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Irish people love a good podcast. In fact we love them more than most, with 40% of Irish people surveyed saying they’d listened to a podcast in the last month, well above the 23% European average. It’s probably something to do with how much we love radio.
It should come as no surprise then that our infatuation with podcasts means that we’re also obsessed with true crime. I myself am currently subscribed to 35 podcasts (don’t ask) and 17 of those are true crime related. Many of my friends also adore true crime so we’re constantly recommending ones to each other. Hell, I fall asleep listening to true crime podcasts because they’re so soothing. The voices behind the podcasts that is, not the actually crimes.
But what drives this obsession? Do we just love a good mystery or is there something darker and deeper going on here? To figure it out, I put a call out on Twitter for people who, like me, are obsessed with true crime and asked them to get in touch and tell me why. I ended up talking to three people: Aoife O’Donohue, a criminology student, Caoilainn Fitzpatrick, an aspiring psychotherapist currently in training as a yoga teacher, and Hannah Wright, PR Manager at Deezer.
Aoife thinks it is something that is ingrained in us from an early age. “I used to think true crime was kind of trashy, but I grew up on Criminal Minds and Law & Order and I love the study of crime and I enjoy the mystery, and seeing how the process of the investigation play out.”
For others, true crime podcasts represent something even more personal. Caoilainn believes that an experience with crime, particularly assault, can drive the obsession. “I’ve been interested in true crime since I was a teenager but I got very interested in criminal behaviour after I was assaulted. True crime podcasts were really good to get to know a bunch of different cases, and similarities in cases, and how there is almost a formula to crime and criminals.”
Women and Crime
With podcast episodes usually fitting neatly into the commute, they’re more accessible than a book or TV series, thus making them more appealing. But why are people, particularly women, so hooked? Caoilainn believes it stems from a need to inform ourselves so as to protect ourselves; “I think we’re naturally curious as well as the fact that knowledge is power and, after all, women have higher risk of being murdered, raped etc.”
This is something I can definitely relate to myself. Too many times I’ve been driving home late at night and found myself listening to a really creepy episode of Casefile. I get so scared that, arriving home, I get out of the car as quickly as possible and run into the house so as not to get murdered by the podcast itself. Or at least it feels that way. The problem with liking true crime so much is that it does heighten your fear of being out alone at night. You’re walking home looking at every person who walks by you, running through the different cases in your head, weighing up how likely you are to be murdered and what method they might choose. It may sound insane but I figure it’s just an extension of being a woman, a very neurotic one at that.
But what about the argument that these sorts of podcasts can be disrespectful to the victims? Caoilainn doesn’t think it’s that much of an issue. “I think people who don’t have an interest might perceive the whole true crime community to be disrespectful but most people who make the podcasts or interact in the community are very respectful and many start initiatives and fundraisers for charities and organisations that either help to solve crime or to help those affected by crime.” Aoife disagrees slightly but says that most true crime communities tend to call out any disrespectful behaviour: “My Favorite Murder is probably the biggest true-crime podcast out there, and their slogan – Stay Sexy, Don’t Get Murdered – has victim-shaming elements. I think for a lot of people there’s definitely a sense of, ‘I would have acted differently from the victim’, but these communities are strong and good to call out that kind of rhetoric.”
But what do people in the industry think about our love for true crime? Hannah Wright, PR Manager at Deezer, thinks people just really enjoy a good story: “Their popularity is down to a combination of a shocking real-life story and clever reporting. There is also an element of suspense that can be created through added audio production, such as eerie music and sound effects. BBC’s Death in Ice Valley podcast was very good at this, almost transporting you to a remote location in Norway with the sound of pelting rain that generated a feeling of sadness and isolation.”
Hannah also believes that true crime podcasts are performing a service and a sense of justice for the victim by uncovering things that may have been missed in the original investigation; “My impression from listening to unsolved and very historic murder cases – such as Lynette Dawson’s disappearance in The Teacher’s Pet – is that the majority of the victim’s loved ones are happy that action is finally being taken decades later. Yet it’s not always as simple as that, especially in cases such as The Teacher’s Pet where the suspect is also the family’s father.”
We’ve seen the real life effects that these type of podcasts can have. Adnan Syed, the centre of season 1 of Serial, has been granted a new trial as a result of the podcast. The Teacher’s Pet increased pressure on Australian authorities to look deeper into Lynette Dawson’s disappearance while Up and Vanished managed to unravel what actually happened to Tara Grinstead and flipped the whole case on its head. Not all of these podcasts set out to change the case they investigate, of course, but it’s definitely more interesting when it happens. Critics will point out that it’s easy to uncover things that were missed when you can spend anywhere from a year to five years investigating one crime. A police force will have multiple crimes they have to investigate so of course things get missed. That being said, when you listen to the way some police departments handled cases like Syed’s, you do wonder what the hell was going on in the background at the time.
The Best True Crime Podcasts
So what should we be listening to? What are the best true crime podcasts out there? Hannah feels that you should always start with the gold standard; “My favourite podcast will always be Serial because it was the first podcast I ever listened to and immediately caught my attention. But I did really enjoy Dirty John as it was so gritty.” For Caoilainn, it’s more about variety; “Serial, And That’s Why We Drink, West Cork, All Killa No Filla, Up and Vanished and S-Town are some of my favourite true crime podcasts.” Aoife prefers true crime podcasts that are hosted by women: “Wine & Crime, and And That’s Why We Drink, the latter also has a paranormal/horror aspect to it. I much prefer listening to women talking about crime because they have a greater appreciation for the fact that women and minorities are the most common victims of violent crimes.”
And what about me you might ask? Well I’d listen to anything that involves crime really but Casefile and Criminal are probably two of the best out there for the simple reason that they look at every type of crime. Just don’t listen to Casefile while driving home in the dark on a country road. Your nerves will be better for it.