For the second weekend of October, murder and mystery reigned at the PNW True Crime Fest in Auburn.
At Green River College from Oct. 8-9, vendors, podcast hosts, authors, police officers, app developers and true crime enthusiasts came together for the small convention.
Spread out over the two days were intriguing and informational events, which included playing interactive Foul Play Games, panels on writing true crime, a personal safety presentation from the Seattle Police Department and self-defense classes.
“I have a huge paranoia of being murdered,” said Devon Abejo, when asked what draws her to the true crime genre and to the convention that weekend.
Holly, a vendor at the Sablewood Paper Company booth, said that safety plays a factor into her interest as well: “Staying safe and just morbid curiosity,” she said. “I get really interested in the stories and how they can be solved.”
One of the most engrossing booths at the convention was for CrimeDoor, an interactive app that allows users to find true crime stories of the past and present in whatever area they may be in. The app uses GPS location to pinpoint crime scenes that unlock stories and primary source articles.
Live true crime podcast recordings were a popular event at the festival, where guests could hear about true crime stories relevant to the Pacific Northwest.
“Ghosts n Heauxs,” with hosts Danielle and Zee, recorded an episode called “The Green River Killer” about the beyond-infamous serial killer Gary Ridgway, who was convicted of 49 murders in Washington state, but confessed to at least 71.
Other podcast recordings included “Disturbing Interests,” going over the 1993 murder of Mia Zapata, lead singer of the Seattle punk band The Gits, as well as “What Happens In The Woods,” focusing on teen runaways in the Pacific Northwest and “The Jungle” homeless encampment in Seattle.
There were also several presentations on the main stage throughout the weekend, highlighting various issues and stories that are related to true crime.
One podcast, called “L.A. Not So Confidential” with hosts Dr. Shiloh and Dr. Scott, featured two psychologists who spoke about the origins and incoherent ideology of incels. Webster’s Dictionary defines incels as “a person (usually a man) who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility toward those who are sexually active.”
Another presentation was from private investigator and New York Times bestselling author Steve Hodel, who talked about his book “Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder.”
Focus on the victims
Throughout the weekend, there was a determined emphasis on telling the stories of the victims of these crimes — and not focusing on the murderers and perpetrators of these crimes, a persistent criticism of the true crime genre.
“It’s interesting,” said Colleen Moore of Tacoma. “There’s a lot of unsolved crime that goes unnoticed. This community helps push forward those stories.”
Despite the Sunday opening presentation “Spirited Away: The Missing and Murdered Indigenous of North America” being canceled due to presenter Steve Stockton needing to go to the hospital, other speakers and podcast hosts focused on telling the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
One podcast was “Murder Murder News,” hosted by Canadians Angelina and Aurora, who recorded an episode about the mysterious 2014 death of Misty Upham, a Hollywood actress and Indigenous woman whose body was found in Auburn 11 days after she had gone missing.
During the podcast recording, statistics were cited to provide context to Upham’s story, like murder being the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women from the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI).
According to that same UIHI study, Seattle has the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of American cities based on available data, with Tacoma being in the top 10. The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to true crime, as it is home to some of the country’s most notorious serial killers, so a true crime convention that focused on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in Washington and Oregon made for a compelling experience.
The PNW True Crime Fest allowed space for serious discussions that borderlined on depressing and the macabre, along with informative entertainment and some really impressive local vendors. Enamel pins, stickers, crystals, jewelry, T-shirts and even dog cookies were for sale that invoked spooky themes as well as items that are perfect for the Halloween season. While true crime has had its fair share of backlash, the crowd and the participants at this year’s True Crime Fest proved to be empathetic, thoughtful and inquisitive — a satisfying elixir amongst a sea of murder, mystery and the macabre.