Why True Crime?
Not everyone loves true crime like we do. Some people don’t understand why we enjoy immersing ourselves in a world dedicated to the darker side of human behavior. Is there something wrong with wanting to read about crimes of passion and serial killings? Are those of us who self-identify as true crime junkies lacking the proper moral compass that would guide us away from these depraved interests? Are we some sinister minority that deserves a good whack on the knuckles for even thinking about such things?
I think not.
The current wave of commercially and critically successful true crime books, TV series, and movies is testament to the broad appeal and powerful allure of such stories. Why are they so popular? Here’s what I believe are two of the primary reasons.
Human Beings are Fascinating Creatures
As the soon-to-become-monstrous Creature ponders in Frankenstein, how is that human beings are “at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base”? This inherent duality of humanity never ceases to shock or amaze us. Each of us – every single person on the planet – houses an inner Dr. Jekyll in a perpetual struggle with our personal Mr. Hyde.
It is this innate duality that draws us to true crime tales. It is what makes serial killers, rapists, child molesters, and even white collar criminals who conceal their secret selves behind seemingly benevolent masks such compelling subjects.
My first true crime book, The Vampire Next Door: The True Story of the Vampire Rapist, chronicles the story of John Crutchley, dubbed the “Vampire Rapist” by the media due to his propensity for drinking the blood of his victims. What drew me to Crutchley’s story, and what still fascinates me even today, was how he balanced two sides of his life. His Hyde side entailed abducting women, tying them up, and repeatedly raping them. Throughout their confinement he drained their blood through surgical tubes. He then killed them by strangulation. All this, yet his Jekyll side presented a family man with a wife and young son holding a white-collar job with top secret security clearance at the Pentagon while working as a computer programmer on weapons communications systems for the U.S. Navy.
Israel Keyes, the new breed of serial killer whose story is detailed in my book, Devil in the Darkness, similarly hid his dark side behind the mask of a doting father and hard-working business owner. Indeed, after he was finally caught, Keyes gloated to investigators about how he had been able to fool everyone he knew for over a decade. This was a guy who used the entire country as his hunting grounds, burying “kill-kits” containing the tools and the weapons to commit his crimes in multiple states years before returning to use them.
True crime writing giant Ann Rule points to this duality as a determining factor for the crimes she chose to write about. The stories that stood out to her centered on the “psychopathology of the criminal mind,” with criminal subjects who wore a “perfect mask” to disguise their inner evil. Exploring the psychology of monsters in disguise, trying to understand how their inner Hyde outbalanced or destroyed its Jekyll counterpart, cultivates a fertile field of fascinating stories.
No One Wants to be a Victim
Another reason for reading true crime is the desire to avoid becoming the victim of a horrific crime in the future. Part of this involves learning about serial killers and psychopaths in the hope that doing so will arm the reader with the knowledge of their methods and the wherewithal to avoid falling victim to them. Similarly, learning about the background of violent offenders might reveal clues as to how they became murderers and rapists. To quote Rule again, “we are all tremendously curious about what makes some babies grow up to be savage criminals and others law-abiding citizens.”
When you consider that women make up 75% of true crime podcast listeners, and a similar majority of the readers of true crime books, this reason makes perfect sense. Women fear crime more than men because they are more likely than men to be victims of crime, so it follows that a motivating factor for reading true crime is the desire to acquire survival skills that could be literally life-saving.
In A Monster of All Time: The True Story of Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper, I include the story of a woman who survived a sexual assault by Rolling (just days before he murdered several other women) by drawing on the lessons she learned while watching her favorite true crime TV show. Rolling had every intention of killing her that night, but her quick thinking and knowledge of how best to handle the situation saved her. Likewise, as narrated in my book, Deadly Deception, the only young woman to survive an abduction by serial killer Bobby Joe Long did so by learning beforehand about what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do in such a situation.
Learning what type of person is more likely to be a rapist or murderer, and knowing how such crimes happen, provides a sense of comfort that one may have the ability to avoid crossing paths with a criminal, or to at least survive such an encounter if it were to occur.
I’ll add a third reason, which applies as much to why I write true crime as it does to why I think a good number of readers are drawn to it. And that reason is the hope of helping out with unsolved cases, whether it be to help identify the perpetrator in a cold case or to otherwise help bring some closure to the victims’ families. This reason is a particular motivating force for my current project writing about a decades-old cold case involving the abduction and murder of a twelve-year-old girl who never made it home from her bus stop after school one sunny afternoon.
True crime is a genre that, at its best, rewards its reader with tales of fascinating characters, astounding plots, and universal themes. By sharing stories about monsters, true crime offers us some insight into what it means to be human. By giving us a glimpse into the human heart, it reveals truth that is indeed stranger than any fiction.
J.T. Hunter is an attorney with over fourteen years of experience practicing law, including criminal law and appeals, and he has significant training in criminal investigation techniques. He is also a college professor in Florida where his teaching interests focus on the intersection of criminal psychology, law, and literature. JT’s bestselling true crime books include:
- Devil in The Darkness: True Story of Serial Killer ISRAEL KEYES
- The Country Boy Killer: The True Story of Serial Killer Cody Legebokoff
- In Colder Blood: True Story of the Walker Family Murder as depicted in Truman Capote’s, In Cold Blood
- Deadly Deception: True Story of Tampa Serial Killer, Bobby Joe Long
- Death Row Romeo: The True Story of Serial Killer Oscar Ray Bolin
- The Vampire Next Door: True Story of the Vampire Rapist and Serial Killer
The True Story of Danny Rolling, The Gainesville Ripper
Ambitious, attractive, and full of potential, five young college students prepared for the new semester. They dreamed of beginning careers and starting families. They had a lifetime of experiences in front of them. But death came without warning in the dark of the night. Brutally ending five promising lives, leaving behind three gruesome crime scenes, the Gainesville Ripper terrorized the University of Florida, casting an ominous shadow across a frightened college town.
What evil lurked inside him?
What demons drove him to kill?
What made him A Monster of All Time?
Genre: True Crime
Published by: RJ Parker Publishing
Publication Date: September 4th 2018
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 1987902521 (ISBN13: 9781987902525
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JT Hunter. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on July 1, 2019 and runs through August 2, 2019. Void where prohibited.