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My Favorite Murder Is My New Favorite Thing

photo: courtesy  @finalgirls

photo: courtesy @finalgirls

I think it goes without saying that as of late, the world we live in is nothing short of a raging dumpster fire. However, millions of people — myself included — are finding respite in an unlikely place. A murder podcast. OK, if you’re not in the know about My Favorite Murder, you’re likely wondering how the words “murder” and “respite” can be at all related, but hear me out. I’m a little late to the murder party as this true-crime comedy podcast, hosted by stand-up comic and TV writer Karen Kilgariff and former Cooking Channel series co-host Georgia Hardstark, began in 2015 and quickly garnered a cult following of formerly closeted true-crime fans.

My roommate and I began listening about a month ago, and it’s been a lifeline for me during a summer that’s had me feeling overwhelmed and anxious more often than not. Most of our conversations these days start with: “Did you hear what Karen and Georgia said today about the Swiss cheese pervert?” And, as we furiously look for a new place to live, our questions to potential landlords are peppered with innuendos about who might have been murdered in the laundry room with the flickering light or what lurks behind the wall that’s obviously been patched over. Clearly, we are ALL in.

Dubbed “murderinos,”My Favorite Murder listeners like us have found comfort in the fact that they’re not alone in their true-crime obsession. They’re no longer the weirdos at Thanksgiving dinner recounting their recent 24-hour marathon of Cold Case Files. Murderinos also appreciate that Karen and Georgia are candid AF about their struggles with mental health issues, eating disorders, failing at adulting, and substance abuse.

If all that weren’t enough, these two women are freakin’ hilarious. I don’t laugh easily, but as I listened to the first episode while I shopped at Whole Foods, I laughed out loud like a lunatic several times. Shopping makes me hella anxious, and My Favorite Murder has become my comic relief and my community. Because, as Karen said on a recent episode, “Anxiety is a liar; it wants you to think you’re safe, when in reality it’s putting you in a box making you think you’re the only one, but you’re not.”

Each week Karen and Georgia share tales of two of their “favorite” murders, which they deliver with both respect for the victims and humor that brings levity to an issue a lot of people want to pretend doesn’t exist. They also record mini episodes where they read hometown murders submitted by listeners. This cemented Karen and Georgia as the best friends I’ve never met because it immediately made me think of my still missing uncle who is thought to be the victim of a highway serial killer, and My Favorite Murder gave me space to talk about it out in the open.

My Family Murder

I grew up in a hardscrabble Irish-Italian family where a lot of my uncles were police officers, detectives, and private investigators. An equal number were criminals. This likely stoked my interest in true crime, along with being a member of the latchkey-kid generation, which afforded me thousands of hours of unsupervised time to watch whatever I wanted on TV, something Karen and Georgia discuss at length. Kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s were left alone after school to toast an entire loaf of bread as an afternoon snack, wallpaper our bedrooms with fruit roll ups, and tune into whatever dark and twisty show was on.

There was no one home to keep us from our loaf-of-bread snacks, sticky-fruit wall art, or ripped-from-the-headlines reruns of Law & Order. So, we watched. A lot. What’s more, coming from a law-enforcement family, I was not under the impression that nothing bad ever happened. Our apartment was robbed when I was 6, so I knew the world was dangerous. Still, even as a hardcore realist obsessed with true crime, I never thought someone in my family would be the victim of a murder.

My Uncle Pat is my grandmother’s oldest brother, and the only one of her six siblings who moved away from the family enclave of Toledo, Ohio. He and his wife Marge came back to visit often, and many of my older cousins spent time with Pat and Marge at their home in California. Pat and Marge even gave my hitchhiking aunt bus fare in the late 70s because Ted Bundy was on his murderous rampage, she fit his long-brown-hair-parted-in-the-middle profile, and they wanted to make sure she was safe from the serial killer.

While my aunt never fell prey to a serial killer, my great uncle did. On April 14, 2011 Pat was driving cross country from Ohio back to his home in Reno, Nev., with his dog Lucky when they both vanished off Interstate 80. Despite being in his 80s, Pat was of sound mind and did not have any medical problems. The Humboldt County sheriff’s department detailed the moments before Pat disappeared. At 9 p.m., he was stopped by a state trooper for making an illegal lane change. Dash-cam footage shows Pat laughing and joking with the trooper before telling him that he was following a trucker to the next town. The trooper later reported that Pat said: “I’m only following him because he is going to Elko.” As a former long-haul trucker himself, this didn’t seem out of character, and the trooper let my uncle go with a warning.

Pat was never seen again. The next morning, just before 6 a.m., a passerby noticed Pat’s car pulled haphazardly off the highway near a rarely used exit. Pat and Lucky were gone, but all of their belongings, including Pat’s wallet with all of the cash inside, were still in the car. It wasn’t until two days later, after my family in Ohio didn’t hear from Pat, that the police went to his home and discovered that he’d never arrived. What makes the incident even more bizarre is that Pat isn’t the first (or the last) person to disappear at that particular exit off of I-80. In 2006 a woman vanished at the same exit the exact same way, and other reports have come in since Pat was last seen.

My law enforcement uncles immediately flew to Nevada to comb the area with search dogs and helicopters, review dash-cam footage, and video from the last place Pat stopped for gas. His case was featured on America’s Most Wanted and several radio shows. My family bought a giant billboard on the side of the interstate begging someone to come forward. We were also contacted by multiple psychics who provided no useful clues.

The case went cold, and my Uncle Pat was officially declared dead in 2015 even though no trace of Pat or Lucky have ever been found. Not a footprint. Not a hair. Nothing. Police suspect a highway serial killer may be involved in the disappearance of Pat and other motorists off of I-80, often dubbed the Highway to Hell and The Big Lonely. And, hundreds of miles of desert wasteland that would take a lifetime to search means there’s no resolution for my family.

Enter My Favorite Murder. No, Karen and Georgia don’t solve crimes and they’re not going to find my uncle, but they have created a space where anyone who’s been a victim of a crime, suffers from mental health issues, or just plain loves true crime, can find their tribe. They’re not perfect; they’re human, and they make missteps. But, they seem willing to admit when they’re wrong, and they try to make it right. It all began when the two women met at a party where Karen was telling a story about a car plowing into a crowd at the SXSW music festival. There was an awkward silence in the group of people who didn’t share her fascination with the morose story until Georgia stepped in and said, “Tell me EVERYTHING.”

Pepper Spray First & Apologize Later

The true-crime twin flames started hanging out and rehashing details of their favorite murder stories. They were having murder meet cutes so often that one day Georgia suggested they start a podcast. They both had other jobs and other podcasts, but began recording once a week in Georgia’s Los Angeles living room to satisfy their own true-crime appetites. They had no idea if anyone would listen. Each episode is sort of like a murderous bedtime story. Karen’s soothing ASMR-ish voice, punctuated by Georgia’s animated swearing, little quips from audio engineer and producer Steven Ray Morris, and a sign off from Georgia’s very vocal Siamese cat Elvis is everything I didn’t know I needed. The podcast ends with the advice: Stay sexy, and don’t get murdered.

My Favorite Murder is unscripted, and it’s akin to overhearing the best conversation of your life. Karen and Georgia’s intuitive mix of genuine true-crime curiosity, unabashed comedy, and “f**k politeness” candor immediately tapped into an audience hungry to connect, which has allowed them to tour the world like rock stars. Only instead of singing songs about love gone wrong they tell murderous tales about why you shouldn’t go in the woods to sold-out crowds around the globe. They even started their own podcast network called Exactly Right (a phrase Karen uses on the regular) to help fledgling podcasters find their audience, and they have abook coming out in 2019. My Favorite Murder has proven to be manifestation at its finest, like throwing one boomerang out into the universe and getting a million thrown back.

Aside from paying it forward with Exactly Right, listeners have written to Karen and Georgia to say that the women’s openness about going to therapy (they even see a therapist together) prompted them to seek help for their own anxiety and depression. Others say that listening to the podcast has helped them become more aware of their surroundings and to put their personal safety over being polite. Still others credit My Favorite Murder with helping them thwart a would-be attack on a friend or stranger.

However, the best feedback came from the survivor of a story Karen adapted from the series I Survived. Jennifer Morey Caldwell was attacked in her Texas apartment, but unlike so many stories Karen and Georgia tell, Jennifer was able to escape. A friend mentioned to her that the story had been featured on My Favorite Murder, and Jennifer came to a live show in Texas to personally thank Karen and Georgia.

“You told my story so beautifully that the night that I heard it my husband and I drank a whole bottle of wine, and I cried, and I cried, and I cried,” Jennifer said to a crying Karen (listen to the last six minutes of episode 95) on stage in Texas. “You honored me when you told my story. You talked about me like you were my friend.” Stop it! I’m not crying, you’re crying. OK, literally EVERYONE is crying. “This has been such a gift to have you honor me and to have people all over the world reach out to me,” Jennifer told Karen and Georgia. “We’re all fascinated and horrified by these crimes. But, the way you bring laughter — you can cry or laugh, pick one — let’s laugh.”

Yes, please. Let’s laugh because I am all out of tears. My Favorite Murder is a reminder that being interested in the psychology behind deviant behavior doesn’t make you weird. Watching, listening, or reading true-crime stories doesn’t make you dark. It makes you smart. It makes you stay out of the forest where the two things most likely to happen are murder and Lyme disease. It makes you more aware of your surroundings. And, it just might make you call your dad when you find you’ve unintentionally joined a cult. Oops.

If you feel like no one understands, come be a murderino. While it is cultish — in a good way — you don’t have to change your name to something like Starshine, commit to wearing only red clothes, and vow to adhere to a strict diet of kale and coconuts. You just have to listen. There are millions of us waiting to welcome you into a world where the dark side is light, there are a lot of talking cats, and everyone is laughing all the way to therapy. And above all: Stay sexy my friendlies, and don’t get murdered.#SSDGM

What’s your respite from the world? Tell me EVERYTHING in the comments below.