‘S-Town’ theories: “But where is the gold?” (Spoilers)

Brian Reed and John B. McLemore. Photograph: Andrea Morales

S-Town (short for “Shit Town” — flattering, I know) is a new podcast series/audio novel from the creators and producers of This American Life and Serial.

The series preview references antique clocks — the intricate assemblage of different pieces, all necessary to the success of the clock — much like the setting of the story, Woodstock, Alabama.

The show goes above and beyond the true-crime focus of Serial; as the story changes and evolves, a character study of sorts become more fascinating than any alleged crime.

All seven episodes dropped on iTunes and the S-Town Podcast website on Tuesday, March 28, so I’ll give you a few minutes to binge —

Ok, have you finished? Good. (SPOILERS AHEAD)

John B. McLemore

Without doing too much summarizing, S-Town is an amazing illustration of a fascinating character, John B. McLemore. What starts out as some sort of small-town murder mystery quickly turns into an examination of John’s life, his town, his work, and his thoughts.

John B. McLemore (Black Sheep Facebook)

At the end of the second episode, the producer/recorder/narrator — Brian Reed — receives a phone call regarding John. He had just committed suicide.

The rest of the series tries to untangle the mysteries and life of an worldly and oddly-eccentric man in the middle of a tiny Alabama town. We hear from those around him, including those closest to the story — namely John’s closest friend (?) and central figure Tyler, his cousin Rita, and other townspeople, relatives, and past friends/associates of John.

John’s life as an antique clock mechanic — or more formally, a horologist — apparently led to a large amount of money. According to another horologist who had worked with John in the past, John could have worked 2–3 days a week and still made $150,000 a year. Not bad. There are other tales of him playing the stock market and making large amounts of money, not to mention his paranoia, which is why he is doesn’t keep his money in the bank.

(William Thornton / wthornton@al.com)

But where did that money go?

There are tales of gold hidden around the property. When John called Faye Gamble, the town clerk, before committing suicide, he had given instructions as to where his gold was hidden: the freezer in some towels, allegedly. The gold has never been found.

Well. I don’t know about that.

Faye alleges she never checked for the gold, but told the police who arrived at the house to find John’s body. Remember one of the reasons John contacted Brian about doing a story: Police corruption. So the police have it? Maybe.

Then there are the cousins who come to town following John’s death. According to Tyler, John’s cousin Rita and her husband came to John’s house before even visiting John’s mother Mary Grace in the hospital. Rita later confirms the

And then there’s the Kabram Burt family. Let’s not forget that when we all started listening, this is who we thought this story would be about. Burt buys up John’s property following his suicide. Burt never mentions finding gold, but does reference the rumor.

Lastly, Tyler Goodson. I have a hard time deciding whether or not I’m cheering for Tyler, or if he is some sort of clever super villain. I doubt the latter is true, but it is unclear. I won’t go over all of the details, stories, etc about Tyler that come about after Rita is introduced to the listeners, but I am aware these details paint him in a “difficult to trust” type of light.

Tyler Goodson (Facebook)

There is an amazing conversation between Brian and Tyler in which Brian warns Tyler about telling him if he ever finds the gold. It becomes a sort of awkward exchange, and Tyler asks Brian to cut off the recording.

It certainly seems likely Tyler found the gold… if there is gold.

Is there even any gold?

When Rita begins to talk to Brian, a different view of John’s finances are offered, as he had little-to-no money in his accounts — $98.

So where is it?

I haven’t mentioned the rose maze yet. There is a lot of talk about this. It is a great pride to John. And what better place to hide something than in a maze?

Google Maps

And what about the clocks? The series preview highlights John’s work as an antique clock mechanic. Many of the people interviewed in this piece know John as some sort of clock savant. Doesn’t it make sense to hide something there? And let’s look at the source code of the S-Town Podcast website.

source code: stownpodcast.org

That sure looks like a clock to me.

There are a million theories. We’ll probably never know the real one, but it’s fascinating to keep searching. This ultimately wasn’t the small-town murder mystery I signed up for.

It’s much better.