In a statement sent to Variety, Flowers said in part, “we recently made the decision to pull down several episodes from our main feed when their source material could no longer be found or properly cited. Since then, we’ve worked to put additional controls in place to address any gaps moving forward.”
Flowers continued, “Our work would not be possible absent the incredible efforts of countless individuals who investigate and report these stories originally, and they deserve to be credited as such. We are committed to working within the burgeoning podcast industry to develop and evolve its standards on these kinds of issues.”
Among the plagiarism allegations that have emerged against Flowers: Cathy Frye, who wrote a four-part series about the murder of Arkansas teen Kacie Woody for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2003, alleged in a post on Flowers’ Facebook page Sunday that “Crime Junkie’s” March 2019 episode on the Woody case relied entirely on Frye’s work without any citation.
“At one point, you quoted a portion of MY copyrighted story almost verbatim,” Frye wrote in her post, directed at Flowers. “I then started listening to your other podcasts and – SURPRISE! – discovered that you don’t cite sources or credit news organizations.” Frye demanded Flowers take down the podcast; otherwise, she threatened to take legal action.
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Frye, contacted by Variety, said she has not received any response from Flowers or the “Crime Junkie” team about her complaint.
Robin Warder, who hosts true-crime podcast “The Trail Went Cold,” wrote a post on Reddit in 2015 about the mysterious death of a man named Henry McCabe. Warder told Variety that in a May 2018 “Crime Junkie” episode covering the same case, at one point in the podcast, “Ashley Flowers is practically reading [from the Reddit post] verbatim without credit.”
In a Reddit post two months ago on the “Crime Junkie” subreddit, a listener claimed that the “Crime Junkie” March 2019 podcast on Kirsten Hatfield, an Oklahoma girl who disappeared in 1997, was an almost “word for word copy” of a 2018 episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn” that aired last year on Investigation Discovery.
Over the past few days, “Crime Junkie” has removed five episodes from its website and other podcast platforms: the shows about Kacie Woody and Kirsten Hatfield — along three others: “Missing: Misty Copsey,” “Conspiracy: The Women of Juarez” and “Murdered: Angela Savage.” (Separately, in June, “Crime Junkie” pulled its June 24 episode on the 2001 murder of Amanda Cope after listeners complained it omitted allegations that her father sexually abused his daughters. “It’s never our intention to re-victimize anyone and we are very sorry that this episode did that,” the “Crime Junkie” team wrote in a tweet.)
“For a long while now, ‘Crime Junkie’ has been plagiarizing journalists, television shows and other podcasters,” one true-crime podcaster, who said their material had been lifted by Flowers, told Variety. “They do not credit anyone in their episodes… They really should know better.” This individual requested anonymity, fearing backlash from “Crime Junkie” fans.
Flowers, in her response to Variety, did not address specific allegations of plagiarism.
In her statement, she said, “Our research process is thorough, rigid, and exhaustive, and those familiar with ‘Crime Junkie’ are aware that we make clear references to the use of other sources and that comprehensive notes and links to all sources are made available on our show’s website.”
On its website and Patreon pages, “Crime Junkie” currently includes a list with links to sources for its episode — however, it appears that for many of the episodes, the links to source material were added in the last few days. Meanwhile, with few exceptions, Flowers does not cite the sources in the audio of the podcast itself.
In podcasting, the true-crime genre has become hugely popular, ignited by the first season of “Serial” in 2014. Those in the true-crime podcast world say plagiarism is rampant — it’s not unusual for some podcasters to, say, simply read whole passages from Wikipedia entries on their shows. Some creators say that they don’t post transcripts of their podcasts for that very reason.
Ironically, Flowers herself has complained about her material being stolen: Last month she asked YouTube (via Twitter) to take down a channel created by someone who had ripped off 90 “Crime Junkie” episodes.
Flowers doesn’t have a journalism or media background (she studied biological sciences in college and later worked at a small software firm), and is a self-taught independent podcaster. Flowers and her “Crime Junkie” sidekick Brit Prawat, who have been friends since childhood, also embarked on an ambitious weekly launch schedule, amounting to a huge amount of work for a two-member team.
In less than two years, “Crime Junkie” blossomed into a smash hit. Since Flowers launched the weekly podcast in December 2017, the largely female-skewing audience for the podcast has grown dramatically. Currently, each episode averages over 1.6 million unique listens in the first four weeks; in a single month, the podcast snares more than 22 million downloads.
Now the charges of plagiarism against Flowers may throw a wrench into her business, which she previously said was profitable and on track to be a “seven-figure business” in 2019. About half the revenue for her company, Audiochuck (named after her dog), comes from the “Crime Junkie” members on Patreon and the rest from brands including Casper, BarkBox and Zola through ads sold by AdLarge Media. Flowers claims the podcast has 43,500 members on Patreon; the number of patrons on the “Crime Junkie” page are not public.
The popularity of “Crime Junkie” led Flowers and Prawat to stage a test-run of four live shows this summer. Those each sold out, and they’ve added another 17 shows this fall.
Flowers is repped by UTA, and together they’ve been pitching a “Crime Junkie” TV adaptation as well as a potential documentary feature about the unsolved murders of four employees at a Burger Chef restaurant in Indiana in 1978, which Flowers is working on as a special six-part limited podcast series.
Some say her work on the Burger Chef murders project is problematic in a different way. Flowers is working with Indiana State Police investigators to get exclusive access to documents and has given the police control over what material she’s able to release on the podcast. Chris Davis, creator of the “3C Podcast – True Crime in the Circle City” program who has produced episodes about the 1978 case, said he was denied access to the files Flowers has obtained. Davis argued that, “in essence she is releasing State Police propaganda and getting paid by the public to do it.” (Flowers did not comment on this.)
Flowers, 30, was born and raised in South Bend, Ind. She started “Crime Junkie” after she hosted a true-crime segment called “Murder Monday” for Indianapolis radio station WNOW two years ago. It was a pro-bono production to promote Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana, where she’s a board member.
The popularity of the radio program inspired her to launch “Crime Junkie,” investing about $13,000 of her personal savings into the show. Indianapolis-based Audiochuck began generating money from the podcast in July 2018 after launching a page on Patreon, where her fans can pay $5-$20 per month for additional content and other perks. A year ago she quit her day job to commit full-time to the company, which she currently runs out of a bedroom in her home.