The People Who Make “Murder Kits” in Case They Go Missing Explain What the Hell They’re Doing

The People Who Make “Murder Kits” in Case They Go Missing Explain What the Hell They’re Doing

If you browse through online shop Savor’s tasteful, understated “keepsake storage” and organization offerings, you’ll find a baby-themed box for saving things like your kid’s first lost tooth, a wedding box for invitations and such, and even a place to save pet mementos. And then you’ll come to one item that stands apart from the rest: an “In Case I Go Missing Binder.”

“As seen on TikTok,” its product page announces, the binder “makes it super easy for the true-crime obsessed to record their key stats for their loved ones.” These “key stats” are bits of info that might come in handy if one were to go missing, and they range from practical—medical records and financial statements—to possibly paranoid, like dental records, fingerprints, and lists of “hangout spots.” All this for $46.95.

Savor’s binder has been seen by millions of people on TikTok, especially in recent weeks as some of the company’s newer videos about it have circulated widely. Several videos feature a female voice narrating the process of filling the binder’s various folders and pockets with sensitive personal and biological information. “Things in my ‘In Case I Go Missing’ binder,” the woman starts in one video. “I added a hair sample just in case they need it for DNA testing.” The viewer then sees a woman’s hands cutting off a lock of hair and placing it in a pocket inside the folio. “My friends and exes are the first people they need to bring in for questioning,” she announces next, slipping a presumable list of those friends and exes into another one of the binder’s pouches.

This outsize reaction was a surprise to Jennifer Nevins, Savor’s co-founder and CEO—her store had been selling a “family emergency folio” for roughly three years without much incident before the “If I Go Missing” version came along. Many Savor products can be personalized, and one day, an order came in from someone who wanted In Case I Go Missing engraved on the cover. Savor’s social media manager is a true-crime fan and recognized the concept, so the company made a TikTok showing the product being used for that purpose. After the video took off, Savor made a separate listing on its site for the “In Case I Go Missing” binder, with a few tweaks to differentiate it from the regular emergency binder. “There was just so much interest on TikTok that we made a set of labels … to address the interest of the audience,” she said. These newly added labels include one for hair samples, fingerprints, dental records, and a handful of other things a forensic investigator might look for in a disappearance case.

Nevins said she doesn’t follow true crime closely, and saw the original binder as a way to be proactive in situations with older family members or sudden health emergencies. As for the criticisms the binder’s received, Nevins said, “I think sometimes these things have a bit of a life of their own,” and added that she is “certainly not making light” of the tragedies that are the basis of much true-crime content.

Nevins declined to share specifics about how many binders Savor has sold, but said, “When things go viral, it certainly makes a difference.”

So what’s it like to actually have an “In Case I Go Missing” binder? And would it make a difference in the event of, well … you know?

A TikTok user named Mickie Noel told me in an email that she first created an “If I Go Missing” folder to help herself feel more protected when she was in an abusive relationship, and she currently has one to “help manage my mental health and safety.” But she understands why some people might have a problem with them.

“Many people in positions of privilege (who have likely never experienced … a violent crime) are putting these folders together as a way to live through a fantasy of violent crime [where they’re] the protagonist. They were the person smart enough to solve their own crime ahead of time,” she said.

She added that she would only encourage people to make one if they feel they really need it. “If a secret folder with potentially helpful information makes people feel safer, then that’s the action they should take.”

Markia Brown, a 29-year-old Virginian who makes TikToks and other online content about financial literacy, ordered one of Savor’s “If I Go Missing” binders after coming across it on the app last year. She has no regrets. While Markia is a fan of true crime and got a kick out of adding the hair samples and fingerprints to her binder, she mostly likes how organized it makes her feel. As a retired military member, she was already familiar with the idea of keeping a file of important personal information. “In the military, we have something called ‘I Love Me’ binders,” she said. “You move around a lot, and you’re kind of always on the go. We always were taught [that] all of your important documents have to be in one place. It was always a notebook and we just used document protectors, so it wasn’t really aesthetically pleasing—very bulky. I didn’t really have any organization to mine.”

When she saw Savor’s binder, it caught her eye. Sure, she could have just gone to Walmart and bought a folder for a dollar, but she thought the “In Case I Go Missing” binder was cool. She updates it every six months and keeps it in a safe. It contains things like her and her husband’s living wills and child custody orders.

She’s aware that not everyone appreciates the binders. “People are saying, ‘Well, this is not going to help you. This won’t help at all if you go missing.’ But I’m like, ‘Or, it just might.’ ”

As for whether these binders would come in handy in the event of a tragedy, experts are mixed, but not completely against them.

Savor Folio for important papers in slate offers 10 envelopes in a ray of sizes. shown here larger vertical envelope with passport and stock certificate.

“The majority of adults will not go missing or be kidnapped,” cautioned Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in sexual violence prevention. “When we see these high-profile cases and there’s such a focus on true crime, we think that it’s much more prevalent than it really is.”

That said, she sees prepping for the worst as mostly harmless. “If it’s causing somebody anxiety, I wouldn’t recommend that people go out and do this,” she said. “But if somebody feels better or they feel the need to do it, you know —can’t hurt.”

Patrick Mclaughlin, a former police crime scene analyst who teaches forensics—also at John Jay—thought the binders could potentially help on the off chance they were put to use.

“If you want to take the extra step of saying, ‘Well, I want to have this ready and available so that I don’t put my loved ones through weeks and months of testing and uncertainty,’ it has its merit,” he said. “If you’re convinced that you’re going to be taken and stolen, then that’s where I start seeing a darker side of this, where if you allow it to get to the point of paranoia or an obsession.” Would he ever make one for himself? “No,” he said. “I’m old and who would take me at this point?”

Mclaughlin said the most useful information to include in a binder would be recent photos, the unlock code for your phone, close-up photos of any tattoos, scars, and birthmarks, biometric stats like height and weight, handwriting samples, a list of health issues and medications, a history of surgeries and significant bone breaks, and whether you have any implants in your body. And yes, to take things to their logical conclusion, the purpose of some of these things is that they could help identify human remains.

He said DNA would also be good to include in a binder, but thought hair was an unreliable way to do it. “DNA decomposes really rapidly,” he explained. “You’re almost better off putting a sterile Q-tip in your mouth, swabbing the inside of your cheek and leaving that in the fridge or the freezer where it’ll be preserved for however long.”

He said one concern would be whether the contents of a binder would be admissible as evidence. “I think a very clever lawyer would say to the crime scene detective that went to my house to pick up my DNA sample from the freezer, ‘How do you know it’s really his? Were you there, did you witness it?’ ”

In order to use anything from the binder, Mclaughlin said, the chain of custody has to be there. “Who’s the person that’s authorized to give us this material?” he asked. “Under what circumstances?”

Mclaughlin stressed that you should keep your binder hidden, no matter how pretty it looks on the outside. “If you’re taken from your house and it’s sitting on the nightstand, the bad guy’s probably gonna take that with him,” he said. “You’re gonna end up in a trunk with a gag in your mouth looking at your ‘In Case I Go Missing’ kit sitting next to you.”

Also on the topic of keeping your binder hidden, he had one more recommendation: If you do make a binder, the one thing you should never do is post about it online.

https://slate.com/human-interest/2023/01/in-case-i-go-missing-binder-folder-tiktok.html

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