For three years, “Motive” has been honing in on crime in Chicago. Not in the political buzzword/phrase, though. They’re focusing on cases that are strange, cruel, and even deliberately concealed in order to find some sort of motivation for them.
From a 13-year-old being accused of murder to the sudden rise of Nazism in the 1980s with the Chicago Area Skinheads to cases that extended all the way to Spain’s 2016 gang rape case that kicked off the massive #MeToo movement in the country, “Motive” has been providing high-quality investigative reporting on extraordinarily difficult topics. And their brand new fourth season is falling right in line with the last three.
“Motive” is a WBEZ show that has been releasing seasons since 2019. Each season so far has consisted of 8 to 10 episodes, the episodes lasting just 30 minutes a piece. Each season has been hosted by a different journalist who has dedicated years to their investigations, so each one is a little different, but never lacking in quality.
This is a serialized podcasts and episodes should be listened to in order, although seasons themselves can be listened to in any order. Just a few episodes of “Motive’s” fourth season are out now.
In “Motive’s” first season, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frank Main told the story of T.J. Jimenez. T.J. was arrested for murder at just 13 years old and released 16 years later when a witness recanted their story. At 30 years old, T.J. was released back into the world with $25 million in compensation (which was really won from a wrongful-conviction lawsuit).
The first season covers firstly his wrongful conviction, speaking with the people who believe he was framed and those who think he did it. But that’s not where the story ends. Out of prison as a multi-millionaire, he could have done anything, but what he decided to do was spend his money on cars and homes before assuming control of the Simon City Royals and starting a violent gang war.
The second season is hosted by Candace Mittel Kahn who reports on a global case that became the center of the #MeToo movement in Spain. She speaks with women who were targeted and sexually assaulted while traveling through Spain, only to not be believed by their travel liaisons, their universities, city officials, nor the courts of Spain or the FBI.
Kahn looks at how these cases are handled in both countries, the culture around sexual assault, the numerous victims who go unbelieved, and how Spain reacted to mass protests to change the country’s sexual assault laws.
In the third season, Odette Yousef is determined to understand the white supremacist movement of today by looking at the last time a wave of hate consumed Americans. She looks into the neo-Nazi movement of 1980s, when the Chicago Area Skinheads (also known as CASH) formed the first racist, white supremacist skinhead crew in the United States. She explores how their infamous leader Christian Picciolini drew in young Chicagoans, looks into other white supremacist groups, and tries to see where these beliefs have ended up today.
And now, of course, “Motive” is back with a new focus: prisons – small town prisons, to be precise. Well, they’re looking at big prisons in small towns – prisons that were political bastions of mayoral hopefuls who promised to bring more jobs to these rural towns with said penitentiaries and prisons that people wanted in town because of the economic boost it would bring.
This season of WBEZ’s “Motive” is hosted by Shannon Heffernan, a criminal justice reporter that has spent her career reporting on prisons. When she received a call about an inmate in the Western Illinois Correctional Facility in Mount Sterling, IL that died under mysterious circumstances, she found nine more additional cases that showed a pattern.
She is diving into what exactly happens in these campuses, working to uncover the deliberately concealed world of big prisons in small communities. She explores how these prisons work, how a prison in a small town can become rife with corruption. She speaks with people inside and outside the walls of this prison — prisoners who have claimed to have faced unjust violence, their attorneys, employees trying to change these prisons from the inside out, and more.
“Motive” is not an easy listen, but it is an excellent listen. These stories are eye opening, tragic, and important. You’d be hard-pressed to not respect the effort that each of these journalists go to to uncover what motivates people to commit crimes or do hateful things. They try to speak to all people involved in these stories (not everyone says yes) and present thoughtful perspectives on these complex cases.
Be sure to tune into this new season of “Motive,” or catch up on old seasons, for some fine investigative journalism.