There's a sinister reason so many women like true crime

I remember it vividly. I was 14 and my parents had finally let me go into the nearest city on my own. 

Waiting at the bus station, I read the book I’d brought, completely oblivious to the startled looks I was getting from people when they saw the title, Happy Like Murderers, by Gordon Burn. 

I was so engrossed in the description of how Fred West suspended his victims by their wrists in the grubby basement of 25 Cromwell Street that I missed my bus. And that’s when I knew I was a True Crime Fan. 

I know, you probably just gasped, reached for your pitch fork or instantly judged me for glamorising murderers and rapists. I get it – it’s most people’s response when I mention it.

But I do it for a specific reason. I guess it’s the same reason we study dangerous animals or look up which seat on the aeroplane is the safest in the event of a crash. Because the more you know, the more prepared you’ll become.

I grew up in the 90s, way after the birth of ‘stranger danger’ and before the horrendous murders of Sarah Payne and Holly and Jessica.

My parents warned me about men in vans and my teachers gave lessons on what to do if a stranger tells you they’re a ‘friend of your mum’s’.

But as a young girl, that didn’t feel quite enough to be prepared.

So I consumed everything I could get my hands on. I read Ann Rule’s gripping account of how Ted Bundy changed the face of serial killing. I watched documentaries on the Manson family – young, middle-class women killing in a drug-fuelled rage – and later, listened to podcasts, taking note of how women get lured into cars by people they’ve never met. 

I know I’m not alone – crime TV channels can reach over 5million people per month in the UK – but it hasn’t always felt like that.

I can clearly recall a university friend finding my copy of Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, which detailed the horrific crimes that struck San Francisco in the late 60s.

She picked it up and said, ‘This is weird. Why would you want to read this?’ I openly explained that it was fascinating! Why wouldn’t I read it? 

She shook her head, put the book back and muttered, ‘Weirdo.’

That word never left me, and ever since I’ve always hidden the podcast I was listening to. Always switched the covers on my hardbacks to something more ‘appropriate’.

With the exception of my partner – who definitely worries that one day I’ll ‘gone girl’ him – I’ve never shown anyone my murder wall.

The look on that girl’s face told me it wasn’t OK to be interested in crime. I understand – the people I’m reading about did the most heinous things a person can do. No one wants to think that people are capable of these things.

And of course I understand why the families of victims don’t want the details used as entertainment.

But I’ve learned so much that it’s hard to feel totally ashamed. I know how to break myself out of zip ties using a shoelace (I’m not joking). I know that you should always check the back seat of your car in case someone is hiding there.

I was once in a taxi, feeling particularly vulnerable with a driver who was extremely interested in what I was wearing and where I was going, so I casually dropped a strand of loose hair in the cab.

That way, if anything happened to me, it could be linked to that taxi – something I’d learned from understanding how DNA evidence can solve a case.

And like I said, I’m not alone anymore. After the release of Making a Murderer, I found myself surrounded by people who suddenly wanted to discuss crime openly.

My Twitter feed was filled with theories on conviction rates and coerced confession. On TikTok, the hashtag True Crime has had over 9.9billion views. Even Women’s Health published the ‘45 best true crime documentaries to watch in 2022’.

It was hard not to feel like everyone suddenly loved a band that I’d listened to since their first album. 

It’s clear to me that yes, true crime is a form of entertainment, but it’s an educational one. When done respectfully, the genre can give us a safe insight into the minds of people who push the boundaries of being human, and most importantly, provide women with information that helps them feel prepared and protected. 

So next time someone tells you they spent all night binge watching Unsolved Mysteries, try to fight the urge to run and hide.

Consider the power that knowledge can provide in a world where most women (and some men!) are all too familiar with the dangers of leaving the house.

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