Some of society’s greatest entertainment is born from our desire to peer into the deepest, darkest corners of the soul. During the height of their infamy, real-life monsters – Charles Manson, Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, Donald Trump – regularly grab headlines.
However, a true-crime podcast examines the human element of these flesh-and-blood nightmares. Sword and Scale, a South Florida-based show hosted by Mike Boudet and in its third season, uses 911 tapes, court testimony, and interviews with victims for in-depth storytelling. With more than 130,000 downloads per episode, Sword and Scale has been ranked as high as 37 on iTunes' top 50 most-downloaded shows. The podcast continues to flourish after making debuting two-and-a-half years ago.
Could it be the next Serial?
The show’s profile recently received a significant boost with Episode 60, featuring longtime Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. His mother was brutally murdered in 1983 by a former boyfriend, and the story is the subject of the Navarro-produced documentary, Mourning Son.
New Times spoke with Boudet about Sword and Scale and what can often be a truly disturbing job.
New Times: The way the show is structured and stylized, it’s reminiscent of The Twilight Zone and Unsolved Mysteries. Were you a fan of those shows?
Mike Boudet: [Laughs] Never heard The Twilight Zone reference before. Unsolved Mysteries still holds up; it’s a great show. I used to watch that as a kid. I’ve watched a lot of true-crime TV shows. I’m a big fan of the whole genre – Dateline, The First 48, American Greed, Forensic Files. These are all shows I regularly watch.
When and how did you become interested in true crime?
Through those shows, really. It’s funny how huge that whole genre is and how people love it and are really into it but don’t talk about it that much. Then a show like Serial can come around, and suddenly everyone loves true crime and everyone’s going crazy about it
On your Frequently Asked Questions page, the answer to “Why are you doing this?” is rather vague. It says, “We love talk radio and we love the true-crime genre.” OK, fair enough. But in addition to being a successful true-crime radio broadcast, why are you really doing this?
There are a lot of shows out there that cover the genre, but I do it realistically – I don’t sugarcoat it. It is what it is. It’s a real thing that affects people in very real ways. When family members are killed in a grisly, horrible way by some stranger who has no reason to do it, there’s a real emotional connection I’m trying to create in the audience there. The audience can be so jaded by everything. We’re so used to violence; we’re so used to mass shootings... It’s kind of ridiculous that we’ve accepted this in our society... I’m trying to shake people up and make them realize that this is real shit. These are real people and real crimes, and they really matter.
Sword and Scale is repeatedly presented as entertainment and that witnesses on the show may sometimes lie or at least embellish their stories. But considering that you’re dealing with real people and actual crimes, in what regard do you hold the truth? Are you willing to sacrifice it purely to entertain people?
I’m not a reporter, first of all. I’m a storyteller. And the stories that I tell are, for the most part, already decided by a judge and jury. They’ve already gone through the entire process; they’ve already put the perpetrator in jail or [they’re] dead. There are no ifs, ands, or buts – there’s no mystery we’re trying to solve... The only exception to that is, for example, there was a woman who called us because her sister was murdered several decades ago and it remained an unsolved case. It was more her story in terms of how she felt powerless to do anything. No one was helping her find out what happened to her sister and that sort of thing. There was also this one guy who was sexually abused by his father and he’s just telling his story as a survivor... We’re not trying to deceive you or put a spin on anything. We’re just showing you what’s out there, and if you disagree with something, that’s up to you to find the evidence and make your own conclusions.
So no cold cases?
No, we don’t tackle any kind of cold cases. They’re kind of boring from my perspective because since we are trying to tell you a story, all of those end the same way; they end with “and then we don’t know what happened.”
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What did you take away from the recent Dave Navarro episode?
Domestic violence is something that can affect anyone, and it affects so many people. I think the main thing I got out of that show was how shocking it is that one out of four women is a victim of domestic violence, one out of seven men, and I forget what the number is for children, but it’s staggering when you think about it. If you go to a supermarket, look around, and count four women, one of those is going to be dealing with or be a victim of domestic violence. It’s horrifying. It was great to have [Dave Navarro's] perspective, someone that a lot of people look up to and hear how this was something that affected him more than anything in his life. His mother was murdered. How do you get over that? Yet he still went on to have success in life... He’s going to help a lot of people by telling his story.
You’ve probably heard your fair share of messed-up stories. Are there any that have stuck out and remained with you?
Yeah, and they stand out to our listeners too. They keep telling us about them every time we do a meetup or something like that. One in particular comes to mind – Luka Magnotta, who was a Canadian guy who wanted to be a celebrity. It’s one of the most shocking episodes we’ve done. This guy found a stranger on Craigslist for a gay sex thing and basically chopped him up and videotaped it. He had been gearing up to do this for a while. In fact, he had killed kittens on video, which is kind of what got him caught. He left this trail of evidence while he was gearing up to commit murder. A group of internet sleuths was able to put two and two together and get him arrested, but it was too late for this poor kid who didn’t expect this to happen.
It’s weird to wish you success considering that the success of Sword and Scale is contingent upon horrible shit happening to people.
Well, that’s the thing. It’ll never stop. Last time I looked, there are 3,200 murders every day, so I’ll never run out of content, unfortunately.
Sword and Scale
Find the podcast on your mobile device's podcast app or via the app store. Visit swordandscale.com.