It’s safe to say we’re fairly obsessed with true crime podcasts. Serial, Dirty John, and Dr. Death, in particular, have provided us with all the details and facts needed to be constantly amazed at how ordinary people are capable of horrible acts. But taking in all that information about how people are not who they seem to be on the surface can lend itself to a nagging suspicion of others. What do we do with that feeling?
One good thing that’s arisen from those feelings is an increase in activism. In what is a fairly bright note, the attention these mysteries are bringing is causing more people to pay closer attention to things they’ve witnessed or forgotten about and are reporting tips to the local authorities on behalf of the unsolved crime stories.
Last year the podcast Up and Vanished brought renewed focus to a cold case in Georgia about the mysterious disappearance of Tara Grinstead, a history teacher, and former beauty pageant contestant and coach. In October 2005, after not reporting for work, police found her house locked with her car in the driveway and her cell phone inside with no signs of forced entry. Despite national attention to the case brought by a $100,000 reward and national coverage on the CBS News show 48 Hours Mystery, nothing was found.
By the time the podcast premiered in August 2016, coverage of the story had faded. However, less than 6 months after the premiere in February 2017, police arrested 33-year-old suspect Ryan Duke on murder charges. J.T. Ricketson, a spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, speaking to a packed courtroom thanked the (unnamed) media for their “significant involvement in the investigation”, although everyone in the room knew he was speaking of Up and Vanished.
On the other side of the pond in Australia, our Aussie brethren are just as caught up in the craze as we are with hugely popular podcasts like Trace, Bowraville, and Unravel among many others leading the way and helping to solve crimes in the process.
More recently, the Australian phenomenon The Teacher’s Pet led to the arrest of Chris Dawson, a former rugby star on charges of murdering his wife Lynette Dawson who went missing in 1982. The name of the show derives from the fact that Chris was having an affair at the time with Joanne Curtis, a 16-year-old student whom he had hired to babysit his and Lynette’s children. After her disappearance, Chris accused Lynette of abandoning their children and he married Joanne. Heartbreaking audio from the victim was uncovered and hearing Lynette’s sweet and innocent voice talking about her family grounded the show in a very personal way. That plus interviews from people who knew her talking about what a wonderful woman she was gave the story emotional heft that resonated everywhere with over 28 million total downloads.
It looks like the format is here to stay, and that’s good news for the listeners as well as those affected personally by these cases in need of long-awaited closure.