Investigative journalist and host of Park Predators, CounterClock, and Dark Arenas, Delia D'Ambra, is no stranger to the true crime genre. Throughout her years in podcasting, Delia has worked behind the scenes as a researcher, producer, and host, and has covered countless stories for her listeners and fans. Lindsay Boyd and Nathan Spell were thrilled to get the chance to sit down with Delia and discuss her process, what she's learned throughout the years, and her reasoning behind why we love true crime.

Podcast Transcript

0 (0s):
Everyone loves a good, true crime story and investigative journalist and host of CounterClock Delia D'Ambra is no different in part two of Why We Love True Crime Lindsay Boyd and Nathan Spell, sit down with Delia to discuss what drew her in so many others to the Podcast

1 (15s):
Genre. So lets get started. That's the great thing about They grow with you as much as I had. I couldn't wait to get back to my sleep number bed. Yeah. I love my third love bras there. Hands down in the most comfortable bras I've ever owned. I love making a blue apron. I love it. It's my me time.

0 (45s):
Delia. Thank you so much for joining us today. If you don't mind introducing yourself for our listeners who maybe aren't familiar with you and your shows, that would be great.

2 (52s):
Yeah. So I am an investigative journalist and I work for Audio check, you know, I host and produce and help co-create some of the shows for Audio check and yeah, that's what I've been doing now for the last full-time for the last year. So it's been fun.

0 (1m 8s):
That's awesome. And one of those shows is Park Predators, right? Correct. I a funny story, I actually discovered that show right before it launched. I think I heard a, a spot for it, like a coming soon, but I was driving to big bend national park at the time and I was thinking, Oh, this sounds great for me, but maybe not on this trip.

2 (1m 31s):
Yeah, man. I don't think that's one of those shows that you necessarily listened to driving into a national park. I think you do it when you're driving out. Right. You've survived. Like you're, you know, you're good.

3 (1m 43s):
Obviously everyone, like we're all fans of true crime in general here. And I'm just kinda curious what got you interested in true crime as a genre?

2 (1m 51s):
Well, I worked as a television news reporter for six years and so I was doing a lot of crime stories, you know, like real life, true crime as my day job, you know, just being so, you know, involved in that kind of storytelling. But I really got interested in, you know, true crime documentaries and other podcasts probably like in college, you know, like that, that kind of time where I'm just sort of bored and I want to have something to listen to. I think that's just where it kinda like took hold for me. And I was, you know, majoring in journalism and I was really, you know, a hungry young journalist. And so it all kind of came together at that time. I think the stories themselves, they're just so intriguing.

2 (2m 32s):
It's like, you know, they say, what is it true through stranger than fiction or something like that. I mean, I think that that's the grip of those stories for me.

3 (2m 39s):
It's funny you say that because my first exposure to true crime podcasts were, was in college and as a creative writing major that's one of the things we learned is like, you know, if you were writing a, a fictional story, you actually can't make it as strange as some of the True kinds of stories. Yeah.

2 (2m 55s):
It's like, it's unbelievable. Yeah. So you mentioned that worked

3 (3m 0s):
Are, you were working as a journalist in general for what, what exactly at that point, was it that made you make the switch or what was the sort of the moment where you decided to take that leap into Podcasting instead?

2 (3m 15s):
So I was working at the beginning of 2018. I was working a couple of years into my career as a general assignment reporter and investigative reporter for television news stations, NBC owned to television news stations. And I had been listening to a couple of true crime podcasts that were sort of, you know, the type where it's, you kind of go with the host, right. You're sort of learning the story. You're sort of learning what they're learning as they're learning it in real time. So I got really into that and I thought, you know, I have the skill sets to not only tell stories and understand law enforcement and understand, you know, Crime stories, but I feel like I could maybe help in some advocacy. Right. So, you know, trying to get these stories that maybe somebody hasn't heard or get some attention to the really old cold case, how can I do that?

2 (4m 0s):
How can I use, you know, what I'm good at to make that happen? And so that's where I figured, let me do it in the podcasting space because you know, TV has such a limited time frame that you can get a messaging and get a story across whether that's local TV or even like network program. You're, you're, you're under the constraints of time. And so because of that, a lot of things can hit the cutting room floor, not for, you know, malicious region reasons, but because it's what you're working with. So I realized that Podcasting had way more, you know, like they say in print white space, right. You know, to, to right. So to speak and to, to, to deliver the story in the message. So that's where I just said, I'm going to do this.

2 (4m 40s):
And I want to do a, you know, a serialized story where it's episodes week to week and it's focusing on, you know, really digging in and telling the full story. And so that's how it happened and CounterClock was created.

3 (4m 54s):
Yeah. It sounds like the biggest things for true crime podcasts are that make true crime podcasts different from other true crime genre has, is what really attracted you to the idea that I know for many listeners of true crime, the advocacy thing is a huge part of why they listen to the idea that there were these cold cases that, that still are out there. I think that's really, it's a really awesome kind of story of how you've got in. Yeah.

2 (5m 18s):
I think it's D the, the delivering of details, really taking time with the story and, you know, not being rushed on putting it together and not being, you know, unable to contact certain people. Like that's huge for me as a journalist. So Podcasting really allows that. And I think a great forum that people listen to, you know, because people will actually listen to the shows, you know, it's, it's hard for people that aren't in the Podcasting space to get that, but they're, I mean, the audience is huge and not only that, the demographic is huge. Like you can't get that in TV or even print. So for me, I was like, bingo,

3 (5m 53s):
We get to do that. And rather than squeezing it into a 32nd soundbite, like, you know, you have time to

0 (5m 58s):
Really dig in, what do you think it is that fascinates people, especially women about true crime, because they seem to be the, the biggest listeners.

2 (6m 8s):
Yeah, I think again, I think part of it is that advocacy piece. And I have had experience working with a lot of women who work in the nonprofit space. And so not that men don't as well, but just in my personal experience. And I think that that advocacy piece is, you know, wanting to make a change. And, you know, I think in, in terms of people that are involved in true crime podcasts, I do see a lot of female journalists sort of spearheading a lot of content in that space. But I think as far as the consumer, I just think it's, I don't know. I, I, it's hard to really pin it down to one thing, but I mean, me and all of my girlfriends and my sisters and my mom, like we know Dateline, like when Dateline comes on, if it's like two minutes, I'm committed, like I'm on the jury, I'm ready.

2 (6m 54s):
Like I need to know this story. So I think it's just the, sometimes it's that entertainment value. But at the same time, I think, you know, the really good productions that are out there, people stick with because they see that there's a bigger cause. And there's a bigger message. And I think women are just drawn to that. Not that men aren't, but I just think a lot of women are,

0 (7m 13s):
We actually read that ingesting True Crime and, and like horse stories, even give people with anxiety, a way to like, experience that anxiety in a safe setting. I know that there is especially holds true for me. Do you feel that that holds true for other listeners?

2 (7m 30s):
I do. I mean, I know just from being witnessed to the feedback for the shows that I do and with our flagship show Crime junkie, like so many people write in and they say, you know, I really, you know, I identify with this victim or identify with this person or this situation. And I think it'll does, it does give people a space to kind of, I don't just relate in a way, but then I also know too, that so many of the shows and, and, you know, the ones that I do in others, you can actually learn something from them. Right. So there is a show that I have out right now called Dark Arenas. And several of those episodes are talking about what to do. If your child is abducted, like, what are the top 10 things that like make a difference?

2 (8m 13s):
And so, yeah, that's, I mean, that's huge for people to actually walk away with something and feel like they have, they have learned something and that they've been able to deal with that anxiety of their child being abducted, which is a huge concern for a lot of parents or, you know, any sort of child sexual abuse, material type influence in their life, or a child abuse, like parents worry about that stuff. So if they can listen to a true crime show that teaches them useful things. I mean, that's, that's, that's great. I think that that's a good thing. So some people don't want to necessarily have those conversations with their friends or family, but they'll listen to a podcast and go, wow, okay. I feel a lot better. I feel prepared. And that's, I mean, that's really cool.

0 (8m 51s):
I've also kind of found during some of my research into like the true crime as a whole, that people have kind of found support groups within each other and within like the true crime community. Have you found that your listeners have kind of banded together in the same way? Yeah.

2 (9m 7s):
Yeah. I think there are a lot of people that, you know, they are victims of domestic violence or they are, you know, a victim's, they, you know, their part of that club, but no one wants to be a part of, right. They've had a family member or a loved one that has been murdered. And so, yeah. Sometimes, you know, you'll see these forums of people that really bond over a particular Podcast, whether it be one of our shows or another, and they come together in social media groups and they, and they post, you know, flyers and they raise money for billboards or whatever it is. Like, I think they're really is this amazing kindred spirit that people have within the true crime community who actually care and, you know, yeah. There's always going to be people, you know, that just want to talk and, and, and draw attention to themselves or whatever.

2 (9m 50s):
But for the most part, like what I've seen is people that genuinely care and they, they want to get right information out there and they want to mourn with others who mourn like they do. So. Yeah, I think it's, that's a really cool community that can be burst from different genres sub-genres of the True grime genre.

3 (10m 10s):
The unfortunate reality is there are so many crimes out there that could be covered. So how do you decide which stories to tell and whether that's certain crimes to focus on, or, you know, I know Dark Arenas is, is definitely a different sort of take on, you know, this genre. So how do you decide what stories to tell in the first place

2 (10m 33s):
The show is Interview based, right. Like Dark Arenas is an Interview based show. I really look for again, who are the people that I can, I can have and write my content to that is advancing, you know, public knowledge and isn't, you know, trying to make a difference. So who are people that are you going to have? Not just good sound bites, but they're actually going to be able to explain things that I don't know anything about. I'm not a lawyer, I'm not an ATF agent nor do I ever want to be, but I want to know how that, that works and how the public can learn from it for things that are like, CounterClock right, where it's, you know, it takes me a year or two years or more to do an investigation. And it never ends. I look at, okay, I want to get the family's consent first.

2 (11m 15s):
Like I want to be, I want the blessing of this family and the people that it's ultimately comes down to, it's their story. And then I look for things for shows like that, like public documents, what can I access? What can I, you know, kind of get my wheels turning in. So that's kind of a thing that lets me sort of navigate what story I can really dig into and hopefully make a difference in, and then research based shows like Park Predators, it's more the concept, right? Like, yeah, these are crazy Crime stories and yes, national parks are dangerous just like everywhere else. But if you were somebody who goes to those places often that wasn't necessarily thinking about your surrounding as much as you know, you were thinking about your gear, what trail you were going to go on. Are you really thinking about the people you come in contact with?

2 (11m 58s):
Are you really thinking about, should you isolate yourself in one of those areas with someone that you can't really trust? I mean, so it's more of that, like a general thought process. So the research base shows are not as Interview involved or a document involved, but they are, there is a bigger message behind them. So yeah, I kind of let all those things sorta guide me if that makes sense.

3 (12m 20s):
Yeah, it does. And those are all, I liked it there with those, each of those shows that, you know, you're known for, there's like three very different motivations that I think the through line of it all coming back to something that's really actionable in a way for someone on the other end, I think that's really, really cool as a listener to be able to take away. Like I understand now what someone who's maybe had to deal or investigate crimes, how they think about this. And I have more knowledge than I did.

2 (12m 51s):
I was going to say, I think the true crime space is so, is so littered with so many shows, right? That there are a lot that are very, just like entertainment based. And so that doesn't mean that those shows are bad or wrong, but I just don't think people leave going. I'm glad I listened to that or that stuck in my brain. So if something happens to me, I'll remember that, you know, and like, so like everything, there's tons of content, but what's the content that's really going to stick with people. That's what I want to be a part of

3 (13m 21s):
With that in mind, knowing the motivation that you have behind reporting these stories, a couple questions, these are kind of going together. What would you say is the most frustrating story you've had to, you know, you've had to report on so far, you've had to tell. And, and with that, let's not end on that note also, like what would you say is the best or the most satisfying story that you've gotten to tell

2 (13m 43s):
The most frustrating story? And I think it, until it is solved will always be, is the unsolved murder of Denise Johnson from CounterClock season one. That story will always be with me. I think about the niece every week. I never knew her in life, but our lives are intertwined forever now. So, you know, I think for me what's most frustrating is that I feel like there is so much, there, there is so much there to be reinvestigated I know that because I found it myself. So if I can find it in two years time or to, and a half years of time, how has so many decades gone by where nothing's been done? And then you add on any potential forensic testing that can be done, which we know is light years from what it was in the nineties.

2 (14m 25s):
So that's where the frustrations are for me of, you know, just how that case has was stuck for so long. And now we have these wheels turning that I'm like, let's keep it going. So that's probably the most frustrating case. The only other ones I think would fall into that category for me are even in the research based shows where I tend to run across this detail of like the whole state systems of parole and different laws On, Oh my goodness, this person got out like 10 times, like, or, you know, this is the law that says they only have to serve this much time for this Crime, but if they were in another state, they'd be in prison for the rest of their life.

2 (15m 6s):
I mean, the understanding of the law and interpreting it based on different States and countries that frustrates me because I'm just like, Oh, like man lives could have been set saved, you know? Right. So that always frustrates me. But then again, that's just the reality of life. No system is perfect. So, and then you asked me my least frustrating, or my favorite was,

3 (15m 29s):
Is the most frustrating. It sounds like, you know, the unsolved cases. And then, you know, I, I, I not to derail this, but it's the idea of the, especially with new here, about serial killers that are released, you know, I know that like those kinds of murder cases where they're released, I'm sure that's super frustrating to hear about, but yeah, so let's not land on that, but what would you say, w what would you say is the most satisfying story that you've gotten to tell

2 (15m 54s):
So far? I really do take a lot of a pride in CounterClock season two's investigation, just what it became, which is, I feel like for those that have listened to the show, and for me personally, We I've come to a pretty good sense of who I believe is responsible for, for that crime. And it's certainly not Clifton Spencer, who is a, you know, a, a, an integral figure of that, of that show series or season. So, and then what we were able to do to help him and to, you know, allow people to understand what really goes on in post-conviction proceedings. I just felt like it was very full circle and it ended up being something so much bigger than the initial story, especially again, for those that have listened that understand how it folds into the narrative of Denise Johnson's case and the time, you know, the decade that it happened in, in the same geographic area.

2 (16m 49s):
So I just felt like it became really full bodied. And I just, I, it's just a really satisfying to kind of be able to end it, like nothing can be tied up with a bow, but in my mind, I got closer than anyone has ever gotten. And that's good enough for me. So yeah, that one's been awesome and still kind of, I'm always, I talk to Clifton every week. I mean, you know, it's like, it always, it'll always go on. So I know that earlier, you mentioned that, you know, you want people to, to listen to your show and think, you know, I'm glad that I listened to that. What do you want your listeners to take away from each episode? I think, you know, with CounterClock right. I mean, I want them to listen to the next episode. I don't want them to drop off because I do want them to hear the whole story, because again, I mean, something that's not in context is useless, right.

2 (17m 39s):
So you've got to listen to the whole deal to, to understand what's really important. And what's, Oh my gosh, kind of a moment again, I think I go back to like, with Park Predators, like if one person just pays a little more attention, not that the victims and those stories didn't right. I'm not saying that, you know, there's any fault of anybody's any victim's fault. I just mean there's one or two things that we can just keep in our head that later you go, you know, I think I heard that on that show. I'm not going to go down that path alone. Hey, that could save somebody's life. I mean, it, so it's, I think it goes back to that for me, where I just want to be a little bug in everyone's head and ear, because not everybody has that. Not everybody has a parent or a loved one. Who's going to tell them, Hey, you know, don't do this, don't do that because it's going to hurt you down, down the line, or it's going to get you in, you know, a world of trouble.

2 (18m 28s):
So I kinda just feel like, you know, people take that from the shows and are reminded that like, you know, unsolved cases, there are a real human people. Not only that are the victims with the families that live with that. I think that gets totally washed in a lot of times in the true crime genre is the human stories behind the suffering that is so important. Like you see a vigil, you see some archived, you know, a video or something, and it kind of just goes past your, your brain. But if every episode you're hearing from that family member, they become a lot more real to you. So that's what I hope people understand

0 (19m 5s):
From our shows. I know that I definitely took some, some thoughts away from, from Park Predators. Cause I have a tendency to go out by myself. I, I do visit state parks and national parks a lot, and it just never occurred to me to maybe let someone know like, Hey, this is where I'm going. And maybe cell signal is not so great because it's not great in like big bend and in West Texas. So I'll check in with you. And if you don't hear for me, maybe, maybe try to check in with me. I just, it had never really crossed my mind before.

2 (19m 38s):
One thing it's been really amazing with that show is I, when it came out and we're about to come out with a second season this summer, I just got such a flood of responses from the outdoors community, which I'm a huge outdoors woman. I guess she gets her like me and my husband. We love the parks. We love fishing. We love, you know, hiking. Like that's our thing. We got married at a national park. So like all of these things are like, so part of who I am, but so many of those people were like, you know, I was always so concerned about the elements, right? Like, and that's such a huge thing we should be, but think about people who have nefarious intentions, right. They already have the literally a landscape working with whatever their intention is.

2 (20m 23s):
Right. So if there's a cliff, if there is a secluded area, you know, that's not going to necessarily happen in a busy shopping mall. I mean, we know crimes happen in those places, but you know, anyone that has no malicious intent, they were going to use the surroundings and parks and whatever recreation spaces. Like that's just one other thing that's like in their pocket that's to their advantage. And I think, yeah, like you said, thinking about that and remembering that so many outdoors people like email me and they were like, what? You know, like, ah, you know, maybe I shouldn't go back country camping alone and I'm like, do it, but talk to somebody while you're out there before you leave, like have a date that you're coming back, you know? So that's been interesting.

3 (21m 2s):
I'm glad to hear that it doesn't prevent you from going out. Like, I'm glad that there's like practical, you know, like, okay, we can still go out to the parks, but we just have to say, we have to take some, you know, smaller steps to be sure that people know that were out there. That kind of a thing.

2 (21m 19s):
And I think a lot of people that's like the one question always people always ask me is like, Oh, how do you tell, you know, do these stories and do what you do. And like, not be afraid of the world and not be afraid of, you know, nature or, you know, getting too deep with an investigation. And all of those things are true. Like I could be, but at the same time, we all have to live our lives, right. Like we all have to have a good head on our shoulders and use, you know, exercise, caution and wisdom. And I just think it's a, you know, you can't not live and enjoy those things, but at the same time you can learn from stuff that's a big part of it. Or at least I try and make it a big part of the episodes. We've talked a lot about the actual Podcast themselves.

2 (22m 1s):
I'm curious about your preparation. How do you prepare for each Episode? So with CounterClock, like I said, like, I'll start like a year in advance, right? Like all the producing, all the interviews, all the scheduling and everything, you know, just being in the field, being on the ground, talking with people. But once I have all of that gathered, I then as well. And during that time, and then afterwards, I usually for like four months, right. I'm just sitting like immersing myself in public documents. I've sat for weeks, just organizing, reading through, highlighting everything, you know, one for accuracy. Right. But two for learning and seeing what's not been seen.

2 (22m 42s):
So it's a little it's phases, it's phases of field work. It's phases of education, you know, educating myself and the material and then it's phases of investigating. Right. So I get a phone call and suddenly it changes everything. So there's that happening? And then, you know, and then I just go into the post-production stuff where I sit down for a couple of weeks and I write the show, whether it's five episodes, 10 or 20, you know, I think that's just kinda my process, but I'm, I never like cut it off where I say like, okay, I've voiced everything it's done. I'm not going back to change it. I'm changing stuff constantly. So I that's just part of the deal. I mean, for me, but the research base shows, you know, once I get a good idea of, you know, everything I want to include and what's important and it writing that's a lot easier than the encounter cloud.

2 (23m 31s):
For example,

3 (23m 33s):
I actually, I kind of wanted to ask a question that we didn't prepare. I'm curious to know, we've talked about how you prepare an Episode and how the process works. And we've talked about like motivations interests. I'm curious if you have any advice for, you know, some budding podcasters out there or some, someone who might be looking into how to take their background in journalism, whether they're just coming out of college, how to move into the space, if you have any tips or advice for them.

2 (24m 5s):
Yeah. I think my biggest thing, I talked to like a lot of new journalists all the time that are like, I want to be an investigative journalist. I'm like great. Be prepared for confrontation, be prepared to do the work. I mean, it takes me thousands and thousands and thousands of pages to read through stuff, but it's not like those are just delivered to me. I have to go out and seek them and battle via email with clerk's offices to get those things. So it takes a lot of work and I think you just have to be willing to do the work and not just to do it. So you have it and it's off your checklist, but because you actually want to know that what you've been told by so-and-so or more than one person is the truth, because if it's not, you need to know otherwise.

2 (24m 53s):
And so I just, I think it's just important to like want to actually do the work and put it in the time. But beyond that, I mean, yeah, I like you've got to get to learn and make mistakes, how to interview people. There's technical stuff. Right. We're all in Audio. Like Mike's that don't work become a really big issue. So I think just like learning and kind of doing all that stuff I'm in trial and error and I am always a big believer in seeking expert opinion and information. If I've got something I don't understand, I need to take it to a criminal defense attorney to interpret it for me. I need to take it to a former homicide detective. I need to take it to whoever, because I want to make sure that what I am interpreting is accurate and that I'm not putting out, you know, misinformation, which would harm a case or harm a story.

2 (25m 45s):
So that's really the big two is building a network of sources, which is a journalist best friend.

3 (25m 51s):
Yeah. The key takeaway I got there is it is a lot of work.

2 (25m 56s):
Yeah. It is. It's not like you could just get up, you know, on a Mic and just Blab on and on. You can do that, but is that going to be something that's quality? Is that going to be something that makes a difference maybe, but not for me.

3 (26m 8s):
Can I ask you just on a personal level, does that part where you're digging through thousands of pages feel like work for you? Or is it something that kind of fires you up?

2 (26m 15s):
No, no, it definitely fires me up because I, so I do a lot of that stuff oftentimes prior to really critical interviews so that I can gauge whether that individual is withholding from me or lying to me or whatever you, you know, whatever you can think of. So for me, I'm like, I want my ducks in a row so that I am prepared and also to dealing with victims, families. I don't want them to think that I'm just some person off the, that knows nothing about this complicated case and just wants to, to, to get everything from them and not get anything. So I, it just a journalist's best friend has just to be prepared to go in and say, look, here's what I know.

2 (26m 57s):
Here's what I'm willing to, to, you know, bring to the table. I actually have, you know, looked into this. I'm very curious. So I think it's just that, that preparation, but no, it doesn't feel like worked for me because I'm so like revved up and just ready to like, you know, go out there that it doesn't, but it is a lot of work for a person who is like, well, I just wanted to record a 10 minute episode and put it on YouTube or whatever, or like, that's it. And then be able to do that a great at the end, I applaud them. I just can't do that.

3 (27m 27s):
Yeah. It also would be a different vibe for a true crime show if all you were doing was blabbing and there was no background. For sure.

0 (27m 35s):
So I'm assuming you found yourself in the position before, where you've maybe interviewed someone and then your research goes against what they told you.

2 (27m 44s):
Yeah. I mean, it's, it's not only research. What's actually been documented. It's a, you know, corroborating interviews. It's, it's other, a witness statements. It's, you know, conflicting interviews, it's conflicting statements from the same person. I mean, it's like, it's a totality of all of those things, but yes, I have had people lied to me multiple times. I have showed stuff to people and said, this is not what you said in such and such year. Why are you saying something different now? And you know, obviously I try and be a little more approachable than that, but at sometimes it gets to that point where you're just astonished that someone would be, you know, so hesitant to be truthful.

2 (28m 24s):
It just makes you ask so many more questions as a journalist. So I, yeah, those situations are not for the faint of heart. And if you're not a people person, my job is not for you

3 (28m 36s):
Delia. Thank you so much for your honesty and all of the answers you've issued generosity. And I want to be sure our listeners know where to find you and where to listen to your shows.

2 (28m 48s):
Yeah. You can listen to all of the shows from Audio, check on Apple podcasts, Spotify, really any, any platform, Dark Arenas is exclusive on Stitcher premium. So you can use our code Arenas. And that'll give you one month of free listening on that. And if you want to follow me on social media and I'm constantly putting out stuff in a little teasers and things, so I am on Twitter, Delia D Ambra TV. I'm also on Instagram Delia, D Ambra D w. And you can find all the shows and stuff on Facebook and through Audio check. So, yeah, there's pretty much no way you can find

0 (29m 27s):
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