The nation has become obsessed with true crime in recent years, but what are the most popular true crime documentaries of the past year?
Looking at Google Search Trends1, David Green, Senior Tutor, at The University of Law (ULaw), reveals the most searched for true crime documentaries during 2019.
The top five are:
Casting JonBenet (2017)
The Fear of 13 (2015)
The Staircase (2018)
Evil Genius (2018)
Making a Murderer (2015:2018)
Other popular true crime documentaries such as The Keepers, Dirty John: The Dirty Truth, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann and Abducted in Plain Sight closely followed.
Despite being released in January 2017, Casting JonBenet, the story following the unsolved murder of child-beauty queen JonBenet Ramsay, was the most-searched-for true crime documentary of 2019.
The searches for the documentary were highest on 10th-16th February and 8th-14th March, perhaps due to news that an imprisoned and convicted paedophile spoke out and claimed responsibility for the murder of JonBenet during this time2.
The Fear of 13
The Fear of 13 was released way back in 2015, but was still the second highest searched for crime documentary of 2019. The documentary follows the story of Nick Yarris, who was convicted of murder and spent 21 years on Death Row, despite being innocent of the crime.
Interestingly, the highest searches for the documentary occured over the Christmas period, between 22nd-28th December, although searches were consistently high year-long. Notable spikes in searches also occurred between 31st March- 6th April, and 8th-14th September.
In third place is The Staircase, a documentary exploring the investigation of Michael Peterson, a novelist accused of murdering his wife. Peterson claimed his wife fell down the stairs in their home, but later investigation discovered she had been fatally beaten with a weapon.
The Staircase was released in May 2018, but the biggest spikes in Google searches for the documentary happened between 17th-23rd February and 3rd-9th March. The week of 24th-30th March also saw the biggest increase in searches from the whole year – up 64% from the week before.
Michael Peterson’s prosecutor Freda Black died in March 2019, perhaps accounting for the influx of searches for the documentary across the month3.
This 2018 documentary tells the story of pizza delivery man, Brian Wells, who blew up while in police custody for bank robbery. Wells had a bomb locked around his neck, with his murderer withholding the key from him by sending him on a scavenger hunt to find it.
Searches were the highest between 3rd-9th February, but June was the month where searches really spiked. The biggest increase in people looking up the documentary happened between 2nd-8th June and 9th-15th June – an increase of 114%.
Making A Murderer
One of the most well-known true crime documentaries, Making a Murderer details the life and story of Steven Avery, who was freed after spending nearly 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He is now serving a lifetime prison sentence for the murder of Teresa Halbach.
Searches were highest between 6th-12th January, also peaking between 25th February and 2nd March – right at the time Avery won his right for an appeal4. The biggest spikes in searches for the documentary occurred between 22nd and 28th September (+300% increase from the previous week), just as inmate Joseph Evans’ handwritten confession that he had murdered Teresa Halbach with his car in Avery’s yard was released to press5.
So, what’s the nation’s obsession with true crime? Psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll believes it’s because “true crime stories allow us to explore the darker side of nature in a safe way”,6 while Psychologist Emma Kenny says that watching crime shows can “trigger chemical reactions in our bodies, while also affirming our moral views about right and wrong”.
Author Caitlin Rother believes our obsession with true crime is because: “We want some insight into the psychology of a killer, partly so we can learn how to protect our families and ourselves, but also because we are simply fascinated by aberrant behaviour and the many paths that twisted perceptions can take.”
Summarising the research David Green said: “It’s clear we’re a nation of true crime addicts. The popularity of this genre can be due to our natural human interest making us curious about the dark and the different, but it’s fascinating to see it can also be because we want to learn how to protect ourselves from harm.”
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