Scrolling through my Netflix feed I am amazed at the number of true crime tv shows that have emerged over the past year; a newly found obsession of the public that needs to be fed. I realized that this fascination for true crime that I’ve had for several years now, is seeming to slowly creep into the mainstream media. A middle-aged man waiting for a table at my favourite breakfast restaurant a few months back was gushing about the newly released Ted Bundy Confession Tapes, using the terms “captivating” and “addicting.” A feeling of awkwardness mixed with disgust washed over me as my own reactions of hate and anger towards the infamous serial killer clashed with his so called “captivating” feeling. It was then that I began to notice society’s collective draw towards the true crime world – tough on crime, because no politician ever won with a soft on crime mentality.
People enjoy pondering over who the killer may be, what possible suspects were involved, what the crime scene can tell us, what the motives were for murdering such an innocent person (because the most amazing people always seem to have the worst fate), and arguably most importantly, what the police are doing about it. It’s satisfying to watch our justice system work perfectly, trust me I get it. But what happens when true crime, I mean currently occurring in real life true crime doesn’t work perfectly? What happens when no one is caught and the case is left unsolved?; when there’s not even a body to go off and instead a vanished person who the family claims would never go off on their own? We hear: “they would never leave their children,” and “they didn’t even bring their wallet or anything with them,” or “it’s really like they just vanished into thin air” and almost always, “we just want them to come home.” Not too satisfying is it?
If you spoke to me less than a year ago I’d tell you without hesitation that my most time consuming, captivating (and exhausting) pastime was learning about missing people. I became obsessed with trying to figure out what may have happened to them, but knowing that this task could have easily driven anyone down a pitch black hole they weren’t ready for, I simply wanted to make myself aware of as many cases as I could. Awareness is power, and I wanted any kind of power I could get as it seemed that there was barely any to be had by anybody in these cases. It slowly became clear to me that whenever I would bring these cases up to my friends or family, they would hardly ever recognize the names. Unless it were famous missing children such as Johnny Gosch or Madeleine Mccann who have received a ton of media coverage, they usually had no idea.
People don’t want to seek out missing people’s stories and become aware of them. It’s depressing, it’s upsetting, and it’s heartbreaking. Coming from someone who has learned of hundreds of missing individuals, I understand. It’s frustrating as hell, because there’s typically nothing to go off of, and what little clues we do have isn’t enough to get justice, answers, or closure for the family. People aren’t interested because unlike murders, serial killers or other popular true crime topics we don’t have all the facts to examine and to know exactly what occurred. People don’t like it because you can’t put it all into a little box and place it somewhere deep inside your mind to open whenever you want a little taste of the dark side – there’s simply no box to examine. The box is just missing.
I’ve found myself to be a culprit of this disinterest, shifting my focus away from the world of missing people and toward the cohesive true crime stories that had a beginning, middle and an end. Ted Bundy is interesting, or shall I say “captivating” because you can utterly exhaust every aspect of his story. We know what his childhood was like growing up, and when his tendencies began. We know (approximately) how many women he murdered and how exactly he murdered them. Hell, we can study the actual crime scene photos taken, although I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone. A complete and thorough story is what is captivating, one that we can make our own conclusions about since we have all of the facts.
Missing person cases are never going to give us the kind of twisted satisfaction we may get from a cohesive narrative in other areas of true crime. I guarantee that they will frustrate you, and anger you, and may be some of the hardest kinds of stories that you’ll ever hear. They may make you question the legitimacy of those who are supposed to be doing everything in their power to find these people. Missing person cases can make you question the very systems that hold our society together, because in reality, they are crimes left unsolved. Someone got away with it, even if that person is the missing one themselves…but for fuck’s sake we need to start talking about them. We need to stop turning our attention so heavily toward the evil in the world and those who inflict the pain because they are simply “captivating.” Missing people were captivating, somewhere in the world they were somebody’s everything. Let’s stop making serial killers famous and instead put half as much of that energy into finding those who slipped away among us, because if as many people who knew the name Charles Manson also knew the name Asha Degree or Lars Mittank or Rebecca Corriam or Kyron Horman, maybe we would have a lot more answers.