Podcast devoted to unraveling Cates cold case

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A new true crime podcast is seeking answers on behalf of the family of Eric Cates, a 32-year-old whose burned remains were found inside his truck beside those of his dog behind the old Empire school in 2015. 

Host Amber Sitton and private investigator Michael Fleming of Echo 7 Foxtrot LLC are investigating the Cates case for season two of “Secrets True Crime.” The first episode, released on Thursday, featured interviews with Cates’ mother, Toby Stover, as well as Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith.

The first half of the episode is devoted to explaining the environment in which the deaths of Cates and Gypsy took place. 

Sitton cites statistics familiar to locals about the impact of the opioid epidemic.

She also points out the number of missing person cases and unsolved murders is out of proportion to the county’s population. Though an official list has not been discovered, Sitton has learned of more than 20 missing persons since beginning her research, and Fleming has determined by combining statistics that the county’s solve rate for murders from 2007 to 2018 was 12 percent.

Smith confirms in his interview that several current missing persons cases have an Empire connection and that he believes that several individuals in the area are responsible for multiple deaths. 

The community of less than 2,500 is referred to in the episode several times as “a hotbed.” 

“I feel like there is a circle of individuals there that are all involved in the same activity, and they are to some extent, that circle and that one area right there, in the middle of all of it,” Smith told Sitton.

The podcast is being produced in real-time to allow for the opportunity to respond to information that Sitton and Fleming receive as episodes are released. New episodes will come out every other Thursday.

Sitton is planning for the season to extend for a minimum of 10 to 15 episodes, and later episodes will mention other missing persons cases related to Cates and the Empire community.

Sitton is a fan of true crimes podcast who decided to start one of her own earlier this year. The first season focused on the disappearance of a mother and son in Elmore County.

“I started seeing that these podcasts, especially the longform podcast like I am doing, were renewing interest in cold cases and it’s helping solve a lot of cold cases,” she said.

Sitton took up the Cates case after being contacted by a family member during the production of season one. A discussion with Stover led Sitton to dedicate season two to Cates rather than a case she already had in mind.

Fleming, a Marine Corps veteran, is offering his services at no charge to the family.

The feedback on the podcast has been positive, according to Sitton, adding that hearing Stover tell what she has experience in her own words has been powerful for listeners. 

“I think people are shocked at what they’ve heard so far, and if they’re shocked at that, they’re going to be even more shocked when it’s said and done,” Sitton said.

“Secrets True Crime” is the second podcast devoted to a Walker County cold case to be released this year. “Southern Gone,” a true crime podcast about missing persons in the South, dedicated three episodes to the case of Carrie Lawson this summer.