The mystery behind true crime podcasts

Krystal Miller, Associate News Writer

Illustration by (Sarah Hardiman)

Nothing beats a relaxing evening, curling up on the couch, opening your laptop and listening to some true crime stories that will keep you looking behind your shoulder for the next month.

A lot of people question the appeal of true crime. Why are so many people interested in hearing about such horrible situations?

According to the website  Thrive Works, the true crime genre gives insight into the use of forensics in real-life cases and shares ways people have defended themselves against a potential attacker. Listening to true crime is a way for normal people to solve mysteries and escape from reality.

True crime podcasts became popular in 2014 with “Serial,”which remains the fastest podcast ever to reach over 5 million downloads. Ever since true crime podcasts have grown in popularity.

I prefer to consume true crime in podcast form because it is less visual and graphic than cases shown on television. I can hear someone talk to me as they would in a normal conversation, and can pay attention to the facts.

My favorite true crime podcast is True Crime with Kendall Rae because she raises money for several charities that she promotes. She also does extensive research on each story she talks about and is respectful to any family members that want to share their perspectives. Rae encourages her viewers to help get justice for the victims, and with such a large following, has been able to succeed in that. For instance, she has raised $111,806.76 for expansion tools that help identify and recover child victims of trafficking and abuse. She also tries to cover cases that have not had enough media coverage.

One particular episode that struck me was “Two Strange Deaths on the Same Day in the Same Town?” Both Lauren Smith-Fields and Brenda Lee Rawls were from Bridgeport, Connecticut, which is only a half hour from Quinnipiac University. Smith-Fields’ case was getting minimal coverage until Cardi B made several tweets about the case. Before the episode, there was no coverage of Lee Rawls.

Smith-Fields was found dead at 23 after a Bumble date, which was ruled an accidental overdose and Lee Rawls died at 53 of natural causes. Both cases have not received proper police investigations or media coverage, which is frustrating for the families and listeners, especially when other cases are blowing up on the internet.

In Smith-Fields’ case, her family was never contacted by police when her body was found, despite having all her information. According to Rae’s podcast, the police took DNA swabs from Smith-Fields’s family but did not take the DNA of her Bumble date. He was never considered a suspect, even though he was the last person to see her alive.

In Lee Rawls’ case, her family said they were also not contacted by police about her death. The police did not take her clothes that were at the last place she had been, a man’s house. He gave the clothes to her family directly.

Cases are less likely to be solved and given as much coverage when the victims are not white. While the solved rate in 2019 for white victims increased to 81 percent, it has fallen to 59 percent for Black victims according to NBC news.

True crime has proven time and time again to have an impact on today’s world. One case that has stood out to me is Gabby Petito. Petito’s case was immediately given resources a lot of other cases don’t get. The police were diligently solving the case, the news was constantly covering it and was all over social media. Her case brought light to domestic violence and how police tend to handle those types of situations. Without her being white, she likely would not have been given as much attention.

Another episode that I listened to from Rae’s podcast was a case that has been popular across the internet in 2021, the Menendez brothers, which is a case originally from the 80s. With social media like TikTok, videos of the brothers have resurfaced gaining millions of views.

A lot of the comments are actually in favor of freeing the brothers from jail. The brothers brutally murdered their parents in their Beverly Hills home, but they claim in a trial it was not to gain money, but because of the abuse they endured. They did not win the case and are still currently in jail. With social media, cases that have not been talked about for years are now being featured and sometimes even reopened and investigated.

True crime podcasts inform their audience of cases all over the world, there is something everyone can relate to or sympathize with. Victims of true crime are just like us, they are students, family members, children, teachers, etc. It also is shocking that this can be anyone, this is the horrible reality of the world we live in.

They are also time capsules of previous decades, they show how different the way we go about safety is. People are not as trusting of people they don’t know well, even if they are neighbors or co-workers. There is also more talk about how to defend yourself, such as carrying pepper spray or keys.

Past cases also show how far science has come, there is much more advanced technology for catching criminals. The first use of DNA testing was in 1986, before that police had to use other strategies in finding out who the criminal was, such as shoe prints or blood. Now with DNA testing, there are more accurate prosecutions and also more cases being solved.

There is always more to be done for these cases, you can sign petitions, raise money, email people in government or the police force, talk to people around you, anything you can do to spread awareness and create change.

True crime has reached a much larger audience than ever before, and with that, gives a greater opportunity for these victims to get the justice they deserve.