Aurora native's podcast aims to gain trust of serial killers

Bob Gaetjens
Record-Courier
Phil Chalmers, an Aurora native, wants to help families of serial killers' victims find closure. To do that, he's spent many years interviewing death row inmates and those in prison for life to learn more about unsolved murders.

Not too many people can probably say they've received Christmas cards from Charles Manson, but 1983 Aurora High School graduate Phil Chalmers is in that club. 

He's also spoken to David Berkowitz, known as "Son of Sam," and Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland killer who claimed 11 lives and this spring lost an appeal of his death sentence.

Chalmers, now a Charlotte, North Carolina resident, said he's helped police and FBI solve many cold cases with his interviews of serial killers on death row or in prison for life. 

"I've been interviewing teen killers, school shooters and serial killers for 30 years," he said, and now he's producing a podcast, "Where the Bodies are Buried," a true crime series that features his interviews with serial killers and others. "Recently, I just felt I wanted to share what do with other people."

The podcast is co-produced by Audio Up and Grinning Dog Entertainment. Grinning Dog Entertainment of Los Angeles is known for shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and “Duck Dynasty." Audio Up is co-owned by Jared Gutstadt and actor Dennis Quaid.

So far, Chalmers said there have been four episodes released, including one with Berkowitz and another in which he got a confession from serial killer William Clyde Gibson to a 20-year-old cold case, the murder of Elizabeth Bannister in Evansville, Illinois.

With four episodes complete, Chalmers said he's very pleased with the reception the podcast is getting. Last Friday, he said it was ranked 11 last week on among true crime podcasts and is in the top 100 of all podcasts. 

"We're really excited about the response to it," he said. 

The desire to learn about cold cases fuels him. 

"There are more than 100,000 cold cases in the U.S.," he said. "There are more than 10,000 unidentified bodies. That's my mission, to help close some of these cases and locate some of the bodies."

Chalmers said he started out in 1985 working with offenders in Cleveland, teen rapists and killers, and decided to try his first serial killer interview in 1990. 

"It was Sean Sellers … he killed three people; he sacrificed three people to the devil," said Chalmers. "After that, I realized this was what I wanted to do. My next interview was Son of Sam."

Landing an interview is one thing, but establishing trust with convicted killers on death row so they'll confess to additional crimes or inform on someone else takes a great deal of commitment, said Chalmers. 

"There's a guy on death row in Indiana, and he said, 'I know the guy who killed Molly Datillo,'" said Chalmers. "She just disappeared from a convenience store; it was a huge case in Indianapolis, Indiana."

But the Indiana inmate would not reveal details about the case, which Chalmers said is typical.

Gaining trust is about follow through, making prison visits, calling and sending letters, and it and can take years to accomplish, explained Chalmers.

"It's like trying to help them with what they need in their life, and they help me with what I need," he said. "Most of them are not remorseful. Ninety percent of them are not remorseful at all, but a TV, a pair of shoes, books and food go along way for me. If my daughter was missing, I would hope that somebody would buy a serial killer a pair of tennis shoes to find out where my daughter is."

Even though these killers have little to lose, many still want something in return for their revelations, but there are exceptions. 

"There are some remorseful serial killers," said Chalmers. "There are some who want to come clean before they die."

After the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, Chalmers said he "decided to work to discover why kids were killing their parents, killing their classmates and committing violent crimes."

Interviews with more than 200 teen killers provided content for his 2009 book "Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer," which Chalmers said led to more opportunities. 

"Once that came out, I began training law enforcement, school administrators, teachers, nurses, counselors, probation officers and many more professionals," he said. "I continue to do that today as my schedule allows."

For now, his podcast is his main focus and — with hundreds of interviews lined up — will remain his focus for some time. Chalmers also said he's considering producing a documentary or TV show to stream. 

His hope, as always, is to help FBI and police determine "Where the Bodies are Buried."

"I speak for the dead," he said. "The dead can no longer speak, so I speak for them. I am not a fan of true crime. I am here to help families solve cases and equip law enforcement to arrest these monsters before they kill again."

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com and @bobgaetjens_rc.