True crime is something a lot of us love. It’s no longer a taboo subject; instead we all gush about how interesting we find some of the most gruesome and unpredictable cases, proud of our killer knowledge. Because of this, true crime podcasts are a dime-a-dozen.
Still, it takes a lot of wading to find one that truly speaks to you. Such was the case in searching for a podcast before coming across RedHanded, with hosts Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire.
We caught up with the two over video chat, to find out all about how RedHanded was first formed, their love for the weird and wonderful and of course, some personal stories of their own…
Can you tell us a little in your own words of how the RedHanded podcast came to be? I know you met at a party…
Hannah: We decided that very night to start our own true crime podcast. Then we did and now, it’s now!
No gap in the middle? (laughs)
Suruthi: There was no time for gaps. We waited maybe a few months before we actually got around to doing the first record. People often ask us, ‘were you figuring stuff out and learning to do podcasting?’ - no, not really! We were just procrastinating and I had just come back from travelling so I was looking for a job.
We didn’t actually know each other and we were just texting and stuff; we’d meet up and get drunk together and talk about stuff. I guess it was just one of those things where we said, we’re gonna do this, and it so easily could have not happened, if life got in the way or we didn’t get our act together, but somehow in the space of those few months we actually did.
We bought a mic, got started and released the first episode. It just went from there.
Where did your fascination with true crime really start?
Suruthi: Well, I think both of us have always been interested in all things a bit spooky and a bit macabre and a bit criminal (laughs), since we were probably quite young.
For me, we used to go to India every Summer and spend time with my grandparents. My Grandma is like, the OG Spooky Bitch; crime stories, ghost stories, she used to read gothic horror and turn them into very inappropriate child stories for me! I struggled with it for my own for a long time, as I was the eldest grandchild so, I had a lot of that one-on-one time with Grandma from a very young age, hearing some really scary s**t going down!
She’s not the kind of woman with a filter; she would tell me things as if she was telling an adult about some woman who was horribly murdered two villages over! I think that it started there for me, and then it just sort of went from there!
Hannah: I think I’ve always been quite interested in death just in general, in a similar spooky way. I always loved ghost stories; I refused to read anything other than Goosebumps until I was about 15 and, I think that in later life it’s more to do with a fascination with people and extreme behaviours. [They] are something I’ve always found so interesting. There’s always a reason.
Nobody is walking around killing people for no reason and that’s the really interesting thing for me: why people do what they do and they gets infinitely more interesting when they start doing really f**ked up s**t like killing other people.
Suruthi: Definitely and actually I think one of the things Hannah and I talked about recently is that, this idea of true crime is very mainstream now, it’s not some weird, shadowy interest that people have; people are pretty open about their interest in it. Netflix is basically just a true crime streaming platform now! There’s nothing to really be coy about.
I think one of the things though is we think it’s not just the gore and the grizzle and all of that, [when it comes to] the reason people are interested in it. It’s especially not that for us. We actually think that it’s exactly what Hannah said; those extremes of human behaviour. It’s the same reason people watch Botched; what pushes people to take such extreme measures? Here, it just happens to be within the true crime space.
I’ve noticed that the audience who like true crime seems to be quite female-heavy; is that something you’ve noticed as well or is your audience more balanced?
Hannah: Oh it’s 100% very much swayed towards the female listener. I think women are just more interested in true crime and, I think the reason for that is that women live in this atmosphere of fear all the time. So by listening to true crime and finding [things] out and watching all these things, in a way we’re arming ourselves against our inevitable murder and death.
But then equally there is another argument that true crime is popular for the same reason there’s always a massive queue on the other side of the motorway if there’s an accident; people want to look. But, true crime is undoubtedly more a female audience so I think women just like looking more.
Suruthi: It’s a good point and actually it was one of the reasons Hannah and I wanted to start a podcast during that initial conversation we had that night [we met]. The true crime podcasts that were dominating the space four years ago or so, they were really male-dominant and that’s taking nothing away from them, because clearly we were consuming that content and enjoying it, but I think we felt like there was something missing.
There’s a gap in their analysis of the crimes or the perspective they can offer, just because they are men, that we could bring because we are two women. We didn’t have any real brand idea or what RedHanded would be when we started; the only thing we thought was that we both like talking, we’re both pretty good at it, we both have an interest in true crime, we can both offer interesting insight and analysis, and we both happen to be women so our points of view are something we feel are missing [four years back], in the true crime genre.
So in saying all of that, have you faced adversity, misogyny or sexism since starting the podcast?
Hannah: Oh yeah. All the time. Constantly. But it comes in a lot of forms. The one we experience the most is, ‘who are you to talk about that?’; ‘Who said you are allowed to discuss this sort of thing?’. Which is such a stupid argument. Politicians are just people who decide to talk about stuff. Why are we unworthy of discussion?
People tell us off for ‘giggling’ quite a lot whereas if it was a male-fronted podcast, I don’t think that word would ever be used.
There is an unconscious bias as well in that men generally… Well actually, men but also everyone I suppose, we’re all used to male voices - there are more men on TV and on the radio - so having a female voice; you are on the back foot a little bit before you’ve ever started.
Suruthi: Yeah. I think all the things Hannah said are true and we definitely get those sort of criticisms.
I think just generally it’s harder, we found, despite the immense amount of research we put in - and people are obviously free to disagree - but our well-thought out, well-rationalised arguments; we can still be ‘infantised’ a bit or looked down upon for not having a serious enough opinion, and I do sometimes wonder, is it just because I’ve got a higher-pitched voice? I wonder if that is potentially a reason.
But I do think one of the great things about podcasting that is worth saying, is that despite those inevitable challenges that you are going to face, as a woman, or as a person of colour, or whatever it may be, that maybe a hurdle to you breaking into a mainstream, more traditional form of media… the fantastic thing about podcasting is, those barriers to entry are so low. If you can put out great content, then you can find your people. You can find people who want to hear your voice and your stories, and I think that’s a great thing about podcasting.
You don’t have to ask anybody’s permission; you don’t have to tick any corporate boxes; you can just be who you want to be, and it’s a purely free market decision. If they like you, they’ll listen and you’ll grow.
What have been some of your favourite true crime cases to discuss recently?
Hannah: Lori Vallow was one we did recently which I really enjoyed, which we researched together. ‘Enjoyed’ sounds like the wrong word because she killed her children, but what we love to do on RedHanded is pull in cultural aspects. So with Lori Vallow, the big pull-in for that is Doomsday Preppers.
How is this my job? How am I allowed to spend two days figuring out what Doomsday Preppers are, where to find them and are they actually all racist? Finding that sort of information which informs a case and gives everything more context is absolutely my favourite thing about the show, and Lori Vallow was a really good one to put together, because a lot of really interesting people are Doomsday Preppers.
Also, there’s a Mormonism aspect as well and I could read about Mormonism for the rest of my life and not be bored.
Suruthi: I have very similar interests in the cases that we do. I think that one of the things we like to think is our unique selling point at RedHanded is the fact that, we don’t just talk about the crime, but it’s about setting a context, the time, the place, the community, the culture, the society, within which that crime unravels.
Hopefully, the passion and the interest that Hannah and I have for these cases and the direction we take it in, which we try to make different, comes across in the show.
Has there ever been a situation in your real lives when you’ve been close to a true crime case?
Hannah: Ooh. No one has ever asked us that.
Suruthi: No… I like that! I don’t think so actually. I don’t think I’ve ever been close to a true crime case.
That’s the answer you want to come out with I suppose!
Suruthi: It’s the most boring! There are a few crazy family members who I’m convinced are up to something! But as far as I know, I haven’t been involved in anything too overtly; I don’t think!
Hannah: Oh! My Grandad’s best friend killed his wife. He strangled her with a tea towel. I didn’t know for ages but my cousin, we were really close, she referred to ‘Grandad’s murderer friend’.
So apparently, my Grandad’s best friend strangled his wife with a tea towel because he didn’t want to go to church. I think my Grandad wrote to him in prison for a really long time and my Grandma was really unhappy about it.
Similarly you’ve got your RedHaunted spin-off podcast! Have you ever had any close, paranormal encounters?
Suruthi: I haven’t. I wish I did but Hannah has.
Hannah: You’re lying! Your bedroom’s haunted.
Suruthi: Oh my bedroom is haunted but it’s never done anything to me, apart from my room be very cold.
So basically, my childhood room… We’ve lived in that house for almost 20 years and when I moved in, the room was painted pink, the one I chose. It had belonged to a little girl and it had always been very cold. My parents said, ‘Once we’ve done the extension and you’ve got brand new windows, it’ll stop being a problem.’ They did the whole extension, brand new windows and wall, but my room is still freezing. As soon as you walk from the landing into my room, it is freezing. My Dad is an engineer and very straight down the middle, straight-laced guy, and even he doesn’t know or have an answer.
Then we found out a few years ago, that the little girl who had lived in that room had died. I was like, okay that’s all I need to know! But if she is there haunting my room, she’s never done anything mean to me, she’s just cold.
Hannah: I’ve had a few, only minor ones. The one that bothered me the most was when I used to live in Korea, because I was teaching out there. Your apartment is given to you by your school, so a revolving door of people live in the same apartments. My apartment was haunted by the ghost of a cat. You know the feeling of a cat kneading your legs? I would wake up to that in the middle of the night on the back of my legs. That would happen often.
I also a few times had the covers pulled off me in the middle of the night. It didn’t follow me after I left that apartment, but because it was part of my contract that I had to live there, I couldn’t leave!
When the world does return to some sense of normality, what should we expect from you both? More live shows and that sort of thing?
Hannah: We really, really hope so. One of the biggest things that have been difficult this year was that we had so many touring plans for 2020-21. Hopefully we’re gonna be able to pull some things off in 2021, but obviously it’s all so uncertain at the moment.
We love doing the live shows, we love meeting the listeners and we’ve been starved of it. We’re chomping at the bit to get back on the road.
Suruthi: Definitely more live shows as soon as we can and I think one of the good things of lockdown, if we can find anything is, it’s forced us to look at other things whilst we weren’t able to livestream. One of the things Hannah and I would love to do, because we feel like people really enjoy it, is to do more video content.
When we started podcasting we weren't really thinking about doing that sort of thing, but I think one of the key things we’re gonna try this year is getting our faces out there on some video content, so stay tuned for that until we can meet in real life!
Find out more at RedHandedPodcast.com.
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