Jeff Waldroup became a prominent figure in the moonshiners’ community, through his participation in the popular reality-television series “Moonshiners.” He was accompanied by his late son, Lance Waldroup, as they evaded law enforcement when they distilled and distributed illegal alcoholic beverages for seven seasons in the show. In the eighth season, he was conspicuously absent from it, and viewers were at a loss because no one from Discovery Channel or anyone in the show gave an explanation of what happened to him.
- 1 What was “Moonshiners” all about?
- 2 Jeff Waldroup’s seven seasons with “Moonshiners”
- 3 Theories on what Happened to Jeff
- 4 Finally, an explanation of why Jeff left “Moonshiners”
- 5 Update on Jeff Waldroup
What was “Moonshiners” all about?
Magilla Entertainment, one of the most successful companies in providing content on unscripted TV series for mainstream and streaming channels, took an interest in the moonshining business and its illegal practice in the United States. They focused their eyes on the Appalachian region, which covered parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, and nearby areas.
What is moonshining and why did it become so interesting?
For those who were new to the TV series, moonshine is the title generally applied to home-made liquor, mostly whiskey. It gained its name because it was produced at night, under the cover of darkness, and therefore less conspicuous. Today, almost all the states in the US allow home brewing of beer or wine with certain limitations – it has to be for personal consumption or family use only. However, it’s quite different from distilling spirits. Under US Codes 5042 and 5053, the ‘Federal law strictly prohibits individuals from producing distilled spirits at home.’ According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, people can only produce distilled spirits at TTB-qualified distilling plants, which means an individual should acquire a license from the government to produce, distribute, and sell. If caught distilling illegally, the offense may be punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a hefty fine that can amount to up to $10,000, or both. The danger or illicit aspect of moonshine production made it notorious and intriguing for most people, hence the popularity of “Moonshiners.”
Inspiration for its concept
The reality-TV show was greatly inspired by the moonshining life of Marvin Sutton, popularly known in their world as “Popcorn”, acknowledged as one of the legends in the North Carolina Appalachians moonshining community. Popcorn learned the art of distilling liquor from his father, a skill that was handed down from his great-grandparents. Unfortunately for Popcorn, he was eventually caught by the police because he couldn’t resist talking about it. Once he was out on probation, he opted to end his life rather than spend time in prison. A documentary about him was made, entitled “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make,” and his colorful life fascinated many people, including the creators of “Moonshiners.”
TV premiere and premise
The first episode was aired on Discovery Channel on 6 December 2011, narrated by Jeremy Schwartz. It immediately captured the viewers’ imagination, as the show followed the moonshining activities of Steven Ray Tickle and Tim Smith. Even the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement was featured in its first season, which caused people to doubt if the TV show was scripted or not, because no arrests were made. The bureau made a statement at the end of the season, ‘If illegal activity was actually taking place, the Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement would have taken action.’ Apparently, they asked the producers to insert a disclaimer in the show that it was just a dramatization, but their recommendation was ignored. Magilla Entertainment claimed that the TV show was real. Some fans argued online that no moonshiners were ever apprehended in the show, because the law states that they had to be caught in the act of distilling spirits, and all episodes were aired sometime after being filmed.
Jeff Waldroup’s seven seasons with “Moonshiners”
Initially, Jeff partnered with another long-time moonshiner, Mark Rogers; they were both former disciples of one of the old guys in the business, Jim Tom. After moonshining with Jim for many years, they branched out on their own. Here are some of the most fascinating moments Jeff had in “Moonshiners”:
‘Moonshining is not a crime but a tradition’
While they all knew that distilling liquor without a proper license was illegal, most moonshiners grew up doing it because it was more than just booze for them. Jeff called it a tradition that was passed down to him from at least five generations. Jeff and his partner, Mark, easily became kings of the mountain after they started making moonshine on their own. Completing their team was Jeff’s son, Lance Waldroup, who grew up watching his father moonshining. He was given guard duties, and was shown practice shooting at home with their collection of weapons, including handguns, rifles and shotguns. He said that security was quite important in their line of business, particularly when transporting moonshine during late runs, as anyone could either rob or kill them.
Lance asked for more duties from Jeff and Mark
During the second season of “Moonshiners,” Lance was hoping to be given more duties by his father, believing that he’d already proven his worth. When they were making plans for the season, he got what he wanted, however, Jeff kept on giving reminders, indicating he was still worried about his son being ready to get the supplies on his own. Lance told him that he was more than ready, since he’d been doing it for most of his life. He felt that he was still treated more like an assistant or helper than a partner in their team, but Jeff assured him that he and Mark knew his contribution, and that if everything worked out well that season, all of them would share the bounty.
Looking for the ideal moonshining location
Moonshining season in the Appalachians would start when the ‘icy late winter rain melted,’ the creeks were high, and the grain silos were at capacity; it was the perfect time to make the shine. It had been common knowledge in the moonshining region that ‘when the warm weather returns, so do the outlaws.’ However, one of the biggest risks for them was to find the ideal location to produce liquor. Most of them built their own stills, and there was one season when Jeff along with Lance acquired the biggest still, capable of pumping out 760 gallons of ‘shine, which could amount to thousands of dollars in a single run. The challenge was to transport it to the woods without attracting attention, and Mark told Jeff that people could easily figure out its purpose the moment they saw it. They changed their plans, and opted to use the still pot indoors that had enough space, designed similarly to a warehouse. The ideal site should be abandoned with high ceilings and several exits, along with privacy from nosy neighbors. They found a place, and Lance did a stakeout for three days, just to see if there were any activities outside the building.
Transporting their moonshine through the river
After they took out the competitor’s car and still pot by blowing it up in the woods, Jeff and his team went on to produce its last run for the season. They were a week behind on their schedule already, and should be gone before the hunting season started, because the woods would be crawling with hunters by then. However, Mother Nature had a tantrum, and it took them two false starts before the rain subsided. On their third try they were successful, and everything seemed to be going great until they were bringing back the moonshine from the woods. They encountered their biggest challenge, as the road going down the mountain was washed out by the storm. The only way they could get out from there was to let the river do the transporting for them. The containers were roped together so they would float in the river and let the current carry them downstream. Jeff’s wife and son were waiting somewhere down the river to take those containers. However, it wasn’t a job for just two people, and Jeff called on someone he trusted who was familiar with the river. They transported all of it except for one container worth $500, due to the strong current – Jeff said that it was better to lose just one instead of the whole batch.
Theories on what Happened to Jeff
After the seventh season, “Moonshiners” fans were expecting to see Jeff in the eighth season, but he was absent when it started. Some viewers thought that it was just for a few episodes, but he never made an appearance at all. It was frustrating for his fans, since no official statement was released by the TV producers and they weren’t mentioned again in the show. Here are some theories and rumors about what happened to Jeff Waldroup:
Just taking a break
Some fans believed that Jeff along with his son left the show of their own accord; they thought that these two might be focusing more on their business investments. Filming a TV series could take so much of their time, as it could last several months, and since his family was also involved in it, their hands were all tied up on the exclusive contract with a non-disclosure agreement that they signed. They then chose to take an hiatus, because staying with the TV show meant that they couldn’t do other things, especially since they filmed in several locations.
Jeff wasn’t that young anymore when he started participating in “Moonshiners,” and while he didn’t show any health concerns in the show, his age and physique might contribute to his disappearance. Some fans concluded that he probably had health-related problems, that made it impossible for him to be filmed. However, some argued that if that was the case, then his son could be given a wider role, but no Waldroup was seen again in the show.
Imprisoned for moonshining
When Jeff was nowhere to be found in the subsequent seasons, some viewers immediately concluded that the law probably caught up with him. That was one logical theory, as being arrested would mean lots of court hearings, including bailing him out, setting up a defense, and if the charges were proven, then imprisonment for years. Fans had a field day discussing it online. However, there were those who believed that if that were the case, then it was highly unlikely that the “Moonshiners” producers wouldn’t use it for content, as it was free publicity or promotion for their TV show. Viewers were waiting for any of the moonshiners to be arrested just to give credibility to the reality of its narrative, and to debunk the accusations that it was scripted.
Finally, an explanation of why Jeff left “Moonshiners”
Most “Moonshiners” viewers really thought that Jeff and Lance were imprisoned back in 2014. It was refuted when stories surfaced on social media that the father and son were reportedly selling off the family’s valuables online. Immediately, everyone concluded that the Waldroup family was having serious financial problems – they were in dire straits because they were also trying to sell their appliances, along with their gadgets and car. Others believed that they might be relocating to another State because they were selling everything in their house. They said it was probably a consequence of going public with their moonshining activities.
Jeff’s wife was sick
The narrative kept on changing, until it was reported that Jeff’s wife, Lynn, was diagnosed with the serious illness multiple sclerosis, MS. According to the National Health Service, this condition could potentially ‘affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.’ Lance immediately offered to look after his mother, as she needed 24/7 care.
Went back to his former jobs
Jeff’s appearance fee on the reality-TV show wasn’t enough to pay for the family’s upkeep as well as for Lynn’s medical treatment. Father and son decided that it would be best for their finances that he focus on his other professions before he entered TV. He was proficient in using heavy machines, and was quite adept as a logger. The fans assumed that Jeff did just that, as he would earn more than he would receive as a reality-TV star.
Update on Jeff Waldroup
From the day they learned of his wife’s multiple sclerosis, things weren’t the same for Jeff. Things even turned out to be even more arduous and problematic when the pandemic occurred.
Jeff’s son died in 2021
Tragedy really struck though – Discovery Channel made an official announcement via its social media account, that Lance Waldroup died at the age of 30 in March 2021. ‘Lance is remembered for his ambition to learn the tricks of the trade and distilled all sorts of spirits, including moonshine, absinthe, and scotch.’ However, no reason was given as to the official cause of death. Even when Jeff’s Facebook page made its own announcement, they also never gave an explanation. No one from the family and friends talked about it, and their fans could only speculate.
A GoFundMe page was set up by Jeff’s friends
Jeff and his family had a tough time dealing with Lynn’s illness, but when the Covid-19 pandemic happened, it was doubly hard for them. The GoFundMe page was set up primarily so that Jeff would have enough funds to give his son a decent burial. Close to 350 donors responded to the request, mostly friends, colleagues and fans. The crowdfunding platform was successful in reaching its target goal of $15,000.
— Tommy Townsend (@ttownsendmusic) April 26, 2015
The official and unofficial cause of death
People had many theories when they read what was written on the GoFundMe page – some even concluded that Jeff’s son became depressed, and must have taken his own life. The page mentioned that Lance had suffered from a psychological illness called Survivor’s Guilt since childhood. Two of his siblings had cystic fibrosis, a condition which the Mayo Clinic described as ‘an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body.’ His sister, Lindsey, passed away at the age of 11 while his brother Lamar died at the age of 20; it was unfortunate that even after he had a lung transplant, Lamar’s life was only extended for about a year and a half. This took a lot for Lance to process, and he used illegal drugs to deal with it. As a result, he developed a substance abuse problem, although he found a way to clean up. Some said that his ‘trauma’ caused him to not want to leave his mother’s side when he learned of her illness.
It was reported that it was Jeff’s wife who found Lance’s lifeless body lying on his bed, just a few hours after talking with him. The police ruled out any foul play after an investigation took place. TMZ later on reported that the official cause of death was congestive heart failure. Apparently, Lance was close to 600 pounds at the time of his death and had heart-related issues. There were prescribed pills found in his bedroom, which were for his opioid addiction treatment, and some crushed white powder near him. Months later, there were other reports that an autopsy of his body revealed the presence of drugs, but it wasn’t listed as the cause of death.
Viewers of “Moonshiners” were curious about ever seeing Jeff again in the reality-TV show. With the way things went with his family in the past couple of years, it would seem highly unlikely.