtain so that people can get a sense of what it's like to be on the journeyConnie Walker, CBC News
"And it's especially important with stories like this one, where we go deep into this one case and we follow it over eight episodes, but we are hopefully using it to shed light on a bigger issue.
"You really have the opportunity to provide the proper context people need to understand what the root causes of this issue are, whereas with a standard news treatment for TV and even radio sometimes, you don't have the time to delve deeper into a topic in the same way you would with a podcast."
Walker said the initial idea was to do a regular investigation, but once she started interviewing the police officer and Williams' friends and family, and after locating the person mentioned in the email, a podcast started making more sense than a "one-off treatment".
Opting for a podcast format allowed Walker, herself an indigenous woman living in Canada, to tell the story in a more personal way and explain why, as a journalist, she is passionate about this issue and how she can bring "an understanding to the situation that maybe a journalist who is not indigenous wouldn't have".
"With stories for TV and radio, you have a certain persona and voice, like 'CBC News have learned X or Y'.
"But a podcast gives me a bit of flexibility to tell the story in a more intimate way, share a bit more of my voice and peel back the curtain so that people can get a sense of what it's like to be on the journey.
"In so much of our reporting and investigations, we are only focused on the end result and what we find out, but [podcasts] allow you to take the listener with you as you are doing the investigation and they can be a part of the story as it's unfolding."
Only four of the eight episodes scheduled to air were produced in time for the launch, as the team working on the project wants to have the flexibility to make changes and add to the storyline as more people came forward.
"We have a general idea and a roadmap of what the outcome might be because we know what we know right now, but we are ready to respond if there any developments to the case. The investigation is still ongoing and we've been hearing from people who had not spoken to the police in 27 years or ever."
Episodes from Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams? are made available every week through iTunes and on a separate page on the CBC website, where listeners can access the audio, a transcript of each instalment and a multimedia slideshow of images, text and sound for each episode.
In so much of our reporting and investigations, we are only focused on the end result and what we find outConnie Walker, CBC News
The podcast also has a Facebook page and Walker said a strategy is being developed for social networks where CBC News already has an active presence, such as Facebook and Instagram. A TV documentary will also be released after the eight weeks, but this is "the first time an investigation of this kind is being rolled out, where digital is the main focus", she added.
"Obviously with these podcasts, there are so many twists and turns and it's easy to get caught in the true crime aspect of it, but we want people to keep in mind Alberta was a 24 year-old woman who was loved by her family and community, and there are so many families out there just like hers who are still searching for the truth and looking for justice.
"Violence against indigenous women is a huge issue in Canada and the more you start to look into it, you see there are patterns and similarities between these cases. I think it's our job as journalists to provide the context for people to get a better understanding of the causes, and it's only after that when you can start addressing them," Walker said.
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