Red Ball Retreads Old Ground In Burger Chef Case
Red Ball—the new true crime podcast from Ashley Flowers, creator of the controversial Indianapolis-based Crime Junkie show—might just be the first narrative audio press release created, in part, by a taxpayer-funded law enforcement agency.
The four-episode, two-hour mini series explores District Investigative Commander 1st Sgt. Bill Dalton’s investigation of the 1978 Burger Chef murders in Speedway following his takeover of the case in the spring of 2018.
“If this case is gonna be solved,” Flowers tells listeners, “Dalton would have to take a brand new approach, and tackle this case in a way that hasn’t been done by anyone before him.”
In the first episode, called “So Many Rabbit Holes,” the story picks up months before the case’s 40th anniversary last November. Part of Dalton’s new approach, we learn, is digitizing case files, a development already reported in Indianapolis Monthly and other outlets. Part of his tack is using newly acquired artificial intelligence to analyze those documents, as announced by Indiana State Police last November.
And part of that is partnering with Flowers to create Red Ball, which currently ranks as iTunes’s No. 2 true crime podcast. The idea: Gin up interest in the case through a popular true crime podcast.
“I have this tool and this platform, and I want to lend that hand to police where it can be helpful but not everyone agrees with this,” Flowers says.
Flowers is frank about her intentions with the show, which industry watchers speculate may be eventually optioned by Hollywood: “In this podcast, you won’t hear from witnesses or suspects or even family members,” she says. “There’s absolutely a place for investigative journalism, but it’s not my place. My goal is to aid police in disseminating information without getting in the way of their investigation or trying to do any investigating myself.”
But things seem to get complicated for Flowers.
“I came in wanting to help the state police,” Flowers says, “but I made their lives a whole helluva lot harder.”
During the show’s development, Flowers acknowledges that “a handful of people got wind that I was working with police to tell this story, and they were not happy,” she says, citing an Access to Public Records Act feud that broke out between Flowers and rival true crime podcasters. This, she says, “almost stopped the project in its tracks.”
What actually stopped Flowers’s project in its tracks, as reported by Indianapolis Monthly: Dalton, without approval from his superiors, allowed Flowers to see the Burger Chef case file, an act that resulted in him being reprimanded—a fact Flowers’s conveniently elides. “We almost had the case compromised beyond repair,” Flowers says.
Flowers admits Dalton’s efforts to catalogue evidence were impeded by the podcast: “The longer our project went on, the more my profile grew, the more people took notice and got upset. Days when Dalton should have been working on active cases or cold ones like this, he spent dealing with the politics of his job. People started personally attacking me as well, coming at me from every direction. They were pissed that police were using my platform to tell their story. It was hard for me to understand why. All I wanted to do was help. I wanted to give police a controlled outlet to tell the victim’s story and to disseminate information to the public, without fear that I was looking for a scoop or would do something that would irrevocably harm the investigation. I wanted to give them more than a soundbite on the news that they would have no control over.”
Flowers inexplicably blames journalists for the controversy. “We live in a world where everyone is looking for a scoop,” she says. “That thing that will give them clicks with no regard for how the information or names that they’re releasing could hurt the case forever.”
Red Ball might have been more aptly called “Red Herring.” In the final few moments of the first episode, host Ashley Flowers zeroes in on how detectives found the body of 16-year-old Mark Flemmonds, one of the four victims found slain in the infamous Burger Chef murders that took place in the now-defunct fast food chain outpost located in Speedway. Police found Flemmonds near a tree, away from the three other victims, with no broken bones.
“Mark was the key to solving this case,” Flowers tells listeners. “I just didn’t know how yet.” The show never returns to Flemmonds’s body.
Then, in the show’s final episode, Dalton makes a nearly two-minute official statement from the ISP: “Ashley, I’d like everyone who is listening to this podcast to understand that this case is old but it is not cold,” Dalton begins.
“We do not believe the killers were from Speedway, Indiana, in 1978,” Dalton says. “We believe they resided outside of that area. Eventually, we have new evidentiary possibilities that we plan to explore that we think could link the killer directly to the crime.”
Dalton then addresses the killers, who, presumably, are tuning into the podcast while on the lam: “We’re not stopping,” Dalton says in a somber voice. “We’re going to find you. With the help of today’s advancements in technology, it is not if, but when, we come to get you.”
The music swells.
We’re told there is new evidence in the case. The killers “messed up” and left “something” at the crime scene that Dalton thinks will lead to their arrest: Item 8063.
What, exactly, is the evidence?
We don’t know. We never learn.
So many rabbit holes, indeed.