The Obsession With True Crime Has Gone Too Far

Joe Ramlet, opinions editor

It wasn’t until six weeks after four University of Idaho students were brutally killed in the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2022, that former Washington State University teaching assistant and doctoral student Bryan Kohberger was identified as a suspect and arrested across the country in Pennsylvania. Initially told by police not to worry, community members became increasingly on edge when nobody was caught and the murderer remained at large. The friends and families of the four students were grieving their losses without any closure. But in those six weeks, social media was abuzz with theories and rumors about who could have committed the horrendous attack, even going so far as to implicate and torture innocent people.

One of the victims, 21-year-old Kaylee Goncalves, had broken up with her boyfriend of five years, fellow Idaho student Jack DuCoeur, three weeks before she was murdered. Family members say they were still friends, but mysteriously, Goncalves and one of her roommates tried to call DuCoeur ten times just hours before they were killed. Because of this, and the suspicion he may have been upset with her for breaking his heart, social media accounts on YouTube and TikTok suggested that he was the murderer for weeks, even after he was cleared by police investigators.

Ashley Guillard, who runs the TikTok page “Ashley Solves Mysteries,” was certain that University of Idaho associate professor Rebecca Scofield murdered the four students and pushed the conspiracy theories so far that Scofield is suing her for defamation. Even after the lawsuit was filed and Kohberger was arrested, Guillard has continued to tout delusional lies and promote herself as a sleuth.

And there are many more. Every true crime content creator and conspiracy theorist had to have their own take and piled on more misinformation, clouding the investigation and real suspect. This is no surprise, given how this has turned into a popular entertainment category. Recent years have seen exponential growth in the media of “true crime” entertainment sources, from what used to mostly be books and network TV shows like “Forensic Files” and “48 Hours” to what now encompasses streaming, movies and even podcasts. The eponymous Netflix biopic “Dahmer” is one of the most-watched shows of all time on the streaming platform. No matter where you look, almost every “Top 10” podcast ranking has at least three “true crime” series on its list. This clearly shows we have an obsession with the genre, for better or for worse.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with liking true crime. If not out of morbid curiosity — the same reason we can’t look away from a car crash — it may reach deep inside our brains to scratch an itch for problem-solving. What is a problem, rather, is breaking the fourth wall and going beyond the realm of entertainment.

For weeks, these friends and family members were harassed, tormented and accused by people they never knew, met or had even heard of. They were in the national spotlight as suspects of a brutal quadruple murder at the same time they were grieving the losses of the very people they were alleged to have murdered. By no means am I suggesting that family members or professors or recently broken-up-with exes don’t commit murder — because they do, unfortunately — nor am I saying the police always get it right — because we all know they don’t — but it’s an issue when chronically online, self-proclaimed internet detectives decide to bestow upon themselves the power of judge, jury and executioner, especially when the real investigators are pointing in the complete opposite direction. So instead of mindlessly consuming this media, we should maybe take the time to hit pause and ask ourselves what we’re really listening to. If it’s causing harm, these creators need to be held accountable for their actions so the “true crime” entertainment genre can remain just that — entertainment.