Who is Matthew MaGill and why should we care about him? He wasn’t famous, influential, particularly well-liked, or even that masterful of a criminal, despite being on the run from the federal authorities. Matthew MaGill was not even his real name. But, even in death, he continued to be so enigmatic, so much larger than life, that one can’t help but question everything about him.
This story is not just about MaGill, though, but the reporter who stumbled upon the story of the mysterious old man who died alone in the Florida-Georgia woods. Eric Mennel is an award winning journalist and podcaster, having worked with This American Life, NPR, and many other shows. For five years, Mennel digs for the truth and along the way, finds truths about himself. Along with Audacy’s Pineapple Street Studios, Mennel brings us along his investigation in “Stay Away from Matthew MaGill”.
While so much is unknown about MaGill, a box he left behind of his belongings represents the times of a man with many secrets. The inside shows evidence of a captivating life: from 1970s Broadway, to plane hijackings, to the business of drugs and fancy cars in 1980s Florida. There were rumors of MaGill being a race car driver and a male model. There are stories of Fidel Castro. There are tapes, letters, and documents all pointing in different directions.
Mennel interviews neighbors and siblings, finds ex-wives and offspring. When approached about the man they barely knew, some would say, “Why would you want to know about him?” Mennel finds that MaGill was an incredibly compelling man, but that was not the person underneath his facade. He finds good in MaGill, and very, very bad in MaGill. He finds stories of crime, evading federal authorities, and a life before Matthew MaGill ever truly existed.
MaGill’s family life causes Mennel to reflect on his own. Mennel reveals his estrangement from most of his family, only remaining close with his younger sister. Interspersed with interviews of his own family members and MaGill’s, Mennel’s storytelling in “Stay Away From Matthew MaGill” is powerful. The first episodes leave listeners wondering how Mennel could possibly feel entwined with a man as terrible as MaGill.
An unusual man’s story is told in an unusual way: while it is certainly true crime, it is also story of a man learning from mistakes. An infinitely compelling man who could pull people in with ease and push them away even faster. A man left with no one to tell his story but a reporter fearing the same fate.