Controversial CrimeCon raises moral dilemma

Last November, three University of Idaho students — Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves and Xana Kernodle — along with their friend Ethan Chapin were murdered in off-campus housing by doctoral student Bryan Kohberger. 

This case was a media frenzy, with TikTok conspiracy theories and accounts on X — formerly known as Twitter — dedicated to the case and demanding justice, as Kohberger was not arrested until over a month after the tragedy.

A few weeks ago, CrimeCon, an event self-described as a means “to bring together the true crime community for a weekend filled with education, understanding, advocacy and lots of fun,” was held in Orlando. Stacy Chapin, mother of Ethan, arrived to find thousands of people gathered around listening to an analysis of her son and his friends’ murders.

Even in death, these victims deserve the right to their privacy, and their families deserve it too.

Naturally, Chapin was uncomfortable, asking, “Why does that person get to talk about my kid in front of all those people?” Although she was not asked to be a part of the event dedicated to talking about him, she walked up to a microphone and announced herself as his mother. 

Upon the crowd hearing this information, they began to applaud and take photos of her as if she was a celebrity. After leaving the room, she was exposed to a screen dawning a photo of Kohberger that attendees could take a photo with.

It’s possible you might wonder why Chapin would go to the event knowing that her son’s case was a possible discussion point and that it might upset her. I think the more important question is: why would people go to this event to pose with a standee of his killer?

Ms. Chapin had every right to be there, and her intentions were clear: to spread the word about her son, to raise awareness and to connect with journalists seeking the truth about him. But the intentions of the attendees seem a little less noble. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a fan of true crime. I myself am interested in law enforcement and the process of solving crimes, but I find it gross to describe an event surrounding crime as “lots of fun.” While I see it being an interesting way to learn for those in the field, I do not like the idea of people lining up to discuss theories about the murder of a teenager without the consent of his family.

That, to me, is the biggest ethical dilemma within the true crime community. I have stopped listening to true crime podcasts for this very reason, feeling uncomfortable knowing that the families of the victims featured in the episodes likely had no idea people were profiting from retelling the disturbing details.

CrimeCon may have had the right idea with panels like “Missing White Woman Syndrome: Asking the Hard Questions,” which discussed the lack of media coverage and the seeking of justice for women of color. However, allowing attendees to hear the details and view images of Ethan’s corpse, especially after some internet sleuths claimed he was the one who did it, is not appropriate. 

Those who spoke on the matter should have received consent from the families involved before their presentations. We saw this same issue occur after the premier of Netflix’s original series, “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” which launched over a year ago.

Family members of victims of Dahmer were not contacted about the show and did not receive any profit from actors posing as them and the relatives they tragically lost on the screens of millions of subscribers. 

In 2021, Jordan Preston, sister of murder victim Brooke Preston, had to begin fighting Hulu to remove a documentary they made without the family’s consent. Even with Jordan Preston gaining millions of views on TikTok about the incident, the film remains up on the streaming platform. The only change made was Delta Airlines getting rid of the documentary on their flights.

Even in death, these victims deserve the right to their privacy, and their families deserve it too. Living through these situations is difficult enough, but having to know that their murdered loved ones are at the heart of conspiracy theories, TikTok trends, documentaries and convention panels is beyond unfair and unjust.

If there is one thing to learn from CrimeCon, it’s don’t learn from these self-declared “experts,” learn from the victim’s family and friends with consent.

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