In the summer of 1931, tragedy struck a quaint fishing village on the coast of Texas when 18-year-old Dorothy Symons was found dead in a bar pit.
Dorothy’s death has haunted the Symons family for nearly a century, but despite the mysterious circumstances surrounding the case, little has been written about her death.
True-Crime journalist Kate Winkler Dawson is hoping to change that. Dorothy is the subject of season six of Dawson’s true-crime podcast “Tenfold More Wicked.”
This season, Dawson dives into the peculiar disappearance of Dorothy Symons and attempts to untangle the web of suspects, conflicting alibis, and unanswered questions that have tormented the Symons family for years.
Heavy had the chance to chat with Dawson about what listeners can expect from season six of “Tenfold More Wicked.”
Dawson on What Sparked Her Interest in the Case
Dawson has an extensive background in true-crime reporting. She was a former field producer for Fox News Channel in San Francisco, where her team covered cases such as the infamous Chandra Levy case in 2001. She is also the author of multiple books, including “Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City” published in 2017, and “American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI.”
Her third book, titled “All That Is Wicked: A Gilded-Age Story of Murder and the Race to Decode the Criminal Mind,” will be released in the fall of 2022 and is available for preorder now.
Heavy spoke to Dawson about her fascination with true-crime and what piqued her interest in Dorothy Symons’s case.
“Well, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I tend to pick stories where my family is interested in visiting the city,” she said.
“We go to this town on the coast of Texas called Port Aransas. We go there multiple times a year, so I thought, well, I’m here so often. I wonder if there’s a story,” she told Heavy.
Dawson said she started googling old Texas murders and stumbled across Dorothy’s case.
“I started reading about the story, and I just thought it was a really good story about a kind of mysterious young woman,” she said. “We don’t have very much [information] about her. We only have one photo. The family doesn’t have any photos.”
“Her life is a big mystery,” she continued. “And her death turns out to be a pretty big mystery also.”
“There are very few stories I run across where I feel unclear about who the killer was or what the motive was,” she said. “This was one of them, so I was interested in looking into it.”
Dawson also spoke about where her interest in true-crime stories stems from, telling Heavy, “I love to be scared. Not grossed out, like by horror. But I like to be scared, so I think that’s appealing to me.”
Dawson on How Dorothy’s Murder Impacted Her Family
The case of Dorothy Symons is about a mysterious disappearance, but it is also a story of generational trauma.
Dawson opened up about the profound impact Dorothy’s murder had on the Symons family, telling Heavy, “I’ve never had a season before where I have had a family impacted for generations by one murder.”
“When Dorothy was murdered, the family was broken apart because her mother ends up having a nervous breakdown, and it is devastating for the family,” she said.
Dawson shared that she interviewed Dorothy’s niece, who said her father, Dorothy’s younger brother, was significantly impacted by the death of his sister. It affected his ability to be a present father.
Dawson on Victim-Blaming in Dorothy’s Case
When Dorothy Symons went missing in 1931, it didn’t take long before her “good girl” reputation began to unravel.
Dawson spoke to Heavy about victim-blaming and how it impacted Dorothy’s case.
“Women were viewed very clearly in the 1930s as being, of course, subservient to men but also expected to be proper ladies, so you have a lot of victim-blaming, victim-shaming, of a woman who has been murdered,” she said.
“No one really, with the exception of the prosecutor, objected to it because it just was common to say if you are out swimming with boys, at night, in the ocean without a chaperone, if you are drinking alcohol or have been known to smoke cigarettes, then you get what you deserved,” she continued.
“As sad as that is to hear, that is what the prosecutor and Dorothy’s parents had to deal with, not only in the press but especially at the trial, which is one of the main things that drove her mother into instability,” Dawson told Heavy.
Dawson on America’s True-Crime Obsession
It is no secret that Americans’ are fascinated with true-crime stories. According to researcher Kelli S. Boling, nearly 200 true-crime podcasts launched in the last six years, and it doesn’t stop there. Forbes reported in May 2020 that the Netflix crime documentary “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness” was briefly the number one show on the platform.
Dawson spoke to Heavy about America’s true-crime obsession.
“People have been fascinated with true-crime for hundreds of years,” she said. “There used to be public executions where you would picnic in the town square and watch people be hanged.”
“I think then, and now, people are interested in a world where hopefully they never end up in themselves,” she continued. “It’s sort of a viewpoint they’ve never seen.”
Dawson also talked about why true-crime is so appealing to women. She told Heavy she suspects the fascination stems from self-preservation.
“The vast size of the audience is women,” she said. “Women learn a lot from watching true-crime about how to protect themselves.”
“Women actually change their habits, their safety habits, based on what they see on true-crime stories or what they read or what they listen to,” she continued. “I think there’s actually a lot of valuable lessons.”
Dawson may be onto something.
According to RAINN, “90% of adult rape victims are female.” Furthermore, women ages 16-19 are “four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.”
Dawson on the Impact of Web Sleuths
This season, Dawson’s research relied heavily on a man named Bill Strain, who took a particular interest in Dorothy’s case. Strain knew Dorothy when she was alive. She was his babysitter growing up. Strain passed away years ago, but his research lives on in an internet blog dedicated to the case.
Dawson spoke to Heavy about web sleuths like Bill Strain and whether they are helpful or hurtful to true-crime cases, particularly unsolved cases.
“I think it’s both, frankly,” she said. “You can read any of these stories and figure out why internet sleuths would be helpful and why they might not be helpful.”
“In a case like Gabby Petito where you have a YouTuber online who finds the van that she and Brian were in before they both died, that’s incredibly helpful, and the police said it was really helpful,” Dawson told Heavy. “I think that all of the rumors that ran through the internet about her and about their relationship were not helpful.”
“I think for hundreds of years there have been people who had the best intentions and maybe actually wasted the time of police, and then I think there are people who actually had real information that helped lead to someone being caught or a body being found,” she said.
You can listen to season six of “Tenfold More Wicked” HERE.