True crime podcasters need to be honest about their motivations in covering their chosen subject matter, according to the co-hosts of RedHanded Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire.
The hit true-crime podcast has been running since 2017 and has gained immense popularity, winning Listener’s Choice at the British Podcast Awards for two consecutive years and breaking into the top 100 most-listened to podcasts list in the US according to Triton Digital’s July podcast ranker.
The pair told PodPod on the latest episode of the podcast that they have noticed two problematic trends in the space of true crime - the first being that while many true crime podcasters claim to be focused on the victim’s side of the story, they refuse to acknowledge the appeal of learning about those who commit these acts.
“We would never dream of doing an episode where we didn't talk about the victims,” said Bala. “But to pretend like it's also not a fascination with why the perpetrator committed the crime, their background, their reasoning, and their motives - as deplorable human beings as they may be - is a fallacy and we're not gonna pretend that's not something we're interested in.”
The co-host also added that being active and engaged in the true crime space can also raise people’s empathy, through learning about the background and childhood of the perpetrator - although she emphasised that a troubled background is no excuse for committing horrible crimes.
“We're all here for normalising and just being interested in true crime,” said Bala. “Some people are bad people and when they get convicted, they deserve to be convicted and yes, all the empathy in the world for the victims, but let's not pretend we're not fascinated by why these killers did what they did.”
The other problematic trend that Bala noted is a growing trend of podcasters identifying supposed miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions. This, she said, can set a dangerous precedent, with real-world consequences.
“Public opinion matters in cases of convictions,” she said, “especially in places like America where the [district attorney] is elected, and if you make enough noise as the public, you can get convictions overturned for people that deserve to be in prison.”
RedHanded started as an independent podcast that Bala and Maguire created after meeting at a house party and discovering their shared fascination with podcasts. In April this year, the co-hosts launched a new limited podcast series with Novel and Global titled Filthy Ritual in which they go outside the studio format of RedHanded and interview victims about their experience with Juliette D'Souza, a convicted con woman who took a total of £1 million from vulnerable people by claiming that she was a shaman with healing powers.
The pair told PodPod that they consider themselves “storytellers” rather than journalists, but that Filthy Ritual allowed them to learn how to approach an investigative case and the importance of being in the room with victims.
“For the first three recording sessions for Filthy Ritual, when we were actually in people's houses, I was like… I really shouldn't be here at all but then obviously you get over it, because what's so amazing is people willing to tell you their stories,” said Maguire. “Some of it is very embarrassing for them and a lot of them are still very affected by what happened, but they wanted to tell their story, so the least you could do is listen.”
“That feeling was not something we'd experienced before and now we know it exists, and we can carry it forward into projects that we can't talk about that are happening.”