Ten years ago, two young Berkeley High School reporters started to investigate the death of a young Indian immigrant woman. Carbon monoxide had killed Seetha Vemireddy while she slept in her Berkeley apartment, and her sister had been seriously sickened.
The original incident received some cursory notice in the local press. But the two young reporters, Megan Greenwell and Iliana Montauk, were curious: why wasn’t the 17-year-old girl enrolled in school? It was a question that hadn’t occurred to other, older, more seasoned reporters, and it was a question that would ultimately unravel an indentured servitude/sex ring operated by one of Berkeley’s wealthiest landlords, Lakireddy Bali Reddy.
The Berkeley High Jacket, the newspaper that ran the stories, has a retrospective of the incident that includes many interesting details about how the reporters got the story. It also talks about how Greenwell and Montauk became celebrities of sorts as word got out about their investigative work.
“Before they knew it, Greenwell and Montauk were becoming well-known throughout the United States and especially in the Bay Area,” Camille Baptista writes in the Jacket. “Television programs and radio talk shows couldn’t resist the story of two teenage girls who cracked the case that everyone else had overlooked. Curious journalists waited outside their homes and classrooms, eager for a picture or interview.”
Greenwell continued as a journalist and is now a staff writer for the Washington Post. Montauk works at EARN, a San Francisco non-profit that aims to break the cycle of poverty.