Hulu’s ‘Web of Death’ utilizes true-crime fans in new docuseries
True crime has taken the world by storm. Whether it’s podcasts or discussion forums, the world’s obsession with the genre has undoubtedly grown in recent years. It seems like every streaming service has jumped on the true crime bandwagon, and Hulu is no exception with their recent series, “Web of Death.” What sets this documentary series apart from the rest is just how self-aware it is.
In a typical true-crime series, viewers only really hear from the victim’s family and friends and those in law enforcement who worked on 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 the true-crime forums that helped close the cases. For the most part, true crime enthusiasts tend to have a bad reputation. Of course, 15 seasons (and counting) of a show like “Criminal Minds” lures an audience into an obsession with the crime drama genre, but those who have started treating real cases like entertainment seem a little divorced from reality to be.
“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 went missing amid mysterious circumstances. Shakespeare’s disappearance seemed to have stunned his closest family, friends and the police, but as “Web of Death” reveals, it was the members of the Websleuths who discovered the disappearance and murder of his financial advisor, Dorice Donegan “Dee Dee”. could capture. Moore, who is currently serving a life sentence for the crime.
The show makes a point of showing how much time and energy goes into the “job” of true-crime detective, and how Griffith works a part-time job for the sole reason of funding Websleuths and makes time for little else in her life. At the same time, “Web of Death” is careful not to villainize the true-crime community, but to intersperse law enforcement interviews with those of the members in the discussion forum, resulting in an unconventional way 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 murder of a Jane Doe in Boulder from the 1950s whose identity was discovered with the help of Silvia Pettem, a local journalist in the area. Silvia heard about Jane Doe at Boulder’s “Meet the Spirits” event where people dress up in a cemetery to re-enact the people buried in the graves. Although it has an unusual beginning, the story has a heartwarming ending, with Pettem being the driving force behind the discovery of Jane Doe’s real name: Dorothy Gay Howard. Other episodes in the series include podcasters and DNA researchers who find themselves in the middle of many real-life murder cases.
The tone of appreciation that “Web of Death” takes for the true crime community is not common. We’ve seen those obsessed with the genre cross the line before, and who’s to say it won’t happen again? While using cases solved with the help of true crime enthusiasts certainly makes for innovative storytelling, does it do more harm than good? The framing of the interviews in the show makes it seem like people from these true crime forums worked with law enforcement to solve these cases, and even if they were real, this method of solving crime is unheard of. Despite maintaining a tone of neutrality and enduring objectivity in the storytelling, the fear remains that more true crime fans will be able to get involved in real cases, despite having no credentials or clearance from law enforcement. do not have.
The purpose of “Web of Death” was apparently to emphasize the importance of social media in the process of solving crime, but it may have opened the floodgates for unintended consequences. Even with the cases discussed in the show, producers had to be careful not to turn real people’s lives into yet 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 “Web of Death,” the question remains: Are true crime fans better off being ignored or enabled?
Daily Arts writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at [email protected]