Investigation Discovery held its second annual IDCon last weekend in New York City. More than 300 true crime enthusiasts and ID Addicts (as they proudly call themselves) gathered in the Altman Building to take polygraph tests, snap photos in a “Notorious Headlines” photo booth, and, of course, see panels featuring their favorite Investigation Discovery personalities. All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales went to the Silver Shield Foundation, which provides educational support to the children of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.
True crime has always been popular, but these days, you can’t turn on the TV or your favorite streaming service without finding some ripped-from-the-headlines offering. We decided to ask the hosts of Investigation Discovery’s most popular shows why people—and women especially—love true crime.
1. JOE KENDA // HOMICIDE HUNTER
Lieutenant Joe Kenda solved 92 percent of the homicide cases he worked on during his career in law enforcement in Colorado Springs, Colorado—many of which he’s covered on his Investigation Discovery show, which will air its seventh season this year. True crime resonates, he says, for a number of reasons. “Complex feelings and issues don’t have simple answers or motivations, they don’t,” Kenda tells Mental Floss. “I think people are tired of fiction, tired of made up stories. It attracts them to truth, to something that’s happened to real people.”
He also believes that people love mysteries and good storytelling. “For thousands of years, people have gathered around the fire and said, ‘Tell me a story,’” he says. “If you tell it well, they’ll ask you tell another one. If you can tell a story about real people involved in real things, that draws their interest more than something some Hollywood scriptwriter made up that always has the same components and the same ending. And then: Who buys mystery novels? Women do, for the most part. They always have. So now you have motion picture mysteries as opposed to printed mysteries. That’s part of it, too.”
2. TAMRON HALL // DEADLINE: CRIME
During a panel discussion about why people involved in crimes—whether they’re families of the victims or the perpetrators—choose to speak for ID shows, Tamron Hall took a moment to talk about why ID viewers tune in to true crime shows. “It reminds us of humanity and the tragedies that can happen, and the journey for these people,” she said. “I think all of you guys watch our shows and say, ‘But for the grace of God, this could happen to me.’ A lot of these [shows have] themes of, wrong place, wrong time. Wrong choice … It really is something that could happen to someone you know, and the way the way the network handles it, is just that way. This could happen to anyone we know, and possibly us at some point in time.”
3. GARRY MCFADDEN // I AM HOMICIDE
For McFadden—whose show, I Am Homicide, returns for its second season on June 6—the public’s love for true crime all boils down to mystery. “People love mystery, they love intrigue, they love excitement,” he says. “When you’ve got that all together, and you can watch it every day, you want it. When you’re talking about ID, you’re talking about something that people say, ‘I’m going to figure this out,’ or ‘I’m going to see how this ends.’ The best movies are about mystery.”
4. CHRIS HANSEN // KILLER INSTINCT
Chris Hansen has had a long career in crime journalism (who can forget To Catch a Predator?), and it’s something he was drawn to early in his life, thanks to a very famous—and still unsolved—case. “When I was about 14, Jimmy Hoffa was kidnapped from a restaurant that’s about a mile and a half from the house where I grew up,” he tells Mental Floss. “It was on the news and in the papers. I’d ride my bike up there and see the yellow tape, the FBI agents and local police, and the TV news correspondents, and I kind of got bitten by the bug.”
Hansen believes people love true crime because it takes them places they wouldn’t normally go. “We go to places so the viewers don’t have to,” he says. “They see things they wouldn’t normally see, and they hear things they wouldn’t normally hear. And I think there’s a fascination with that. And 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. To walk through [cases] with detectives, sometimes retired, you get that hindsight and that experience and that knowledge that people are interested in hearing.”
5. TONY HARRIS // SCENE OF THE CRIME
“I don’t know that I have a great answer,” Tony Harris, who hosts Scene of the Crime and Hate in America, tells Mental Floss when asked about why people love true crime shows so much. “One of the easy things to say is that people love train wrecks. That’s an easy thing, and I think that’s simplistic.” More likely, he says, is that viewers prefer to watch true crime over something like the news cycle because most of the stories have a definitive end, where the killer is found and justice is done: “In most of the shows, we button it up.” But it also boils down to very good storytelling. “The producers on our shows do a really good job of getting you over the commercials so you’re still in the story when we rejoin,” he says. “And that’s just master storytelling. Some of my cases were adjudicated, some weren’t. But I think that’s the other thing—these teams really know how to tell stories.”
6. ROD DEMERY // MURDER CHOSE ME
Rod Demery is the new kid on the block on Investigation Discovery—the first season of his show, Murder Chose Me, aired this year, and it’s just been renewed for a second season—but he’s a seasoned detective who solved 99 percent of his homicide cases. And he has plenty of thoughts about why people love true crime. “It’s like a roller coaster,” he tells Mental Floss. “I think one of the other things is fantasy. I’m certainly not a psychologist or anything close to that, but I think everybody that watches this kind of stuff, they identify with a different person in there. When I watch it, I watch the police officer: ‘If I was that guy, I’d do this.’ Everybody can relate to a different part of it. Real life is always better than fiction.”
7. CANDICE DELONG // DEADLY WOMEN
DeLong—a retired FBI profiler who was famously part of the team that caught the Unabomber—just wrapped the 11th season of Deadly Women. She believes that the reason true crime, and ID in particular, resonates with women is because “the vast majority of victims of interpersonal violence are women and children,” she says. “And I think that’s why ID’s such a hit. I’d like to think that people watch these shows and go, ‘Oh, if I ever see that, I’m going to run.’ And I think that’s why so many women watch ID.”
In fact, every investigator Mental Floss spoke with said they hoped that watching true crime shows on Investigation Discovery would lead potential victims to think more critically about certain situations and to recognize warning signs—which is a good enough thing to tell people if they think your obsession with true crime shows is unsettling.