TCR Talks with Jaime Stickle, creator of The Girl with the Same Name

By Perrin Pring

Upon arriving in California over twenty years ago, writer Jaime Stickle had the unsettling experience of being asked if Jaime Stickle was really her name. It was then she became aware of a young woman, Jamie Stickle, who had been found burned alive in her car in Pittsburgh. The only difference in their names is a slight variation in spelling. Over the next twenty years, Jaime went on to have a productive career in storytelling, but she never forgot about the unsolved death of the woman whose name was nearly identical to her own. With her new investigative podcast, The Girl with the Same Name, Jaime looks deeper into the unsolved death of Jamie Stickle.

The Coachella Review caught up with Jaime to talk about storytelling, justice, and how, sometimes, you just need to answer the door.

The Coachella Review: You’ve been a creative storyteller your entire life. And I say “storyteller” because you aren’t simply just writing. You’re producing podcasts as well. How did you get into podcasting?

Jaime Stickle: My partner and I were producing a lot of streaming content and short films. We were doing trailers for pilots. We were doing theater, as well. And it’s really difficult to finance those projects. We found that podcasting minimized our financial output, and we could still tell stories. Our first podcast, Make That Paper, started with us bringing our friends together and talking about the industry.

Podcasting is very communal. It helps you to meet more people and engage in a way that you can’t always do in Hollywood media.  There [are] a lot of expenses in Hollywood and red tape, and it’s not always your turn. So in finding ways to express ourselves, podcasting was the next step. I have a history in radio, so it made it an easy transition.

TCR: For readers who are curious about how to dip their toes into the podcasting world, do you have any entry-level advice for people that maybe don’t have the same background as you?

Jaime Stickle: Absolutely. I actually teach undergrad, and podcast production is one of the courses I teach. There are about five million podcasts out there. Anybody can put a mic in front of themselves and talk about anything. You have to know who your audience is and why you want that audience, and take the time write scripts, even if it’s an investigative podcast. If it’s a thirty-minute show, don’t ramble for two hours into a microphone and then just pop it out on the airwaves. If you do that, you’re going to lose an audience before you gain an audience. You don’t always have to have something compelling to say. It doesn’t have to be an epic story. We’ve learned that from TikTok: the everyday mom, the everyday teen, the everyday dad, everybody is becoming an influencer on these short mediums. Learn to edit sound and edit together a really beautiful, good quality show, and you’re going to attract listeners.

TCR: Do you have a favorite medium in terms of how a story gets told?

Jaime Stickle: Oh, I love them all. I’ve always been a writer and an actor, and I just find so much joy in moving people. If I can make someone laugh—boom—done. Great. And it doesn’t matter how I do it or where I do it; it’s that I continue to do it because that’s what satisfies me as a human being.

I love putting on storytelling shows in the theater here in Los Angeles. I love that it’s intimate, that it’s real time, and the energy and feelings that resonate in a theater. I love doing the podcast because I can reach across states and hit people. I had a listener once tell me they were listening to one of our shows at the gym with headphones on, and they fell off the treadmill, they were laughing so hard. That was probably the best compliment I’ve ever received!

I love TV. The problem with TV is that you get stripped of a lot of your own ideas. It’s more collaborative with more people, and studio executives are involved. When you go into TV, often you’re telling someone else’s story by the end. I love films because you have much more control as a writer and director and producer of a film. I love writing novels, and if just one person tells me that changed them, I’m done. That’s great. There’s no one way that satisfies me as long as I have one person who is captivated and is moved by something I’m telling.

TCR: The Girl with the Same Name is true crime. Are you someone who is normally drawn to the genre of true crime, or is The Girl with the Same Name so personal that it drove you into that genre?

Jaime Stickle: That’s a great question. So, both. It’s not that true crime necessarily interests me, but the psychology involved does. I like investigative crime, and that’s the distinction. We lump everything under one category. Most true crime podcasts are regurgitations of old stories, but they’re not moving the needle. They’re not saying, We should look at this. Why was this woman brutally murdered? Why is this an unsolved case? And that bothers me because it’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake. These are families who are hurting. They can’t move on. Communities that live in fear because they lost someone important to them.

For me, The Girl with the Same Name is not true crime. It’s investigative. Why do women go missing, and why aren’t they found? Why are women murdered and their [deaths classified as] undetermined? It’s 2024. There is no excuse for us not to investigate deeper. That’s what I’m attracted to, and I’ve always been drawn towards women’s stories. I’ve always lived in fear of disappearing or having something horrible happen. Watching other women go through horrible things, listening to people’s stories of bad experiences, it’s not OK. That’s what I’m drawn toward more than true crime. I don’t want to put off any true crime fans, but I think that collectively women have come together and said, Look at these. There [are] a lot of them and there’s definitely more that needs to be rectified. This needs to be solved. There’s a story that’s much bigger than just someone losing their life.

TCR: I appreciate the distinction that you’re drawing there between true crime and investigative storytelling. What goals did you set with this podcast? Are you hoping that you solve the case? Or are you hoping to shine a brighter light on the way that Jamie Stickle lived?

Jaime Stickle: No. So we’re very clear, we are not the police. It is not our job to solve it. What we’d like to do is bring forth enough evidence to have Jamie’s case reclassified as a homicide. As it stands, it’s [classified as] undetermined, which means it doesn’t get the manpower a cold case or unsolved murder would. It’s simply sitting in an inactive file as undetermined. There’s no investigation into the fact that this was a heinous crime. Jamie was burned alive. You can’t leave somebody who has burned alive on undetermined [status]. It’s worse than leaving somebody on read, as the kids would say.

TCR: Then your goal with this is to push the police to reengage that investigation?

Jaime Stickle: Yes, and also, as you said, to highlight that Jamie was a human being and she was a community leader, and all of that has not been discussed or brought to light. She has people in her life who have not been able to move forward. It’s been twenty-two years, and nobody talks about the person they knew; they talk about the person who was burned in the car. We’re so interested in serial killers or we’re so interested in bad guys that we’ll write entire stories and narratives and episodes to highlight the life of the bad guy. We ask what made them bad. But what made her good? Her life is just as interesting and compelling as the person who took her life. And I think that that we’re trying to turn the genre over and say, Let’s focus on the person who was killed.

TCR: Do you see this kind of investigative storytelling as something that society could do to help address the shortcomings encountered in the law enforcement world?

Jaime Stickle: I’m going to give you an answer that doesn’t actually match the question. Police departments across the country get stumped. Even with advances in forensic science, the police still lack officers and training. And it’s not just with the police; that’s with everybody, in a lot of fields. Specific to LA, the police do a great job on their website. They say, If you have a missing person, file a case with us, but then you need to hire a PI. You need to get the community involved. We cannot find this person for you.

People can get involved in their communities and bring forth stories that are compelling and say, I do know this… This person told me this… And then, if there’s a sense of security that they will be heard and treated respectfully, then I think as a community we can work together and solve more cases.

But, not all police departments are okay with filling information requests about cases. For Jamie’s, they basically told us that we don’t have a right to the information. But as I said, it’s an inactive case that was never ruled a homicide and wasn’t investigated past six months of her death. If all these things are true, what could be in that case file that we aren’t allowed to see?

It’s important to note that the police did not classify the manner of death as undetermined. The determination if it’s a homicide or a suicide or undetermined comes from the medical examiner’s office. But because Jamie’s death was “undetermined,” the police could then say the case was not a homicide, so it became inactive. This is all much bigger than just the police. We’ve talked to the police about it. We’ve gone through the city. We’re at the state level now, examining how to get the information we aren’t allowed to see. And even the newspaper reports that came out at the time of Jamie’s death conflict. So that’s a problem, too. That the newspapers are printing different stories. What is the truth? And who has it, besides the dead person?

The deeper we get, the more interesting it is. We’re seeing inconsistencies with newspapers, journalists, police, the ME’s office, and even the family. There is a lot of misinformation floating around. So the idea of this kind of storytelling is to bridge the gap.

We’re talking to everyone to get the truth, but sometimes the truth isn’t what you want it to be. Sometimes it’s that the police didn’t have enough manpower. There were hundreds of other murders that happened at the same time. And one of the quotes we keep hearing is that this wasn’t low hanging fruit, and the low hanging fruit cases are the ones that are going to get solved. And that is both reasonable and not reasonable. So with this podcast, we are hoping to change someone’s mind and have the governor or the police chief say, Let’s reopen this and look to see what we’ve missed.

TCR: What is interesting to me is what you didn’t say, which is you didn’t point a finger at any specific group who had a hand in this case going unsolved. We see a lot of people looking for justice point a finger at whom they deem to be the failure point, but you’re approaching this in a much more collaborative way. I hear that you want to acknowledge the faults, but not assign blame, and instead learn what you can and move toward a real solution. That is very hopeful to me. You have a background in journalism, is there anything specific to that expertise that helped you do this?

Jaime Stickle: When I was coming out of college in 2000, there wasn’t a lot of training; you were just thrown into situations. While we had cell phones, we didn’t have texting, so you always had to address things in person. You had to show up to your professors’ office to do office hours. They weren’t accepting emails at that time, and it was the same thing when I jumped into an internship with ABC Detroit. I was expected to know how to do things. They’d say, the anchor doesn’t have time for this, or the reporter can go to this, so Jaime, get in the van with our cameraman and you’re going to drive an hour and a half to Lansing, MI, and you’re going to interview this bee expert and figure out why the bees are dying. And I’d be in the van writing questions, and having to act like a grownup, even though I was twenty-one. You had to know how to do things, or have the confidence to fake it ’til you made it.

In terms of this particular story, I also have a deep love of research. If you’re not somebody who will sit down and do the research, this kind of investigative storytelling might not be for you. But what I want to be clear, I’m not approaching this as a journalist. From my journalism background, I learned how to research. I learned how to ask questions. I learned how to be a good listener to find the story, but the most important thing I want people to know is I’m not approaching this from a journalistic perspective.

People ask me, You’re going to get both sides of this story, right? And yes, I am, but I’m also going to be emotional because we are talking about someone’s life. I’m a mother and I’m a sister, and when I talk to someone’s family who’s lost someone, that’s an emotional place to come from. You can’t turn your feelings off. If I could, maybe I would have stayed in the news, but I couldn’t, so I went into comedy and storytelling instead. While I use tools from being a journalist, this is not a news program. It’s an investigative storytelling program, and that is something that I want to see more of.

TCR: You have an MFA from University of California, Riverside. That program is not a journalistic program, nor does it focus on podcasting. Did the degree focusing on creativity help you with this?

Jaime Stickle: Absolutely. I write crime novels. My protagonist is an investigative journalist, and she’s a mom. She brings her kid everywhere. I drew from the experience of writing that character and researching her and knowing that I could tell the story compassionately. I worked hard to make her vulnerable in the book. In making this podcast, I wasn’t playing her character, I was becoming more of her. That came from the MFA program. And the program just helped me become a better storyteller.

TCR: It’s interesting that you created a character and later you realized your empathy with that character allowed you to have empathy for a real person in real life. That’s pretty cool.

Jaime Stickle: One-hundred percent.

Photo of the deceased Jamie Stickle by Mara Rago.

TCR: You became aware of Jamie Stickle’s killing nearly twenty years ago. That’s a long time to sit with this story. Do you have words of advice to other creatives who are jumping into a story that has a heightened personal connection? How do you touch a story like this and not get burned?

Jaime Stickle: My name is Jaime Stickle and I am calling people in private, messaging them on Facebook and LinkedIn, and saying, Hi, I’m Jaime Stickle, and I’d love to talk to you about Jamie Stickle. That is a weird-ass thing to say to people, and the response isn’t always favorable. I got a lot of different reactions, but one question that I got asked by the people closest to her was—and it wasn’t a burn, but it had me examining myself—was Why now? Why didn’t you do this twenty years ago?

And while I’ve always been an empathetic person, I didn’t always have the means to translate that empathy the way I do now. I think it took growing up and becoming a mother and having experienced life more to be able to approach people who have suffered great loss with the empathy they need, and with the understanding to not exploit the story or take it over. I couldn’t think, This is my story. Now I’m telling it. So it’s my story. No, no, no, no, no. This is their story. What we’re doing is shining a light on it. And I think that you have to remember that if you’re going to take a story on like this, that you’re not writing the story, you’re telling someone’s story. It’s important to make that distinction, and it’s important to honor and protect the feelings of the people involved.

But, you can’t write something you really don’t know. I had to figure out how this story affected my life. So many times in my twenties, I went on dates with people who’d Googled me and come up with Jamie’s story. Or people at work would rehash it with me. I wanted to root this in the way I told the story. How did this death affect me, and why was I so determined to do something about?

Her family didn’t burn me by asking me honestly, Why do you want to tell this? Who is she to you? But they made me think. There’s not one answer. But it’s good to be prepared to get that question if you’re telling a story like this: Why are you telling my story or my sister’s story?

This story has my name, but it’s beyond my name. She and I have so many similar commonalities. Our fathers have the same name. Our brothers have the same name. My uncle has the same name. There’s so many parallels, and it was bizarre when I started uncovering these things. It was like Jamie was compelling me to tell the story.

TCR: I would like to hear more about what you’ve discovered about these parallels. I had my own intersection with this story, as well: The date of her death is my birthday, and that is something that was eerily unsettling for me, but it drew me into the story. Do you have more thoughts on what these coincidences mean or how they impact you?

Jaime Stickle: I guess you have to dive into own spirituality, but for me, if something keeps coming back to you, like a knock on the door for twenty years, you’d better answer the door. I answered the door. And every person I reached out to wanted this story told. Every single person. When I said, “Hi, My name is Jaime, and I want to tell the story,” first they were shocked, then then thanked me. Then they told me everything they wanted me to know. People were calling me out of the woodwork. It was like they had been waiting for the right person to come and give all this information to, and this is a tough crowd. This is an LGBTQ community in Pittsburgh. It was powerful to have them rally around this story getting told, even when they still live in fear because they believe the murderer is still in the community.

This tells me that Jamie does want her story told—that she wasn’t finished having the last word. And what we’re doing, we’re trying to give her finality. I don’t feel that she’s moved on. It feels like she’s living in that community, still begging someone to answer the question, Who killed me? Her mom hasn’t moved on. The police never called her back. They just left her hanging. They didn’t return calls. They didn’t have any information. If we can give her some closure, if we can provide a modicum of relief, if we can finish what was started, maybe other communities can do that, too. Maybe other stories can be told. Maybe more people will get involved. Maybe more people will be less fearful of the police and tell them what they know.

I feel we need to be loud—and feel like Jamie was a really loud person—despite people telling me I should be worried about threats because I have a child. I just felt Jamie saying, No, just be louder, be louder, be louder, and it’ll be fine. And so, we just keep getting louder and telling the story to more outlets and TV stations and as many people as possible. Because that’s the only way that people who are afraid are going to come forward. If they have the safety of the public, because we’ve been so loud, then they’ll feel safe enough to come forward and say what they know.

TCR: And is your plan to have this be a six-episode podcast?

Jaime Stickle: This first season is six, but it’s an ongoing investigation, so that that could change.

TCR: How did you decide on six episodes, especially with the material changing as you discover more?

Jaime Stickle: You have to think about a story that is ongoing as malleable. You can’t ever be married to your outline or the three-act structure. We [the podcast team] outlined the story, and now it’s completely different. When we went into this a year ago, we knew our point of view. We knew the story we were going to tell based on our research. Once we started interviews, we realized that that outline was out the window. Early on, we had a lot of press in Pittsburgh. If you go back and read those articles now, we didn’t do any of what we said. It’s a totally different show, which is why you have to be able to change. It’s not about the story you want to tell; it’s how the story wants itself to be told.

In an ongoing story, it’s ever-changing with new information, and that can throw off your entire arc or your revealed information. You only know what you know in the moment, and that’s the same for the police. They only knew what they knew in the moment, and that’s why we need them to keep going. Six months in, they only knew what they knew and we now know so much more.

Beyond that, you have to be able to restructure your story based on the information you receive. You cannot try to fit an apple into a banana or a square into a circle. If you’re so married to the story you wanted to tell, then you shouldn’t be telling this story.

TCR: I like that. Do you have any projects outside of The Girl with the Same Name that you want to tell us about?

Jaime Stickle: I do. My agent and I are getting ready to take out my first novel to publishers. And I’ve gotten multiple people sending me stories of unsolved murders now and asking me if I’d be interested in working on them, but I’m in the middle of this story! Once this season is done, I’m definitely going to take a break. Then we’re going to regroup and see where it lands. We’ve taken it to the state level to get information, and I’m not going to leave her story just because the season wrapped. It’s ongoing, and we want it to get picked up as homicide. That’s our goal. We’re not going to leave Jamie.

Perrin Pring holds an MFA from University California Riverside in Palm Desert. She has scripts in development with AMMO Entertainment and Anne-Marie Mackay. She has published articles in the Backcountry Journal, and two of her short stories won California Writer’s Club anthology awards. She is represented by Jud Laghi. She lives in Colorado, where she works as a park ranger.