ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — From “Law and Order” to “Mindhunter,” many Americans are welcoming true crime into their homes. Those stories have inspired others to find justice right here in the Capital Region. But, the question remains, could a growing interest in true crime actually help solve local cases?
“It goes back to the 19th Century with Lizzie Borden when the media begins to cover true crime,” Frankie Bailey, professor of Criminal Justice at UAlbany, said.
“About the time when O.J. Simpson was on trial, I became really interested then because of media coverage, massive coverage,” Bailey said.
Interest in crimes, gangs and murders has soared over the last decade, manifesting itself in anything you could imagine; from novels and movies to podcasts and shows available at the click of a button. Bailey said the interest stems from our attraction to mystery.
“It’s human nature and they’re really fascinated by what people do and how they do it, so often there’s a mystery aspect of it,” Bailey said. “You’re told the crime as if it were a mystery and you wait until the end to see if you outwitted the police, or whether you’ve outwitted the detectives or whether your solution to the crime was true or not.”
The surge in true crime shows leading to justice right here in the Capital Region for the family of Wilomeana “Violet” Filkins. Violet was murdered in her apartment in 1994 by Jeremiah Guyette, who had plans to steal her car and rob a bank. Her murder went unanswered for almost 30 years until an ex-girlfriend recalled 10-year-old comments Guyette made to her about an old woman and notified the police.
“The ex-girlfriend in this case never thought about the statements that Jeremiah had made to her before she was watching cold case homicides on Netflix,” Michael Guadagnino, Public Information Officer for the East Greenbush Police Department, said.
“She saw that, it sprung her attention, she started googling different stuff and saw that Jeremiah had lived in the town of East Greenbush during the time of Violet’s murder, put two and two together; and that’s when she decided to give us a call and come forward,” Guadagnino said.
Violet’s is not the only local case helped by a rising interest in true crime. The 2007 disappearance of Jaliek Rainwalker, a 12-year-old boy from Greenwich, captured national attention in February 2021 after his disappearance was covered in the Crime Junkies podcast.
Police have followed hundreds of leads over the years, most recently searching an area in South Troy. Sgt. Robert Danko, of the Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department, said the bulk of tips came in between 2020 and 2021.
“There are some things that people might not realize would be a good tip,” Danko said. “It’s information they didn’t think about and hearing the stories and hearing the podcasts, they can get information they think wasn’t important and send it out to us.”
Attraction to mystery also has its dangers. Bailey adds sensationalizing crimes for “infotainment” can inspire some to become their own sleuths, searching for information that could mislead an investigation.
“They lose a lot of time following up on those clues and they have to follow up on all of those even if they think they’re far-fetched,” Bailey said.
Despite the risks, police believe that attention to true crime could help bring justice to other mysteries here in the Capital Region.
“If we don’t keep it in the public eye, it tends to get lost with time,” Danko said. “The more it’s out there, the more people get the chance to review it.”