I’ve never been much of a podcast listener, but it seems lately like I can’t escape the throngs of people talking about their favorites and recommending new episodes to their friends. And when it comes to podcasts these days, I especially encounter the “murderinos” that make up the fans of the true crime podcast My Favorite Murder.
Even my dad has jumped onto the trend, listening to podcasts like Criminal and The Murder Squad while traveling on business trips, he flies through as many true crime novels and TV shows he can get his hands on.
The trend has also made its way to the digital pages of our magazine — last month, a feature article we published on a mass shooting in California, Mo., was shared across Facebook and read by thousands of people. The story’s popularity sparked a number of questions among our staff, but for me, it drove home a broader question that looked beyond the story’s success: Why do people like true crime so much?
Part of it is the fact that it could happen to anybody, says Mary Beth Brown, a local historian and MU doctoral candidate. Brown has given multiple talks on history that has taken place in mid-Missouri, including one called “Murder, Mystery and Mayhem" at the Columbian Public Library this summer.
“One of my things with history is I like to make it personal,” she says. "I think, a lot of times with true crime, you can relate it back to something you heard about."
Although Brown said she herself isn’t as entertained by the genre, it is significantly more common for women to be fans of true crime than men. A study published in May 2018 found 73% of true crime podcast listeners are women, and another study highlighted that 70% of true crime book reviewers on Amazon are women as well.
"When women are connected to crime, we’re much more likely to be victims or survivors,” wrote Kate Tuttle in an essay published in the New York Times this past summer. "Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them."
Denise Isom, a fan of true crime TV shows like Snapped and Dateline, says her fascination with the genre has to do with the mystery behind it.
“I’ve always liked mysteries and finding the answers possibly,” she says. The stories might also serve as cautionary tales — by listening to true crime, people could become more aware of their surroundings and of dangerous behaviors, she says.
Looking at the popularity of true crime podcasts, novels and even magazine articles, the excitement surrounding true crime is undeniable. Brown doesn’t think it’s going away anytime soon, either — even in 1912, there were instances of women filling courtrooms and packing picnic lunches to watch a murder trial local to Columbia, she says.
“Even dating way back then, it was still something that really attracted a lot of attention and a lot of morbid curiosity,” she says.