The RFK Tapes Podcast : Open Secrets

So I was a little suspicious about the conspiracies coming out of the RFK Tapes Podcast (an offshoot from the team from CrimeTown - hosted by Zac Stuart-Pontier).  SPOILERS AHEAD! BTW.

But when I started listening, I got sucked into co-host Bill Klaber's calm but intense insistence that something's up.  Bill has been following this for years, and a high profile politico, p Congressman Allard Lowenstein, had been presenting credible theories as well. (Sadly, he met his own untimely death similar to Kennedy.)

Then as an aside - so casually - a bonus episode, featuring a woman, Geneva White, who (SPOILERS!!) overheard a conversation about the plot to kill JFK on a near deathbed confession - really gives one pause.  Are these guys really on to something? I found something interesting online about another deathbed confession about the assassination that will lead you right down a deep, dark rabbit hole. (Keep looking - here, and here.) Who knows?

With RFK, there seems to be more openness about it - so many witnesses, after all - yet because there was no social media or widespread instant communication, the LAPD were easily able to sweep a key aspects of the case under the rug.  The most stunning example of this is the latest episode, The Girl In the Polka Dot Dress. There is a witness at the shooting who LITERALLY SAW A WOMAN IN A POLKA DOT DRESS RUN PAST HER AND SAY "WE SHOT HIM" who also SPOKE ABOUT THIS ON THE NEWS, but the police brainwash her into recanting.  The tapes are compelling and I'm now about convinced Sirhan Sirhan didn't act alone. 

Will this be the first podcast to crack open a national conspiracy?  Or will we keep ruminating on all things Kennedy conspiracies for infinity with no resolution?  Till we find out, it's entertaining listening, that's for sure.

Christmas in April: Golden State Killer is CAUGHT

If you're true crime podcast listener, all your feeds no doubt blew up the. night of April 24th. The next day, I listened to Martinis and Murder, My Favorite Murder, and Crime Writers On discuss the capture, as well as saw Patton Oswalt talk about his late wife Michelle McNamara's role in increasing awareness of the case on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

(Everyone has said how much work and credit go to the detectives and police force of Sacramento County, but it's fair to suggest that McNamara's book and articles on the murderer gave the search for the GSK momentum.)

Details are starting to come in.  His past as a cop, his sister's reaction; the reveal that a consumer genealogy site was used to catch him; and now his first court appearance.  To be able to break down (hint hint Bill Rankin - I know it's not local to ATL, but c'mon!) this court case with the extensive background knowledge of the crimes is going to fascinate listeners, provide some measure of surety to victims and their families, and hopefully scare potential predators from terrorizing their neighborhoods.

New Favorite True Crime Podcasts and Why

As a former TV producer, I like organized, well-laid out podcasts.  Just as we had a firm structure to the TV episodes we produced, a podcast should have a good structure, move quickly, and not be self indulgent. Just the facts, ma'am . (Exception: My Favorite Murder. yes, I'm a 'skipper,' moving past the first 20 minutes of banter, but if accidentally don't go too far enough, the ladies are really funny and easy to listen to.  They have a rare chemistry and comic instincts - after all, they are both professional performers/writers in one way or another.)

There are so many out there now, it's impossible to keep track.  I've culled through a lot of stinkers to find my new favorites (to find their place on my playlist next to the venerable OG true crime podcasts such as Last Podcast from the Left, Undisclosed, Crime Writers On, etc.)

My new favorites:

1. Misconduct.  Colleen and Eileen carefully break down crimes in a compact podcast, with a little friendly catchup at the beginning. I like their voices in particular; to me, they sound just as good as any NPR reporter on the air. 

2.  Getting Off.  Wanna be lawyers will LOVE this one! Two criminal defense attorneys, Jessa and Nick, discuss in great detail famous cases.  Throwing out their expertise with enthusiasm, you learn a ton about the legal process. They're long, but no minute is wasted.  Sometimes they eat during and the mic picks it up - I don't really care, but purists out there might.  (But really, I don't care.)

3.  Crime In Sports.  It's weird - I really don't follow sports (except for a new fascination with figure skating thanks to Tara Lapinksy and Johnny Weir) but I love the dramatic stories behind the games.  This takes the drama one step further:  Two comedians, James Pietragallo and Jimmie Whisman, take on craziest crime stories in atheletics. Very funny, and well produced.

Survivors: the Cleveland Kidnappings

I've been listening to Killafornia Dreaming Podcasts' vacation series and was blown away by part 1 about the Cleveland, Ohio kidnappings, wisely named after the survivors, Michelle, Amanda, and Georgia.

Who knew the podcast ep would time with the discovery a Perris, CA creepy-ass couple was keeping their kids chained up, and starved and otherwise abused.   I'm so glad they escaped, but what a horrific situation. How can humans do this to another? 

What I loved about the podcast is how how   host detailed the womens' lives, and how they came to be in this horrible situation. It humanized the event and made us feel viscerally there with them; they felt like real people to me, more so than they had when I read about the event. It's astonishing how this guy had a family that had no idea it was occurring.

As I await part 2, I went back down an internet rabbit hole. Here are some interesting links about the case and how the survivors rebuilt their lives.

Update on Survivors - 5/17

Interview with Amanda and Gina

Ariel Castro's daughter speaks to CNN

Martinis and Murder: My new favorite podcast

If you're a true crime buff, you've been all over the rebrand of Oxygen.  I myself was THRILLED to see Cold Justice reappear on the channel, and have been watching it religiously now that it's back on TV.  As I was watching the premiere (or maybe it was the second ep), I saw the hashtag #martinisandmurder on the lower right of the screen, touting the podcast of the same name.

I'm so glad I checked it out, because it's a very organized, well-researched podcast, with content from a variety of resources, including Oxygen content.  So if you don't have time to watch Snapped or other specials, they've got you covered.

Daryn Carp and John Thrasher provide a combination of researched explanations and of-the-people commentary about the events that unfold in each of their cases, and wicked humor as well, since they're always exasperated by Matt the producer/drinks maker (each podcast features a martini recipe that they sip on throughout the episode). 

So while it's clearly a way to market Oxygen's rebrand and content, it stands on its own and comes across as an authentic breakdown of the craziest crimes of recent memory, and provides two charismatic hosts that now have their own growing fan base.  One more fabulous podcast to add to the playlist.

Oh Hell No: Payne Lindsay is NOT a podcaster, everyone

Picture this: I'm on a plane,delayed several hours, having been stuck in airport limbo waiting for this connecting flight. I'm tired, I overspent on airplane food (having no other options), and I turn to my precious Stitcher app to see what podcast can ease my way for the final hour of my long trip.

I see that "Crime Writers On" is spilling tea about a certain happening at the podcast convention (Podcast Movement) some of the hosts attended, about Payne Lindsey. If you don't know him, he's the creator of "Up and Vanished," where he looked into the case of a Tara Grinstead. SPOILER BELOW:

Possibly due to the attention his podcast drew to the case, an arrest was made.

Anyone would be a little proud of the effect their work had on a real life case, but Lindsay took it to the next level.  He aired segments of interviews of people complimenting him on his work, and then had a live show of the podcast that was way too over the top considering the sobering case as its subject.  I was disconcerted by this, and wasn't too sure about listening to the next season. Also, the final few episodes were super repetitive.

Well, apparently his arrogance also spread to real life, as described by the team at Crime Writers On.  He gave a presentation disparaging other podcasters (!) far more experienced than he, and had models in t-shirts with supposedly disruptive messaging ( I believe he wore a shirt that said I AM NOT A PODCASTER).  This also turned into a twitter war between established podcasters and Lindsay's acolytes.  Listen to the recap here.

This whole affair shines a light on the fine line between investigation and entertainment.  While Serial revolutionized podcasts, Hae Min Lee's family is still grieving intensely and dealing with the publicity.  An episode of "Snapped" may be engrossing television,  but real people die in the telling. That said, for the most part, the best true crime podcasts have an activist, heartfelt feel, and you don't see people like Bob Ruff and the  Undisclosed team parading around like peacocks.  They're too busy solving crimes and saving lives to do so.

Funnily enough, a parody podcast that really nails Up and Vanisheds' MO and style, Done Disappeared, is becoming a hit and is a total delight. It pokes gentle fun and even skewered Crime Writers On, much to their delight.  John David Booter (also a hilarious name) is investigating the disappearance of Clara Pockets, in 10-minute hysterical snippets that also parody the ads that show up during these podcasts (I particularly love when something horrific is being detailed in a podcast and then it cuts to, with no warning, a jaunty ad for, like, Blue Apron.)  Well done, John David, whoever you REALLY are (perhaps a podcaster who attended the Podcast Movement conference?)

 

 

Thinking Sideways

One of my favorite podcasts (out of soooo many I listen to) is the Thinking Sideways podcast. It's three buddies who met at a bar (love it already!) who like to talk about mysteries, conspiracies, and other unknowns.  The first half is one of them explaining what the case is, then the second half-ish is all about theories. 

It's very lowkey, easygoing, and almost comforting to listen to...but not slow paced, mind you.  It really does sound like three smart, curious buddies at a bar thoroughly unpacking a mystery.  My favorite episodes so far include the cruise ship disappearance of Rebecca Corriam (Devon's experience working a cruise ship added a great dimension to the episode) and the faux identity of Jonathan Newton Chandler.

Some podcasters don't have a very tight flow or outline to work from - you can tell, they loosey-goosey go lazily from topic to another, which gets aggravating - what I like about this group is, they are conversational and casual, but they definitely organize their talking points - you can tell (or at least it SOUNDS like it!).  All in all a great listen - and highly recommended.

The best way to get to know the Adnan Syed Case

I finally read Adnan's Story, and it was dense, detailed, and very concise - exactly what I wanted. I liked the insight into Adnan's Muslim culture and Rabia's personal life (how she got through her first marriage, I'll never know...good for her).  The letters from Adnan and copies of court documents, emails, and other correspondence added that extra layer of making you feel like you were along for the ride during the investigation.

What I liked best is that Adnan's Story is that it's like a recap on steriods, a summary, if you will, of everything that Serial started.  Here is what I recommend for newbies to Serial Season 1 (as I'm sure there are people very day finally catching up to it):

1. Listen to Serial Season 1.

2. Listen to Serial Dynasty/Truth and Justice alongside Undisclosed Season 1, maybe alternate episodes or listen to them concurrently.

3.  Read Adnan's Story.

Supplement all of this with articles from Popdust, reportage fromThe Frisky, some OG analysis from Susan Simpson pre-Undisclosed on her blog the View from LL2, and Colin Miller's constantly updated and outstanding legal-class-in-a-blog, the EvidenceProf blog.

My favorite part of the book is where Rabia lays out what she thinks happens.  It's what you're waiting for the whole book - who did it, and how? She doesn't throw any names out there - she theorizes throughout the book, but leaves it as simply "he" in the final paragraphs - but she spells out clearly a very well thought out theory.  Overall, a well-done book and utterly satisfying, and leaving its reader with some hope that 1) Hae will finally get justice, and 2) Adnan will be freed.

Revisting Making a Murderer

Now that Brendan Dassey's conviction has been overturned, there has been an influx of attention back to the Teresa Halbach case and Steven Avery's imprisonment.  This post is about the devil's advocacy by intelligent experts about what probably really happened to Teresa, cutting through the hype.

When I listened to Real Crime Profile's analysis, it methodically and expertly shed a new light on the case and convinced me that Steven Avery is likely guilty.  Also, there is a significant amount of evidence left out of the documentary, and this excellent critique of the filmmakers' biased selectivity on what was included and what wasn't in the documentary series.

Dan Abrams, a legal expert for ABC, has started his own legal analysis website and has some sound viewpoints as well.  Like many people, he believes that Dassey was wrongfully convicted, and that Avery's trial was a three ring circus, but that Avery is the most obvious suspect.

Check out this other article on Abram's site (adorably called "Law Newz"...) from a CIA deception specialist who interprets Avery's behavior after Teresa's disappearance. Not sure how seriously to take it, but interesting reading.

Another good look at the documentary, and the ethically uneasy idea that true crime has become entertainment, is this New Yorker piece that also contains an interview with Penny Beernsten. 

These links are some of them months old, but it's taken that long to figure out how I feel about the case.  It can take a long time to disseminate missed clues, facts, and insights (as we know from listening to the likes of the Undisclosed team investigate a case), and sometimes hindsight is indeed 20/20.

Actually infuriating stories about the actually innocent...Overturned Convictions

Listening to Undisclosed turned me on to Actual Innocence, a compelling podcast about people who were wrongfully accused and finally exonerated. Brooke Gittings is the host and her social work background enhances her ability to look into deeper than the legal wheelings and dealings, but also what the subjects experienced emotionally and how their personal lives played out during the horrible experiences they had. 

Her first subject is Julie Baumer, who was also featured on a 60 Minutes episode about death row exonerees. (In some states, those set free get barely a DIME from the government! I smell lawsuit, no?)  Worth a watch.

What will just boggle your mind is how little evidence is used to get these people locked up.  Pretty much no real evidence is used.  It's shocking, and scary, and makes you want to wear a Go Pro at all times day and night so you never have to defend yourself should you cross paths with a deceased person or stolen goods or whatever.  honestly, I feel like listening to all these podcasts is probably a good thing so we know how the system works, and how to watch out for the dangerous mistakes the authorities and defense counsel can make.

Recently, Real Crime Profile had Raquel Cohen of the California Innocence Project discuss her overturned convictions (or those in process).  She actually said that she doesn't fault prosecutors for trying to 'meet a quota' of wins, she actually gives them the benefit of a doubt. Her calm nature makes me think she is perfect for the difficult job she has. Co-hosting the podcast was Allison Weiner, who is host of a show called Crime Time, which you can check out here at its Facebook page.

Real Crime Profile - Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp - and parallels to OJ Simpson case

I listened to the third podcast from Real Crime Profile about the Reeva Steenkamp case, and as always it was quite enlightening - they mentioned the cricket bat that was thought to be part of the murder, and the disappointment with the slap-on-the-wrist verdict putting Pistorius in jail for a measly 6 years

What reviewing this case and the OJ Simpson case is how prevalent domestic abuse is in our society.  There was evidence of Pistorius' controlling behavior with Steenkamp and outright gunfire with a former girlfriend as well.  Note that both of them are athletes - and now think of Ray Rice, and many other athletes that have assaulted their girlfriends or wives.  There was a bump in awareness, but I feel it's declined again, as we turn a blind eye to this epidemic.  Real Crime Profile should be applauded for highlighting this issue and offering support to those suffering from abuse or friends or relatives of victims and survivors. 

 

Cracking cases once again...Truth and Justice revisits Kerry Max Cook and Undisclosed Season 2

After listening to the latest Truth and Justice podcast, it was pretty clear that Bob Ruff was applying the same nuance of thought and careful dissection to Kerry Max Cook's false conviction as he does all his cases.  It became clear that someone else, besides the ex lover of Linda Jo Edwards, probably committed the crime.

From explaining exactly the mode of how the crime was committed to past comments by others that denoted motive, to explaining that her ex-lover had warm sentiments towards her verses vengeful thoughts, it made you wonder why prosecutors and detectives don't apply this same nuance to cracking their cases.

Having those very same thoughts as I listen to Undisclosed's second season.  This season is beautifully put together, weaving in archival interviews with the hosts' narration.  And the case is fascinating.  Already, it's clear small town gossip is going to be the biggest villain in this mystery.  Very much off to a solid start - and I love hearing Susan Simpson's Georgia drawl sneak out from time to time!

I found some case files on the Joey Watkins case (from a 2003 appeal) here; and a news item of his conviction here.  It's at this time where I start off not convinced of the subject's innocence, but then evidence and insight start adding up, just as it already has from Watkins' alibi during the alleged shooting that his peers described in the weeks leading up to the murder.  This is going to be a great season that hopefully unpacks who really did this horrible crime and seek justice yet again. I'm still reeling from how a podcast managed to vacate someone's conviction.  If this is the way the justice system gets set straight, I'm all for it.

A lesson in Decision Making: Catching the Unabomber (Real Crime Profile)

Real Crime Profile keeps rolling out some amazing episodes.  Laura Richards' episode breaking down Nicole Brown Simpson's letters to OJ Simpson and elucidating the behavior of victims of abuse was incredibly educational. Then more recently, Jim Clemente interviewed his former colleague James Fitzgerald, who was integral to catching one of our country's most infamous criminals, the Unabomber.

What I found most compelling about this episode was how red herrings can come about (like a hair deliberately stuck in envelope glue, or a mailroom man's note written on a letter that was not a clue at all), and the way Fitzgerald used forensic linguistics.  By evaluating the writing of the Unabomber, he was able to really break down who this guy was, and help catch him. The key decision point in this was by publishing the letters in newspapers, which he strongly encouraged. He knew the turn of phrase was so distinctive, someone was going to see the letters and realize it was someone they knew.

The case was thus solved shortly after publication, when Ted Kaczynski's sister in law saw the letter and called attention to it to her husband.

In my humble opinion, James and Jim could have their own podcast. I want to hear how James analyzed the anthrax case of 2001 (cautioning the FBI that they had the wrong guy), and breakdown other high profile cases they've worked on.  I hope the podcast gods hear me on this one... 

Bowraville - aka., how Crime Writers On...is the gateway drug to other podcasts

If it weren't for the Crime Writers On... podcast, I'd be bereft of good podcast listening. I run my own business so I'm stupid-busy, and don't always have time to discover new true crime podcasts, but there they are, Rebecca and co., tantalizing me with new, well told, compassionate stories of mystery and injustice.

Most recently, they recommended Bowraville, and had the reporter behind this podcast on the show. (The podcast is actually found under the umbrella of The Australian newspaper. Also, apparently I have a hard time spelling Australian because it took me three attempts.)  Similar to the most recent William Ates case on Truth and Justice, this podcast is about small-town injustice, but this time not because someone was falsely convicted, but because they possibly were falsely acquitted. And, that racism got in the way of treating the victims' families with swift attention once the victims went missing.

The wikipedia page has a good introduction to the overall crimes, and an insightful article about the podcasts - spoiling the last episode, so be forewarned - is here

Following up: Looking forward to Limetown, the Message, and others

I hate being in suspense. (So why do I listen to mystery podcasts?? Sigh.)  I was poking around the internet trying to find out when Limetown is returning, the fictional podcast about the disappearance of an entire town, that ended with a heart-pounding finale.  Well, they're in a holding pattern, but for a good reason.  See this link for an explanation of why the producers ARE coming back, but can't promise when.  But it looks like the story is expanded into other media, which is fantastic.

For the Message - the last episode of which I listened to three times - looooved it - I got nada.  Granted, I didn't spend the whole afternoon looking, but I was hoping GE or Panoply would have something in the way of teasing a second season, or, since the first season did have some resolution, creating a new podcast with a similar tone and goal to introduce another element of technology that GE wants to highlight. It's a rare of case of Big Business actually doing something unique with (somewhat) mass media.

Ah, and Undisclosed...June 1st and July 11th, big announcements! The hosts' twitter feeds have established they have a case for season 2...can't wait!

Victimology: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

For so long, I've been reading books about true crime and watching legal/mystery shows, but after listening to podcasts about true life mysteries - especiallyReal Crime Profile - I've realized a huge aspect of solving these crimes is about examining the victim, and their lives, behaviours, and friends and family - i.e., Victimology.  Listening to the Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman episodes of Real Crime Profile, particularly the special episode where Laura and Lisa read Nicole's letters to OJ, are incredibly eye opening.  Combined with statistics about homicide in abusive relationships, and how could OJ not be the prime suspect?

This is also the case in missing persons cases.  Whom have they last spoken to? Have they had a recent breakup? Do they engage in risky activities?  A trail can go cold before too long and taking a deep dive into their recent behaviors and relationships can tell a lot about a person's fate.

It appears Hae Min Lee's pager records were never examined, and the records are gone forever.  Imagine how those could have cracked the case.  This would seem to me a gross dereliction of duty on the behalf of law enforcement and would definitely come up in a second trial for Adnan Syed.  As I google "victimology" and various other key terms, articles for law enforcement professionals continually state it's an 'overlooked' aspect of crime solving.  I'm thinking all these podcasts on true crime and armchair investigators will shed new light on this egregious oversight.

Undisclosed Spells it all Out

Oh joy! That feeling you get when you realize you've checked your Stitcher feed RIGHT after an Undisclosed podcast has dropped!

As usual, the Undisclosed team lays it all out beautifully in their recap - part 5 - of the PCR hearing for Adnan Syed.  Points I found especially compelling:

1.  C. Justin Brown reminding the judge that the State's witnesses were either having a hard time answering questions or didn't state facts about the space...like the library security guard. Not much compelling evidence was provided by the State...if any?

2.  Thiru's desperate attempts to turn things around by stating that Cristina Gutierrez was providing competent, vigorous defense of her client...when he couldn't get an attorney to state that on the stand! (Susan wisely points out that no attorney would claim that not calling an alibi witness like Asia McClain was okay - they'd lose business!)

3.  Reminding us that Abe Waranowitz would not have given the same testimony at the first trial, had he seen the cell tower reports in full, as he has now.

I wonder, if this goes to trial...the only evidence that holds up is...nothing. The cell tower data could get thrown out, right?  And then...it's just Jay's testimony?  I can't see Adnan losing again.  Time will tell, but certainly the Undisclosed team thought the PCR hearing went brilliantly, and C. Justin Brown was excellent in court.  Fascinating listening - I felt like I was in the courtroom myself.

OJ Simpson and Real Crime Profile: Related thoughts and links

Okay, so if you haven't listened to the podcast Real Crime Profile and are a true crime devotee, you simply must.  The methodical, expert breakdowns of two of recent pop culture's most infamous cases are absorbing.  They just started working on the OJ Simpson trial, reviewing each episode of The People Vs OJ Simpson, and along with reading the book it's based off of, Jeffrey Toobin's the Run of His Life, it's a great companion piece and allows for a thorough, 360-degree understanding of the case. 

Laura Richards and Jim Clemente's analysis and Toobin's book are instructional on how not to investigate and prosecute a murder case.  If I were a law student focusing on one day being a trial lawyer, I would pay close attention. Everything from not collecting individual blood drops near a body to not calling attention to all the cops that already saw the evidence before Fuhrman arrived (thus, how cold he plant anything?) to being too cocky about your case are all fascinating lessons. I also appreciate how Jim, Laura, and Lisa focus on the victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman; on Marcia Clark's unfair - and totally sexist - treatment by the press; and how Laura calls the Dream Team, the Scheme Team. All great stuff.

Jim keeps talking about incredibly pivotal investigations he's been a part of as if they are no big deal...and really should be podcasts on their own! I won't ruin it, but he mentions two extremely high profile investigations in Episode 6 and 7 that only raise how credible and high level he is as an expert -and Laura's pedigree continues to shine through, as well.

Naturally, I went down the online rabbit hole of looking for trial footage, and there is tons of it, but poring through all of it takes so much time - and wading through one witnesses' testimony to get to the core, pivotal bits is inefficient. This documentary by CNN however, covers key points, bit by bit.  Interesting viewing, and features interviews from Jeffrey Toobin.

 

Serial Season 1 revisited + Season 2 Underway

This article (and the comments - most of them anyways) pretty much read my mind about Sarah Koenig's updates on Adnan Syed's PCR hearing.  Also - and I just find this incredibly odd - literally no mention of the work Undisclosed did.  It turns out Sarah and her producers did investigate the AT&T cover letter, but I don't recall discussion.  Undisclosed did the majority of the effective gumshoeing.

Listen...Sarah Koenig is brilliant, she and her producers and team are gamechangers in media.  Serial Season 1 is a masterpiece (and I'm engrossed in Season 2 as well).  It's more like, the story has so obviously continued in a massive way and actually changed the course of the case, thanks to the Undisclosed team, and not mentioning even a sentence or two of it seems super odd and calls even more attention to itself.

Serial Season 2 isn't as addictive as Season 1 (and Sarah admits how much less obsessive listeners get to non-true-crime related material, in this podcast by the New Yorker - great listen, by the way, with some revealing nuggets about Koenig's past experience as a reporter), but I find it just as fascinating, and investigatory in that it uncovers the grittier truth behind the media coverage.  There are base assumptions on the Bowe Bergdahl case that can be turned on their head with more knowledge, and she's doing that beautifully. I mean, shit, she called the Taliban!

Reaction so far to Serial Season 2 range the gamut, from cries of propoganda to hurting Bergdahl's case (note, there may be a spoiler or two in that last Esquire article link that may not be addressed yet in the podcast).  Regardless, still fascinating listening, and like season 1, with potential real-world ramifications.