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How “Only Murders” foreshadowed the Gabby Petito media circus and citizen sleuthing

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22.09.2021

In what feels like a page out of an "Only Murders in the Building" episode, citizen sleuths have mobilized across social media platforms in response to the heartbreaking and mysterious ongoing case of Gabby Petito.

The 22-year-old was reported missing earlier this month after a four-month, cross-country road trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, who returned home to Florida without Petito weeks ago. With Laundrie now missing too, the story has since ignited an explosion of bizarrely excited, true crime-obsessed vloggers and Tik Tokers, who are desperate to beat detectives to the punch — one Twitter thread theory at a time.

The "Only Murders" trio of citizen sleuths

The hyper-engagement and twisted opportunism of these clout-chasing true crime junkies feels eerily resonant with the subject matter and commentary featured in the Hulu murder mystery comedy. "Only Murders in the Building" follows Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin as three nosy neighbors united by their obsession with a true crime podcast. When their neighbor Tim Kono (Julian Cihi) dies under mysterious circumstances, the three are convinced their years of consuming true crime podcasts have made them uniquely qualified to solve their neighbor's case, much to the chagrin of Detective Williams (Da'Vine Joy Randolph).

From the first episode of "Only Murders," Williams is exhausted by the antics of self-appointed citizen sleuths, mobilized by true crime podcasts and convinced they can do the jobs of experts after listening to two episodes of "My Favorite Murder." Her cynicism toward true crime junkies is validated as Mabel (Gomez), Oliver (Short) and Charles (Martin) break laws, tamper with evidence, and cross all kinds of lines to get to the bottom of Kono's death.

"Only Murders" satirizes the opportunism and presumptuousness latent in many true crime content creators and consumers, champing at the bit to make a dime or at least go viral off the worst thing that's ever happened to a young woman's family. From the show's first episodes, Oliver, a struggling Broadway director, is determined to make a podcast out of their late neighbor's death, before they know anything about him, have any suspects, or have even spoken with the young man's family.

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