Blood money: Your favorite true crime podcast is likely sponsored by tragedy

Maggie Hoppel, Features Editor

Down the hill.

This is the phrase uttered by the murderer of teenagers Abby Williams and Libby German in a video they took before he killed them. The girls died 5 years and 7 months ago in Delphi, Indiana—a mere 51 miles away from Noblesville High School. Their case is unique because the killer left evidence such as a voice recording, a grainy photograph, and a smeared fingerprint for investigators to discover, yet his identity still remains uncertain.  

Down The Hill. 

This is the title of a podcast about the search for Libby and Abby’s killer. The theme song features a haunting guitar melody and that same voice recording, played over and over again in an all-too-familiar Hoosier twang, indiscriminately mocking amateur detectives, cops, and the victims’ families alike. Down the hill. Down the hill. Down the hill: This is where two innocent girls followed a faceless monster to their deaths in a sleepy Indiana town, captivating podcast listeners worldwide in the years after. 

“Brought to you by CarMax®: reimaging new ways to buy your car. See CarMax dot com for details. It’s car buying reimagined. Start shopping today.” 

This is a portion of a 30-second ad found in the true crime podcast Crime Junkie. Recorded in Indianapolis, Crime Junkie also discusses the Delphi murders in its episode “WANTED: Killer on the High Bridge.” This ad interrupts the grisly narrative in the hope of making CarMax, and Crime Junkie, an extra buck. If everyone in Noblesville High School downloaded and listened to this episode once, Crime Junkie would earn about $200 from the various ads it contains. If everyone in Noblesville tuned in, the podcast would earn $3,500. However, Crime Junkie’s website boasts over 500 million downloads across all of its episodes. That’s 7,500 Noblesvilles and 27 million dollars—none of which would belong to the podcast if murder victims like Libby and Abby were still alive today, tossing their grad caps with the rest of the class of 2022 last spring, pinky-promising to stay in touch as they moved into college for their freshman year. Telling their families not to worry: They are ready to face the world. By including ads like this one, Crime Junkie has effectively monetized their deaths into a product worth millions. 

And it gets worse. Down the Hill has its fair share of ads, too, and this podcast went even further than the chipper CarMax commercial that Crime Junkie plunked insensitively in its discussion of the Delphi murders. This podcast featured a comedic true-crime-themed ad produced by the mobile game “Best Fiends.” 

“It’s a prerecorded message that starts off as if a true crime case about you is being narrated, about your unexplained disappearance, and then pivots to upbeat music as the narrator explains that you were actually not missing—just off playing Best Fiends,” explains Reddit user u/doofleton in an online complaint about the ad. “Am I crazy, or is this really plumbing the depths of decency?”

Libby and Abby’s families are still grieving. “1,825 days without you,” tweeted Libby’s sister Kelsi German on the fifth anniversary of her death. The girls’ grandparents are still alive. They buried their granddaughters alongside the rest of the German and Williams families in 2017. The case remains unsolved; their killer remains nameless. And Delphi, that sleepy town in Indiana, remains shattered by the tragedy that occurred there. Its population has decreased by a thousand people, or $50 for Crime Junkie, in the years since. Yet true crime podcasts continue to profit from Libby and Abby’s absence even today, with ads that make light of their circumstances. 

They make murder a joke. 

They make it a sideshow, a soundtrack to your weekly gym visits and your morning commutes to work. 

And they make it into zeroes tacked onto the end of their bank accounts. 

Why do we allow it? This is the question that all true crime fans must ask themselves before they watch, read, or listen to their favorite true crime media. Why was this ever okay? 

Preventing podcasts like Crime Junkie and Down the Hill from profiting from the Delphi murders won’t bring Libby and Abby back, just as refusing to watch Dateline won’t change the news and turning a blind eye to crime in our own community won’t deter its perpetrators. But by holding true crime media to a higher standard than what is allowed by the current regulatory environment, we create a little more justice in a corner of the world where justice is so rarely found. It’s already beginning. One of Crime Junkie’s hosts, Ashley Flowers, has founded a nonprofit called Season of Justice to help solve cold cases and dedicates a portion of the podcast’s income to its funding. 

Libby and Abby’s killer is still out there, unscathed by the consequences of his crimes. That case is up to the police to solve. But it’s up to us, the consumers—the fans of cold cases and historical cases and solved cases, all wrapped up with a bow—to discourage the media from commercializing violence like the Delphi tragedy.

This is our responsibility. Let’s honor it.