A Chat With Husband-and-Wife True Crime Podcasters ‘They Walk Among Us’
Ben and Rosie Fitton were hitched in 2015. A year later, they gave birth to a bouncing baby true crime podcast. Now aged two, They Walk Among Us has rapidly distinguished itself in a crowded field, with episodes ranging from the standard murderous husbands with well-insured wives to cyberstalking and mafia abductions.
The couple behind the British Podcast Award-winning show now sit down to explain how they turn the UK’s most atrocious murders into the Internet’s most civilized true crime podcast, in their first full-length interview.
Let’s start obvious. Who, exactly, is it who walks among us?
Ben: The they is the average, everyday perpetrators of crime. Your neighbor, uncle guy that works behind the counter at the local Tesco. The people you know, not the monsters you don’t.
Ben, your narration is very low-key, even placid. They Walk Among Us usually sounds more like a meditation tape than a true crime podcast, even if you are talking about all kinds of depravity and mayhem. Why present the show that way?
Ben: I felt that focus should be on the cases that we cover, not on myself as the host. I wanted to draw the listeners attention to the content, like listening to a chapter of an audiobook. Sounds effects and dramatics are better suited to action films and period dramas, not true crime.
What attracts you to the cases you end up covering?
Rosie: We alternate weeks. I will write an episode one week, then Ben will write the next. The cases that we go for differ. I tend to gravitate towards the strange or older. Ben tends to cover newer cases with a focus on the courts.
Ben: Often the cases I pick I want to know more about. Whether it be the perpetrator or the path taken by police to bring someone to justice.
Every true crime podcast seems to have “that episode” — the one that’s especially difficult to hear. For Casefile it’s probably the Mitchelle Blair episode, and I know a lot of people react strongly to the episode of Sword and Scale with the cannibal puppeteer. For They Walk Among Us, it’s probably the Jimmy Prout episode. Why on earth did you pick such a horrible event to cover?
Ben: I chose to write an episode about Jimmy Prout because I read about it and couldn’t get it out of my head. Unfortunately, Jimmy Prout was one of a few cases I had discovered involving the murder or extreme mistreatment of a vulnerable adult. There were a lot of red flags running up to his death. Hopefully, if a listener encounters similar warning signs with a friend, relative or neighbor, they will be more inclined to step in and report it.
On the other hand, there are a few cases on the show that strike me as kind of funny — like the man who unsuccessfully tried to badger his online boyfriend into murdering his parents, in return for which he was going to allow his boyfriend the privilege of biting off his penis. Perhaps it was just your extremely deadpan explanation of what a furry is. Or the boy who convinced a friend to stab him by catfishing him under the identity of an MI6 femme fatale. Do you find some humor in these kinds of cases, or is it just me?
Rosie: Some of the more stranger cases have had elements which are bizarre and sometimes audacious or amusing which, of course, we find that specific part funny. There were a few sentences in the lottery winner Michael Carroll episode where Ben struggled to keep it together.
Ben: I think it’s important to include lighter elements to some of the episodes as we are discussing some extremely dark topics. Obviously, we don’t want to make light of any situation, but I think varying the subject matter is important for both the producers and the consumers.
True crime podcasts typically focus on serial killings, abductions, rapes and so forth — in other words, crimes committed for pleasure, not business reasons. They Walk Among Us is unusual in that it does focus on organized crime a lot as well. What brings you back to this topic?
Rosie: Organized crime is an interesting subject to cover because it’s always evolving. Though the outcome is usually the same misery and hefty prison time.
Ben: Someone is far more likely to be a victim of an organized crime scam than a serial killer. It’s a deliberate choice to often pick subjects that are more common than an anomaly.
Do you have any intention of doing episodes on the big-name UK murderers like Jack the Ripper, the Moors murderers or Peter Sutcliffe?
Ben: None of the ones mentioned above, but there are a couple. There will be some episodes about more well-known cases. We are working on an episode about Jeremy Bamber. It’s a case with a big divide in opinion. Some people emphatically believe he is innocent and about the same amount of people are convinced of his guilt.
Rosie: There’s two or three that we’ve put on the back burner for a while. It’s a large task. I plan on writing on for the end of season three or the opening of season four. Most serial killers have been covered in detail and well by various other podcasts. We have an episode in season two about John Humble, the Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer. It was a subject that hadn’t been explored on a podcast before. The fallout of his deception was devastating.
Did you have much idea what you were getting into when you started this podcast?
Ben: We could not have predicted the path the podcast has taken. We know we are in a privileged position. It’s a market with a lot of choices. We are very grateful to our listeners for choosing to listen.
Rosie: We didn’t envisage getting many listeners. At first they trickled in. We were stand-alone, an indie podcast, not part of a network. Commercial success wasn’t a consideration. I think the podcast evolved a lot since the first series. There will be a time when we will archive it.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
Ben: Mentally, it can be draining dealing with dark subjects so often. Sometimes you have to take a step back, go for a walk, take a break.
Rosie: I agree with Ben. Sometimes it’s hard to process what people can do to each other. If I got desensitized to it, I think I would take that as my cue to stop.
And the most rewarding?
Rosie: I think one of the most rewarding things is working hard together on a particularly challenging episode and being proud of the end product.
Ben: I agree with Rosie. We certainly put in the work to produce something unbiased and respectful. It is also rewarding to see people connect with it.
Do you get much listener feedback? What sorts of things do people write in about?
Ben: Most of the feedback and messages we get are really positive. Someone might reach out to say they’ve found a certain episode interesting or a case, usually from their hometown, they would like to hear us cover. Of course, there are people that don’t like certain things, or prefer something else, and they let you know. Sometimes not politely, which is okay. We won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Rosie: We do get messages and emails. The majority are case suggestions which are really helpful. Sometimes we do get messages with opinions on how we should do the podcast. It’s impossible to please everyone and we don’t try to.
What’s the weirdest listener contact you’ve had?
Rosie: Genuinely, we’ve been pretty lucky on that front. I can’t recall any really outlandish contact… and may long that continue.
Ben: I do recall one slightly weird contact — someone offering to send us food. We politely declined.
Rosie: I forgot about that — one of the only times I’ve passed up food.
Both of you seem to prefer to keep a low profile — perhaps not as low as the anonymous host of Casefile, but, still, you don’t splash your faces around the podcast’s social media. Why is that?
Ben: We are generally both quite quiet people. We like to promote the podcast, not ourselves. There has to be some divide and personal space from the podcast.
Rosie: We are introverts until you know us. Perhaps me more so than Ben. Self-promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me.
My Google stalking of the both of you hasn’t turned up much, but there is a British songwriter named Benjamin Fitton whose photo looks a lot like the drawing of you on the They Walk Among Us blog. That’s not you, is it?
Ben: Yes, that was taken about 10 years ago. I haven’t picked up a musical instrument in quite a long time.
No kidding! Who says composite sketches are unreliable? So, was music something you left behind intentionally, or did you just phase out of it?
Ben: I had been playing music for a long time. It just run its course. I lost my enthusiasm for playing.
Did the production and engineering side of music at all lead you toward podcasting?
Ben: It certainly helped with the production side of it. Thinking about it, I guess that’s why music is used so much in the podcast.
I hope you realise you’re in good company — Mike Boudet was in a band before he started Sword and Scale. Perhaps you and he can form some sort of musical supergroup.
Ben: I did not know that. Supergroup? Sounds like cape-wearing should be involved. Dibs on the green one — it’s my colour.
The podcast’s profile seems to be rising rapidly. More and more, I’ve seen journalists mentioning you in the same breath as shows like Generation Why. Does it seem this way to you?
Rosie: It’s very flattering to be mentioned alongside podcasts like Generation Why. It can feel slightly surreal, as we both were listening to Generation Why long before we started a podcast, and it’s remained a staple listen.
Ben: There are so many true crime podcasts at the moment, it’s a real privilege when we do get a mention with the more established podcasts.
Rosie: Speaking of Generation Why, [show hosts] Aaron and Justin will be in London summertime next year and we are in the middle of planning a joint with up with them.
Can you tell me anything about the future of the podcast?
Ben: We do have a couple of exciting new things planned for 2019. One project I’m particularly looking forward to is a long-format podcast we are making with writer and researcher Anna Priestland.
Rosie: We aim to have that released in the first quarter of next year. It’s on a really interesting subject. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all pans out. They Walk Among Us also branches out further at the end of May 2019, but I’m not sure how much we can reveal about that yet.
Do you have any favorite — or least favorite — true crime media?
Rosie: I have to be honest: I don’t have a least favourite. I read true crime books and some crime fiction. I watch true crime TV shows new and old, from Forensic Files to Wild Wild Country. I also like to listen to true crime podcasts, though not so much since starting They Walk Among Us.
Ben: My true crime consumption outside of the podcast has reduced. Like Rosie, I dabble in all types of media across the board, not just for true crime. What type I consume usually depends on my mood, although I do enjoy a lot of TC documentaries on Netflix.
I’ve somewhat belatedly started watching Netflix’s Mindhunter, and one thing I really appreciate is that it doesn’t gloss over the fact that most famous mass murderers are just all-round dysfunctional people. Real killers like Jerry Brudos and Richard Speck aren’t Hannibal Lecters — they’re not cool. Have you seen the show?
Rosie: We’ve seen it. I was really anticipating the show. I read the book it was based on, by John Douglas, in my teens. I really enjoyed the series — looking forward to the second.
Ben: We were lucky enough to be able to watch the first two episodes at the Netflix headquarters. The hard thing was waiting to see the rest of the series.
Thanks for making time for all this. So… where are we now?
Rosie: Sat on a couch with a laptop on my legs and flanked by cats.
Ben: Making a cup of tea. I’ve exhausted my acceptable amount of coffee allowance for the day.