Monster Preacher, an Oxygen documentary, covers the case of Gary Heidnik. He was a self-ordained preacher in Pennsylvania that held services on the first floor of his home while he had numerous women chained together in his basement. His ultimate goal was to create his own little utopia full of submissive sex slaves and their children all living in his basement. He raped, tortured and kidnapped six women and killed two of them. He chose women that lived high-risk lifestyles or were considered extremely vulnerable because he felt that they would not be missed. The documentary on Oxygen covers this from the perspective of two of his surviving victims as they walk a journey to reunite for the first time since they were chained together in Heidnik’s basement.
True Crime Obsessed, a popular true crime podcast dedicated an episode to this case and specifically centered their discussion around the Oxygen documentary during the one hour episode. During the remainder of this piece, we will not be discussing the documentary specifically but the commentary provided by the podcast. We will analyze various aspects of the podcast, such as the tone the hosts choose to adhere to and the perspective from which they analyze the documentary, in order to ultimately support the claim that the nature of this podcast is inappropriate to the broader genre in which it exists.
While we understand that the podcast was made with the intention of not only looking through various true crime cases but also specifically highlighting them in a satirical and comical way, it almost seems as if it has been taken too far. While listening to this podcast one thing to this point became increasingly obvious – there was nothing to indicate any sort of remorse for the situation or the victims in the tone of the hosts voices. This became such a problem that the shift from the actual case to the paid promotions seemed to go almost unnoticed to the listeners.
Typically, there should be more of a noticeable indication of the change from the content to the ad, however, the ad was given to the audience in the same way as the information was. This created an almost confusion with the audience, which was shortly followed by the concern of the listeners as to whether or not the audience should be listening to it in the first place. While the hosts did mention occasionally that the case was horrific, and they should not be taking it as lightly as they were, it did not alter the need to constantly laugh, bash, and joke about these extremely violent occurrences. Keeping this tone to the point where the audience isn’t even able to detect a change in information can potentially give the listeners the wrong idea – that extreme cases, where victims were severely abused and tortured is something that should be seen more as humorous rather than the tragedy that they truly are. Everyone at one point or another has experienced dark humor, or perhaps even indulged in it, but this podcast seemed to take it too far.
The podcast episode was, in all honesty, a little off putting for someone who is not a regular listener of the show. Although the episode is a reaction more than documenting or investigating the case, the way that they discuss the case is clearly more for the entertainment of their listeners and to build up their show than to actually seriously discussing this case. From discussing the relationships between the girls, and the odd things Heidnik did during his lifetime, it feels as though they are discussing a drama show, or some form of reality tv. This is not to say that they are exclusive in this presentation of true crime, and I think they are fueled by, and adding fuel to, the fire that this new form of entertainment has taken on.
Through Netflix documentaries, countless podcasts, and even events such as conventions, true crime has become less about spreading information and finding truth, and simply more of entertainment like a mystery novel or movie. From the laughter and discussion of the hosts’ own lives, to relating to the victims with cliché phrases, this episode does bring to light the case, but only in a way that makes the listener feel a part of this community of the podcast, and a part of the larger fandom in general. In finding this case, the hosts “I can’t believe I never heard of this before” mentality feels like when you read and love a new author for the first time or watch a new sit-com and find it incredibly funny, and I think this is one main aspect of the true crime genre that is scary to think about. The people involved in these crimes are often treated more like celebrities and actors than they are criminals and victims. If we ruin people’s lives, whether falsely accused bystanders or in discussing drama between victims, so be it as long as we are entertained and have our interest peaked for 63 minutes at a time.
One major failure of this podcast, and the genre as a whole, is its denial of the weight of these crimes. Let us not lose focus on what this genre set out to do. Instead, let’s move away from the entertainment and remember the lives of the victims. So often in this genre the victims are lost and completely forgotten while the criminals are plastered everywhere and always remembered. Pictured to the left are Heidnik’s six victims. Let their names be the last thing you read:
Josefina Rivera: 25, kidnapped on November 25, 1986. Survivor.
Sandra Lindsay: 24, kidnapped December 3, 1986. Murdered February 7, 1987.
Lisa Thomas: 19, kidnapped December 23, 1986. Survivor.
Deborah Dudley: 23, kidnapped January 2, 1987. Murdered March 19, 1987.
Jacqueline (Jackie) Askins: 18, kidnapped January 18, 1987. Survivor.
Agnes Adams: 24, kidnapped March 23, 1987. Survivor.