Inside The Nesting Doll Fandom Of 'My Favorite Murder'

A podcast about true crime birthed one of the most obsessive fandoms on the internet. And then parts of that fandom left the podcast behind.
Isabella Carapella/HuffPost

A recent post in a private Facebook group called Simerinos describes an unusual scene.

“This damn woman was in the middle of eating a bowl of chowder when she suddenly decided to drop everything and masturbate,” it reads. “But of course the animation glitched and she stood up on the wrong side of the wall. Now she’s barefoot, pregnant and trapped in this dead space.”

The image beneath the text depicts just that: a pregnant, pants-less woman stuck inside the confines of a square plot she can’t escape. It’s typical content for Simerinos, a very specific forum for people obsessed with two things: the classic computer simulation game “The Sims” and the true crime comedy podcast “My Favorite Murder.”

“If you’ve been looking for a safe space to talk about all the fucked up ways you’ve killed your sims, this is it,” the group’s description states.

Simerinos is one of the many portmanteaus associated with the podcast, a mashup of Sims and Murderinos, a term coined by the community around “My Favorite Murder” and its hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. A Murderino is a diehard fan of the show, someone as obsessed with Karen and Georgia’s dark senses of humor as they are with the gnarly homicides they talk about each week.

It’s been two years since the debut of “My Favorite Murder” unleashed the Murderino fandom community onto the internet. Facebook is the space where the murder-minded come out to play; take any hobby, profession or pop culture touchstone and add “erino” to find the niche, murder-minded community you never knew you needed. There are Teacherinos and Bakerinos, Weight Watcherinos and Brooklyn 99erinos. I typed “Pooperino” into my Facebook search bar just to see if it would yield a result. It did.

The “MFM” fandom online resembles a set of Russian nesting dolls: crack open one identifier and another is waiting for you underneath ― and another under that, and another under that, seemingly ad infinitum. It begins with the primary “My Favorite Murder” fan page (with over 200,000 followers), which leads to a litany of suggestions for smaller, related Facebook groups. Click on one of those, which attract anywhere from 50,000 to 5 members, and you’ll find a fresh batch of suggestions to take you deeper inside the matroshka. From Murderinos you could get to, say, Drinkerinos, which might lead to Subarinos, narrowing your niche identifiers as you go.

“I cracked the hell up when I heard this was a group,” a fan who took that very route to Subarinos wrote on the subgroup’s page. “Anyway, here’s my Subaru tax. She’s a pearly Forester & she’s gotten me from DC to Idaho & I love her.”

Most of the fans I spoke to ― despite rarely having joined online fandoms before “MFM” ― said they are now members of several Murderino offshoots. (The highest count for a single fan I interviewed was 55.) The diffuse network is impressive, connecting people with a seemingly endless array of interests and experiences, all united by having murder on the brain. It’s both a remarkably unique web of online relationships and a perfect reflection of how fandom has seeped into the most mundane identity performances on the internet.

Some fans don’t even listen to the podcast anymore. Their Murderino identities have taken on lives of their own.

To understand the infinite depths of the Murderino fandom world, you first need to understand “My Favorite Murder.” In every episode, Hardstark and Kilgariff discuss grisly killings from the past, each choosing a real, historical murder and presenting on it as if delivering a book report. While one rehashes the bloody details of their chosen homicide or serial slaughter, the other serves as an audience surrogate: gasping, cursing, cracking deadpan jokes.

The pod carved out a community for people (mostly women) fascinated by odious crimes, a quality some fans previously regarded as a “dirty little secret,” said Kasey Moore, an administrator for the Ravenclaw Murderinos subgroup. In MFM’s first episode, Kilgariff recalled being at a party and delving into the gruesome details of a murder as fellow party-goers tiptoed away, aghast.

“I immediately connected with that story as something I’ve done many times,” said Halsey Nazaryan, an administrator for Last Murderinos on the Left. (This group, organized for fans of “MFM” and “The Last Podcast on the Left,” a podcast fandom within a podcast fandom, is basically the “Inception” of Murderino groups.)

The show’s recipe involves dark humor and earnest empathy in equal measure; the moral is, if women can laugh in the face of an ax murderer, they can easily laugh at the stressors and conflicts in everyday life. The hosts advise their fanbase to “fuck politeness,” reject toxic masculinity and lock the damn door ― recommendations that teeter between feminist mantras and classic murder-dodging logic.

“I have taken a queue from Georgia and Karen to both stop needlessly apologizing for things and [to use] ‘no’ as a complete sentence,” Meg Taylor, an admin of Bakerinos, said.

Publicly identifying as a Murderino, therefore delivers two things: catharsis and camaraderie on demand. “I don’t feel like I’m alone in my interests anymore,” Moore said, “or that there’s something wrong with me for wanting to know more.”

“I’m in Meowderinos, Denver Murderinos, My Favorite Mukduk and Buy your own shit (finance x MFM).”

- Lauren Robbs, Facebook group administrator

Online, some Murderino subgroups are united by profession ― Teacherinos, Nurserinos, Social Workerinos. Others bond over other cultural obsessions, like Amy Sherman Murderinos (fans of “Gilmore Girls”), Slayerinos (“Buffy”), Vanderpumperinos Rule (“Vanderpump Rules”), My Favorite Highlander (“Outlander”) and My Favorite Avada Kedavra (“Harry Potter.”) For those who want to embed deeper, there are groups for Slytherinos and Ravenclaw Murderinos, too.

For members of these groups, being a Murderino in and of itself is no longer enough. Now that the original podcast has blown up, skyrocketing from cult obsession to mainstream phenomena, the borders encircling the giant fandom can feel elastic. To maintain that coveted feeling of belonging to something solid ― something that keeps people in or out ― fans needed additional concentric circles.

There are fangroups for hobbies like Knitterinos, Gardenerinos and Murderistas (fashion-forward Murderinos). Few Murderinos join just one subgroup. “I created Javarinos (Coffee x MFM) which isn’t very popular,” Lauren Robbs, an administrator for Thou Shalt Not Murder - My Favorite Murder Christian Fan Club, said. “I’m in Meowderinos, Denver Murderinos, My Favorite Mukduk and Buy your own shit (finance x MFM).”

For many members, these groups feel like extended families, more accessible and rewarding than some IRL friendships.

“Sometimes person-to-person social situations are hard,” said Liz Decker, an administrator for Marked Up Murderinos (a tattoo-centric group). “Breaking the ice online and taking the time to think through your answers help you find friends that you’ll click with a little easier in person. The internet is a piece of safety glass that helps shield you from people you don’t want to talk to but also helps you slowly get to know someone as they open up.”

As a result of that “safety glass,” the “MFM” fandom world has become a destination for people who want specifically to talk about depression, anxiety, alcoholism or drug abuse without judgment. “I love how open the hostesses are about their own mental health struggles and how adamant they are about seeking help when you need it,” explained April Barnes, an administrator for Bipolarinos.

Bipolarinos, a space for Murderinos diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, has 540 members. It’s one of many “MFM” subgroups that bring together fans with shared life challenges, like Spoonerinos (Murderinos with chronic illness) and Aspergerinos. Orphan Murderinos is for fans who’ve lost their parents. Buy Your Own Shit: Murderinos Killing Debt hosts fans with financial questions or problems. Crime Scene Cleanup - Murderinos Cleaning and Getting Organized is for doing just that.

The spirit of “MFM” itself ― deliberate encouragement, acceptance and positivity ― remains the guiding principle for all. “Infertility can make people feel very isolated, even though it effects about 10 percent of women,” said Phoebe Yeager, an administrator for Infertilino Murderinos, “but there is a deep level of empathy within the group, and the members are gentle and kind.”

“I know I can go and not be judged,” Barnes said of Bipolarinos. “The nature of our mental illness means that most of us have done some questionable stuff at some point. It’s kind of hard to judge someone when you know you’ve been there too.”

Imperfection is a crucial aspect of Hardstark and Kilgariff’s brand. As the highly quotable “MFM” mantra goes, “You don’t have to be perfect, just fucking do things.”

“The whole essence of the show is not being perfect, whether in their research methods or how they tell their listeners to approach life in general,” said India Tonkin, an administrator for Bachelorino Nation. “That really speaks to me because I can be a bit of a perfectionist sometimes and try and put this facade of perfection over my life.”

This embrace of fallibility sometimes extends to MFM’s handling of race and sexuality on the show. Though the hosts ― both white, heterosexual women ― claim to be actively learning feminists, some fans feel they’ve failed to adequately take responsibility for mistakes made during recordings. A Twitter account called Stay Sexy, Don’t Be Racist, which riffs off the host’s sign-off, “Stay sexy, don’t get murdered,” began calling out Hardstark and Kilgariff for some of their offenses in July 2017.

Over a year later, the primary Murderino fan page closed. Originally moderated not by Kilgariff and Hardstark but by unpaid volunteers, the group had upward of 235,000 members before a user uploaded a racist post that caught other fans’ attention.

The post, published on Aug. 13, consisted of a Hometown Crime Story, part of a regular podcast tradition in which fans recall the local true-crime tales that whirled around their neighborhoods when they were kids. This particular Hometown story described a black man in extremely racist terms. When someone complained to account moderators about the content, the offended fan was banned ― not the original poster. Mayhem ensued. According to a Reddit user, “129 people were banned in the last two hours before the mods were forced to resign by K&G.”

Kilgariff and Hardstark eventually the shuttered the whole group. The “My Favorite Murder” Facebook page that exists now is more of a profile for the podcast; it doesn’t allow followers to post.

In mythic Hydra fashion, however, hundreds of smaller, more niche, communities have sprung up in the original Murderino group’s place. To prevent the catastrophe that doomed the initial group from occurring again, most subgroups are now closed to the public. To join, interested members must first answer questions to prove their obsession with murder, and then pledge not to make racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise bullying comments.

In other words, as one group admin put it, “don’t be a dick.”

For some avid members of “MFM” subgroups, the hosts’ on-air gaffes led them to leave the podcast behind entirely. But they remain in the mini offshoot fandom worlds, which now operate as independent organisms inspired by the tenets of the podcast but no longer beholden to them.

“It’s funny, the actual podcast isn’t even the biggest part of what I love about [being a Murderino],” Melisa Simo, an administrator for Bachelorino Nation, said. “I’ve been listening since the very beginning but at this point, the community that has been created is more important to me.”

“I don’t really listen to the podcast as often as I used to because they don’t seem like they’re willing to listen/learn when they say problematic things,” said Caitlin Murphy, an administrator for Buy Your Own Shit: Murderinos Killing Debt. “I stay in all the groups though because I’ve reconnected with old friends and made a lot of new friends ― both local and international.”

Murderino Jackie, who moderates around 30 “MFM”-related fan groups including My Favorite Handmaid, My Favorite Mindy Project and Brooklyn 99erinos, agreed.

“To be honest, I don’t listen to the podcast often anymore,” she said. “What initially sucked me in was the humor aspect to an interesting, but usually dark topic. They were honest, open, and I could relate to them so much. But in more recent months they have shown to be problematic. They also seem to be very concerned with the fans who are paying them money [...] and as their fame grew they seem to have lost their way.”

It’s not uncommon for online communities to rot from the inside out, to succumb to bigots and trolls who led them to a similar fate as the original “MFM” Facebook group. It’s rarer for a fandom to transcend its impetus, to find a way to divide the Wild West parts of the internet into more manageable segments, without galvanizing hateful viewpoints.

If you are determined to blend your love of murder with behavior not condoned by the majority, at least one viable subgroup remains: Murderinos in the Pale was designed specifically for white people eager to “troll lightly.”

“Do you burn easily?” the group description reads. “Often get accused of being privileged or superior because of your skin color? This group is for you! Normal rules ― be respectful, troll lightly. A place with high tolerance and possibly off-color content without needing to worry about being called hateful, ignorant, racist, fascist, Hitler, insensitive, etc.”

Nesting doll fandoms might not root out racism and ignorance completely, but they can confine them to enclosed arenas; a salve, not a solution.

Correction: An earlier edition of this article mistakenly claimed Hardstark and Kilgariff coined the term Murderino.

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