To say crime has been part of my life would be an understatement. In 1990, at the age of 13 and four years before I was born, my cousin was murdered. One day, her friend’s mom dropped her off a block away from her house but she never made it home. Her partially burned body was found the next day, in the woods, naked and stabbed over 50 times. Her case was never closed. Speculations and arrests have been made, people in my town know of two men who were involved, but no one is currently being punished for her rape and murder.
Being a family member you are constantly grieving, the anger that no justice has been served never leaves you. As an outsider, you would treat it as an interesting case, something you’d be intrigued to watch. Or listen to during an episode of My Favorite Murder created by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. On the podcast, the hosts exchange horror stories from small town crimes to worldly-known cases, such as JonBenét Ramsey. It entices your morbid fascination and your investigative mind, trying to solve the cases alongside the ladies. When Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile came out, with it a controversy. While online comments started to romanticise Ted Bundy, played by the well-loved Zac Efron, Kilgariff and Hardstark have a completely different approach going as far as speaking on a killer’s death: “Unfortunately, he died of cancer in a prison hospital, instead of being fried.” Some may find it harsh, some may agree with them but everyone will have an opinion when it comes to murder.
As a child, because of what my family had gone through before my birth, my parents always taught me to be scared. Of strange men, of uncles, of teachers. My dad’s motto is “I’m the only person in the world you can trust.” They weren’t always able to protect me, part of it because they trusted people they shouldn’t have themselves, but it gave me a sense of self that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. It made me realise that my dad had been right the whole time. As I grew older, different cases started to fascinate me — and boy was I glad to know I was not the only one — to the point where I would watch true crime documentaries before bed. I loved it and it didn’t scare me. I loved it because it didn’t scare me.
True crime has turned into a real hobby in the past few years for a lot of people and the question to be asked is why? Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., a professor at De Sales University, explains: “Part of our love of true crime is based on something very natural: curiosity. People reading or watching a true crime story are engaged on several levels. They are curious about who would do this, they want to know the psychology of the bad guy, girl, or team. They want to know something about the abhorrent mind. They also love the puzzle — figuring out how it was done.” In other words, our natural curiosity compels us to watch even the most horrifying stories because we need to know. We become detectives from our couch and we try to understand the motives, although most times they are inexplicable for a rational mind.
Still, social issues arise with the medium. There is a tendency to elevate the victims to heroes, as long as they are deemed innocent white girls while women of colour are often ignored, even though they are at a higher risk of getting murdered. The question of ethics is also at the centre of certain stories, how ethical is it really to tell a story when at least one or multiple people involved cannot share their side of what happened? It is inappropriate, and potentially libellous, to let your audience in on unverified claims and research is always, always, necessary when playing around with murder cases. Never to forget that the stories you tell belong to real people, with families who have been through more than enough and don’t need their loved one’s reputation to be vilified.
“Please, don’t get killed,” is a phrase you hear often as a woman, even when you do things as mundane as leaving your home or taking a walk in the park. We are begged not to get killed, instead of our boys being taught not to kill. We are afraid of everything we might say wrong, we are worried of making the wrong move, we dread someone asking us for directions. We are obsessed with true crime because we relate to the fear that the victim experienced during their murder, not because it scares us but because we know it. We know this fear from inside out like a life companion, and it never leaves us. True crime doesn’t scare me because I relate in my own way, hoping that one day justice will be served for all those who, like my family, are waiting for justice. Maybe, “I’m the only person in the world you can trust,” isn’t an act of protection; maybe it is a lesson that nobody wants to learn, with the need of watching others learn it for us.