I walked in and saw two women wrapped in black plastic garbage bags, covered in dried blood stains and caution tape. Toe-tags with identifying information dangled limply off their bodies. I wasn't at the morgue or a crime scene: I was at Investigation Discovery's IDCon in midtown Manhattan, and these true crime fans were simply dressed for the occasion.
For the uninitiated, Investigation Discovery, or ID, is Discovery Inc.'s true crime cable network. A quick glance at its show titles — including Your Worst Nightmare, Welcome to Murdertown, and Deadly Dentists -- will give you the gist. (And yes, there are enough homicidal dentists out there to make an entire show about it.) The quality of the shows vary, ranging from the campy, cheeky reenactments in Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry? to more respectable ones like Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall, hosted by the Emmy-nominated journalist.
As a devoted ID fan, I'm fully aware that the ID channel is popular enough to throw a successful meet-up. Still, I was curious about how they'd make such a morbid subject into a "con," a type of event that brings to mind more superheroes and celebrities than murder victims and homicide detectives. Obviously, I had to go.
IDCon, which is in its fourth year, was set up in Center415, a 30,000 square-foot venue with a simple stage and 500-something true crime fans milling about, either listening to panels, watching exclusive clips from upcoming ID shows, or checking out some of the installations. Activations included polygraph booths, meet-and-greet opportunities with show hosts, mugshot photo-ops, and an airbrush tattoo station where you could get, among other options, former FBI criminal profiler Candice DeLong's face tattooed on your body. (I opted for a tasteful red heart that said "ID addict" in the middle of it.)
There were also opportunities for attendees to learn to protect themselves. Volunteers from the Center for Antiviolence Education did an on-stage demonstration of self-defense moves. And Breaking Homicide host Derrick Levasseur offered me a specific piece of advice that he learned from a case he'd worked on as a police officer.
"If you come out to your vehicle and you see, like, a napkin or something under your windshield wiper, what are you gonna do?" he asked me.
"Pick it up," I responded, adding I'd do so before getting in my car.
"There are some criminals out there who will do that intentionally so that when you go and grab it they can actually attack you from behind. So if you ever see that, get into your vehicle and drive out of the parking lot immediately. Do not remove it from your windshield right then."
While that priceless advice is something I will follow (and spread around), the unspoken main attraction of the day was Homicide Hunter star Joe Kenda's panel. Homicide Hunter, now in its eighth season, traces Kenda's career as a detective in Colorado Springs, where he worked to solve over 350 cases. The 72-year-old retired lieutenant isn't your typical Hollywood heartthrob, but at IDCon, he may as well be Chris Hemsworth: I overheard multiple middle-aged women with specially-made Kenda t-shirts buzzing excitedly in the bathroom about their meet-and-greet opportunity with him.
I, too, found his no-nonsense attitude appealing when I got the opportunity to chat with him. When asked about Hollywood's recent obsession with serial killer Ted Bundy, he was particularly blunt:
"I interviewed Ted Bundy in the Pitkin County Jail in the 1970s, three days before he escaped. On TV, they present him as some articulate law student. He was a psychotic piece of sh--. It was not difficult to find that out in seven or eight minutes. I thought, 'Why am I talking to this lunatic? See ya Ted.' The guy's a fool."
While Kenda acknowledged he had a dedicated fanbase, he seemed to have no interest in glorifying his work. "I never pulled a trigger on a gun in my entire career and I'm proud of that," he said. "It's not what you see in the movies, and people know that about this network and they want to see what really happens."
Overall, the day didn't feel as exploitative or gross as one might guess. Yes, those women dressed in body-bags were brought onstage and given a round of applause. But for every kitschy mugshot photo-op, there was a more serious event on the itinerary that balanced it out, including the presentation of a $20,000 check donated to the Silver Shield Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships for children of police officers and fighter fighters killed on the job.
IDCon host and former CNN anchor Tony Harris summed up the event fittingly: "Don't judge us, outside world. ... When we come here, we get a day with some of the people who keep us safe, some of the people who have all the knowledge we need to keep our families safe, we learn from the mistakes that others have made, and we get to have some laughs and we don't take ourselves too seriously."