Stacy Chapin walked into a conference ballroom at the annual CrimeCon gathering in Orlando, Fla., and gasped. Nearly 3,000 people were packed inside, all to hear a college professor from Alabama conduct a “forensic analysis” of how her son and three of his college friends had been brutally murdered in Idaho last year. Chapin muttered as the speaker mispronounced the name of her son’s girlfriend, a victim, then botched the description of the landscape around the crime scene. The audience was captivated, reports the New York Times. “Why does that person get to talk about my kid in front of all those people?” Chapin whispered in a hallway. Ten months ago, Chapin was thrust into the center of the nation’s obsession with true crime, as armies of podcast listeners, internet commentators and amateur sleuths were consumed by the mystery of how Ethan Chapin and three other University of Idaho students had been stabbed to death in a house near campus. Now she found herself navigating an unfamiliar world where she was an unwitting celebrity.
Chapin arrived as a guest of CrimeCon, where — after paying for tickets that start at $349 — attendees could measure blood spatter, analyze the drawings of a serial killer, cheer their crime-solving heroes and absorb the gory details of notorious rapes and murders. The annual conference, which this year drew 5,000 people from all 50 states, capitalizes on a breakneck level of growth in the true crime genre: Last week, of the 20 top podcasts on the Apple platform, more than half were related to true crime. Some attendees described their fascination with criminal minds; others said they felt deep empathy with the victims, and were lured by the enticing possibility that someone asking the right questions or unearthing a missing digital clue could help bring justice to a stricken family. At one point, Chapin got in line at a microphone, waiting for a chance to speak. “My name is Stacy Chapin, and I’m Ethan’s mom,” she began. The crowd gasped, then applauded. Some stood to take photos. Chapin spoke briefly, explaining that she wanted the crowd to know that all the positive things that people had heard about the victims were true. “Don’t forget these kids,” she told the crowd. “They were amazing, amazing kids, in the prime of their life.”