Payne Lindsey admits he’s set the bar very high for himself. The documentary filmmaker pivoted to podcasting in 2016, when he and music industry pro Donald Albright launched production company Tenderfoot TV and its first ever creation, Up and Vanished. The weekly true-crime podcast examined the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, a Georgia high school teacher who hadn’t been seen since October 22, 2005. The very first episode, which debuted August 7, 2016, was called “Cold as Alaska.” The phrase seemed an apt descriptor of the unsolved case—until two men were arrested for Grinstead’s murder near the end of the season. Though Lindsey admits the alleged killers hadn’t been on his radar, fans still credit him with bringing attention and urgency to the case. Up and Vanished has since garnered more than 200 million downloads and went on a 17-city, live-show tour.
Since then, Lindsey’s been busy. He hosted another hit podcast, Atlanta Monster, which dives into the mysterious 1979–81 killings of 29 African American boys, teens, and young men in Atlanta. He’s also been combing through cold cases, looking for the ideal subject for season two of Up and Vanished. He found it in Kristal Anne Reisinger, a 29-year-old former Denver resident who moved to Crestone in the summer of 2016. The small Colorado town is tucked into the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Range, and has a reputation as a spiritual oasis. Reisinger’s family says she’d moved there to find herself; instead, she hasn’t been heard from since July 13, 2016. Now, Lindsey and Tenderfoot TV, in partnership with podcasting company Cadence 13, have come to Colorado, where they’ll try to find justice for the missing woman. We caught up with Lindsey for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of season two.
What first put Kristal Anne Reisinger’s disappearance on your radar?
We were sent hundreds and hundreds of cases, and went through pretty much all of them. I actually had my heart set on a different case months back, but then this one re-emerged, and I was just struck by how remote [Crestone] is…it’s such an unfamiliar place to people. That drew me in instantly. Then, once I learned more about Kristal, I thought she was a very unique person that most mainstream media does not cover. And I thought it was a good chance to highlight a story that had kind of fallen through the cracks.
Can you share any details about how the research and interviewing process has been going so far?
So far, it’s been pretty great. We’ve been very fortunate to have some of the key players in the story be very passionate and excited and cooperative with us. They really want to get Kristal’s story out there. We’ve had a really good experience so far, even with the law enforcement, the CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigations], just about every player in this story wants to tell it. I think that’s going to be a stark difference in this season [compared to season one]. Everyone that’s a part of this story is talking.
Crestone has a reputation for being a spiritual retreat. Has that reputation affected the way you’re telling the story?
Definitely. We’ve always had a positive experience here. So one of our goals with this season is to highlight some of the positive aspects about this town. Now, just like anywhere else, there are some bad people. Even though this is a very spiritual place, it’s not immune to bad people. We’ll spend a lot of time dissecting the way of life here and meeting all these different, wild characters. Ironically, they all kind of tie in to Kristal and what may have happened to her.
What goals do you have for season two of Up and Vanished?
To tell a great story. Shine a spotlight on a different way of life, and seeing how we all kind of align and connect and finding these commonalities. With Crestone being such a spiritual place, and Kristal being just as spiritual, it sort of has a very mythical, magical, spiritual tone to it. The whole podcast feels like that. And so we’re just diving as deep as we can into that because, according to Kristal’s family, that’s what she would have wanted. Hopefully within this, and all the different people we’re meeting, someone knows the answer.
Up and Vanished gained popularity quickly, and with popularity comes criticism. How have you dealt with criticism of your work?
You know, I just try not to really focus on it. Look at any great piece of work out there. There’s always someone who’s tearing it apart, all the time. I feel good about what I’m doing. I know that I try my hardest all the time, and that I’m not the best. But I want to be the best. Sometimes I learn from criticism. Other times I can just write it off as someone being a hater. But it is interesting to see people get up in arms about different things—or the total opposite, be super passionate about what I’m doing, and be a number one fan. I think it’s all part of it. If I’m putting this work out there through this major platform to a huge audience, then that is absolutely what I’m subjecting myself to. And if I couldn’t handle it, then I shouldn’t do it.
I know you faced some criticism of the 17-city tour you went on following season one of Up and Vanished; people online were calling it a victory lap. I’m wondering what your response to that would be.
It’s funny because the people who wrote that never attended any of the shows. I don’t really know how they would know if it was a victory lap or not. Truth be told, I didn’t make a dime on the tour. I donated a lot of money to the Tara Grinstead Foundation. Also, it truly was a behind-the-curtain look of my experience. People who were fans of the podcast followed me along as I threw myself into this crazy, unsolved mystery. There’s hours of content that people have never heard. What [the tour] really was—beginning, middle, and end—was the full tale of what it was like to do this [podcast], while also memorializing Tara.
Could you tell me more about the Tara Grinstead Foundation?
We have a scholarship fund that we put up $10,000 for. It’s for the high school down there [in Georgia]. Every year, the staff there elects one person to receive the scholarship.
Are you hoping to set something similar up with Kristal?
We’d love to. We’re still talking with her family to figure out what the best solution is for raising awareness.
At this point, do you have a vision for how season two is going to end?
You know, there’s still a lot that’s left to be found. I think that no matter what, we will learn some new information, and there will certainly be some people in question.
Download and listen to the first episode of Up and Vanished‘s second season via iTunes or your podcast app.