Hustle Mindset

True Crime Podcaster Met Alone With Prime Suspect In Dad’s Murder

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Madison McGhee, a 28-year-old television producer who launched a podcast dedicated to finding her father’s killer, recently met alone with the prime suspect, who reached out after he listened to her show.

The second part of Madison McGhee’s “Ice Cold Case,” released Wednesday, features her interview with Daryl Smith, who was arrested but ultimately not charged in connection with the fatal shooting of John Cornelius “J.C.” McGhee, Madison’s father, in 2002.

When she received the message from Smith in December, McGhee’s first thought was that he was planning to sue her.

“I called my lawyer,” she told HuffPost. “I was like, ‘This is not good.’”

Madison McGhee documents her investigation into the unsolved 2002 killing of her father in the podcast “Ice Cold Case.”

But Smith, who had recently been released from prison on appeal in another case, said he wanted to work with her to “put the record straight.”

“And I was like, ‘Work together? I just told the whole world essentially that I think you killed my dad!’” McGhee said.

In 2002, J.C. McGhee was shot point-blank in the head in his own doorway in Belmont County, Ohio. No one was ever charged with pulling the trigger. Authorities began grand jury proceedings against Smith, but the case fell apart after a key witness — J.C.’s own nephew Omar — kept changing his story.

McGhee, who was raised by her white mother and grandmother in West Virginia, has been fearless in her quest for answers about the murder of her Black father, who was killed when she was 6 years old. Her family told her J.C. had died of a heart attack, and she didn’t learn the truth until she was 16.

McGhee thought her father died of a heart attack when she was 6 years old. Years later, she learned someone had shot him point-blank in the head.
McGhee thought her father died of a heart attack when she was 6 years old. Years later, she learned someone had shot him point-blank in the head.

Her sleuthing stirred up a hornets’ nest among her family members — many of whom she never knew, and who she believes know more about the crime than they are willing to share — and questioned the integrity of the investigation by local law enforcement. McGhee discovered that investigators failed to secure the crime scene, collect and preserve some evidence, interview key witnesses and follow up on leads.

Along the way, McGhee learned uncomfortable truths about her father — that he’d been a drug dealer, for example, and was working as a confidential informant when he died. The list of possible motives for her father’s killing is long, and it continues to grow as McGhee uncovers new clues from police files, court records, tips she’s received after her podcast, and people like Smith coming forward.

“It’s time to go back to the scene of the crime, quite literally,” says McGhee, who now lives in Los Angeles, in episode 10, the first of nine new episodes of the podcast. But to meet with Smith, she had to go alone.

McGhee has uncovered new clues from tips she’s received after her podcast began airing.
McGhee has uncovered new clues from tips she’s received after her podcast began airing.

“The podcast was taking up all my time, energy and money,” she told HuffPost. “I couldn’t fly anyone out with me, so I went by myself.” She wasn’t reckless — she told people what she was doing, where she’d be and when — but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t afraid. They agreed to meet at the Ohio County Public Library, about two and a half hours from her hometown of Charleston.

“I think I sat in silence for 90% of the drive — no music, no podcast, just sitting in silence. I was so scared,” she said.

Her biggest fear wasn’t necessarily Smith himself, but what he might say.

“What if I hear things that I don’t want to know?” she said. “What if this guy is like, ‘Yeah, I killed your dad.’ What do you do? I didn’t know how to react.”

On the other hand, if Smith denied killing J.C., McGhee worried that she’d be forced to “go back to square one.”

“So really any outcome was just absolutely terrifying to me, but it was obviously an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, because I have to talk to this guy. So I think I was really worried about that, mostly,” she said. “I know I should be way more cautious and careful, but I’m just not thinking about that, because I’m so focused on [getting] answers.”

She and Smith spoke for about two and half hours, but McGhee remembered nothing about their conversation until she played it back later.

“I was in this really weird mindset,” she said. “I do remember when he left. He got up, I got up. And I was like, ‘Is it weird to give you a hug?’ And we hugged and he left.”

As a result of her interview with Smith and other new contacts she’s made, “two sides to every story” became the natural theme of the second installment of “Ice Cold Case,” McGhee said.

“Let’s hear from the other side, and that will either tell me, like, ‘Yep, got a weird feeling — they were probably involved.’ Or, ‘No, it’s time to look elsewhere.’”

And McGhee isn’t afraid to follow the investigation wherever it leads her.

“It’s like when you’re a little kid and the stove is on,” she said. “I have to obviously touch the stove. I feel like that’s where I’m at. I have to know if it’s hot.”



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