With ‘Over My Dead Body: Fox Lake,’ Encinitas resident Matt Baglio digs up the truth
After tackling exorcisms and the CIA, author Matt Baglio, who grew up in Escondido, wrote and hosted ‘Over My Dead Body: Fox Lake’ for the Wondery podcast network
For his 2009 book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist,” author Matt Baglio explored an exorcism class at a Vatican-sponsored university in Rome.
For 2012’s “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History,” Baglio and co-author Antonio Mendez took a deep dive into Mendez’s hair-raising 1979 rescue of six American hostages from the American embassy in Tehran. That rescue inspired the film “Argo,” which won a best-picture Oscar in 2013.
Having dealt with the Vatican and the CIA, the Escondido native knew how to handle big, secretive bureaucracies. But he was still not prepared for the challenges presented by Fox Lake, Ill., a small town with a scandalous story it did not want Baglio to tell.
He told it anyway.
That story unfurled last October in “Over My Dead Body: Fox Lake,” a true-crime podcast investigating the 2015 death of Fox Lake police lieutenant Joe Gliniewicz. Baglio wrote and hosted “Fox Lake.” It was the third installment of the “Over My Dead Body” series from Wondery, the company behind such popular podcasts as “Dr. Death” and “The Shrink Next Door.” Baglio’s podcast debuted at No. 1 on Apple podcasts, and it stayed there for the next five weeks.
And it’s no wonder. With its tangle of hard truths and painful lies, the Gliniewicz case was made for the podcasting format, which keeps listeners hooked to their earbuds with hairpin plot twists and nail-biting cliffhangers.
It was also made for Baglio, even when Fox Lake was determined to keep him out of the loop.
“With everything that has been going on with policing in America, there was a lot of hesitancy there. Some people just said, ‘No,’ across the board,” said the 48-year-old Baglio, who moved to Italy in 2002, and split his time between Europe and the U.S. before moving to Encinitas last summer with his wife and teenaged son.
“It helped to go there and talk to people, and a lot of them were really nice. But it was frustrating from the standpoint that I wanted to tell the definitive version. I wasn’t there to judge. I wanted to hear what everyone had to say and uncover the truth.”
When Gliniewicz was found gunned down in a wooded area near a marsh, it looked for all the world like the tragic story of a fearless cop killed in the line of duty. He had radioed the dispatcher that he was chasing three suspects. He radioed a second time, asking for backup.
When backup arrived, Gliniewicz was already dead. The weeks-long manhunt that followed put the village of Fox Lake in the national spotlight, as nonstop cable-news coverage turned the gung-ho officer everyone knew as “G.I. Joe” into a hero.
That was the story, anyway. But as investigators discovered in the weeks following Gliniewicz’s death, it was not the truth.
By the time Baglio heard about the case two years later, the Joe Gliniewicz saga was old news that the people of Fox Lake were in no hurry to dig up again. But as a longtime journalist and the co-author of two New York Times bestsellers, Baglio knew a good story when he heard one. And he suspected that this story was bigger than one cop and one small town.
“I was instantly fascinated,” said Baglio, who heard about the case from a friend who grew up in the Fox Lake area. “Not only was it an investigation into a murder that turned out to be something else, but there were all of these other aspects that I was intrigued by.
“You had these all these really colorful characters. You had a cop who was nicknamed ‘G.I. Joe,’ and you had all of these other themes. You had rural America and the myth of the American hero. You had the whole divide about policing and Blue Lives Matter. There was toxic masculinity. I started doing research and getting in touch with people who were involved in the story, and from there, it got even more interesting.”
Just how interesting is for the podcast’s fans to know and for future fans to find out. Let’s just say that Gliniewicz’s death was not what it seemed. And as Baglio discovered through documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with investigators, politicians and other shell-shocked townspeople, G.I. Joe was not the man people thought he was.
But that story? It was just as fascinating as Baglio knew it would be.
After its podcast success, “Over My Dead Body: Fox Lake” could follow in the media footsteps of “Dr. Death” and “The Shrink Next Door” and become a TV series. A screenwriter is currently pitching it to streaming services.
As for Baglio, he is on the lookout the next opportunity to disregard anyone’s footsteps. Including his own.
“After ‘The Rite,’ I got pitched a couple of ideas about Discovery Channel-type shows where I would investigate spooky places, and that’s why ‘Argo’ was so great. It was important for me to show that I could write about many different topics. These stories are not in the traditional vein of what you think of as true-crime stories or stories about exorcism or spies. With ‘Fox Lake,’ it had another angle to it, about what an American hero can turn out to be.
“That is the thing I’m always chasing. I always want to find the next genre-busting story.”
The “Over My Dead Body: Fox Lake” podcast is available on Apple podcasts, Amazon Music, the Wondery app and wherever you get your podcasts.
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