Amelia Kemp

“We need your help”: the rhetorical construction of the citizen detective in true crime podcast jensen and holes: the murder squad

April 10, 2021   /  

Name: Amelia Kemp
Majors: Communication Studies and Sociology
Advisor: Dr. Rohini Singh and Dr. Tom Tierney (second reader)

What is the role of citizens in detective work? Should everyday citizens have a role in police work at all? Is there a danger in using citizens as detectives for police investigations and cold cases? This essay explores how rhetoric in true crime media constructs the role of the listener and the ensuing implications of these constructions. To examine this concept, I undertook a generative criticism of eight episodes of the true crime podcast Jensen and Holes: The Murder Squad that span from June 24th, 2019 to August 3rd, 2020. In my study, I provide a base of scholarly knowledge via a literature review focused on rhetorical genre, true crime as a genre, surveillance, neighborhood watch, panopticism, and governmentality. I illuminate the deep-seated metaphor of podcast-as-class and conclude by examining the implications of this metaphor and the larger act of turning listeners into citizen detectives.

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Amelia will be online to field comments on April 16:
10am-noon EDT (Asia: late evening, PST: 6-8am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

89 thoughts on ““We need your help”: the rhetorical construction of the citizen detective in true crime podcast jensen and holes: the murder squad”

  1. I’m so proud of you Amelia! Way to finish strong! I can’t wait to hear more about this. I am fascinated by this and will need to listen to this podcast. Will Karen and Georgia be jelly?

    1. Not that they are detectives on their show, I just always think of them and how you re-invigorated my love for true crime by introducing me to them☺️

    2. Thank you Jackie! Karen and Georgia have had a few theses written about them, but I didn’t write those ones so maybe they should be jealous🧐😂

  2. Very compelling project, Ameila. Great work! Do you have any thoughts on how podcasts create social communities and attract people with similar interests? Congratulations!

    1. There has definitely been some work done on this, and while it wasn’t the focus of my project I think it’s a super interesting topic! It seems to me that folks are attracted to podcasts on a certain topic, and then community is created more via social media groups about that topic/podcast. Thank you, Lindsey!

  3. Great job, Amelia. Really interesting project (including the “some sociological theory”!)! A very compelling presentation.

    1. Thank you professor! I agree that the ‘some sociological theory’ was a fascinating aspect of it all😊

  4. Great presentation, Amelia. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and discussing your thesis, although I have become a bit more paranoid about citizen-detectives.

    1. Thanks Dr. Tierney! I’m glad you liked the presentation, and I thoroughly enjoyed discussing my thesis with you. It seems like perhaps a healthy fear of citizen-detectives could be good…

  5. So interesting Amelia! Are there a lot of podcasts like this? And what do you think about people submitting DNA to databases? Congratulations on a great job.

    1. Thanks Dr. Nurse! I wouldn’t be in the Sociology department if it wasn’t for you, so you are certainly one to thank for this project. The Murder Squad is super unique right now–I have yet to come across any other podcasts like it, which is part of what drew me to study it. I think if people want to submit their DNA they can, but I don’t think I would ever do it. It seems like one more way for the government to have all kinds of information about me! But that’s just a personal choice.

  6. Amelia, it was so great to hear how your IS developed from its beginnings back in the fall of your junior year. (And yay, Kenneth Burke!) I especially appreciated your observations on the implications of true crime podcasts as classes where everyone becomes a detective to support law enforcement and, on an entirely different level, appreciated the fun visual dimension of your presentation. Congratulations.

    1. Thank you Dr. Bostdorff! Yes, the project has definitely changed a bit since junior IS. I’m very thankful for the academic base and mentorship that you gave me in that class!

  7. Awesome project, Amelia! As someone who studies and teaches the true-crime genre I really appreciate your contribution to scholarship in this field, and the great questions that you raise.

    1. Thank you for checking it out Dr. Garcia! I’m glad to hear that you found it interesting and worthy of study😊

    1. Lots of love, Lesley! I’m proud of US for getting our projects done and done well!

  8. Amelia – I’ve decided you should begin your own podcast…or plan to have a side job recording audiobooks. You have such an engaging cadence and tone when sharing your research. This was a very intriguing topic. Thank you for sharing – congratulations!

    1. Thanks so much Jenn! I did listen to many hours of podcasts for this project, so I’m glad to hear that some of it rubbed off😂 I’m glad you enjoyed, thanks for checking it out!

  9. In high school I listened to a murder mystery podcast and the case is still unsolved. Until now, I had forgotten about it and the fact that I liked it. Thanks for reminding me that I enjoyed the mystery of it. Now I plan to listen to the ones that you examined for your I.S. Great work, Amelia! I also enjoyed your graphic.

    1. Ellen, I’m so glad that this project reminded you of that podcast you liked(: thank you so much for checking out my IS! I hope you enjoy The Murder Squad!

  10. You come from a long line of True Crime buffs, as you know (ha!), but I’ve never really thought critically about the genre the way that you have. I’m looking forward to reading your IS this summer! I’ve not listened to The Murder Squad. Would you recommend it, now that you’ve engaged with the topic through a critical lens?

    1. That is certainly true! I get my love of true crime from the Garrison women for sure. I hadn’t thought critically about the genre before this project either, so it was definitely a good exercise for me. I would recommend The Murder Squad for anyone who is interested, simply because the concept is so unique and the podcast itself is well done. My suggestion is to try to engage through a more critical lens and take some time to consider what the implications of the podcast are!

  11. Great job Amelia, I agree with the comment above about your cadence and delivery. I was captured from the start. I’m a parent of an Alum ’16 and I remember with great fondness the the IS experience and this culmination. I am pleased the it continues during these “times” and I congratulate you for a job well done.

    1. Wow, I am so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for listening to my project. Yes, things are certainly different this year than previous ones, but I’m glad that we’re getting the chance to share our projects in some form!

  12. This is fantastic, Amelia! It’s really cool that you’re engaging with popular media in this way. Thank you for sharing your work and congratulations!

  13. Fantastic presentation, Amelia. My wife is a big fan of true crime podcasts. In your study, did you get a chance to learn about how The Murder Squad selects which cold cases to feature in their episodes? What factors might shape that selection process? As more true crime podcasts emerge and cover numerous cold cases with listeners, I do wonder if the coverage will begin to resemble how local and national television networks feature similar cold case stories and the biases that can arise, whether intentional or not. Congratulations on completing your project.

    1. Thank you Professor Miyawaki! I didn’t get to learn about how they choose their cases, but from what I’ve gleaned it appears that lots of different factors go into the decision. For example, if a family member or fellow cold case investigator reaches out and asks them to cover a case, it seems like the hosts often will cover that case. Sometimes the cases are topical, whether that be because of social issues or simply a resurgence of interest in a specific case. But I’m not totally sure! I would argue that coverage already sometimes resemble news (or news-like shows, like Dateline for example) and as a result also shows issues of bias and value signaling. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this evolves! Thanks for engaging with my project!

  14. Amelia – Your project is so thought-provoking! I love how you connect notions of the citizen-spy with the rise in true crime podcasts. Great work!

    1. Thank you Dr. Hester! It was an interesting project to be sure. I hope you’re doing well!

  15. Amelia, thank you so so much for all your hard work on this project! This project is so important always, but especially now as we take a critical eye to the police state in this country. You worked so hard, and it was amazing to see how you persevered and grew through it all. I’m so proud to know you!

    1. Thank you so much, Laney! I really appreciate you and the time you took to engage with my project. I’m so proud of us!

  16. Such a well-paced and informative presentation! Your closing remarks are very thought provoking. You are spot on. As consumers of media, we must always be conscious of how that consumption may affect us. Congratulations, Amelia!

    1. Agreed, Craig! I was not always so conscious of how my media consumption could have been affecting me, so I’m glad to have learned that through this process. Thank you for listening!

  17. Fascinating work, Amelia! It is so fun to see your IS project – thanks for sharing your research!

    1. Thank you so much for checking out my project, Professor! I’m so happy that you found it interesting! I hope you and your daughter are doing really well(:

  18. I’m super excited to check out your research and congrats on everything!! So so exciting 🙂

  19. Awesome I.S. project, I knew it would be nothing less than phenomenal!! Much love to you and excited to see where you go in life!!!

  20. Amelia, this is such fascinating research. I can’t wait to read more about it in your IS. What you spoke about reminds me of some of the controversies around Ring cameras (and similar devices), that expand the reach of the State by emboldening citizens to surveil their neighborhoods and report “suspicious” behaviors. Congratulations on completing this important work!!

    1. Thanks Professor! I agree–it’s definitely all connected. I’m glad you enjoyed the project!

  21. Amelia!!! Not surprised you did your I.S. on a true crime podcast and I think we should start one of your own. Congrats on all the hard work and see you so soon!

  22. Amelia! This was so interesting to listen to and I think it’s really interesting how you addressed the fact that in many ways, the U.S. is a police state. Amazing research!

  23. Awesome presentation Amelia! I love that you chose almost a podcast sounding method of presenting. Really interesting and thought provoking. Brilliantly done! So proud of you! 🙂

  24. Congratulations, Amelia!!! What a great IS and presentation. I so appreciate all the terrific things you have made happen at Wooster. Wishing you all the very best for the great future you have ahead!

    1. Thank you so much for coming by and learning about my project, President Bolton! I so appreciate the kindness and support you’ve offered throughout my four years. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the project and presentation!

  25. Amelia, this is fabulous. Also, you would be such a fantastic podcast host. Thank you so much for sharing your research–your reflections on the relationship between community policing and media consumption are powerful.

  26. This is such an interesting project Amelia and I know you approached it with thought and intentionality. Congratulations on a huge accomplishment, and best of luck post-Wooster! <3

  27. Congratulations Amelia! Such a thoughtful and intriguing analysis – definitely going to give this podcast a listen 🙂

  28. Amazing work, Amelia! I really like that for your presentation you used digital auditory storytelling, like the podcast you studied. Super cool!

  29. Amelia,

    This is so awesome, congrats! I also studied surveillance and panopticism so this is uber fascinating! During my own research I came across synopticism which involves the many surveilling the few (the inversion of the panopticon). I think this also totally applies to your work! Congrats again, it has been the best to work alongside you these past few years!

    1. Hey Laura, thank you! Yes, Mathieson’s synopticism is a part of what I based my theory around, I just didn’t have time to address it in my symposium materials. Very interesting stuff!

  30. Amelia, I’m psyched to check out your project. I teach a class on the procedural genre, so I love this sort of analysis! I also used to be a big fan of MFM but have sort of fallen away from it (my new favorite podcast is You’re Wrong About–lots of topics besides true crime but I really appreciate their, uh, more critically informed view of policing, when they do crime episodes). The idea of studying the citizen detective concept in particular is a great way to focus your analysis of this podcast. If you’d be willing, I might ask you to speak to a future procedurals class about your project.

    1. Wow, that sounds super interesting! And yes, absolutely a fair criticism of MFM…
      I would absolutely love to speak in your class in the future! Please feel free to shoot me an email and we can stay connected. Thank you!

  31. Hi Amelia, Congrats on a very intriguing project…exceptionally well presented. Perhaps you followed the series of Cold Case podcasts done by the CS Gazette some time ago…I really enjoyed them, but haven’t heard of the Murder Squad series you’ve discussed, so I appreciate that reference. But you’ve also raised important questions that I will keep in mind…it is so important to always think critically of the media we’re consuming. Excellent work – Best of luck!

  32. Congratulations on a fantastic thesis Amelia! You should be incredibly proud of yourself for creating this project in such an unprecedented year. Good job!

  33. Well done Amelia! I absolutely love this topic and how you presented it!

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