There’s something about true crime


Sally Cobb

Illustration of a human brain by Sally Cobb, staff writer.

Under the Crime genre on Netflix, there is a plethora of entertainment provided by shows, movies, and docuseries about the world’s wildest true crime tales. After fishing through the endless online aisles of crime story after crime story, I observed a strong focus on one category of crime in particular: serial killing. I also stumbled upon a statistic from NBC News reporting that about 7.8 million people watched the season finale of “Making a Murderer” within a month of the entire series being released on Dec. 18, 2015.

These findings made me wonder— why are people so obsessed with watching the stories of the world’s greatest serial murders and murderers? Doctors and psychologists have hypothesized about why humans are intrigued by the gory details of murder and the psychologically insane, but there is not one single answer. Some potential reasons forexplaining why people binge watch true crime range from seeking understanding of a killer’s mind to looking into their own violent impulses. In hopes of gaining insight to why some people love watching series like “Making a Murderer” and the “Ted Bundy Tapes” so much, I spoke with a few members of the Urban community.

Sassy Mosley ‘20, an avid viewer of the true crime genre, explained her intrigue saying, “I’m really interested in how the human brain works… it’s just interesting to think about other people’s logic and what makes sense to them… when they’re in the act of killing someone… and that type of brain wiring.”

Mosley is not alone in this reasoning. In an article published on Psychology Today, Professeur Scott A. Bonn, author of “Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers”, wrote, “Serial killers are so extreme in their brutality and so seemingly unnatural in their behavior that society is riveted by them. Many people are morbidly drawn to the violence of serial killers, because they cannot comprehend their actions, but feel compelled to.” This intrigue with what we cannot understand is also why Justine Deasy ‘20 enjoys watching TV and movies about serial murder.

In an interview with the Urban Legend, Deasy said, “I think it’s interesting to see the actions of not-everyday-people and to look at how people’s minds are different and to see how that plays out in the world.” Deasy also noted that the way some of these killers can blend into society is terrifying.

In his article, Professeur Bonn explains that the ability of killers, like Ted Bundy, to blend into society contributes to people’s obsession with true crime, while also feeding their fears. “The fact that many serial killers can blend into society so effectively is genuinely horrifying to many people, because it means that most anyone, even a loved one, could be a serial killer,” said Bonn.

I asked Deasy if there had ever been a time when something she watched was a bit too scary for her– the type of scary that stops you from opening your closet or sleeping with your lights off. Deasy said yes, referring to a movie called “Amber Alert”, which is about some friends who follow a car that had been posted on an Amber Alert. Deasy described her fear when watching this, saying, “I got scared of that because of how… real it was and I think [seeing what happens] is different than just hearing about the details.”

Mosley would agree with Bonn’s theory and Deasy’s reason for her fear. In Mosley’s interview with the Urban Legend, she explained the difference between her fear when watching horror movies, like “The Conjuring”, versus true crime. After watching fictional horror movies, Mosley said, “I can still go to sleep at night and be fine and open my closet door.” However, after watching true crime “[she is] a little bit more shaken up and [will] probably sit there for a minute or watch something really funny afterwards.”

Mosley later discussed her fear after watching a movie about Jeffrey Dahmer, “My Friend Dahmer”, saying, “things around school shootings and people in their high school class getting ignored [freak me out] because I’m in high school… I’m very lucky to have such a great support system… [but] Dahmer was isolated and ignored for a long time.” Mosley explained how “spooky” this particular story is because Dahmer’s killer mentality and “sickness” developed during the critical growth years she is currently living through.

While there are many true crime fans at Urban, not everyone finds this genre as fascinating. Rebecca Shapiro, History Teacher and History Department Chair, is one of these people. Although Shapiro doesn’t find herself glued to gory crime stories, in her interview, she mentioned her obsession with the Titanic when she was younger. “I really wanted to understand that disaster. And I think there’s something compelling about things that you can’t quite understand or imagine or conceptualize,” said Shapiro.

Mosley and Deasy’s obsession comes from the killers’ seemingly major psychological distance from the rest of society and Shapiro believes it can stem from curiosity, however, Kaern Kreyling, School Counselor, holds a different perspective. In her interview, she speculated that some people’s intrigue with true crime might be more about themselves than the actual killer. “I think that’s in the American psyche… that idea that you can’t stop yourself once you get into a bad habit… there’s that fear of like ‘if I really let go, am I really going to become an animal?’ I think [watching true crime] prays on people’s fears as human beings.”

Kreyling also touched on a phenomenon that A.J. Marsden, Assistant Professor of Human Services and Psychology at Beacon College, discussed with the Huffington Post. Marsden said that watching true crime allows the viewer to “dive into the darker side of humanity, but from the safety of the couch.” This idea of just dipping your toe into the unnatural, unhuman pond of serial killing without actually going through with any action is one that Kreyling believes to be part of the intrigue of watching true crime about serial murder: “There are so many things that are a part of the human condition, the whole animalistic side of the human being, which involves killing or violence and I could see it as both a way to engage with those energies without acting them out… a way of kind of acknowledging that realm of the human condition…[and] doing it vicariously through film.”