Delia D’Ambra Combines True Crime and National Parks With Her New Podcast, Park Predators
Most deaths reported in national parks tend to involve wild animal encounters, thermal areas in Yellowstone, or selfie disasters at the Grand Canyon—not so much murder. But in this special episode, we’re talking about an exciting new podcast called Park Predators, an audiochuck production, which you can subscribe to now. It’s from host Delia D’Ambra, and she delves into the darker side of our national parks, and the lurking predators there that are of the human variety.
Matt: I’ve never heard a podcast before that combined both national parks and true crime. For me personally, it’s literally my main interests combined into one. Where did you get the idea to create a show like Park Predators?
Delia: I got the idea because I love national parks. I got married in Rocky Mountain National Park, and then honeymooned for a period of time in Yosemite, so I just love the parks, and I got this idea because I thought when you’re out there and you’re all alone or it’s just you and one other person, that’s the solace and amazingness of these parks, but then you might not be all alone. There could be somebody out there that isn’t supposed to be there, or isn’t there for the beauty of the park, and I just thought if something was gonna happen to me, or to my husband out here, that person would have to know this terrain. My true crime mind just started spinning, and I just thought, I bet there were a lot of people who have used these parks, and state park lands to commit crimes with the hopes that they’ll never be solved, or people would just think that the victim was a missing person, or an overdue hiker, and really these perpetrators could be using the parks as a mask for their crimes, and I wondered if that’s happened a lot, and it turns out that is has.
Matt: I totally agree about the national parks and the solitude and the remoteness of it, because I read too often about people not being discovered, and you never know what really happens, so it’s very intriguing what the possibilities are, as creepy and grisly as they might be.
Delia: Yeah, and if you think about a lot of people who perpetrate these kinds of violent crimes, they’re specific perpetrators who want to isolate victims, and are predators of opportunity, and the place for them to do that would be the place where victims are totally not seeing it coming. So that’s when I thought, ‘OK, I think there’s something to that.’
Matt: That leads me to an interesting point with how this differs from other true crime podcasts, and in particular, you also host another podcast with Audiochuck called CounterClock, which I absolutely loved, and people can go listen to and subscribe to right now. How did the process differ between these two shows?
Delia: They’re totally different approaches that I took. CounterClock, for me, is like my main mode as a journalist—following leads, digging up stuff people have not heard about, or trying to get interviews from witnesses that don’t want to talk and earning that trust; that’s the kind of grind of that. Park Predators was a completely research-based show, so I just scoured the internet, old newspapers, everything I could to compile research. So a lot of it is reporting from previous media and previous publications, and so that is totally different, because in CounterClock, I’m out there discovering information sometimes for the first time. It’s two different veins, but true crime still has that pull for me to find answers, and some of the cases in Park Predators are not solved and they don’t have finality. That’s even more of an intrigue for me is some of these cases are not closed. The shows are really different, and I kind of have to flex different muscles in putting them together and writing them.
Matt: One of your first two episodes takes place in a park that’s really high on our bucket list. We have not been to Glacier National Park yet, and I think we’ll definitely approach it with more caution having listened to the episode. Can you talk about the premise of that episode and lay out what the structure of the show is like in general?
Delia: One of the first two episodes takes place in Glacier National Park, and it’s really unique because that particular case, you can see how the crime was really masked so well by that park and the environment that it’s in. With the show as a whole, each episode and each of these cases, I start out with describing to the listener briefly what park we’re in, what are some features of that park that are really unique, why certain people would want to go there, how many people are there on an annual basis, and just give the listener this spiel of being there in the park, and so that way when you hear the story and the case, you kind of understand why this suspect picked this park or maybe this is why this victim was so vulnerable, because they didn’t understand how dangerous this terrain is and how someone could be using that terrain as a way to capture them, or whatever it may be. So you get a little bit of a feel of where we are, which park, the case, and then why that specific park is so relevant to the crime, and potentially the reason it was solved. For one of the episodes in this season actually, there is an interview I was able to convince someone to participate in, and that’s a cool little change-up in the season, and I think people will really like that episode. There’s definitely a lot, and we have 10-12 different parks in North America, so you really get a good feel of all the big major heavy-hitters like Yosemite and Yellowstone, but then some of the other ones that people may not think about as much.
Brad: My heart is racing so fast right now, because I’m now gonna be terrified of national parks, so thank you for that.
Delia: People have been telling me on social media, ‘Is this gonna make me afraid to camp?’ And I’m like ‘Well I hope not, but you should probably have some caution while camping anyway, ‘cause you’re out there.’
Matt: I’m hoping it doesn’t have the Jaws effect, where people see Jaws and then just never go to the beach or the ocean again for the rest of their life, as morbidly fascinating as sharks are.
Delia: And that’s what’s so fascinating about the timing. When I thought about the show and created the show, and now that we’re releasing it, we’ve all been trapped indoors for so long, right? So some of the national parks just reopened, and there’s been this huge influx of people and so you kind of have this sense of everybody rushing back to these places and these outdoor recreation areas. But don’t let your guard down just because you’re so thirsty for getting out there and being in the outdoors. Don’t let that make you blinded to the fact that there are dangers, from people predators and the environment, too.
Host Delia D’Ambra
Matt: When you were structuring the show, how did you go about picking the parks that you chose and the crimes that you chose? Were these crimes that you had heard of before, or were they entirely new that you discovered via research?
Delia: Some of them were completely new for me, and that’s why I was so enthralled. Some of them didn’t have as much attention, which I thought was such a shame. There were a few that I actually had knowledge of a specific perpetrator. A couple of the cases—one in particular—I was aware of a specific crime that a single perpetrator had committed, but as I researched it, I was unaware that he is actually responsible for many many more murders; I didn’t even know that. So sometimes I think in this true crime world that we think that ‘oh that’s that name I know.’ But you don’t necessarily realize that they actually committed more murders, and I didn’t even know that. So that was kind of cool for me, as a journalist and true crime fan. It was just so eerie, and it was just a reminder that we don’t really know anybody, even the people we think we know their crimes, so that was really interesting.
Matt: I know you mentioned Rocky Mountain and Yosemite in particular, but did you actually get to visit any of the other parks featured in the show, or had you been to any of the other ones before?
Delia: I’d been to a couple of the park lands in Georgia, and North Carolina, some of these national forest lands. I lived in Shenandoah National Park, that area, which is in Virginia, so for two and a half years I was hiking in those mountains. And Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Parks. But there were a lot of parks in this series that I haven’t been to yet, that I’m excited to go to and then maybe not as excited to go to. I’m kind of on a mission to get to as many parks, but because I produce a lot of the show in quarantine, it wasn’t really an option, and the parks obviously were closed.
Matt: Strictly in terms of vacation, are there any national parks that you’re particularly eager to visit, whether it’s a park you covered for Park Predators, or just a different national park in general?
Delia: I really want to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, because it is so unique, and it is featured in the series. It’s just so crazy because that’s probably one of the most volatile parks—they’re active volcanoes. There’s just something about that that intrigues me, plus Hawaii’s so beautiful. The other one I really want to get to, and I think hopefully I’ll get to in 2021, is Banff in Canada. It’s just so unique up there, and I actually almost chose to get married there, but I decided against it because a lot of restrictions they have for special permit uses like weddings and stuff, but that’s another park that I really want to get to, ‘cause Lake Moraine and Alberta and it’s just so unique up there in Canada.
Matt: I haven’t been to either of those, and looking at photos of them, especially these past few months, they’re just giving me all the wanderlust inspiration.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park/Photo by Janice Wei/Courtesy of NPS
Matt: Knowing what you know now, having done Park Predators, what words of advice or caution would you give to people looking to visit a national park and not wanting to end up murdered?
Delia: I think the biggest theme that I saw throughout all of the research that I can personally apply to myself and probably give advice to others is just a reminder that if something looks off, or if somebody looks off, like they’re on a trail and they have nothing with them that makes them look like they should be there, or they’re in a vehicle that looks suspicious, don’t just write it off. I think that’s the biggest thing we do is we go, ‘oh well, a lot of people from different walks of life come here.’ That’s true, but if something looks off, that probably means it’s off. Just have that personal caution, but also that cognitive awareness that if you see them in one place and then you see them in another, they could be following you, they could be following someone else. It’s just that overall awareness that’s a big thing I saw in all this, because we’re just so trusting, especially in areas where so many different kinds of people sort of come together. Millions of people go to these parks every year from all over the world, so there’s so many strangers in one place, so it’s just a reminder that we don’t know anybody, and it’s ok to be friendly and it’s ok to be like ‘hey, will you take a picture of me and my family,’ but just remember that that person’s a total stranger, and that’s the biggest thing I rested on as I went away from writing the series, was if one small thing had been different, the whole outcome could have been different.
Brad: I love that. It’s funny, because Matt gets really into these true crimes, and when he’s listening to them, I can see his body functions change, and I can see how deep he’s getting into the rabbit hole. He’s gonna be Googling all night because of this, so thank you for allowing me to deal with a terrified husband.
Matt: I really get into it, yeah. And this is perfect, ‘cause I obsess about true crime and I also obsess about nature and national parks, so this is a double win for me.
Delia: And we get so wrapped up in nature. I get really wrapped up in nature. If I think I’m getting a great photo, or I’m really into the hike, or whatever, you do get so wrapped up, and I think that makes you more trusting of other people who maybe have the same interest as you. But they can be totally faking, and that’s kind of scary.
Brad: We were actually just in Tucson, Arizona, with our friend Patrick, who we met through our podcast, and we went on a hike up in the mountains with him, and one of the things that he shared with us was that he loves true crime podcasts, and that he loves your true crime podcast. And then for the rest of the hike with this listener, I was terrified, like ‘oh, he’s gonna kill us, I know it. This was his dream, he wants to be the podcast killer.’ I just love that we have that random shared connection with a hike we did with our friend Patrick.
Matt: We already bonded about hiking, and then we realized that we both loved CounterClock and we listen to Crime Junkie as well, so we were just going over all the details of each episode as we were hiking together—it was wonderful.
Delia: You kind of dissect them all—what happened, what went wrong.
Matt: Obviously, all national parks are beautiful and they’re all incredible, but in the spirit of true crime in nature, I was wondering what would you say is the creepiest national park?
Delia: I actually have two. I have lived in Florida for almost five years now, and honestly Everglades National Park is so creepy. You have alligators, which is like the state mascot, so to speak. So you have this really flat area that you can only get to and around on airboat, which I’m pretty sure is an invention that they made in the early 1900s that they just said ‘let’s stick with it, that’s the one that we’re gonna keep using in Florida.’ Somebody took their ceiling fan and mounted it to the back of their rowboat and that’s what Florida was gonna use as transportation. So that, to me, makes it really creepy. It’s just a swamp, right? Everything that goes in it is just consumed by it, so that really creeps me out. And then the worst thing is the python situation down there. There’s this rampant over-growth and over-run species of pythons down there, and people get them as pets and then they don’t want them and they release them into the Everglades. So they spawn with poisonous snakes, I think I’ve seen reports on. So you’re just talking reptile creepiness. And then my other one is really just any desert. Deserts are really creepy to me because there’s not a whole lot to sustain you, so if you get lost or turned around, it’s a desert. There’s a very narrow window of time that you’re gonna be equipped. Plus, there’s always birds lurking, and birds kind of freak me out sometimes.
Everglades National Park/Photo by Matt Kirouac
Matt: Those both sound really spot-on, especially like a desert park like Death Valley. It’s right in the name; humans are not meant to survive here, and with vultures circling above, it’s very ominous. My last question—and I already know you’re a national park lover—is what would you say is your favorite national park.
Delia: For the ones that I have been to, my favorite right now is Yosemite. I love Yosemite. It has just amazingness to it. I think if I was just gonna say it’s gotta be the epitome, probably Banff, just ‘cause I’ve looked at so many photos of Banff, in whatever season. It’s just everything. When we went to Yosemite, like El Capitan and everything you see in the flyers, it’s just as amazing in-person. You can pull it from the page of the pamphlet and it’s that and so much more.
Matt: It looks like it’s of another planet, like too good for this Earth.
Brad: We’re so excited to listen to Park Predators. It’s one of our fascinations with national parks, is the mystery behind them, so this is really fueling our fire, and we’re so excited to be listening to this.