Like a whole lot of people, I am obsessed with true crime. In my case, I justify it as research for my fictional tales — and it is indeed a great source of inspiration for plot points. But the real truth is that I am just like most people who can’t get enough of the stuff: I love analyzing the psychological forces at play in the committing of a crime and the apprehension of a criminal. Most of all, I’m fascinated with trying to find out why some people respect social covenants and laws while other people dance right over that line, showing little regard for the lives or wellbeing of others.
My obsession takes the form of reading just about any decent true crime book I can get my hands on (recommendations welcome), saturating myself with true crime podcasts (again, recommendations welcome), binging on true crime television series, and following new cases as they unfurl in the press. It’s gotten to the point where, if you’re going on a vacation trip, I can give you the highlights of all the major crimes that occurred in the states you plan to visit. As you can imagine, this makes me a problematic traveling companion for anyone who is trying to relax.
My true crime education is not confined to the details of actual crimes, however. No indeed. I have picked up a great deal of practical advice as well. Here are a few of the takeaways I’ve learned from a lifetime of true crime:
1. If you are a woman, better commit your crimes while you are young enough to be deemed sexually desirable by the rest of the world. Follow that strategy and you are likely to, quite literally, get away with murder — not to mention endless shopping sprees, multiple husbands, discarded children, and a life of unfettered narcissism. But you better enjoy it while you can. Because by the time you hit 45 and start to put on weight, your expiration date as a criminal will be up. Suddenly, all those people who adored you in the past will start to look at you and think, “Hmmmm…. isn’t it odd how her husbands keep dying as soon as they run out of money?”
2. Never, ever try to kill off your family by staging a home invasion. Seriously. The prisons are full of people who thought this was a brilliant idea and believed they could pin their familicide on random strangers. Particularly do not attempt this if you are a young man in college unwilling to wait for your inheritance and have frat brothers who offer to do the dirty deed while you establish an alibi volunteering at the local soup kitchen. You won’t get away with it. You and your friends will, most likely, end up sharing a 14-foot cell with a metal toilet and a window the size of a credit card.
3. Never drink sweet tea. Only 17 states require manufacturers to add bittering agents to ethylene glycol products. That means 33 states are cranking out antifreeze that has a sweet, easily disguisable taste and can wreck a human nervous system. This situation puts a bull’s-eye on sweet tea aficionados. I recommend that you stick to unsweetened drinks, just to be safe. This advice goes double for anyone whose wife packs their lunch.
4. Never marry a man whose last name is Peterson or any permutation therein. Actually, just to be completely safe, it’s probably best not to marry at all.
5. Do not believe your pastor if he tells you that God wants you to have sex with him as an expression of his love. Instead, take a moment to reflect on why a man you would not otherwise look at twice is so confident he can get into your pants. Then ask all the other women in your congregation if they have been approached by him in the same way. After that, you can sit back and watch the entertainment unfold.
6. If you think that your neighbor could not possibly commit a heinous crime because they are "such a nice person," you are probably at the top of their future victims list. Appearances can be very, very deceiving when it comes to human beings. Basically, if someone has a face and breathes, they have the potential to be your worst nightmare.
7. Anyone described by others as “having charisma” is a cult leader. You should immediately cut them out of your life before you end up with a weird symbol tattooed on your thigh or hand over your children to them.
8. Coveting thy neighbor’s wife is a highly underrated 10 Commandment and should probably include not coveting thy neighbor’s boat, new car, or swimming pool, either. If everyone respected this expanded commandment, the crime rate would drop by a good 70%.
9. Stop hitchhiking and stop picking up hitchhikers. Seriously. The world has been saying this since the 1970’s. And, yet…
10. If your teenage daughter is going out with someone more than four years older than her, make your funeral arrangements now. There will be trouble. In fact, go ahead and prepare a dossier on said boyfriend immediately, then instruct your lawyer to hand it over to the police should anything happen to you.
11. If you manage to fulfill the daydream of millions by moving to a tropical paradise, enjoy it while you can. Chances are very good it is not going to end well for you.
12. Every innocent woman ever killed was a great beauty, even if she had Frankenstein’s forehead and six eyes. In a similar vein, if you are the person who killed that great beauty, unless you happen to look like this guy, chances are very good you will be described as a strikingly handsome killer who gained your victim’s trust through charm and persuasion.
13. Every cop who ever cooperated with a true crime author is “the most effective, dedicated detective” that the author has ever worked with. Until their next book, of course.
14. Every female detective who ever took down a killer is attractive and “disarms” criminals with her appearance, even though she may have thirty years experience cracking cases and most killers would go gaga for a woman who is simply still warm to the touch (and some of them not even that).
15. You may be a natural born killer whose upbringing had no effect on your willingness to kill, but be rest assured that every bit of minutiae available about your childhood can, and will, be dragged into the book about you. That horrible photo of you in fourth grade with the thick black glasses and dullard’s expression? It will be on the cover of the book. Were you wearing your cub scout uniform? It will be on the cover of the book, juxtaposed with your mug shot.
16. If you have terrorized women in retribution for your shortcomings, be prepared for your micro-penis to be mentioned on every second page in the true crime book written about you. Justice will be done.
17. If you are engaged to be married and your fiancé dumps you once he finds out you have a pre-existing condition that makes you uninsurable — run. This is what the rest of the world calls “a red flag.”
18. The richer you are, the larger the courtroom crowd will be when you are finally dragged into court for thinking that mere laws do not apply to you. None of the crowd will be rooting for you, by the way, not even your own lawyer.
19. Do not file for the insurance on your spouse until at least 24 hours has passed since their death. Otherwise, you will go straight top of the “person of interest” list. With a bullet. As you should.
20. Never marry someone who sleeps with a gun under their pillow. You’d be surprised at how many people do. Curiously, these marriages seldom last longer than the pillow.
21. That personal trainer who hangs out with your 40 years-younger wife and carries her shopping bags while she spends more of your money? He’s not actually her platonic friend nor is he nearly as gay as she claims. In fact, chances are good that your wife is about to ask him for a very, very big favor.
22. All prosecutors are dedicated public servants and will overcome any inexperience through a sheer thirst for justice. However, any district attorney who insists on personally prosecuting a case is doing so only because his reelection is coming up. On the plus side, said prosecutor is destined to bungle the case for not trusting their staff. Hubris, people. Hubris.
23. Defense attorneys are always respected statewide for their expertise in the courtroom and for their commitment to justice, but only so long as they have the decency to lose their case to the newbie prosecutor.
24. Never ever help a man with a broken arm, even if he’s lost his puppy. This is Survival 101. If a man needs help loading his car because his arm is broken, or he wants you to help him find his lost puppy, you should run screaming toward anyone other than him, even if his back seat looks like this.
25. There is no 25 because I’m counting on you to give me number 25. Admit it. You love true crime as much as I do. Please share your favorite trope with me in the Comments section.
Better yet, if you want to recommend a true crime book, author or podcast to me, please feel free to do so in the Comments section below.