Jackie O’Brien has spent a lot of time at home and indoors much like everyone else this past year.
And she has been putting that time to good use, producing a podcast that has reached hundreds of listeners, locally and all over the world.
Through her research and recording, she is bringing attention to an unsolved murder in her show, “Buried in snow.”
O’Brien, 22, who was born and raised in Shelburne, chose to focus on the case of Denise Hart who died in the winter of 2015 and is the most recent unsolved murder in the state at the time of publication.
Hart’s story resonated with O’Brien during a year full of unrest and social change all across the country.
“Watching all of the racism, police brutality happen and feeling like there was nothing you could do to be a part of the fight against it was really depressing for me. I wanted to try and find a way that could help mitigate that. So I looked up Vermont’s most recent unsolved murders and her name was at the top of the list,” O’Brien said.
Hart was a 24-year-old Black woman from Hartford, Conn. who was last seen by a friend on Jan. 25, 2015, in Sudbury, according to Vermont State Police.
The vehicle she was last seen driving was found burned out a day later.
Almost a year after that someone walking along the side of the road in Goshen, about half an hour’s drive east, discovered human remains that were positively identified as Hart.
An autopsy determined that the cause of death was homicide.
“And I found that her story didn’t have as much coverage as similar cases that had happened around the same time. Everything was just a regurgitated blurb that didn’t have any kind of detail,” O’Brien explained.
She put her journalism degree to work, calling the state police, friends and family of Hart trying to put together a narrative that could bring some closure to the victim’s family and maybe shed some light on the inconsistent ways the media reports on stories like this.
“Look, if I was murdered right now my story would probably go viral because I’m young and white and middle class so the media looks at that and sees a worthy victim who we should all be upset over. But Black and Indigenous women are murdered at twice the rate as white women proportionately and you just don’t see those victims covered in the same way. All of the TV shows and all of the podcasts just cover the same stories over and over,” O’Brien said.
The budding reporter was able to reach out to multiple members of Hart’s family, including her mother Dedre, who she said was blunt in her assessment of the way police and the media in Vermont handled her daughter’s case.
“Of course she got overlooked,” she told O’Brien.
“I’ve always felt it was her color and you know that’s not right. Regardless of what my skin color is I bleed the same as the next person bleeds. My daughter bleeds the same way the next person bleeds,” said Dedre Robinson on the podcast, speaking from her home in Connecticut.
O’Brien also spoke with Vermont State Police and the prime suspect for Hart’s murder during the course of the six months she spent investigating this story.
The concept of a true crime podcast was brought into the mainstream by “Serial” in 2014 — its first two seasons have been downloaded more than 340 million times.
“Buried in Snow” is available on the streaming service Spotify and the entire process is a do-it-yourself affair.
Listeners can at times hear swaths of the sound-damper hung from O’Brien’s walls in a closet-turned-recording studio situated in her Burlington apartment. Otherwise, she keeps focus from herself.
“I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about her, it’s her story” she said.
And she wants listeners to do the same.
“Pay attention. Demand for the media to talk about these things and as a community hold ourselves accountable to talk about these things. My biggest hope is that someone will hear this who knows something and come forward. That’s the overall goal,” she said.