If the existence of a podcast that combines the gruesome retellings of true crime murders and the all-too-real anxieties of actually getting murdered with truly hilarious comedy seems impossible to fathom, then you clearly haven’t listened to My Favorite Murder. Hosted by self-proclaimed true crime addicts, comedian Karen Kilgariff and food expert Georgia Hardstark, the pair may be the only duo capable of creating a podcast that is both suspenseful and hysterical.
Unlike many other true crime podcasts, My Favorite Murder rarely gets straight to the point–which makes the gruesome cases discussed later in the episode somewhat easier to stomach. Each of the hosts take turns choosing unbelievable true crime cases, ranging from murders and kidnappings to the stories of the lucky few who have escaped a dreadful fate. The following are some of the most heinous, terrifying, and contentious crimes covered on My Favorite Murder, some of which have been extensively covered on the news recently and others that are less public. In keeping with the overriding ethos of each and every episode of the podcast, remember: Stay sexy, and don’t get murdered.
In the first episode of My Favorite Murder, Georgia and Karen reference “the Staircase” murder, but it isn’t until the celebratory 100th episode that they discuss the infamous, and deeply strange, case.
Kathleen Peterson died on December 9, 2001 in the North Carolina home that she shared with her husband Michael. He called the police, claiming that Kathleen fell down the stairs after mixing alcohol and Valium. She died from blood loss after sustaining multiple lacerations on her head. Michael Peterson was soon arrested, and was eventually convicted of murdering Kathleen.
To this day, Peterson steadfastly denies any involvement in his wife’s death. But a number of odd details have kept the case wide open in the court of public opinion. When Michael and his first wife, Patty, were living in Germany with their two young sons back in the ‘80s, a friend of the family was also found dead at the bottom of a staircase. Michael was the last person to see her alive. An autopsy concluded that the family friend died of a hemorrhage related to a blood coagulation disorder. Peterson eventually adopted that woman’s two young daughters, who supported Michael during his murder trial. A neighbor of the Petersons also released a wild theory in 2009 that blamed Kathleen’s death on an owl attack, surprisingly backed up by the autopsy report, which found microscopic owl feathers on her body.
Michael was released from prison in 2011, following the discovery of inaccurate testimonies by an SBI analyst during his first trial; he accepted an Alford Plea in 2017. The case and its many twists and turns was covered in the true crime docu-series The Staircase, recently revived by Netflix with three new episodes.
A hometown connection makes this episode especially poignant. Karen Kilgariff was 11 years old when Polly Klaas was kidnapped at knifepoint in their hometown of Petaluma, CA. Kilgariff spoke about what it was like in her town around the time when Klaas vanished, and how the crime still sticks with her today. You may have heard of this case before thanks to Winona Ryder. Ryder, also a Petaluma native, offered a $200,000 reward for the safe return of Klaas. When Klaas’s body was discovered nearly two months after her abduction, Ryder decided to take a role in Little Women, the girl’s favorite book, and dedicate it to her memory.
On October 1, 1993, Polly Klaas was having a sleepover with two friends when Richard Allen Davis entered her bedroom, wielding a knife. He forced the young girl to come with him while the other two counted to 1,000 with pillowcases over the faces. The subsequent 4,000 person search for Polly was one of the biggest in California's history.
At the time, there was already an APB out for Davis’ arrest for violating parole. His car got stuck in mud soon after the kidnapping. Unfortunately, police did not run his plates despite a 911 call. Shortly after this run-in, it's believed that Davis killed Polly and buried her in a shallow grave. Davis remains in prison, awaiting his death sentence. He's kept in solitary confinement after having been attacked by a number of other prisoners.
The Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez’s crimes began as a series of burglaries in California, which soon escalated to rape and murder. His year-long murder spree terrorized the L.A. and San Francisco areas, and the frequency of his crimes and lack of DNA evidence at the scenes left authorities at a loss for a suspect. He killed 13 people and wounded five. Survivors were only able to identify him with dark features and rotting teeth and the only physical evidence he left behind at his early scenes was a shoe print.
Ramirez was identified by police after leaving behind a fingerprint in a car he stole from a victim. Unaware that a photograph of him had been released to the public, Ramirez took a bus to visit his brother in Arizona. When he returned, he saw his face on newspapers and tried to run. He attempted to steal a few cars, but to no avail, and he was eventually subdued by a group of residents who held him down until police arrived. Ramirez was sentenced to death but died in prison from cancer before an execution date could be set. The killer never expressed remorse for his crimes.
The Chicago Tylenol Poisonings
Fall of 1982 in Chicago was a nerve-racking time. Seven people died, seemingly from using Tylenol. First, 12-year-old Mary Kellerman died on September 29. Within the next 48 hours, six more people had died, all after taking Tylenol. Soon, the airwaves were filled with warnings not to take any Tylenol products in the Chicago area.
Because the lethal Tylenol bottles had originated from different pharmaceutical companies, it was clear that the manufacturers and factories were not to blame. Someone was lacing the pills with cyanide by tampering with the bottles in stores. The poisonings led to huge recalls on the product, and no additional deaths occurred. Police were never able to catch the killer, although three suspects were considered. Copycat killings also resulted in more deaths in the years after the first tampering. These killings inspired many industries to introduce tamper-proof packaging.
The Golden State Killer
Episode 115 | Episode 118
The Golden State Killer terrorized multiple areas in California during the ‘70s and ‘80s, raping and killing many of his victims. Unidentified for decades, the Golden State Killer was finally identified earlier this year. The episodes focusing on GSK are especially powerful, as Kilgariff and Hardstark both knew and admired the late author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara. In Episode 115, McNamara’s husband, actor Patton Oswalt, joined the podcasters to speak about her book, recording three weeks before Joseph DeAngelo’s arrest for the killings.
The Golden State Killer would stake out his victims, sometimes for a matter of weeks, before attacking. He crept around their property, broke in during the day, and likely used drainage ditches and river levees to travel back and forth. Once he would decide to strike, he would generally go to his victims’ bedrooms, shine a flashlight on them, and take the woman out of the room to rape her. His first victims were women who were alone in their homes, but he eventually escalated to attacking couples and even families. The killer would place stacks of plates or other breakable items on the husbands of his victims so he would know if they moved, leaving them without a way to help their wives. He killed at least 12, raped over 50, and burglarized more than 120 people. He was methodical, and without DNA testing, he escaped capture until 2018. Joseph DeAngelo is currently in jail, awaiting trial on eight counts of murder.
Popularly known as the Co-ed Killer and the Co-ed Butcher, Kemper stood at a massive 6’9”, but that was hardly the most intimidating thing about the man.
Kemper began his murder spree at the age of 15, when he shot his grandparents to death after an argument with his grandmother. The teen was sent to a corrective facility for five years. Upon his release, psychiatrists claimed that he was totally rehabilitated.
Only three years after his release, at the age of 24, Kemper began to kill again. He would drive near college campuses and offer rides to female students who were hitchhiking. He raped and killed two Fresno State students, a 15-year-old dance student, and a Cabrillo College freshman. As the murders continued, police advised female college students to only accept rides from cars with university affiliate stickers on them. But Kemper was able to get a University of California sticker from his mother, who was working as an administrative assistant at the Santa Cruz campus. Soon, students were once again accepting rides from the killer.
Kemper’s final murder was that of his mother and her best friend. He used his mother’s head as a dart board, screamed at it, and put her vocal chords down the garbage disposal before sexually assaulting her corpse. He then killed her best friend and drove off to Colorado, where he was called the police on himself because he was annoyed at the lack of attention he was getting from those murders. Kemper's case played a significant part in the Netflix serial killer series, Mindhunter.
The strange circumstances in the case of Sherri Papini have left the public divided. Was the beloved mom and wife taken, or did she stage her own disappearance?
Papini disappeared after going for a jog in November of 2016. After tracking her location, her husband, Keith, found her phone and headphones about a mile away from their Redding, California home. On Thanksgiving Day, three weeks later, Papini was found walking along the highway, chained up, battered and emaciated. She was 150 miles away from home. She told police that two women had taken her, but they dropped her off without any real explanation. Papini's story had inconsistencies, and DNA was found on her that was from a male and female, somewhat contradicting her claim that women had taken her. There are currently no suspects in the case, and neighbors say they rarely see Papini out of her home today.
This controversial case continues to divide the public to this day. In addition to being covered on the podcast, the 1996 murders of Devon and Damon Routier were also recently covered in the Viola Davis produced ABC docu-series The Last Defense.
On June 6, 1996, Darlie Routier called the police claiming that an intruder had come into her Texas home and stabbed her and her two young sons, Devon (age six) and Damon (age five.) The police arrived within three minutes, but the two boys did not survive. Darlie’s stab wounds came within two millimeters of her carotid artery, which if struck, would have caused her to bleed out and die almost immediately.
Darlie was arrested for the murders, even though there was evidence of an intruder—the screen of a window was cut, there was a bloody fingerprint that was never tested, and a bloody sock with the boys’ DNA was also found away from the property. The prosecution noted that Darlie and her husband, Darin, were struggling financially and needed the money from the insurance policy placed on the boys shortly before their deaths. A video of Darlie laughing and Silly-Stringing her sons’ graves during what would have been Devon’s seventh birthday party was used during the trial as an attempt to show that Darlie was unfazed by her sons’ deaths. The police found no other suspects, and Darlie was sentenced to death. She remains on death row today with no set execution date.
The chilling unsolved murder of Amber Hagerman on January 15, 1996 led to the creation of the AMBER Alert. Amber Hagerman was nine years old when she was abducted while riding a bike with her brother near her home in Arlington, Texas. When her father, Richard, heard the news, he called Polly Klaas’s father: Polly had gone missing three years earlier, and her father had become a nationally known figure in child abductions.
Amber’s body was found in a creek near an apartment complex four days after she was taken. There were and still are no suspects in her murder. Amber’s mother, Donna Whitson, has called for stricter laws regarding sex offenders and kidnappers in the years since. One positive of the case is that it resulted in the creation of the AMBER alert system, which has helped bring many children back to safety.
The death of Christa Worthington is unsettling in many ways. The fashion writer seemed to have it all: She had worked for WWD, Cosmo, Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, and the New York Times, and she had an enviable home in Cape Cod that she shared with her two-year-old daughter, Ava. On January 6, 2002, Worthington was raped and stabbed to death in her house in Cape Cod. Her neighbor and ex-boyfriend, Tim Arnold found her body later that day. Heartbreakingly, Ava was still clinging to her dead mother’s body.
Initial suspects included her ex-boyfriend, Tony Jackett, who was Ava’s father, despite being married to another woman, and Worthington’s own father, Christopher. Ultimately, Chris McCowen, a garbage man for the area, was arrested for the murder. His DNA was found on her body after he willingly gave a sample to police. His friend, Jeremy Frazier, was also allegedly at Worthington’s house that night, a detail that Frazier denies. McCowen remains in prison but continues to assert his innocence, claiming that his sexual encounter with Worthington was consensual and did not occur at or near the time of the killing.
Susan Kuhnhausen was supposed to be murdered by a hitman in 2006. After a long day of work at Providence Portland Medical Center, where she had been employed for over 30 years, Kuhnhausen returned home to an attack that would change her life. She always opened the curtains in her house each morning but noticed that they were closed when she got back, making the house almost pitch black. Behind her door was an assailant who began to attack her. Kuhnhausen's ex-husband paid the hitman $50,000 to kill Susan.
The assailant struck Kuhnhausen in the head with a hammer, but Kuhnhausen began fighting back. She used her self-defense training, learned during her time as a nurse. She was able to pin down the man and choked him until he stopped breathing. She then walked over to her neighbors’ house and called the police. When the operator asked the neighbor if Kuhnhausen would need an ambulance, Kuhnhausen replied that she wouldn’t—but the attacker would. Her ex-husband was arrested for ordering her death. He died in prison in 2014, six months before his scheduled release.
David Berkowitz, aka "Son of Sam"
Berkowitz terrorized New York City in the 1970s, targeting mainly young female victims at random. He shot two friends who were sitting in a car discussing their night out, killing one. Three months later, he shot at a car with a young couple inside, but both survived. He next shot two girls who were chatting on a porch after a late movie. Both were hit and survived though one victim was rendered a paraplegic. Berkowitz then shot at an engaged couple in their car who were about to go out dancing, killing one. His next three shootings were all fatal. The first was a student from Columbia who used a stack of textbooks in a vain attempt to shield her from the shot. The second and third were a male and female sitting together in their car.
A letter penned by the perpetrator was found near the bodies of the couple. In it, he referred to himself as the “Son of Sam” and stated that he enjoyed prowling the streets for women. He wrote another letter to a columnist from the Daily News in which he made an ominous threat about celebrating the anniversary of his first victim’s death. He then shot two more couples, killing one of the four.
Survivors and other witnesses near the scenes of the shootings helped police determine what the suspect looked like. Berkowitz was eventually arrested, and reportedly asked police what took them so long to find him. He said that his former neighbor’s dog was demonic and had encouraged Berkowitz to kill. Berkowitz remains in prison today, where he became a born-again Christian and now expresses remorse for his crimes.
Featured photo: Alchetron