Sometimes My Heart Breaks
True crime is a very rough beat at times. Almost all my interviewees have been through some form of hell and the interviews are tremendously emotional as people are reliving the worst day of their lives – be it families, friends or law enforcement. What you see edited into a convenient bite-sized program is often the result of several, if not tens of hours of filming.
On January 6, 2019, a program in the series, Evil Lives Here aired on Investigation Discovery with a young man I’d grown to know and love in the maternal sense by the name of Joshua Hudnall.
When I first read his back story before I contacted him, I thought it would be a miracle if he talked to me. Joshua had lived through a fairly traumatic childhood with a mother who displayed signs of narcissistic personality disorder. To escape his domestic travails, he signed up for the service and was inducted into the US Army to serve in Iraq. He became part of the 3rd Army Cavalry Regiment, Class A. He fought in some of the most treacherous areas imaginable and watched many around him die.
Close to the end of his mission, he received word from relatives that his father had died. Then he received an update that his father was murdered. Then he found out his mother and sister killed him with a pick ax in a complex plan to steal his social security income. His sister was 18. He also had a younger sister who was 14. His mother and 18-year old sister were arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison. His younger sister was sent to live with relatives. Joshua was on his own, except for the comfort of an aunt and uncle in New Orleans, and his paternal grandfather down the road.
I first sent Joshua a letter to what I thought was his home address. No response. Fearing I may have had the wrong address, I looked him up more thoroughly. I could see his email address and I wrote him in late February 2018. He wrote me back right away. He was interested in appearing in the series and wanted to talk about his experiences.
After everything he’d been through, he was a wonderful conversationalist and very bright. I kept encouraging him, over the months we spoke, to take up writing about his life. He was working as a truck driver and I’d catch him on hauls all over the Eastern US. I could tell he was keeping up a tidy wall around the crazy shit he described to me – just enough distance so it didn’t hurt him so much. He would call me “Hon” and I’d call him “Dear”.
Not long before our interview date, Joshua’s paternal grandfather died suddenly. Joshua was devastated. We talked about how his grandfather was the last person who really “got” Joshua. I wanted to be there anyway I could and I sat and listened with empathy.
The time came when I met Joshua for his interview in the middle of July 2018. He traveled to New Jersey for the shoot and had never stayed in such “a nice hotel”. He both expressed wonderment and some discomfort that he was out of his element. I joked with him about having long fingernails and looking like Grizzly Adams. He thought I was too posh. We went shopping at Target because he had forgotten some toiletries and his socks. We kept teasing each other and joking around as we perused the aisles. I loved it. And he seemed at ease.
We had dinner at his hotel and both got burgers. We talked about religion and politics, both of which we were on opposite ends of the spectrum for but both were open-minded to respecting the other’s point of view. When I left him in the lobby, he looked exhausted. I’m sure he slept well.
I spoke with Joshua in front of the camera for the next days, but our most important connections were on a back porch, where we could relax in the sun. We talked about life and what it was like for him. We talked about truck driving and smoking cigarettes and pot and dating. We talked about PTSD and the service.
At one point during the interview, Joshua teared up and that made him angry. He looked at me and said, “You finally got me.”. That wasn’t the intention. But it would only have been normal to cry under the circumstances. What a mixed up world to have the people you trust betray you and kill the one person on earth who you see as your best friend.
Joshua left New Jersey and I tried to call and text over the next few months during 2018, but got no response. I thought maybe he felt I had manipulated him. My only goal was to talk him through his personal narrative.
After the show aired on January 6, 2019, Joshua’s friends wrote in to say he had died of “liver failure in his sleep” in early August 2018 - just a month after our interview in New Jersey. I don’t know exactly what happened but it yanked the heart right out of me. When asked, his friends told us the show provided him with closure. That meant a lot to me. He was a special person who won’t be forgotten.
This is not the outcome I would ever desire. I’m open to people coming in to their interview, taking a giant emotional shit and flushing it with me so they can take a load off. I’m involved, to the degree I’m allowed, with every single person I interview. I only want what’s best.
Do me a favor? Watch the show if you can. I’d love to know what you think. It made me weep: https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/tv-shows/evil-lives-here/full-episodes/let-her-rot