Ginger Hutton was a friend of mine who worked in a used bookstore in Knoxville, Tennessee USA.
OVO: Who buys true crime books?
GH: Everybody, it’s the fastest growing section in the store. A lot of times people will come up with a handful of Harlequin and historical romances and true crime. There are a lot of 40-year-old women who are overweight unhappy-looking housewives who are reading historical romances and true crime, and obviously getting a kick out of both because they keep coming back. It’s mixed as far as male and female but I think women buy more. All ages although again it’s older people mostly.
OVO: Are there people who just get true crime or do most people get the romances as well?
GH: There are people who just get true crime. Most of them are very normal and conservative looking, they don’t look like the kind of people who are taking a book home to study from it. But I have had people come up to the desk and recommend stuff for me. “Oh, if you read that kind of stuff this one’s really good, he does it with an axe.” l’m not sure that they’re distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction. I’m not sure that its real to them. It’s entertainment. And that’s what’s happening with ell these TV shows, America’s Most Wanted, Emergency 911, you watch them go out and rescue people who got hit by cars. Suddenly sick voyeurism is socially acceptable. I’m not sure why that is. Part of it may be that the world is starting to fall apart in more obvious ways. Crime rates are up all over the place, the environment has become so bad that it can’t be ignored, and I think what used to be horrifying to people when compared to all the other problems in their life is not at all horrible. It diverts them. If they can read about a serial killer in Seattle they don’t have to think about the drug dealers in their neighborhood. I think American culture is sick and has been getting sicker for a long time, and is finally reaching a point where it’s not concealed any more. When I started reading true crime it was something you snuck out of the store, like sex books. Now it’s everywhere, there’s no stigma attached. Which you could say is good because its more open but its also an indication of a dangerous trend in American culture.
OVO: When did you start reading true crime books?
GH: I started reading them when I was about 14, reading Reader’s Digest which always condensed the best crimes. I read about Bundy right after he was arrested. It was very scary and very compelling and something you didn’t talk about and something your parents didn’t let you watch on TV. I have always been fascinated with death, and violent death is more interesting than other kinds. That’s why I was attracted to it.
OVO: Why do most people read it?
GH: Most people are afraid of dying and afraid of crime. That’s the big issue now. The government is really pushing that, as if crime is the worst thing we have to worry about, which it’s not. People are afraid and this is a way of confronting their fears or overloading themselves. If you read about something long enough its not shocking or frightening any more. Maybe its a way of desensitizing themselves.
OVO: Do most of the people who buy these books progress to the books with more graphic descriptions and violent deaths?
GH: l don’t know. They tend to buy them buy the bunch, six or eight at a time. People are demanding more graphic true crime books because if you look at the latest ones coming out (I get to see them all at work) the photos are getting more and more graphic. The ones that came out ten years ago had no pictures at all, or if they did they had pictures of the victim and the killer before they were victims and killers. Whereas now you get morgue shots of somebody’s face blown away. People won’t buy them if they have no pictures in them, they’re disappointed. l’m assuming that this trend in publishing is somehow related to demand.
OVO: Have you progressed in your reading, starting with Reader’s Digest, which is rather sanitized, and now you seek out things that are more extreme?
GH: Yes, but I don‘t do it to shook myself. What l do is find something that interests me, a particular serial killer or a particular method, and read everything I can get on that subject. And I prefer that it be more graphic because then you actually know what happened. I don’t like the sanitized version because in the back of my mind it’s still a confrontation with mortality and you have to look it full in the face to get anything out of it. If you’re going to start digging around to find reality then you have to look at the whole thing, and it’s not pleasant, but the less pleasant it gets, at least with crime, the more real and true it is. That’s why I do it, that may be true with other people. Seeing the people who buy it I don’t think it is.
OVO: Does true crime media contribute to a sense of jadedness and to crime?
GH: To jadedness, yes. I doubt that it contributes to crime but it makes crime so common that there’s no horror to crime any more, it’s entertainment. Its creating some disturbing attitudes. Reading about crime and being fascinated by crime is one thing but thinking of crime and murder as entertainment is something entirely different. Most serial killers don’t think of murder as entertaining and it’s disturbing that that’s how its being billed in America, and that’s how people tend to look at it. Its just a TV show with a bad guy and a nice dead person.
OVO: Why do you think it is that most of the people who get these books are women when most of the people described as victims in these books are women?
GH: If you look at it as confrontation with your own mortality then reading about your own sex being killed would be that much more disturbing and that much more of a confrontation. I think part of it is that they like to read about people who kill women, then get caught, then get killed. I think its a way of extending hatred. The way most true crime books are written you can direct all your hatred at this one bad man and you can believe that everything is caused by bad men. In a way you aren’t responsible, and no one else is responsible. They hardly ever dwell on the circumstances that led this bad man to be bad. It’s an outlet that women don’t have. Women don’t generally go out and beat each other up. They don’t have as much of an organized focus for hatred.
OVO: What are things going to be like in ten years?
GH: We can’t even begin to imagine the number of serial killers we’re going to have. It’s been doubling or more every year for years. Ten years ago l think there were six. Last year there were thirty-five known serial killers. These are the ones that we know about. There are people disappearing who are certainly being killed. It’s going to continue to go up because child abuse is on the rise. Our culture has accepted violence as entertainment. Now kids who were going to have problems anyway can sit around every single night and watch people kill each other on TV. In spite of the moralistic tone, TV is like hypnotism, you sit and absorb, and if you’re hearing about this guy who sliced up ten women and this guy who’s wanted for killing his wife and two kids it gets in your mind and becomes acceptable because its just a TV show. I think that will contribute to a lot of murders. I think everybody ought to be doing more reading and preparing themselves.
(from OVO 10 MAYHEM July 1991)