I WAS never a big fan of the true crime genre. Sure, like many viewers, I was fascinated with Making A Murderer and The Staircase, but I had never read a true crime book, had no idea what Serial was, and had spent years horrified but slightly amused by my grandmother’s love of grisly murder magazines.
And then I saw a tweet by Louis Theroux about the podcast West Cork.
I’d never listened to a podcast before, but the idea of it covering a crime so close to home — the 1996 murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork — piqued my interest.
I binged that fascinating series overnight and then stumbled upon the podcast that would turn me into a fully fledged true crime devotee — or as fans of such podcasts are called, a Murderino.
My Favorite Murder, also known as MFM, is a weekly true crime comedy podcast hosted by American duo Karen Kilgariff, a stand-up comedian, and TV writer Georgia Hardstark.
First released in January, 2016, MFM now has 19 million downloads a month, more than 360,000 followers on Facebook, and a whole array of merchandise including their nefarious catchphrases: ‘F**k Politeness’, ‘Pepper spray first, apologise later’ and ‘You’re in a cult: call your dad’ —a reference to an episode about Scientology.
Some of the show’s profits have been donated to local police departments to fund the examination of untested rape kit backlogs and fans all over the world have raised money in the name of MFM to fund local rape crises centres, amongst other charities.
Mothers and daughters have been seen sporting matching MFM tattoos, showing its cross-generational appeal, and in 2017, a fan posted to the MFM Facebook group and told the story of how a fellow Murderino saved her life. She was making her way from a restaurant in Texas and a woman she’s never met before stopped her and pretended to make small talk. What she was actually doing was conveying secretly to the woman that there was a man hiding behind her car.
Having saved the woman from a possibly grisly end, they both exchanged the mantra of the podcast ‘Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered’ before leaving each other’s company.
MFM also boasts an active Irish Murderinos group, with 772 members, who are predominantly female. One of these, Jenny O’Connor, 32, an illustrator from outside Kanturk, reveals that, unlike with me, her fascination with true crime started much earlier.
“I have a very clear memory of being about nine and finding true crime absolutely fascinating,” says Jenny. “I was obsessed with the RTÉ programme Thou Shall Not Kill. I also watched Crime Call religiously.
“My dad bought me a book on Irish murders around this time and I devoured it.”
So when Jenny came across the My Favourite Murder podcast three years ago, she was instantly hooked. “I obviously love the true crime aspect but I adored the two ladies’ banter and humour. They are also so open about their life struggles, which is refreshingly honest.”
Fellow Murderino, Ashley Markewinski, 31, originally from Pittsburgh in the US but living in Cork for over seven years, says she became interested in true crime at the age of six when there was a murder in her neighbourhood.
“We knew the guy who found the woman, he was her neighbour,” she explains, ‘and my mom had known the murderer, who turned out to be the woman’s husband, from high school. My interest grew from there.”
MFM Hosts Kilgarriff and Hardstick have been praised for their open and honest accounts of their own struggles. Hardstark speaks regularly about her ADHD, anxiety and her time in rehab, while Kilgariff frequently refers to her struggles with mental illness, alcohol, drugs and diet pills.
Jenny feels this is one of the reasons the show is so popular.
“I think mental illness was a shameful secret for a lot of people so it was never discussed. So you’d just pretend you were fine and go about your day to day life.
“Listening to MFM helps me feel not so alone in the struggle.
“In society, women are especially made to feel like lesser or even attention-seeking if you try and air your troubles. But I’m trying to be more open, which kind of goes against who I am as a person.”
Ashley has been a Murderino for more than a year and says, apart from the true crime element, she also loves the hosts’ openness.
“It’s absolutely one of the draws for me,” she says. “I was really struggling with my situation — being here on my own without family — and I had some job issues. A friend told me about MFM and said she thought I’d enjoy it, even if it was just a way to escape my own anxieties for an hour or so.
“I listened to one episode and was hooked. I’m more aware of my own struggles with anxiety because of the show and I’m actually working on dealing with those issues.”
With a large percentage of Murderinos being female, this ties neatly in with statistics that show 75% of true crime podcast listeners are women, as well as the vast majority of true crime book reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads.
One of the reasons for this may have to do with the tips these shows give for staying safe.
“My Favourite Murder has changed the way I act in certain situations,” says Jenny. “Especially their mantra, ‘F**k Politeness’. Most people don’t want to seem rude but sometimes you have just got to ‘Pepper spray first and apologise later’, like their saying goes.”
As for safety tips, Ashley admits: “I’ve always been very aware of what’s going on around me and cautious about walking at night or alone, etc, so that hasn’t changed.”
I ask them both if they’ve had any negative reactions to their interest in true crime. “People do think my interest in all things true crime is odd,” admits Jenny. “They think I’m strange for enjoying such things, but I’ve never received any overtly negative comments.
“But even if I did, it wouldn’t affect me. None of my friends are Murderinos, although I did get one of the girls in my book club to listen and she has been enjoying it so far. So hopefully I’ve converted her.”
Ashley, who organises Cork meet-ups of Irish Murderinos, says it’s the opposite for her. “I tend to surround myself with like-minded people. In fact, I’ve made some amazing friends through a mutual interest in true crime.”
As for me, I’ve found a new real sisterhood in the murky world of the Murderinos... and I get to tell my grandmother all about it.
You can listen to the My Favorite Murder podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify and other podcast players. The show will be live at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin as part of the Dublin Podcast Festival on November 24/25.