Something different: true crime podcasts

15 Jul

When I was a wee lass (just shy of turning nine), an older cousin started lending me all of her Agatha Christie novels, one by one.¹ I was already a reader, but this is what made me a fan of mystery. A couple of years later, when she moved away, she gifted me with the books, cementing my love affair with fictional sleuths.

It was perhaps two years after I started reading mystery, that I found my first true crime non-fiction book, An Autumn of Terror: The Crimes and Times of Jack the Ripper, at my father’s house.²

I’ve been interested in real crime, mostly cold cases (both solved and not) since, so when I ‘discovered’ the plethora of real crime podcasts available today, I started listening to a number of them.

Through trial and error, I’ve found a few that I really enjoy, and others that, frankly, annoy the bejesus out of me.

Content warning: I go into some detail about some gruesome stuff below the fold, including crimes against children.

~ * ~

For example, I don’t quite understand the appeal of My Favorite Murder.

That’s probably due to two factors. One, I binge-listened the first two dozen or so episodes, and I reached a point where the quirks of the hosts became irritants the way one grain of sand in your shoe does after walking a mile. Please note here that by quirks I’m not referring to the so-called ‘vocal fry,’ but the tone and style of the show (i.e., joking about the horrors they are discussing).

Second, I’m interested in police procedure and the analysis of these cases (particularly behavioural profiling), and it seemed to me that, mostly, the hosts were just parroting the Wikipedia or Murderpedia pages for the killer du jour, describing some pretty gruesome murders, with no goal beyond somewhat morbid entertainment.

(Aside: perhaps this is why I don’t do horror, neither books nor movies. I don’t care to be terrified for the sake of being terrified, which I understand is the main, if not sole, purpose of the genre. I need a resolution; to understand, if not know.)

I will say, though, that I appreciated that, by and large, both hosts are strongly against victim blaming, as well as against the stigmatization of sex workers and the mentally ill; there is a decidedly feminist tenor to the podcast. (This is why I listened to so many episodes in a row.)

However, My Favorite Murder is definitely not what I was looking for.

~ * ~

One podcast I enjoy very much is Real Crime Profile. There are three hosts, two of whom are retired profilers: Jim Clemente, a former FBI agent who worked at the BAU, and Laura Richards, formerly from the equivalent agency in the UK. The third person is a casting director for Criminal Minds, who basically provides the lay-person perspective in the discussion, asking clarification for terms used, police procedure, legal stuff, etc.

I like this podcast a lot, because both of the former law enforcement hosts are passionate about standing for the victims,³ yet each of them come at the evidence from different perspectives. For one, there are the expected cultural differences; for the other, one is a man who has focused a lot on violence and abuse of children, while the other is a woman who has dedicated her life after law enforcement to advocate for women–she has actually changed laws in the UK, not only so perpetrators of domestic violence are actually convicted and sentenced according to the crime, but so that the police force is properly trained to recognize the patterns of abusive and controlling behaviour before it escalates to grievous bodily harm and/or murder.

I am generally less enamored of the third host, Lisa Zambetti, because she sometimes betrays her own professional bias. By which I mean this: most often, the discussion about a particular crime is based on publicly available records, such as press coverage or documentaries. And when it comes to documentaries, she will die on the hill of “this is art.”

For example, they examined the Making a Murderer docu-series, and discussed both the original false conviction of Steven Avery, and the murder of Teresa Halbach two years after his exoneration and release. Jim Clemente and Laura Richards agreed that, based on evidence available to the public but not included in Making a Murderer, it is quite likely that Avery did kill Teresa Halbach, and that the filmmakers chose what they included and what they left out in the show, to make the case for his innocence of this murder, and as incontrovertible proof of a continued police conspiracy against him.

In other words, the filmmakers had a script designed to manipulate the audience towards those conclusions. Lisa argued, against fact, that they didn’t include evidence against Avery ‘because it wasn’t available.’ When told that yes, the evidence was available before the trial for Teresa Halbach’s murder, her response was (literally), “I didn’t see that, I didn’t hear that.”

(Mind you, both profilers also agree that there were plenty of problems with the collection and handling of the evidence against Avery, with the interrogation and treatment of Brendan Dassey, etc., and argue that Avery should have a second trial.)

Another one that really bothered me happened when talking about the murders of three young children in Arkansas, they based the discussion on four docu-series based on the crime, as well as on the three young men convicted of the murders. In the opening scene of the very first documentary of the case, broadcasted in 1996, actual police footage of the crime scene (before the naked bodies of three innocent dead children were released to the coroner) was used, and this footage was apparently flashed several times throughout the program. Both profilers consider this to be exploitative of the children, unconscionable on its face, and illegal (did I mention this footage is police evidence?).

Lisa argued that it was ‘a hard but valid choice’ by the producers, and that she was glad she had seen the crime scene as the police saw it. When it was pointed out to her that such footage likely has provided many a pedophile with masturbatory material, she basically dismissed that as a mere opinion–which it is, to be sure: the opinion of a recognized expert in the field of child sexual victimization.

To which I say: Dude. Do you argue with an oncologist about cancer? Seriously, listen to one who knows whereof he speaks.

Mind you, Jim Clemente can become defensive when his beloved FBI is criticized, usually by Laura Richards. Who is my hero in many ways, not the least of which is that she is never intimidated by his bluster, not even the tiniest bit.

On the other hand, he can also get a bit…not exactly loud, but certainly passionately assertive, when it comes to the rights of victims, and to what actual justice looks like (as opposed to the very flawed justice system), which is incredibly refreshing and heartening.

Beyond these quibbles, I mourn the lack of show notes on the Real Crime Profile podcast page at Wondery.com. I understand that they post those, in some form, in a facebook page, but as I don’t ‘do’ facebook…

~ * ~

Which brings me to another Wondery podcast that has amazing show notes, and which involves a tremendous amount of research: Hollywood & Crime.

The show is structured as a mix of narration by Tracy Pattin, the host, and audio re-enactments of known evidence, with excellent production values. The first season focuses on one of the most infamous unsolved cases in Hollywood, the murder of Elizabeth Short–better known as the Black Dahlia.

It has been posited before that Elizabeth Short’s murder is part of a series; i.e., that the killer likely had killed before, and probably killed after, her murder. This belief is due, in part, to the brutality of the murder. What is less known is that a number of women were murdered in the general geographical area, within two years of her murder, and with enough similarities in the evidence collected at the time they occurred, to warrant an in-depth analysis of the lot, as a series.

It’s very, very well done, and I am waiting eagerly for the second season.

~ * ~

So, for those of you who kindly stuck with me, this is mostly what I’ve been doing, since I am still mired in the suffocating depths of The Reading Slump From Hell™

~ * ~

¹ As I said here, I own all of Dame Agatha’s books–including her Mary Westmacott novels; many of the copies are have are the cheap pocket print edition my cousin G. gave me, sometime in 1976/77.

² I’ve also mentioned this here before.

³ For fans of the In Death series, this should resonate deeply; there are times, as I listen, that I feel as if I’m hearing an echo of Eve Dallas’ thoughts and feelings.

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7 Responses to “Something different: true crime podcasts”

  1. Miss Bates 15/07/2017 at 11:11 AM #

    What a marvelous summary and such great writing, my fellow blogger. I confess to LOVING crime fiction when I spent a summer reading on Greek beaches reading Elizabeth Peters. The combination of Greece and Egypt was perfect. I’ve never gotten into true crime, though, well b/c too much reality for this romance reader. However, as my audiobooks wane (too $$$$$ for these Canadian), I’ll be looking for podcasts to listen to and these are great rec. and LOVE a warning away too. With my humble gratitude!

    • azteclady 15/07/2017 at 12:27 PM #

      You are much too kind, my dear Miss B, thank you!

      Something I didn’t mention is that I prefer the analysis of older crimes as historical mysteries. It’s obvious no one is going to prove definitively, for example, whether Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother, but I’m always interested in what people, who have sifted through much more evidence than I, have to say one way or the other.

    • KeiraSoleore 19/07/2017 at 12:59 PM #

      I had a year when I glommed the entire Amelia Peabody series one after the other from beginning to end. It was just great! I find that I like historical mysteries and British police procedurals, like PD James, where the focus is on the detecting and less about the crime. I’m a lightweight as far as crime goes, and in TV-watching Foyle’s War is my favorite.

      • azteclady 19/07/2017 at 1:05 PM #

        I’ve always loved procedurals best.

  2. Carolyn Jewel 15/07/2017 at 11:32 PM #

    Check out sword and scale. Not the after show one. The main one.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Spectred Isle, by K. J. Charles | Her Hands, My Hands - 09/08/2017

    […] want to keep in mind that I don’t do horror, in reading or watching; however, I can listen to true crime podcasts, or read things like John E Douglas‘ Mind Hunter at night without losing […]

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