‘Hello, John Doe’, a masterpiece by the late Todd Matthews

Todd’s passion and legacy live on in a new podcast that is topping the True Crime charts

By Erica Morse
Publisher, Victims News Online
Updated 10:05 a.m., April 23, 2024


I was driving through Chicago last week, and heard a promotional announcement on an iHeart radio station for two of their most popular podcasts: the first, a series on mobsters that sounds absolutely fascinating; the second, ‘Hello, John Doe’.

Instantly, a grin came across my face, I looked up at the sky (at 70 mph), and whispered, “You did it, Todd”. In that moment, I could not have been more proud of my friend, whose years of grueling commitment was now being recognized in the number three radio market during morning drive, the most coveted commercial time in the City.

‘Hello, John Doe’ is about the life of Steve Patterson, also known as Phillip Steven Brandenburg, I interviewed Steve several years ago, at the request of then-NamUs Case Manager and Co-Founder of The Doe Network, Todd Matthews. Todd was a dear friend and colleague in the missing persons’ community, and when he asked for a favor, very rarely did anyone say “no”. Todd called at the start of COVID and asked if I could take on another project: this time, a convoluted case involving a man who had just taken a DNA test, thought he was kidnapped as an infant, and was reaching out to advocates for help. He was seeking his formal identity, birth parents, and possible other siblings, and Todd wanted my assistance to tell the story in a series of pieces, to help him figure it out.

As I listened to him talk, I knew he would actually tell this story, and it was time to convince him he had the chops to do it. Todd was clearly invested, and I could already hear the passion and urgency in his voice to help Steve find answers. Todd had a way of sweet-talking anyone into anything to help a victim, so I agreed to call and interview Steve and his girlfriend. We spoke for several hours, but there was an instant — and constant — caution in Steven’s voice. It was difficult to pull information out of him at times, and his girlfriend often had to help interject with information. When a person’s life has been turned upside down — as had just happened to Steve Patterson — the last thing they need is a stranger asking questions. Afterwards, I called Todd back to tell him he had to be the one to manage this project. I would help however possible, but no one knew this family, the intricate details, or had the passion to explain this confusing situation better than he. I felt guilty for saying ‘”no”, as no one ever did with Todd. However, on top of all my other concerns, no one trusted Todd to tell this story more than Steven, and he would, ultimately, be the one to get him to open up the most.

J. Todd Matthews Photo: Facebook

As Todd points out in one of his earliest episodes of the podcast, “Sometimes, we pick the cases; and sometimes, the cases pick us”.

Steven’s case chose my friend, J. Todd Matthews. As it turns out, it would also be his final gift to the world, having left us unexpectedly at the age of 53 from a massive heart attack, just days after wrapping production of this podcast.

‘Hello, John Doe’ is the story of a sleuth, a serial killer, and a family torn apart by the destruction caused by one man, Franklin Floyd, dating back 50 years. As the situation unravels, however, it is also the tale of how Floyd may have destroyed a family for three generations, while another — a complete stranger named Todd Matthews — single-handedly put that family back together, as much as humanly possible.

It is a fascinating, almost unbelievable tale of evil overcome by good, and how damage — although never fully undone — can be partially pieced back together, if someone cares enough to do it.

Each of us has a case that owns us, and this was Todd’s. No one could have told this story better.

Back in 2020 when Todd first called, he was still miles away from solving this case and didn’t know it. Over the next three years, he would unravel this mess of abuse, abductions, murders, aliases and close calls, and lay it out in a way only he could: with careful, thorough analysis and compassion, coupled with his southern charm that always seemed to open more doors than my sometimes aggressive reporting style. Todd Matthews was a patient and gentle man, and this case required a special advocate like him to muddle through the details, the personalities, and the pushback that sometimes occurs when reunification isn’t always a smooth process.

Todd knew how to handle all of those elements, which was a gift in and of itself. The way he describes maneuvering those obstacles — and dealing with his own emotions within the case — should be required listening for every advocate and investigator who works with families of the missing.

While this podcast finally lays out the case in a way that is understandable to all, it is also a legacy to Todd’s work, and a reminder to the rest of us the importance of the mission. Throughout the first 10 episodes of ‘Hello, John Doe’, Todd addresses the delicacies of this work, the heartbreak it causes both the families and those who manage these cases, and how a happy ending doesn’t always happen, no matter how much we want it. No one knew that better than Todd, having worked with thousands of families and victims throughout the years. In this particular story, however, Todd unraveled the pieces and parts as only he could have done, as southerners tend to trust other southerners. Steven and his family instantly warmed to Todd and made him an honorary member, so to speak, and I firmly believe it made all the difference in dissecting this case for the rest of us to comprehend.

To those of us who knew and loved Todd, ‘Hello, John Doe’ is so much more than just a podcast; from hearing his voice when we need his words of wisdom, to listening to him talk about the heartbreaks of this work, to hearing those ‘Todd-isms’ sprinkled throughout this story, Todd left us with a road map of how to help the missing, murdered, unidentified and unclaimed: with compassion, respect, and the refusal to give up.

Todd knew — better than anyone — that sometimes, we pick the cases, and sometimes, the cases pick us. He also knew that one person can make a difference, if someone cares enough to do it. I have no doubt this project was destined to be his final masterpiece, told only in that sweet, compassionate, authentic southern style that made Todd a cherished and respected mentor in our community.

‘Hello, John Doe is available on iHeart Radio, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Follow Victims News Online on Facebook and Instagram.

Please follow and like us:
onpost_follow 0

Leave a Reply

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