True crime has taken the world by storm. Whether it’s podcasts or discussion forums, the world’s obsession with the genre is undeniably there grew up in recent years. It seems like every streaming service has jumped on the true crime bandwagon, and Hulu was no exception with their recent series, Web of Death. What sets this documentary collection apart from the rest is how self-aware it is.
In a typical crime drama, viewers only really hear the words of the victim’s family and friends, as well as the law enforcement officers who worked the cases. In the case of Web of Death, each episode focuses not only on a violent crime and the process of solving it, but also on true crime forums that helped solve the cases. For the most part, true crime buffs tend to have a bad reputation. Sure, 15 seasons (and counting) of a show like “Criminal Minds” convinces viewers to become obsessed with the crime drama genre, but those who have come to treat real-life cases as entertainment seem to be a bit out of touch with reality.
Web of Death interviews people like Tricia Griffith, creator of the true crime discussion forum Websleuths, whose members were able to assist police in the case of Abraham Shakespeare, a Florida lottery winner who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Shakespeare’s disappearance seemed to baffle his closest family, friends and the police, but as Web of Death reveals, it was members of Websleuth who were able to link the disappearance and murder to his financial advisor Doris Donegan “Dee Dee” Moore, who is currently serving a life sentence for a crime.
The purpose of the show is to show how much time and energy goes into the “work” of real crime and how Griffith works part-time for the sole reason of funding the Websleuths and finds time for little else. of life. At the same time, “Web of Death” tries not to incriminate the community of actual criminals, instead interweaving interviews of law enforcement officers with interviews of discussion forum participants, resulting in an unconventional method of storytelling.
Subsequent episodes similarly focus on other real-life crimes and the people from the true crime community who helped solve them. The second episode covers the 1950s Boulder murder of Jane Doe, whose identity was discovered with the help of Sylvia Petham, a local journalist in the area. Sylvia heard about Jane Doe at Boulder’s Encounter the Spirits event, where people dress up in cemeteries to recreate the people buried in the graves. Despite its unusual beginning, the story has a touching ending, as Pettham was the driving force behind the discovery of Jane Doe’s real name: Dorothy Gay Howard. Other episodes in the series feature podcasters and DNA researchers who find themselves at the center of very real murder cases.
The tone of appreciation Web of Death takes for the true crime community is anything but ordinary. We’ve watched the genre-obsessed cross the line earlier, and who’s to say it won’t happen again? While the use of cases that were solved with the help of true crime enthusiasts certainly contributes to the innovative storytelling, does it do more harm than good? The framing of the interviews on the show makes it seem like people from these true crime forums are working in tandem with law enforcement to solve these cases, and even if they really were, this method of solving crimes is unheard of. While remaining neutral and maintaining objectivity in the narrative, there is concern that more and more true-crime fans will feel empowered to participate in real-life cases despite lacking authority or permission from law enforcement.
The purpose of “Web of Death” seemed to be to highlight the importance of social media in solving crimes, but it could have opened the floodgates to unintended consequences. Even with the cases discussed on the show, the producers had to be careful not to turn people’s real lives into another fun puzzle for others to solve. Unfortunately for victims everywhere and their families, we live in an age where this will continue to happen with every unspeakable tragedy that occurs. With a show like “The Web of Death,” the question remains: Are true crime fans better off ignoring it or letting it go?
Daily Arts writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at email@example.com.