Interview: RedHanded Podcast

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RedHanded in an award-winning true crime podcast hosted by Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala. The pair from the UK came together out of a love for the genre and an interest in what causes someone to commit murder. Through their weekly episodes, they examine crimes through a modern-day lens, looking at the societal and cultural aspects that played into the acts committed. Their unique take, as well as their British wit, have drawn thousands of fans, with the podcast’s growth showing no sign of slowing down.

Stories of the Unsolved was able to speak with Hannah and Suruthi about RedHanded‘s rise and how they few the genre of true crime. They also answered questions about their upcoming book, RedHanded: An Exploration of Criminals, Cannibals, Cults, and Whatever Makes A Killer Tick, which is set for release in September 2021.

How would you describe RedHanded to those who have never heard of the podcast?

Hannah Maguire: RedHanded is a weekly true crime podcast, and I think the best summary we’ve ever been given in the press is “bringing the politics to the petrifying”. What we do, which we like to think is something slightly different to other true crime shows, is that we are fixated with why people do what they do. Obviously, telling the story is a really important and interesting part of who we are and what our show is, but what we really, really love is figuring out why people do the most depraved things you can possibly imagine.

Everyone’s morbidly fascinated with people, and when people do extreme things is where the most fascinating stories are. We’ll always look at what makes a person what some people refer to as “evil”, but that’s something we’d never do on the show because, usually, what makes a person a killer is something pretty human. We don’t like to separate killers and call them monsters because it other-izes them unnecessarily, and I think people love referring to killers as monsters because it separates them from what they think is this inhuman thing. But killers are human.

What made you want to turn your passion for true crime into a podcast?

Suruthi Bala: Hannah and I didn’t know each other before we started the podcast. We met and immediately started the show. We both were two separate people who had an interest in true crime who happened to come together [and] who happened to be listening to podcasts, which in the UK about four/five years ago wasn’t that common.

Podcasting is just so accessible to anybody. There isn’t a hoop you have to jump through; there isn’t a person you need to impress. It’s not like getting a book deal or getting a documentary made or something like that. If you feel like you have something to say, you can just go buy a Mac, buy a mic and start distributing podcasts to the world. I think that made it so alluring because it was very little effort. We just bought very cheap mics – we didn’t know what we were doing. If it didn’t work, it didn’t matter, and there were almost no barriers for entry.

How do you pick the cases you cover on RedHanded?

HM: We just have to think it’s interesting. We don’t have any rules, like we only do British crimes or something like that. Right from the beginning we didn’t want to be fenced in by our own hurdles.

How long would you say it takes to prepare an episode?

HM: The general rule from nothing to completely edited episode is about three to four days. We alternate the research. We have producers who help with the editing and research now, but it’s a massive workload. We release 51 weeks a year, and the bigger we get, the more opportunities happen [and] the more time we have to make, so we can do all this without letting the show suffer. That is a real plate-spinning circus.

It’s an enormous amount of research and I think we have a responsibility to do it because we’re telling real stories that really happened, and if we get it wrong, not only is it embarrassing, it’s painful because we’re doing a disservice to the stories we are telling.

Did you think you’d still be hosting RedHanded all these years later?

HM: I honestly can’t remember what the intentions were when we set out. When we first started, the true crime podcast scene was My Favourite Murder and Last Podcast on the Left. I, personally, couldn’t imagine even getting close to how big those shows were, but now on paper we’re just behind Last Podcast on the Left in half the time that they did it.

I don’t think we ever expected it to be the success it has been. I remember being hopeful, but it was never the plan, and we’re incredibly lucky for it to happen like this. We’ve worked incredibly hard.

Is there anything you’d specifically attribute to RedHanded‘s success?

HM: Persistence.

SB: Yeah, I think persistence and consistency. If you are a novice like we were – if you start and you see other podcasts that are much further down the line, doing things like merch and live shows and Patreon and all of that – I think that one good thing we actually did was when we started the show we had no inclination to start selling merch or start doing live events or anything. We were just 100% committed to the show itself, to getting the quality as good as we could. We were obsessed with improving the sound – that was our first priority. Then it was the iteration of learning how to tell a good story [and] how to do the research. We were just completely obsessed with the quality of the show, and I honestly think that was our asset.

I think our biggest asset during those first few years was not trying to do too much, not trying to do everything else and watering down the quality of the main show. It was just staying completely focused on that – just focus on the show and everything else will come. Don’t get distracted.

Is there a particular case you’ve covered that’s stuck with you?

SB: When it comes to talking about true crime cases, we like to describe it as the “micro-cases” and the “macro-cases”. The micro ones are the family killings and the spouse killings – people who are known to each other. Something we’ve started to really enjoy doing is larger scale ones, where it’s more politically-driven, or socially or culturally, and there’s just a bigger overarching topic that we can delve into.

For example, this year we covered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey by the Saudi Royal Family. I thought it was something no other true crime podcast that we came across had covered. A few political shows had talked about it, but they had talked about it with their political hats on, not from the true crime storyteller perspective. We able to marry-up those two focuses quite well and just talking about the mentality of the Saudi regime and why they went after Khashoggi, the ramifications on a geopolitical scale. To talk about one man’s murder who had such an impact, it’s something we’re really starting to enjoy covering. Those are the ones we’ll try to do more of, and I think our audience seems to really respond well to it.

Are there any misconceptions those who aren’t involved in the true crime community have about the genre?

HM: Totally. The one we get the most is, “Oh, well, it’s really gross.” A lot of people have a problem with true crime as a thing and I just think it’s a bit unfair. We’re talking about important topics that deserve to be spoken about. I think everyone assumes if you’re in the true crime world that there’s something a bit wrong with you and you’re obsessed with horrible things happening to people. While horrible things happening is interesting from a psychological perspective, we talk about important things. For example, in the UK a woman is strangled to death by her partner every two weeks. Nobody talks about it, but when we’re talking about it on the show, it’s gross and a true crime thing. I think true crime itself is inherently political – you can’t separate the two things.

I think people who have a problem with true crime tend to be the people who’ve consumed almost none of it, so they don’t know what they’re talking about.

SB: I think we face an added thing because some of the true crime podcasts or true crime shows that are a bit more straight down the middle, who just tell the story, they’re not doing what Hannah and I do. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I think it’s just a different way of delivering it because we joke around on the show. It’s very conversational, but we take the research incredibly seriously. We leave no stone unturned in the parameters of the time we have to research an episode. We devour books. We’ve hired on new producers to help research. We delve so deeply, go down every rabbit hole we possibly can to understand everything about that case. We just happen to deliver it in more of a conversational, chatty way because that’s just our personalities.

We make jokes – never ever at the expense of the victims – and I think that has, on one hand, got us the rabid, highly engaged audience that we have. But, on the other hand, I think the next level up is people who think true crime itself is distasteful, but who maybe think we’re worse because we’re making jokes, when, if they actually listened to us, they would know that we’re advocates for victims and for minorities’ rights.

RedHanded: An Exploration of Criminals, Cannibals, Cults, And What Makes A Killer Tick

You’re releasing a book in September, titled RedHanded: An Exploration of Criminals, Cannibals, Cults, and Whatever Makes A Killer Tick. How did that opportunity come about?

SB: It came through our agents. It was a passion project for Hannah and I, in the sense that we had been sitting with true crime for four years, and this idea of a book had been percolating for a while because we just wanted to accumulate all the stuff we had discovered on our four-year journey – and it’s by no means over. There were just some things that we felt were misconceptions, even for people within the true crime community.

One of the key things we realized quickly was that the model by which we work isn’t that we are specialists in one particular case. We spend a week with a case – we research it, we record it, we edit it, it’s out there. We don’t tend to do what some people do, which is spend years and years working on one story. So what we decided to do was write a book that was more reflective of what makes a killer. So what we did was a chapter-by-chapter look at various different factors.

Basically, what we chose for each chapter was something that affects all of us. We have a chapter on sex. We have a chapter on relationships. We have a chapter on insanity and mental health. So all the kind of things that impact everybody day-to-day. It’s how those things get perverted or twisted and then can lead to the creation of a killer. That was the premise of the book, and I think we were really well placed to write it, as we have been exposed to so many different types of killer[s], so many different types of crime, that it felt like a natural fit for us.

Were you nervous about getting the analysis right, given so many people in the past have tried to definitively explain what makes someone become a murderer?

HM: No, I don’t think we were particularly nervous about getting it right because that’s not what the book is about. It’s an exploration. It’s a discussion. Sure, there are tons of studies that say one thing [and] there will always be more that say the other. We were never going to be giving a definitive answer to anything, other than loads of things can make a killer and they’re all human experiences that happen to everyone. But there’s when things come together in an imperfect-perfect storm, that’s when you can get someone who’s quite seriously disturbed and can do some terrifying things.

Every situation is unique, therefore there can’t be a definitive answer.

More information about Hannah, Suruthi and RedHanded can be found via the podcast’s official website.

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