Dateline NBC

Current and classic episodes, featuring compelling true-crime mysteries, powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations.

Talking Dateline: Finding Rita

Talking Dateline: Finding Rita

Wed, 15 Mar 2023 10:00

Josh and Keith take you behind-the-scenes of the making of Keith’s recently aired “Finding Rita” episode, about a Colorado mother whose disappearance was a mystery until a detective found a connection to a previous crime. In their revealing conversation, Keith and Josh also share insights and anecdotes from memorable stories they’ve reported on over the years.

Listen to Episode

Copyright © 2019 NBC News

Read Episode Transcript

Okay, well, I'm just gonna hope that works. All right. I'm not rolling on the sound too. Yeah, but you sound perfect. I do. Yes, you do. You sound. Yeah. So it's working. Yeah. Okay. All right, let's begin. Sure. Hey, it's Josh Maykowitz. And this is Talking Dateline. Something new we're offering here on Dateline podcasts. Today, we're gonna be talking with Keith. Oh, how do you say hello? Hello. Keith's not really in the talking of move today, which could be a problem for for today's little chat. But what we're gonna find it'll be fine. Yeah, I'm sure it will. And we're here to talk about finding Rita, which is Keith's episode, which was available on podcasts, probably right below this episode that you've just clicked on. And I think it's also available on peacock, if you want to watch it and stream it. For our audience, just tell me a little bit about what finding Rita is about. Well, finding Rita is about finding Rita for one thing, which took a long time and was very difficult. But here's a story about a woman who went out with her family with the cousins for a drink one night. And afterwards, when they say goodnight to each other, she vanished. The investigation kind of plowed along. They talked to all the usual potential suspects. Couldn't find anybody who might be responsible for whatever happened to Rita. And then sometime into the investigation, the lead detective got a knock on the door from a colleague who walked down the hall to say, this sounds an awful lot like what happened in a case that I'm investigating. A woman who was attacked by a man was raped, was beaten horribly, came close to death, but survived, and can tell the story, and potentially help us find the perpetrator. And so these two cases worked really hand in glove to solve the question of what happened to Rita. A couple of interesting things about this tale. For one thing, it was the last story produced, not completed, but certainly filmed and started by producing partner named Robert Dean, who, of course, know well, and who we've worked with for many years. Robert Dean is a veteran producer who was just decided to, I don't know if you'd say go in a retirement, but at least semi-retirement, and he is left-date line. And he's a very, very talented guy. And I've got a couple of stories with him, Keith's done many more than I have, and I know that you and Robert were very good working partners, and I imagine that you were going to miss him a lot. Already do, yeah. So let's talk a little bit more about finding Rita. I thought that the cop in this was a really good interview, and I thought that Rita's mom was a really good interview. I thought those were both essential to the reason why this story worked as well as it did. True in both cases, and one of the reasons why I was so happy to be able to do this story was KK, who you will, if you've seen the story or when you see the story, you will soon recognize that name. KK or K-Leen was the young woman who was attacked by a rapist and who survived to tell the story. It was a horrible attack. She came close to death on a number of occasions. She wound up with severe bruising and ptikia and indications of this fixation. She was unconscious several times during the attack, and finally had to kind of run screaming away for her just to get away from the man. So her story is extremely dramatic, and it doesn't begin any way from Rita, who the story is named after, or the search for her, but it gives you some kind of an idea that what both women had to deal with. It's really KK's story, too. How hard was it to persuade her to appear on daylight? Because clearly, that's not something that she's going to do easily or without thinking about it. Right. Well, I don't, you know, maybe it's a reason why other people are much more helpful when it comes to having guests in our program, because I don't like to persuade people to appear on our show. I don't even want to become on because they want to. For the uninitiated, we don't pay anybody, we don't have any subpoena power. People are on daylight line because they want to, because they feel like their story will add to the depth of the story that we're telling. But sometimes, particularly when you're talking with somebody who's been through something awful and then went through something awful again, sometimes those people don't want to talk to us. And, you know, there's not a lot I can say when that happens. Understandably so. And in the end, she decided that she wanted to talk to us partly, I think is it kind of a cathartic experience, an example to others also that you have to be strong and get your own story out there. And I'm incredibly grateful that she did. And I think it would be helpful to a lot of people to know what her story was. I totally agree with that. I do have one question which I wrote down while I was watching the episode, which is this online campaign of hate that was directed against KK. Do we have any sense where that came from? I mean, is that people linked to the defendant or is that just, you know, people out there in the ether? Well, it can't be proved what the source of it was, but KK believed that it started with her attacker. And a person who had a lot of friends and who was, as far as I can understand, a charming guy who got support from family, from friends, from people who are prepared to believe him because he was a good talker. And he got them to actually believe that she was lying and trying to get him accused of something he didn't do. But that's not uncommon. The thing is you and I run into this sort of character all the time. The the charmer who's really got a bad side and who does terrible things to women because he's that person will see them as vulnerable, especially if you can get them a little more vulnerable after they've been at a bar for a time. So this guy was hanging out around bars and fishing for a couple of women. After a long period of time, he finally made a deal to plead guilty and confess to what he had done. But this is something that has come up a number of times in stories too. And it's a thing that every single time it does, I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm so furious about it. Because it's so kind of disrepidable and it smurches the victims where someone will confess that he killed a woman, but he removes the, the venal awful part of it. Somehow it's a thing that happened or she hit her head or you know. Yeah. And by the time that the remains of the victim are examined, much of the horror of those final moments can't be proven. Like there's no, there's no blood to test to see whether there's a date right drug in there. There is no flesh left to see if there is bruising around the neck. So in a lot of these cases, you sort of have only the killer's word as to what happened in those final moments. And they naturally sugarcoat that as much as they possibly can. And it's like, well, you can't prove it. And it's like one last indignity like they're, they're cleaning up the crime scene like, like, you know, verbally years later sometimes. Yeah. So that that always, it gets to me, it gets to me terribly. There was a, and I shouldn't let it get to me. I've told people of years, I never let these stories get to me. And I go home at night, I don't think about them. But sometimes you do. And it's when, and I'm afraid to say it, but as guys taking advantage of vulnerable women, when they do that, it just drives me nuts. We had a case in South Carolina, a story put on a couple of months ago, about a young woman who took years and years to solve her case, what happened to her? And the fact that she was murdered by, by habitual criminal, a person who kind of did the same thing. He's cruised around looking for women to attack and rape. And it was the same when he finally made his confession, that he kind of sanitized it and removed all the truly awful stuff and just enough so he could get away with, you know, it's still the same prison term, but he didn't have that sort of specter hanging over him while he was there. I know. That's one of the things that sadly you see all the time in this job is sort of war on women, most of it by man. And it's remarkable in its sameness. I was thinking about this when I watched a finding read is, that domestic violence is so much in the background of so many of the stories that we tell. Yeah, really, truly it is. I mean, it's not always the exact precipitant event to the murder, but sometimes it is, and it's usually floating there, somewhere out of sight sometimes. But one of the sad things about it, read this situation was that she enthusiastically got married as a young woman and then had to leave that marriage because of domestic violence. And that not occurred, you know, and that is what happened. One of the things I wanted to talk about was your interview with her sons because, and I'm going to let you tell the story, but this is something that almost never happens on daylight, which is usually when we show up to cover a story, we know who's talking, we know who's not talking, we know who we have approached, we know who said, yes, we know who said no. It's unusual that people decide sort of after we get there, that they now want to participate, but that's what happened in this case, isn't it? So right ahead three sons, and all very close, the middle son had decided he wanted to be the one to speak for his siblings. And so he came to our interview intending to talk to us. But the youngest son came along with his middle brother just to watch and see what happened. And as he saw us doing interviews, he changed his mind. We talked to his grandmother. He saw what his grandmother was saying. He saw what the atmosphere was, and he decided he wanted to speak up on behalf of his mother. So he had two young boys, the middle child and the youngest child, and they were, well, they were tremendously moving. I mean, these are wonderful young men. I thought they really added a lot to the program. Yeah, I did too. Let me ask you a couple of things that are not exactly about the story, but more sort of about the storytelling. First of all, I love the drone shots in this. You know, using drones has sort of completely changed the way some of these stories are told, because it's an extremely inexpensive way of getting aerial shots, particularly when you're talking about sometimes something that we talk about all the time, which is like some intrigue or some mystery that's enveloping a small town, which in this case was also the area where they were searching for Rita. So it was, it was, it was doubly that. I thought the drone footage really worked great in this. And the other thing I love that you did was sort of the foreshadowing at the beginning when you're talking about the guy hanging around the bar. And you immediately, I mean, as a viewer, I immediately thought, okay, that's the guy, that's what this is. This is what this is all about. I want to hear everything about that guy. And I love that because it plants that in the back of your mind, even as you're hearing about what Rita did, what she was thinking, she just broken up, she wanted to go out and have fun. And meanwhile, you're aware as a viewer, you're aware of this sort of like danger lurking. I mean, it's a little like, you know, showing the shark, the shark fint at the beginning of a movie, you know, and then you know that that that's going to strengthen eventually. And that's one of the things I think that you do really well, which is like sort of let people know something's coming. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but all is not normal. It's, it is a version of a well known storytelling technique, which is kind of almost a rule of storytelling that always has been, since probably the beginning of stories. But it achieved the name Chekhov's gun back 150 years ago or so, because the rule was according to Chekhov. If you introduce a gun in Act 2, it has to be used by Act 3. So the idea is, if you're going to tell a story, you provide a little mysterious little hint that something's going to happen involving this person or this object, and then later on, it's revealed what that was. I must say, you know, and I know I'm pretty sure you feel this way. Like the terrible part of this job is meeting those families, because there's this myth out there that they somehow get over this after the person's locked up and then they don't. Terrible, but also life affirming it is in a way too. Also, sometimes you see people with enormous strength, yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's just the fact of getting to spend time with people who've gone through these things is gift. And I rarely come away, even though some of the stories are often very, very sad and get to you, it is truly a gift to be able to be given the right to hear such a personal story. And when that person knows that we're going to put the story on television and still entrust us with it, it's great privilege. It is. And it's something that I know we all take very seriously. I know that I do. And in addition to the sorrow that we witness, you also see tremendous stories of strength and resilience and faith. Sure. Frequently in these kinds of cases, so much depends on the determination of a family who keeps the pressure up, keeps the enthusiasm up for continuing to, you know, do something that's very, very difficult and time consuming and expensive for police departments. But they keep at it because they're doing it for the family. Well, the long, long PD really, really delivered on this one. They really hung on there. Yeah, they did. Yeah. Without giving anything away, what, what are you guys coming up? Well, I am, I'm working at a very interesting story, which I guess, for one of the better phrase at the moment, we'll call it Black Widow story. And it's fascinating. A woman who is currently awaiting for the justice system to have, you know, to have a go-aider. But meanwhile, we're finding out more and more and more about her life and her past. And it will be on a future day line. Yeah, I'm working on a story very similar to that in which a woman's kind of at the center of this. She is alleged to have committed murder, although she has not been charged. She's alleged by the family of the victim to have committed murder, but she has not been charged by any law enforcement agency. And I'm not sure she will. There was a civil suit in the case. And one of the things that jurors expressed in that civil suit after, after the verdict was in, was, why is this in a civil court? Why aren't you trying this person to remur? Yeah. Different jurisdictions take a different approach to whether or not there's enough evidence to proceed. Yeah. Yeah, it's interesting because I'm doing a, I'm doing one story right now in which prosecutors are arguing. We don't have enough to go forward. And I'm doing another story in which prosecutors did go forward and filed murder charges. And they really did not have a lot to back them up. And the jury was out about 45 minutes. And jurors, those jurors, when interviewed afterwards were saying, how did this get in a courtroom? That's all you've got. I know there are prosecutors you and I both have worked with and who we know takes circumstantial cases. Like John Lewin in LA loves cold cases, did cold cases for years. And did them because he found that circumstantial cases where you can just tell a jury, look, we don't have maybe all the physical evidence you'd like to see. But just listen to this story and tell me if you can tell what happened. And of course, he gets convictions all the time. Yeah. I might as well say this out loud on a podcast, which is, if I were guilty of some crime, John Lewin's about the last guy in the United States, I would want him after me. I mean, not only did he conduct drug or thirst, which is pretty difficult. But as any regular day line viewer knows, he's done a lot of other cases too. And there's a prosecutor who I'm not going to name who calls me after almost every day line, whether it's mine or not, even if it's your story or our Andrea or Dennis's, calls me after the story to critique the work of that prosecutor. And you know, pick up the phone. I see it's him like, yeah, how you doing? And he's like, yeah, somebody should ask that guy in North Carolina, whether he filed a 608 motion. I'm like, I don't know what that is. I'm sure you're right. I don't know if the law is different where you are. But yeah, I'm prepared to stipulate that that guy made a mistake because he's ready to, to critique every prosecutor's work. It's pretty interesting. It's pretty entertaining. Just one of the joys of doing this odd thing we do for a living. Well, you do me a lot of interesting people. And you meet some murderers, which I wasn't expecting, although I've said this before, and I think you agree that's not the hard part of this job. The hard part's talking to families. Yeah, it's right. So the murderers all want to be nice guys who have been wronged. Who've been wronged, exactly. Yeah. So I want to thank you for doing this for this little talking day. It was a great pleasure, Josh. You were a far less annoying person today than you usually are. Wow. So it was a delight for me. Wow. All right. That's not really where I saw this going. But you know, you were far more forthcoming than you normally are, which I think I appreciate, and I know that our listeners and day-line viewers appreciate. You've made me realize that if we do this again, and I get some bad news for you, I'm pretty sure we are doing it again. Oh, boy. That'll work out great. Tell me, Josh, all the little, you put in there just now. Was they in the script? We're going to cut those out. Okay. I'll make this being just sitting here letting you ask the questions. It's kind of fun. Well, when we do one of these that's going to be my episode, you're going to ask the questions because I can't really do everything around here. Can I, Keith? You try. God knows you try. So thanks for talking day-line, and we'll see you Fridays on day-line. I'm NBC. Oh, hello. It's me again. A couple of things came up while we were talking day-line that I wanted to follow up on, and now I will, because I've gotten rid of Keith. That producer, Robert Dean, who we were talking about in the beginning, well, Keith did not take advantage of an obvious opportunity there, so I will. Robert was the original producer of the story that's now Keith's hit podcast called The Girl in the Blue Mustang. It's great. And it's out now so you can find it and go listen. The South Carolina story that Keith brought up in which the killer sanitized the nature of his crime during the prison interview was the Britney Drexel case. And Keith definitely called him on it. That episode is called The Last Walk, and you can listen to the podcast or you can watch the episode on Peacock. Also, as I mentioned earlier, domestic violence is often somewhere in the background of a lot of the stories we tell here at day-line. So if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-safe. That's 1-800-799-7233. Or visit Thanks again for listening.