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The H Word: The Missing and the Murdered—True Crime as Content

Death is a business. Some of the highest grossing podcasts are dedicated to covering true crime, and those podcasts are downloaded millions of times each month, and often rank in best of year lists. There are even true crime specific podcast categories that make it easy to select from which hosts, topic, and murder you would like to listen to during your morning’s commute, or as you prepare dinner for your children.

We can define true crime as nonfiction media that recounts a crime. True crime is available in a variety of media. There are true crime books, movies, television programs, cable and YouTube channels, TikTok videos, podcasts, social media accounts devoted to true crime—beyond a memorial account—and more. There are even true crime themed experiences, such as true crime conferences, true crime cruises, and true crime subscription boxes in the form of murder mystery games.

Many true crime podcast hosts gross millions of dollars a year (the hosts of My Favorite Murder, for example made fifteen million in 2019, according to Forbes). Beyond generating income from advertising, many of these podcasts also host Patreon pages, where, for a monthly subscription, you can gain early access to episodes and additional true crime content not readily or widely available for the general public.

There is an entire industry behind true crime. There are parents who lost children and adults who lost siblings to crime that have written about their experiences and now they participate in the true crime convention circuit, reliving the violence that punctuated their lives, but that violence is in part what contributes to their income. There are the experts, attorneys, law enforcement officials and more, that have become pundits of murder and hold celebrity status in these circles.

Murder is not only monetized, it’s addicting.

Each and every day, many of us consume true crime with an obsessive fervor. We pick apart the movements of the victim and their associates, the motivations of those close to the victim, clues, suspects, and the gory and gruesome details of murder scenes; placement of the body, blood splatter analysis, how much blood was lost, location of their belongings, clothes on or off, hairpins missing or in place, location of the cell phone, are the victim’s limbs intact, if so how positioned, what is the level of bruising on the skin, what stage of decomposition is the corpse in, time of death, and more—if there is more evidence to analyze.

For the missing, there are often few clues to determine much beyond there was once a person and now that person no longer exists. What remains are faded missing persons posters, yellowed or frayed along the edges, pictures stored in databases, cabinets or on police station bulletin boards. Other pictures remain too, those framed in the homes of family members who are torn with grief to their deathbed and beyond, for they do not have answers, and many will die without the answer as to what happened to their loved one.

The murdered and the missing are restless ghosts in many ways, and those living that believe in justice are as well, tortured by their loss.

In part, that is why I consume true crime. I need to know how the victim died, and why they died. I need to know if they felt pain in that moment of death. I need to know if they were scared and alone. I need to know everyone and everything involved with their death or their missing persons case, and I do not know why. Why should I have access to anyone’s suffering? Why should I have access to those brutal final moments in a victim of crime’s existence?

Is it right or wrong to turn to this type of content as entertainment? And regardless of what some may think, true crime is entertainment, even though it offers some consumers the perspective of an investigator, tasked to solve or understand the crime. Therefore, our relationship with it is often explained away to others as “Well, I just want the crime solved,” or, “I’m just trying to understand how something like this could have happened.” Regardless, when it comes to true crime, those of us that consume it must acknowledge some responsibility that we are spectators to a victim, peeking into their family’s grief and suffering.

I consume true crime, primarily in the form of documentaries, books, and podcasts. I am fascinated by violence, motivations for violence, how some criminals lack empathy, and the drive some people have to destroy humans. I’m not a clinical psychologist, but on my way to completing my PhD in Psychology, and by day I work to understand businesses and how people work and function within those organizations. Therefore, I am generally curious about people and how they fit within societal structures.

It’s difficult for me to comprehend why people do awful things, even though I have seen death and know it too well. Ultimately, what I have learned is that there is no reasoning or applying logic to a killer. They do not think like me. They are, in a way, made of another human design, one that stalks, hunts, and inflicts pain for their amusement and satisfaction.

But I am curious by not just the motivations of killers, but how many of these killers function within society without those around them knowing they are murderers. These people exist among us and are able to seamlessly slip into their predator persona and execute brutal crimes of abduction, assault, rape, murder, dismemberment, and for some, cannibalism. They then step back into society, undetected. That easy transition should make us all grow cold, that killers are not snarling, lurching beasts, but your neighbor next door that shovels your driveway, or the parent in your child’s classroom that you wave hello to and share weekend plans with during afternoon school pick up.

For many of us, we live and breathe and function throughout the world with this carelessness that we are safe, but if my obsession with true crime has taught me anything, it is that we are far from safe, because a murderer can be living next door, can be at the check-out lane next to you at the store, or can easily live with you, and you may never know.

Cynthia Pelayo

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is a two-time Bram Stoker Awards nominated poet and author. She is the author of Loteria, Santa Muerte, The Missing, and Poems of My Night, all of which have been nominated for International Latino Book Awards. Poems of My Night was also nominated for an Elgin Award. Her recent collection of poetry, Into the Forest and All the Way Through, explores true crime, that of the epidemic of missing and murdered women in the United States, and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and Elgin Award. Her modern day horror retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale, Children of Chicago, was released by Agora / Polis Books in 2021.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Columbia College, a Master of Science in Marketing from Roosevelt University, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is a Doctoral Candidate in Business Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Cina was raised in inner city Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children. Find her online at and on Twitter @cinapelayo.