Tonya Mosley explores a family mystery in ‘She Has a Name’

Print More

On Air Fest

Tonya Mosley speaks with journalist Aaron Foley about her podcast "She Has a Name" Feb. 29 at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Tonya Mosley’s 29-year-old sister Anita vanished in the summer of 1987. It wasn’t until 2020 that Detroit police matched her sister’s remains to the DNA of Anita’s son. 

Mosley’s family found out that Anita had been murdered. Her remains had been found in a vacant house that had been burned down.

“She was found in the same year that she disappeared,” Mosley said during a session last month at On Air Fest, a biannual podcast festival. Mosley’s family tried to file a missing persons report, but police wouldn’t take it. And because Anita wasn’t connected to a missing persons report, her body was buried in an unmarked grave in a city cemetery. 

“​​Finding her body is just the beginning of the story for all of us,” Mosley says in a trailer for her limited-run podcast She Has a Name, which was played during the On Air Fest session. Mosley, co-host of Fresh Air, host of the podcast Truth Be Told and a correspondent and former host for Here & Now, says in the trailer that the podcast aims to go beyond solving a cold case. 

“It’s about a family in search of healing and a city fighting for its own survival,”  she says. 

The podcast debuts Thursday and is co-produced by APM Studios and Mosley’s podcast company TMI Productions.

Mosley said she got the idea for the podcast after word got out about the discovery and a local news station asked to interview Anita’s son, Antonio. He would be given only 30 seconds to tell his story. 

“That’s when the conversation started to venture around him telling his own story,” Mosley said during the festival. “And that’s when I started to come to this understanding that, ‘Oh, yeah, I actually have the power to tell this story.’ And the deeper I got into it, the more I realized, this is a story that needs to be told for his sake, for my sake, for our family’s sake, and for those who will listen to it in Detroit and see themselves in it.”

The podcast is also an “interrogation of media,” Mosley said. News reports about Anita at the time of her disappearance were “tiny little blurbs,” she said. 

“There’s no big media blitz that says there’s a missing Black woman in Detroit and we need to find her and there’s search crews out,” Mosley said. “… None of those things happened with my sister. And so this podcast in many ways is that. But it’s also the ability for us as a family to reckon with our own ideas about the importance of that and wanting to do that for each other.”

“What I’m trying to do by telling my sister’s story is also giving her what she did not have all those years ago,” Mosley said. 

The podcast will “amplify the concerning statistics around the disappearance of women of color and the hundreds of cases that go unsolved each year,” Joanne Griffith, CCO at APM Studios, said in a statement to Current.

“APM Studios continues its commitment to share and support nuanced stories of people of color with voices and talent who reflect this lived experience,” Griffith said.

Unearthing memories

Family members Mosely interviewed “were a little hesitant or they told just a snippet, like they gave you the 30 seconds because they’re used to seeing themselves in that way,” she said. “… And what it took was us spending time.” 

“When you deal with a tragedy of this scope, it’s going to take you a while to unearth those memories,” she said. “You need that time, you need that space. And they also need to trust me. And they need to trust my producer.”

“What we found was that we needed to develop relationships with everyone, and we also needed them to know that their stories were important to be told because they have never seen themselves in this way,” she added. 

As the team developed the relationships, it was like “opening the floodgates” with the people they interviewed for the podcast, she said. Having producers who weren’t part of the family also helped build trust and credibility for the project with their sources. 

Producers reaching out to family members “took away that personal familial thing and also the suspicion around it, believe it or not,” Mosley said. “Because there is a certain familiarity and comfort in family. And with that, oftentimes the way that you talk with your family is not the way that you’re going to talk to someone like a producer. But the intimacy that I provide when it is just us, once that barrier is broken, allows for the sound of the podcast to feel very intimate.”

Taking that time to build trust also blew the schedule for finishing the podcast “completely … out of the water,” Mosley said, “because you are in the time frame of your subjects.”

‘Next iteration’

The podcast will be under the Truth Be Told umbrella as a “Truth Be Told Presents” podcast, Mosley said. It will appear in the Truth Be Told podcast feed.

Though the podcast is yet to be released, Mosley said she’s already thinking about “the next iteration.” “My aspiration is for that to be a place where we can find truth, and it might extend outside of my storytelling,” she said. 

She said she has been contemplating “How can I get further out of the way to allow people to tell their own stories? How can I use my platform to be a support? ‘Truth Be Told Presents’ — something else that is someone telling their truth?”

Mosley said that when she got the idea for the podcast and began shopping it around in 2020, she heard in pitch meetings “things like, ‘We’re trying to do more Black stories, and we need your Black story,’” she said. “And APM was one of the only [ones] that said, ‘We’re really interested in you and what you want to do and how you want to tell the story. And we want to give you that freedom to tell the story. And we also want to extend Truth be Told, and think about it as a world.’”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *