Then came the Nicola Bulley disappearance. A 45-year-old woman who has seemingly vanished without a trace whilst on a dog walk in Lancashire. Is she in the river? Have they taken her dog back to the spot? Why did no one hear or see anything? Intrigued, I typed her name into Reddit one evening and low and behold there was an entire forum dedicated to solving this mystery.
“Are there any missing items of Nicola’s we can look for?”, “The bench-river red herring theory”, “Could she have been abducted by boat?”, “The dog knows what happened”, “Strange coincidences in Nicola’s recent past”. With the police admitting they have very little evidence to go on, there is post after post of speculation. In the same way we binge watch our favourite TV series, people have grown impatient waiting for the next news update and are attempting to fill in the blanks themselves. The problem is however, this isn’t another ITV drama, it’s a real woman with family and friends who love her.
As someone who takes medication for anxiety, the past couple of months haven’t been great. The combination of the gloomy winter, a never-ending cold and what feels like bad news after bad news starts to catch up on you. But one thing I have noticed is that the lower my mood, the more my armchair research amps up.
So, I don’t feel up to clearing my emails, but watching every update on the Alex Murdaugh trial (a former South Carolina lawyer accused of murdering his wife and son), sure. I can do that. The more invested you become, the more hopeless the world feels. Just last week the head teacher of Epsom College, Emma Pattison was also shot dead by her husband, along with her daughter.
Between being terrified to ever go back to a guy’s house after watching Dahmer and paranoid my future husband (who I’m too scared to go and meet) might end up shooting me, I may as well stay inside googling ‘familicide’.
It seems that attempting to solve and investigate these horrific events is actually a way to distract us from our own issues. A very morbid form of escapism if you will, but also as women it’s that desire to help one another. Talking to the true crime fanatics on my Instagram, one described “spending a lot of time crying” about a woman she didn’t even know.
The more publicity a case picks up, the more details you know. You build a picture of someone’s life, you know their final moments, you relate to them. It’s easy to see how we lose perspective.
“I had to adjust the way I was consuming true crime because it was so real,” one of my followers tells me. Listening to her describing how she set up Google news alerts and would pop on a podcast about murder whilst cooking, makes me feel very seen. Another painful admission, “It’s difficult because in a way we’ve all consumed true crime for entertainment”.
The idea of looking a victim’s family in the eye and telling them that listening to the details of their loved ones murder gives me the motivation to do my washing up, makes me feel disgusted about myself.
However, the one thing every woman I spoke to seems to wrestle with, is balancing that paranoid anxiety that comes with spending all your time watching/listening/reading about true crime, with the realities of safeguarding yourself as a woman when, the reality is, we aren’t safe in a lot of spaces.
Every single person sited the Sarah Everard case as being a pivotal moment for them. With several defending their interests as beneficial to helping them keep themselves safe, knowing what to look for and how you can prevent something dreadful happening to you.
In that case I would agree. Knowing you can challenge a police offer, changing your route home and installing a doorbell camera are all things I have learnt and would put into practice. However, as true crime bleeds more and more into the entertainment sphere, I, for one, am going to make a conscious effort not to constantly seek it out.