When Ashley Flowers premiered the first episode of her now-massive hit podcast, Crime Junkie, in December 2017, she had no idea of the journey she was about to embark upon.
The first episode featured the story of Niqui McCown, an Indiana woman who went missing from a laundromat just weeks before her wedding in 2001. (The 100th episode which dropped on September 30 also focuses on a local case—Lauren Spierer, the IU student who disappeared in 2011 after a night out at Kilroy’s and was never found.)
“I was working in business development outside of any kind of podcasting or broadcasting,” she tells Indy Maven. “I had always been a fan of true crime. Basically, I was the crime junkie that I made the show for and after I found Serial in 2014, I fell in love with podcasting, too. I was consuming every single true crime podcast out there. Good, bad, and otherwise but I felt that there was a specific show that was missing—I really wanted to hear two women talk about the case, but in a narrative format.”
“I really wanted to hear two women talk about the case, but in a narrative format.”
Flowers was also a volunteer (and eventual board member) at Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana, an independent organization that provides a way for law enforcement to receive information on crimes in the community in an effort to help them solve them. “One of my initiatives was to get younger people involved, or at least aware, of the program,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can do storytelling.’”
And so, Crime Junkie was born. “Overnight it just grew and grew and grew in popularity,” Flowers says.
What many of her fans might not realize, is that every show is produced locally in Indianapolis—from recording to editing and distribution. Originally, it was all done from her home. “It’s the beauty of podcasting,” Flowers says. “Though everyone keeps asking if we’re going to move to New York and LA.” But the Crime Junkie team has no plans for that, having just signed the lease on new office space in Broad Ripple that will house their growing team—which will soon be six strong.
Flowers officially left her day job in January 2019 after spending a year putting every bit of revenue back into the business. She now focuses on all things Crime Junkie full time—including a live tour coming to Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis on October 19, merch, collaborations with Crime Stoppers and other non-profits, and trips to places like the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. to research episodes. She approached the business like the startup it was from the beginning, spreading the word by doing cross-promotion with similarly small shows and eventually doing paid advertising on social media and other podcasts.
Crime Junkie (which is co-hosted by Flowers’ partner-in-crime, Brit Prawat) grew steadily by word-of mouth, too. “I think the moment I realized we had a special thing, [that] it was going to be a business, and this was going to be my career, in December of 2018, we were throwing a New Year’s Eve party for the podcast,” she recalls. “And on that day Rolling Stone had released something like ‘the five best true crime podcasts of the year,’ and we had made the list along with podcasts that I had admired and looked up to. I could not believe that we had made it on that list.”
Crime Junkie now has 24 million downloads a month across their entire catalog. With that level of popularity, however, comes more intense scrutiny. Earlier this year, the podcast came under some criticism and was accused of not properly attributing sources. “There is no greater priority for our team, or for me personally, than to ensure the highest levels of accuracy and integrity in our program,” they said in a statement on Facebook on August 15. “Our research process is thorough, rigid, 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.”
But Flowers says the most surprising aspect of doing the show has nothing to do with the subject matter.
“A lot of people will reach out to us and say, ‘You know, I was in the darkest time of my life and you guys were my friends through it. I know it sounds silly, but every Monday it gave me something, like, I have to get to Monday to hear an episode.’”
When she needs a break from some of the darkness that comes with her job, Flowers looks to her dog, Charlie, and nature—at least when she can take a break from her 80- to 100-hour work week. They love hiking around Fort Harrison, but she is looking forward to enjoying Broad Ripple.
“I’m super excited about taking advantage of the Monon and all of the great little shops and restaurants and stuff to do around this area of town,” she says.
As for her advice for women looking to make a move outside their comfort zones—be it professional or personal: “I would tell them not to think too long about it. You know, I think you can get in your head and question it for so long that nothing ever happens, or you wait so long that you can’t get into the space. I think if I wouldn’t have started [Crime Junkie] a year and a half ago and I would’ve started now, I don’t know if things would have turned out the same.”
“You should constantly be open to new ideas and remember, just because something’s not there today, don’t give up on what might be coming tomorrow.”
Photo: Diana Ragland