Mississippi Goddam Chapter 4: The Investigator – Reveal



Special Agent Joel Wallace of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation has been called in to investigate the death of Billey Joe Johnson. He worked alongside two investigators from the George County District Attorney’s Office.

Wallace said this arrangement doesn’t happen very often. And now he wonders why they were affected. “If you ask me to investigate the case, then I am an independent investigator,” he said. “But why would I need the district attorney’s investigator to oversee the investigation of a case? “

The Johnsons were initially relieved, as Wallace had experience investigating suspicious deaths. As a black detective, he had faced racist reactions to his job.

Reveal host Al Letson and reporter Jonathan Jones visit now-retired Wallace to talk about what happened with the investigation. When Wallace finds out what Reveal has discovered, he begins to wonder if the case should be reopened.

Dig deeper

Listen: Discover the entire Mississippi Goddam series.

Read: 2008 Sun Herald editorial, Johnson case must not remain a mystery

To explore: Search the files and documents on the death of Billey Joe Johnson.

Read: American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi 2017 Report, Getting to Police Accountability: A Blueprint for Mississippi

Read: 2011 US Department of Justice Report, Death Investigation: A Guide for the Scene Investigator

Read: The Seven Major Mistakes in Suicide Investigation, by Vernon J. Geberth, published by Law & Order Magazine in 2013.


Reporters and producers: Al Letson and Jonathan Jones | Editor and Executive Producer: Kevin Sullivan | Series Producer: Michael I Schiller | Series digital editor: Nina Martin | Editor-in-Chief: Andy Donohue | Production assistant: Steven Rascon | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital Producer: Sarah Mirk | Fact Checker: Rosemarie Ho | Reporting and production assistance: Ko Bragg, Michael Montgomery, Laurel Hennen Vigil and Melissa Lewis | Original Music and Sound Design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda with assistance from Claire Mullen, Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Interim CEO: Annie Chabel | Acting Editor-in-Chief: Sumi Aggarwal | Advocate General: D. Victoria Baranetsky

Mama Blue sang our theme song, written and composed by Nina Simone. Thanks to the estate of Nina Simone and Musique et Stratégie.

Photos from the series by Imani Khayyam. Logo design by Joan Wong.

Special Thanks: Katharine Mieszowski, Alexis Hightower and Jen Chien, as well as Michael Crosby, Robin Fitzgerald and the Biloxi Sun Herald for breaking the history of Harrison County Jail.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Fund for democracy and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His Emmy-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary.

“The Dead Unknown,” a video series he directed on America’s Crisis of the Unidentified Dead, won a National News and Documentary Emmy Award, the National Edward R. Murrow Award and the National Sigma Delta Chi Award for Society of Professional Journalists.

His 2015 animated documentary short “The Box” on youth solitary confinement won a Video Journalism Award from the Northern California Section of the Society of Professional Journalists, a Golden Gate Award from the International Festival of the San Francisco Film and a special award from the New Orleans Film Festival. jury prize, and he was nominated for a National News and Documentary Emmy for New Approaches.

Schiller was one of the producers of the pilot episode of the Peabody Award-winning radio show and podcast Reveal. He continues to regularly produce audio documentaries for the weekly public radio show, which airs on more than 450 stations nationwide. Schiller is based in Reveal’s office in Emeryville, California.

More from Michael I Schiller

Jim Briggs III is the sound designer, engineer and senior composer of Reveal. He oversees post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal’s compositional efforts for data sonication and live performance.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients including WNYC Studios, NPR, CBC, and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace”, “Selected Shorts”, “Death, Sex & Money”, “The Longest Shortest Time”, “Ask Me Another” by NPR, “Radiolab”, “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck”. He has also been a sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman”, the 2012 Tea Party documentary “Town Hall” and the miniseries “The Supreme Court”. His musical credits include albums by REM, Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs’ work with Reveal has won an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for his work on WNYC’s hour-long documentary special “Living 9/11”. He has taught sound, radio, and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College, and holds a master’s degree in media studies from the New School. Briggs is based in Reveal’s office in Emeryville, California.

More Jim Briggs

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