The Cases That Made Me A True-Crime Fanatic

True crime content, while not always the easiest to listen to or watch, has fostered a thriving community. Its impact has been widespread, bringing attention to cases that were once thought to be unsolvable. It’s been said that victims that are killed as a result of crimes die twice: once when they actually die and then when their name is no longer spoken. These are the cases that kept me coming back and made me passionate about true crime as a whole. 

 

1. The Lululemon Murder 

In March of 2011, Brittany Norwood and Jayna Murray were found beaten and bloodied in the backroom of a Lululemon store in Maryland. Murray was found dead while Norwood appeared to be clinging to life. Both women were employed at the store and all signs pointed to a robbery gone horribly wrong. After Norwood was deemed stable at a local hospital, her changing stories and unconfirmable facts led police to believe she knew more than she was letting on. It was later revealed that Norwood had violently killed Murray after Murray, Norwood’s manager, accused her of shoplifting from the store. Norwood today is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. 

This case is a good introductory case to the world of true crime because of how recent it is meaning that there is a wealth of information on it and that it is a case with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Any deeper look you take into this case will leave you more confused about Brittany’s motive, especially given the sheer brutality of this crime. How can one fathom being killed over leggings? But the single fact that will stick with me forever about this case is one that will leave all Seawolves shook. Brittany Norwood played soccer for Stony Brook University in her time as an undergraduate before being academically dismissed. Some cases just hit a bit closer to home than others. 

 

2. The Mysterious Death of Kendrick Johnson

Kendrick Johnson was a basketball player on his high school basketball team in Georgia in 2013. When he doesn’t come home after a basketball game the night before, Kendrick’s mother has police searching everywhere for him. It was in a meeting with a school official that Kendrick’s mother received the most heartbreaking news: her son was found dead. But where? In the school gymnasium rolled up in a gym mat. What followed was an investigation by police that raised more questions than answers. To this day, Kendrick’s family is fighting for justice as they believe there was foul play involved while police consider it a tragic accident. 

After hearing this case on the Crime Junkie Podcast, I knew this case would stick with me as soon as they began describing Kendrick’s high school. Little details like how the high school had two gymnasiums referred to as the “old gym” and the “new gym” and an alternating schedule with “1” and “2” days were things that my high school had as well. Details like this that appear unexceptional sucked me into the story, taking me right back to my high school and imagining the horror and tragedy of this happening to one of your classmates. Everything about this case will have you questioning whether there is a coverup happening and for what purpose? 

 

3. The Disappearance of Susan Powell 

Susan and Josh Powell lived in West Valley City, Utah with their two young sons, Charlie and Braden. In early December in 2009, Josh Powell said he took his two sons on a camping trip in the middle of the night during a snowstorm. While he said that Susan didn’t come with them, she was never seen again after that night. Police set their sights on Josh Powell due to his apparent lack of concern for finding Susan and eventual smear campaign to convince the world that she ran off with another man. Police never found Susan and without sufficient evidence to arrest Josh, the case went cold. Josh then lost custody of his sons and while in the care of their maternal grandparents, they began describing more and more of what they remembered from that night. On a supervised visitation with their father, Josh locked the social worker out of the house with him and the boys inside and set the house ablaze. 

I mentioned this case before in my Five Best Crime Junkie Podcast Episodes to Listen to While in Quarantine story but I’m bringing it up again because it’s that much of a head-scratcher in my opinion. While police and Susan’s family have long since settled on the conclusion that Josh killed Susan, they have never found a body, weapon, or anything else to definitely suggest a crime. Additionally, not only does this case shed light on the dangers of emotional and financial abuse in relationships, but it also exposes the shortcomings of our legal systems and social services designed to protect children, even from their own parents when necessary.

 

4. The Murder of Birna Brjánsdóttir

20-year-old Birna Brjánsdóttir was walking home in Reykjavík, Iceland in January of 2017 when she disappeared. Her body was recovered six days later after an extensive search of the surrounding water. Her murder was solved and Thomas Møller Olsen was found guilty of the crime. The importance of this case came in the reactions of the surrounding community and beyond, particularly by other girls Birna’s age. Murder is extremely rare in Iceland, so the whole country found themselves mourning with 2,000 people attending her funeral including the country’s president and prime minister. The hashtag “Ég er Birna,” or “I am Birna” in Icelandic, began trending on social media leading to bigger conversations about women’s safety. 

This case touched me and even brought tears to my eyes with the explanation behind the “I am Birna” hashtag. Now, as a 20-year-old woman, now more than ever do I identify with this story and the importance of women looking out for other women. Any one of us could have been Birna. Birna is your friend. Birna is your sister. Birna is the girl you sit next to in class and we all should be looking out for each other. If nothing else, being a true-crime fanatic has taught me valuable lessons in protecting myself and the importance of being observant on behalf of the more vulnerable. You never know what fate you might be saving someone from by asking a quick, “Are you okay?”

 

All of these cases have an abundance of sources but ones that I found to be consistently mindful at telling these stories in a respectful and intriguing manner are Crime Junkie, the Cold Podcast, and YouTubers Stephanie Harlow and Eleanor Neale. As always, be sure to do your own research and be an advocate for victims’ families.