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The new true crime podcast investigating an 'Undetermined' death in New Orleans

Jessica Noll and Todd McComas
Jessica Noll and Todd McComas | Image: Undetermined

In a coroner’s report, the word 'undetermined' is used to describe the cause or manner of death when there’s insufficient evidence to lend a more specific classification.

In 2019, Jessica Easterly Durning went missing from her New Orleans home; her body was found days later, just two and a half blocks away. Her death was classified as undetermined, but due to evidence of foul play, her friends and family believe someone played a role in her suspicious disappearance.

In the podcast series, Undetermined from Tenderfoot TV, investigative journalist Jessica Noll and former Detective Todd McComas dig deep into this unsolved case to search for answers to Jessica’s untimely death. Crime + Investigation caught up with the hosts to discuss the case and what they think went wrong with the investigation.

Crime + Investigation: Can you give us an overview of the case?

Jessica Noll: The story of Jessica Easterly Durning is a complicated one. It all started when Jessica's friend Maria received a text from her back on 16th January 2019, saying that she was scared. By 12th August of the same year, the two friends plan for Maria to come to pick Jessica up the next day and leave her home. She never hears from Jessica again.

Police come to conduct a wellness check and speak with Jessica's husband Justin Durning. He's the last person to see or speak with Jessica around noon. That was on 14th August 2019. He told them that he took a nap, woke up and found Jessica missing. She left everything behind, her purse, her wallet, her ID, her medications, and her car.

On 15th August 2019, she was officially reported missing. On August 22nd during their own search for Jessica, her sister Audrey discovers Jessica's severely decomposed body just two and a half blocks away from her home.

She has suffered a broken nose and a broken jaw. She also had some post-mortem injuries. Five months later, the coroner ultimately ruled her cause and manner of death is 'undetermined'.

For the next three years, her family has been through so many twists and turns searching for answers about her mysterious death.

How did you first hear about the case?

Todd McComas: I had Audrey and Amanda [Jessica's sisters] and Jessica's best friend Maria on a podcast I was hosting at the time to raise awareness. it was the one case that I just couldn't get out of my head. As a former detective, it haunted me because there were components of it that should have made it a very solvable case early on. It made me think that maybe some big mistakes were made.

I finally enlisted the help of a friend of mine, Dennis Cooper with Resonate Recordings to take it over because they have more resources to make it a bigger story and do a whole season. By then Jessica Noll was employed by them as a producer and then we just teamed up.

What made the case stand out for you?

Jessica Noll: I've covered many unsolved cases, but this was so different because her case wasn't just cold, it was dormant.

What stood out to me immediately was: we didn't know how she died, and we didn't know how she ended up where she did. When we landed in New Orleans, that's when our intrigue heightened further. When we started peeling back these layers in the investigation, we realised this wasn't just a case without a resolution, this was a case that appeared as though no one was investigating.

As a former detective, Todd, were you able to bring your police training to the case?

Jessica has been an investigative journalist for a very long time, so she's no stranger to digging into cases either. But for me as a former detective, there will be times when I just know why something occurred. When the police do something and someone else might ask, 'why is that happening?' I instantly know.

Sometimes it helps to know where to go get certain records or where to look for them. Usually when a case like this goes unsolved for this long, and it's progressed no further than this one has, there's been some serious mistakes. I can identify those, quickly when I see them.

What went wrong in the investigation?

Todd McComas: We spoke to neighbours there and none of them had been contacted by the police. I have to assume officers didn't do a proper canvas. It's my opinion, I don't think a lot was done until at least when her body was found and that's 10 days later.

Jessica Noll: Police didn't find her body. Her family comes from states away to search for their sister, and they find her body two and a half blocks from her home.

Looking at the case how does it compare to others in terms of the steps they went through?

Todd McComas: I thought they were very negligent. it's just my personal opinion but when it's something as serious as this, detectives show up, and they take over immediately and work begins right then.

How did you go about investigating the case?

Jessica Noll: When I came into Resonate recordings, Dennis and his team had already been to Mississippi and New Orleans to do some preliminary interviews. They interviewed the family and scoped out the scene there. When I came on board, we had some of that information already. I made a lot of public records requests, and 90% of them were denied. So, for me, even before even going to New Orleans, I had listened to the interviews that had already been conducted to do the groundwork on what the story is.

Todd McComas: Our jobs were made easy because Audrey had accumulated so many records and documents from the police and the coroner's office. It was very unusual, the amount of work that she was able to accomplish despite all the resistance,

Jessica Noll: Then it was just a matter of going through essentially a case file that Audrey had built on her own. It was a matter of just making sure things were verifiable and accurate and factual.

What do you hope listeners will get from the podcast?

Todd McComas: Podcasts are primarily consumed by people that aren't police officers, but some do listen. I hope police listen to this one because if nothing else, it will give someone in that profession real insight into what these families go through.

Jessica Noll: I hope that Undetermined, heightens the awareness of Jessica's case and her story. Ultimately, I would love for this podcast to answer these lingering questions that are just hanging in limbo. But really, I want listeners to get to know Jessica, through those who loved her the most and share their stories in this podcast. This is Jessica's story. And she's had to stay quiet for so long. I hope that Jessica finally gets the voice that she deserves.

Finally, what's one true crime podcast, apart from your own that you would recommend to our readers?

Jessica Noll: My favourite podcast of all time and that helped turn the page for me in how I wanted to tell stories like this is S Town.

For people who like podcasts, I'm sure they've listened to it but if you haven't, listen to it, probably three times. It got it took me that many times to get everything out of it.

As of late, I love listening to anything that Connie Walker does. She is a journalist; I believe out of Canada that focuses on indigenous people. Her podcast is called Stolen. And she's got two seasons out now. She's a remarkable storyteller and investigative journalist.

Todd McComas: The one I liked probably the most is In the Red Clay because it's about the Dixie mafia. I like Culpable season one which made me want to go into podcasting, but my absolute favourite is Time Suck with Dan Cummins. He's a comedian and he mixes a lot of comedy with true stories and it's very different.

Check out our true crime podcast hub for podcast features and interviews, plus full episodes of the Murdertown podcast.