From the ultra-popular My Favorite Murder podcast to the entire Investigation Discovery network, true crime content has taken over all media. Despite its popularity, though, you might feel a bit weird reading that Ted Bundy biography on a plane. Don't worry, your obsession with true crime stories is totally normal. Go ahead and enjoy your audiobook of I'll Be Gone in the Dark for the millionth time.
To learn more, Romper spoke with some outstanding professional true crime experts. Michael Andrew Arntfield, a criminologist, university professor, and former police officer, shared some fascinating insight into the minds of true crime fans. Arntfield has also written over a dozen books on true crime and criminal investigation, including Monster City. Next, Dr. Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University and author of 66 books, including Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, The BTK Killer. Rounding out the expert team, Cathy Scott is a crime writer and author of a dozen books, including Murder of a Mafia Daughter and The Killing of Tupac Shakur. She covered crime as a newspaper reporter for 23 years.
Here's what some of the top minds on the topic of true crime had to say about their fan base.
1. You Feel More Prepared In Real Life Situations
Some people use true crime stories as a way to feel more prepared in daily life. "They believe they would know what to do in the event they find themselves in a dangerous situation" by watching true crime, says Dr. Ramsland. For some fans of true crime, this mental preparation may feel empowering. "One draw might be out of a fear of becoming a victim themselves, and so they study crime books and documentaries and pick up tips and cues on how not to be the target of a crime," as Scott tells Romper. Watching a show about kidnapping, for instance, encourages you to imagine all the ways you'd attempt to escape from a similar situation.
2. You're Detail-Oriented
Crime stories also have an interactive aspect, and they appeal to people who enjoy solving puzzles. True crime fans "often try to solve the crime, even when they know the outcome, as they learn about the evidence and the investigation," says Scott. Trying to spot the tiny detail that will ultimately solve the case is part of the appeal.
3. You Admire Survivors
The stories of people who survive and overcome terrible tragedies are incredibly powerful. "Many are also drawn to the resiliency of victims and communities," says Arntfield. Any fans of the show I Survived . . . knows these survivor stories can be so tough and inspiring.
4. You're Empathetic
Many experts mentioned empathy when describing true crime fans. "Avid female true-crime readers, all ages and from all walks of life, seem to have a strong ability to empathize with the victims as they learn details of their lives and how they died. As an author, I too connect with victims as I dig deep into their lives," says Scott. Fans often feel a connection with the victims of these crimes, and they want some justice for the victim.
5. You Gain Perspective
For some people, reading about serial killers or cult crimes is one way to manage anxiety about their own lives. "I've noted that many readers and viewers see true crime as a mechanism of catharsis (an observation that dates as far back as Aristotle's notes on those drawn to the Ancient Greek tragedies in the 3rd century BCE) and this allows true crime to become something that puts their own problems in perspective," says Arntfield.
6. You Enjoy Resolution
Granted, this won't apply to fans of unsolved mysteries. But for many true crime enthusiasts, there's something satisfying about the ways these stories come to a close. "Those people who think that watching it makes them less anxious probably enjoy the resolution of the crimes and prison sentences for the perpetrators. They get a feeling of closure, especially if they identify with any of the victims," says Dr. Ramsland.
7. You're Human
Although the true crime fad may feel like a modern thing, there's literally nothing new about it. "True crime has essentially gone through 3 main iterations since the 1840s, and its resurgence is typically correlated with some kind of social or economic upheaval for reasons no one is entirely aware," says Arntfield. Historically, it's been a subject of fascination for years and years.
And as all of the experts also remarked, there isn't a stereotypical true crime fan. It appeals to people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. "There's a lot of diversity in this group, with many different reasons for their interest," says Dr. Ramsland. Having an interest in true crime doesn't mean you're morbid or anything. It just means you're curious — human. According to some of the top experts in the field, true crime fans are perfectly ordinary people.