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The Art of Writing True Crime (and Why I Don’t Anymore)

The subject of true crime has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few

decades. From TV shows to podcasts to books, the subject has piqued the interest of

nearly everyone at some point or another. We follow court cases like O.J. Simpson and

Casey Anthony, voice our opinions on verdicts, and search for trending hashtags on

Twitter/X or breaking news headlines on CNN. It is a topic that is nearly impossible to

escape from when watching the news or browsing social media.




For several years, I ran a website called “The Chrysalis Chapters” - a blog-style

site dedicated to victims of crime. The difference between me and most other true

crime sites, though, was I sought out the families of homicide victims and

missing persons and asked their permission to write about their loved ones. (This is

not to say that other true crime podcasts, blogs, books, TV shows, etc. never ask for

permission; this is just to say it appears to be few and far between.) I called the

pieces I wrote “memorial articles” and wrote with a focus on the victim, not the

perpetrator, which I felt also set me apart from the rest of the true crime community.

My mission with my website was twofold: to honor the victims and garner attention

for unsolved cases.


I’d dedicated “The Chrysalis Chapters” to a high school friend, Carina

Saunders, who was murdered at the age of nineteen in October of 2011. Her murder

shocked me to my core as it did the rest of the state of Oklahoma, and due to the

extremely graphic nature of her death, I will refrain from the details. But what is still

important to know, and something I did my best to convey on my website, was

Carina Saunders was more than a headline. She was a human being; a deeply loved,

talented, beautiful person whose life was ripped away from her.


I am friends with Carina’s mother and was able to interview her for an in-

depth memorial article about Carina’s life, from her birth to her acceptance of Jesus

only weeks before her disappearance and the legacy she left behind.


As with all of the memorial articles I wrote, I was enormously proud, but this

one was a little different as I had personally known the person I was writing about. I

had sat with her at lunch in high school and our circles of friends overlapped. Her

mother was my mail lady. Although Carina and I had not been close, I had called her a

friend and for that I am thankful.


But the rest of the true crime community didn’t see Carina as a person. They

viewed the article I had written as an “inside scoop” to the story, picking it apart like

vultures, stealing and reusing the information I had diligently gathered from multiple

interviews. They took the private family pictures Carina’s mother had lovingly

allowed me to use on my website and advertised them for their own podcasts and

blogs.


Maybe I was naive. Maybe I shouldn’t have written the article at all.

Despite this, I am still pleased that her story has reached across the nation in

order to bring more awareness to her case. Almost thirteen years later, it remains

unsolved.


 

There is an art to writing true crime, and even if you don’t and never plan to

write it, I think it is healthy to know how so one can watch out for true crime that isn’t

done ethically.

Write with a focus on the victim and his/her family.


I feel like this should go without saying, but it feels like the victim is often lost

in the race for the most clicks and likes. How would you feel if your loved one was

murdered and someone did an entire story on the bastard who did it?


Obtain permission from the family before creating anything.


This is not your story to tell. The more involved the family is, the better your

content will be. Out of all of the families I queried about writing a memorial article for,

I can only remember one who specifically requested that I refrain - and that’s

perfectly fine.


Be as truthful and accurate as possible.


For me, this meant sending the memorial article back to the family before

publishing it on my website to ensure everything was correct. It also meant doing

small things, like researching the weather on the day the crime occurred to give more

details and a story-like feel to it, or scrolling through the victim’s social media to get

an idea of who they were and what they were like.


 

As much as I loved writing these stories and connecting with families, I shut

down “The Chrysalis Chapters” a few years ago. I felt like the time had come and gone

for several reasons; it was time to close that chapter and move on to different projects.

I also did not want to be associated with the true crime community any longer.


I truly believe that the moment people began choosing their “favorite” crime

and started making crude jokes while telling victims’ stories, all sense of human

decency had been abandoned. Once serial killers were aggrandized and spree shooters

were seen as heroes, all hope was lost. (I have seen tattoos of school shooters and

action figures of serial killers. It’s disgusting.)


I believe there is a fine line between a healthy interest in true crime and pure

obsession. The community’s priorities are grossly skewed, and it’s beyond time we fix

this. Here are a couple of things you, as part of the public, can do to assist with this:


  • Research the books, podcasts, and TV shows you want to partake in. Did

the creator get the family’s consent? Was the family involved with the

creation of it? If not, avoid it at all costs.

  • Donate. There are a plethora of organizations that can benefit from a financial donation. I try to find nonprofits that are local to me, such as the Oklahoma Homicide Survivors Support Group. (My debut novel’s author’s proceeds will be donated exclusively to them.)


When you get down to the core of it, true crime should be respectful, ethical,

and accurate. It’s high time we rid ourselves of the toxic, self-serving platforms that

do nothing but inflate their own bank accounts and egos and instead promote the ones

that have integrity - something that is lost on so many people these days.




Lindsay Schraad Keeling is a former funeral director turned author (her debut novel, The Funeral Director's Wife,

comes out September 3rd of this year). A seasoned writer of true crime, Lindsay has written for several online magazines, including running her own true crime website dedicated to victims of homicide and missing persons.

Lindsay retired from the funeral industry after ten years and now assists her husband with the family pest control business as she writes in her spare time.

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