Watching Ryan Bargera and Shane Madej on BuzzFeed Unsolved is like hanging out with your friends. If your friends were hunting ghosts or talking about murder all the time. If you’re lucky, they are! We had to get them to Death Becomes Us – A True Crime Festival because you can never have too many friends with spooky benefits. You can catch them Saturday November 3 at Lisner Auditorium (low ticket warning!) and you can catch up with them here!
Brightest Young Things: Why true crime?
Ryan Bargera: I grew up watching Unsolved Mysteries which was maybe my first introduction to true crime. I would say maybe Zodiac, the David Fincher film. That movie was what got me interested in true crime at large because that case was so interesting. The case that compelled me to make the show was the case of the Somerton Man who was the unidentified man in Australia. That case was very very bizarre and that got me interested in terms of just trying to crack an interesting cold case. That was the first time when I thought “Maybe if I study this I can solve it.” I didn’t.
Shane Madej: I just grew up in the midwest where there are a lot of murderers. I grew up near Chicago and my parents and their friends every now and then would say “Oh yeah one of our friends was murdered by John Wayne Gacy.”
BYT: I just gasped in excitement.
SM: My parents didn’t really care about what I watched when I was younger so I would watch a lot of hard-hitting documentaries. I remember being very young watching a documentary about that hitman, The Iceman?
BYT: Yeah! Richard Kuklinski.
SM: He’d be like “Yeah I left a guy in a cave and let the rats eat him.” I was like 7.
RB: He kind of embellished a bit.
BYT: Imagine being like “I only killed 15 people I should probably lie about that.” I feel like that’s enough. You could stick with 15.
RB: Yeah I think like one’s enough, maybe. He also claimed he killed Jimmy Hoffa.
BYT: Too bad Richard is dead because my first thought is “Give that man a podcast!” You mentioned liking cold cases. Do you feel like you’ll be able to solve a cold case? Are you earnestly trying to solve any cases?
SM: I don’t know if Ryan has any earnest intentions of solving something…
RB: First of all how dare you! Secondly, I would say when we approach a case and actually do the research…there is a part of my mind where I’m really trying to solve it. There’s no way you can’t if you’re interested in it and you’re reading all these crazy details and circumstances. There is always a ton of gross negligence on the parts of the authorities who were investigation. You think to yourself “Oh I would have done that better.” I obviously think pretty highly of myself if I think I can solve it.
SM: I would say you’re pretty humble but I guess I’m way off the mark.
RB: After the things we’ve seen in terms of people really messing up. What was it, the Sodder children? The fire station was a couple miles away from the house that was burning down and it took them 8 hours to get to the house.
SM: Well it was Christmas night, what do you want? So when you consider the incompetence of the people who are actively involved in the investigation maybe we have a shot? Is that what you’re saying?
RB: Oh absolutely. I don’t have any reservations saying that you read some of the things that some of the people assigned to these cases do and it’s pretty easy to think “Yeah I could have done that a bit better.” That’s like…any job will have a day where you have an off day. A couple of these cases have a streak of off days.
SM: Oops I threw out Amelia Earhart’s bones!
BYT: Even if you don’t solve these cases yourself. And listen, this is a safe space for self-confidence. Maybe someone watching will be like “Ya know what I have way more time on my hands and they’ve loosened this jar of peanut butter for me and I’m gonna take it the rest of the way.” That would be sort of thrilling.
SM: I hope we inspire as much vigilante justice as possible. I feel like we have heard from relatives of some of the people we’ve talked about. A lot of the cases we discussed will be a few generations removed.
RB: I am the Lindbergh baby.
BYT: You’ve aged remarkably well! I can’t believe I’m going to say this but do you have a favorite crime? Story! Crime story, not favorite crime.
RB: I think for me it’s D.B. Cooper. That’s a classic and pretty generic answer but that one was always…it just seemed like a pretty cool crime. He came in wearing sunglasses inside a plane. He had a whole getaway plan. There are all these crazy bizarre theories that come out every year. That one has always been interesting to me because…I wouldn’t say it’s victimless but no one got murdered while it was happening. The only people who got hurt were himself and the company.
SM: I always loved H.H. Holmes. The Chicago World’s Fair was already incredible and then you just throw in his weird murder house. Crazy.