The real Mystery of True Crime


Lucy Daly and Mibu Tako

In recent years, the genre of true crime has taken the world by storm. Whether it’s for the thrill of trying to solve the mystery or for a psychological interest about the minds of criminals, true crime is one of the most popular genres of film and television today. Since criminal cases first hit the media, true crime has been a genre of great interest and people have become especially fascinated with true crime documentaries, podcasts and articles in recent years, largely as a result of massive production companies, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, shining a spotlight on these unbelievable and harrowing mysteries.

When looking at the beginning of the true crime genre, one book comes to mind: ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote. This non-fiction book chronicles the case of the Clutter family and the robbery that ended their lives. Herbert ‘Herb’ Clutter was a successful farmer in Kansas, and he and his wife had four children, two of which had already moved out. In 1959, two ex-convicts, Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock and Perry Smith, had heard from Hickock’s former cellmate about a supposed safe belonging to Herb Clutter containing a large amount of cash. Knowing this, they planned to steal the safe and escape in Mexico. They broke into the house in the middle of the night and they bound and gagged the family as they searched for the safe. However, the safe did not exist. The two ex-convicts, after frantically debating what to do with their witnesses, shot and killed Herb Clutter, his wife and the two teenage children. They left with less than $50, a pair of binoculars and a small radio. Truman Capote paved the future for the genre with his book as it blurred the line between fact and fiction, and showed how storytelling can have a huge impact on how the readers feel towards the case, the victims and the criminals. Capote was a famous American novelist who was very popular for his novella ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1958). Capote had read about the murders in The New York Times, and along with his friend, Harper Lee (author and Pulitzer Prize winner with her novel ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’), went to Kansas to research the murder. He compiled over 8000 pages of notes, conducted personal interviews with Hickock and Smith (prior to their executions) and he spent a total of six years writing ‘In Cold Blood,’ all the while pioneering in the genre of true crime.

Following its success in a number of original drama series (e.g. Money Heist, Squid Game), Netflix seems to have recognised the popularity of the true-crime genre. ‘Inventing Anna,’ directed by Shonda Rhimes – the creator of Bridgerton, How to Get Away With Murder, and Grey’s Anatomy -, was released on the 11th of February 2022. This was a week before the show achieved the top ranking on Netflix’s English language charts, with over 196 million viewing hours. The series fictionalises a New York Magazine story titled “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People,” written by Jessica Parker (Vivian Kent on the show).

Anna Delvey aka Anna Sorokin played by Julia Garner is a Russian-born, wannabe German heiress who successfully conned the entirety of New York high society. She managed to scam over $200,000 from banks and hotels, maintaining a luxury lifestyle with friends such as Neff Davis, Rachel Williams and Kacy Duke who have, or more so had, believed in her fake profile. Sorokin’s way of survival was bounced checks and made-up wire transfers, supported by her alleged $60 million trust fund in Europe. This truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story was not yet discovered in 2018 when Sorokin was in Rikers Island jail for her theft charges. It was only after the exposé was published, that Sorokin’s scam went viral on social media. Within less than two weeks, Netflix signed a contract with the prisoner, eventually leading to a $320,000 payment to Sorokin. Sorokin did not give up on her public image even during the trial, as she insisted on having a ‘fashionable’ courtroom wardrobe and employed a personal stylist. Ultimately, she was found guilty and served three years until her release in February 2021. Although Sorokin paid back all of her IOUs using the Netflix profits and somehow continued living as an NYC socialite, she was rearrested for overstaying her visa in March 2021. Since then, she has had ‘multiple reasons’ (including testing positive for Covid), that prevented her from being deported back to Germany.

Despite the level of viewership, not all the reviews ‘Inventing Anna’ received have been affirmative. Netizens have commented on how the show “certainly provides indulgence,” whilst some refer to the series as a “dull spin on an otherwise captivating story.”

The ‘Tinder Swindler’ is yet another hugely successful display of Netflix’s growing production of this genre. The documentary aired on the 2nd of February 2022, and it was narrated by the victims of the dating-app swindler who stole millions from them. The ‘Tinder Swindler’ went by the name of Simon Leiviv, and claimed to be the son of a billionaire Diamond manufacture. His real name is Shimon Hayut, and he repeatedly defrauded women out of hundreds and thousands of dollars on the dating app, Tinder. The documentary opens with Cecile Fjellhøy’s experience of meeting, dating and being swindled by the supposedly ‘perfect’ man. From trips on private jets to staying at 5-star hotels across Europe, she soon fell in love and the two were planning on moving in together. However, things quickly turned ominous when ‘Simon’ started sending Cecile concerning texts and voice messages about a ‘security threat.’ Due to the ‘security threat,’ he asked Cecile to have a credit card under her name. He continuously maxed out her cards, made demands of $25 000 in cash, and in total stole $250 000 from her. While Cecile was worrying about the safety of her boyfriend, ‘Simon’ was spending her money on luxurious holidays for Pernilla Sjöholm, his next victim. Cecile, after meeting with one of the banks she was indebted to, learnt the truth. The cycle continued time after time, and it was only when his victims united against was his scam ended for good. Cecile contacted the biggest newspaper company in Norway, VG, and together they publicised the story, taking down the Tinder Swindler’s operation.

In certain true crime shows, the story itself can be captivating enough that visual effects are unnecessary to deliver the tension and suspense to the audience. “Sweet Bobby” is an entirely non-fictional podcast series with six episodes, all of which illustrate an extreme catfishing case investigated by the host/journalist Alexi Mostrous.

The first episode begins with Kirat, a 30-year-old radio presenter, receiving a message from the brother of her second cousin’s boyfriend: Bobby. As the two-start communicating via Facebook, their friendship becomes intimate to a point where Bobby could share all of his worries and concerns with Kirat. His brother had recently passed away, he was suffering from health issues and had also been struggling with his marriage. Bobby did not contact Kirat too frequently but maintained a subtle approach, naturally leading to a romantic relationship between the two. Although Kirati occasionally found her boyfriend’s actions suspicious, never did she think Bobby was a made-up character intending to deceive and manipulate her throughout the next 10 years of her life.

The perpetrator had clearly done their homework when it came to how to fabricate a realistic love story. Kirati and Bobby had friends in common on Facebook, had attended the same events, and enjoyed similar lifestyles. The first time Bobby texted Kirati was almost four years before he confessed his feeling toward her. Their approach was impressively persistent and natural. The couple deepened their love for one another over the following four years, during which Bobby became increasingly manipulative over Kirati. The once-successful marketer and radio presenter was forced to undergo toxic weight loss, distance herself from her friends and family, and quit the job she loved.

As Mostrous carried on with her investigation, the true identity of ‘Bobby’ was revealed later on in the show. (mild spoiler alert!) Her motive for catfishing was not about the money. It was something else. Something, which you will discover when listening to the final episode.

The true-crime genre has also entered the realm of pure fiction, and one recent and very successful example of this is the Hulu comedy series ‘Only Murders in the Building.’ This show documents the lives of three misfits, played by an all-star cast including Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short, who get caught up in their own criminal investigation in their NYC building, the Arconia. On one seemingly normal night at the Arconia, the fire alarm called all of the residents out of the building. However, the normal night turned tragic when one of the residents had supposedly committed suicide during the chaos of the alarm. The three protagonists, while bonding over their favourite podcast, curiously ventured past the boundaries of the police tape which is when they start their own investigation, except rather than investigating a suicide, they believe it was a murder. This show was an immediate triumph, scoring an impressive 100% grade from Rotten Tomatoes and has an 87% google audience score. Already fast working on season 2, Only Murders in the Building represents the curiosity of people regarding true crime through the excitement and intrigue shown by the characters and the sheer success of the series. This show also represents the relevance of true crime in today’s media and entertainment industry, as new shows emerge all the time on the biggest television platforms about both real and fiction crimes.

There have been multiple theories established by psychologists, regarding the reasons behind the popularity of the true-crime genre. Kathleen Check, a psychotherapist stated that true crime shows provided “a particular kind of escapism” during the pandemic. True crime may provide an opportunity for the audience to feel relieved that they are not the victim, and can also give tips on how to survive or prevent the dangerous situations

which the characters encounter in the shows. Furthermore, many psychologists suggest that our fear for evilness is what grabs our attention and ultimately generates massive amounts of capital within the industry. When taking these theories into account, the fact that personal-crime-related stories occupies around 30% of television news programs does make a lot of sense.

True crime, as a genre of entertainment, has been an area of great discussion and debate. Some critics have argued that true crime documentaries and media stories are disrespectful to the victims and their families, while others think that media representation sheds light on the tragedies of the past and raises awareness of the dangers among us. Nevertheless, it appears that true crime will continue to headline newspapers and appear on billboards for a long time to come. From Netflix hits such as Inventing Anna and the Tinder Swindler to edge-of-your-seat podcasts like ‘Sweet Bobby,’ true crime has made for an exciting and thrilling genre, bringing the entertainment industry into a new era.