Piecing the puzzle together: Society’s fascination with serial killers

We’re drawn to gruesome stories that we don’t want to see, but can’t look away from   

We can't help but be captivated by serial killer stories.

As Netflix rolls out series after series about the lives of history’s most depraved serial killers, many of us have spent countless hours in front of the TV, completely captivated by the shock, horror, and strange appeal of these stories. 

From Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes to Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, true crime narratives have become increasingly popular through the frequent release of docuseries, podcasts, and films. 

Naturally, this leads us to wonder what exactly makes this genre so appealing, and what aspect of the gruesome horror portrayed in these stories continually draws us back in for more.

Fear generates a unique rush of adrenaline, prompting us to be enthralled by the feeling without being in danger. We’re safe in our bedrooms watching Ted Bundy on our laptops, but we’re still able to experience the excitement of fear. 

As a society, we’re often drawn to stories we don’t want to see, but cannot look away from. As children, we intently listened to ghost stories that filled us with panic and kept us up at night. As adults, we turn our heads toward car accidents we drive past on the highway. 

There is a psychological aspect of the true crime genre that captures the attention of viewers, as we attempt to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the atrocities committed. 

My fascination with serial-killer docuseries stems from my curiosity about the inner workings of a serial killer’s mind, especially the upbringings and lived experiences that led to the horrible crimes for which they are known. It’s the incomprehensibility of their actions that I’m intrigued by, and like a puzzle, I try to make sense of them by piecing the stories together. 

Names like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy are ingrained in pop culture, often referenced in music and TV, highlighting society’s dark fixation with these infamous killers. The song “The Ripper” by Judas Priest is about 1888 serial killer Jack the Ripper; “Blow” by Tyler the Creator is inspired by the mind of Ted Bundy. 

As we hear these references, conveyed to us in songs and on the screen, we feel an urge to investigate the serial killers ourselves, which leads us to become invested in their stories and the high stakes horror that characterizes them.

Forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland effectively sums up this idea in a line from her book, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation (2007). She writes, “It’s not really about the victims. It’s more about the puzzle—the interesting labyrinth of human emotions and human motives.” 

The compelling complexity of serial-killer stories has become almost addictive for many. We have the human impulse to investigate for ourselves and to try and figure out exactly what it is that makes these individuals behave so differently than we do. 

Society’s fascination with true crime serial killer stories in the media is multifaceted. It’s driven by psychological curiosity and the urge to comprehend the reality of gruesome acts that we cannot begin to imagine. 

However, it’s also fueled by the thrill of the dramatic, intense, and shocking, which by human nature continues to draw us back in with each new release. 


horror, Serial killer, True crime

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