I <3 Murder
I went to the book launch yesterday for the book Forest City Killer (Vanessa Brown). During the talk about the book; Vanessa and her co-speaker discussed why women flock to true crime and consume vast quantities of true crime media. None of their ideas are new concepts for me, and I can understand the reasons why women would find a collective comfort in true crime.
This talk made me reflect on my own decades long obsession with true crime, and where it came from. When I explored the thread in my mind, I realized (and it should honestly come as no surprise to anyone who reads my blogs) that the roots are well established in my childhood, and it is one of the few things I have gladly carried into my adult life from childhood.
As the child of a single parent, I had a LOT of unsupervised time from as early as 7. My mum did her best, and worked her ass off to make sure that we had a roof over our heads, and food in our bellies. I may not have been spoiled, but I always had the things I needed. As my mums job was in a factory, the reality for us was that she worked various shifts. I often got myself up and off to school, or got home and into bed without seeing her. It was hard; but I don’t begrudge her for it she did her very best in that regard.
Due to my being unsupervised for a large chunk of my time, I often deep dived into topics that most kids my age wouldn’t have. I was obsessed with the paranormal from a very young age. I was one of those kids who were reading novels by kindergarten; and I would systematically go through the library in every city we moved to in order to find new ghost stories and learn more things about the paranormal. Ghosts, and the supernatural were my version of a dinosaur obsession.
When most kids were asked about what they wanted to be when they grew up, they said doctors, nurses, astronauts etc – whereas I always wanted to be a parapsychologist (a ghost hunter). Unfortunately, child me was not aware that this was not an actual profession; and we were crushed when adulthood dashed our dreams.
My obsession with the paranormal melded seamlessly into an obsession with true crime. Most ghost stories are gruesome at their core, and attached to a lot of lore that was dark and bloody. My earliest introduction into true crime was reading my mums true crime novels. Whenever my mum and I would be on vacation (we went camping for 2 wks every summer) I was given a ration of books I was allowed to take with me so that I would spend my time doing more than just reading. Even though my books were few, I had no self control and often voraciously devoured the books I had brought with me leaving me with no books. So, I did the next best thing, I read my mums books – which often included true crime.
I loved the sensationalized covers, yellowed pages, and grainy black and white photos in the middle. They always smelled so glorious, and were falling apart as the glue came loose from the bindings. I cannot remember if my mum knew i was reading them, or if I read them on the sly without her knowing. Probably the latter.
My other exposure to crime was that my mum never shied away from telling me about the dangers of the world. As a single mum, who knew her kid spent copious hours wandering the city (we lived in Hamilton and Brantford mostly) – she made sure I understood there were dangers. That no person should be trusted. That anyone could take me away and murder me. That i should always, ALWAYS! lock the car doors when you were driving and not roll the windows down for anyone. You see, my mum told me once, someone in Woodstock ON was at the stoplight when a person pulled them from their car and murdered them.
Despite reading all this gruesome content and being aware of the dangers in life, I never had nightmares. I did however get scared a lot when I was home alone. I was worried that either some ghost or human was going to come and gank my ass. I used to sleep with a crowbar under my pillow, a cabbage patch doll (their heads were super hard), and one of my mums stiletto heels (I had seen Elvira kill someone with her stiletto in a movie, and I thought that shit was fucking cool). I also used to hide knives around the apt just in case I had to defend myself outside of my bedroom. I was ready for whatever might happen.
As I grew up, my obsession with true crime never waned. Having access to the internet at a very young age (12) I was able to get MORE information. There was so much available to me, and I read as much as I could. I do not think I read any tangible books at this time, it was just the cornucopia that was the internet. I was endlessly fascinated by these men, and the power they held. The fear they could induce. Their methods of killing. The body count they managed to acquire without getting caught. I had a “cops are stupid” mentality…and well…maybe I still do 😉
Also being a depressed hormonal teenager with non existent social filters meant I talked about my obsession to pretty much anyone. I was never, and have never been shy in discussing my immersion in all things serial killers and true crime. I even scared the shit out of this dude I went on a date with in highschool, to the point that years later when I moved to London, I saw him in a bar, he went pale and left.
Looking back and applying a self diagnosis lens to my behaviour; I was extremely depressed and manic. I hated being alive. I hated waking up. I wanted to die. As such, my obsession with death meshed well with an obsession of those who wanted to take lives. As an adult however, my desire to not be here anymore is still there – but the desperation of it has waned andI no longer feel kinship in a death obsession.
However, as an adult my mass consumption of all things true crime is still as strong as ever. Forensic Files is my bedtime lullaby, and my husband threatens to change the netflix password because I get so obsessed with things and think I see murder everywhere and murderers in everyone. My co-workers may not know me very well; but they all know that I will loquaciously discuss both my obsession with true crime, and cats to almost no end. I’m not even sorry.
I know for many people a love of true crime is all about the mystery and whodunnit. Personally, I hate mysteries, just tell me who did it. I have had enough trauma and unanswered questions in my life time, I don’t like messy endings. Due to this, I very rarely focus on cold cases. Though there are a few, like this book, I went to the launch for that pique my interest and draw me in. But even though it is a cold case, I feel that it HAS an ending … it’s just that getting to that ending is too much of an inconvenience for those who hold the power to solve it.
My love for true crime is rooted in the how. How people murder. How people are caught. How the history of crime changes and yet stays the same. I unabashedly love the gruesome ways people find to murder others and the psychology behind it.
I think what makes my perspective of true crime different for me is that I have aphantasia (the inability to visualize). I do not form images of these gruesome crimes. I cannot see the victim. I can’t attach to them the way others who DO visualize can. I am never haunted by the images after I’ve read about them. I do not even dream with images. I like to think that if I could hold things in my minds eye I would not be as obsessed as I am by the gory details.
Aphantasia also makes me kind of an asshole, and I’m working on that. I have zero qualms with discussing the morbid details of what people have done. I relish in discussion of the fine details of crime, of the blood splatter, the gaping wounds, the creative murder methods. I often forget that when I gleefully discuss these things I am foisting unwanted images on people. I have learned to stop talking about it when people give me the eww face.
In my adult life, I believe that my interest in feminism adds another layer as to why I am drawn to true crime. While men are also on the receiving end of violence – it’s women that seem to bear the brunt of the most brutal agressions. As well, mothers, or exes are often blamed for spawning a monster. Too often women are blamed for what happens to them, or what happens to others – rather than focusing blame and responsibility on the murderer.
I also find myself endlessly fascinated (and infuriated) by the stranglehold of misogyny in law enforcement that have put women at risk for millennia. How if a woman is not a perfect victim, she is not worth anyone’s time. That unless a woman aheres 100% to gender roles, her life can be snuffed out by a man and no one will give a fuck until a more worthy life is lost.
This is no more apparent than in the way society treats sex workers. Men in our society need their services; but treat them as nothing more than a disposable commodity. Their lives worth less than a cup of coffee you get at Tim Hortons. Due to this, almost every serial killer origin story starts out with them picking off sex workers. Honing their craft on bodies that are not valued because they know that no one will notice. Most killers don’t GET noticed until they move on to lives that we consider valuable as a society. Cops just turn a blind eye (see Robert Pickton).
The other aspect of feminism and true crime that I find endlessly fascinating is how our patriarchal society set up this perfect storm that created entrepreneurial female serial killers. On one hand women are thrust into this strict gender binary where they are seen as the nurturers, the ones who take care of everyone and on the other hand they are given almost no power and means to financial success on their own. This allowed many women to find financial security in murdering folks for insurance money and other money making endeavors (See Belle Gunness).
It also exposes the darker reality that not all women ARE nurturers, and not all women WANT kids. That sometimes children are nothing more than potential profit, and In societies constant push to control women’s bodies and force them to breed it created a very dark history. In Victorian England there were baby farms, where women could orphan their children for a fee and the woman responsible for their care sometimes murdered them to get the payment (see Amelia Dyer).
I could go on…but I won’t 😉 Although, I would love to write about this topic more in depth one day… it’s on my to-do list.
Ultimately, on pulling this thread I realized that true crime is just a natural lifes progression for me. It is something I discovered as a kid, it helped me cope with my angsty teen years and it has been something that has given me a lot to think about in adulthood. It is a field that is constantly evolving in terms of ways they are able to find out who committed the crime (See The Golden State Killer). As well, the lives of the people who commit crimes can be captivating in their banality and depravity (See Ed Kemper & BTK).
It will forever be one of those things that I turn to when I need to distract myself, when I want to be “comforted” by familiarity. Many folks find it weird that I am obsessed with true crime as much as I am obsessed with Hallmark movies… but for me – they hold the same draw. True crime, like Hallmark movies have a formulaic narrative. The characters change but still hold the same core values. And since I like my happy endings, I usually only consume true crime that has a “happily ever after” in that the criminal has been caught. So there is always a neat little bow at the end.
I know that some have said that consuming true crime media is a guilty pleasure… but I won’t feel guilty about it. However, I am trying to learn that not everyone wants to hear about it, and my cats. It is my ongoing journey with learning how to self edit, and establish social filters. Something I hate doing, but I understand (kind of) why I have to.
Ghosts and true crime are still very much my dinosaurs and I don’t see that changing.
Most of my true crime consuming these days come from podcasts, and my favourite true crime podcasts are:
- Last Podcast on the Left (disclaimer: If you can’t handle true crime and very black humour.. This is not a podcast for you. Henry can be rather brutal in his commentary. But it’s hands down my favourite podcast)
- Canadian True Crime
- Criminal Broads
- You Must Remember This (okay, this is not always true crime; but she does delve into some true crime from the golden age of Hollywood)
- Lore (same as You Must Remember This (except for the hollywood part…except some episodes))
I also really enjoyed the following investigative journalism true crime podcasts:
- Man In the Window
- Teachers Pet
- Bear Brook
- Dirty John
- Dr. Death
- Over my dead Body