The guitars snarl, the drums beat and cymbals clang. It’s intense, loud, and fitting. It’s the opening to the podcast Nefarious New York and no other musical intro could set the stage better for the discussion to come about rapists, murders, serial killers and unsolved crimes in and around Westchester County.
Fans of crime and the unexplained since their formative years in New Rochelle, Nefarious New York podcast hosts Alison Arcuri McCormack and Meredith Buono DaGrossa have a friendship that goes back to their very first day of kindergarten at Holy Family School, a few years shy of four decades ago. In many ways they were opposites: DaGrossa was gregarious (and “bossy and mean,” McCormack added with a laugh) while McCormack was so shy and quiet back then she barely spoke. The two bonded over mystery and adventure, reading the same books, The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright a particular favorite, and hunting for clues — To what? Who knows now? — at Nature Study Woods in town. Murder, mayhem and the supernatural were popular topics between the two.
High school separated the friends and college even more so, but they still found their way back to each other as both settled in Westchester County. Today the women finish each other’s sentences and laugh at each other’s jokes easily. In fact, they laugh a lot and you can’t help but laugh with them.
“We depend on each other, trust each other,” stressed McCormack. “She probably knows me better than my husband!”
“Alison,” shared DaGrossa, “is the kind of friend who if I said “Let’s go rob a bank,” she’d be like, ‘OK, but I have to be back by 4.’”
An attorney, McCormack would have to be back by 4 because she’s now a stay-at-home mom to four kids. DaGrossa, meanwhile, does community development and fundraising at a children’s hospital.
When not doing their day jobs, the two create their podcasts on one of their favorite topics: nefarious local crime.
“I have a list of like 150 cases I’d like to cover..."
McCormack does most of the research, finding cases to explore, and handles the recording. The duo releases several podcasts a month, approximately one a week.
“I have a list of like 150 cases I’d like to cover,” she said. “I just pick a few off the list, research and basically write a term paper.”
In each podcast, the facts of the case are outlined and DaGrossa interrupts with questions, clarification and comments.
“Alison does 99 percent of the work,” noted DaGrossa. “I’m kinda there for the ride. I go in blind; we want to have a real organic reaction. I don’t know what Alison is going to come in with. People have written to us that they like that I’m saying what they’re thinking."
And while they may laugh a lot in person, they won’t ever make a joke out of someone’s death.
“Sometimes there are funny things in the cases,” acknowledged DaGrossa, “but you have to respect the victims and not cross that line.”
The very first podcast (in March 2019) looked at Pilgrim State Hospital, the psychiatric hospital on Long Island that was once the largest functioning hospitals in the world and where over 2,000 lobotomies were done in its heyday in the mid-20th century. The duo focused on notorious former inmate Adam Berwid, who killed his wife (whom he had been threatening to) while on a day pass from the facility in 1979.
Podcasts have also covered the killing of North Salem’s Lois Colley by a day laborer and illegal immigrant on her property in 2015; Arthur Shawcross, an upstate serial killer; Joel Rifkin, who is believed to have killed as many as 18 in New York City and Long Island from 1989 to 1993 and Alex Mengel, who killed a Westchester County police officer during a traffic stop in 1985. Mengel was returning from the Catskills where he killed a woman in a cabin.
“Alex Mengel I vividly recall as a kid,” admitted DaGrossa. “I literally remember being so scared because he had scalped his victim and was on the run for a couple of days. I was so petrified as a kid. I always remember that case. It was one of the first ones we did.”
“And we should probably re-do it because it has horrible audio,” added McCormack. “If you listen to our first episodes, we literally recorded under blankets for better audio because we didn’t know what we were doing. Not that we’re now experts, but the improvement is there!”
These days they usually record in an office and use new high-tech microphones that allow them to set up and record anywhere. It takes about an hour to record the episode and then it takes an additional six to eight hours of McCormack's time to edit and pick out every noise.
“It depends on my kids’ lives and how long it takes me to get it to sound the way I want it to sound,” said McCormack, who uses Garage Band, the program that comes with the Mac to create their podcasts.
McCormack and DaGrossa have been learning as they go and relying on fellow true crime podcasters for help.
Last July they attended their first true-crime podcast festival and received a tremendous welcome from fellow podcasters and fans.
“It’s a tight community and surprising how helpful the podcast community is,” said McCormack. “There’s as much support as competition."
“Just because a case doesn’t have a lot of news coverage doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told."
In addition to the 30-minute episodes, the two also do short (usually under 10 minutes) episodes about Jane/John Does. It was McCormack's idea.
“I felt bad in my research,” she admitted. “Just because a case doesn’t have a lot of news coverage doesn’t mean the story shouldn’t be told. There are so many people missing. It doesn’t hurt or cost anything to put a five-to-seven-minute episode on social media. Someone might know something.”
While the episodes on the whole don’t feature much banter about their personal lives (“Nobody cares much about our home life,” said McCormack), at the end of each episode, the two include bloopers.
“One of the funniest bloopers was when Alison was upstate and we were recording over the phone,” recalled DaGrossa. “She’s got four kids, three dogs and a husband — to ask for quiet for an hour is almost impossible. So she lost it and you hear her being a mom and telling everyone to shut up, slamming doors. It’s pretty funny.”
As of February, Nefarious New York has been approaching 20,000 total downloads — more than they expected at this point. You can find it at NefariousNY.com, Apple, Buzzsprout, Listennotes, and other podcast sites. It’s free of charge and an interesting listen that can captivate both casual and obsessive true-crime fans.
So are McCormack and DaGrossa investigators? Journalists?
“I would call us inquisitive,” said McCormack.
“We’re passionate,” interrupted DaGrossa.
“We’re just podcasters,” concluded McCormack.