Every week, we catch up with a Canadian podcaster and their podcast to talk about what’s new, their favourite podcast moments, and what’s still to come. This week: Kristi Lee.
Kristi is the creator and host of the chart-topping Canadian True Crime podcast. She lives in Toronto.
What podcasts made you want to make a true crime podcast?
My main inspiration came from three true crime podcasts. One of them is Casefile, which is one of the original big true crime podcasts. It comes from Australia, and covers Australian crimes, plus other crimes from around the world. One is called Felon True Crime, and that’s an Australian true crime podcast, and the other one is called They Walk Among Us, which is a UK true crime podcast. They all do the same kind of show: one-person narrated, with atmospheric ambient music in the background, and occasional media clips. I realized there was a shortage in Canada of podcasts that were doing the same sort of thing, and I saw a lot of requests for it in the true crime podcast Facebook groups that I’m in. I thought to myself, “You haven’t really been doing much productive with your spare time lately, so maybe you can try your hand at writing a script and then see how you go.”
I didn’t tell anybody that I was attempting to start a podcast, except for my husband. For a couple of months I just wrote a script on the Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka case, which has always been one of my pet cases. Once I’d finished the script, I figured out how to record it, edit it, and add the music. Then I released it as two episodes. Straight away, I was kind of shocked by how many people had downloaded it. And then I thought, “Oh crap, now I have to find another case to do!”
I started producing more and more episodes, and then before you know it, I had people wanting to advertise on it, so I had to be a bit more reliable, [make a] publishing schedule. The rest is history I guess!
There are so many great true crime podcasts. Why do you think this genre sticks with podcast listeners so much?
Overall, humans like human stories, and these are the worst kind of stories. People relate to them on a visceral level.
The thing about podcasting is that it brings a medium to the people. Your average person can’t get out there and produce a TV show and then just kind of upload it to TV, but you can do that with podcasting. A person like me, a full-time working mum type can create a podcast in my walk-in closet, and then upload it and have people listen to it and like it. Audiences out there might not have a true crime documentary to watch all the time on TV, and they might not have a lot of time to sit there and watch something. Podcasts themselves mean that someone can put their headphones in, they can listen on their commute, or when they’re doing stuff around the house, or when they’re exercising, or doing anything really, because you can do something else while you’re listening to a podcast.
So they can take in that variety of true crime content and integrate it into their lives a lot easier.
Has there been a case you’ve covered in particular that really stuck with you?
Yeah. The biggest one has been Tori Stafford, who was the eight-year-old from Woodstock, Ontario who was kidnapped by a man and his girlfriend, and then she was sexually assaulted and murdered. I covered that case because a lot of people were requesting it, but it was horrible to cover. It was a real chore. I frequently felt devastated, and I had to take a lot of breaks. I realized after I released those episodes that my audience in particular are not really looking for those kind of cases. Even though I received a lot of requests to cover it, the downloads for those episodes, particularly parts 2 and 3, were a lot lower than Part 1. So it’s almost as though people started listening, realized what kind of case it was and what was going to be happening, and then just kind of said, “I can’t listen to these other two parts.”
And whilst I’m saying that, I realize that my discomfort and the audience’s discomfort is absolutely nothing compared to what little Tori had to live. But yeah, that still doesn’t minimize the fact that it was just an awful story to cover.
I have two young kids of my own, a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, so whenever I cover cases involving children, it’s too easy for me to slot one of my children into the shoes of whatever child I’m covering. And then my mind tends to focus on the “What ifs?” It’s not a nice thought pattern. So that case has always stayed with me and has really shaped what kind of cases I cover now and how I cover them.
All of the episodes of your podcast I’ve listened to really shook me, so I can only imagine how intense sitting with these stories for a longer time must be. How do you take care of yourself and your mental health while you’re producing this podcast?
The sad thing is that the longer I do it, the more desensitized I become. I have brief moments where details hit me, but overall it’s not so bad now, I can kind of detach from it a little bit.
But back in the day, I would find that after I had recorded an episode, I had to take one or two nights and just go straight to bed. The feelings manifested themselves in extreme exhaustion. I just put myself to bed and just kind of slept it off. That was my self-care.
But now that I’m on a frequent publishing schedule, I can’t afford to take those two nights off anymore. I pretty much finish one case, and pivot and start a new one. My brain is just so cluttered with dark facts that they tend not to affect me too much anymore — which is horrible, but that’s the reality of having done this for over 18 months now.
You engage with the podcasting community a lot — over social media, by going to events and meetups, by helping promote other people’s podcasts. Do you have any advice for new podcasters looking to tap into this community and take advantage of it?
Facebook groups are amazing for podcasters. There’s one called Underdogs, there’s a podcast support group. Just search “podcast” and “podcaster groups” on Facebook.
A big thing with podcasters is promo swaps. You find other podcasters that you might share an audience with, and then you swap a promo — so you might gain some of their listeners, and they might gain some of your listeners, and then you both grow. There’s really no competition in podcasting, because it’s not like you can produce content that will take up 100% of your listeners’ ear time — they will be listening to something else! As long as you can maintain positive relationships with other podcasters, you will both continue to grow!
The other thing that comes from that is collaboration. I have a one-person narrative podcast, but for example, my friend Jordan from The Nighttime Podcast has a more interview-based podcast, so we’re always lookout for opportunities where I can tell a story and he can conduct a side-interview with one of the people from that story, so we both get to play up to our individual strengths and the styles of our podcasts, while also promoting each other’s shows.
There’s so many opportunities for collaboration and relationships. It’s really a positive community if you want it to be. 95% of podcasters are excellent, and just wanna help each other grow.
Is there an episode that you look back on that you wish you could redo from scratch?
Oh yeah! The Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka episodes. I probably would have gone into a lot more detail than what I did, and also the audio production...I was still learning, so there’s a lot of things that I would have re-recorded, or music files that I would have used differently. I really don’t like to listen to my back catalogue, but I can’t really say that I would change too much about other episodes — definitely those first two.
When you recently covered the École Polytechnique massacre, you chose not refer to the shooter by his preferred name. How do you navigate these type of ethical decisions when you’re covering criminal acts and tragedies?
This whole “Don’t Name Them” movement is based specifically on shooters. The reasoning is that a lot of shooters do it for the fame and recognition. So if we take that away from them, then maybe that might be a reason for them not to do it again. For example, look at the perpetrator of the Toronto van attacks, who did it for the fame and for the connection to the Incel movement. If he didn’t think he would achieve any fame from that, then would he have done it? I don’t know. I mean, we can’t say for sure. But certainly it removes one aspect of their power, right?
A case I refuse to cover is Luka Magnotta. The reason why is because he committed that crime specifically to get publicity after several failed publicity attempts at getting on reality TV shows. He was so desperate for fame that he decided to take a dark route to get it. I feel like that, while I do believe in honouring the victims and telling their stories, I feel like his story has been covered enough, so I’ve decided not to cover it, so that I don’t give him any more attention, because that’s what he loves.
Some parts of the podcast production process can intimidating. I always get nervous while interviewing. Is there any step that intimidates you?
The main intimidating factor for me is recording, the actual act of narrating my scripts. Getting good quality audio, making sure that there’s no echo, being comfortable while you do it, making sure that you’re hydrated so you don’t have those weird mouth clicking sounds that people hate...I just find that to be very stressful. After that, it’s fine. But every time I go to record a new episode I get this nervous energy, and I can’t wait for it to be over!
-Elena Hudgins Lyle