EXCLUSIVE| 'We don't solve cases': True crime podcasters debunk theories pop culture surfaces

EXCLUSIVE| 'We don't solve cases': True crime podcasters debunk theories pop culture surfaces
True crime is now all over TV, podcasts and social media, including shows on Ted Bundy (L) and Jeffrey Dahmer (R) (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory and EUGENE GARCIA/AFP via Getty Images)

In the early morning hours of November 13, four University of Idaho students were brutally slaughtered. Xana Kernodle, Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves and Ethan Chapin were stabbed to death in an off-campus three-story rented home. Law enforcement has yet to identify the suspect(s) in the case. Authorities have said that the gory scene where the students were killed was the “worst they’ve ever seen." 

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In the aftermath of the murders, web sleuths have come forward with various conspiracy theories about the killer, who is still at large. Among the Internet 'detectives' are people who are fascinated by true crime, which is now all over TV, podcasts and social media. No, these are not people who seek some kind of perverse thrill but true crime buffs who like exploring the psychology, history, and social significance of the incidents. Just like many of us.

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Over the years, true crime has become one of the most popular genres of podcasts, and the reason is not difficult to imagine. True crime gives us an insight into culture and norms, and our values and anxieties. It gives us an idea about why people may act in a certain way and lets us explore the darker sides of our world from a safe distance.

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It only takes days for cold cases and incidents like the Idaho murders to become the subject of a film, a show, or a podcast, as was the case with Gabby Petito. As the Idaho murders continue to terrorize the community, MEAWW spoke to some true crime podcasters to understand how they are represented in mainstream culture.

'True crime podcasters do not go solving crimes'

'Southern Fried True Crime' is a podcast by Erica Kelley, who says she is a "native Tennessean exploring true crime in the South" who loves "history, gossip and crime", according to the website. Erica's researcher, Haley Gray, opened up on the topic. 

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"I think it’s glamorized for sure," Haley said. "The thing that surprises me the most is that people seem to think podcasters are out there solving crimes, but that’s extremely rare. What they are really doing is spreading information and putting pressure on the right people, including suspects and authorities."

M. William Phelps, who runs the weekly podcast 'Crossing the Line with M William Phelps', echoed these thoughts. The investigative journalist and bestselling true crime author, whose popular podcast 'Paper Ghosts' is also widely listened to, said, "I don’t solve cases, and nor do I ever set out to solve a case. I’m not law enforcement. My job is to serve a case in the capacity I can. Either bringing awareness to forgotten, cold cases, or helping to move the needle a bit more, finding new information, and/or clearing up any misconceptions, rumors, or erroneous and false information in the public domain about a case. I think it is a bad message to promote that podcasting can help solve cases. Information solves cold cases."

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Korina Biemesderfer, who runs the podcast 'Morning Cup of Murder', had something different to say. "Some shows depict true crime podcasters as obsessive, dark, and socially awkward. In my experience, true crime podcasters are relatively normal, usually female, and not at all that obsessive and awkward," she said.

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Podcasters are not the only ones 'glamorized'

Unfortunately, it is not just podcasters who are 'glamorized', but also vicious killers. A number of shows and films based on true crime incidents have been blasted for glamorizing serial killers. Some say the problem may have started with Ted Bundy and how the serial killer was represented. His so-called charismatic personality and two successful escapes gave him more media attention than he deserved. For example, the film 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile', starring Zac Efron as Bundy, focused so much on painting a picture of the serial killer as a handsome and charming young man that perhaps some would overlook the fact that he brutally raped and murdered multiple women, leaving their families and the community shattered.

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Netflix's 'Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story' has been blasted for similar reasons. Dahmer, played by Evan Peters, was romanticized. The traumatic ways in which his victims died were retold, but not without an attempt to paint a picture of the killer as someone who suffered as a young boy, went through difficulties and had a troubled childhood -- making some viewers feel sympathetic, something Dahmer never deserved. 

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Phelps says lack of empathy for the victims of a crime is not just an issue with mainstream culture, but with real podcasting as well. He said, "It’s demoralizing that some would feel applying makeup or discussing beauty tips and a murder case together is “true” or needed in the space. It’s entirely disrespectful to victims. Just because you can, it does not mean you should. If you’re doing a true crime podcast, make sure you know what you are talking about, that you have some sort of journalism credentials, know the basics of how to develop information, etc. These are real people. Somebody’s life was taken away. Families are suffering. They deserve your respect."

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