Even when these projects begin with the best of intentions, to bring justice and attention to forgotten victims, they must know the unlikelihood of solving their cases. After all, only one podcast of which I know, Your Own Backyard, seems to have played an integral role in naming a perpetrator (the alleged murderer of a teenage girl who disappeared in 1996). Plenty of other podcasts declare victory, and settle on a murderer they can’t bring to justice due to “lack of evidence”: maybe they’re right, but maybe they’re just ruining some man’s life.
In general, anyway, dead women are good for business. The whole Western entertainment industry is built on the backs of dismembered, violated and humiliated female bodies, usually providing motivation for male heroes to go on journeys of self-discovery or revenge. The only hotter commodity is the mysterious cause of death: the woman who refuses to give up her secrets. The speculation and innuendo sell newspapers and TV programmes – and the security systems that sponsor many of these podcasts, too.
Since the dead-girl formula works, podcasters are unlikely to innovate until people stop listening. (To avoid being turned into entertainment if I’m ever murdered, can I force my friends and family to sign non-disclosure agreements, to forbid them legally from saying how “charming” and “lively” I was? Or at least force them to tell the truth, and say I was sullen and misanthropic, and only ever seemed to be in the bath or in bed? Maybe if I continue to live my life as “problematically” as possible, I’ll fall off the “relatability” scale, and no journalist will care to figure out how I died.)
In the meantime, we should implement a law that once a podcaster takes up a (more attractive) cold case, they are legally obliged to finish what they start. No launching a new series until you’ve solved the first one; no “going on hiatus” until a clue in the case shakes loose. The podcasters who dig up these victims must update us, regularly, until the end of time if need be, telling us about their progress (or lack of it). This is what a dead girl deserves: not for her death to be offered to a bored public in need of an aural spectacle.