8 questions with true crime podcaster Kate Winkler Dawson

Dawson’s new podcast “Buried Bones” dives into historical cold cases dating back to the 1600s.


Dawson and Holes’ new podcast will break down lesser-known cold cases. “These are stories that are not straightforward. They’re complex.”

Photo by Jake Holschuh

Just in time for spooky season, a new, locally made true crime podcast has just hit the virtual shelves.

Buried Bones,” a deep-dive into historical crimes, is co-hosted by cold case investigator Paul Holes and Austin author Kate Winkler Dawson.

Dawson is an associate professor of practice at UT Austin and creator of other podcasts, including the laudedTenfold More Wicked.”

The first episode of “Buried Bones” released this morning, so we spoke with Dawson about the bone-chilling series + what historic crime can teach us.

This interview has been edited for clarity + brevity.

What can listeners expect from “Buried Bones?”

We discuss one case per episode, and occasionally we have two-part episodes.

I think of this as when I was a journalist working on a case, and I would have a friend of mine who was a defense attorney or a prosecutor or police officer, and I would sit down with them and just say, “Listen, here’s my story. Let me tell you about it.” And I would sort of unravel it, and they would pipe in.

That’s kind of the way it is with Paul. I don’t tell him all the information. ... And that’s fun, because he’s right sometimes, he’s not right all the time, and he’s frequently surprised by the end of the episode, because these are stories that are not straightforward. They’re complex.

And there’s always a bit of history in there, and that’s where I come in. I’m a crime historian and my books are all narrative nonfiction history views with crime. I’m really interested in crime that’s pre-1970s. I’m not particularly comfortable with having either victims or survivors’ families in close proximity, because I want to make sure that I’m as respectful as possible and have all the right information.

Will you talk about any cases that would be recognizable for listeners?

Yeah, several. So, Geoffrey McDonald, who was an army surgeon who was accused and convicted of killing his family, we talk about that case. … Dr. Hawley Crippen is another one who some people might have heard about. It’s a controversial case — was his wife, who he was hanged for killing, is she still alive? Was he wrongly convicted and wrongly executed?

But 99% of the cases, people have never heard of. We’re not going to talk about Jack the Ripper or Lizzie Borden. Those are two cases that we’re not going to revisit.

Why did you want to lean more on cases that might be unknown to people?

I just think it’s more interesting. If you listen to a lot of true crime, you hear a lot about the same cases over and over again, and that includes historical crime. And I like finding really obscure crime.

We have a really high bar at “Buried Bones,” because I have sitting across from me, Paul Holes, who is this fantastic forensics expert and criminal profiler.

And so I can’t just pick any old case, it needs to be something that he is really able to dig into. ... It has to be a really interesting narrative, but it also has to be a lot of forensics twists and turns and something that people haven’t heard of before.

Could you walk me through a little bit about what your process looks like for researching episodes?

I think this is an unusual show for [Paul], because he’ll get a briefing sheet from me about a week before we do a case. ... But he knows nothing about these cases, really, aside from, this is the genre we’re working in, 1800s London, poisoning case. And that’s basically it.

I would say in the majority of these cases, either we say, “Boy, this was not a correct decision by the judge,” or “Boy, somebody got away with murder who shouldn’t have,” or “This is what we think happened.” And frequently, these things unravel, and it’s a surprise for both of us, so that’s good.

You have a background in crime reporting, but when did you start digging into historical crimes, specifically?

I’ve always really loved historical crimes, but as a consumer, not as somebody who’s studied them. But my first book, which I started working on eight years ago, was a story called “Death in the Air,” and it was about a deadly fog that killed 4,000 people in London in 1952.

With that book, that was the first time that I could make [crime and history] intersect. And that’s when I realized that’s where I wanted to be. That’s my genre.

I had a vision for my first show, “Tenfold More Wicked.” I love the old, CBS radio shows where you hear like, footprints crunching in the snow, and and crows calling. I love atmosphere. And so I just [thought], “I’m gonna fuse atmosphere and creepy original music with history and crime and see what I get.”

Is there anything you particularly liked about that experience?

I found it very gratifying. I think that what I didn’t expect with podcasting was that I could use my personality so much. You can’t really do that with a journalistic book that’s narrative nonfiction. ... But with podcasting, people are tuning in, I hope, because they like a good story, but also they like me. ... And I liked that, I like inviting people a little bit into my life.

And, you think you’re going to listen to “Buried Bones” to hear Paul Holes, or “Tenfold” to hear a good creepy story, but you walk away learning about donating bodies for research, or psychopathy and what the dangers are in not treating it early in people.

I want to give context. There’s a reason why I’m telling these stories. It’s not to creep people out or gross them out. They’re not titillating to me. They are vehicles to talk about history and why history matters, and what we can learn about these stories now.

Your newest book, “All That Is Wicked: A Gilded-Age Story of Murder and the Race to Decode the Criminal Mind,” is soon to come out. Can you tell me about it?

It is based on the first season of “Tenfold More Wicked,” which was supposed to be a book, but I hadn’t developed it well enough yet.

The first season is about Edward Rulloff — who is a genius and also a killer — and why people defended him and didn’t want him to be executed, because his brain was too valuable to waste on the gallows, and what he taught us about the criminal mind. And I sort of was able to talk about some of that in the podcast, but the book is a totally different experience.

Which other podcasters or writers do you find inspiration from?

Eric Larsen, who wrote “Devil in the White City.” I love his writing. Skip Hollandsworth, he wrote a book called “The Midnight Assassin” and he works for Texas Monthly. He’s a wonderful writer.

And I listened to Bear Brook, which is I think just one season that New Hampshire Public Radio did about a serial killer, and it’s a wonderful show.

High-quality journalism, that’s what I’m looking for. And something that also keeps me coming back because of the way that they’ve structured the story, I aspire to do that. I aspire to have people come back.

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