By Jennifer Bucholtz, June 24, 2021; APUS Faculty Member, Criminal Justice & Forensic Science
Recently, author and investigative journalist George Jared and I appeared at CrimeCon 2021 in Austin, Texas, as presenters of the murder of Rebekah Gould case.
CrimeCon is the largest true crime conference in the world and is devoted to examining various aspects of crime and criminal behavior. Common topics include in-depth assessments of murder cases, criminal psychology, advances in forensic science, victimology, and investigative strategies.
In past years, CrimeCon has hosted several thousands of attendees. Due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, the conference was limited to an audience of 1,500, but also offered a virtual option for viewers to watch the speakers live online. The room assigned to us had nearly 700 chairs, most of which were full during our presentation.
The majority of people who attend CrimeCon are civilians with no direct involvement in traditional law enforcement, but who have a keen interest in true crime. However, there are also many attendees who are currently working in law enforcement or have done so in the past.
Presenting at CrimeCon
The producers of CrimeCon invited George and me to provide an hour-long presentation detailing our work on the previously unsolved murder of Rebekah Gould, a case that was essentially cold for more than 16 years.
With presenters allotted only a one-hour time slot, we had to prioritize the information we wanted to convey. Ultimately, we provided the audience with a short overview of the case, including shortcomings of the investigating agency; details on the arrest of William Miller, first cousin to Rebekah’s then-boyfriend, Casey McCullough; red flags exhibited by McCullough over the years; a discussion on some of the comments Miller posted in our Facebook group; and a dialogue on the value of citizen detectives raising awareness and contributing their knowledge to unsolved cases. We also included two video clips of Rebekah’s father sharing his memories of his daughter and experiences with law enforcement over the years.
During the conference, several people approached George and me wanting to discuss unsolved murders and suspicious deaths of their loved ones that were ruled as suicides.
During the question and answer portion at the end of our session, and throughout the weekend, we received an outpouring of inspiring feedback and encouragement. Many attendees approached us with emotional messages of support for Rebekah’s father and words of disbelief at how the investigation of his daughter’s murder was handled. These conversations reinforced our own frustration and anger at the treatment of Rebekah’s family and the mishandling of her case.
Approaches from Family Members of Murder Victims
During the Q&A, the mother of a murder victim brought us a binder on stage, asking us to read the information she had compiled.
We also spoke with many other parents and family members of murder victims seeking assistance because they had been unable to obtain answers from law enforcement or for cold cases no longer being investigated. Additionally, we conversed with people who felt the suicide ruling in their loved ones’ cases were snap judgments by the investigators and that their deaths had not been properly examined.
The rule of thumb in an unattended death is for investigators to treat it as a homicide until that manner of death can be ruled out. However, it was clear in some of these cases we heard that this informal directive had not been followed.
We collected information from everyone who approached us seeking help and are currently reviewing their cases. Though no promises were made, we hope to provide some additional insight and analysis that might be beneficial in solving their cases.
Several Collective Themes Emerged at the Conference
Reflecting on our interactions throughout the conference, several themes emerged. The most poignant was the number of parents and relatives who pay to attend this annual conference with the goal of obtaining assistance with unsolved murder cases of their loved ones. We heard numerous tales about law enforcement officials who refused to provide information about the case to the next of kin, were no longer actively investigating, or who appeared to have ignored crucial information that might have led to some resolution. These family members are essentially left to conduct their own investigation and seek out sources of assistance. This is unacceptable.
While preparing our presentation and conducting research, I learned that there are more than 250,000 unsolved homicides in the U.S. We spoke of this statistic during our presentation and another speaker, nationally recognized advocate for victims of violent crimes Bill Thomas, cited the same figure and referred to it as a “national scandal.”
Thomas noted that if each of these 250,000 victims has even just four family members or friends, then more than one million Americans are affected by this staggering crisis. The secondary related crisis is the refusal of many law enforcement agencies to request or accept help from outside sources.
Realistically, our country’s law enforcement agencies do not have the manpower or resources to handle or properly investigate the thousands of unsolved homicide cases. Although the majority of speakers and attendees at CrimeCon are not active law enforcement members, most are eager to help victims and their families in any way possible. These “citizen detectives” often possess experience, education, and skills that can be applied to unsolved cases and help raise awareness of them. However, with the advent of podcasts, online blogs, crowdsourcing and social media platforms, the opportunities are endless.
Murder-victim families aren’t concerned about who solves the murder of their loved ones. Their only priorities are bringing the perpetrator to justice, uncovering the truth of the circumstances surrounding the death, and achieving some resolution.