When considering future topics for the podcast “Wine & Crime,” co-host Amanda Jacobson has a guiding principle. “If it’s socially unacceptable to talk about, I want to talk about it,” she says.
Jacobson’s penchant for the morbid and macabre led her to start the podcast last year with childhood friends Lucy Fitzgerald and Kenyon Laing. Their show — an unfiltered, booze-filled and comedic look at history’s most infamous crimes — is one of several podcasts taping live episodes at Brightest Young Things’ inaugural true-crime festival, Death Becomes Us, this weekend.
The hosts of “Wine & Crime” aren’t crime experts and don’t claim to be. Rather, they are true-crime fans who use the show as a platform to bring attention to social issues and injustices, especially racial discrimination by police and the all-too-frequent mishandling of evidence and botching of cases. Although the Minnesota natives aren’t afraid to crack jokes while talking about serious — and often heartbreaking — crimes on their podcast, Jacobson says they mean no disrespect.
“We are not here to make light of a victim’s struggle,” she says. “But we like to find cases that have at least one ridiculous thing that could lead to some sort of humorous tangent.”
Each episode of “Wine & Crime” features a selection of stories that share a unifying theme. Over nearly 100 episodes, the show has covered topics such as workplace murder, cannibalism and crimes that can be traced back to Craigslist.
There is one topic, though, that hasn’t been covered: D.C. crimes. Before their festival taping at the Lisner Auditorium on Saturday, Jacobson and Fitzgerald did some quick research on three of the District’s high-profile unsolved cases and shared their (sober) thoughts and theories.
Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW; Sat., 6:15 p.m., $30.
The ‘Freeway Phantom’ murders
Time of crime: April 1971-September 1972
What happened: An unidentified serial killer was dubbed the “Freeway Phantom” by the media after six African-American girls ages 10 to 18 were found murdered alongside busy roads. The victims had been kidnapped while walking alone in the city, and were strangled, and in most cases raped, before being killed.
So, who do they think did it? Jacobson and Fitzgerald believe the killer could still be alive. “If I were to look at suspects, I would interrogate people who are currently incarcerated because this is such an ultraviolent and brazen crime,” Jacobson says. They also think the mishandling of evidence by police, who didn’t properly preserve DNA evidence for testing, and the fact that all the victims were women of color are reasons the case remains open nearly 50 years later. Fitzgerald is surprised by the lack of witnesses who’ve come forward but believes the case could be solved if the right person were to speak up. “You can’t tell me that nobody saw a guy pull over to the side of the road, drag out a body and then leave six different times,” Fitzgerald says.
The murder of Robert Eric Wone
Time of crime: August 2006
What happened: Thirty-two-year-old lawyer Robert Eric Wone was found apparently stabbed to death inside the home of a college friend, where he was spending the night, about a mile from his office in Dupont Circle. Police concluded that he was also sexually assaulted before he died. The three residents of the home — the friend and his domestic partner, plus their roommate — were all home at the time and told police Wone was killed by an intruder, but investigators found no evidence to support that. The three men were charged with crime scene tampering but were acquitted in 2010, and police have not named an official suspect since.
So, who do they think did it? Fitzgerald and Jacobson are suspicious of the roommates, and argue that police didn’t secure the crime scene thoroughly. Jacobson stresses that communities should hold officers accountable in cases like this. “We need to make sure that we have detectives who are taking these cases seriously,” she says.
The murder of Kanika Powell
Time of crime: August 2008
What happened: Kanika Powell, a 28-year-old security specialist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, was at her home in Prince George’s County on Aug. 23, 2008, when a man knocked on her door claiming to be an FBI agent. After Powell asked to see his badge, the man walked away and, despite a thorough police search, was never found. The FBI also confirmed that no agents were scheduled to speak with Powell. A few days later, she received another visitor, this time a person claiming to be delivering a package. After Powell refused to open the door, the man left without dropping off a delivery or note. Later that day, while returning home from running errands, Powell was shot and killed in her apartment building’s hallway. The killer has never been found.
So, who do they think did it? Despite theories claiming that Powell was targeted because of her job, Jacobson isn’t buying it. She thinks it’s more likely that Powell was stalked by a stranger, given that she did not recognize anyone who knocked at her door. Judging by the failed attempts to get Powell to open her door, Fitzgerald concludes that the killer, whoever he is, “did not seem like a professional hit man and was not very competent.”