This past fall, I developed a fear of being murdered.
Having recently moved from the alarmed fortress that was my parent’s house into a downtown one-lock apartment by Circle K, formerly known as “Crack Macs,” this fear was in overdrive.
Countless nights where the slightest of sounds had my heart racing, convinced an intruder had just entered the apartment, left me feeling exhausted.
I should mention, I’m a constant consumer of true crime.
My ears absorb it in the podcasts I listen to while driving, cooking, cleaning, exercising, sometimes even while sleeping.
My eyes witness it on the documentaries I watch about Henry Lee Lucas, Robert Durst, and Luka Magnotta; in the violent words on the pages of my true crime books: “decapitate” “stabbed,” “dismembered.”
And my brain devours it, shifting my perception of the world, driving my anxiety and paranoia of being murdered.
Feminine stereotypes would suggest true crime to be distasteful to women, the inherent violence of the genre unappealing to our “gentle” nature.
Yet Amanda Vicary, a social psychologist at the University of Illinois and true crime fan, co-authored a 2010 study that found women are significantly more interested in true crime compared to men.
Our interest, ironically, seems to stem from our fear.
Vicary’s study says, “that despite women being the less likely sex to be victims of a crime, women are more fearful of this fate than men”.
One reason we may be more apprehensive is certain crimes, like rape, happen far more frequently to women.
The study found that the psychological content of the killers, like what sets them off, and learning escape and survival techniques, drives women more than men to these often gruesome stories.
Women are also more interested in true crime stories that have female victims, as the motives and tactics provide more relevant information to the women reading the story.
“It’s all about surviving. Either avoiding getting into a relationship with someone that has the psychological characteristics of a killer, or something like learning how to escape if you’re kidnapped,” says Vicary. “All these things are related to preventing or surviving a crime.”
Prolific true crime writer Ann Rule, whose first book “The Stranger Beside Me,” recounts her personal experience of volunteering at a suicide hotline with Ted Bundy, was aware of the innate survival guide true crime provides.
Rule passed away in 2015 but expressed knowing she had chosen the right profession when she heard from women who felt their lives had been saved by something they read in one of her books.
Rule wrote on her website that she doesn’t want to scare her readers, but wants them to be alert and not fall for any ruses and devices the killers may use.
Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the true crime comedy podcast “My Favorite Murder,” recount macabre crimes and often give their own take on how to avoid becoming a potential victim of a crime.
“Running scenarios and thinking about these things can help you not panic, and not completely lose it when something really upsetting happens,” says Kilgariff in an episode. “Because you’ve run a scenario, you know where your cell phone is, you know where flashlights are, you can at least put a plan together.”
Although being a true crime enthusiast may help you survive a potential attack, Vicary points out it may also increase the very fear that drives women toward true crime in the first place.
“Every time you read or hear about someone being kidnapped or killed, it’s going to make you more anxious or fearful,” says Vicary.
I can attest to this vicious cycle of fear, and know the logical solution to my insomnia would be to quit true crime cold turkey and hope my mind reverts back to a less paranoid state, one where I didn’t assume the man holding open the parkade door was going to chloroform me with the rag hanging from his pocket.
Vicariously immersing yourself into the dark side of humanity, can make you forget the light. It can make you see danger where it’s harmless or a threatening face in a kind smile.
Could the solution to this anxiety be found in others who share a love of true crime?
My Favorite Murder is more than just a podcast, for many, it’s a community.
With a Facebook page of 438,000 followers, Kilgariff and Hardstark have dubbed fans of the genre as “murderinos,” and often encourage listeners to attend their touring live shows solo, knowing they’ve created a community that seems to spark an instant bond among listeners.
University of Richmond assistant professor Laura Browder, author of the study “Dystopian Romance: True Crime and the Female Reader,” interviewed women to try to find why they read true crime books.
Browder found that women readers of true crime, aware others may perceive their reading choices as disturbing, veered away from discussing their favourite books with other people in their lives.
However, within this perceived aversion, women joined an online true crime fan group that allowed them to discuss their reading proclivities.
One member of the group described it as “coming home” to people who understood her.
Browder also found women were reading true crime as a way to make sense of their own experience with violence.
One reader created a true crime fan group for readers who had experienced childhood trauma, a member of this online group described it as a form of therapy that made her feel less alone.
The genre has also found favour among female inmates—a population that has undoubtedly experienced a high degree of violence.
“What kind of true crime do you like?” Vicary asks me at the end of our interview.
I list off a few podcasts I like and ask her the same question.
Vicary says she enjoys true crime that focuses on unsolved crimes or wrongful convictions. I recommend she listen to “In the Dark,” and she suggests “Truth & Justice.”
It’s a short conversation, but I end the phone call thinking she is someone I could be friends with.
Whether it be from past trauma or present anxiety, true crime creates kinship among its fans, an outlet to discuss the nature of evil, traumatic memories, or shared fears.
I can’t quantify if true crime has benefited me or just left me paranoid. Has it made me a survivalist or a sleepless mess?
I’m so tired right now from my late-night paranoia that I’m leaning toward the latter, though I also believe a little bit of fear is healthy.
I hope I never have to experience a life-threatening situation, but if I do, my true crime obsession has not left me unprepared.
Editor: Amara Khan | firstname.lastname@example.org