Payne Lindsey goes to Alaska for ‘Up and Vanished’ podcast season 4

Payne Lindsey's fourth season of podcast "Up and Vanished" focuses on a missing Native American woman in Nome, Alaska. PUBLICITY PHOTO



Payne Lindsey's fourth season of podcast "Up and Vanished" focuses on a missing Native American woman in Nome, Alaska. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Atlanta resident Payne Lindsey made a name for himself eight years ago for publicizing the Tara Grinstead murder in small town Georgia town in his podcast “Up and Vanished.” A perpetrator was eventually found and imprisoned.

Now in its fourth season, his podcast this time focuses on a missing person case nearly 4,000 miles away from Atlanta in Nome, Alaska (population: 3,594).

He was intrigued by multiple details of the mysterious disappearance of 32-year-old single mom Florence Okpealuk, especially given how small Nome is.

“It boggles me how people go missing in a place you can only get to by boat or plane,” Lindsey said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There isn’t a lot going on here. It’s literally the edge of the world.”

Over the years, he has received thousands of emails from people asking him to look into their particular missing person case. A friend of Okpealuk did so as well, but he only noticed the email after he had already begun pondering who might be responsible for Okpealuk’s disappearance.

“It felt like a good sign,” he said. “I leaned into that. She quickly unlocked a lot of doors for me.”

Over the span of a year, Lindsey visited Nome five times and spoke to seemingly every person in Nome who wanted to talk to him, a one-person Columbo minus the badge.

“I think it’s silly to think any one person is some superhero,” Lindsey said. “I’m definitely not. I think the value I can bring is telling a story on a big scale to millions of people.”

He isn’t a household name or deeply recognizable by face but people have recognized him by voice. “Podcasts make you feel like you know me even if you don’t,” he said. “I feel the same way about some of my favorite podcasters. That connection is intimate.”

He has always consciously tried to explain how the sausage is made and this season, he even added special bonus episodes digging even deeper called “Talking to Death.”

“If it’s too polished,” Lindsey said, “it takes away what’s going on and how big the stakes are.” Explaining the obstacles he faces “brings more credence to the story. It just elevates everything.”

As he was flying to Nome the first time, he met a man who was a gold miner and vaguely knew the man who might have killed Okpealuk. “We were able to shortcut a couple of big major steps and get right into the thick of it and stay with it,” he said. Okpealuk’s friends and family made it clear that they believed the Nome police did not do a particularly good job investigating her absence. And they were in no mood to help an Atlanta podcaster either.

“They didn’t care to even respond or answer the door,” Lindsey said. “I honestly was shocked. I’m not someone who typically takes some sort of strong stance against law enforcement. I have no shame saying they’re part of the problem here.”

Florence Okpealuk went missing in Rome, Alaska 2020 and the case went cold. Atlanta's Payne Lindsey tries to figure out what happened in the fourth season of "Up and Vanished" out in 2024. CONTRIBUTED


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Okpealuk was last seen on a beach at the tent of a man known in the early episodes only as Oregon Jon, a part-time gold miner and cab driver who still lives in Alaska. “He’s a candidate her family strongly believes in,” he said.

The town itself includes long-time residents and itinerants. “It’s a strange mix of people,” Lindsey said. “People can leave and there is no means to track them down.”

As the episodes go on, “evidence will start to reveal itself,” he said. At one point, he goes undercover and he promises a serious confrontation during a future podcast episode.

At the same time, “we want something new to be generated through this. We’re crowdsourcing for answers.”

If anything, Lindsey is sure Okpealuk is dead: “She didn’t leave. She didn’t have the means to go anywhere.”

To add to the story’s weird dynamics, Nome is almost completely dark during the winter and almost always sunny in the summer.

“I was changing from an Airbnb to a hotel at 2 a.m. one time,” Lindsey said. “I was lugging three suitcases trying to find the place and it’s broad daylight yet completely silent. I was exhausted. It felt like I was in some sort of dream state walking on an empty movie set. It was so trippy!”


“Up and Vanished,” season 4, available on major podcast networks like IHeartRadio, Spotify and Apple Music