Laughing At Murderers: Why An Anxious Wreck Like Me Can’t Get Enough of True Crime

By Jess Kershaw - @coffeecrimeblog

A few weeks ago, my housemate went on holiday. That first night I spent alone, I watched Bake Off, curled up on the sofa. When it ended, the sun had sunk below the horizon. I flicked off the TV and the emptiness of the house began to close in on me: oppressive, silent, huge. The velvet darkness in the garden hid monsters. The creaks and water-drips from the bathroom became immutable proof that there was a murderer sneaking around upstairs.

For a moment, I was paralysed. Anxiety gripped my throat.  And then I took a deep breath. Fished out my phone.

Did I phone my boyfriend? Did I look at cute pictures of animals?

No, I did not.

I popped on an Allkillanofilla episode and listened to two hilarious Mancunian women discuss Richard Trenton Chase. He was a serial killer who believed that the only cure for his ‘vanishing blood’ was to consume the blood of his victims. He was a fan of necrophilia as well, because when you’re a terrible person you might as well go the whole hog.

It sounds like madness: the only cure for anxiety -- more anxiety! But it makes sense to me -- and to plenty of others. You only have to look at the success of podcasts like My Favourite Murder, where the hosts discuss both murder and mental health, to realise that a lot of true crime fans are like me: women with anxiety who find nightmare stories soothing. There’s a glut of podcasts that address true crime with an irreverent sense of humour; the majority of them are hosted by women. Here’s the thing: the best cure for terror is to laugh at it. We all learned that as kids, reading about the spell to vanquish the Boggart: imagine something funny, now shout RIDDIKULUS!

By taking my fear and channelling it into humour -- by staring the bogeyman in the face and laughing at him -- I was able to break that cycle of I am scared of a thing and so I will not think of the thing and I cannot help but think of the thing I am trying not to think of. It’s like trying not to think of a pink elephant. Fear thrives when you try and ignore it.

Another instance comes to mind: I’m hungover, at work, repeating the silly things I said the other night over and over in my head. Nothing terrible, objectively speaking: the same drunken blatherings that any other twenty-something comes out with. But my anxiety -- that hideous spiteful saboteur -- kicked in, muttering how dreadful I was, what a worthless bitch. I stuck in some headphones, listened to a podcast about Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker.  When you have anxiety telling you that you are The Worst Person Ever over little things you've done wrong it's refreshing to remind yourself that you are not.

There’s a sense of camaraderie in true crime; I’ve had umpteen conversations with other women that have started with “Oh, so you like this sort of creepy shit as well? Isn’t it terrifying? Isn’t it interesting?”  After the Ramirez podcast, I messaged one of my friends and told her what I was listening to; she listened to the same episode; and at lunch we chattered over the things we had been frightened by, the jokes we had guiltily laughed at. The horrific murders, the rapes: the eventual, gratifying capture. We mocked Ramirez for his shitty, tangled hair.

Why do I immerse myself in things that scare me? Because I'm alive. Because I can. Because adrenaline’s giddy thrill kicks me out of the brain fog brought on by too much worrying. And faced with the monumental pressure of your own fears, joining in with mocking the darker corners of humanity is cathartic.



Jess writes a lot, reads a lot, and blogs about true crime at Coffee & Crime. She works in publishing (she got into it because she heard they let you drink wine at meetings. She has thus far been disappointed.) 
Grace Harrison