Dateline and America’s Most Wanted go back a lot longer than COVID-19, of course, but there’s no question that true crime exploded during lockdown, as millions of bored TV watchers around the world discovered the addictive nature of a juicy true crime docu-series. Meanwhile, a tiny but mighty group here in Saratoga was way ahead of the game. These citizen sleuths could recognize Keith Morrison’s voice anywhere and feel no embarrassment fan-girling over top true crime podcasters.
These guys (OK, mostly gals) are the real deal.
True crime is so popular these days that a lot of cities have sprouted groups that listen to a favorite podcast (looking at you, My Favorite Murder) and have happy hours to “discuss” it (but really just have drinks with like-minded folks). The Saratoga True Crime Club, however, has leveled up so much that it boasts members (meetings have been online since the beginning of lockdown) as far away as the Midwest and Canada. They’ve made appearances on live broadcasts, signed NDAs for a still-top secret research project, and brought in actual homicide detectives, all in the name of keeping victims’ memories alive–and scratching a certain problem-solving itch that’s hard to explain to the uninitiated.
“Everybody watches Netflix at home, or listens to podcasts alone in the car, so it’s good to have a space to talk about it with others,” says Marcella Hammer, founder of the club, which boasts 120 members, about 20 of whom don’t ever miss a meeting. “People can get nerdy and awkward when talking about these topics–how do you talk about a serial killer without feeling uncomfortable? But when you watch these shows, you’re learning something cool, and with a little guidance you can go even deeper.”
The club came about simply because people really like true crime. As Resident Unicorn (her actual title) at the Palette co-working space, Hammer is in charge of member programming, and she started the group because so many new members mentioned their love of true crime in their on-boarding survey. (Non-members have never had to pay to attend meetings, although that could change in the future.)
To give you a taste of what some meetings are like, one of the club’s most well-attended evenings featured Detective Chris Callahan, the investigator on Saratoga’s only unsolved homicide case. Family members of the victim, Sheila Shepherd, showed up at the last minute, too.
“Callahan is an incredibly good person who really wants to solve the case,” Hammer says. “I think he was nervous with Sheila’s family members there. Sheila’s Aunt Terrie [Boisseau] has been instrumental in keeping the case in the news, and it was incredible to have her there. It helped bring home the humanity of who Sheila was.”
Hammer doesn’t hide the fact that she herself is a victim of a violent crime, and thus feels passionately about crime awareness and keeping women safe.
“I want to know about the people, the victims,” she says. “How do we make sense of all of this?”