True-crime podcast listeners may have cracked a case no one knew was brewing. “Crime Junkie,” among the genre’s most popular shows, has pulled several episodes from its archive after a journalist accused it of plagiarizing her work.
“Crime Junkie,” hosted by Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat since its December 2017 debut, operates out of Indianapolis, and examines a variety of crimes around the country.
This month a journalist named Cathy Frye posted a lengthy note on Ms. Flowers’s personal and public Facebook account regarding an episode on the 2002 killing of 13-year-old Kacie Woody. Ms. Frye, who wrote a series of articles on the crime, accused Ms. Flowers of quoting almost verbatim a portion of her work, which she said was copyrighted by The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The journalist said that she had spent months working on the series.
“The information you used in your podcast comes only from my series,” Ms. Frye wrote. “No other media had access to the details that I did. Nor did they get the interviews that I did.”
Ms. Frye suggested that Ms. Flowers conduct her own interviews or share the source of her information with listeners. “You can either take down that podcast or I — and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — will pursue this legally,” she wrote. Within days, the episode had been removed, along with several others.
The comment sent shock waves through show’s fan base, and in the tight-knit world of true-crime podcasting. And Ms. Fyre’s accusation prompted other podcasters to complain that they, too, had their work used by “Crime Junkie.”
Ms. Frye did not immediately return requests for comment; she told BuzzFeed News that she first learned of the podcast while traveling with her daughter. David Bailey, the managing editor of The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which in 2003 published the four-part series on Ms. Woody’s death, said in an email on Tuesday that Ms. Frye was a former reporter there and that the paper was aware of the issue. He said he considered the issue “effectively rendered moot” because the episode had been removed.
Four days after Ms. Frye’s note, “Crime Junkie” posted a statement to its Facebook page announcing that it had taken down “several” episodes because “their source material could no longer be found or properly cited.” It did not say how many.
“Our research process is thorough, rigid, and exhaustive, and those familiar with Crime Junkie are aware that we make clear references to the use of other sources and that comprehensive notes and links to all sources are made available on our show’s website,” the statement said.
A representative for Ms. Flowers pointed to the existing statement on Facebook and did not immediately respond to questions about which episodes were removed or whether the show planned to address the controversy in an upcoming episode.
Other podcasters have raised complaints
There are dozens of true-crime podcasts, covering a range of death and destruction. Some reinvestigate cases with reams of original research or interviews. Others resemble Wikipedia-esque retellings.
“Crime Junkie” is a popular show, consistently ranking high on Apple’s podcast charts not just among true-crime shows but all podcasts. In an interview with Deadline in May, Ms. Flowers hinted at an expanding empire with plans to turn the podcast into a drama series and to create a new podcast with the help of the state police in Indiana.
In her biography on the “Crime Junkie” website, Ms. Flowers said she wanted to be a “voluntary detective” who solves cases in her free time. She also sits on the board of directors for Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana.
Ms. Prawat, the “Crime Junkie” co-host, previously worked for a private investigator, according to the website. She is also described as a lover of “Forensic Files” and “America’s Most Wanted” and is credited with first introducing Ms. Flowers to podcasts.
Other podcast hosts have raised objections to “Crime Junkie.” Robin Warder, who hosts “The Trail Went Cold,” told Variety last week that “Crime Junkie” read without credit from a Reddit post he wrote in 2015 on a cold case that he had featured on his own show.
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Warder said the “Crime Junkie” podcast, about 18 minutes into Episode 25, “started reading my Reddit post almost verbatim without credit.”
“A light bulb went off in my head,” he added. “It is structurally exactly the same.”
Mr. Warder said word spread quickly in the close-knit world of crime podcasters, who attend conventions, cross-promote one anothers’ platforms and share information on Facebook groups.
He said that it was not unusual for podcasts to cover the same cases, but that there were unwritten rules in the community: “If you are going to cover the same cases, look up your own sources, write your own script and provide your own analysis.”
Steven Pacheco, the host of the “Trace Evidence” podcast, said that “Crime Junkie” had used his work without permission as well.
On Friday, he released a video juxtaposing quotes from his own 2017 podcast about Asha Degree, a 9-year-old girl from North Carolina who disappeared in 2000, with an episode that “Crime Junkie” aired in January.
When he listened to that “Crime Junkie” episode, Mr. Pacheco said, he was surprised to hear the hosts describe the site where the child disappeared not as a forest, as published news reports called it, but rather as a “tree line,” which was how he described the location on his podcast after he had gone to look at the spot in person.
“When I heard that line was when I realized,” he said. “It was really weird — it was just an off-the-cuff comment that I made.”
Mr. Pacheco, 36, then started listening to other “Crime Junkie” episodes, and has provided a lawyer with transcriptions and time stamps from at least seven episodes that he claims use information from his work. He said a few of them were among the episodes that had been taken down.
Esther Ludlow, who hosts the “Once Upon a Crime” podcast, said in an interview that last week she noticed similarities between an April 2018 episode of her show and a June 2018 “Crime Junkie” episode on the same topic. Both featured a woman who had sought revenge for hundreds of murdered women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Ms. Ludlow said the episode soon vanished from the “Crime Junkie” roster. It no longer appears on Apple’s podcast feed.
Ms. Ludlow, who works on her podcast full time, said it’s “disappointing” and “frustrating” to see her work repurposed.
“If it somehow gets addressed and it gets corrected in some way, that’s kind of good enough for me,” she said.
Because “Crime Junkie” is so popular, she added, the lack of citation and credit “reflects badly on everyone.”
Credit where it is due
Giving proper credit is one of the ethical challenges of the digital world, said Aaron Chimbel, the dean of the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University in New York.
He said such practices could become particularly unscrupulous when producers develop a following and feel they “constantly have to feed the beast.”
“If a podcast is pulling work from other places, that might be perfectly fine, as long as your listeners know that,” Mr. Chimbel said.
Recent reviews of “Crime Junkie” on Apple, posted since the accusations became public, have been split between one and five stars, with little in between. “I’ve read that you’ve taken other’s hard work to make your podcast,” one wrote. “Unsubscribing.”
Another said they had revised their initial five-star review to one star and expressed disappointment that the most recent episode did not address the “clearly-evidenced allegations of plagiarism.”
But the podcast still has its fans. “What an insightful, well researched and vetted docu-series podcast!” one supporter wrote.
The latest episode of “Crime Junkie,” on a serial killer known as the Hillside Strangler, was released on Monday and cites 12 sources. On Wednesday, it was among the most popular on iTunes.