This American Life

Built around the innovative vision of Ira Glass, this program documents and describes contemporary America. Using radio monologues, mini-documentaries, “found tape,” and unusual music, it is radio storytelling at its best.


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Saturday, October 11, 2014 Permalink

This American Life: Secret Identity

Drawing by Alice Leora Briggs

On two consecutive mornings in late August, an unknown woman shot and killed two bus drivers in Ciudad Juarez. Then a mysterious email showed up at a local newspaper, claiming to be from someone called, "Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers."

Drawing by Alice Leora Briggs

A bank robber on an undercover mission. A teenage girl with the powers of a tiger. A vigilante seeking vengeance in Ciudad Juarez. All have secret identities. But not all of them chose those identities for themselves. 

WEB EXTRAA drawing by Alice Leora Briggs accompanies the text of "Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers."


PROLOGUE: Ira attempts to solve perhaps the most unsolvable mystery at the Trees of Mystery, in California: Exactly who is the voice of Paul Bunyan? 




ACT ONE: You Can't Handle The Truth.


If you ever think about assuming a secret identity, you may want to take a little time to consider the possible consequences. Jon Ronson tells the tale of a bank robber who absolutely does not take that advice. Jon Ronson's most recent book is Frank. It's also a movie. You can read Tom Schoenberg's epic tale about Herson Torres and the attempted bank robberies in Bloomberg Businessweek.



ACT TWO: Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright.

Elna Baker has a story about her teenage cousin, Navey Baker, who manages to have a secret identity while being a public figure at the same time: She's the school mascot — a tiger — at her high school.




ACT 3: The Blonde Avenger.

While we were putting together this week's show, we heard about a real life avenger with a secret identity in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Writer Yuri Herrera lived on the border for several years and spent a lot of time in Juarez. He went back there to see the what effect this secret avenger has had on the city.

Yuri Herrera's books are available here in Spanish. His book Signs Leading Up To The End Of The World will come out in English next year. (13 minutes) 

WEB EXTRA: A drawing by Alice Leora Briggs accompanies the text of this story. Alice's book of Juarez drawings is called Dreamland.