True crime is an ever-evolving genre that now encompasses television, movies, books, and podcasts. It's even popular on other platforms like TikTok and Reddit. But when former television reporter Lauren Bright Pacheco to dedicate her newest iHeartRadio Original podcast, Murder in Illinois, to another true-crime case, it was one that was surprisingly less heard of than others.
The case of Chris Vaughn, who was convicted in 2012 of murdering his family in 2007 in their car on their way to a water park, wasn't splashed across tabloid covers across the United States at the time. But in 2007, it was a case that the media in Illinois took hold of and reported on until there were ideas about Vaughn's guilt or innocence long before he even went to trial.
In an exclusive interview with Distractify, Lauren talked about the case, her theories regarding what really happened that fateful summer day, and how she views the true-crime topic as a whole.
The 'Murder in Illinois' podcast host explains how she discovered the Vaughn family case.
When Lauren set out to understand more about the Vaughn case, it was on "a hunch," she explained to Distractify. She had been working in true crime for years on television but hadn't heard of the case. So when it popped up in her news feed on the 10-year anniversary of the crime, it sparked interest for Lauren since she had somehow never heard of it.
"I was a bewildered as to why I had never heard of the case," she said. "And it turns out it was because it had unfolded at the same time in the same county as another really high-profile case, which was Drew Peterson, who was the wife-killing cop."
She explained that "the Vaughn case had been upstaged by the Peterson case," leading to less national coverage and, in a way, leading to the possibility for Vaughn to be seen as guilty well before he even went to trial and was officially convicted.
Lauren's goal with the Murder in Illinois podcast isn't to necessarily place the blame of the Vaughn family murders on anyone else specifically, but to explore the possibility that Chris Vaughn isn't the person he was made out to be. She does look into other possibilities of what might have happened to the family, however.
"I was really struck by the look on this guy’s face in his mugshots," she said of her "hunch" turning into something more in regards to Vaughn. "I kind of lined them all up and watched the progression as he aged. And if anything, the look on his face became more confused and more bewildered. And that really was why I looked into the possibility that he could have been wrongfully convicted in the first place, and the deeper I dug, the more things that just sprang to the forefront."
Lauren Bright Pacheco also had a lot to say about the true-crime genre in general.
Lauren addressed the fact that with true-crime podcasts and documentaries often come the armchair detectives. Maybe it's a morbid curiosity that gets the best of us, but there is also something hopeful about people trying to figure out the mystery behind a crime with fresh eyes to a case. And according to Lauren, sometimes it's about seeing that other people have it worse off than you. In this instance, it's a case that is truly puzzling for some.
"It doesn't matter what I think of Chris Vaughn’s innocence or guilt, and that shouldn't matter," she said of listeners who tune into Murder in Illinois and learn about the Vaughn family murders. "I just want people to listen with open ears and that might lead to open minds. And I think people will form their own opinions, but I firmly believe that they will obtain a greater understanding of this case and the realization that this is not what people thought it was."
'Murder in Illinois' also explores the details of Chris Vaughn's family.
When Vaughn's family was killed, he lost his three young children and his wife, making him the sole survivor. But he also has parents — and his wife, Kimberly Vaughn, had parents she left behind who haven't yet spoken to Lauren regarding the case.
Lauren did reach out to Kimberly Vaughn's parents to remain candid and totally honest about her intentions with the podcast, but she hasn't been able to speak with them at length for Murder in Illinois.
Lauren has, however, spoken on the podcast with Vaughn's parents, who are both adamant that one day he will return home to them despite his multiple life sentences. This is the first time Vaughn's family is getting a solid platform on which to speak out on his behalf. And she'll soon speak with Vaughn himself to get even stronger insight.
She also spoke with two reporters who were close to the case.
"There are two reporters in particular who covered the case for print ... one was at every single day of the trial; the other one transitioned after the end of the Drew Peterson trial," Lauren shared. "And so their perspective is very interesting as well because you get to see the trial unfold in their eyes."
Because of the sensitive nature of the Vaughn family murders, Lauren's intention has always been to explore his defense in a careful and respectful way. Although Vaughn does remain incarcerated now and the point of the podcast isn't to necessarily exonerate him, it does strive to explore his case in a way it hadn't been before because of what was essentially a trial by (local) media.
New episodes of the iHeartRadio Original Murder in Illinois are released every Thursday.