Sitting in a dimly lit recording booth in a now empty newsroom, Tinu Thomas and Haley Butler give meticulous attention to every word and pronunciation. They are recording an episode of “The Orange Tree,” a podcast they have been developing for more than a year.
Signs are posted on the walls, alerting users to wipe down equipment with sanitizer and foreshadowing a looming shutdown and production adaptation. This would be one of their last recording sessions before the coronavirus brought normal life to a standstill on The University of Texas campus.
The Orange Tree is a true-crime podcast devoted to collecting and weaving the stories and facts together surrounding the heinous murder of Jennifer Cave in August 2005. The brutal crime scene at the Orange Tree condominium complex, in West Campus which neighbors UT Austin, shook the city.
Now graduates of the Moody College’s School of Journalism, Tinu and Haley began creating The Orange Tree as seniors in February of 2019. Faculty member Robert Quigley mentored them as they crafted the story.
Quigley is also the Innovation Director of the Dallas Morning News Endowment. Inspired by podcast networks such as Gimlet Media and Wondery, in 2019 he formed The Drag, an audio production house within the Moody College of Communication.
Tinu Thomas (left) and Haley Butler
Made up of students, professors and recent graduates, Quigley went on to hire Tinu and Haley as The Drag’s first audio directors.
Before joining The Drag, Tinu and Haley had never met, but they shared an interest in true-crime podcasts and in the early days would meet in Quigley’s office to bounce ideas off each other.
“I mentioned the Orange Tree murder from 2005. I remember the story well because I covered it when I was at the Austin American-Statesman as an editor. They had both heard about the story but didn’t know a lot about the details,” Quigley said.
In February of 2019, they decided this crime would be the subject of their long-form documentary-style podcast. They immediately immersed themselves in the details of the tragic crime and its aftermath.
“It's really important to not only talk about what happened but to talk about the impact that it had. Without learning about Jennifer Cave, you can’t learn about the full impact that it had and what happened in 2005. I just want people to be more aware, and we are glad to do the work so people can know that,” Haley said.