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I never thought that my strange and dark obsession was shared by so many other people in the world. I thought my interest in death and crime was something to be celebrated quietly, by myself—and by celebrated I mean purchasing true crime books left and right and freaking out alone in my room when a new documentary is released on Netflix. But in recent years, the fascination with true crime is being shared around the world. Podcasts and TV series tell horrifying true stories. People travel to the home of Lizzie Borden for a vacation and in looking up things for this very article, I found a link for a H. H. Holmes Murder Castle Jigsaw Puzzle.
TV shows like Law & Order and horror movies have been around for a while, but it seems more recently people are really diving into these tales of true crime and exploring their depths. Suddenly, people I have known for years are sharing images and posts with references to crimes, crime-based podcasts, and sharing their love for shows and documentations featuring these horrific stories. Internet sleuths are doing their best to help solve cold cases, books are being written exploring the minds of murderers, and CrimeCon is now a thing. So what is it about these stories that draws us in and makes us want to learn more?
It's pretty common for true crime fanatics to question their own interest in horrific assaults and grisly murders, but not everyone has the same answer as to why they are so captivated. Some say that they want to learn more so they can protect themselves from similar attacks, and to be honest, I can think of a potential weapon in each and every room of my house as well as escape routes. Listening to true crime podcasts and watching endless Law & Orders has reminded me to stay aware.
Some people, especially parents to impressionable teens, worry about obsessions with true crime. They may fear that the fascination will lead to their child committing violet acts or that their child will idolize these crazed murderers. And while it's not often the case, there are plenty of people, primarily women, who claim to love these perpetrators. Fan clubs have been made for famous killers and the most popular among them, like Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer, received letters, gifts, and even marriage proposals while in jail for their crimes. I wish I could explain this aspect of True Crime Fandom, but I don't quite understand it myself.
Personally, my fascination is about the mind of the perpetrator. A dead animal on the side of the road brings tears to my eyes and I'd much rather trap an insect to release it outside than step on it, crushing it to death. So the idea of hurting another human being is incomprehensible to me. I want to know how these people can bring themselves to attack and kill. Especially serial attackers, who are able to attack and/or kill multiple people. What makes them tick? How do the live with themselves after? I'm not the only one who has these questions.
There are theories to what makes a killer, or even an attacker. It could be linked back to a childhood head injury or abusive parents, but at this point, we are still unsure of what it is that pushes that person over the edge. After all, plenty of people have hit their heads or survived traumatic childhoods and they turn out to be helpful, kind, and respected members of society. Some are determined to be psychopaths, unable to empathize or lacking a conscience. They are able to manipulate and charm others, making it hard to catch them.
The obsessions people share regarding true crime have been shown to do some pretty amazing things. Michelle McNamara, who studied and wrote about the Golden State Killer in her recently published book I'll Be Gone in the Dark, was undoubtedly essential in helping to catch the rapist and killer, even after decades of silence. Murderinos, fans of the popular podcast My Favorite Murder, have come together as a group (and many sub-groups) on social media, supporting one another emotionally and even financially through handmade items based on the podcast and humorous quotes from hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark.
But the question remains: are we glorifying these killers and attackers? In recent years, we here in the United States have witnessed numerous school and public mass shootings. While I'd prefer not to even have to see these things, I have been pleased to see that many people try to focus on celebrating the lives of the victims instead of spreading the name of the killers. It can be vitally important that we learn what we can about the killer/s in order to educate ourselves, but we don't want their names and faces plastered over the news and social media because often we fear this is the fame they are seeking. So what is the balance? How do we educate ourselves and others in order to stop future murders and attacks while also keeping our focus on the victims and not the perpetrators?
I think we are starting on the right path, though we likely have a way to go. Giving a face and name to the victims, when appropriate, and celebrating their lives, is possibly the most important part. Acknowledging that one can be fascinated with true crime and not be praising it is another part. Studying the perpetrators without glorifying them is likely the final part. So enjoy your podcasts and binge on your shows. Share your interest with friends and like-minded people. And always stay sexy and don't get murdered.