What is it that draws us to the macabre? What makes us peer in from the outside, at a distance, safely removed from events so terrible and tragic, bloody and grim? For the creator, producer, and co-host of the Scarlet True Crime Podcast Sonia Sutton Meza-Leon, it’s all about curiosity, with one question at the forefront – ‘Why?’
Born and raised in Lake Alfred, Sonia went to Auburndale High School, attended Polk Community College to spend time with their theatrical team, and began her career in the entertainment industry around age 18. She moved to Orlando to obtain a communications degree from UCF. Though she has since moved to the Golden State, Sutton Meza-Leon is fond of her hometown, saying, “The people there are lovely. There’s a downhome feel that I really miss, especially being in L.A., it’s a little more fast-paced.”
Upon moving to Los Angeles in 1999, she worked in live-action television and film before moving into C.G. animation in 2003. Sutton Meza-Leon is now the Head of Post-Production in the entertainment division for one of the top five toy companies globally, producing popular brands including Barbie and Hot Wheels.
True Crime Curiosity
An event in her childhood significantly impacted her intrigue with the true crime genre. Around 7 or 8 years old, a friend and classmate at Lake Alfred Elementary School was shot and killed by his father over Super Bowl weekend. “When you’re little, and it’s one of your friends… it’s really impactful,” said Sonia. “It was strange, and I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t understand how a father could do that, how anyone could do that, he was a little boy,” she said. “It was one of those things that stayed with me through my life, and I kept getting more and more interested in ‘Why?’”
As her fascination progressed, she began to watch shows like “Unsolved Mysteries,” “Forensic Files,” and the like. She watched films centered around true crime like “In Cold Blood” based on Truman Capote’s novel of the same name. She watched Truman Capote’s one-man stage play “Tru” when it aired on “American Playhouse” on PBS in 1992, in which he talked about his writings, research, and first-hand experience with the perpetrators. “It was interesting to hear him talk about how close he came to them, how he started feeling empathy for them in ways he didn’t understand.”
“Unfortunately, there’s just so much of it to talk about,” she said of the genre. Though crime is much more widely publicized now, there was a time when criminals – serial killers specifically – ran rampant. “There was a time from the early 1900’s all the way into the ’70s where serial killers were… it was unbelievable how many of them there were and how they were undetected.”
Scarlet on the Case
Quite a juxtaposition from her day job’s kid-friendly content, Sonia started a true-crime podcast early this year with co-host Brittney Sherman. The podcast aims to examine crimes, their perpetrators, and the aftermath with opinions from the co-hosts. The ‘Why’ is especially important to Sutton Meza-Leon, a psychology major. “What drives people [to commit crimes] and what motivates them is really interesting to me.” For their namesake and mascot, Scarlet, Sutton Meza-Leon said, “We mythicized a character that would be named Scarlet, and it was the embodiment of a strong woman, an investigative woman who could – no matter what period of time – live in a man’s world and be successful and carve that area out for her.”
Like the fictional Scarlet, Sutton Meza-Leon and Sherman are strong, investigative women in their own right. Their perspectives and experiences as women in the entertainment industry add a unique element to their podcast style. The co-hosts have several show formats, including deep-dives into the crimes and cases of serial killers from Charles Manson and The Family and the BTK Killer to Ed Kemper and H.H. Holmes. The ladies break from the in-depth morbidity of those episodes with their Top 3s format, which includes shows like “Top 3s: Unsolved Mysteries” and “Top 3s: Movies Adapted from True Crime Novels.”
Their distinct perspectives as women in entertainment shine through in the Scarlet TCP Companion Episodes. They watch and discuss episodes, series, or films about a crime and examine the content itself, including the offense, perpetrator, and victims’ portrayal. “It’s an interesting look that I don’t see others doing. We really enjoy content; that’s our business. [...] We break it down like we are working on it. It’s an interesting take that you probably won’t find in other places,” she said.
Sticking to the Facts
Though the podcast style is conversational, the co-hosts do in-depth research to prepare for each episode, producing fact-based content with their thoughts and opinions sprinkled throughout. “We try to absorb every bit of content out there about the subject matter, including books, documentaries, current series, whether they’re narrative or not. We also talk to individuals who either have been in a similar situation and have had that kind of crime affect them or to the individuals involved,” Sonia said. They spend at least two weeks assessing the events of a case discussing its timeline, evidence, parties involved, proceedings, and early-life factors that could have contributed to what made the perpetrator commit their crimes. Sonia noted the importance of sticking to the facts when talking about true crime out of respect for the crime and victims impacted, making clear that they do not glamourize it in any way.
“We’re trying to understand and help others understand why this happens, how it happens, and how someone could do something like this and maybe actually get ahead of it. […] At the end of the day, we all realize that it is a combination of nature and nurture that starts these individuals down the road where they apparently can’t come back from. They become reliant on their addictions, which ultimately are committing crimes, hurting people.”
Sutton Meza-Leon will be coming to Winter Haven in the Spring to continue her research for upcoming episodes of the podcast’s “Florida Crimes” series. With one “Florida Man” or another in the headlines almost daily, the Scarlet co-hosts have plenty of madness and mayhem to cover in the Sunshine State. One upcoming episode will cover the Oba Chandler murders, according to Sonia. “I find the Florida crime interesting for a variety of reasons. I feel like there’s a little bit of home there when people talk about locations that I’m familiar with.” The first and second episodes of Scarlet explored the Caylee Anthony case. “It was interesting for me to talk about it. Because if you’re not familiar with the surroundings and how things work there and the environment, it changes the way you look at a crime. That crime still perplexes me on so many levels.
Vampires, Ax Murders, and Dark Tourism
Lock your doors, grab some Halloween candy, and settle in for your true-crime fix with the ladies of Scarlet TCP. ‘Tis the season for frights, and what better way to get into the spooky spirit than with Scarlet? Sonia Sutton Meza-Leon even has a few episode suggestions for your Halloween podcast playlist. One such ghoulish romp is titled “Elizabeth (Blood) Bathory.” According to Sutton Meza-Leon, Bathory was a prolific female serial killer whose proclivities to bathe in her victims’ blood fueled rumors of vampirism.
Another October must-listen is the two-part episode “Lizzie Borden’s 40 Whacks” about the ax murders of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home. Andrew’s daughter Lizzie was tried and later acquitted of the brutal slayings leaving the case unsolved.
“The other episode that I love for Halloween is Dark Tourism,” said Sonia. “That’s where we talk about the nature of dark tourism and people who pay to go on vacations to visit these macabre locations – which we are of course obsessed with as well. The whole idea of dark tourism for us is fascinating.”
Scarlet True Crime Podcast
Available on all podcast platforms, including: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, and more.