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An Arrest Down Under

A popular Australian true crime podcast brings us back to an old question: how far does this rabbit hole go?

Chris Dawson, husband of Lynette Dawson who disappeared from their former home in Sydney in 1982, has been arrested. Police say he is to be extradited to New South Wales (he was arrested in Queensland) and charged with his wife’s murder. He maintains that he is innocent.

Two separate inquests had previously recommended murder charges against a “known person,” but prosecutors had said that there was insufficient evidence against Dawson for a charge. Despite a five-day excavation at the Dawsons’ house in September of this year, no trace or remains of Lynette have ever been found.

This story is the subject of the popular Australian true crime podcast, Teacher’s Pet. According to The Australian newspaper, which made the show, downloads for the series have now hit 28 million. NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, when pushed on what new evidence had prompted the arrest, pointed to new statements from witnesses that he said had come about as a result of the increased media coverage of the case. The Australian is suggesting that this amounts to credit to the podcast for the arrest.

My thoughts on the whole true crime podcasting boom are always in flux: I go back and forth on the “is it ethical to find this stuff entertaining” question all the time. But whatever the answer to that is, it’s increasingly clear that podcasts are influencing events, not just reporting on them.

Aside from the journalistic approach used by Teacher’s Pet and many others, law enforcement and investigators are even launching audio projects to aid them in solving cases. Back in September, Newport Beach Police Department launched Countdown to Capture, a series about Peter Chadwick’s flight from justice in 2012, in the hope of tracking him down. According to a spokesperson, they’re now getting multiple tips a day.

A private detective in Tennessee is doing something similar with Without Warning, hoping to use the podcast format to progress the case of Lauren Agee, a 21 year old who was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in 2015. Her death was ruled an accident, but her family feel the police stopped investigating too soon, and that the show could turn up new leads.

Appealing to the public for tips and using the media to raise awareness of investigations is nothing new. It’s just now happening via podcasts rather than on TV or radio. I thought what Jennifer Manzella, part of the department pursuing the Chadwick case, said was apt: “We’re going out and finding people where they are: driving on their commute or mowing their lawn or listening during morning run. . . instead of asking them to suspend what they’re doing with their day and come watch our press conference.” The same techniques publishers are using to build audiences for shows are also now being used to get potential witnesses listening.