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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Can You Guess J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beast From Its Magical Power?

The Many Lives of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Leonard Cohen in London in June 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In the late 1970s, Leonard Cohen sat down to write a song about god, sex, love, and other mysteries of human existence that bring us to our knees for one reason or another. The legendary singer-songwriter, who was in his early forties at the time, knew how to write a hit: He had penned "Suzanne," "Bird on the Wire," "Lover, Lover, Lover," and dozens of other songs for both himself and other popular artists of the time. But from the very beginning, there was something different about what would become "Hallelujah"—a song that took five years and an estimated 80 drafts for Cohen to complete.

In the 35 years since it was originally released, "Hallelujah" has been covered by more than 300 other artists in virtually every genre. Willie Nelson, k.d. lang, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Brandi Carlile, Bon Jovi, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix, and Alexandra Burke—the 2008 winner of the UK version of The X Factor—are just a few of the individuals who have attempted to put their own stamp on the song. After Burke’s soulful version was downloaded 105,000 times in its first day, setting a new European record, “Hallelujah” soon became a staple of TV singing shows.

It's an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you consider that "Hallelujah"—one of the most critically acclaimed and frequently covered songs of the modern era—was originally stuck on side two of 1984’s Various Positions, an album that Cohen’s American record label deemed unfit for release.

“Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen recalled CBS Records boss Walter Yetnikoff telling him, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.”

 

Yetnikoff wasn’t totally off-base. With its synth-heavy ’80s production, Cohen’s version of “Hallelujah” doesn’t announce itself as the chill-inducing secular hymn it’s now understood to be. (Various Positions was finally released in America on the indie label Passport in 1985.) Part of why it took Cohen five years to write the song was that he couldn’t decide how much of the Old Testament stuff to include.

“It had references to the Bible in it, although these references became more and more remote as the song went from the beginning to the end,” Cohen said. “Finally I understood that it was not necessary to refer to the Bible anymore. And I rewrote this song; this is the ‘secular’ ‘Hallelujah.’”

The first two verses introduce King David—the skilled harp player and great uniter of Israel—and the Nazarite strongman Samson. In the scriptures, both David and Samson are adulterous poets whose ill-advised romances (with Bathsheba and Delilah, respectively) lead to some big problems.

In the third verse of his 1984 studio version, Cohen grapples with the question of spirituality. When he’s accused of taking the Lord’s name in vain, Cohen responds, hilariously, “What’s it to ya?” He insists there’s “a blaze of light in every word”—every perception of the divine, perhaps—and declares there to be no difference between “the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Both have value.

“I wanted to push the Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world,” Cohen once said. “The Hallelujah, the David’s Hallelujah, was still a religious song. So I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion.”

 

Amazingly, Cohen's original "Hallelujah" pales in comparison to Velvet Underground founder John Cale’s five-verse rendition for the 1991 Cohen tribute album I’m Your Fan. Cale had seen Cohen perform the song live, and when he asked the Canadian singer-songwriter to fax over the lyrics, he received 15 pages. “I went through and just picked out the cheeky verses,” Cale said.

Cale’s pared down piano-and-vocals arrangement inspired Jeff Buckley to record what is arguably the definitive “Hallelujah,” a haunting, seductive performance found on the late singer-songwriter’s one and only studio album, 1994’s Grace. Buckley’s death in 1997 only heightened the power of his recording, and within a few years, “Hallelujah” was everywhere. Cale’s version turned up in the 2001 animated film Shrek, and the soundtrack features an equally gorgeous version by Rufus Wainwright.

In 2009, after the song appeared in Zack Snyder's Watchmen, Cohen agreed with a critic who called for a moratorium on covers. “I think it’s a good song,” Cohen told The Guardian. “But too many people sing it.”

Except “Hallelujah” is a song that urges everyone to sing. That’s kind of the point. The title is from a compound Hebrew word comprising hallelu, to praise joyously, and yah, the name of god. As writer Alan Light explains in his 2013 book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah,” the word hallelujah was originally an imperative—a command to praise the Lord. In the Christian tradition, it’s less an imperative than an expression of joy: “Hallelujah!” Cohen seemingly plays on both meanings.

 

Cohen’s 1984 recording ends with a verse that begins, “I did my best / It wasn’t much.” It’s the humble shrug of a mortal man and the sly admission of an ambitious songwriter trying to capture the essence of humanity in a pop song. By the final lines, Cohen concedes “it all went wrong,” but promises to have nothing but gratitude and joy for everything he has experienced.

Putting aside all the biblical allusions and poetic language, “Hallelujah” is a pretty simple song about loving life despite—or because of—its harshness and disappointments. That message is even clearer in Cale’s five-verse rendition, the guidepost for all subsequent covers, which features the line, “Love is not a victory march.” Cale also adds in Cohen’s verse about sex, and how every breath can be a Hallelujah. Buckley, in particular, realized the carnal aspect of the song, calling his version “a Hallelujah to the orgasm.”

“Hallelujah” can be applied to virtually any situation. It’s great for weddings, funerals, TV talent shows, and cartoons about ogres. Although Cohen’s lyrics don’t exactly profess religious devotion, “Hallelujah” has become a popular Christmas song that’s sometimes rewritten with more pious lyrics. Agnostics and atheists can also find plenty to love about “Hallelujah.” It’s been covered more than 300 times because it’s a song for everyone.

When Cohen died on November 7, 2016, at the age of 82, renewed interest in “Hallelujah” vaulted Cohen's version of the song onto the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time. Despite its decades of pop culture ubiquity, it took more than 30 years and Cohen's passing for “Hallelujah”—the very essence of which is about finding beauty amid immense sadness and resolving to move forward—to officially become a hit song.

“There’s no solution to this mess,” Cohen once said, describing the human comedy at the heart of “Hallelujah. “The only moment that you can live here comfortably in these absolutely irreconcilable conflicts is in this moment when you embrace it all and you say 'Look, I don't understand a f***ing thing at all—Hallelujah! That's the only moment that we live here fully as human beings.”

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