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Is Our ‘Morbid Desire' Driving the Rise in Popularity of True Crime Podcasts?

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There has been a massive growth in podcasts in recent years, with true crime proving to be one of the most popular genres. Sputnik spoke to podcasters Adam Lloyd and Alex Hannaford and fan Graham Winters about why true crime has proved such a hit.

Look at the list of most popular podcasts on iTunes in the United States and you will see four out of the top 10 are true crime — Analysis of Murder by Dr Phil, Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and Black Dahlia, Crime Junkie and Serial.

Serial — which focused on whether Hae Min Lee, 18, was really murdered by her boyfriend Adnan Syed in Baltimore in 1999 — kicked off the true crime podcast phenomena in 2014 and is now on its third season.

Britain has been a little later to catch on to podcasts but Crime and Mystery is the most popular genre on Spotify and the market is growing increasingly crowded in the UK with podcasts such as UK True Crime, the True Crime Enthusiast and They Walk Among Us.

​Netflix is enjoying a boom in true crime, but why does the genre go so well with podcasting?

"We are all fascinated by true crime — even those who don't listen to true crime podcasts are just fans in denial," Adam Lloyd, founder and presenter of the UK True Crime podcast, told Sputnik.

"Podcasting is the perfect medium for true crime as it is intimate, personal and told by a host that listeners have grown to trust," Mr Lloyd told Sputnik.

​He only started the UK True Crime podcast in 2016 but he now has 100,000 listeners a week.

"I tell them stories about what could easily have happened to any of us if we took that different route walking home. In the same way we all secretly look at the car crash as we drive past — even those who pretend not to — we all have the same morbid desire to seek out the story behind the crime," Mr Lloyd told Sputnik.

"As humans we are always searching for patterns, including behaviour. True crime helps us to try and reassure ourselves those patterns exist and bring order to otherwise chaotic lives. Although of course we fool ourselves as crime is random and unpredictable," Mr Lloyd told Sputnik.

Graham Winters, a podcast fan who lives in Brighton, explained why he enjoyed listening to gory murders and other crimes.

​"I listen to UK true crime podcasts because I am in interested in these stories and find that you often don't hear such in-depth coverage in the newspapers at the time. The True Crime Enthusiast episodes about the Night Stalker (Delroy Grant) and Babes in the Wood (Russell Bishop) cases were particularly fascinating," Mr Winters told Sputnik.

Alex Hannaford, a British journalist living in Texas, created the Dead Man Talking podcast to tell the story of Angel Resendiz, a US serial killer.

Resendiz was executed in 2006 but Hannaford had interviewed him on Death Row and the Railroad Killer, as he was known, told him two people were serving time for a murder which he had committed.

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Angel Resendiz, the Railroad Killer, appears in court. He was executed in 2006

Dead Man Talking is his first podcast but it has got 2.5 million downloads and has been nominated for an award at the British Podcast Awards.

"I don't know why people are so fascinated by true crime. With ours I didn't want to go into gratuitous retelling of Resendiz's crimes. You have to let people know how evil this guy was without going into too much detail," Hannaford said.

​He said it was very important to get the tone right on a podcast and he said he was lucky to work with an excellent producer, Peter Sale.

"Our first take sounded too much like an audiobook. It was too scripted. We thought of having a co-host but we didn't do that in the end. It was difficult getting it right. I'm new to the game and it was a long slog. Sixteen episodes. It was exhausting. We didn't know how it was going to be received. But it's gone down well," Hannaford told Sputnik.

He said sound engineering and music was important to podcasts and they chose a theme song, The Railroad, by the band Goodnight, Texas which he described as a "dirge".

​"Some people like the song more than they like the podcast. It was important to have a signature tune and it helped to build the tension," Hannaford said.

Hannaford set out to find out if Resendiz was telling the truth and whether he had killed Darryl Kolojaco, a 37-year-old bisexual, who had been bludgeoned to death at his home in Houston in 1998.

Kolojaco's wife, Diamantina, and her boyfriend Andres Mascorro were jailed for life for the killing.

"I have taken it as far as I can as a journalist and now I have left it with Proclaim Justice, who are pursuing it all guns blazing," Hannaford said.

​While Hannaford has made progress in exposing flaws in the conviction of Diamantina Kolojaco and Andres Mascorro, another podcast may be on the verge of an even greater breakthrough.

Atlanta Monster told the story of the murder of 29 African-American children in the US city between 1979 and 1981.

In May 1981 Wayne Williams, who was black, was arrested and eventually convicted of two of the murders, which then stopped.

But Payne Lindsey, the creator of Atlanta Monster, reinvestigated the crimes, arguing Williams was just a patsy whose conviction was bogus.

In the wake of the success of the podcast the Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, announced last month plans to retest all the evidence in the racially-charged case.

Of course it is not just men who are making true crime podcasts. Jillian Jali created the hugely successfully Court Junkie podcast.

"I recently surpassed 15 million downloads, which is absolutely surreal to me. I get a lot of really great feedback from listeners, and I think a part of that is because I rarely give my opinions on the cases — I just report the facts and go through the trial testimony," Ms Jali told Sputnik.     

"True crime is a popular genre for any number of reasons, depending on the people listening. I know some people are like me and are interested in how our country deals with certain crimes and punishments that go along with them. Others might be fascinated by the criminal mind and learning about why people do what they do, and others might feel that the victims and their families are relatable in some way. I think if the cases are spoken about responsibly, they can actually help to change lives," Ms Jali told Sputnik.

"I did an episode on the War Machine/Christy Mack case, which was a case that involved an abusive relationship and sexual violence. Christy testified against her abuser at his trial and I had so many listeners tell me how they found it to be inspiring for what they themselves are going through. In another one of my episodes, I spoke with the son of a real estate agent who was murdered while being called to show a house. He then started a Foundation in her name where he educates other real estate agents about the dangers within their field. So I definitely think some good can come from listeners hearing about these types of things," Ms Jali told Sputnik.