If you haven’t noticed, women are obsessed with true crime.
Now, I’m not one to make broad sweeping generalizations. Of course, some women could care less about crime. But the large numbers in which women flock to consume crime shows, websites, podcasts and other media is a marketer’s dream.
Sadly, the reality behind the growing number of female true crime consumers is bleak. It stems from the female existence of victimization.
While most of us aren’t likely to get murdered, we all know someone who has been a victim of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. The desire to get inside the head of a killer could be looked at akin to a survival mechanism. A way to silence the anxiety, and find the confidence to keep going in the words of a survivor.
And in the midst of current hype around the capture of the Golden State Killer, in the middle of an unconventional anxiety cure, is a man named Paul Holes. He’s a retired criminalist from the Sacramento PD.
Women and Crime
It’s estimated that three women a day are killed by their partners in an act of deranged domestic violence. That’s three too many, but that number pales in comparison to 600 women a day who are sexually assaulted.
The bottom line: women grow up in a culture of victimization.
The statistics get worse when you start breaking down violence against women of color. Black women are 35% more likely to be a victim of intimate partner violence than white women, and are statistically less likely to reach out for help.
That’s partly because systemic stereotypes are prevalent in social services and other state run programs, keeping women from getting the help they need.
For Native American women, more than half have been victims of sexual assault and a daunting 48% of native women surveyed by the National Institute of Justice report having been stalked.
A 2014 study highlighted by the organization RAINN suggests 1 in 9 girls will be sexually assaulted during adolescence, compared to 1 in 53 boys.
When it comes to true crime, you can’t separate the subject from the intersecting weave of topics that are kicked up in its wake. For instance, subjects like mental health, trauma and victimization.
While the above statistics remind us that anyone can be a victim and attacks occur for no rhyme or reason at all. Many women still appreciate true crime because they are interested studying heinous acts to determine what periferal patterns exist.
Some women find comfort in the right combination of emotional healing, morbid curiosity and empowerment that comes from a fascination with a wide range of crime stories.
As more and more women find themselves attracted to stories of true crime, people who don’t understand the phenomena may be wondering “What gives? What makes these women tick?”
A little bit of that is revealed in the viral success of Paul Holes.
#HotForHoles: A Viral Success
Yes, of course the women of true crime fandom read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. They know that Paul Holes dutifully took McNamara from location to location on a tour of the Golden State Killer crimes.
She described him as gentle with a quiet resolve, professional but warm. I’d like to think they started the beginnings of a real friendship before she passed away. And, that for one afternoon in California, we were all along for the ride.
But what sent the fanbase spiraling out over Holes was the inexplicable capture of Joseph James D’Angelo (aka the alleged Golden State Killer) shortly after the release of the long awaited book.
The timing couldn’t have been better for creating an environment where something or someone would have a viral impact.
You have a long awaited book, a culture of women in true crime fandom who consumed it right away. And then, as if by some magical intervention of the late Michelle McNamara, an arrest in 30-years-old crimes.
But it wasn’t a magical intervention. It was the diligent police work that McNamara has described in loving detail, and laid at the feet of criminalist Paul Holes.
It wasn’t just McNamara who acknowledged Holes hard work.
In the aftermath of the arrest, press conferences and news reports frequently mentioned Holes.
The typically-indifferent world of Reddit was excited about Holes. Even the hosts of My Favorite Murder couldn’t get enough Holes and had him appear on the show, fanning the flames of viral fandom to a large audience of mostly women.
The Age of Media
Marketing trends don’t occur in a vacuum, they occur in an incubator.
The timing of the arrest of the Golden State Killer, coupled with the launch of McNamara’s hit book and boosted by a great deal of media attention helped Holes get the spotlight for his contribution to society.
He became viral because the right audience of curious and empowered women was ready to embrace #HotForHoles.
It’s evident that the fascination between women and true crime is here to stay. At least as long as the existence of being a woman in society mandates that you subject yourself to harassment and abuse.
In an indignant feat of viral activism another movement, #MeToo, has ensured we don’t forget the plight of being a woman in society. Increasingly, women are using social media as a tool to organize, dissent and come together as people. It unifies us and fortifies us as a group against the world.
But if the viral success of Paul Holes tells us anything it’s that in a culture of trauma and victimization that seems almost hopeless, we can’t lose faith. After all, they caught the Golden State Killer, and that has to count for something!
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Making a DA: Marketing & Sacramento’s DA Race After Stephon Clark & the Case of the Golden State Killer
On 8:23 am on April 25th, I sent my sister a message on Facebook.
It was a screenshot of Karen Kilgariff’s Twitter, that in all caps read: THEY THINK THEY CAUGHT THE EAST AREA RAPIST WHICH MEANS THEY CAUGHT THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER.
It was met with an astonished “What?!?!” that set the tone for the entire day. Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, I was deeply entrenched in Reddit live feeds and tuned in to Sacramento’s local news stream, online.
It was fascinating and I was instantly and shamelessly immersed in the media frenzy.
The Case of the Golden State Killer
The intrigue of the case is a strong pull, not least of all due to Michelle McNamara's book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. McNamara, who passed away in her sleep while writing the book, secured her role in the hearts of true crime lovers everywhere as an empathetic but dogged journalist.
McNamara was relatable as she described late nights holed up in her daughter’s bedroom, scribbling notes on a notepad with fragmented crayons. In the end, it was likely the stress of the case and exhaustion that resulted in her sudden and untimely death. But with the help of her husband and cohorts, the book was released in February.
Eager to get my hands on it, I had pre-ordered my copy. And before I had a chance to finish the captivating whodunnit narrative woven by a thoughtful McNamara, The Golden State Killer was caught two months after the book’s release.
He had evaded police capture for 40 years.
The Sacramento PD continues to downplay the influence McNamara had on the outcome of the case, but everyone agrees her research and resolve to find the killer renewed public interest with each article published.
The fact that Joseph James DeAngelo, the 72-year-old man allegedly responsible for around 50 rapes, 12 murders and dozens of home invasions, is referred to as the Golden State Killer at all is a testament to McNamara's hard work -- and keen marketing skills.
Toward the end of her life, while investigating the crimes, McNamara befriended a Sacramento criminalist named Paul Holes. Holes was the lead criminalist on the GSK case and took McNamara on a tour of the most significant crime scenes in his district which she recalls in the book.
According to McNamara, Holes was known to drive to the crime scenes often to try and piece together important clues they may have missed. Holes was instrumental in locating the DNA that ultimately pointed to DeAngelo.
The familial DNA that Holes and his team of criminalists discovered came from an open-source DNA database online. And while this is a public database, the whole case has raised questions about private DNA collection and the reach of the law when it comes to privacy rights.
It’s easy to see why people are interested in the Golden State Killer.
In the midst of a GSK media storm that is still ongoing, DeAngelo's name sticks to the lips of true crime buffs everywhere, but to the detriment of another family. A name that should have hung in the air like a flag of shame signaling the failures of Sacramento PD is that of Stephon Clark, who just weeks before was gunned down by police for holding a cell phone in his grandmother's backyard.
The Death of Stephon Clark
Before the press conference where DA Anne Marie Schubert stood in front of the world declaring triumph in allegedly closing the cold case that had haunted Sacramento county for four decades, a young man in a hoodie was pursued by police on foot as he approached his grandmother’s house. This man was Stephon Clark.
Stephon Clark was a 22-year-old father of two. He was black. His death is one of 400 at the hands of police in 2018, alone. And the nature of it, an unarmed black man shot 2 times in the front and 6 times the back in the yard of his own family home, makes it difficult for even the most willfully ignorant to refuse the depth to which systemic racism is affecting black lives in the United States.
Stephon Clark was pursued by police because he supposedly matched the description of a person who had been seen breaking windows in the Sacramento neighborhood -- a black man wearing a hoodie, on foot.
In the time since the shooting, the Sacramento PD has released the videos of over 23 officers body cams, dash cams and even helicopter footage. If you think this seems like an excessive use of police resources to pursue a potential “window-breaker” on foot. You’re not alone.
The most devastating footage shows two officers chasing Stephon Clark and yelling for him to stop. They follow the man into a yard. He frantically taps on the window of his grandmother’s home. When he turns around, arms out with a white iPhone in his hand, the officers unload 20 bullets in his direction and he drops to the ground.
Even though an excessive number of officers arrive at the scene, it was 6 long minutes before any attempts were made to resuscitate Clark. All attempts at that point failed.
Stephon Clark was dead.
A Scandal for DA Schubert
In addition to pressure from McNamara’s fanbase, another driving factor that could have caused police to aggressively close the Golden State Killer case at this time is PR and marketing. With DA elections coming up in 2018, Schubert’s office needed hail mary play to drive public attention away from yet another scandal. And that’s what they got with DeAngelo.
In the case of Stephon Clark, a lot of questions remain unanswered by the DA’s office. Among the answers the world is still waiting to receive:
If history tells us anything, the Sacramento PD has a cozy relationship with DA Schubert, one that’s unlikely to see charges brought against any officers.
Disgracefully, the DA called it an early day when protesters gathered on the lawn of her office after attending Stephon Clark’s funeral. No one was around to hear the call and response chant: “Say his name! Stephon Clark!”
After weeks of protests, she put up a 10-foot fence.
This cold shoulder is par for course with how she has treated victims of police violence throughout her term as DA, even though her campaign website hinges on victim advocacy. In the three years, she's been in office, she's failed to file any charges in 21 police shootings and 13 cases of people who died in police custody, according to Sacramento News and Review.
Her critics suggest she’s also given a free pass to Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones who allegedly committed a misdemeanor when he deliberately released sensitive case information.
It’s no secret the DA has the police department’s back. But whether that actually overlaps with the public safety remains to be seen.
The capture of the Golden State Killer is a feather in the team’s cap that will be exploited on the campaign trail. But the families of Stephon Clark, Mikel Laney McIntyre and others who have died at the hands of Sacramento police or in police custody have good reason to carry the torch for accountability from DA Schubert.
DA Schubert and The Campaign Trail
Folks in Sacramento were still mourning Stephon Clark when the world was tuning into the press conference on the capture of the Golden State Killer. But the content of the conference was entirely unremarkable.
The DA congratulated the Police department for stellar sleuthing, who in turn congratulated the DA for hard work and perseverance.
After a lot of glad-handing and a general consensus that they got him, a brief Q&A session ensued. During this time, Schubert appeared to closely control the narrative and shut down anything they weren’t willing to discuss which was pretty much everything. In the context of Stephon Clark’s untimely demise, the celebratory press conference seems like a bit of red herring marketing stunt.
In support of this theory, one only has to look at the DA’s own re-election marketing efforts. In the wake of the alleged capture of GSK, the DA’s campaign aired a 30-second-commercial where Schubert’s praised for her DNA expertise and leadership in the case. It tests the slogan “She protects us.”
A mantra that is off-putting, if not totally untrue, to friends and family members of people whose lives were cut short at the hands of police, and who have been demanding accountability from the Sacramento DA for up to 3 years.
That quest for accountability was received by at least one councilman who rescinded their support of DA Schubert earlier this week, stating "I think we have to have a person in that position that has the confidence of the community and that law enforcement respects and recognizes that they will be held accountable just as the community will be held accountable if they do things that warrant it."
On the DA’s website and Facebook, many of her endorsements come from former law enforcement officials, including the much revered GSK criminalist, Paul Holes. That’s notwithstanding a report that over her term as DA, Schubert has received $420,000 in campaign funds from law enforcement-related agencies, including the money she accepted in the wake of Stephon Clark's death.
While DA Schubert uses campaign funds to manage her marketing initiatives and raise awareness for her cause, another player is gaining support from big names in social justice. That's Noah Phillips, her opponent in the DA race that is scheduled for a vote next month.
Phillips is bringing with him the endorsement of Sen. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and more.
At a time when social justice is on the minds of Sacramentans, the United States and the world, the scandals affecting the incumbent DA offer unique challenges for a marketing campaign. However, making her appear as the best DA candidate will largely hinge on whether or not people believe she was instrumental in the capture of the Golden State Killer.
By keeping news about DeAngelo flowing to the media, the DA’s office may be embarking on a public relations strategy that can quickly make Schubert look like a crime-fighting hero instead of a DA who puts the interest of police power over that of the value of lives.
It will be interesting to see how the DA’s election pans out in Sacramento, and what the larger implications are for Sacramentans about social justice. Any shift in the current DA’s administration will indicate that police corruption and the loss of human lives can’t be overshadowed by a skillful marketing effort in the wake of the Golden State Killer.
In the June 5th election, the key to DA Schubert’s success will be to cleverly market her triumph in the Golden State Killer case. But will DA Schubert be held accountable for the death of Stephon Clark and others under her watch instead? One thing’s for sure, the answer will have a lasting effect on Sacramento public policy.
On a warm June day, in the desert community of Mesa, Arizona a young woman prepared for a trip to Mexico. She had beachy brown hair, a glowing tan and a toothy grin. Excited for the trip ahead, she was packed and ready to leave the next morning.
But one problem was nagging at her. She hadn’t been able to reach her travel companion, Travis Alexander.
In fact, it had been Travis who invited Mimi Hall to Cancun on a trip he had earned through his affiliation with a network marketing company -- Prepaid Legal Services (PPL).
On a personal and religious quest for true love, Travis wanted to date Mimi. And although Mimi had made it clear she was only seeking friendship due to his reputation as a playboy in their Mormon community, she agreed to accompany him on the exclusive beach vacation with the Prepaid Legal crew.
But now, Travis wasn’t answering her calls. Something was amiss.
By this point, it should be a surprise to no one, what Mimi and her friends discovered as they rushed into Travis’s bedroom on June 9th, 2008 -- four days after he was murdered by his ex-lover and tormenter, Jodi Arias.
In the following article, we’ll examine the Jodi Arias case from a different perspective:
We’ll even uncover some network marketing takeaways. But first, let’s talk about the crime.
The Murder of Travis Alexander
The media couldn’t get enough of the sensational, sexually-charged trial that sent the Alexanders running out of the courtroom in tears as Travis’s personal indiscretions were raked over the steamy coals of Arias’s narrative.
The attractive sometimes-platinum blond, sometimes brunette, appeared deliberately librarian-chic when she took the stand to testify in her own defense. But the words that came rolling out of her mouth were anything but meek. She commanded the room, and the world, as she spun stories about sex, lies and audiotape.
In the end, Jodi’s defense didn’t hold up. To this day, there’s no evidence to suggest that Travis charged at Jodi on that fateful afternoon in June. Or that she acted in self defense, in anyway. In fact, the most compelling evidence suggests that Arias planned to kill Travis because she’s a jealous and possessive stalker who raged over his decision to take Mimi Hall to Mexico.
Jodi may have convinced herself she was victimized, believing that what she put into the relationship -- debasing, paraphilic secret sex and a conversion to Mormonism -- made her entitled to Travis as her serious, long-term life-partner.
At worst, she lied despicably about feeling like a victim to garner sympathy, mercy and win over the jury. Either way, she’s a perpetrator of the worst kind of domestic violence, that which results in death.
In the midst of all of this, It’s easy to forget that at the foundation of this toxic relationship timeline is a multi-level marketing company, PPL.
What We Know About Prepaid Legal
Reportedly, Prepaid Legal Services was an MLM started in the late 60s by a man named Harland Stonecipher. Here’s what we know about PPL, the company that unwittingly facilitated the environment where Travis and Jodi would fatefully meet:
Prepaid Legal Services, now the private company LegalShield, provides moderately rated legal insurance services to consumers, but at what cost to the distributors who appear largely unsuccessful at selling the service?
The Cult of MLMs
Most of what I’ve read suggests LegalShield costs around $100 to get started. But that may not be the total cost of doing business. It appears LegalShield still offers exclusive getaway vacations to successful sales associates, like they did under the name PPL when Travis was a top producer.
After all, big rewards are part of the allure of direct sales. Most experts would agree that the success of a direct sales organization is directly related to its culture, offering enticing rewards to top producers is one way direct sales organizations sustain a positive company culture.
When it comes to MLMs, you’re in the business of people more than products. As such direct sales organizations offer vacation packages, corporate trainings and team building opportunities that ensure everyone is drinking the kool-aid. You see what I did there?
Running With a Doomed Idea
Let me spell it out. “Drinking the kool-aid” is a phrase that stems from the Jonestown Massacre, and refers negatively to a group of people who run with a doomed idea. In many ways, MLMs are similar to cults.
An article by Al-Jazeera America, Your MLM Loves You, explores the nature of MLMs and how they appeal to “faith-based capitalists” by cherry-picking the best parts of scripture to create a sense of community, faith and indoctrination in members.
Dr. Claudia Gross told Al-Jazeera that while manipulation tactics are an unfortunate staple of most marketing, they are more impactful and pervasive in MLMs due to their unique structure and lack of regulation.
Direct sales organizations often draw people in with promises of a better, more luxurious life, and, once inside, there are no substantial unions or workforce organizations devoted to industry regulation and protection of distributors. That leaves those who signed up and invested in a distributorship particularly vulnerable to manipulation and mistreatment.
MLM-Sex-Cult of the Week
For a recent example, one only has to turn on the news about TV-star Allison Mack and her alleged involvement in an MLM-turned-sex-cult, NXIVM (obnoxiously pronounced Nexium). Reportedly, allegations against Mack include recruiting women to be sex slaves for the company’s founder, Keith Raniere, and even branding them with initials.
While that may be an extreme example, MLMs appeal skews heavily to women. In fact, 92% of in-home direct sales parties are thrown by women. An equally daunting statistic is 99% of independent MLM distributorships lose money. It certainly looks like women are vulnerable to aspects of network marketing that could cause them to go in the hole financially.
But at the top of these companies, often times is a founding man. Take doTERRA, Avon, Herbalife, Amway and even LegalShield -- all founded by men. One criticism of direct sales is its an industry largely driven by charismatic men who profit off the subjugation of impressionable women that want better for themselves and their families.
Travis was good at making money with PPL. He had a beautiful home, a nice car and was comfortable enough to travel. Travis’s success with Prepaid Legal is the kind of bootstraps story that most MLMs would be eager to capitalize on.
In the book, Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias, author Jane Velez-Mitchell says Travis was good at selling PPL because of his religion. She equates the Mormon mission, which includes door knocking for God in suburban neighborhoods, to his ability to connect with people and sell them on something he was passionate about.
Objectively, thinking that a network marketing organization sounds like your religion in any sense should send up some major red flags. But Mormonism isn’t the only religion that shares something in common with MLMs.
The Church of Scientology embodies a doctrine of religious beliefs that are widely-criticized for being “cult-like”. Among them are these attributes shared between Scientology and MLMs:
This list goes on. Not least of all, many of these organizations, like Scientology, end with a charismatic male at the top of the biggest pyramid.
At the beginning of the Travis Alexander and Jodi Arias saga is a chance meeting between the two. And at the end is a horrific murder that happened just days before Travis was scheduled to take a luxurious business trip.
Both waypoints on the timeline of this strange and sordid case have one thing in common: network marketing.
In all likelihood, joining an MLM will not lead down a path to murder. But the foundation of the direct sales industry, the very structure on which it relies, might be a “doomed idea”.
There are several things you should consider before you partner with an MLM:
Remember that MLMs attract vulnerable people who are looking for greatness no matter the cost. Also keep in mind, those who are very successful at direct selling often embody the traits of charismatic cult leaders.
There are lots of things that should give you pause about MLMs, and yet there’s still a small percentage of people who join and make legitimate money working from home. Whatever you decide to do, if you’re like me you’ll remain skeptical.
And so concludes the toxic tale of Jodi Arias, against the backdrop of an industry that supports a power differential between men and women, and promotes problematic, if not cult-like behavior.
Follow my blog for more fresh perspective, and remember -- don’t drink the kool-aid!