New podcast amplifies voice of Golden State Killer’s victims

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By JACKIE MOE

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., highly publicized as the Golden State Killer, is alleged to have murdered 13 people in California during the 70s and 80s. He also raped 50 women. Despite this, he’ll only stand trial for the murders.

Paige St. John, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, takes her listeners on an investigative journey that reveals the devastation this deadly serial killer left behind in the Wondery and L.A. Times podcast “Man in the Window.” The series gives a more in-depth look as to who he is, the police work and the stories of his victims, including an exclusive interview with his ex-fiancée.

But what separates this crime podcast from others is it not only opens up conversation about serious and untouched topics outside of the usual murder stories, but it also amplifies the voices of his female victims who have been shushed for decades. St. John shares her inspiration to bring these stories to the podcast medium. 

What elements of a crime story do you look for when deciding whether or not to pursue a podcast discussion? 

I don’t specialize in crime stories — I seek out complicated and compelling subjects that merit and can sustain a deep investigation. In this case, that started as an effort to understand the motivations behind the man accused of one of the most brutal crime series in American history, with a stunning 106 victims of rape, torture or murder. But it quickly jumped into the podcast-sphere when I realized there is a larger story to be told, of a silent generation of women. 

The East Area Rapist was only one of many serial rapists who ran amok in the 1970s and 1980s. The experiences of his half-hundred victims capture the larger societal issues of rape at a time when feminism was still dawning. What better way to give a voice to these women, and at what better time than now as we grapple with recurring revelations of past sexual assault?

What was the initial inspiration of creating the ‘Man In the Window’ series podcast?

I first wrote a four-part print narrative for the Los Angeles Times, and then set out with the podcast to tell a complementary story that amplifies the voices of the female victims. I want listeners to know these women, like them and empathize with them, and rejoice in their strength and determination. The inspiration for the project stems from their willingness to share their most private feelings to anyone in the world willing to listen.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested in April 2018.

Was it your intention to open up and shed light on larger topics beyond the story of the Golden State Killer? Such as the “language of rape?”

Absolutely! From the start, I did not want to create a “true crime” story that served only to entertain and shock with horror and violence. To merit so much intrusion into the lives of these victims, the project required a higher purpose. I wish I could have done more, like brought in the voices of Phyllis Schlafly and Bella Abzug, to remind listeners of the rhetoric of the times. 

It was easy to see how national discord and debate over equal rights shaped the reaction to a serial rapist, even was echoed by local detectives who criticized rape crisis counselors as being ‘anti-male.’ It was jolting to be reminded of the shroud that surrounded rape in the 1970s, the lesser standing it had as a crime, the underlying implications that victims somehow invited their attack, and the scarcity of tools law enforcement had to solve these crimes. 

What challenges did you experience in creating the first season? 

The popularity of true crime podcasts presented its own major hurdle. The standard form pits a heroic detective against a force of evil, with predictable results. On top of that, the “Golden State Killer” has been heavily marketed. The challenge was to break that mold, and tell people a story they actually didn’t know, from perspectives often left shallow and one-dimensional. It was an immense relief when I started reading listener comments and saw that they got it, that this is a crime story, but also so much more, and they were not turned off by that.

When it comes to storytelling, how does the podcasting medium feel different from reporting/writing?

There’s an intensity to an extended multi-part narrative podcast that far exceeds anything I’ve done in four decades of writing for print. Voices bring such nuance, color and immediacy to the story. And the way people listen to podcasts — that they literally plug themselves into the story — creates such an intimate space. Done well, done right, it’s as if the listener and the characters exist in their own private room in the mind.  

Why do you think people are so compelled to listen to crime stories? 

I ask that of almost everyone I meet. My Uber drivers. Waiters and bartenders. The podcast-addicted editors I meet at other papers. It is a puzzle to me. Some people, usually women, say that listening to crime stories lets them work through their fears. Others enjoy the tingle of fear, and those people are sure to share with me their most terrifying moment of Man in the Window. My own interest, when I read or listen to crime, is to try to understand the human psyche. How is this possible? Who are we that we can do such things?

Do you have any “podcast heroes” or particular hosts that you listen to that have influenced the Man in the Window series? 

I transitioned from listening to audio books to podcasts, so generally sought out for more “writerly” subjects. But when I launched into Man in the Window, I polled the newsroom and came away with two top recommendations: “In the Dark” and “Crimetown: Providence.” I studied both podcasts intently, for the handling of complicated stories with multiple characters and, in Crimetown especially, the use of archival materials to bring the past to life. Providence remains my all-time favorite. The hosts don’t step on the show, or the larger-than-life personalities that they bring to life. It’s an enjoyable ride.

What do you hope to achieve with this podcast? 

Most of my investigative work seeks to right some wrong. This project is very different. My biggest hope is that it begets conversations, and understanding. That women who were raped, and stayed silent, feel safe enough to talk about it, even decades later — and if they suffer trauma, to seek help.

Anything else you would like readers to know?

It could be four years or more before Joseph DeAngelo goes to trial, if he ever does, and that leaves most of the victims of the East Area Rapist/Ransacker and families of those killed by the Original Night Stalker in limbo. I expect there may be occasional updates, even as I move on to other projects. But additional episodes are also likely as new facets of this story can be told. We are working right now on an Episode Eight, to explore why the criminal case is not moving, and to hear for the first time from some of the most silent of all the victims, the men. The things they have to say are quite amazing, and deeply disturbing. It forces us to complicate our understanding of these rapes, with evidence that both women –and men– were being stalked.   

Paige St. John covers criminal justice and investigative stories for the Los Angeles Times from Sacramento. She won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2011. She hails most recently from Florida, where she covered state politics, disasters and property insurance.



 




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