News this week that a man had been arrested for the 2017 killings of two girls in Delphi, Indiana, not only rocked the small town of 3,000 people — it reverberated around the world. The families and law enforcement agencies have worked tirelessly to make sure the victims, 14-year-old Liberty “Libby” German and 13-year-old Abigail “Abby” Williams, were not forgotten while their killer walked free. True crime communities throughout the US and beyond have helped draw attention to the case — known as the “Delphi murders” — searching for clues in the frustratingly few pieces of evidence the police have shared publicly.
That is perhaps most visible at CrimeCon, an event that has drawn thousands of true crime enthusiasts to venues across the country and beyond. “The family of the Delphi victims has joined us every year for a packed session to ensure the case never went cold,” CrimeCon founder and executive producer Kevin Balfe told BuzzFeed News after police announced the arrest Monday. “I love them to death but have told them that I hope I never see them again because that would mean the case was finally solved. It sounds like we are closer than we’ve ever been...though I do rescind my statement and hope they join us all in Orlando for a big group hug — this crowd has been so emotionally invested in the case.”
Read on for more of my conversation with Balfe about the Delphi families’ participation at CrimeCon — and the delicate balance between the pursuit of justice versus entertainment.
How many times has the Delphi case been a panel at CrimeCon? What feedback have you heard from the families and law enforcement about their participation?
Kevin Balfe: We’ve had them for large sessions since ’18, so four times (since 2020 was postponed). (You can watch the most recent panel here.) In addition to doing their big ballroom session each year, they’ve also done a ton of smaller things around the event, such as podcast interviews, Q&As with our virtual audience, and more. They’ve really understood that to keep this case alive they needed to be the faces of it. Their passion and emotion has been contagious.
Law enforcement has always been very supportive with us. I think they understood that using this platform to amplify the case could only be a positive in terms of tips and media attention. They’ve been involved in several of the events onstage with the family. It’s such a tough position to be in: needing information from the public but not wanting to reveal key aspects that could jeopardize a conviction. I know they’ve taken a lot of criticism but I think they’ve done a remarkable job given the hand they were dealt.
Personally, what's your reaction to the news about the Delphi arrest?
Obviously knowing the family so well they are the only people I’m thinking about. Every year when I tell Becky Patty (Liberty’s grandmother) that I hope I never see her again I can feel the tears start to build and I have to walk away. The emotion for so many of us is real and now my thoughts turn to getting to a guilty verdict. It’s tough right now because our desire to know more details clashes directly with the prosecutor’s ability to do his job…but ultimately we’ll all get the facts. We’ve all waited over five years, I know we can wait a few more months. A very smart person in law enforcement once told me that there is never such a thing [as] closure for the family of a victim — only justice. I know they’ll never get the girls back, but they deserve to see the killer behind bars.
Most convention circuits are known for cosplay and fan celebrations, but obviously the true crime genre is more complex — you have an expressed obligation to be sensitive to the subject matter and real victims. What do you do when someone crosses the line?
Complex is a good way to put it. We are always focused on creating a safe and healthy environment for everyone. We work hard to keep sensationalism and tabloid stuff out of the event and it’s always a work in progress. There is quite a bit we’ve done behind the scenes to ensure that the atmosphere is one we’re proud of, but the most obvious examples are us turning down certain exhibitors or asking attendees to change out of something we consider to be in poor taste.
The prism through which I view this is pretty straightforward, though reasonable people can of course disagree. If we see something questionable we ask ourselves this: If the mother of a murder victim were in an elevator alone with you while you’re wearing that, would she have a problem with it? If the answer is “yes” or “maybe,” then we get involved. And this isn’t just a metaphorical situation — we have families of victims all over the event and they need to feel loved and supported, not retraumatized. The good news is that almost everyone we approach about an inappropriate item seems truly shocked to find out that it could be triggering for others. It’s a good opportunity for them to broaden their perspective and we’ve also learned a ton about this by listening to feedback from attendees, advocates, and victims and their families.
What sessions have been most popular and why?
Every year we’re surprised by where attendees gravitate. There are the obviously popular sessions every year — Dateline is always packed, fans love Nancy Grace’s passion, and the family of the Delphi victims. … One thing that I love about our attendees is that they don’t just look for the obvious stuff. I’ve tried some really thinky/deep sessions on topics where I’d feared an empty room and was instead greeted by a line down the hall.
What’s next for CrimeCon, besides CrimeCon Orlando next September?
We started an online community called crimeHQ.com where we program live virtual events just about every week plus run a cold case club and book club. We’re also doing our second CrimeCruise next April — it’s a lot of fun and the cruise format lets speakers have more time onstage so things are a little less frantic. Oh, and we recently launched events in London and Glasgow with our UK partners!
I’m also very excited about our launch of the CLUE Awards this year. This is the first awards program to recognize true crime creators and their projects through the prism of not just how entertaining they are, but also how responsible they are in telling the story.