Murder victim Angela Samota, whose 1984 death initially and wrongly cast a prominent Dallas architect as the lead suspect.

Murder victim Angela Samota, whose 1984 death initially and wrongly cast a prominent Dallas architect as the lead suspect.

/File photo

My Favorite Murder is a podcast with a daunting reach of 19 million listeners a month. Its specialty? Cautionary, candid storytelling that takes a deep dive into the world of homicide. In mass audio, it has become an international sensation, scoring listeners from Garland to Glasgow. 

For those in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it is often intriguingly local. The show recently considered the case of a noted Dallas architect who was suspected, then cleared of a murder he didn't commit. The victim? A sorority student at Southern Methodist University with a hopeful future. 

In the case of the architect, the wrongly accused was celebrated Dallas modernist Russell Buchanan, whose work has graced the cover of Architectural Digest

On a chilly October night in 1984, Buchanan's life took a dark turn for the worse, as detailed in a 2012 piece by The Dallas Morning News' Christopher Wynn. He became the lead suspect in a case involving the rape and stabbing death of SMU student Angela Samota. She was the social chairman of SMU sorority Zeta Tau Alpha. She was a Hockaday alum passionate about pursuing a dual degree in computer science and electrical engineering. And she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Dallas architect Russell Buchanan, shown here in a private photo from 1984. Buchanan was the lead suspect in the 1984 murder of SMU student Angie Samota, He was cleared in 2008 when DNA evidence led police to a new suspect, Donald Andrew Bess. 

Dallas architect Russell Buchanan, shown here in a private photo from 1984. Buchanan was the lead suspect in the 1984 murder of SMU student Angie Samota, He was cleared in 2008 when DNA evidence led police to a new suspect, Donald Andrew Bess. 

Russell Buchanan/

As Wynn's piece tells us, Dallas police finally had a breakthrough in 2008, more than two decades after the crime occurred. Advanced DNA testing led them to a new suspect and to a conviction that provoked a death sentence

The New York Times recently took note of the increasingly fertile genre of crime-related podcasts (Criminal: A Podcast About Crime that also covered the Dallas case is another popular example) sending a reporter to the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles to hone in on the widening hysteria surrounding My Favorite Murder

"As the lights dimmed, about 2,000 rowdy fans, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, howled at a decibel suited to a Beyoncé set at Coachella. But they weren't going gaga for a pop deity. Calling themselves Murderinos, they came to hear expletive-laden tales of serial killings and brutal homicides told by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, the irreverent hosts of the wildly popular true-crime comedy podcast My Favorite Murder."

The Times notes that the sold-out gig at the Orpheum marked the halfway point of an 18-date international tour that launched in Las Vegas in January and wrapped up in Glasgow, Scotland, which has recently become the focal point of a trend dubbed Celtic noir because of homicide shows such as Shetland, whose first three seasons have become a Netflix sensation.

For the last two years, The Times proclaims, My Favorite Murder has been a permanent fixture atop the iTunes podcast charts, drawing up to 19 million listeners a month."

SMU selected the mustang as the school mascot in 1917. Peruna, a Shetland pony, made its debut in 1971. This photo shows Peruna IV in her pasture in 1948.

SMU selected the mustang as the school mascot in 1917. Peruna, a Shetland pony, made its debut in 1971. This photo shows Peruna IV in her pasture in 1948.

Laughead Photographers/SMU, DeGolyer Library/

Despite its often-gruesome subject matter, the show swells with humor, dark and otherwise. Its stories include the marginal and bizarre, such as the time that Peruna, the SMU mascot, killed another mascot.

SMU grads will find it hard to resist the item about Peruna, whose crime is described in typically winsome detail by My Favorite Murder co-hosts Kilgariff and Hardstark, who are rapidly becoming cult celebrities.

"This one's called 'SMU: Home of the Murder Pony,' " reads a letter written to the hosts by one of their listeners.

"As a recent graduate of [SMU], I am obligated to tell you that our mascot is not the Herky Sea Snakes but the Mustangs, which is important because we are represented by Peruna the pony, the only mascot to ever murder another mascot."

So, millions of  listeners now know that Peruna is not the innocent symbol SMU's beloved horse might appear to be. Peruna's homicide, report the women of My Favorite Murder, unfolded in a game against the Fordham Rams. That had to have been a while ago, since SMU hasn't played Fordham for years. 

A 2011 post in the SMU Daily Campus ponies up more detail, noting that Peruna V, which danced and pranced from 1950 to 1965, really did kill the Fordham Ram: "The ram got too close and was killed instantly after one kick from Peruna. This would give SMU's mascot the reputation of being the most deadly."

Karen Kilgariff, left, and Georgia Hardstark host the podcast, My Favorite Murder, which has honed in on crimes with North Texas connections. 

Karen Kilgariff, left, and Georgia Hardstark host the podcast, My Favorite Murder, which has honed in on crimes with North Texas connections. 

EMILY BERL/NYT

My Favorite Murder is not immune from criticism or inquiries by social scientists trying to ferret out exactly why it's a monster hit. Most of the time, it goes way beyond the likes of Peruna, examining painfully real crimes that target real victims in horrendous ways.

"True crime is really more of a fantasy genre," Jean Murley, an associate professor of English at Queensborough Community College in New York, tells The Times. Murley once wrote a book about the public's curiosity with criminals. 

"This cavalier attitude that young, pretty white women are at great risk of being killed all the time," Murley opines, "just produces misplaced fear and anxiety."

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