true crime

“Serial” – the founding of true crime podcasts ?

As I’ve always been interested in the field of true crime for a while though after watching many documentaries, visiting crime feed regularly and avidly reading news articles, so I decided podcasts should be the next format I should try. Since one of my friends is really into podcasts she said I should try possibly the most famous true crime podcast of all time – Serial. I decided to give this a go since it had ten star reviews on most websites and an avid fan following and so it overall took me about a week to finish it as it replaced my regular music-listening on my walk to and from sixth form. So far, I have only listened to the first season of Serial as I am apprehensive to start the second as it didn’t get as good reviews, but maybe one day I will get around to it…

The podcast Serial is hosted by Sarah Koenig who is everything you would want from a host – funny, endearing, interesting and definitely passionate about the topic she is talking about. The first series of Serial follows Koenig’s journey  to try and discover the truth surrounding the murder of 18 year old South Korean high school student Hae Min Lee in Maryland in 1999. It is commonly believed that her ex boyfriend Adnan Syed committed this horrendous crime as a witness confirmed this (Syed’s ex best friend Jay) but there are serious loose ends surrounding this case, which are put forward by Koenig.

Image result for hae min lee

Throughout this podcast, Koenig foretells her mission to try and uncover the truth surrounding this saddening case including befriending Syed in prison through a series of phone calls, interviews with witnesses and ex-classmates of Syed and Hae, forensics and court records. If anything should be highly praised about this podcast, it should be Sarah’s emphasise on detail – it is amazing how much information and depth she goes into about the case and it is thoroughly interesting. The main reason I was apprehensive about starting this podcast is the length: 10 episodes of about an hour each just to cover one mystery(?) and after starting and hating making a murderer for its slowness, I was sceptical; however, as Koenig supplies a lot of information throughout each episode, this podcast does keep your interest the whole way through.

Perhaps the reason why Serial is possibly one of the most successful podcasts of all time is because of its technique to make you change opinion of each person it introduces, throughout. At first I was determined that Syed was guilty due to a firm witness statement but now after other witness alibi and the police’s faulty timeline of the case, I’m not so sure.  The story surrounding Serial is definitely an intriguing and deeply upsetting one as it does concern the murder of a teenage girl, so it definitely hit home for me as I myself am in the same environment as Hae would’ve been in. It is also upsetting how lots of teenagers became highly involved in this case, as it is definitely something no teenager should have to go through.

Overall, if you ask me whether Serial is worth all the hype surrounding it, I would say yes for the detail and Koenig’s ability to keep a listener intrigued; however for me, I don’t think podcast listening is an activity I would actively take up in replacement of TV or reading. If you don’t focus entirely 100% on this, then you can easily get lost (which I most definitely did), and as an avid multi-tasker it took a lot for me to stop doing what I was doing, in order to listen to Serial. Therefore, I don’t think I will become an avid podcast listener, but I would recommend this podcast if you’re into podcasts/true crime.

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true crime

A new type of documentary – Casting JonBenet

Within the new Netflix documentary, “Casting JonBenet”, director and writer Kitty Green offers a creative, but haunting outlook on possibly one of the most high profile child murder/mystery cases of all time, the saddening death of JonBenet Ramsey.

JonBenet Ramsey was an American child beauty pageant queen who was  born on August 6th 1990 and was tragically killed in her family’s home in Colorado on Christmas Night 1996, at the age of 6. Sadly, her killers have never been identified due to mishap of the crime scene and the mysterious circumstances around her death, including the ransom note that was supposedly written by JonBenet’s killer(s). Due to JonBenet’s image as a famous child beauty queen her case generated national and even worldwide attention, which led to many conspiracies surrounding the nature of her death. Perhaps, the most popular suspicion is that JonBenet’s parents had something to do with it as handwriting experts have identified that the handwriting on the ransom note could’ve been written by Patsy Ramsey and rumours about the family including abuse and jealousy have been circling in Colorado for quire a while. Casting JonBenet explores these theories, using public opinion as a major running theme throughout.

The concept of this documentary consists of several dozen professional and nonprofessional actors that audition onscreen for the roles in the movie you are watching: Patsy Ramsey, John Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, the police officials involved and JonBenet herself. Green proceeds to record one actor after the other, usually sitting down, directly facing the camera, reciting dialogue from the real case but when speaking freely (which is more often) offering their theories and personal experience directed to the case. Whilst some of these theories may seem incredibly far-fetched (i.e. when one police chief wannabe explains his whipping tactics for rough sex in great detail) some are very haunting (i.e. when those auditioning to play the brother Burke try hitting a watermelon as hard as they can, to see if a boy their age can severely hurt a little girl’s head, as this is a popular theory into JonBenet’s death).

However, this isn’t really a film in search of the definite truth of what happened on Christmas Night 1996, it is a film to remind the public  how influential public opinion can be. Many of the actors involved believe that JonBenet’s parents had a major part to play in the death of their daughter, and thus Green highlights how the Ramsey’s reputation was thoroughly damaged after the case. No matter what the actors involved in the documentary say about the case, it is evident that their conspiracies intertwine together to create a blurry picture of what unfolded on that fateful night – highlighted in the ending scene, which I thought was the best and most haunting moment of the whole documentary.

Therefore, if you want a true crime documentary outlining the events and aftermath of Jonbenet’s death then this isn’t the viewing for you, instead it offers a unique perspective into how influential conspiracies are for specific crimes – including a historic one like JonBenet’s. Overall even though this show didn’t teach me anything new about the case, it highlighted how important public opinion is in cold cases in the history of crime. As a result of these conspiracies many stories arise in the field of crime, and therefore people can easily jump to conclusions about the real truth, which is very dangerous in my opinion. I would also say, just watch this show purely for the ending, which is one of the most chilling endings I have ever seen and thankfully emphasises a major factor in this case which people often forget about – no matter what the conspiracy is for this case, the most important and saddening factor is that a little girl’s life was tragically cut short.

 

true crime

Amanda Knox: a psychopath in sheep’s clothing or an innocent person caught up in a nightmare

When Netflix launched the Amanda Knox documentary on the 30th September 2016, I didn’t know too much about the tragic death of Meredith Kercher, the arrest of Amanda Knox, the media attention, the trial and the eventual acquittal but based on the small amounts of information I knew, I thought that Knox was caught up in something awful that didn’t involve her, and instead involved Rudy Guede  – however, after watching the documentary I’m not too sure.

Meredith Kercher was born on the 28th December 1985 and her life was tragically cut short at the age of 21, in Perugia, Italy. She was a British exchange student visiting Italy who shared a flat with Knox. On the 1st November 2007, it was a public holiday in Italy and so Meredith’s Italian flatmates were out of town, as were the occupants of the downstairs flat. According to Knox, after she spent the night with her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, she arrived back at the apartment she shared with Meredith on the 2nd November 2007, finding the front door open and drops of blood in the shared bathroom. Meredith’s bedroom door was also locked, which Knox took as indicating that Meredith was sleeping. However, when Meredith didn’t answer the door after a while, alarms were raised and Knox was advised to call the 112 emergency number. Meredith’s body was found around 1:15pm by a male friend where it was lying on the floor, covered by a duvet.

At the crime scene, the fingerprints of Rudy Guede (an Italian known to the police) were found and Guede was immediately labelled as a suspect. Guede stated that he went to Meredith’s home on the evening of her death, after meeting her the previous evening but he claimed that he then developed stomach pains and then went to the bathroom. As he was inside, he then claims to have heard Meredith scream and that upon emerging, to help her, he saw a shadowy figure holding a knife and standing over her as she lay bleeding on the floor, whom later fled. The court later found that that his version of events did not match the forensic evidence, and that he could not explain why one of his palm prints, stained with Meredith’s blood, had been found on the pillow of the bed, under her body. Therefore Guede was found guilty in October 2008 of murder and sexual assault and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

Before my viewing of the documentary, and acquiring more knowledge surrounding the conspiracy that Meredith’s flatmate Amanda Knox was also involved in Meredith’s death, I had the faint belief that she was caught up unfairly in this case as Rudy Guede was the obvious perpetrator, but now after my viewing I’m not 100% sure. In Guede’s statement he originally said that Knox had not been at the scene of the crime, but he later changed his story to say that she had been in the apartment during the murder where she argued with Meredith – which doesn’t match up with Knox’s story that she spent the night at her boyfriend’s (Raffaele Sollecito). As Meredith’s murder look like a break in to the public eye since glass was shattered all over the floor, from a window in Meredith’s room (which adds more evidence to support Guede as the perpetrator as in his criminal history had broken into a nursery school and a flat), this was deemed a set up by the police to sway from the obvious perpetrator who must’ve been close or in the flat – the only person who fit this description is Knox and her boyfriend. Therefore, Knox was interviewed and declined a lawyer over the next four days, and later was arrested and charged with murder on the 6th November 2007.

 

Image result for amanda knox during trial
Knox during her trial

During Knox’s lead up to trial she became the subject of intense media attention including being labelled “Foxy Knoxy” by the press due to claims of a party girl lifestyle in Italy as well as an ever-changing relationship with her roommate Meredith due to arguments over boyfriends and flat hygiene. Both Knox and Sollecito pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder during their trials, which started on the 16th January 2009. According to the prosecution, Knox had attacked Meredith in her bedroom, and forced her to endure a sexual abuse attack by Guede. Knox had then cut Meredith with a knife before inflicting a fatal stab wound and that she had staged the crime scene to look like a burglary gone wrong. On the 5th December 2009, both Knox and Sollecito were convicted of murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison. Less than two years later, on the 3rd October 2011 Knox and Sollecito were acquitted due to insufficient proof that they had any involvement in the death of Meredith.

Whilst it is most clear that the evidence incriminating Amanda Knox into the case is ambiguous, I’m not sure of Knox’s total innocence because of her portrayal in the Netflix documentary. I’m not expecting Knox to have an emotional breakdown every time she discusses Meredith but I think her behaviours leading up to and during the event were incredibly suspicious, including making out with her boyfriend whilst the police were inspecting the crime scene. During police interviews, Knox’s boyfriend Sollecito could not back up Knox’s alibi on the night of Meredith’s death as he can’t remember whether she spent the night or not. Even though assuming his memory was hazy because of the marijuana both him and Knox admitting to smoking that night, it seems odd that a young man who had just embarked on a new relationship could not recall whether she had spent the night or not. However, I think the main aspect that incriminates Knox into the crime is the staged break in, as the broken glass from the window was found on top of clothes scattered on the floor, suggesting the window was broken after the contents of the room were messed up – prosecutors later accused Knox and Sollecito of staging the break in to make the murder look like a burglary gone wrong. During the Netflix documentary, every time Knox looks into the camera I keep getting a horrific feeling that she’s lying due to her lack of emotion whatsoever when discussing the crime and her final statement towards the end of the documentary which is enough to send a chill down anyone’s spine: “you’re trying to find the answer in my eyes when the answer is right over there. You’re looking at me. Why? There are my eyes – they’re not objective evidence…”

Overall I cannot make the conclusion that Amanda Knox is 100% guilty in the tragic story of Meredith’s death, but I can’t fully believe her tale of events of that fateful day due to reasons including a total lack of emotion and the suspicious matter in the crime scene (including a staged break in). Whilst I believe some of the blame towards Knox’s incrimination is the bad press towards her (let’s not discuss Nick Pisa who had an orchestral role in this and whose interview in the documentary caused a lot of controversy) and the fault of the Italian police, Knox’s story of the night of the 1st November cannot be fully believed due to these and I think there will always be a suspicion that she did have a slight involvement, even if it can never be fully proved.

true crime

What happened to Caylee Anthony?

The realisation that your child is missing is perhaps one of the worst feelings a parent can go through. When and if in the rare case this happens, a parent would surely do everything they can to make sure their child is safe and returned to them as soon as possible, which includes contacting authorities immediately if needed. However, in the case of the Caylee Anthony, this procedure was not followed through, which is perhaps what drew America into the “biggest social media trial of the century”, including dividing opinions on the main suspect of the case – Caylee’s mom Casey Anthony.

Caylee Marie Anthony was a beautiful 3 year old little girl, born on the 9th August 2005 and lived with her mother Casey Anthony and her maternal grandparents, George and Cindy Anthony. Since Casey gave birth to Caylee at a young age, Caylee’s grandparents took a significant role into looking after the young girl. Therefore, when they Casey took off with Caylee (on the 16th June 2008) and George and Cindy didn’t hear of or from her granddaughter in a month, suspicions were raised. This lead to Cindy making a sudden visit to Casey’s to check up on her and her granddaughter so when she heard that Caylee had been missing for 31 days, had apparently been kidnapped by a nanny and had smelt death in Casey’s car, Cindy immediately alerted authorities, on the 15th July.

During police investigation into Caylee’s disappearance, Casey Anthony started to become a high point of suspicion because of her consistent lies – when questioned by police Casey said Caylee had been kidnapped by “Zanny the Nanny” who in fact never existed and she had also lied about having a job at Universal Studios. Therefore, Casey was first arrested on the 16th June 2008 and charged the next day for giving false statements to law enforcement and child neglect.

Throughout this whole period, Caylee’s grandparents and America had hoped for the little girl to be alive but unfortunately her body was discovered on the 11th December 2008. Foul play was immediately suspected as investigative teams recovered duct tape hanging from Caylee’s hair and some tissue left on her skull – death was then ruled a homicide but listed as undetermined. Casey was shortly indicated by a grand jury on charges of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse and manslaughter and four counts of proving false information to the police.

During her trial, four hundred pieces of evidence was presented to try and determine Casey guilty – including a strand of Caylee’s hair that was recovered from the back of Casey’s truck that showed “root-branding” (in which hair roots form a dark band after death). Casey’s computer history was also presented to the jury which included Google searches for the terms “neck breaking” and “how to make chloroform”, which all were deeming factors in trying to prove Casey guilty of her daughter’s murder.

However, Casey’s defence opened with a stunning claim, that Caylee drowned in the family’s swimming pool and the reason why Casey didn’t report her daughter’s disappearance was because she never went missing, she accidentally drowned and Casey and her dad helped dispose the body, in order to avoid a possible manslaughter prosecution. This defence was deemed false by Casey’s dad himself, George, as he claimed that he would have done everything humanly possible to save his granddaughter if that had really happened, including alerting the authorities straight away.

 

Casey Anthony on July 1, 2011 [Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT]
Casey Anthony in court, she was found not guilty on the 5th July 2011

After sixteen days of deliberation, the jury (7 women and 5 men) found Casey Anthony not guilty on the counts of first degree murder, aggravated manslaughter and aggravated child abuse but found her guilty on the charge of providing false information to the police. Casey’s sentence was one year in the county jail and $1,000 in fines for each of the four counts of providing false information to law enforcement. Casey was released on July 17th 2011 on the account for good behaviour and time already served.

Nowadays, George and Cindy Anthony do not speak to their daughter and her father has deemed her a repulsive liar. Casey lives and works for Patrick McKenna, the lead investigator for the defence in not only her case but OJ Simpson’s case also.

In my opinion, whether or not Casey deliberately intended to cause harm to her daughter that fateful day, she should take full responsibility into her daughter’s death as if it wasn’t for the neglect that Caylee suffered, she would’ve still been with us today.

true crime

Murder, manslaughter or a tragic accident? – The story of Warriena Wright

Online dating has recently become the new popular way to meet a potential romantic partner. With 50 million active users on the popular dating app Tinder and approximately 12 million matches per day, “swiping right” to possible future partners has never looked so appealing. However, in the rarest of circumstances turning to the internet to look for romance has taken a sinister turn and thus we have the latest case which has stirred up discussions recently – the mysterious, saddening case of Warriena Wright.

Warriena Wright was an attractive, fun-loving 26 year old New Zealand woman who on the 7th August 2014, was visiting Australia for a friend’s wedding. That evening, Wright met up with a potential romantic interest, Australian Gable Tostee whom she had spoken to via Tinder for the first time only 6 days earlier. They met outside a pub on Cavill Avenue, stayed only a few minutes before buying alcohol at a local shop and then decided to return to Tostee’s flat to continue their evening.

What happens next at the flat is the topic of much debate. From Tostee’s perspective both him and Warriena consumed a fair amount of alcohol, ended up having sex and then went out onto the balcony to take pictures together. At about 1am, early the next day, Tostee made an extraordinary action that would later affect his trial in its entirety – he began recording everything being said in his apartment. The full recording lasted for 199 minutes and by the time it had ended, Warriena Wright was dead.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/15/fateful-night-a-young-woman-is-dead-her-tinder-date-charged-with
Wright and Tostee pictured together, on that tragic evening

It is clear from the recording made on that night that Warriena had drank a vast amount of alcohol and started behaving aggressively towards Tostee. On the tape you can clearly hear Tostee telling Warriena to stop hitting him and to “chill out and have another drink”. Later during the recording, the situation escalates when Warriena asked to leave, shouting “Where’s my fucking shit? It’s not fucking funny. I’m going to call the police” and thus when she continues hitting Tostee, he finally snaps stating “That’s more than enough. You’ve worn out your welcome. You have to leave”. They can both be heard struggling with each other, and after this Wright can be heard whispering “Just let me go home”, to which Tostee replies “I would but you’ve been a bad girl”. The glass door is then heard clicking shut and Wright’s voice becomes muffled. Tragically, just 20 seconds later, Warriena can be heard screaming as she falls from the balcony, down 14 storeys, to her death.

Tostee’s next actions are then extraordinary. After witnessing his date fall 14 storeys down to her death, he leaves his apartment before police can swarm the scene, calls his father who advises him that he should get a lawyer so that they would help get this situation straightened out and then orders and proceeds to eat a Dominos pizza. Shortly after Wright’s body was found Tostee was accused of murdering Warriena Wright.

However, this isn’t the first time Tostee has been in trouble with the authorities. Prior to meeting Warriena, Tostee had been banned from local nightclubs on the Gold Coast for acting “creepy” towards women and had been in prison for leading officers on a high speed chase when drunk, just three weeks before the fateful meeting . Also, in a separate post, claimed to be written by Tostee, the self-confessed binge-drinker had told of how another date had “freaked out” on his balcony and then fled his home. Tostee had also had claims against him of bombarding women with dirty messages on Tinder, with the contents ranging from cringy chat up lines to messages of a more sexual nature.

During Tostee’s 9 day trial in October 2016, the jury (six men and six women) were asked to consider whether Tostee’s actions had left Warriena in such a state of fear and intimidation, that she felt as though she had to flee immediately, even if that meant attempting to escape from a balcony on the 14th floor. The crown argued that by forcing her out and locking the door, Tostee is responsible for her death. Glen Cash, the lead prosecutor of this case, stated that at the very least, Tostee meant to cause Warriena harm by locking her outside and gave her no choice of escape, other than attempting to exit the balcony unsafely. Tostee’s defence claimed that after Warriena’s actions became aggressive towards him, he had no choice but to attempt to restrain her to attempt to save them both from harm when he locked her out on the balcony – therefore, her death was just a tragic accident.

After four days of jury deliberation, Tostee was acquitted on charges of both murder and manslaughter and thus labelled an innocent, free man.

In my opinion, whether or not Warriena was acting aggressively towards Tostee, unless he was in direct fear for his life, his actions resulted in the death of an innocent person, whose life was tragically cut short at only 26 years old. For me, the fact that Tostee didn’t call for help directly after realising that Warriena had fallen, but continued with his day as though nothing had happened, equals a significant amount of guilt and responsibility for her death.