Kelly Siegler is the most compelling figure in true crime. The star of Cold Justice not only makes the Oxygen series must-watch TV, but she’s the example of why fans love the genre: she works tirelessly to bring justice to seemingly impossible cases, and is able to literally change lives.
Ahead of the Cold Justice season 6 premiere, Kelly spoke to me about spending almost a decade of her life working on the show and what makes it work both as television and as a platform to make a difference for those who need it the most.
“I never thought this would go on,” Kelly told me when asked if she thought she’d still be doing Cold Justice for six seasons. “It’s been nine years!”
In that time, the show has facilitated 49 arrests and 21 convictions in previously cold cases. Kelly and her team of investigators—who get authorization from local law enforcement before getting involved—have been invited back to work with departments more than once, and built up great relationships that have served them well across the United States.
“I talk to the guys and the ladies that we’ve worked with before all the time,” Kelly explained. “The lady detective from Oneida, Wisconsin, which was the first episode of season 5 [“Small Town Secrets”], Terri Hook, actually came to work with us on the case we just got through doing in Washington state three weeks ago. So we’re even bringing some of those cops back to work with us sometimes. It’s been really, really cool.”
That reputation is built on how Kelly and her investigators—Abbey Abbondandolo, Tonya Rider and Steve Spingola—conduct themselves. They are true professionals who aren’t there for the cameras, and always put themselves in the position of helping the original officers, not taking them to task or trying to take over.
“They are very, very committed to doing the right thing from a law enforcement point of view. They haven’t turned TV,” Kelly said of her teammates. “To them it’s not about being on TV. It’s about making local law feel like they’re respected and we’re doing everything we can to solve their case. And they keep it real. We don’t want any of those fake-ass TV people. You’ve got to be real to work on this show, because we’re going into small counties like where I’m from and looking at their cases, and working with them side by side. No egos need to get in the middle of it.
“It’s all about just solving the case. And I think if you go in there trying to be more than that or different from them, it would never work. You have to have real cops that know the real job that are all about solving the case and that’s who’s on this team.”
FOR MORE COLD JUSTICE: Cold Justice at Crime-TV.com
For Cold Justice fans who’ve ever wondered which investigators get what cases, Kelly revealed that there is a process for deciding who takes the lead on a particular episode—because all three of them don’t just work on the show; they have their own careers, too.
‘Tonya is also a faculty adjunct professor at Bowling Green State University. Spingola, he’s written I think four books and he’s also a teacher for law enforcement. Abbey runs the security department for the biggest hospital chain in the state of Idaho,” she said. “They have real jobs. So that’s the first complication, is who’s available.
“And then a lot of times it just comes down to the dynamics of local law and the suspects,” she added. “How smart they are, how devious the suspect is, where they’re from, is it a male or female suspect—all those little factors play into who’s going to be best to work on an individual case.”
What has Kelly learned from making Cold Justice season 6?
“I’ve learned that every time I think I know how some of these things turn out, I’m wrong. So that continues to happen,” she laughed. “We really have had great luck with getting prosecutors who want to move forward with the cases.”
And while fans may be wondering what happens after the credits roll, she pointed out that no news is not necessarily bad news.
“I wish people could understand that the criminal justice system moves really, really slowly. It always has,” she told me. “To get a case from a DA wanting to file charges to an arrest to trial takes years…[And then] because of COVID, the criminal justice system came to a screeching halt. Before the system was behind by about two years, now we’re looking at four and five. A lot of our cases we’ve had luck with, but for corona reasons you can’t have a grand jury. Cops are working on Zoom…All of that stuff has changed everything. So that’s going to affect us and everybody else.”
No matter how long it takes, Kelly is determined to get results, which is what has made Cold Justice a hit with true crime fans and earned it a place in the law enforcement community. The popularity of the series hasn’t changed it since that pilot episode, except for one key aspect.
“It’s helped us get cases because law enforcement knows who we are now and they know that we’re legitimately real,” Kelly said. “It’s easier for us to get cases than it was when we first started.”
After almost 90 episodes and counting, many of the cases that end up coming to the Cold Justice team continue to be circumstantial evidence cases, and she told me that she isn’t sure why more of them aren’t prosecuted originally. “I still don’t understand why people are still so afraid of circumstantial evidence cases,” she added. “I didn’t understand it back then and it hasn’t gone away.”
But what else hasn’t gone away is Kelly’s love for her work, even though she didn’t imagine that her career as a prosecutor would lead her to Cold Justice. “I sure as hell never thought I’d end up doing this,” she concluded, “and it really is the best job in the whole world.”
Cold Justice airs Saturdays at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen and is produced by Magical Elves. For more Cold Justice, visit Crime-TV.com.
Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.