In part one of The Vicarious Thrill of the Chase, I looked at how podcasts like The Missing Crytoqueen and Manhunt, Finding Kevin Parle draw us in to the real time hunt for missing fugitives. This post examines two other podcasts, Hunting Warhead and Where is George Gibney? Both involve the distressing subject of child sexual abuse; they are very sensitively handled, but in different ways. Where is George Gibney? tracks down Irish swim coach George Gibney who abused dozens of young swimmers in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. in 1993, he was charged with 27 counts of indecent assault. But the Supreme Court granted a judicial review due to the amount of time that had passed since the alleged offences took place and the High Court subsequently stopped the charges going ahead; he disappeared soon afterwards. Presenter Mark Horgan says given the sensitive nature of the material, podcasting seemed an ideal way to tell the story of the hunt.
In an interview with the Irish Times, he explained “ I wanted to produce something which gave survivors a lot of time to tell their stories in depth – a platform where they could tell me every aspect of their story if they so wished. There would be no cameras, no crews, just me and my mic. Our aim was to get the truth out there to a bigger audience than ever before.”
On the publication day of the episode in which Mark confronts Gibney, I felt as though I was actually waiting in the car with him. The series developed organically as listeners who had been abused by Gibney contacted the producers. This adds to the sense of immediacy and lets the listener feel involved in the search. Where is George Gibney? is on hold for the moment but is due to resume.
Hunting Warhead follows an international team of police officers as they attempt to track down the people behind a massive child-abuse site on the dark web. Produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Norwegian newspaper VG, Hunting Warhead differs from George Gibney in that the perpetrator, known as Warhead, had already been found before the series started. Presenter Daemon Fairless told me that was part of the challenge. “The artistic or craft pleasure in making this thing was figuring out put it together. My colleague, Chris Oak CBC is a very masterful story editor and has a very good sense of how to structure stories in a dramatic way to break them up into scenes that help pull people into the narrative.”
Daemon believes the reason true crime or manhunt podcasts are so popular is the thrill of the chase. “It is a traditional quest narrative in that you can take your listener on a quest in real time” he explained. “It appeals at a very basal level to how we understand the world and at a more superficial level I think that quest gives people a vicarious thrill.”
Daemon is also fascinated by human psychology - about what motivates people to do extreme things. “It's quite inconceivable that people do this, right? It would never occur to me to do any of the things that have been focused on, and I think it's really important to understand. So the second phase of investigation was more of an internal quest, like going inside Warhead’s head.” It turned out to be a very dark place indeed but the series did shed light on the issue of the huge number of men, estimated to be 1% worldwide, who are sexually attracted to children. This was something I explored with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation in my own podcast series, Pixels from a Crime Scene, made for the Internet Watch Foundation.
Now I understand the reasons for my enjoyment are rooted in a primal need to hunt, the thrill of the chase and the desire for justice, I can look forward to the next instalments without guilt. Where is George Gibney? resumes in December, and Daemon Fairless is planning series two of Hunting Warhead.
A full interview with Daemon Fairless will be available here soon