CrimeCon 2018: Day One

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The Keepers Workshop

This is CrimeCon, and we do nothing halfway. So it makes sense that CrimeCon (unofficially) began with an intensive examination of one of the biggest cases of the past year: the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik.

Fans of The Keepers recognize Gemma Hoskins as a hero. The amateur investigator has never given up her mission to find the person who killed Sister Cathy. She has also never revealed who she thought that person was -- until today.

As The Keepers episode “The Suspects” played on-screen, audience members used a simple tool -- a classic t-chart -- to weigh the evidence against each suspect. It sounds easy, but these suspects are slippery; just when you think you have one nailed down, there’s evidence that seems to clear him.

Finally, we learned that Gemma suspects Bill Schmidt while Shane believes Sister Cathy was killed by Edgar Davidson. Until now, they had kept their suspicions to themselves to avoid coloring one anothers’ investigations with groupthink or confirmation bias, which demonstrates their tremendous dedication to finding Sister Cathy’s killer.

Dianne Lake: Member of the Family

Dianne Lake was 14 years old when she became the youngest member of the Manson Family. Personally, I was always curious about how a young teenage girl lands in a cult in the middle of the desert; now I know. Dianne’s story was simultaneously riveting, sad, and inspiring. I was astonished at her bravery and strength as she revealed the harrowing story of her disrupted childhood and took us through emotional images of her time on Spahn Ranch.

The Golden State Killer Panel with Paul Haynes and Billy Jensen

“The title of this session used to be “GSK: A Deep Dive,” and we were going to roll up our sleeves and dig through the evidence in this case” said Paul Haynes as he opened the session. “But there was a development. And we changed it.”

The screen read simply: “CAUGHT.” First came the goosebumps, then came the thunderous applause.

Paul Holes was weeks from retiring without solving the case he vowed to solve before retirement. That was when Joseph James DeAngelo landed on his radar as a potential suspect for the Golden State Killer. The day before he was due to leave the force, he drove to DeAngelo’s house and considered doing what he’s always done: knock on the door, talk to the suspect, and nonchalantly request a DNA sample.

But he didn’t. Admittedly, after 40 plus years on the case, he drove away jaded. But he knows now that he made the right decision. He passed on the information to his successor, and weeks later, Joseph James DeAngelo was in custody. Still, it’s clear that without Paul’s hard work over four decades, the brutal killer would still be loose.

Billy, Paul Haynes, and Paul Holes welcomed GSK victims Jane Carson-Sandler, Margaret Wardlow, and Debbi Domingo (whose mother was killed by GSK in 1979). If you attended the GSK panel at CrimeCon 2017, you’ll remember the anxious and heavy atmosphere, how the air was sucked out of the room when the survivors took the stage. This year, the room was full of hope and celebration.  

The Colonial Parkway Murders

One of my favorite things about CrimeCon is the focus on the victims and survivors. Sure, we all know the perpetrators and the horrible things that they do. But we’re privileged and honored to be joined by brave survivors and families of victims -- like Joyce Call Canada and Bill Thomas.

Joyce’s brother and Bill’s sister were both killed by the Colonial Parkway Murderer. They joined investigator Maureen O’Connell and author Blaine Pardoe to share their heartbreaking stories. It’s frustrating to learn that law enforcement authorities have blocked the families’ repeated requests to investigate new evidence in their loved ones’ murders. Still, on the heels of a massive victory like the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, it was hope and positive focus that filled the room, not despair.

Profiling Murder in Slow Motion

As true crime consumers, some of us are desensitized to the horror of the crimes we learn about. It’s an odd interest and often we acknowledge it with a casual or joking manner, maybe in a further attempt to distance ourselves from the terror.

Laura Richards has a knack for making it impossible to do that. At the beginning of her session, Laura played a video that featured 911 calls, television reports, news clippings, and graphic photos of domestic violence victims. It was the longest five minutes of the day. An audible gasp erupted from the crowd.

Laura revealed several of the fifteen high-risk indicators that a domestic abuser may escalate to murder and shared jaw-dropping stories of domestic violence and stalking that turned my stomach. We learned that fifty percent of abusers who threaten death will follow through; every day in the US, three women are killed by abusers or stalkers. This is one of the biggest failures in the justice system, and the work Laura is doing with Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service is making massive strides to change that.


What a way to kick off CrimeCon! Once again, I’ve seen messages of joy, support and respectful discourse. CrimeCon is a world-class event thanks to YOU. Rest up, sleuths; there’s more work to do tomorrow.