7 Investigation Discovery Personalities on Why People Love True Crime

Investigation Discovery
Investigation Discovery

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.

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Watch John Krasinski Interview Steve Carell About The Office's 15th Anniversary

John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
John Krasinski and Steve Carell in The Office.
NBC Universal, Inc.

The Office just passed a major milestone: It has been 15 years since the American adaptation of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit British sitcom made its way to NBC, where it ran for nine seasons. To celebrate the show's big anniversary, former co-stars John Krasinski and Steve Carell reunited in the best way possible: Carell appeared as a guest on Krasinski's new YouTube show, where the two decided to spread some positivity.

Krasinski just launched his very own news show titled Some Good News, and it's exactly what we've all been needing. During this segment, he interviewed Carell via video call, and the two shared their favorite memories of working on the beloved workplace comedy.

"It's such a happy surprise," Carell said of The Office's continued success. "After all these years people are still tuning in and finding it." The two also addressed the question that's been on every fan's mind: is there a chance that we'll see the Dunder Mifflin crew reunite in some way?

"Listen, I know everyone's talking about a reunion," Krasinski said. "Hopefully one day we'll just all get to reunite as people."

You can watch the full episode below. (Carell joins the video around the 5:50 minute mark.)

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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