I’ve tried to start my reviews with a small, personal connection to the podcast content. Honestly, I don’t really have one here. The real connection is that I’ve spent most of the last month not wanting to interact with death-related content. I listen to a lot of true crime so this is a difficult task. Since I haven't talked about it: How my month started was a lot of saying fuck cancer.
I think I spent most of the six-hour drive home from Buffalo in silence. Slowly, I’ve been recuperating. Blind Landing Season Two really got me out of the weird funk of moving forward. That and Pokemon Legends.
Then another issue arose. I didn’t have time for long listens over the last few weeks. I want to actively listen, so podcasts at work aren’t a great idea. My commute is too short. Then I feel rude listening to podcasts when my boyfriend and I are hanging out. For a solution: I went on the bird app and asked for podcasts under 20 minutes. Twitter delivered and I plan on incorporating more of these new friends into my feeds and highlighting some of my favorites in the coming weeks.
However, today’s review is a podcast that caught and had pretty solid possession of my eye for the past week. I’m not sure why but a chunk of Canadian** content has been hitting my feeds and this one was Chameleon: Wild Boys.
One of the things I think we all forget is that true crime isn’t always murder. Although, I wouldn’t consider this podcast a true-crime podcast entirely. Was it a crime? Certainly a moral one, with some immigration nonsense mixed in…not to mention potential fraud… but these two boys weren’t really a physical danger to anyone but themselves, and the faith in humanity Vernon had.
Vernon, British Colombia. A small, idyllic town whose claim to fame was a former resident being Winston Churchill’s secretary. One of those communities where everyone knows everyone for the most part, and they live quietly. Not quite behind the times, but not quite with them either. Our host of the series, Sam Mullins, was 17 at the time and is a Vernon native. He now lives in Toronto.
In the summer of 2003, two boys appeared in Vernon. Teenagers, hauntingly thin and causing a quiet stir. “Did you see those boys?” Tammy, a local hockey mom, took it upon herself to rally the community to help.
The boys, Tom, and Will Green were “from the bush”. They grew up off the grid and were sick of the lifestyle. So they came to Vernon, camped out behind the general store- and the town rose to the challenge. Tom and Will were put up in a hostel, credit cards and clothes were provided to get them on their feet…and in general, it just felt like these two boys made Vernon an exemplar of human kindness.
Except, their story wasn’t lining up. Will came to town rail-thin and was getting thinner. No one could contact their family to get ID’s, information, emergency notice. Nothing. Especially when authorities started considering that people who lived in the Bush weren’t out of contact. They still went to stores, to doctors, had relationships. Even if they were occasional interactions- they were known of. Emergency crews knew where people lived, especially with the area being forest fire-prone.
The true story unravels through the media an exclusive interview - and the first half of Wild Boys takes us through the beginnings. The second half, the first episode of which is dropping for free today** is going to explore the now. Nearly 20 years later, what’s their story? What happened to the boys after they left- and what has happened to Vernon since then?
The first few minutes of this podcast had me hooked. For one, I needed to double-check that yes this is a documentary-style podcast. The audio production had me drifting into “this is totally a drama, I just opened a drama”. Nope. It’s just a captivating piece of audio narrative, reporting easily and well.
The well-crafted storytelling through not just the audio production but the narration. Sam Mullins takes us on a journey that could only be partially personal. Sure, he wasn’t next to Tammy getting the boys clothes and food- but he was there. You can feel it in his memory as he walks us through the community and their response to these boys who appeared to need help. It is compelling, well-written, and easily consumable through each of the 40-ish minute episodes. It had me locked in pretty well.
Episode 5: Intermission is an interview with Mullins, splitting the narration between then and now. The conversation gives us a little more insight (my forest fire note above) and is worth the listen if you’re interested in a little bit more detail. Particularly about how this story came to be told nearly two decades later, almost a continent away from this small town.
I thoroughly am enjoying the “not as horrifying” true crime aspect of Wild Boys. The story leaves you uneasy but also fascinated with wondering the how and why of two teenagers lying about who they are. While there are no trigger warnings for death, there are conversations around eating disorders to tread carefully around. This is an excellent podcast for those of us who may need a break from death, but still like the suspense of a good mystery.
*I will never complain about this. I went to school on the US/Canadian border. I know the Canadian national anthem. I have a deep pride for that which is Tim Horton’s.
**You can subscribe to the channel and receive this content a week early. Not sure about how to do this in general, as I think I missed the subscription boom happening right under my very nose.