The year is 1998. I have just returned from school. Casting my schoolbag aside, I’ve parked myself in front of the television, a plate of steaming-hot rice lunch in hand. Medical Detectives (now Forensic Files) is on Discovery Channel.
Today’s episode is iconic. Helle Crafts is brutally murdered by her philandering, abusive husband Richard Crafts. Her frozen body is later disposed of with a large wood-chipper. (The crime came to be known as the Wood Chipper Murder and would inspire a Coen Brothers’ film Fargo in the coming years.)
Twenty-two years later, nothing much has changed. I still watch Forensic Files with the same zeal, except in 2020 I watch it on a streaming platform. The Helle Crafts episode still evokes the same terror and wonder in me today as it did over two decades ago.
Despite my mom’s pleas that I listen to the Hanuman Chalisa or Lalita Sahasranama before bedtime, I’d still prefer the silky-smooth, soporific voice of Peter Thomas — the legendary narrator of Forensic Files. I sleep with the reassurance that a kickass forensic team somewhere has brought a lying, murdering scum to justice.
What is True Crime?
True crime is a literary genre where the writer analyses actual cases of crime and presents them in an enjoyable format.
The genre has been around for ages. It began, ostensibly, with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood in 1966. The non-fiction novel detailed the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas US in 1959.
Since then, true crime proliferated into multiple genres: movies, TV shows, podcasts, web series, etc. It brings the reader/viewer up close and personal with the stories, often offering visceral details of the crime.
In recent years fascination for notorious killers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, BTK Killer, Charles Manson and Edmund Kemper has been steadily rising.
And there’s one gender that loves to lap of stories of brutal murders and rapes. Women. And we watch, listen and read the s$#* out of it.
Instagram insights from my true crime account can also attest to this fact.
Here’s the link to my account if you are curious. I post occasionally.
In the paper titled “Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial Killers?” authors Amanda M. Vicary and R. Chris Fraley shed some light on this aberration.
Curiously, a brief perusal of reader reviews of true crime books on Amazon.com and related Web sites suggests that women may in fact be more drawn to these kinds of tales than are men. And although it is the case that women are more likely to read for leisure than men (Griswold, McDonnell, & Wright, 2005), it seems from these sites that women are less likely than men to contribute reviews to other kinds of books characterized by violence, such as accounts of war. In sum, there seems to be a paradox: Despite being the less violent sex, women may be more drawn to accounts of true crime than are men.
Luckily for me, I have four girlfriends who love true crime as much as I do. On balmy afternoons, over WhatsApp calls, we discuss our latest true crime fixations and Netflix offerings.
At this point, the four of us may have scared off other potential friends with our impeccable serial killer knowledge. No wonder, we are as thick as thieves.
So, I the best people I know in this regard — Soumya, Sneha, Yamini and Snehal — about their fascination towards true crime and the value it adds to their lives.
Can’t look away…
“True crime paints a picture the way a news report of a crime can never do,” says Soumya who tunes into crime podcasts while doing her household chores just to take the edge off the tedium.
“And..”, she adds, “I can’t bear to be left with the sound of my own thoughts.”
“And the biggest draw is that it’s not really fiction. It’s all true, that’s what truly gets us. We are terrified and yet in awe. We can’t look away,” she says.
Psychology whiz (She’s too modest to admit but she’s a national QuizUp champion) Sneha agrees: “True crime also allows you to live out fantasies of what’s if we carry, within the safety of watching things play out that we’ve only ever been brace to think about.
“There is a morbid fascination in knowing how depraved or convoluted the mind can get, and the ugliness holds a beauty of it as own because it shatters the binary view we hold and forces us to question the rhetoric of ‘human’,” she muses.
Fear is the reason why we can’t look away, asserts Vicary and Fraley. Yamini, she of the formidable serial killer trivia fame, also has similar thoughts: “It also makes me feel a little more aware and makes me believe that I’m a little better prepared to survive.”
The answer may lie in fear of crime, as much research has shown that women fear becoming the victims of a crime more so than do men (Allen, 2006; Mirrlees-Black, Mayhew, & Percy, 1996). As such, we might expect women to be more interested in true crime books because of the potential survival cues contained therein.
Sneha seconds the thought: “True crime triggers to most primitive emotion – fear. Similar to the thrill evoked by watching paranormal activities on screen, true crime sends a distant kind of shivers down the spine, possibly because unlike demonic possession, true crimes did not demand too much imagination. It could be any passing man or woman harbouring a sociopath under their skin.”
For my fellow Mindhunter fan Snehal, a deep curiosity about deviant minds draws her towards true crime stories. “It gives an insight into the known and unknown realms of the human psyche and helps me understand deviant behaviour.”
True crime allows women to get as close as possible to wicked, criminal minds without being in the killer’s way. It’s thrill-seeking but from safe quarters.
A Sense of justice
There’s nothing I hate more than a cold case. The thought that the killer is still out there sizing up his next victim makes me mad.
Most true crime stories I enjoy delve into how a case is solved using gumshoe detective work and forensic technology.
As much as I enjoy the technicalities of how they cracked open the case, I also savour the satisfaction that the killer was caught. It gratifies my sense of justice and magically, the world is a better place again. I kid, of course.
There are many reasons why women are drawn towards this genre. I guess we can all collectively admit that true crime is fun because it straddles many worlds: entertainment (sorry), science, law, reality TV, etc.
And as I add finishing touches to this article, I already have my Forensic Files playlist lined up for bedtime. Can’t wait! 🙂