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5 times true-crime podcasts and documentaries uncovered case-changing evidence the police didn't find

Grace Eliza Goodwin   

5 times true-crime podcasts and documentaries uncovered case-changing evidence the police didn't find
  • Findings from "Proof," "In the Dark," and "Who Killed Malcolm X?" led to overturned convictions.
  • New evidence from "Your Own Backyard" and "The Jinx" resulted in the convictions of killers.

The world of true crime podcasts and documentaries is overcrowded, to say the least. Yet still, it can be rare for a podcaster or documentarian to achieve the ultimate goal: uncovering new evidence that police and investigators had overlooked, or never found at all.

But in some cases, that evidence has even led to new suspects being arrested or old convictions being overturned.

Here are five times true crime podcasts and documentaries have discovered case-changing evidence.

"Proof: A True Crime Podcast"

"Proof" investigates the 1996 death of 15-year-old Brian Bowling, who died of a gunshot wound at a house party in Georgia.

Minutes before he died, Bowling had told his girlfriend on the phone that he was playing Russian roulette, according to The Guardian. But, two teens who were present at the party, Darrell Lee Clark and Cain Joshua Storey, were arrested, convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and sent to prison, The Guardian reported. Storey had brought the gun to the party, his lawyers told The New York Times.

The podcasters found that police had coerced one witness into lying that she'd overheard the two teenagers plotting to kill Bowling, The Guardian reported. They also discovered that another key witness in the trial was actually remembering the events of a separate shooting decades earlier, according to The Guardian.

Thanks to the podcast's investigation, Storey and Clark's convictions were overturned in December 2022, NBC News reported. The two men, now in their 40s, were released after spending 25 years in prison, according to CNN.

"Your Own Backyard"

"Your Own Backyard" investigates the disappearance of Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who vanished after a party in 1996. Though a body was never found, she was declared dead in 2002, according to The New York Times.

When newbie podcaster Chris Lambert began investigating the case in 2019, he discovered a crucial suspect the police had overlooked: a student named Paul Flores — who had walked Smart home the night she disappeared — was the last person to see her alive, according to Vanity Fair.

Throughout the podcast, Lambert interviews people who knew Flores as Scary Paul — a young man who repeatedly took advantage of women, with some coming forward to accuse him of sexual assault, Vanity Fair reported.

After the final episode aired to mass fanfare, police contacted Lambert — who they had previously ignored — to get his findings and sources, Vanity Fair reported.

In October 2022, Flores was found guilty of murder, and his father, was found guilty of being an accessory to murder after prosecutors alleged he helped Flores bury the body, NPR reported.

"In the Dark"

Season 2 of "In the Dark" looks into the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man from Mississippi who was tried six times for the same killing and spent 20 years in prison.

Flowers was convicted for the 1996 murder of four people inside a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, according to APM Reports, who produced the podcast. The prosecutor, Doug Evans, in Flowers' trials was an attorney with a history of misconduct, the Clarion Ledger reported.

Evans tried Flowers six times, with each trial ending in a mistrial or a reversed conviction, The New York Times reported.

"In the Dark" interviewed witnesses who recanted their statements, poked holes in the prosecution's theory of events, debunked faulty forensic science, and even found an alternate suspect, the Clarion Ledger reported.

In 2019, the Supreme Court overturned Flower's conviction, finding that Evans had intentionally withheld Black jurors from serving in the sixth trial in 2010, CNBC reported. At 49, Flowers was released from prison after 22 years, according to CNBC.

"The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst"

"The Jinx," a 2015 HBO documentary, explores the story of Robert Durst, a New York real estate heir who had been accused but never convicted of three separate killings between 1982 and 2001.

Durst's wife, Kathie Durst, disappeared in 1982, though her body was never found, according to NBC New York. Then in 2000, Durst was a suspect in the execution-style killing of Susan Berman. And again, in 2001, he was the suspect in the killing and dismemberment of his neighbor Morris Black.

At the 2003 trial for Black's death, Durst even admitted to killing her but was acquitted on self-defense, according to The New York Times.

The documentarians extensively interviewed Durst for the series, where he repeatedly incriminated himself.

At one point, producers showed Durst a letter he had written that could tie him to Susan Berman's killing, The Guardian reported. After being shown the letter, Durst went to the bathroom alone and, not realizing his mic was still on, said to himself, "There it is. You're caught," and "What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course," according to The New York Times.

Findings from "The Jinx" led police to arrest Durst in 2015, according to Yahoo. In 2021, Durst was sentenced to life without parole for killing Susan Berman, NPR reported. Then, in January 2022, while he awaited trial for the 1982 killing of his wife, Durst died at the age of 78, according to NPR.

"Who Killed Malcolm X?"

The 2020 documentary "Who Killed Malcolm X?" investigated the convictions of two men who went to prison for the 1965 killing of human rights activist Malcolm X.

Three men were sent to prison in 1966 for Malcolm X's murder: Muhammad Abdul Aziz, Khalil Islam, and Talmadge Hayer, NPR reported. Hayer, who was caught at the scene of the crime, confessed to the murder and said Islam and Aziz were not involved, according to ABC News. Yet, Islam and Aziz were still convicted and sent to prison.

The documentary found new evidence that Islam and Aziz could not have been present at the murder scene, and after "Who Killed Malcolm X?" aired, police reopened their case, The New York Times reported.

In 2021, partly thanks to the revelations in "Who Killed Malcolm X?," Islam and Aziz were exonerated of their crimes. Aziz spent 20 years in prison and was released on parole in 1985, Insider previously reported. Islam was released from prison in 1987 after spending 22 years behind bars. Islam didn't live to see his name cleared — he died in 2009.

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