Local podcast to bring attention to the 19-year-old mystery of two missing men from Collier County
Nineteen years ago on January 12, Terrance Williams was placed into the back of a Collier County Sheriff deputy vehicle. He hasn’t been seen since.
Three months prior to Williams’ disappearance, in a seemingly disturbing coincidence, Felipe Santos was also last seen in the back of the same patrol car, that of former Sheriff Deputy Steven Calkins.
"The first man was Felipe Santos. He was an undocumented immigrant who lived in Immokalee at the time, and he disappeared in October 2003," Janine Zeitlin, investigative reporter for The Naples Daily News and The News-Press, said. "And the second man was Terrance Williams (a black man.) He was working at a Pizza Hut in Bonita Springs at the time. He disappeared January 12, 2004. There have been no confirmed sightings of Felipe Santos or Terrance Williams since they were last seen in the patrol car of Steven Calkins."
Zeitlin has been covering this story since 2005. She heard about the missing men from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. At the time, she worked for the Naples Daily News, now part of USA Today Network-Florida.
"And so I reached out to Terrance and Williams's mother, had a conversation with her," said Zeitlin. "And that is what spurred my interest. Then I start talking to various other people, including the former Collier County Sheriff's deputy Steven Calkins, who also happened to be from my hometown in Ottawa, Il. My interview with him was the last time, as far as I can tell, that he talked to a reporter."
Since then, the mystery has garnered some national attention through movie star Tyler Perry.
"He's put a lot of effort and heart into getting this story out there and getting national media attention for these cases, I believe it was in around about a decade ago," said Zeitlin. "He learned of the cases on a cable show. He shared part of one of my old stories about the cases on his Facebook page. He developed a relationship with Terrance Williams's mother, Marcia Williams, and has advocated for her. He's offered a reward for any sort of tips that could lead to a resolution in these cases. And he's come to Naples a few times to hold press conferences to raise awareness."
Perry has also produced a television show, Never Seen Again, on Paramount Plus, that includes the stories of the two missing men. Even with the media coverage, the lack of results frustrates Zeitlin.
"You know, it's a case that's just haunted me because of the lack of resolution and the extreme injustice for these men and their families. You know, their bodies have never been found. No one has been arrested or charged in the disappearances, including..."she paused. "You know, Steven Calkins was never arrested or charged in the disappearances and he denied having anything to do with the disappearances. But at the same time, when he was questioned about the disappearance of Terrance Williams, he gave inconsistent statements which led to his firing by the Collier County Sheriff's Office."
The mystery haunted two other co-workers, as well, which lead to a new project.
"In 2019, my colleagues and I, Ryan Mills and Melanie Payne, started talking about doing a podcast." But it's not been smooth going. Mills and Payne left for different jobs. Enter the pandemic and the recent hurricane. "It's something I've just been chipping away at and involved other people in our newsroom, trying to get this project, which is really important to me, completed," said Zeitlin.
The podcast is called "The Last Ride." WGCU is a partner in the audio production of the podcast which will be distributed through the NPR Network. The investigation and the story, however, come from Zeitlin and her team's extensive research.
"It's an 8-part investigative podcast that takes a really deep look into these disappearances, into the background of the former Collier County Sheriff's Deputy Steven Calkins. I went to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Terrance Williams was from to interview his stepfather. I've spoken to Terrance’s mother,' said Zeitlin. "We went to Iowa where Steven Calkins lives to try to talk to him, as well. We've reviewed all the public records to try to put together the most comprehensive look at this case that we're capable of providing."
The podcast is only a part of Zeitlin's dogged determination to find a resolution, if not the men themselves.
"Personally, I want everyone in Southwest Florida and beyond to be aware of these cases," she said. "And because there's gotta be a way to resolve them. There's gotta be some kind of resolution."
And while, Tyler Perry and Terrance Williams' mother Marcia are pushing for further investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, Zeitlin hopes that her podcast will also make a difference.
"My hope is that the podcast also raise awareness, and you know, push for a closer look, more investigation into these cases because these families and these men deserve some form of justice."
Tips about Felipe Santos or Terrance Williams should be directed to Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 800-780-TIPS (8477).
Read the 2018 article by Janine Zeitlinfor more details about the circumstances surrounding the disappearances.
The Last Ride Podcast, is a production of the USA Today Network-Florida with WGCU Public Media and will be distributed by the NPR Network in March 2023.
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