Drew Dickinson and Jessica Gisele Yergin, hosts of “The Misery Machine” podcast. Submitted photo

AUBURN – Over the last several years, the genre of true crime has exploded across multiple mediums: podcasts, documentaries, YouTube videos, and books, among others. While it has been around for decades, the genre has been popularized in recent years by the increased prevalence of podcasts and YouTube videos.

Jessica Gisele Yergin and Drew Dickinson, residents of Auburn, are the hosts of a true crime podcast called “The Misery Machine,” which covers murders, missing person cases and other crimes.

However, the podcast also delves into other issues, whether it’s shining a light on suicide awareness, the negative effects of the body positivity movement, or the impact a serial killer had on the LGBTQ community in the ’90s.

Yergin said that when she was in high school, showing an interest in true crime was seen as “weird, sketchy, creepy, you name it.”

“When I chose to do my high school English book report and final presentation on German serial killer Peter Kurten, it was not well received by my peers or my teacher,” Yergin said. “Fast forward to now and true crime is incredibly mainstream and is consumed by ‘normal’ people from all age groups and walks of life.”

As for Dickinson, a medical coder by day and a bassist for a post-rock band called This World As Bees in his free time, he said that he dislikes the bulk of true crime podcasts but was interested in an opportunity to make a podcast that avoided sensationalizing crimes and instead aimed to enhance people’s understanding of them.

Both Yergin and Dickinson (who refer to themselves as “Yergy” and “Drewby,” respectively, in the episodes) approach the genre of true crime and their podcast with the same mindset: humanize the victims and their families, educate the public about the cases and shine a light on any details that were mishandled or overlooked in the case.

“Ideally, I want to make progress and advance the conversation around a particular case,” Dickinson said. “You can’t achieve that every episode, but that should be your goal.”

Name: Jessica Gisele Yergin and Drew Dickinson

Age: 30s

Hometown: Lewiston/Auburn area

Occupation: Yergin: accounting clerk; Dickinson: medical coder

Can you talk a little bit about how “The Misery Machine” podcast got up and running? What motivated you to work together and what made you want to work in the true crime genre?

Yergin: We’ve known each other for over a decade now! We met as colleagues and worked together for a number of years at a local call center. We’ve always had an interest in true crime cases stemming back to our teenage years. I had found a spot guest hosting for a local true crime podcast and found I had a knack for it. Listeners responded positively to my content and the things I had to say. Drewby also had an interest in starting a podcast and reached out to me in the summer of 2019. We weren’t 100 percent on what type of genre we were interested in. The first month or two of episodes were just the two of us ranting about current events around town and our respective days. After the true crime podcast I guested on ceased recording, we decided to rebrand as a true crime/social issues/current events podcast and it’s been that way ever since.

Dickinson: (The call center) job was a huge eye-opener about how life works and the ways in which people struggle and get taken advantage of. Two people who also worked there were convicted of murder. A lot of other things happened there that I’m not sure I’m at liberty to talk about. I naively thought that this is just how big workplaces are like. A lot of people there did.

Anyways, fast forward to now. I had wanted to do some sort of record of everything that happened at this place of work — everything good, bad and in between. The older I got, the more I realized that this was a unique time in my life and I wanted to memorialize it somehow. Yergy was the person I knew who far and away had the most crazy experiences working there and had the most behind-the-scenes knowledge of what was going on. That episode was six hours long. It was a mess. I’m not sure it’ll ever see the light of day. However, we did learn that is something we had quite a knack for.

How do you both decide on what cases to focus your attention on?

Yergin: We like to cover cases that spark our interest, oftentimes from locales that we find interesting, including cases that happen overseas. We, of course, love to cover local cases – specifically, unsolved and missing persons. We really want to be able to use our platform to signal boost these cases in hopes that we can play a small part in solving them and providing closure for the families of the lost, even if it’s just keeping their loved one’s name out there. We also take suggestions from our listeners, which we get recommendations frequently, many of which end up being really interesting cases.

Dickinson: Occasionally, (local cases) will be covered by other podcasts outside of the state, and that’s always helpful, but to be from small-town, working-class Maine, we know what life is like here in Maine compared to the average podcast, and I feel like we owe it to Maine to be able to cover these things. We do feel it necessary to cover cold cases from other small towns for similar reasons. Sometimes, current events will call attention to a case that has a lot of societal impact.

Suicide prevention awareness month passed recently, and it’s a cause we feel strongly about, so we covered a few well-known suicides that month. I had no idea about the Ronnie McNutt livestream video until I saw someone post about it on Facebook, so I researched it and was not only absolutely heartbroken by the whole ordeal but enraged by the handling of it by social media sites (not to mention the fact the internet has been exploiting people who commit suicide for decades). These are the kinds of episodes that light a fire under me to do the best I can to give these things greater awareness and hopefully aid in making a difference.

One thing I noticed on your website that stuck out to me was how you wrote “True crime is boring. We’re fixing that.” Can you speak a little more to that sentiment?

Yergin: One thing that we’ve noticed within the genre is that a lot of other podcasts and YouTubers have a way of either sensationalizing cases or approaching cases in a way that seems boring or predictable. The make-up tutorial piece has become very popular in recent years and I cannot wrap my head around it.

True crime ASMR is also a thing that is beyond me. We strive to create content that is both educational and interesting. We’re serious when the content calls for it, but try to be light-hearted when appropriate. There’s never a time where I’m not going to make fun of a dumb criminal, but it’s important to know the weight your platform carries when covering these cases.

Dickinson: I can’t stand the bulk of true crime podcasts. If I wanted to explain all my issues about true crime podcasts or podcasts in general, it would take up this entire article. I’ll just say that a lot of people who do it seem to be doing it because it’s trendy or like it’s a market they can cash in on. Specifically, the market of cashing in on the deaths of other people. A lot of people couple true crime podcasts with beer reviews and makeup tutorials. The hosts seem so disconnected from the case or people involved. Some just fill their episode with news soundbites and barely even talk themselves. This is lazy at best, and exploitative at worst.

In my opinion, to cover true crime, you immediately owe a debt to people. You owe it to humanize the victims, you owe it to show respect to the families of victims, and you owe it to use your platform to raise awareness about unsolved or mishandled cases or issues within that case that were overlooked.

Everyone covers Jeffrey Dahmer, but we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to figure out what Jeffrey Dahmer’s impact on the Milwaukee LGBTQ community was at the time, because there was very little information on that. We ended up interviewing a Milwaukee native who is active in the scene and did a lot of digging through old newspaper articles. As of the time of me writing this, we are the only true crime podcast to do an episode on that. Ideally, I want to make progress and advance the conversation around a particular case. You can’t achieve that every episode, but that should be your goal.

What does the process of researching a case look like, in terms of production? Do you try and interview people connected with the cases or episodes when possible?

Yergin: I handle a lot of the research for the cases, and a lot of it looks like what you’d picture a research paper for school to look like. Normally, by Monday afternoon, a case is selected and then I get to work compiling information from various websites and news sources. Sometimes, I’m lucky and we will find interviews online that contain invaluable information.

Dickinson: We have done four interviews up until the time of writing this. Three are released and one is currently in post-production. Interviews are unfortunately the most time-consuming episodes. Equalizing the sound between us and the guest is very difficult due to all interviews being remote and all parties using different equipment.

What episodes from your archives are you the most proud of?

Yergin: By far, the episode I’m most proud of is our recent episode about the Kimberly Moreau case. We put hours of research in and went on location for video footage. Growing up in the area, seeing Kim’s flyers taped to the utility poles in the Jay/Livermore area was always haunting and we wanted to do something to try to signal boost her case and to help her family. They’ve been through enough. I’m also really proud of an episode we did early on that highlighted toxicity within the body positivity movement and my experience with it during my own health journey. Although we hadn’t really learned proper editing back then, the content was still very important.

Dickinson: I’m very proud of the Kimberly Moreau case as well. I’m also very proud of the Ronnie McNutt case, as it covers topics I feel really strongly about. There were things in that episode that I had been wanting to say for a long time and couldn’t find the words. When I found out about Ronnie, that changed.

Are there any podcasts or streams, whether in the true crime genre or outside of it, that you’re influenced by?

Yergin: For true crime, I normally listen to “The Last Podcast On the Left” on a regular basis, but a lot of the listening I do is research-based for the cases that I’m covering. Not quite true crime, but true crime adjacent. I am in love with “Ask a Mortician,” hosted by Caitlin Doughty on YouTube. Mortuary science has been a passion of mine since high school, so I sort of like to live vicariously through her and her advocacy work. Outside of true crime, I’ve become hooked on a show called “Painted Trash.” They’re friends in Chicago that cover current events and their daily lives – sort of what we were doing in the beginning. However, they are hysterical and live much more interesting lives than we do.

Dickinson: I only listen to a select few podcasts, and none of them are true crime. I tend to dislike podcasts in general and I never saw myself making one initially. Avoiding doing the things that, in my opinion, make so many other podcasts unlistenable, that’s my biggest influence. I want to make a podcast that I would want to listen to.

I’m sure there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into getting these episodes posted. Can you give a rundown of what you do in the way of production or research?

Yergin: One thing no one tells you when you fall into this is that you’ve basically started an additional 40-hour-per-week job on top of your day job and it’s a huge labor of love. Together, we have learned to become broadcasters, writers, researchers, editors, graphic designers, etc. I’ve learned how to use so many pieces of editing software that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to use beforehand. I’ve never done so much networking in my entire life. However, the silver lining to this is that I’ve made so many lasting friendships through podcasting and met some incredible people on this journey.

Dickinson: Editing is such a long process. By far the most time-consuming thing about doing a podcast. You don’t realize it until you actually do it. Initially, you think you can just upload the raw audio file in one take and be good. This is why bigger podcasts have staff, including people that do production and editing. I knew very little about this beforehand, and I’ve had to learn a lot.

Do either of you have a case that you haven’t covered yet that you want to do?

Yergin: I would really love to cover the case of Ludger Belanger, who has been missing and presumed dead since 1975. After we covered the Kimberly Moreau case, one of Ludger’s daughters reached out to suggest his case. I’m actually in the process of compiling information and hope to have his case ready for an early winter release. I’m hoping (for it to be done) around the anniversary of his disappearance. I’d also like to cover the case of Angela Palmer, as I’d heard about her case as a little girl (and then subsequently read the book “Lucifer’s Child” by Elliott Epstein as an adult, which is based on the case). I always get chills driving past the apartment building by Rooper’s that she perished in.

Dickinson: I don’t have a particular case in mind that Yergy hasn’t mentioned, but I definitely want to cover more cases that highlight a greater societal impact, such as the Ronnie McNutt episode. Also, for example, I want to do more things like Yergy mentioned earlier, where we covered toxic experiences inside the body positivity movement.

What are your goals for the podcast moving forward?

Yergin: My goal is to keep releasing quality content on a weekly basis and grow that content by adding midweek videos and shorter episodes available through YouTube. Hopefully, once COVID-19 slows down and travel becomes safer, I would really love to go on location to some of the places that we cover in our episodes and meet some of our listeners – we were supposed to do that in early June. I’d really love to grow our show while still remaining true to our vision of shedding light on these cases.

Dickinson: It would be cool to do this full time, but I don’t require that. This is a labor of love, first and foremost. Our YouTube channel gets the most traffic and the most interaction from listeners. We make content for our Patreon account that’s unrelated to true crime, but I’d like to actually release more free content on YouTube. Time constraints are making it tough to put out the amount of content we’d like to. Ultimately, I’m striving to make our platform bigger so we can reach more people.

One of our friends from Pennsylvania just had her stepdaughter go missing, so we put out a video as a call to action and to raise awareness so she could quickly be found. Thankfully, she was brought home safe, but it made me wonder how much more of an impact we could make for missing persons if we had twice the platform we have now.

 

 


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