With more than 75,000 posts on Instagram tagged with #tedbundy stemming from the recent release of the , it’s safe to say that the 'serial killer sub-genre' of true crime is having its moment in the spotlight.
Using , we analyzed the viewing patterns across the United States and United Kingdom for four major true crime docu-series: Confessions With A Serial Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, Evil Genius, John Wayne Gacy Jr: Serial Killer, and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer.
In looking at viewership metrics across these four titles, we discovered that in the U.S., West Virginia came out on top for wanting to know all of the gory details. Whereas in the UK, those living in the city of Glasgow were the most likely to love true crime documentaries, with searches for ‘Serial Killers’ spiking in those regions over the past two years.
Rounding out the top-three in the U.S. are Wyoming and Kentucky. When we drill down into the specific docu-series, we see that Confessions of a Killer performs well in the West and Pacific Northwest, while Evil Genius and John Wayne Gacy are more popular in the Northeast. Aileen is most popular throughout the Midwest and South.
Interestingly, these viewership stats correspond to the pattern of crimes committed by the killers in each of the aforementioned docu-series. Ted Bundy's killing spree took place in Washington State, Utah, Idaho and Colorado, which is the region of the country most obsessed with Confessions of a Killer. The bizarre bank robbery-turned-murder that is the focus of Evil Genius took place in Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Northeast is where the series is most popular. John Wayne Gacy murdered at least 33 young men in Cook County, Illinois, which is adjacent to the states that watch his titular series the most. And Aileen Wuornos's murders took place in Florida, one of the states most addicted to her true crime documentary.
The top-three UK cities most obsessed with serial killers are Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester; three rough, blue collar, working class towns.
Interestingly, that same trio of cities appears over and over again when looking at series-specific viewership. Each city has a well-deserved 'tough-as-nails' reputation. Glasgow, for example, is home to the "Glasgow Kiss," used to describe a hooligan's penchant for issuing a forceful head-butt to the bridge of the nose, and the "Glasgow Smile," whereby gangsters would slice the edges of the mouth up to the ears, leaving a smile-shaped scar on the victim's face. Perhaps this has something to do with the city's true crime obsession?
Related: 6 Twisted British Serial Killers
To that end, it's worth considering why viewers love true crime so much in the first place. Below is a list of reasons we came up with:
1. True Crime is Fascinating and Intriguing
Experts say we are drawn to good vs evil, even as children. We are fascinated by an act we wouldn’t even dream of replicating, and also to have peace of mind that we can protect ourselves. Dr. Paul G. Mattiuzzi, forensic psychologist explains: “We want some insight into the psychology of a killer, partly so we can learn how to protect our families and ourselves".
2. We Have a General Fixation on Violence
Maybe we are all a little obsessed with shocking news? If you are driving down the highway and a smashed-up car is crushed against the barriers on your left, you automatically slow down to check what's going on. In the words of Scott Bonn, professor of criminology at Drew University: “The actions of a serial killer may be horrible to behold, but much of the public simply cannot look away due to the spectacle”.
3. Watching True Crime Helps Us Feel Prepared for Violence
What would you do if you were being chased down by a serial killer? You would do everything the victims of Ted Bundy didn’t do! It can be argued that we love true crime because it gives us an idea of how we can avoid being in that situation, or how to escape if we ever do find ourselves there.
4. We're Glad We're Not the Victim
It’s not surprising we get a sense of relief that we didn’t have to endure the torture others have been through. Dr. Sharon Packer, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine says: “It’s not necessarily sadistic, but if bad faith had to fall on someone, at least it fell on someone else”. The inverse is also true. We are glad that we have never acted out our aggression in the same manner as the perpetrator. We also get a sense of relief that we could never perform such a terrible act.
5. We Want to Solve the Mystery
True crime mysteries have been popular since the first true crime novel, Truman Capote’s 1966 book about the Clutter Killings in the small town of Holcombe. Over 50 years later, we still want to join the detectives to figure out how this awful event took place. Bonn explains: “People can play armchair detective and see if they can figure out ‘whodunit’ before law enforcement authorities catch the actual perpetrator.” As humans, we love puzzles, and a real life one is even more difficult to solve, which naturally we can’t get enough of.
6. We Like to Be Scared
We love to be scared, but in a manner in which we feel safe. The fact that you can switch from Ted Bundy to Friends in an instant makes the act of being frightened actually enjoyable. A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, HuffPost: “Dive into the darker side of humanity, but from the safety of the couch.”
7. True Crime Provides a Sense of Escape
Storytelling has been what humans do since the beginning of time. TV journalist Chris Hansen Mentalfloss: “At the end of the day, it’s good storytelling, too. Voyeuristic isn’t the right term, but it does allow people to escape and to see this other side of life that’s fascinating, and I think it’s also this fascination with becoming an armchair detective”. True crime gives us the opportunity to leave our responsibilities behind and get lost in the mystery. As humans, we feel we need that disconnection from reality.