Hosted by childhood friends Lucy Fitzgerald, Kenyon Laing and Amanda Jacobson, the Wine and Crime podcast, which launched in February 2017, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a discussion of various true crimes, ranging from the bizarre (think Russian necrophiliacs) to the more serious (an episode devoted to police shooting victim Philando Castile, which occurred in the women’s home state of Minnesota.) Over Skype, the women crack open a bottle of wine chosen specifically for the theme of the episode and talk about their favorite cases.
Wine and Crime capitalizes on a tried-and-true format: podcasts for true crime obsessives, which treat the grisly sexual assaults and murders of innocent victims, mostly women, as just another topic to chat about over drinks. While this genre is already fairly saturated (think My Favorite Murder, Crime Junkies), Wine and Crime‘s simple format has proven enormously successful: the women say their podcast gets about 700,000 downloads a month, with each episode netting about 70,000 downloads. And most of these listeners are women: 85 percent of the people who download the show identify as female, the hosts say.
It makes sense why women would be behind the true crime podcast boom. According to one 2010 study, women are far more drawn to stories of serial killers, rape, and murder than men,and while numerous explanations have been proffered for this discrepancy, the women behind Wine and Crime think the female fascination with true crime goes deeper than morbid curiosity. In fact, they believe that talking about them — and making light of them — serves a real practical purpose. “Just hearing these stories is scary, but sort of the more you indulge in them, the less scary they feel, or the more you talk about it, maybe the more validating it is for victims,” says Laing.
In advance of Wine and Crime‘s live show, Forensic Files Uncorked, at the Death Becomes Us true crime festival in New York City, Rolling Stone got in touch with the trio to talk about dolphin sex, which crimes they’ll never cover and why they love reading the obituaries section.
So what’s the origin story behind this? How did you guys decide to do a wine and true crime podcast?
Kenyon: The three of us are childhood friends. Lucy and I have been friends since third grade, and Amanda became a friend in middle school. As adults, we found ourselves hanging out a lot and watching old Forensic Files episodes and laughing at the hairstyles and the reenactments and perpetrators, and just riffing and drinking wine and being a part of the true crime fan community. I know I listened to a bunch of true crime podcasts before starting ours. I’m a big fan of My Favorite Murder. I’m a Murderino. I love the serious and silly ones. We’re good friends with [paranormal and true crime podcast] And That’s Why We Drink.
Our first episode was about necrophilia — we just wanted to go big or go home. I got to cover my absolute favorite case of all time, which was this dude out of Russia who dressed up corpses like dolls and had tea parties in his home. Craziness. That was an article that I emailed to these ladies when we were college and we were just like, “Oh my God.”
What was it about this specific case that caught your interest?
Kenyon: I have a morbid, dark sense of humor, and our show definitely reflects that for all three of us. I think also — there’s no victimless crime, obviously, and obviously the fact that these individuals weren’t able to rest in peace is a crime in and of itself. But at least in that case he wasn’t murdering anyone. So in terms of what we cover, that is lighter fare.
Lucy: Another example at our live show last night, Kenyon’s case is about a man who had a long sexual relationship —
Kenyon: Love affair.
Lucy: — love affair with a dolphin. We were like, “Well…she liked it.”
Kenyon: Dolphins are very intelligent animals. She could’ve been consenting.
Lucy: She was a flirt.
What’s one of the hardest cases you’ve had to cover?
Amanda: I can say confidently the hardest one we’ve ever had to cover on our show was the police shooting of Philando Castile. That was during an episode where we were doing unbelievable acquittals, because the officer was not held properly accountable for his actions. It took us all by surprise how emotional it was to cover it. And it was also surprising after the episode came out how many people were not aware of the story at the time. It was a hot-button issue in Minneapolis, but it hadn’t really reached nationally the way I felt it should be. So it was important to cover, but that’s one of the lines we toe doing a comedy podcast — sometimes there are moments where you can laugh, and sometimes you have to take it seriously and get to the core of the issue and that was definitely one of those times.
Kenyon: We definitely have some episodes that are more light-hearted than others. Some of our episodes, there are still moments of comedy, because it is still a comedy show, and there are long stretches that can be very serious because we also want to do justice to these victims and their families.
Lucy: And some topics are off limits for us. We would never cover school shootings because there is absolutely nothing funny about that.
What else is on the no list?
Amanda: It kind of varies depending on the case. We typically shy away from abuse or neglect or children, but the way we structure our storytelling is very victim-focused no matter what. Kind of the tag of if a case is the right fit is how bizarre is the narrative and how strange is the perpetrator? We wanna lift up the victims and tell their stories but we also want to diminish the assholes who commit these crimes. It’s sort of like laughing in the face of the bogeyman and making that person small and minuscule rather than glorifying serial killers. We wanna tell a story that will lift up the victim and cut down the perpetrator.
How much research is involved with each show?
Amanda: It depends. Kenyon goes really deep and has the longest cases…but I like to get the juicy tidbits of a headline but my style is I get the bullet points and I wanna riff it up and talk it about. Kenyon goes into every juicy, dirty backwater detail.
Kenyon: I scour the internet for any detail I can find about a case. I go into the archives. I have a membership for Newspapers.com.
Do you guys consider yourselves journalists?
Kenyon: We do not consider ourselves journalists, because we do not do the due diligence of fact-checking. If I read something in an article and I think the source of the article is reliable enough, I will just say it. I’m not fact-checking that like a journalist should or would. But I consider myself a podcaster and a comedian second I guess. It feels like a big mantle to try to carry.
Amanda: One of our little catchphrases on the show is “speculate wildly.”
85 percent of your audience is female. Do you have any idea as to why that is?
Kenyon: We get this question a lot, and ultimately, we’re speculating too. The three of us obviously identify as women and are drawn to these topics, and I think more women than you might think are drawn to dark, dark stories and topics. We are victims of violence a lot of the time, so it can feel empowering to confront it head-on.
Lucy: And to work to understand it. It feels psychologically like it’s getting a little bit of power back. When you hear stories like, “A man broke into a woman’s apartment in the middle of the night and sexually assaulted her” — just hearing these stories is scary, but sort of the more you indulge in them, the less scary they feel, or the more you talk about it, maybe the more validating it is for victims.
Kenyon: I’ve been a victim of sexual assault, and it’s terrifying and scary, and maybe in the moment you don’t know how you’re gonna react in the moment, but if you can talk about it after the fact with your close friends you can unpack what happened and you can feel more prepared going forward.
Amanda: And in podcasting in particular, there is an intense level of community among listeners. And I think with the evolution of podcasting as a medium and the way it has propelled the subject of true crime into the forefront, these vast communities of people — and a lot of them identify as women — are meeting each other through Twitter, Facebook groups, Instagram, and they’re connecting on the surface level of “we’re super into true crime”…[but] that camaraderie and community, especially if you’ve been a victim of violence, especially if you struggle with anxiety or your mental health or any multitude of things, is so powerful and helpful to feel like you’re not alone. I think that’s really important to acknowledge.
Is it ever psychologically draining to talk about these stories at length?
Kenyon: I go through phases, but because my career before podcasting was working in nonprofits around gender and sexual-based violence issues, this is kind of in the same vein and I’ve just trained my body to get used to it.
Amanda: You have to practice self-care. It’s important. And again, we are in the privileged position to be able to have this be our full time job so we can be flexible with each other if someone is having a bad day or is unable to get there emotionally for whatever reason. We as best friends are always able to make accommodations for each other based on whatever our individual needs might be, and i think that’s really important and helps with the longevity of our show. Because you’re right — these are dark topics, even when you’re laughing about it. And you’re doing this research and getting the brunt of these fucked-up stories.
Have you gotten any feedback from listeners saying that your podcast is exploitative of crime victims?
Amanda: The negative feedback we get is that we get political on the show, which is really important to us and that’s an organic track from us discussing a particular case or subject within the confines of that episode. And it translates to the current political climate and the subjects we’re interested in. We will get emails sometimes that folks are not digging what we’re putting out, and we’ll thank them for giving our show listen, and say, “We get it, not every podcast is for everyone, but thank you for giving us a listen.”
Amanda: We actually did an entire episode about white male terrorism in response to a man named Alan who messaged us going on an open tirade about how if we didn’t let Muslims into the country we wouldn’t have terrorism. And we felt that would be a good opportunity to discuss white male incels in the United States, and the overwhelming statistics supporting that domestic terrorism carried out by white men is actually the greatest threat to our country right now. So we dedicated an entire episode to him, and we covered that topic, and it was cathartic and informative.
Amanda: Why not? (Laughs)
Kenyon: The origin of the show was literally us hanging out in Amanda’s apartment with the curtains drawn so there was not a shred of sunlight peeking in, watching Forensic Files and drinking — mostly boxed wine at the time, but Amanda has worked in the restaurant industry, so she’s able to talk about it with sophistication on the show.
Amanda: I think people are interested in it, and it’s fun to talk about, so we were like, “Here’s a little twist on just having it be straight-up true crime, so we can incorporate this other little element that sets us apart so we can focus on this other thing we also care about.”
Lucy: And like we said before, one of the greatest compliments we get from listeners is that they feel like the fourth gal, sitting around with their friends talking about the things they would be talking about anyway on a night out or staying in with their girlfriends, drinking wine or just hanging out.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.