The RCMP’s search for fugitives Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, that began with the murders of American tourist Chyna Deese, and her Australian boyfriend Lucas Fowler, as well as UBC lecturer Leonard Dyck in Northern British Columbia, and is now taking place in Northern Manitoba, has been big news around here this summer. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m completely and utterly fascinated by this case. I love a good true crime story, and this one is more gripping than any podcast, book, or documentary could ever be because it’s unfolding in real time, and in my own country. It’s shocking, sad, mysterious, and I can’t get enough, texting friends for updates, scouring news websites for new information, and following hashtags on Twitter.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been sucked down the true crime rabbit hole though. I spent a month in 2012 recovering from wisdom teeth surgery watching Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared, and wading through the vast world of Websleuths, where forums for specific cases and the missing exist along with evidence and a multitude of theories presented by citizen detectives. My gums throbbing in pain at 1 a.m., I’d find a case on Websleuths and start scrolling. Even now, years later, I’m still haunted by the Sumter County Does, an unidentified couple found murdered in California in the 70’s, and whose post-mortem photographs are forever seared into my memory: Jane Doe’s gaping mouth, and wide, vacant eyes cannot be unseen.
A few months ago I listened to investigative journalist Billy Jensen’s audiobook Chase Darkness With Me, and was struck by his keen insight into people’s fascination with the macabre world of true crime. Jensen explains the appeal this way:
When I heard this gem of information, I was instantly struck with a new, deeper level of understanding about myself. I thrive in environments of order and routine, and I certainly like having things thoroughly organized and “just right,” as a way to combat the anxiety I begin to feel when I can’t control my surroundings. In fact, after a busy, demanding day at school there’s nothing I find more relaxing than throwing on a true crime doc. and kicking back on the couch in my pyjamas with a fuzzy blanket and a giant bowl of popcorn to unwind.
When I engage with a true crime story, it’s not because I’m interested in the blood and gore, or get some strange satisfaction from seeing people suffer. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s the catching of the perpetrator, and the return to order with justice rightly dispensed, or at least the persistent quest towards such an outcome, that soothes me. Like a balm to my frazzled soul, seeing order brought back to chaos just seems right, especially when it’s something I’m constantly striving to bring to all areas of my own life.