I live at the intersection of true crime, storytelling, and entertainment. There are still moments when I look up and think, “am I really in the middle of all this insanity?” Of course, the answer is yes, and I’ve done my best to slog my way through.
Since I write and podcast about my experience, many think I’m making bank. Uh. No. That’s not how it works, at least not for me. I do it because I enjoy it. It’s helped me heal, allowed me to tell the truth about our part of the crimes, and ideally, it lets me develop content I hope will help others.
But some are doing well thanks to DeAngelo’s crimes. I call it the Golden State Killer Economy: how one industrious sadist created an industry.
Let’s start with the obvious: the prosecution and defense of Joseph DeAngelo.
For the citizens of California, DeAngelo has been expensive. Let’s set aside the money spent on chasing this guy across more than 100 cases in 16 jurisdictions over forty years (at least ten of those spent on active investigations). If we could add that up, I fear the final amount would be obscene. All this is before his arrest.
Post arrest, the scope narrowed down to six jurisdictions with viable felony charges. Before adding special circumstances (the death penalty), the price tag for the trial started at $20M. It was so big that California had to find a different way to pay for it. That prompted AB 141 to cover expenses “incurred in connection with the prosecution and defense of Joseph DeAngelo¹.” Do you want to know a motive for accepting a plea? There’s a big fat one.
Think about what goes into a prosecution (and defense) of a case this big. There are lawyers and researchers, scientists and testing facilities, computer experts and investigators, and legions more working for both sides. It is noteworthy that taxpayers pay for both the prosecution and (most often) the defense. Think about that. It’s an essential ingredient of our legal system. When we scream, “lock him up,” we are doubling down on the expense.
In addition to legal wrangling, taxpayers pick up the tab for food, travel, and housing as teams from around the state come to Sacramento for motions and hearings. In this case, thanks to the Coronavirus, taxpayers are also paying for the Sacramento State venue to keep us safe and socially distanced. Finally, there’s the state’s Victim Compensation Fund that thankfully helps pay expenses that result from the crime (e.g., counseling, funeral expenses, safety).
From the news to podcasts to documentaries, it’s a revenue smorgasbord.
First up is the news. I’m a relentless supporter of the Fourth Estate. Reporters do get paid, but money is generally not a motivation for being a good reporter. I believe journalism is vital to finding the truth and exposing secrets. In our case, journalists like Paige St. John and Sam Stanton uncovered other DeAngelo crimes, flaws in how the crimes were initially investigated, the transfer of his assets, and more. While I name these two because I respect the work they’ve done, many treated us with respect and accurately reported our stories.
Then there are podcasters and writers with a passion for the topic. Podcasters don’t podcast to make money. At least not most of the true-crime folks. Big podcasts are sponsored, like My Favorite Murder, but most are smaller, labors of love that may earn enough to keep the podcaster going, but chances are, it’s not enough to pay the mortgage. As for the writers, I believe only McNamara’s book has been a commercial success — and for several victims, it’s not a good representation of our story.
Finally, there’s the entertainment industry. Dozens of them have focused on this case, including Unmasking a Killer, 20/20, and most recently, HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. The intention of “infotainment” is to make money. Sometimes it’s not the only intention, but let’s agree they produce these shows because there’s money to be made. I’m not casting blame here, but based on my experience, the folks working in this arena must be internally motivated to do no harm.
The others are exploiters. Their sole motivation is money. They aren’t interested in the truth and have little to no interest in the victims. They are only interested in selling their product. I encourage everyone to keep their eye out for these folks. You’ll know them because they are transparent, tending to have a pattern that focuses on click-bait, lying, and repetition of the same themes.
How the people involved make money or don’t.
I’m often asked, do the victims make money for telling their story? The answer is, in most cases, no. There are a few exceptions. In our case, any of us who are making money off the crime has been remarkably transparent. Jane Sandler-Carson wrote a book². That’s legit. She lived the experience; she did the work to write the book, and she lives her truth. James Huddle, DeAngelo’s brother in law, also wrote a book². But it’s self-published, and he’ll be lucky to cover his expenses.
With a few pre-arrest exceptions, no one was for any television appearances. There’s one activity where some folks got an unexpected honorarium, but I can’t disclose it, and when I finally can, it won’t surprise you. And it wasn’t much.
Victims aren’t making bank on this. As with most crime victims, we spent money. In our collective experience, we are out-of-pocket on therapy, time away from work for hearings, and other legal proceedings. Some of us incur travel expenses as we head to Sacramento to participate. One disservice the true crime industry has done to victims is furthering the assumption that everyone is making money.
We simply aren’t. It’s maybe the saddest part of the Golden State Killer economy.
Nothing will change this landscape, but hopefully, you’ll become a better consumer.
What can you do? The biggest thing is to be a thoughtful consumer. From the moment you want to be tough on crime to deciding what you watch and support, your opinion matters. Educate yourself on how your tax dollars are used to fund crime and punishment. Choose to watch productions that strive for balance or demonstrate their support for the victims. Don’t click on salacious junk.
Think about what’s happening in our culture that allows criminals to have this kind of economic impact. I’m sitting right here in the thick of it. I get it. But it also says something about us and our culture. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.
¹ DeAngelo was deemed destitute by the court and unable to pay for his defense. As such, he was provided a public defender.
² Not affiliate links.
Based on this article, you can watch me share a bit more information and background if you’re interested.