What happens when a true-crime show becomes part of the story?
Dateline NBC correspondent Keith Morrison poses that question in The Thing About Pam, a new podcast debuting on September 18. The venerable true-crime storyteller is lending his signature narration style to podcasting to tell one of the most bizarrely serpentine stories Dateline has ever covered. And in a first for Morrison, who has worked at the news magazine for 25 years, one of the story’s many twists and turns led right back to Dateline itself.
“Someone actually went around trying to con other people by portraying herself as a producer on our show,” Morrison said. “That’s new to me! I hadn’t encountered that one before.”
The story begins with the brutal murder of Betsy Faria in 2011, a case that Dateline has covered four times over the years. But this year, new developments in the case gave Dateline producers the impetus to revisit the murder for its second-ever podcast. (The first, 13 Alibis, was released in May.) In June, 60-year-old Pamela Hupp was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing a physically and mentally disabled man in what authorities believe was part of a plot to divert attention from an older case — the murder of Faria, who was Hupp’s best friend. Russ Faria, the victim’s husband, was convicted of her murder in 2013, but the conviction was overturned and he was acquitted in a new trial. Hupp became the beneficiary of Betsy Faria’s $150,000 insurance policy shortly before she was killed.
Authorities reopened the Faria case after investigating the 2016 murder of 33-year-old Louis Gumpenberger, who was mentally and physically impaired from a car accident. Police say Hupp told them Gumpenberger approached her in her driveway, pulled a knife, and demanded that she take him to the bank. She said she ran away from him and shot him inside her house when he followed her. Police found $900 in Gumpenberger’s pocket alongside a note with instructions to kidnap Hupp and collect the Faria insurance money — items Hupp had planted to make it look like Russ Faria had ordered her assassination.
Another woman told police that days before Gumpenberger was killed, she was approached by someone matching Hupp’s description who claimed to be a Dateline producer and offered her $1,000 to record a scripted sound bite about 9-1-1 calls. Because the person wouldn’t show credentials, she refused.
“From the beginning, it appears that this woman has been plotting and planning and blaming everyone else for the crimes that she has committed,” Morrison said. “It’s a pattern and we keep seeing that pattern, even now that we’re talking to new witnesses who have known her over the years and discovered the deceptions and frauds that she employed. But the spine of the story is, Who killed Betsy Faria? And I think we know the answer.”
Morrison and Dateline producers worked alongside the podcast’s producers to revisit the meandering story, which allowed the podcast to “get some of that insider feeling and information you can’t really put in a television program,” said Dateline’s senior executive producer David Corvo.
“Podcasts are one of the hot platforms out there and we perceive our brand to be broader than just broadcast television. We felt like we have ownership of part of the true-crime space and we want to extend it everywhere we can.”
Fans of Morrison’s distinct TV storytelling style and cadence — his dread-filled warnings and ominous details — will not be disappointed by his foray into podcasting. Though it’s a new experience for the audience to hear him only, he didn’t set out to sound different. “I just talk that way,” Morrison said with a laugh. “My whole life.”
“Podcasts are a really fun new outlet,” he added. “One of the frustrations of any kind of reporting is you have to leave an awful lot of stuff out. In our case, if we’re doing a two-hour story, we leave out about 90 percent of what we hear. With a podcast, you get a lot more time to spin all that out and live in the details and be more conversational.”
The Thing About Pam, which is produced in partnership with Neon Hum Media, will include new interviews and conversations from interrogation videos that have not been featured on Dateline, but no interview with Hupp herself. “She has never been available to us but, boy oh boy, would I love to,” Morrison said. “I would love nothing more than to sit down with the lovely Pam and ask her a question or two.”
A new episode covering the Pamela Hupp case will air during the new season of Dateline NBC, which premieres September 27. Future podcasts about other cases could feature other Dateline NBC correspondents as narrators, Dateline executive producer Liz Cole said.
“I have a feeling we’ll be doing more, but this one is a good one to start out with because it’s a remarkable, jaw-dropping tale perfectly suited for that kind of storytelling,” Morrison said.