True crime media is shifting toward advocacy. The hosts of My Favorite Murder urge listeners to donate to End the Backlog, a nonprofit demanding the timely testing of rape kits by law enforcement, and Ashley Flowers from Crime Junkie is on the board of directors for Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana. The Murder Squad was designed specifically to put fans to work solving cold cases. Likewise, CrimeCon, happening June 7th through 9th in New Orleans, isn’t some macabre horrorfest where people dress up like Pogo the clown — in fact, founder Kevin Balfe specifically forbids any type of costumes at the event, and promises attendees won’t see unnecessarily gory details like blood spatter graphics on signage. Rather than reveling in drama of the subject matter, the event aims to promote education, action and justice for victims.
Balfe, who grew up watching Cops and Dateline, launched CrimeCon in 2017 through his company, Red Seat Ventures, after he saw the resurgence of crime media in shows like The Jinx, Making a Murderer and the podcast Serial.
“Ultimately these stories are human dramas, so especially in a world where you’ve got stories that still don’t have an ending, people find that extremely interesting,” Balfe says. But, he adds, “When we bring experts in, we try to do better than just talking about crime.”
The event caters to a wide range of interests, from wrongful convictions and the work of the Innocence Project to death penalty cases and a day in the life of a prosecutor. This year, the audience of 3,500 — which Balfe pegs at around 80% female — can attend a panel on stalking led by Laura Richards, an advocate for coercive control laws and Terra Newell of Dirty John podcast and TV fame, who survived a vicious attack by her mom’s sociopathic husband. An in-depth lunchtime program with Richards will follow, for people who want to learn to advocate for the criminalization of coercive control, a pattern of controlling behavior that occurs in some domestic violence situations and can precede stalking.
The 55-session lineup also includes a case study of the Black Dahlia murder with a social justice studies professor, a live Wine and Crime podcast taping, a 25-year retrospective on the O.J. Simpson case with prosecutor Chris Darden, a K-9 demonstration (puppies!), and a crime-scene recreation with famed Golden State Killer investigator Paul Holes.
Balfe hopes to host more sessions like the stalking panel. He still thinks about a program from 2018, where family members of two teens murdered the year before in Delphi, Indiana, discussed the investigation and asked for tips. There has been no arrest. “The families said…we don’t want the case to go cold, we want to use the thousands of attendees who all have social media accounts to keep [the victims’] names on the tip of everybody’s tongue,” he says. “The more of that we can do, you can really see how a conference like this can be harnessed for good and create real justice and closure for families.”
Correction: This article has been updated to more thoroughly explain the topic of Laura Richards’ lunchtime talk.