Every day I learn about murders, all types of murders, serial murders, revenge murders, family murders, murders of passion and every now and then something a little more light hearted, like clown murders. When I attempt to talk about this obsession with others they may give a complementary nod and exclaim ‘that’s fascinating’ but they’re often mentally handing me a lifetime ban from their birthday celebrations. Fearing that I’ll show up and talk about the fact that on this day 20 years ago a mass shooting took place at a zoo. It’s completely understandable. However I have discovered through podcasts, reddit and social media that I am not the only person who spends their hours learning about all the reasons it’s a terrible idea to hitchhike (1. stranger danger, 2-87. you’ll get murdered). In fact there’s an entire community, that’s right community, of sleuths volunteering to solve the world’s most perplexing cases and unpacking the injustices that led to needless crimes.
People have always been interested in murders, it’s the worst thing can possibly happen to someone, so naturally it’s the most interesting. Since the concept of killing somebody being wrong was invented by Abraham and God shortly after the hunger games ended there have been wild and usually unfounded rumours about those that kill. In fact after the ten plagues of Egypt took place it was commonly thought that God was a peeping Tom who slept with discarded mannequins. Not my words. Rumours in murder cases are as common as murder in murder cases, it is a natural reaction to find a reason why the crime took place and why that reason means it can never happen to you. Take the Julia Wallace case, in 1931 Julia Wallace was murdered in her Liverpool home, the prime suspect in this case was her husband. Despite there being a dispute in the timeline of the murder, questions of whether it was possible that Mr Wallace was the murderer and a mystery call from a ‘R.M. Qualtrough’ arranging for Mr Wallace to attend a non-existent address for an enquiry about an endowment policy around the time the murder took place, rumours of Mr Wallace’s motive went viral over Liverpool’s garden fences. There were whispers that Mr Wallace had an opium habit, that he was having numerous affairs, that Julia Wallace was over insured and Mr Wallace was sleeping with her sister. If all or any of these rumours were true Mr Wallace should’ve been awarded the prestigious title of ‘Most Interesting Chess Playing Insurance Salesman Ever!’ Of course these rumours were completely fictitious, but the people Liverpool could sleep soundly knowing that as long as their partner wasn’t a nymphomaniac with an 18th century drug habit, they were safe.
These folklore theories aren’t just limited to a time before DNA, CCTV and other acronyms, they’re still a part of modern day murders. Especially when murders take place in small towns. I recently watched the superb documentary Casting JonBenét, available on Netflix, which tells the story of the beyond untimely murder of 6 year old child pageant darling JonBenét Ramsey through the eyes of the amateur actors hoping to be cast in a dramatisation of the tragedy. Many of the actors auditioning for the leading roles were citizens of Boulder, Colorado, the town in which the murder took place. In my humble, and correct, opinion these future stars deserve to be lauded with awards for their tour de force performance in the complex and layered role of ‘devastated community’. Although there are still definitely elements of being seduced by intrigue and scandal, such as the rumours of paedophile ring operating within Boulder, the participants do allow themselves to be vulnerable. Bravely detailing the ways in which the death of JonBenét impacted their lives and in some cases how it brushed away the dirt covering the personal hardships they had worked so hard to bury. The stories that were circulated by the locals in the JonBenét case contrasted to the rumours that dogged the murder of Julia Wallace. The people of Boulder didn’t appear to be want to separate themselves from JonBenét, instead many of the actors seemed to have created a narrative based on their experience of childhood or the fierce, unrivalled love they feel as a parent. In an honest revelation towards the end of the documentary one actor even attempted to empathise with the parents of JonBenét, drawing from their own guilt as a parent. Please watch trailer for the documentary if you don’t trust my truly biased review.
Due to advances in technology and the increasing availability of information we now no longer have to rely on the word-of-mouth accounts of individuals, we can do our own research. In fact for those who feel their detective skills aren’t being utilised properly in their current careers, there are reddit communities who are working together to help solve cold cases, alerting local authorities to crucial evidence and assisting in undoing mistakes made by the police in the initial investigation. This development in vigilantism is, to quote the almighty TLC, CrazySexyCool. These average Joe Agatha Christie’s disprove a common misconception about people who have an interested in true crime. We are not degenerates, feeding our twisted fantasies by fawning over the gory details of these horrific crimes, we want it to stop. We are not content with simply branding the criminals as being born evil, locking them up and then just hope that we’re never in the wrong place at the wrong time when the next psycho turns up. We are not willing to accept that these murder is an unfortunate inevitability, even if it is the case. Instead we work to try and make sense of why these things happen and try to locate all the points in the story where the perpetrator could’ve been stopped.
My final piece of advice to anybody with an interest in true crime would be to download a true crime podcast, right now, no questions asked. This is fantastic advice. If you fancy a straight, no nonsense, fact heavy podcast I would recommend They Walk Among Us. A well produced and informative podcast dedicated to British crime. The subject matter is mostly murder but then there is the odd tangent into the more bizarre crimes, such as the the disappearance of John Darwin. However if your looking for a lighter but equally sincere podcast I would point you in the direction of My Favourite Murder, a podcast where two friends, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, candidly discuss the murders that have both fascinated and infuriated them. A kind word of warning would be to try and temper you’re facial expressions while listening, the details of the crimes can often leave you looking like you’ve stood barefoot in a dog turd. The pair will reassure you that your you’re not alone in your obsession, and if you follow their pearls of wisdom you can hopefully murder yourself. Top Tip: DON’T HITCHHIKE!