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The characters of the new “Chucky” series aren’t just Chucky’s new “friends till the end.” One is also an amateur podcast host who is investigating the murders of his New Jersey town.
Jake Wheeler (played by Zackary Arthur) comes across a Good Guy doll at a yard sale in the first episode of “Chucky,” which debuted this month on SYFY. He soon learns that the doll isn’t exactly a good guy. In fact, it’s very much a very bad guy as the ginger-headed doll is possessed by notorious serial killer Charles Lee Ray.
Once Chucky comes into the 14-year-old budding artist’s life — Wheeler makes sculptures of old used dolls, hence his interest in Chucky to begin with — dark occurrences begin happening. (For more on 'Chucky,' check out our deep dive into the iconic character.)
Wheeler's also been crushing on his classmate Devon Evans (Bjorgvin Arnarson), host of the local true crime podcast called “Hackenslash.” which dives into the murders of Hackensack, New Jersey.
He specifically enjoys researching the backstory of Ray, who was born and raised in Hackensack just like him and Wheeler. Evans calls their hometown a “haven” for the “bizarre” and the “criminally insane” and notes that in the past year alone, the murder rate spiked 25 percent. He says that their town hasn’t seen that level of violence since the Ray family murders in 1965, a blood bath that “gave birth” to Ray.
While this tale of teenagedom and homicidal dolls is obviously fictional, they hit on a clear trend in the current true-crime landscape: grassroots, community-based podcasts taking on big stories.
Here are four podcasts with some similarities to “Hackenslash.”
“Your Own Backyard” podcast host Chris Lambert grew up in the same community where Kristin Smart vanished. He was 8-years-old when she disappeared after attending an off-campus party near California Polytechnic University in 1996. Lambert, a singer-songwriter, decided to take on the unsolved case in 2018.
“When I first started researching this case back in 2018, things had been quiet for several years, Lambert told Oxygen.com last year. “I don't know everything that was going on behind the scenes, but I know that the public was not being updated.”
So, he took it upon himself. He interviewed witnesses and followed leads, many of which led him to believe that Smart’s classmate Paul Flores, the main suspect in the case since the start, was responsible. His dogged efforts paid off as San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson credited the podcast in April for helping lead investigators to some witnesses. Paul Flores, 44, and his 80-year-old father, Ruben Flores. were both taken into custody in April; Paul is accused of killing Smart during a rape and his dad is accused of helping him dispose of her body. A trial is pending and the Flores' have pleaded not guilty in the case.
"In 2019, we interviewed several witnesses that had not been previously interviewed and [...] some of that information came to light through the podcast that many of you are familiar with," Parkinson said at the April presser, citing Lambert’s work.
“Missing Maura Murray” podcast hosts Tim Pilleri and Lance Reenstierna started recording their podcast for “armchair detectives” in 2015. They interviewed anyone they could with connections to the Maura Murray case. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst student vanished after crashing her car into a tree on Feb. 9, 2004 in rural New Hampshire. A few witnesses called the police immediately following the collision, but by the time authorities arrived on the scene, she was gone.
Both Pilleri and Reenstierna grew up in New England and felt a connection to Murray, they expressed to Oxygen.com in 2017. They spent years of their life obsessing over the case on their podcast, mulling over theories and evidence. There are currently 155 episodes on the case. The pair participated in Oxygen’s “The Disappearance of Maura Murray” in 2017.
Mandy Matney, host of the new podcast “Murdaugh Murders” often reminds her listeners that she is not a professional podcaster. She focuses on substance and not audio quality. She discusses her mental health and haters as well during her candid episodes.
The popular podcast is dedicated to examining the deaths and scandals connected to the Murdaughs, a prominent and affluent family that has exerted influence over Hampton County, South Carolina, by way of the legal system, for a century. Matney, a local journalist, has been investigating the mysterious deaths, including at least two murders, along with a dizzying series of allegations of corruption, intimidation, and addiction that came to national attention in the aftermath of the murders of Maggie Murdaugh and her son Paul in June It’s an intricate case involving the alleged trip-and-fall death of a housekeeper, a boat crash that took the life of a teenage girl, a young man whose body was found on a roadside under very suspicious circumstances, and the horrific shooting deaths of attorney Alex Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie, and son, Paul. The case is unfolding in real time, too. Alex Murdaugh himself was shot in the head along a rural South Carolina road. He survived and authorities have accused him of hiring a former client to kill him in an assisted suicide in order to secure a life insurance payout for his surviving son.
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