Podcast re-examines Johnsburg teen's 2002 disappearance

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A Johnsburg teenager whose disappearance shook the area in 2002 is the subject of a true crime podcast chronicling authorities' investigation into the boy's unsolved homicide.

The first season of "Framed" inspects the disappearance of 17-year-old Brian Carrick in hopes of solving the case once and for all. The podcast's name refers to the way its creators have tried to structure the case's narrative – which they compare to a frame around the disjointed pieces of a puzzle.

"Framed" creator Aaron Habel, who is based in Kansas City, also works on the "Generation Why" podcast, where he and co-host Justin Evans discuss theories surrounding unsolved homicides, controversies and conspiracies.

The “Framed” creators are talking about the possibility of a second season that would follow a different case, but “nothing is set in stone,” Habel said. ​

“I have had people write in and say [Framed] is their new favorite podcast,” Habel said.

People in the village of Johnsburg continue to harbor their own theories about what happened to Carrick and who might be responsible.

From the perspective of McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally, speculation on the matter won’t get people far.

“In my personal opinion – of the volumes of paperwork that have been produced, the boxes and closets full of evidence that has been contained – the only way you could really do justice to this case, I think, is what we did in 2012 and 2013, which is a trial,” Kenneally said.

Mario Casciaro, a former Val’s Foods employee, was convicted of Carrick’s murder in 2013 during the second of two jury trials in connection with the teen’s disappearance. The jury was unable to reach a verdict in the first trial. Casciaro’s conviction was overturned on appeal, however, and he was freed in 2015.

Since then, he’s been asked to partake in a number of documentaries about the case, he said. The projects aren’t likely to come to fruition until Casciaro’s federal lawsuit against the village of Johnsburg and its police department is settled, he said.

Johnsburg Police Chief Keith Von Allmen was out of town and could not be reached for comment for this story.

Some, such as Leonard Charlan, who lives near the Carrick family home on Johnsburg Road, find value in having a fresh set of eyes on the case. The facts surrounding the teen’s disappearance, however, have taken the shape of an ink blot that has sparked endless interpretations, Kenneally said.

“I think that the Mario Casciaro case now has turned into a Rorschach test,” he said. “People look at it and see whatever they want to see.”

Despite years’ worth of news articles and TV programs about the investigation, Carrick’s neighbors have questions about the evidence and timeline used to piece together his disappearance.

“To me, it’s still a mystery they haven’t found a body,” Charlan said.

For someone such as Habel, who wasn’t involved in the case, distance has helped create a sharper image of the events that allegedly took place in December 2002.

“This isn’t the only time a case has become clearer after the passage of time,” Habel said. “It happens. Sometimes when you’re too near the event, you don’t have that hindsight.”

Habel first discussed the case on air during an episode of “Generation Why,” but he agreed to taker a closer look after speaking with Jacob Kepple, a witness who testified at the trial.

“[Kepple] could sense there was frustration with the episode we did on ‘Generation Why,’ ” Habel said.

The podcast uses voice actors to recite court transcripts between Habel’s narration. Some of those voices belong to Johnsburg residents, including Kepple.

The “Framed” team tried to take an objective look at the case through the documents that were filed during its lifetime. The project took about a year to complete, Habel said.

“I really believe it’s the first time this has been put together in a really concise way,” he said.

The first episode was released in August. The first season is available on framedpod.com, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher and Spotify. The ninth of
10 episodes will be released Tuesday, and the finale will air Oct. 16.

Carrick last was seen Dec. 20, 2002, at Val’s Foods, a grocery store where he worked that Casciaro’s family co-owned. Carrick’s parents have since died, and other relatives could not be reached for comment.

The Carricks’ 3,411-square-foot property on Johnsburg Road has been on the market for about three months, real estate records show. Just across the road, the building where Brian last was seen has not changed much.

Under new ownership, the family-operated grocery store now goes by Angelo’s. People’s hesitation to patronize the store immediately after Brian’s disappearance seems to have dissipated, employees and neighbors said.

Although Casciaro’s legal battles with the village and county officials have dominated the news connected with Carrick’s disappearance in recent years, the small town has not forgotten the boy whose family Charlan described as “wonderful” and “very spiritual” people.

“It’s so often that people forget about the actual victim in the case – they start to think about the other players,” Habel said. “And the person who died is no longer around to speak.”