A grisly murder launches a macabre festival, and Alex and Dr. Strand must work together to try and connect the dots of a strange small town's dark history. At the same time, Alex begins to question whether or not she can really trust the man behind these mysterious Black Tapes.
Alex receives an anonymous video message on her phone, recorded when she got up from her table while she was having coffee with Dr. Strand. The video only shows the ceiling of the cafe, and a voice sounds like it’s saying, “he’s not who you think." When Alex asks him if anything happened while she was gone, Strand says he left the table momentarily, so someone must have left the message then. Alex plays the recording for Strand; he explains he doesn’t hear what she does, and that she’s jumped to a conclusion much like people do when they’re frustrated at not immediately knowing the answer to a seemingly inexplicable occurrence, which is essentially the basis of his work at the Strand Institute.
Strand has temporarily relocated to Seattle after being offered a month-long residency to research a case study on mass hysteria. Being closer to the Pacific Northwest Stories studios, he offers Alex a look at another Black Tape from his collection. It contains security camera footage from a camera outside a bank in Charlesworth, Washington: a hooded figure whose back is to the camera stands waiting, while a young woman, Fiona DeNevers, approaches the bank from the parking lot. As the woman nears the hooded figure, she stops before him or her, screams and collapses, having apparently had a fatal heart attack. Strand says she was 23 years old.
Strand tells Alex that the town celebrates the Festival of the Upside Down Face, a macabre festival based the urban legend of the murder of Catherine Williams in 1957. She was killed by Sarah Benning, who had been bullied mercilessly by Catherine and her friends, and exacted her revenge by slitting Catherine’s throat, cutting off her face, and sewing it back on upside down. Wilson Pepper, a hotel owner, came up with the idea for the bizarre festival in 1985, after Charlesworth had fallen off the list as one of the most haunted places in the U.S. Strand says that the legend that has since developed is that Catherine’s ghost haunts the town as a reminder of what the group of girls did to Sarah Benning. Alex convinces Strand to attend the festival with her the next day.
Alex conducts a few one-off interviews with festival goers, and one mentions that she should talk to Fiona DeNevers’ sister. Alex arranges an interview with Crystal, despite Strand’s misgivings about the interview and its usefulness. Crystal tells Alex that her’s and Fiona’s grandmother, Linda, was Catherine Williams’ friend, and is therefore believed to have been part of the group that bullied Sarah Benning until she committed the gruesome act. Crystal clarifies the legend that Alex had heard regarding the ghost that haunts Charlesworth: it’s actually Sarah’s spirit wearing Catherine’s face upside down on her own, her grandmother having seen her walking down the street this way after the prom. Crystal tells Alex that her grandmother once saw Sarah staring at her through a window, eventually pulling Catherine’s face off and showing it to her. Crystal reveals that Linda committed suicide by jumping off a roof.
Alex interviews the head librarian at the Charlesworth public library, Rosemary Wilkins. She shuns the festival and refuses to participate, saying it’s tacky and cruel. She also corrects Alex on the version of the legend she heard: Rosemary tells her it’s not Sarah Benning’s ghost haunting the town, but Sarah herself.
After interviewing Rosemary, Alex reunites with Strand, where he’s drinking and talking with one of the town sheriff, Boyd Osenga. He tells Alex and Strand that both Sarah’s and Catherine’s graves were dug up in 1967 and their bodies were missing. Some wondered if Wilson Pepper was behind the desecration in an attempt to drum up business for the festival, as he had also printed photos of both girls in the town paper in order to expose the next generation to the urban legend. Though Pepper had an alibi, Osenga suspects the resurgence in interest in the myth provoked the vandals into keeping the legend alive.
Alex re-approaches the story surrounding Strand’s wife’s disappearance. Strand explains that in 1997 on their way to Big Sur, they had stopped for gas and Coralee was gone by the time he returned to the car after paying. Alex tells the audience that her producers tracked down Coralee’s parents, and she interviews them over the phone. Coralee’s father, Lawrence Jacobson, is convinced that Strand was behind Coralee’s disappearance and that he actually murdered her, though her mother, June, isn’t as sure. June believes that a postcard they received two years prior was from Coralee, but Lawrence mentions that it wasn’t in Coralee’s handwriting (he argues it was actually printed so a match can’t be established) and that it had the wrong address. He goes so far as to say Strand’s daughter, Charlie, even thought her father was behind Coralee’s disappearance when she got “as far away from him as soon as she could”, and suggests Alex does the same.
June emails Alex a picture of the postcard from Big Arm, Montana, remarking that Coralee always loved the mountains. Alex asks Lawrence why he’s so sure Strand was responsible for Coralee’s disappearance, and he mentions that Coralee was planning on filing for divorce; June does concede that they fought over having more children, and Lawrence says Coralee had asked him to find a lawyer, though June says that was unrelated. Lawrence tells Alex that the police suspected Strand’s involvement when he disappeared for five days after Coralee went missing (though their attention turned toward a highway serial killer shortly thereafter). June mentions that Charlie showed up at her’s and Lawrence’s house shortly after Coralee’s disappearance, claiming that she no longer had a father.
Alex has the writing on the postcard analysed and compared with samples of Coralee’s handwriting, but the results are inconclusive.
Recurring Characters Edit
- Charlesworth, WA is one of the first fictional towns in the podcast.