The True Crime “Podcast Junkie” turned Real Life Murder Suspect

Many true crime podcasters often wonder if the people responsible for a murder or disappearance they’ve covered on their programs listen to the show detailing these crimes. That scenario was seemingly confirmed in 2020, when a man named Steve Pankey became a person of interest in a disappearance that happened almost 40 years before. Before he was arrested for murder, Pankey turned to podcasts to tell his side of the story, an unadvisable move from a legal perspective but one that was nonetheless strangely logical given the influence and reach of true crime today.

Pankey went on trial in October 2021, and the presence of true crime podcasting was even more pronounced, as not only did a host testify at the trial but a different podcaster was in the front row recording the proceedings for an upcoming series. Meanwhile, though the victim’s family have been dealing with press since the early 1980s, they nevertheless found themselves confronted with a powerful new media format that can help and hinder police investigations and the many stages of the family’s healing process.

Did Pankey commit this crime, or is he just a strange guy angling for attention? If true crime is inherently voyeuristic, can the format be used for good as well as entertainment? I went to part of the trial and interviewed many people involved in this strange case to find out.

Read my eleventh piece for Narratively here.

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