Decades ago, I stumbled upon a modest paperback tucked away in my parents’ bookshelf that contained information about America’s most notorious serial killers. As a 10-year-old, it may have been unwise to read and reread about the horrors inflicted by individuals like Ed Gein, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. While I already had a general awareness that terrible things happened, this book presented a different experience: it was specific, personal, and hauntingly intimate.
Fortunately, the tired approach of glorifying these monsters by focusing on their personal struggles and the details of their crimes is starting to lose favor. Instead, there has been a shift towards elevating the stories of those who were impacted and understanding the societal circumstances and mood of the eras in which these crimes took place. This shift was evident when a man was arrested for the Gilgo Beach serial killings, and there was a demand for information about the victims and scrutiny of the investigation.
This article is the first in a series discussing true crime films, shows, and podcasts. Although future articles may not specifically focus on murderers, it feels appropriate to begin with this topic. Here are some recommendations across television, documentaries, and podcasts that offer more than the usual glorification of madness.
One notable series is a four-part Max series based on a book by Elon Green. This series effectively contextualizes a serial killing spree that occurred in the early 1990s amidst the AIDS crisis and rising hate crimes against the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Rather than solely focusing on the killer’s identity, the series humanizes the victims through interviews with family members, friends, and allies of the queer community. It also addresses the biased treatment of the murdered men, the community, and those pleading for action by the New York Police Department and the city’s politicians.
Another gripping series on Netflix is about the search for Richard Ramirez, who terrorized California for over a year in the mid-1980s. This series goes beyond exploring Ramirez’s identity and crimes. It delves into the recollections of survivors, victims’ families, journalists, and the dedicated detectives who tirelessly pursued Ramirez. The series effectively captures the mentality of the communities affected, as well as the shortcomings of available technology and mistakes made by law enforcement and political leaders.
For those who prefer podcasts, “This Is Actually Happening” is a remarkable podcast where regular people share their stories of life-altering events. The episodes are stripped-down and focus on first-person accounts, allowing the gravity of the stories to hit hard. One episode from 2022 features Jane Boroski, the only known survivor of the Connecticut River Valley killer. Instead of diving into the details of the killer’s crimes, the podcast allows Boroski to discuss her life before, during, and after the attack, highlighting her resilience and transformation.
In the realm of television, the compelling Netflix drama “Mindhunter” is a must-watch. Based on the memoir “Mindhunter: Inside the F.B.I.’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” the show explores the creation of the F.B.I.’s Behavioral Science Unit and the concept of serial killers. While the main characters are fictional, the serial killers depicted are based on real individuals, with uncannily accurate casting. The show takes a more academic approach, delving into the psychology behind these crimes through thought-provoking conversations rather than sensationalism.
In conclusion, the true crime genre has evolved to focus on the stories of the victims and the societal circumstances in which these crimes occur. The recommended films, shows, and podcasts mentioned here offer a deeper exploration into these aspects, moving away from the glorification of the killers themselves. By humanizing the victims and analyzing the societal responses to these crimes, these narratives provide a more nuanced and profound understanding of true crime.