With the growing number of Netflix specials featuring countless unsolved murder cases, podcasts dedicated to hashing out the gruesome specifics of many a murder, and our insatiable interest in analyzing the childhood traumas of the most infamous serial killers, it’s undeniable that we’ve got more than a casual interest in true crime.
I rubbed my tired eyes, aching from staring at a computer screen for far too long. It was well past midnight as I scrolled through a Wikipedia article I’d stumbled across while burrowing down yet another true crime rabbit hole.
The harrowing details of the 1947 Black Dahlia murder - one of Los Angeles’ most famous - had grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go of it. I sifted through article after article, looking up Google Map images of where the victim used to live, the hotel where she was last seen, and where it’s suspected she was murdered. I couldn’t explain why I wanted to know as many horrifying details as possible. I just knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I knew everything there was to know about this supposedly unsolved case.
The Good Part? You’re Not Alone
For a really long time, I thought I was the only weirdo fascinated with true crime. I guiltily ate up every detail as I listened to stories of survivors, learned about the modus operandi of different killers, and delved into their often-troubled upbringings as if I would be graded on it. I was embarrassed to admit how much I knew about these things.
Seventy percent of Amazon’s online reviews for true crime books are by women.
But, strangely enough, my interest in true crime is hardly unique, especially among women. In 2015, Investigation Discovery was the fourth most-watched channel by women ages 24 - 54. Five of the top twelve podcasts today are dedicated to the retelling of true crime stories. My Favorite Murder, one of the most popular true crime podcasts, has 19 million monthly downloads, the majority of which are women. Seventy percent of Amazon’s online reviews for true crime books are by women.
We all hate the act of murder. We hate to think that an innocent human being died in such a horrific manner. We hate that someone could be so cold-blooded as to commit it. And we really hate how many mishandled cases result in justice never being served. So then…why do we seem to love knowing about murder? There’s no single reason to which we can attribute women’s love for the grisly details. But there are definitely a few factors.
For one, we as women understand from a very young age how vulnerable we are to the dangers of the world. We’re taught to check the backseat of our car before getting in. We habitually tuck our keys in between our fingers while walking home at night just in case. Some of us invest in self-defense classes. Ultimately, we crave safety. And somehow, making ourselves aware of the fates of unlucky victims helps us feel like we’re even better prepared to fend off a hooded attacker on the street, as if we’ll know what to expect on the off-chance we find ourselves in such a situation. “It could be like a dress rehearsal,” says Dr. Sharon Packer, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai.
Making ourselves aware of the fates of unlucky victims helps us feel like we’re even better prepared to fend off a hooded attacker on the street.
That, and we’re empathetic to the victim - because it could've been us, our sister, or our best friend. Dr. Howard Forman, a forensic psychiatrist at Montefiore Medical Center, says, “By the time you get to adulthood, women are able to empathize to a greater degree than men, on average. That may lead to true crime being more interesting to women than men, simply because if you empathize more with the victim, it may be more relevant to you and more gripping.” And seeing as how we’re often faced with terrible stories of young girls and women being abducted in a parking lot, having an attacker climb through an open window in the middle of the night, or a young woman suddenly going missing, we’ve become used to the idea that it could happen to any of us.
On another note, though we often feel contempt or disgust for a person capable of committing murder, we’re remarkably captivated by them because we seek to make sense of things we don’t understand - in this case, murder. We’ve all had moments of rage, but most of us feel like we can’t even comprehend how someone could possess the ability to murder in cold blood. It forces us to try to make amends with our imperfect reality by asking questions about the killer: What was their childhood like? What do the people who knew them say? Did they seem like any other normal person, or were there whisperings of bizarre behavior? What drove them to murder? We’re naturally fascinated by things we feel are beyond our understanding.
It seems our odd hunger for true crime may not be so odd after all - in fact, it’s somewhat normal. Our curiosity is instinctual. And though it’s wise to use moderation while feeding this hunger, it’s also nothing at all to be ashamed of. Watching, reading, and listening to these stories every now and then is okay - just make sure, for our own mental health, that it’s not the bulk of what we’re consuming.