True crime podcasts have become a multi-million dollar industry, with some of the industry’s most popular podcasts garnering millions of downloads a month while diving deep into stories of murder. The other side of the growing industry is the criminal cases that podcasts like Crime Junkie have helped re-open or solve.
True crime as a genre is not without its controversies. Creators in the space balance the positives and negatives, ethically and creatively, of citizen journalism. Accusations of exploitation – of tragedies or victims’ stories – levied at true crime shows have become a ubiquitous part of the cultural zeitgeist so much so that it has been satirized in shows like Peacock’s “Based On A True Story” where a seemingly average husband and wife host a true crime podcast with a serial killer, or Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” where amateur true crime podcasters help a real detective solve a murder in part to re-ignite their careers in showbiz.
Tia Lincoln, the real-life host and creator of the new and raw “Maryland’s Most Notorious Murders” podcast, is far from the satirized prototypical true crime host detailed in shows like “Only Murders in the Building.”
Lincoln helped solve the murder of her father, finding the perpetrators to be her mother and brother before venturing into true crime podcasting. Lincoln, a lifelong true crime fan, paralegal by day and published author, sat down with The Crime Report to discuss her fascination with all things true crime, where the work of true crime podcasts fits into the field of criminal justice and how she works to bring the unfiltered, bizarre and true stories of Maryland murders to her audiences in an independent podcast still finding its way.
THE CRIME REPORT: When speaking of the world of true crime podcasting there can often be a fear of podcasts and their fans romanticizing murders, so I think it’s often good to know the reasons for people going into this space. Where does it come from for you?
LINCOLN: True crime comes from a personal space for me, I come from, I don’t want to say a family of murderers, I don’t want to say that per se. But I’ve grown up in Baltimore City, which has led the nation as one of the crime capitals of the world. I’m surrounded by homicides, surrounded by crimes.
My mother and my brother were accused and convicted of the first-degree murder of my father. And I think that’s kind of what thrust me into talking about true crime and how it affects families. Because his [my father’s] crime was unsolved for a period of seven years. And I assisted in solving that crime. My story was featured on TV One’s “Payback” and it was featured on TV One’s “Justice by Any Means.” Because of that experience of becoming a true crime commentator for TV One, I occasionally am profiled for stories on their shows Fatal Attraction and Black Widow murders. It’s embedded into my life, basically, justice reform and highlighting true crime.
TCR: Can you tell me a little bit more about what you feel is the role of true crime in the criminal justice ecosystem?
LINCOLN: I believe true crime and the criminal justice system go hand in hand. Because, you know, without the crime, you wouldn’t need this system of criminal justice reform.
TCR: And I imagine also right, there is a power to storytelling, as opposed to a two-minute segment on the nightly news on a crime that happened.
LINCOLN: Exactly, my podcast kind of covers what the news media sometimes leaves out. It includes a lot of my personal opinions and personal viewpoints. But it attempts to be as factual as it can be. Some of the episodes include interviews with family members who were involved directly or indirectly in the crime. And eventually, it will include interviews with the law enforcement that were involved. One of the documentary episodes I’m creating that was based on the first podcast, which dealt with triple child murder, that documentary will be released later on this year, includes commentary from the defending attorneys as well as the defendant’s family.
TCR: What type of sources are you constantly in contact with for your podcasts?
LINCOLN: First and foremost, would be the friends and family of the victims, friends and family of the actual murders. Eventually, it will include interviews with the murderers themselves, I’m getting a clearance from the prisons, and North Branch clearance from the ward. And that’s something that’s not done in the state of Maryland a lot. But it will include those because I like to get my information strictly from the people that I’m interviewing. Since I am a paralegal, and I work in the legal field, it will include interviews with the defending or prosecuting attorneys that were involved. It’s important to get both sides of the story.
TCR: Who do you hope listens to your podcast? Who is your podcast for?
LINCOLN: It’s for, generally, anybody who is interested in outlandish, bizarre crime. You don’t have to be a resident of the State of Maryland. Basically, anybody that’s a fan of true crime [and] those that are interested in the details of what happened.
Sometimes the details can be pretty gory. My podcast does come with a disclaimer, the documentary will as well, because I live in the state of Maryland. We don’t sugarcoat stuff here. We’re pretty raw. And you know, most people that are into true crime like I am, are really deep into it. This is something I’ve been interested in since I was 12 years old. We want to see what really happened. We don’t want things watered down. We want to hear what the killer said. We want to hear what the murderer said, we actually want to see it sometime to be honest with you, but that’s the world of true crime that we are presenting with my podcast.
TCR: Your podcast started just two years ago but you are already on season 8 and you highlight unsolved murders in every episode. How do you go about your research to find which [cases] you’re going to cover?
LINCOLN: That’s a good question. Believe it or not, like I said, since I’m so deep into true crime, this is something I had been doing for years anyway before I realized it was a podcast. If a homicide happened in Maryland that was really notable to me, I would just jot it down. It would replay in my mind and I would just write it down.
[There were] way too many homicides in Maryland happening for me to not create some type of podcast or book and I did create a book on some of these cases entitled “Maryland’s Most Notorious Murders from 1990 to 2008,” but we had so many homicides [that] I was going to come up with a part two to that book, but decided to put it into a podcast first.
TCR: Why do you feel that a true crime podcast is your best way to do this work, as opposed to working for law enforcement or a public defendant, or a prosecutor?
LINCOLN: I think because it’s more passionate towards inmates. Like I said, I’ve had a passion for criminal justice reform, I don’t know why, but ever since I was 12, I used to want to be a female John Walsh, the guy that was responsible for America’s Most Wanted. I used to want to be him. I never wanted to be a police officer, however, but I have been a correctional officer and I have been an inmate also.
Then I wanted to be how Jodie Foster was in Silence of the Lambs, whatever she was doing, talking sitting across from inmates sitting across from the weirdest inmates in the world. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to interview them. So I started writing about them, writing about them started leading to wanting to help people that were in trouble legally, that led to you know, being a paralegal. I didn’t want to be an attorney, per se. I didn’t want to be a police officer. But I knew I wanted to work with inmates and people that were wrongfully convicted and wrongfully used by the system in some kind of way or to get their stories of how they ended up that way.
I didn’t even know podcasting and talking about [true crime] was an actual career until I heard of Crime Junkie.