Kate Winkler Dawson Talks True Crime Podcasting and The Annihilator
Kate Winkler Dawson is no stranger to true crime. Entering the seventh season of her podcast series, Tenfold More Wicked, Kate Winkler Dawson is opening a new chapter with season seven’s “The Annihilator.”
Following a series of murders in 1800s Austin, Texas, “The Annihilator” goes deep into the history of a man, Eugene Burt. Did witnessing a murder twelve years previously cause him to follow a similar strategy as a killer later on? What truly turns someone into a killer?
Kate Winkler Dawson revealed what goes into building a true crime podcast, the research it takes, and how the story will unravel to reveal the dangerous truths surrounding the events of “The Annihilator.”
Culturess: What interested you so much about this story?
Kate Winkler Dawson: First of all, season seven takes place in Austin, Texas, which is where I’m from and where I currently live, and I love Texas history, and I definitely love Austin history. I’ve also always been interested in the idea of the family annihilator. It’s always really confused me, and so I thought this would be a great opportunity to explore what that story was like and what it was like from the media’s point of view to a certain extent in the 1800s in Austin. I also thought Eugene Burt’s backstory was really intriguing.
Culturess: How do you decide which stories to transform into a podcast?
Kate Winkler Dawson: It’s a big task for me. I have a little checklist of things. One, it has to be a city that I’m interested in exploring, like Austin. I’ve done stories in New York, in Scotland, in London. It has to be a time period I’m really interested in. I work primarily in the 19th century when I talk about crime history. It has to be, of course, a story that resonates with listeners now. What can we learn from the crimes of Eugene Burt? What does that teach us?
So those things are all really important to me. And then I have to have family access. I have to have a family who is willing to talk with me. So far, I’ve gotten that with all of my seasons, so I’ve been very pleased, and with this season, the family is very passionate about the story. It’s been really great exploring it with them.
Culturess: How does being a crime historian help you with the creative process of working on a true crime podcast?
Kate Winkler Dawson: It morphs everything I do. I love history, and I love the intersection of crime and history. I think we learn a lot from it. I think we learn a lot about crime from crime in general, about parts of society we don’t often talk about. Throughout history, you see, I say often that people don’t commit crimes for a different reason now than they did hundreds of years ago. The themes are all the same. It’s the same thing over and over again.
The trick for me is giving it an audience to really value characters within the story, where they can relate somehow to a woman from the eighteenth century or the nineteenth century because they’re going through the same social issues that we have now. It might be more intense. It might be slightly altered. But really, it’s sort of the same fights that we have now that we had then. So, I love learning from history, and that’s sort of my realm. I have this little corner of true crime, and it’s what I love the most.
Culturess: What inspired you to become involved in sharing stories through this outlet?
Kate Winkler Dawson: I think that I’ve been an author for almost ten years now, a nonfiction author, and I have a television background and a radio background, and then I came to being a writer in my forties and the thing that I missed about when I write a book is that I can’t really put my personality into a book. You can try; you can put in a little joke here and there. You can read my author’s note; you don’t really know much about who I am just from reading one of my nonfiction books.
But, with a podcast, specifically with Tenfold More Wicked, you hear me. I’m there. I’m where the murders happened. I’m with the family members on the farm where it took place. I’m in that city finding out about the history, and you can tell a little bit more about me. It is ninety percent about the story. But, I also think that it’s nice for people to know my personality, and ultimately I end up with listeners who like hanging out with me for forty minutes talking about true crime. So that was my big motivator. Podcasts allow you to reach out to audiences in a way books never allowed me to do.
Culturess: What do you love most about working on these episodes?
Kate Winkler Dawson: I think being in the field. Paul Holes and I talk about that on my other podcast, Buried Bones, an awful lot. He misses being in the field. I love being in the field too. Being on the scene reporting on something, walking on the grounds where the victims once were, going inside the homes, seeking out remains in graveyards.
There are all things that, as a reporter as a journalist, I’ve always done. So it feels very comfortable for me to be there. I like immersing myself. Tenfold More Wicked is a podcast unlike anything else I’ve done where I’m able to really immerse myself in a scene and the history of that crime.
Culturess: How much research do you do into each crime, and how do you decide if there is enough material to build a season around?
Kate Winkler Dawson: The big thing is reaching out to the family, and luckily we now have enough listeners with Tenfold More Wicked that I have people reach out to me, and they say, “I have this crazy crime that happened in my family. Let me know what you think. My family is willing to talk about it.” And that makes my life much easier because I have all these great stories just waiting to be told, and it’s how quickly can I get to them. So, it starts with a family and starts with the story. Do I think that there is enough there to warrant six episodes because each season is six episodes?
There can’t just be a murderer, and that’s it. There have to be other things happening along the way. Usually, it’s a really compelling backstory. In one episode, it’s really complicated relationships, and the lead up in the second episode, the murder or murders in three or four, and then a lot of the aftermath or potentially more murders. So there’s a lot happening, and so it has to be a complex story, and those are not easy to come by.
Culturess: What drew you to cover true crime?
Kate Winkler Dawson: My father was a law professor at the University of Texas. He was a criminal law professor, and my mother is a retired psychologist who was also a huge true crime fan. So I think the intersection of the two created me. I was a journalist for so long. I teach journalism at the University of Texas now.
Crime has always been an interest of mine. So all these things can merge, so that I really felt a passion for it. It’s something I read about and watch and listen to in my off time, which I always tell my students is a big clue that you’re on the right track to do what you wanna do in life. It’s a big passion for me. I think it’s important. This was because of my parents, I think. With my role in journalism, it was a natural fit.
Culturess: Why do you think people are so intrigued by the true crime genre?
Kate Winkler Dawson: People have been intrigued by true crime for centuries. Public executions were really, really well attended in the 1800s, in the 1700s. You have The Penny Dreadfuls, and you have all sorts of pamphlets, and in the 1800s, they would sell trial transcripts, and people would buy trial transcripts because they were so intrigued by it, so it’s nothing new. It is a world that people hope to never be involved with directly, but they are fascinated by that world. I think people like being scared a little bit sometimes. I think people like learning lessons.
The predominant audience for true crime is mostly women. I think women like to solve a puzzle. People ask me all the time, they make the assumption that woman only listen or read, or watch true crime because they wanna pick up tips to stay safe. I think that’s really underselling women. Is that the reason why? I don’t think; I think most of the reason why is that they like to solve a mystery. They like to solve a puzzle alongside a detective, so I think it’s nothing new. I think the modes that we are able to access true crime have grown an incredible amount. I think there will always be a fascination for true crime.
Culturess: What is the difference between crafting a true crime novel and a podcast?
Kate Winkler Dawson: So I write nonfiction. Nonfiction, for me, is when you’re writing a book like that, it is a huge deep dive into tiny little facts that just take up an incredible amount of time. When I read my audiobooks from my book, they turn out to be eight or nine hours long, and I only have four hours total per season. The research has to be a lot more in-depth. But I’m able to talk to so many more people with the podcast. And you have sound, and you have music, and it’s just a totally different way of telling a story.
Culturess: What can you tease about upcoming episodes of season 7?
Kate Winkler Dawson: Well, we have a serial killer in Austin, Texas, in the 1880s who was infamous. And the person at the center of the story that I am covering is not that killer, but he was involved in a really interesting way in that story of the infamous serial killer, and I think that his involvement when he was younger with the midnight assassin, informed what he did later on in life which was very, very gruesome and very tragic.
So, when I talked to his family and when I talked to experts about that, it is a lot about how much can we blame what he saw when he was a teenager for what he did when he was an adult male. A lot about mental illness and the way we treat people who are criminals within that framing. Do we think this person is mentally ill? What do we think happened here? What went wrong? So this was a season that I think atmospherically it’s very creepy. It’s wonderful music. It’s an immersion into 1800s Texas, which is fascinating, and it’s ultimately a tragedy on so many different levels, including with the killer.
All seasons of Tenfold More Wicked are produced by Exactly Right Media.