Why you should care
Because the realm of serial killers and evildoers is not limited to men.
Google “true crime podcasts” and the search engine spits out more than 10 million results. Fans of the genre — predominantly women — have their choice among podcasts featuring horror stories that typically follow a similar plot: a man kills a woman or several of them.
Criminal Broads comes at the true crime genre with an intriguing twist — a female one. The podcast, says host Tori Telfer, is about “wild women on the wrong side of the law.” And if profiling female criminals wasn’t niche enough, she digs up the most obscure ones — tales of female con artists, grifters and murderers who have long existed but been buried beneath the stereotypes and sexist clichés of traditional true crime.
Telfer has dedicated herself to dismantling gender norms. Her debut book, Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History, profiles a different dangerous woman in each chapter and asks: Why are people comfortable with narratives where women are the victims of violent crime, but not ones where they are the perpetrators? Her research unearthed more cases than could fit into the book, which got her thinking, “Why is no one talking about these ‘broads’ on the air?” Telfer says. In May 2018, she launched Criminal Broads, where women are the minds behind the crimes.
Telfer describes her show as “funny when appropriate, but always grounded by meticulous research,” bringing together investigative journalism and her love of amateur theater, and packed into 45-minute dramatic narratives punctuated by music clips.
Listeners are treated to obscure and macabre tales, like that of the woman who serially murdered her husbands, and an Alabama waitress who gradually murdered all of her daughters. A recent episode focused on Tanya Jaime Nelson, who killed a fortuneteller and her daughter over an unfulfilled fortune. Then there’s Kazuko Fukuda, who in 1982 strangled a co-worker for cash, underwent plastic surgery and became a fugitive just long enough for Japan’s 15-year statute of limitations on murder to run out.
Not all of the episodes revolve around women on killing sprees, Telfer says. You’ll meet Griselda Blanco, nicknamed the “Cocaine Godmother,” a pioneer in Miami’s 1980s drug trade who racked up credit for more than 150 murders. Another, and perhaps the most compelling episode (listen below), is about Irma Grese, a teen from a lower-class family who climbed to the second-highest rank of the SS, and whose horrific acts earned her the nickname the “Hyena of Auschwitz” during World War II. As a counterbalance to the Grese episode, Telfer covers women like Vitka Kempner, who fought against the Nazis.
A new lens on the genre is a welcome change for some. “In most true crime podcasts, men are the villains and women are the victims,” says Andy Herren, a TV personality and fan of the true crime genre. “[Telfer’s] podcast changes this dynamic and gives an interesting viewpoint not easily found elsewhere.”
Criminal Broads isn’t the only true crime podcast that focuses on women. Two others on the same topic launched earlier this year. Female Criminals examines in a long-form format the “psychology, motivations and atrocities of female felons” — basically women on the wrong side of the law. Female Killers sticks to female murderers in episodes of 10 minutes or less.
Each episode of Criminal Broads is heavily researched, which results in there being just two episodes a month. But even at this (in)frequency, listenership has doubled month to month over the past year, Telfer says (she declined to provide numbers). On the App Store, fans laud the depth of research and “immersive storytelling” as their favorites aspects of the podcast. As for critics, they drag Telfer for the music selection — she’s hopeful that’s as harsh as the criticism gets.
Telfer relies on donations to keep the podcast going. If enough funds flow in, she’d like to produce longer, in-depth shows. She’d also like to start another podcast, Crime-Fighting Broads, focused on women on the right side of the law.
For now, Telfer is content reaching her ideal listener, whom she describes as “smart, savvy, deeply empathetic, a little bit morbid, with a keen appreciation for both research and legend.” And one who likes a good, albeit grisly, story.