Good work, gumshoe! How one blogger tracked down the globetrotting master thief Carmen Sandiego

By Dave Quinn
Updated August 17, 2016 09:20 AM

Kids growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s know there wasn’t a question more puzzling than Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

And now, a self-appointed gumshoe by the name of Todd Van Luling has finally caught the actress behind the superthief, reporting his findings to the Chief – er, The Huffington Post – 20 years after her debut!

The quest to find the globetrotting crook known for her red trench coat and oversized fedora first began in a 1985 computer game, which asked players a series of geography questions – answers of which would help bring the criminal mastermind to justice.

Of course, Sandiego always appeared to slip through the law’s hands each time – challenging the player to another game in hopes to snatch the villainous for good.

As its popularity grew, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? saw different iterations emerge. Books, board games, and eventually, a 1991 PBS game show of the same name (Perhaps its theme song by Rockapella rings a bell?).

But it wasn’t until that show’s PBS sequel – 1996’s Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? – that an actress finally portrayed the character for the first time. She was never named in the show’s credits or participated in the promotion of the series. Her identity has remained a mystery – until now!

Van Luling tracked down the woman in Sandiego’s shoes – nabbing her first public interview about playing the character ever.

Her name is Janine LaManna, and she’s a 50-year-old Broadway veteran, whose resume includes roles in the original productions of Ragtime and The Drowsey Chaperone and the 2005 revival of Sweet Charity alongside Christina Applegate.

LaManna says her identity on the show was kept secret so that she could play other cast members on the show, like historical figures and good Samaritans.

“Because of the mysterious aspect of her, I don’t think they ever wanted an actor to be [associated with Carmen],” LaManna explained. “They didn’t ever want to reveal my face probably. Then you would reveal Carmen.”

Creating Sandiego was tricky for LaManna, as no one had done so before. “Once you embody a character that hasn’t been embodied yet, that’s a big responsibility,” she said.

LaManna added: “It seemed to me that she was a bit of a diva. So, I kind of gave her a little bit of that.”

“I still remember seeing Janine coming out in that red coat and that fedora and thinking, ‘Wow, she nailed it. That is Carmen Sandiego,’ ” the show’s Squadron Leader-host Kevin Shinick told the Huffington Post. “Something about it when Janine came out, I thought, ‘Wow, that is it. That’s the one I’ve envisioned all my life.’ ”

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So why give up Carmen Sandiego’s identity now? Van Luling’s persistence!

“Sorry it took you so long, but you’re pretty tenacious about it,” she told him. “I thought, ‘My God, I owe it to him. He tried so hard to get me.’ ”

LaManna only played Sandiego for the show’s first season – about 65 episodes. No word on the name of the actress who took over the role for the show’s second and final season. No doubt, Van Luling is on the case.