One of the things I like most about Cold Justice is just how real and down-to-earth both Kelly Siegler and Yolanda McClary seem on the show.
Well, I recently had a chance to talk to both of them and, let me tell you, there’s no “seem” about it. Both of them were incredibly generous, smart and funny, and really are committed to finding justice for the victims and their families.
First up? My interview with Siegler, a former Harris County, Texas prosecutor.
GEEK GIRL DIVA: Hey, Kelly, it’s nice to talk to ya.
KELLY SIEGLER: How are you?
I’m doing OK. To be completely honest, I’m a huge fan, so I’m already thrilled.
Good. Good. I like that.
So my first question is, what famous cold case would you most like to investigate?
Hmm. Golly. Probably JonBenet Ramsey. We all would, because it’s fresh enough that we all know the story, but I think it’s probably so messed up that it’ll never get solved … Actually, the police chief of Boulder, I think it was Boulder, he came from HPD [the Houston Police Department], so when he was in the middle of all that chaos, we were kind of all feeling this pain because he was from our world.
As far as the show itself, I was wondering why you chose to do this show. I don’t recall you doing other shows, but maybe I am just not catching that. Why this show? What made you choose to do Cold Justice specifically?
It was my idea in the first place. So, because the last 10 years I was at the DA’s office, Susan Wright is one of the few cases that wasn’t a cold case that I worked on. I did Susan Wright just because it was fun. But mostly I was doing cold cases for the last 10 years at the DA’s office, and I mean, as you know, they’re much more challenging, they’re much more difficult, they’re much more satisfying, and that kind of became my thing. So when I left the DA’s office, I was on this state-wide review thing in Austin where we talked to cops all over Texas, trying to solve their cold cases. I realized when I was on that committee that the only way to really do that is to take the case file yourself, start from the very first part and read it and try and figure it out. See if you can solve it. At the DA’s office, I had the idea to work on cold cases all over the country, which is what led to all this.
I know that you highlight cold cases in small towns.
That is just because if you are from a big city, like Houston—they have, all over the country in the big cities, cold case squads. Little towns, there is no way they could have a cold case cop. They’re trying to work on their fresh cases, no less their cold cases. That’s the reason for the focus on small towns. The big cities don’t really need us.
You made a joke on the last episode on how much Yolanda likes country roads, which was awesome. It seems like you and she have bonded really well on the show. Was she part of the plans for the show early on?
No. Yolanda’s never worked on a cold case before. I didn’t know her. She came on board sort of after the idea took off, but we have definitely hit it off. She’s pretty easy to work with, everybody likes her. She would be caught dead before she would end up in a small town, but she gets along with everybody great, so it’s worked out wonderfully.
It seems like you get along with her pretty well.
Yeah, well, she’s pretty easy to get along with. If you don’t like her, then there’s something wrong with you.
I like that line. One of my other questions is: I know you have had other investigators come in to work with you. How do you decide who does the interview and why do you guys do the separate cars?
It works like this: I’m the one that reads the cases and decides which we need to go work on, which ones I think we can solve. And then when we go to a town and we decide where we’re going, then the case reports are divided up and passed out to Yolanda, Johnny or whoever our detective is. And then when we get there, Johnny and I decide who’s gonna talk to whom. We sort of divide it up about 50/50. He’s always gonna get the main suspect just because he’s a homicide cop—that’s his thing. I get more of the friendly witnesses that also have the friendly information. Does that make sense?
Yes. It does.
So if he’s interviewing someone with the local detective and I am listening, I’m in the car listening. If I think of things, I text them to the local detective. I can’t text them to Johnny because Johnny doesn’t text on his cell phone—because Johnny’s so freakin’ old-fashioned. True story. He can’t even text on his phone. He won’t even come into the modern age and catch up with technology. It’s terrible.
He called me a while ago, and I can always tell when he calls me, because he’s out on his porch and you can’t even hear him because his phone’s so cheap and he won’t even go out and buy a new one. [Laughter.] That’s the real world. The story’s funny. But he does more of the unfriendly witnesses, and I do more of the friendly witnesses.
Think about this: I was a prosecutor forever, and by the time you go to trial, you know what the witness ought to say and should say because you have prepped them. So I make sure to get out all that information that is crucial to making the case, and Johnny is more of the hostile, antagonistic interviewer. Does that make sense?
Yeah, he’s the bad cop.
Yes, usually yes.
Well, you all seem very real, that’s for sure. And I’m guessing that part of it is, when you are in those smaller towns, especially down in Texas, like you like to say, they’re your people—
Think about it. I’ve had a whole lot of detectives that I know call me wanting to be on the show. We all know, because Johnny grew up in a town of … My town had 900 people; his was even smaller. When we go into these small towns, it has to be people like us that know how to get along with everybody.
Understood. Is it strange to have a fan base? That you actually have people who follow your trials, who know your work and now follow you on Twitter or Facebook, and you have actual fans. Is that strange?
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. There’s no getting used to all that. I didn’t even know what Twitter was until all this started about a year ago.
I think one of the things that’s really great, just so you know—you’re an inspiration to a lot of people and I think for a lot of women, because you’re both really accomplished and you work really hard. One of the best things I like about the show is, even though it’s a reality show, it’s not reality TV. It’s about doing the work. It’s about getting things done. You’re both strong women and very accomplished, and it’s nice to watch.
Thank you. I have two daughters and I’m always telling them, you know, they’re like, “Mom, you’re so corny,” and I’m like, “I don’t care! If you wanna do something, you do it. You don’t need some man telling you how to do it, you do it yourself.” So hopefully that message comes across.
Yeah, I think it does. Do you actually take time off when you’re not doing the show?
I got home yesterday. The whole time I’m home, though, I’m reading to find cases for the next go-round. So I need to find a bunch more. I’m in the middle of the very first one, so I have a lot of reading to do.
Because you were talking about highlighting the small towns, how can other people help those smaller counties? Since we can’t clone you. Are there things people can do to help smaller counties with their cold cases?
You mean like civilians and witnesses and people?
Obviously, if you’re a civilian, there’s not a lot you can do to motivate a law enforcement agency, but it would just be that when people come around to ask you something, tell the truth and stop hiding behind being afraid or what might happen. Just tell the truth because that’s the thing about a lot of these cases. You can read the story and you know when you read it, you know what happened, you know who did it, but you need things to come together. You need honestly, you need God to watch over it and everything to work out just the way it should. We’ve been very lucky that people, when it comes time, they pretty much tell the truth. It was just like in my other job, when it came time for trial: For the most part, when people got up on the witness stand, they ended up telling the truth.
With these cold cases, when it comes time to get asked the hard questions, do the right thing and tell the truth.
[I also asked Kelly if there was anything she wanted to mention that I didn’t ask about, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Her answer proved, once again, what a dynamite lady she is. She wanted people to know that, much as she might like to, she just can’t look into every case that people might ask her to look into:]
We get all these requests from family members to look into their cases, and I have to tell them the local law enforcement agency has to invite us, because unless you have access to the police report and the file and all that, there’s no way you can look at a case. You have to have all that. It makes people disappointed, but I don’t know how you would ever investigate a case from 20 years ago without having the police report and all that information. It breaks your heart, but what can you do?
I think you do a lot, Kelly Siegler, and I hope this lets people know that just because you’re not responding to their request, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care. It’s very clear that you do care, and you’re working hard every day to help people find justice, one small-town cold case at a time.
Cold Justice airs Fridays at 9/8 C on TNT.