Inside The Gripping Mystery Podcast THE CASE WITHIN With Jonathan Robbins, Jillian Clare and Matthew Carvery

Chris Hadley
11 min readOct 16, 2023

In 2014, the popular true crime podcast Serial generated as many devoted listeners as it did media attention via its thorough look at the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee, her suspected killer Adnan Syed’s unwavering claim of innocence, and the then-unrevealed evidence — discovered by amateur investigators outside the criminal justice system — that led to him being retried and later freed from a 20 year prison term. (As of this writing, however, Syed faces potential re-incarceration if the Maryland Supreme Court upholds an earlier ruling by the State’s appeals court this past March that reinstated his conviction.)

Upon becoming a sensation with audiences, Serial created a cottage industry of both serious true crime audio documentaries and humorous parodies of the emerging sub-genre. 3 years before Serial’s first episode dropped, though, another emerging entertainment platform — the web series — was slowly stepping up its game in the production department as the medium’s detractors doubted its viability and panned its often cheaply-made early content.

During the 21st century’s second decade, the amount of quality web series output increased. Among the most acclaimed and most well-produced of those early 2010’s shows was the award-winning action drama Clutch, a punch-packed thriller that spotlighted resilient women partnering to destroy a dangerous male criminal kingpin, Marcel Obertovitch (played by Peter Hodgins).

When the series’ second season concluded, one of Marcel’s previously trapped sex slaves fled his underground human trafficking operation: Nicole Baumer, a hostage-turned-FBI investigator who, while still on the trail of her abductors, now heads the search for another missing young woman in the new Clutch spinoff podcast The Case Within. The series is streaming on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Amazon Music, with new episodes (8 overall) premiering each Friday. (Links to all three platforms are at the end of this article.)

Created by Jonathan Robbins and co-star Jillian Clare (reprising her role as Nicole from both Clutch and its first audio offshoot There Will Be Vengeance), and co-written by Robbins and Clutch/Vengeance co-star Matthew Carvery, The Case Within is set 10 years after Nicole’s escape and also serves as a prequel of sorts to the three episode audio miniseries There Will Be Vengeance, which wrapped up the parent series’ story and reunited several of its cast members including Clare and Carvery.

Now an FBI Special Agent in the employ of bureau director and mentor Donald Mendez (played by A Martinez — General Hospital, Santa Barbara, Days Of Our Lives, One Life To Live, L.A. Law), Nicole’s inquiry into the long-unsolved disappearance of Erin Michaels (Jillian Shea Spaeder) haunts her as much as it does Erin’s mother Nina (Addie Daddio).

Though she received a purportedly authentic letter from her daughter confirming her safety, Nina has no idea that Erin has hitchhiked to San Diego, nor does she know that she’s been charmed by — and possibly deceived by — a welcoming couple in Charles McDonaugh (Eric Martsolf) and his partner Jennifer (Martha Madison). With the McDonaughs greeting Erin at a local diner, its waitress Lorraine (Patrika Darbo) may be one of the only individuals who know of the trio’s next destination.

Unconvinced of the legitimacy of Erin’s message but still certain of her existence, Nina relies on Nicole and the resources of the FBI to bring Erin back home. Yet as Nicole explores the disturbing details of Erin’s vanishing, she struggles to keep her emotional distance from a case that has more in common with her own frightening ordeal, putting both her investigation and career in jeopardy while Erin’s survival becomes more uncertain with every tick of the clock.

Though The Case Within is the second podcast set in the Clutch-verse, and though it marks the next phase of Clare’s empowered yet haunted character, Case is meant to be a riveting yet fresh experience for both its longtime fan base and newcomers to the acclaimed web series/audio thriller franchise.

“We’ve structured The Case Within so that you don’t need to have seen Clutch to fully understand what’s going on with Nicole. It’s still canon though,” says Carvery. “Anyone wanting more insight into what she went through can go back and watch those episodes to get that, but it’s by no means required. You can jump right into The Case Within as your entry point to the Clutch universe.”

While small nods to Clutch are placed sporadically in Case, more overt references to that web series were de-emphasized in the podcast’s scripts. Says Robbins: “…In the earliest drafts of The Case Within, there were stronger ties to specific characters and events in Clutch. We found that doing so muddled the story we were trying to tell, so we cut them.”

As the narrative backbone of Case, Nicole is trapped between the urgency of her current objective — rescuing Erin and catching her abductors — and the lingering yet unaddressed horrors of her sexual exploitation by a thuggish crime lord. Before that aspect of Nicole’s story was intensely communicated in each episode, Robbins and Carvery went to enormous lengths to depict it convincingly via the theater of the mind.

Explains Robbins: “One way we’re able to (tell Nicole’s story through audio) is by opening the door to Nicole’s therapy sessions, which are mandated by the FBI and therefore up the ante with the added element of whether or not she is allowed to remain on active duty, but we had to get Nicole out in the field investigating, and did not want her to have a partner (a decision both based on wanting to keep Nicole in a self-reflective state and because FBI partners is largely a movie trope — they usually pursue leads alone).”

The conflict between Nicole’s professional attitude and the post-kidnapping emotional anguish she experiences in searching for Erin is directly and realistically represented in Case, and the incredible commonalities between the two women’s crises make Clare’s character share the same unbearable level of agony as her counterpart. Through Nicole, Clare shows how that agony, as well as Erin’s battle, externally impacts her work and internally haunts her fragile psyche (as she reveals to an agency-assigned psychiatrist in her required therapy sessions).

“We (myself, Jonathan and Matthew) wanted listeners to understand how trauma like this can manifest in ways that you may not think,” Clare notes. “It’s not just outbursts or breakdowns. With Erin, much of what we hear from her is in Nicole’s mind. While her trauma is different than Nicole’s, it manifests purely through Nicole so we haven’t truly explored yet how her trauma will affect her after the events that take place.”

It’s easier for a visual web series like Clutch to depict the privacy of psychiatric therapy between a patient and a doctor, but recreating the interactions between Nicole and her subjects was tougher to pull off in sound form for Robbins, who found that the task of writing those scenes in a producible way was a trial filled with endless error.

Yet as it often does, inspiration hits in the unlikeliest of moments, and Robbins found it on his way to a destination whose foundation was built on imagination. “…One day, as I was driving to Disneyland, something hit me. I phoned Matthew and stood outside of Space Mountain for a couple of hours as we hashed out what would become the embodiment of the show’s title.”

As a result of Carvery and Robbins’ lengthy yet productive call, one of the series’ most effective plot elements would take listeners inside the focused side of Nicole’s brain and — as she pictures them — the fragile mindsets of every person she converses with.

“Nicole actually envisions the people she is investigating and has dialogues with them, and that allows us to explore her thoughts without it just being her talking to herself. So it truly is the ‘case within’,” Robbins explains. “That (element) also allowed us to use our talented cast that much more as many of them are essentially playing two characters — their real character, and the version of them in Nicole’s mind.”

Thanks to Robbins and Carvery’s script, Clare unforgettably embodied the resiliency and fragility of Nicole. “A lot of what I was able to accomplish with Nicole was in the writing. Jonathan and Matthew really captured how Nicole deflected her own trauma and pain,” Clare says. “Before we went into the recording studio, Jonathan and I sat down and really talked through Nicole’s arc, where her head and heart would be in each scene, and how to convey it with only my voice.”

With Robbins preparing Clare for the emotional rigors of what became her exhilarating performance of Nicole in Case, the actor also had to adjust to a different style of performing: “The biggest challenge for me was how to effectively make the audience feel everything I’m feeling with only my voice,” she explains. “(That) really makes you focus on your cadence, your tone, where to add in a certain amount of breath or rasp. I did a lot more voice over work in my childhood, and I’ve recently been working on several podcasts, so it’s been fun to rediscover my voice.”

Besides Robbins and Carvery, Case’s ensemble cast also brought out the best in Clare, and in turn, her portrayal of a character that’s memorably been reprised in a new medium. “Nicole has been in my blood for a decade now, and after having these notes (from Jonathan and Matthew), it was like she was fully ingrained in me again. I also had the best cast in the world to work off of — they made it easy!”

As listeners of Case will soon hear, the lines between Erin’s story and Nicole’s grow disturbingly blurrier, with Nicole’s memories of her previous imprisonment threatening her tracking of Erin’s whereabouts. “This season, we really focused on how Nicole’s trauma and past experiences intertwine, and interfere, with her work,” says Clare. “We hear her struggle with separating her past from the current case, as there are just so many similarities. She has automatic biases that may or may not hinder her investigation, and in later episodes we hear her slowly start to forget what facts were related to Erin and what were related to her own case.”

THE CASE WITHIN series co-creator/co-writer/narrator Jonathan Robbins leads several members of the show’s cast in an episode recording session.

To lend realism to the 8 episode storyline and its characters, Robbins and Clare consulted the best experts they could find: actual FBI field investigators. “When Jillian and I first explored (doing) a show about Nicole as an FBI agent, we said we wanted it to avoid movie tropes, and it so happens that I have connections to people who have done this for real, so it simply made sense to talk to them — anonymously, of course,” Robbins remembers.

Even though those agents initially scoffed at Robbins and Clare’s questioning, Robbins stresses that veterans of the FBI will appreciate Case’s commitment to depicting the un-Hollywood nature of their jobs. “I think in the end, those in the know are still going to snicker at a thing or two, as there were times when there’s a very good reason movies do things the way they do (in portraying FBI agents), but for the most part, especially in some of the subtle details, we presented a more accurate story than most.”

Though scripted, The Case Within is presented in the same documentary style used by Serial and other true crime podcasts, with Robbins’ narration contextualizing the dramatic occurrences and movements of its characters. Yet unlike its non-fiction counterparts, Case looks at more than just the gruesome particulars of a crime and the methods that law enforcement use to solve it. The show’s non-sensationalistic evaluation of the emotional effects of abductions on victims, their families and the investigators, bolsters its realism.

“We researched real cases but we were careful to make sure the story we crafted doesn’t pull from any one case so completely as that the situation Nicole’s working on is too close to any one person’s real experiences,” says Carvery. “It’s a fictionalized account, but grounded in reality. I personally wouldn’t say we’ve done ‘true crime’ here (but) we’ve done “true-ish crime”. We’ve used just enough of the truth that it all could have happened, but it’s not a ‘story ripped from the headlines’ retelling of an actual event.”

First collaborating with Carvery as an actor (and later co-writer) on Clutch, and then working under him as a director and writer on his spy drama Asset, Robbins owes the success of The Case Within and the realization of its premise to Clare, his cast, and especially, his friend and creative partner. “…We’ve both been at the top of the hierarchy and that has created a working relationship where whatever credit either of us has is never truly representative of what is brought to the table,” Robbins says. “Without Matt, the show would just be The Case.”

While The Case Within is primed to entertain fans of both Clutch and true crime podcasts, Robbins, Clare and Carvery envision a more meaningful impact for the series. “I hope the show sheds some light on survivor trauma and creates a more understanding world,” says Clare. “I feel our show has the potential to raise real awareness about survivor trauma and about the dangers of the world. While the show is fictionalized, it is based on a true story. I also hope that listeners walk away with a new sense of empathy and maybe even ignites a fire in them to become advocates for those who have experienced traumas like Nicole or Erin.”

“Like any artists, we hope people listen and are entertained by what we’ve made, but I’d like to hope that we raise a bit of awareness,” Carvery replies. “Human trafficking and abductions are often thought of as things that happen elsewhere, but these things do happen right here in North America as well.”

NOTE: The Case Within is produced with SAG-AFTRA talent, but is not in any way associated with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) or any studio or network currently being struck by the union.

Hear the show on Apple Podcasts:

On Amazon Music:

On Spotify:

Follow The Case Within on Instagram:



Chris Hadley

Writer, @SnobbyRobot, @FSMOnlineMag, Writer/Creator, @LateLateNewsTV