When people go missing, some who vanish are more visible than others. While some cases cause media sensations and police frenzies, others fade into obscurity. The Vanished podcast attempts to shed light on those who are less visible. Each episode focuses on a single missing person case. It breaks down the circumstances of their disappearance, such as the evidence, timeline, police reports and phone records, while also exploring the life of the missing, and the relationships they had with the people around them. Accounts of events leading up to the disappearance and subsequent search are told through both interviews and the narration of the show’s host and creator, Marissa Jones. Of particular focus is the relationship between the vanished and their family, friends, and their possible aggressors — who are not always separate entities.
Jones handles each case with unmistakable empathy and it is unsurprising to learn she has had her own experience with a missing family member. Her great-grandfather disappeared without a trace, leaving an indelible mark on her grandfather and her great-uncle. Jones, who describes herself as a paralegal by day and a single mother of two, began the series in response to the lack of coverage on missing persons, especially for those who did not fit the more media-captivating victimhood of young, white, upper-middle class women. Of less interest to the news cycle and the police are the socially isolated, people of colour, and those with a history of mental illness or substance abuse. Such was the case of Mahfuza Rahman, covered by The Vanished in October. She was a recent immigrant from Bangladesh who had few connections in the United States where she was living at the time of her disappearance. It was also the case of Kevin Mahoney, a 25-year-old who disappeared in Fargo, North Dakota. The apathy of the local police department in dealing with his case is apparent and abhorrent. His sister woefully wonders whether Kevin’s case would have held more precedence “had he been from an influential family.”
The contrast between the desperation of loved ones to find the vanished and the indifference of everyone else feels bizarre and heartbreaking. All of the cases featured on this podcast are unsolved, and many have gone cold. The listener is left suspended with the unfinished arc of a fading life. Jones asks listeners if they have any information. With some families it seems like any news, even bad news, would be a relief.