– LISTEN UP –
Her latest business venture is in the increasingly popular world of podcasts. The first season of Somebody Somewhere examined Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Wales’ unsolved murder, which happened at his Seattle home late one night in 2001. In the 10-episode series, which debuted last January, Payne and Gottlieb attempt to heat up the cold case by re-examining the web of evidence gathered by the FBI and following new leads. The rich entertainment value comes not so much from solving the mystery as it does from Payne and Gottlieb’s tell-as-you-go formula of attempting to solve it. Still, their reporting ruffled enough feathers that the Department of Justice felt it necessary to send out Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to hold a press conference in Seattle this year – in the middle of overseeing the Mueller investigation – to defend its investigation of the killing of one of its own.
“I couldn’t have picked a better person to team up with to do the type of reporting we’re doing, because she’ll go anywhere, anytime, climb fences, ask questions without fear,” says Payne, a former assistant U.S. attorney himself who provides the musing narration on the podcast. “It’s been a great collaboration.”
When the pair went looking for the mentor of one of the prime suspects, all they knew was that the small town he lived in was about two hours away, so Gottlieb suggested paying a visit to the post office once they arrived. She was chatting up one of the clerks about their search when another clerk popped his head out from around back and said, “I know where he lives.” They were soon driving down a dirt road to locate a cabin with a locked gate and “No Trespassing” signs in the middle of nowhere.
“There were no barriers to getting to that witness for her,” says Payne with a chuckle of disbelief. “I was a little more cautious, but she just barrels right in. We came to find later that he had two dozen firearms in his 500-foot cabin, so I’m not sure it was the most prudent thing.”
Gottlieb is nothing if not persistent: It took her about six months and a half-dozen visits to gain his trust and get him to agree to an interview.
More recently, for the next season of Somebody Somewhere, they were down in another area of the Jungle trying to talk to some of the homeless people, which is no easy task given how disenfranchised and suspicious of outsiders they are, but Gottlieb and Payne were able to do almost 10 hours of interviews with some of them – a testament to Gottlieb’s ability to connect with people.
“We heard about another suspicious death, so Jody and I took off to find if it was in any way connected to the murders that we’re investigating,” says Payne. “Who else will do that with you but Jody Gottlieb? She never says no to any kind of mystery or to finding somebody. She’s always game for an adventure.”
Their production office is Payne’s contemporary-style home in the tony northwest section of Seattle known as Queen Anne, not far from where Tom Wales, the murdered U.S. attorney, lived. The rooftop patio affords a fantastic view of Mount Rainier in the distance on a beautiful September day and a comfortable place to interview Gottlieb about her career and life, which isn’t necessarily easy for her, given that she’s the one normally doing the interview. The good thing is, she knows what makes a good story and is revealing, funny, passionate and smart. Sporting a black blouse and jeans, Gottlieb, 52, has thick brown hair, olive skin and big, expressive eyes.
“David and I don’t have the protection of a network behind us now, but I love that sort of tightrope walking without a net feeling,” she says. “I don’t want to sound like I’m reckless, but that’s part of the gig. I won’t jump out of an airplane, but I will go into hot zones. I will make my way into a shed powered by golf cart batteries with an arsenal of weapons and ammunition. I listen to my intuition, and I believe in my instincts. They’re pretty honed and aware, especially when I’m in pursuit of the story, but I do know when to back off.”
The homeless murders is the story she’s in pursuit of right now, but it’s really a jumping-off point to discuss the larger socioeconomic issues of homelessness and why Seattle – and the country as a whole – haven’t been able to solve it, which really drives Gottlieb, who gets invested in whatever she does.
“There’s a serious homeless problem here, probably one of the biggest in the country,” she says. “The amount of people living under freeways is mindboggling. It is heartbreaking. It pisses me off. With all the major companies based here, like Costco, Starbucks, Microsoft, Boeing, REI and Amazon, I don’t understand why we can’t pool our resources and work with the city to solve this problem.”
– CHARLESTON SHUFFLE –
The freeway underpasses of Seattle are a long way from where Gottlieb, the middle of three children, grew up in Flint, Mich., which was once a flourishing city and automotive powerhouse before financial and other problems beset it in recent years. Her dad, Gilbert, was the president of the Royalite Company, an electrical wholesale distribution business started in 1929 by his father-in-law and his brother. Her mother, Zelma, leads guided tours throughout the world. For 10 straight years, the family spent their summers in a Sullivan’s Island beach rental to visit one of Zelma’s childhood friends, Marlene Alfred ’64, who married a local Charleston man. (She would later go on to marry Nathan Addlestone, become a major donor and play a critical role in the creation of their namesake library on campus in 2005.)
With Zelma leading the charge, the family was always off on some excursion. Spring break was typically skiing in the Rockies, while summer was some adventure, like rafting down the Colorado or sailing around the Caribbean in an 80-foot charter (all three kids attended sailing camp).
Europe was also a popular family destination. In August 1982, the summer before Jody started attending Williston Northampton prep school in western Massachusetts, her parents and one of her two brothers picked her up at a French language school in Switzerland and made their way to Paris. Bomb scares had the city on edge as the family walked around the chic Le Marais district. They decided to grab a bite at Goldenberg’s, a storied Jewish deli on a busy corner. As they were walking down a small flight of steps to the rear dining area, three terrorists tossed a grenade through the door and came in shooting and screaming after the explosion, killing six and wounding 22. The Gottliebs ran to the back and hid behind overturned tables with the other patrons.
“We were lucky; it could have been so much worse,” recalls Jody, who was 15 at the time. “My mother took some shrapnel to the ankle, and I was knocked unconscious. Another patron dragged me under a banquette where we hunkered down until there was an end to the gunfire.”
As the smell of gunpowder hung in the air, Gilbert wrapped Zelma’s ankle in a tablecloth while people on the outside smashed a window so everyone could crawl out. The Gottliebs dashed back to their hotel.
“We were all scared to death to leave the hotel,” recalls Zelma, who finally got in touch with someone at the American Embassy after three or four attempts. “Her only advice was, ‘Don’t go where there are a lot of Americans.’ I was like, ‘It’s summer. Paris is filled with Americans!’ I called the airline, but they wouldn’t let us change our tickets. Jody and Steven ate in the hotel for 21 meals straight.”
It became the first of many conflict zones Gottlieb would encounter in her life.
“People who have traumatic events like that early in their life can go one of two different directions, in my experience,” says Payne. “They can either get hunkered down and sheltered or they can react the opposite way, and I think Jody is somebody where that event triggered a fearlessness in her, which is part of what then has driven her career.”
She is definitely fearless. At 16, on a spur of the moment, she rented a car and drove 10 boarding school classmates in a blinding snowstorm to a concert in Syracuse, N.Y. At 17, she spent six weeks backpacking around Europe by herself. She wanted to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City afterward, but her parents talked her into attending CofC.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to study, and at the College I explored things I never in a million years would have done, like astronomy, death and dying, and business law,” says Gottlieb, who was an art major. “There were so many reasons why I chose the College: I love the fact that CofC had the No. 1 sailing team and was close to the ocean. For me, it just felt comfortable, and I knew I could find my way there. I also liked that you didn’t have TAs teaching you. I formed great relationships with my professors, who were very hands-on and pushed me to do better.”
The super-social Gottlieb also formed a lot of lasting friendships. To this day, her best friend is Jim Haynie ’88, who ended up in the same painting class as Gottlieb.
“I always thought I could draw fairly well until I met Jody,” he says. “Whenever she touched any kind of medium, it was always something special and a level above what anyone else was doing.
She could draw, she could paint, she could sculpt. She gave my roommate one of her paintings, and I was so jealous because it was something you’d want to put on your wall. It was just amazing. Obviously, her talent extended to film and producing and all that. You always knew Jody was going to wind up doing something artistic because of her talent.”
After graduation from the College, Gottlieb attended FIT to become a fashion/costume designer, but she discovered her true calling after working on an audio project about the 1970s that a professor raved over.
“You have a real knack for this,” he told her. “You need to work in television and film.”