Making a podcast brought Payne Lindsey into places he never thought he would be: “Good Morning America,” being subpoenaed for a murder trial, digging under a home for bones, reaching the No. 1 spot on the Apple Podcast charts, and in the ears of millions of listeners, to name a few.
In June, Lindsey was relaxing in his beautiful east Atlanta home coming down from his many adventures. He had just finished covering the trial of Ryan Duke for the murder of Tara Grinstead, a high school teacher and former Miss Georgia contestant from Ocilla who disappeared homecoming night in 2005 before her body was discovered more than a decade later. Lindsey was subpoenaed to testify as a witness in the prosecution’s case, although after an appeal to the court on his right to cover the trial as a member of the press, the court relented.
Within a month, he had traveled to Las Vegas for True Crime Con, a convention for true crime fans and creators, visited London and spent time with family. He had just capped off bonus episodes for his podcast, “Up and Vanished” for the trial. Undoubtedly, Lindsey needed rest.
On the first floor of his home, Lindsey has created a working studio for his podcasts, fully equipped with a sound booth, stereo systems, monitors and sound mixing. The space is quiet. For now.
A kid from Cobb
Although the name Payne Lindsey is becoming a household around Atlanta, and a heavyweight in the true crime podcasting space, locals may be surprised to learn that this creative is a native of Cobb County.
Growing up in Kennesaw, Lindsey attended Due West Elementary, Lost Mountain Middle School and Harrison High School. From an early age, he had a fascination with movies, filming his brothers and sisters with a VHS camera throughout their home.
“So back when I was filming movies and stuff in high school, I would just go to the local gas station. They would let me film inside a big robbery scene or something, very willingly,” he recalled.
At 18 years old, Lindsey started making rap music and shooting music videos on a popular YouTube channel for a few years.
“And then I just got burned out on it and didn’t want to do that anymore,” he said. “I was 24, I was a server at a restaurant, I was broke and I was just miserable. And I just decided that I was going to quit and I haven’t had a real job ever since then.”
Given his video and music experience, Lindsey found himself making music videos for other artists in Atlanta, giving him the opportunity to travel the world. He met his current business partner Donald Albright and won a gold record for a music video that went viral.
“I just started making a show that I would want to listen to.”
But after his travels to places like Dubai, Los Angeles and South Africa, Lindsey found himself burnt out again and looking for a change.
“I kind of just felt creative and I was tired of doing stuff for other people,” he said. “As a kid, I always wanted to make my own stuff.”
Lindsey would attend Georgia Highlands and Chattahoochee Tech until he had spent all the money his father saved for his college and needed to find an alternate route.
“Everything that I did creatively up until I decided to make a podcast one day, in its own way, led me to where I am today,” he said.
Like many listeners in 2014, Lindsey said he was captivated by the show “Serial,” a New York Times Company-backed podcast about Adnan Syed, a man who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend and fellow classmate Hae Min Lee in 1999. Lindsey started listening after a friend recommended it while he was binge-watching true crime documentaries like Netflix’s “Making a Murderer.”
“I didn’t really know what a podcast was back then,” he said. “But I went to see (my friend), we had a little road trip together and we basically binged the first six episodes and then I listened week-to-week as it was coming out. And I was just like, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I love this.’ And I’ve never felt that way about audio.”
Lindsey was sharing a two-bedroom apartment off Barrett Parkway with his younger brother when he came bursting through the door to share his epiphany: he could make a podcast.
“I wanted it to seem bigger than it really was.”
Using the success of “Serial,” as a blueprint, Lindsey started searching for cold cases to cover. He came across Grinstead’s on the Georgia Bureau of Investigations website, listing her disappearance as the state’s No. 1 unsolved case. On August 7, 2016, he released the first episode of “Up and Vanished.”
“I just started making a show that I would want to listen to,” he said. “The part I was concerned about the most was my own voice. Everyone always says that, but I just didn’t see myself as the radio guy.”
But Lindsey had a knack for delivering to an audio audience in a new, creative way. He created eerie music to play at the intro of the show, partnered with a private investigator who had worked the case ten years prior, got the voice of family and friends of Grinstead on the air, invested in compelling cover art and even released a video trailer for the podcast.
“I took every element of it extremely seriously, like the name, the cover, the music, the theme song, just the tone of the whole thing,” he said. “My goal was, I want this to look like it’s coming out on Netflix… that was my whole approach. I wanted it to seem bigger than it really was.”
By the first week, “Up and Vanished,” had 5,000 downloads and was quickly growing. Soon Lindsey was contacted by advertisers and talent agencies and even worked on releasing a docuseries on Oxygen.
“Then it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
A break in the case
By the time Lindsey reached 10 million downloads and episode 12 of his podcast, something unexpected happened: not one, but two arrests in the case.
During a press conference, the GBI announced in December 2017 the arrest of two of Grinstead’s former students implicated in her murder and the concealment of her body: Bo Dukes and Ryan Duke. Even more shocking was when investigators credited the media, an open nod to Lindsey’s podcast, during the announcement of the arrests.
“Then it just became this absolutely insane experience,” he said.
Suddenly, thanks to his podcast, Lindsey became known for his connection to a case that had reached the national spotlight. Shortly after arriving in Ocilla for the press conference, Lindsey found himself on “Good Morning America,” the next morning, borrowing a friend’s jacket when he didn’t have a change of clothes.
“It was a wild ride,” he said. “And I really, truly did it every single day for at least a year.”
“You haven’t seen the real me, yet.”
Lindsey chose to keep working and developed 12 more episodes for the first season, not including the recent trial coverage episodes created this summer.
By 2022, Lindsey had four successful podcast shows under his belt: “Up and Vanished,” “Atlanta Monster,” “Radio Rental,” and “Dead and Gone.” He’s gone on to search for two other missing women from small, rural communities across America. He’s sat down with Wayne Williams, the alleged killer in the Atlanta Child Murders. He’s created a podcast where listeners share their scary stories with host Rainn Wilson from “The Office.” He’s even launched a show exploring the cases of missing and murdered Great Dead fans over the last five decades.
Into the unknown
For season one of “Up and Vanished,” listeners, family and friends of Grinstead and even Lindsey were left with more questions than answers when the jury came back with a verdict in late May.
“Ryan Duke is found not guilty for the murder of Tara Grinstead,” Lindsey said on a breaking news episode of the podcast. “Wild and emotional day.”
Regarding Grinstead’s story, for Lindsey, it’s over and the chapter is closed. But he continues to chase stories, searching, and even finding parts of himself in his work.
“It kind of makes you look in the mirror a little bit differently,” he said.
Although mum’s the word on his next podcast project, Lindsey said it will focus on UFOs and strange phenomena. Details of the podcast will come out later in the fall, just in time for the spooky season.
When asked if there was anything Lindsey wanted his listeners to know, he pondered a bit.
“You haven’t seen the real me, yet,” he said.
Until then, Lindsey’s audience is on the edge of their seats with bated breath.