Most people clear the way for coroners’ vans when sirens start blaring and crime tape comes up, but for Austin Murderinos, these are a call to action.
Derived from the fan-base of “My Favorite Murder,” a true-crime podcast that has developed a cult following over the last year, the Austin Murderinos was created by and for local murder enthusiasts and has since garnered over a thousand members on their Facebook group.
This Wednesday, Oct. 25, dozens will walk the streets of Austin as they follow the trail of a 130-year-old murder in a walking murder tour of the city organized by Stephanie El-Hajj.
During the event, participants will follow the route of the murder, as outlined in an episode of Radiolab, originally created in 2015 for SXSW. El-Hajj said it has garnered more interest than she imagined as it was originally intended to only be public for her friends.
“The cool thing is there are a lot of older places still downtown, so you can see some of it as it actually was,” El-Hajj said. “It is going to be based off of true events and true scenarios and the way it is timed, you are supposed to pause it at certain places so you can experience it in the moment.”
Though unplanned, El-Hajj said the large group will make things better because they will support one another in their mutual interest as they investigate this mysterious piece of history.
“Nobody wants to be that weirdo walking around with their iPhone,” El-Hajj said. “It is cool people want to do this too because it is like ‘come on this mystery with me, it’s exciting.’”
Though El-Hajj’s interest in cold cases and criminal activity is longstanding, she said her involvement with the Austin Murderinos community has given her an opportunity to express this interest with like minded friends.
“You don’t love horror movies because you want to go dress up like a creepy clown and scare people — you like it because it both terrifies and excites you,” El-Hajj said. “It is a nice way to have your fear of being alive justified by having other people be like ‘no, the thing you are scared of is totally legit.’”
Austin Murderinos founder Emily Groenendal said the rapidly expanding group provides a non-judgmental space to discuss their unusual field of interest.
“I just like that people don’t feel like outcasts, even though we have this weird interest in murder,” Groenendal said. “Even though I am a weird outcast in other friend groups, there are people with whom I can talk about these things, I have my people and it has made Austin feel like home this past year.”
For Groenendal, her interest in this field began after her dad told her in middle school about his run-in with murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, and how he almost became a victim after being approached at an airport and repeatedly invited to the murderer’s apartment.
“That peaked my interest, to realize, ‘Oh my gosh there are bad people who do bad things, why would they do that,’” Groenendal said.
Austin Murderinos member Raquel Quintero’s interest in true crime began with reading books and movies on the subject with her mom growing up. She said she has since gone to work as a forensic scientist and has found a community of like-minded people in Austin Murderinos.
Quintero said the group has even worked together to piece together clues on local happenings and discuss past cold cases, in addition to self defense classes and awareness of criminal activity in their surroundings to protect each other from a murder situation.
Now, El-Hajj said she is excited to see how this community grows and provide a place for new and old Austinites to join a conversation in which talking about the latest serial killer is an everyday thing.