For most of my life, I’ve been interested in true crime. I’ve read many books and watched many shows about crime. I probably own hundreds of videos on Amazon about criminal cases. My exposure to crime happened very early in my life. I could read at a very young age, which meant I would sometimes read things I didn’t or couldn’t understand. I remember being terrified of someone shooting me or my family out of the blue. I realized years later it was because I had read about the Son of Sam in our local paper. The idea that something awful could happen at any time took root.
American Predator by Maureen Callahan is about serial killer Israel Keyes. The book is a well-written, disturbing account of a complete psychopath. To recount its contents would be too upsetting for readers. So instead I thought I’d talk a little about my interest in true crime and why I’m drawn to it.
I was a perpetually frightened child. I had extreme anxiety. I lived in an apartment where I could hear the violence of others. All of this overcooked me, but instead of avoiding upsetting things, I seemed to look them right in the eye. I began to read books about crimes at a fairly young age. They scared me to death, but I was also drawn to them in a way I didn’t understand at the time. Looking back, I think it was a number of things. First and foremost I think it was a misguided way to try to overcome my own experience with violence. As long as I knew how and why terrible crimes were committed, I thought I could avoid a terrible fate. It was a way to feel like I had some control in a scary world. If I avoided doing things the victims had done, then I would be safe.
As I grew older, the voyeur aspect of reading and watching about true crime began to bother me. What does it say about me that I am a fan of true crime? These are real crimes that cause real trauma to real people. Running one of the shows in the background as I did my chores seemed disrespectful. Such stories deserved my full attention.
Over time I realized that there were two aspects to my, for lack of a better word, love of true crime. One was my fascination with puzzles. How did things happen? Why? How did they catch the perpetrator? But more important was the second aspect: my desire to understand how people can experience the trauma and horror of having a friend or family member murdered and survive. While I have never had someone in my life murdered, I experienced tragedy that came out of nowhere and shook my world to its core. Somehow, connecting to other survivors of trauma helped me understand my own.
I think true crime should always be approached with a certain amount of respect. It’s why I don’t like things like the “My Favorite Murder” podcast. These are people’s lives, lives that have been shattered. Enthusiastic fandom feels wrong. Maybe that’s too moralistic. But at least in the case of American Predator, and all the other true crime books I’ve read, I have always respected a crime’s impact on victims’ families, and even crime investigators. In this small, insignificant way I can bear witness.