LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Whether by book, podcast, or TV, if you're not a fan of true crime, you probably know someone that is
A national YouGov survey shows half of the United States tunes into true crime content.
But why? According to licensed mental health therapist Natasha Thorne, it's complicated.
"Same reason we do roller coasters or haunted houses," Thorne said. "We're just drawn to the adrenaline of fear."
Thorne is a fan of true crime herself but also works with clients impacted by violent crime.
"There's almost this perceived educational component to it," Thorne said. "Where people feel like, if I know what to look for… or if they find themselves in a dangerous situation, it's almost like, 'Ok, now I know what to do or what not to do.'"
Sherry Skaggs is an associate professor of criminology at the University of Central Arkansas. It's her job to teach about the mindset of true crime fans and the criminals themselves.
"There's the inherent need for a lot of people to understand things that we don't necessarily understand," Skaggs said. "When it comes to murder, particularly serial killers, for example, we can't fathom why someone would do that to another person... that sort of creates that need to try to understand why someone would do that to another person."
Skaggs said people tune into thrilling crime stories because they're hard to turn off.
"We enjoy that sense of controlled fear," Skaggs said. "We're still in charge of it. I can turn the tv off if I want. That makes a difference."
The controlled environment in which people consume true crime makes people more comfortable being at-home detectives.
"We want the adrenaline, we want the controlled fear factor, we want to be the one to solve that mystery," Skaggs said. "You may have sat through a movie before and thought, 'Oh, I know what's going to happen next.' It's that kind of feeling."
Although the adrenaline may give people confidence, Skaggs cautioned that it's not likely citizen-sleuths can solve a case.
"Sometimes you feel as though you could do that better than the investigators," Skaggs said. "But we want to keep in mind that we don't have all the facts if we're not watching the shows. Who does have the facts? The investigatory team that's working on that case."
Detective Mark Fallis is part of an investigatory team with the Hot Springs Police Department. We've interviewed him in our true crime series "Unsolved," and some stories have helped bring new tips to old cases.
"In some ways, they're good because they bring attention to cases," Fallis said. "People get on there and make comments and things like that. I love reading them... especially the comments, because sometimes there is truth in some. When I find someone being truthful in a comment, I'll track that person down and try to talk to them. I've done that several times."
With positives come negatives, and Fallis acknowledged that true crime stories are a double-edged sword, meaning detectives can get bogged down when there are too many tips.
"Many times, it's just somebody that doesn't know what they're talking about," Fallis said. "They're throwing their theory out there and saying… it can confuse the case... sometimes that can cloud our case and hurt us when it comes to trial time."
And while reporting on true crime provides a check on authorities to do their jobs correctly, Fallis said misinformation could also lead to victims' families not trusting police.
"Sometimes it does more harm than good," Fallis said. "The bad thing is we can't even give the family all the information on the case. Some of these sites get it and are putting out information they don't know is true, but they're presenting it as truth. So, in that case, it's hurtful to the family."
Shannon Green knows that feeling well as she's been searching for answers to her brother Jarrod's disappearance for nearly 30 years.
"It's always the risk of putting yourself out there," Green said. "Making yourself vulnerable to random people that don't know you."
Renewed attention came to Jarrod's case last year when Green started a Facebook group to collect tips. The group now has thousands of members across the country.
"Pre-Facebook group, it was a lot of just carrying that weight on my own and with my family," Green said. "But with the Facebook group now, we have a support group."
However, Green said there are disadvantages to having the Facebook group.
"There are people on the page that I know are connected to people that might have been involved in Jarrod's disappearance," Green said. "We know they use that page to track our actions."
But for Green, who spends hours a week searching for answers, the chance to learn information that will bring justice for her family outweighs everything else.
"We've had people who have given us names of people to contact... we've been told the four locations we're going to be searching," Green said. "It is worth it because the goal is to get information that will help bring Jarrod home. I'm willing to sacrifice that if he can come home."
No matter the reason, stories like Jarrod's are watched by millions across the country every year and seem to inspire a new generation of detectives.
"The vast majority of my students that come in, their interest in criminal justice started from watching crime TV shows, " Skaggs said. "It drives people's interest in the field."
As listeners and families hope to ease their minds with a case closed.
"It's when we perceive that justice has been served," Thorne said. "These cases are solved, the people are held accountable, then we feel like our world is right again."
Green encouraged people to remember that it's called a "true" crime for a reason.
"I don't want to discourage anyone from being a true crime print fan," Green said. "I just want them to be considerate of living people, not just able to turn it off when they're done."
And a case isn't always what it seems.
"If you only knew what went into these investigations," Fallis said. "It's not TV, and it's not easy."