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Bob Calhoun talks about the history, and enduring intrigue, of true crime

An interview with a local true crime writer and Redwood City native
Bob Calhoun

Bob Calhoun is one of the luminaries of San Francisco Bay Area true crime writing. His influential book “The Murders That Made Us: How Vigilantes, Hoodlums, Mob Bosses, Serial Killers, and Cult Leaders Built the San Francisco Bay Area” chronicled a variety of crimes: several well-known and quite a few that are practically unknown. It makes for a riveting read. Calhoun took time out recently to answer a few of my questions.

There are more than 2,800 true crime podcasts out there as of a survey in 2018. There are undoubtedly more today. More than 1.5 million true crime books are sold annually. What is the attraction?

For the podcasters, many people are jumping in wanting to solve the mysteries. That’s certainly the case with the Golden State Killer and the Zodiac and the Doodler. Listeners and readers of true crime indulge their morbid curiosity. If true crime writing is done well, it transcends the gore and provides pathos for the victims. And there is the feeling of a historical time and place. True crime writing may go back to Shakespeare or even Greek tragedy.

You’re a native of Redwood City and grew up in the County. What was your sense of local crime when you were growing up?

There was definitely police blotter stuff. Biker violence in places and such. And I clearly remember my mother watching the Patty Hearst trial (which took place in the Redwood City courthouse) on television. They didn’t film in the courtroom, they had actors portraying Hearst and the lawyers.

You did a lot of research on local true crime for your ongoing column in the SF Weekly. Do any San Mateo County crimes stand out in your mind?

Certainly the August Norry murder. My mother was actually marginally involved in that. It was 10 years before I was born, and my mother didn’t speak of it a lot. There was also the 1985 Hillsborough mansion murder. And a case where one podiatrist hired a hit man to kill another podiatrist that went unsolved for 20 or so years until there was a divorce and the wife could finally tell what she knew about her ex-husband. And I liked the story of San Mateo County sheriff Earl Whitmore vowing not to cut his hair until seven jail escapees were returned to custody.

What are you currently working on?

I’m starting a podcast, but it is not true crime related.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with Pulse.

Great talking to you.

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