True crime content has been around for nearly a century. The deep dive into the psychology of some of the world's most twisted minds and examination of court procedures and federal investigations have captivated audiences, offering a unique blend of entertainment and education. It’s a genre that’s taken on many forms, covering everything from grizzly murders and abductions, to robbery and fraud. Most recently, true crime has boomed in popularity on online platforms, with Twitch and YouTube becoming a go-to for mini documentaries, breakdowns, and commentary.
Up until it became the next big thing on Twitch and YouTube, audiences consumed true crime content in the form of segments on Dateline NBC, Netflix documentaries, novels, or procedural dramas like Law & Order. While those programs have proven to be extremely popular, they lacked the depth to help audiences connect to these stories on a personal level. They don’t allow the audience to engage and reflect in the same way that they do when consuming true crime content online.
Becoming the meta
Jim Can’t Swim, better known as JCS, is a true crime YouTube channel that focuses on criminal psychology and the investigation process. Videos on the channel often pause during police interrogations, breaking down every technique and strategy like a fine art. The channel has become one of the most popular in terms of original true crime content on the internet.
True Crime content is certainly not new to the internet, but it’s taken on a whole new form on platforms like Twitch and YouTube. This past summer, the genre saw a massive pop, with some of the biggest content creators sharing it with their audiences. The JCS YouTube channel has amassed over 280,000,000 views across just 19 videos. The channel became a major source for true crime content, with streamers like Valkyrae, xQc, HasanAbi, and countless others costreaming its uploads.
Where JCS differs from your typical network true crime feature is its emphasis on the interrogation process. The videos often use footage from actual police interrogations, breaking down techniques. In their video about Chris Watts, who was found guilty of murdering his wife and two children, JCS highlighted Chris’ posture, mannerisms, and choice of language.
For content creators, true crime co-streaming became the meta (another term for “fad” in the Twitch/YouTube communities). Hosting these watch-alongs not only gave creators a new way to engage with their audiences, but a way to learn more about the dangers lurking in the world around us. It also created a new environment for consuming true crime content that didn’t really exist before.
Don’t watch true crime alone
For many, true crime can be off putting for a variety of reasons, one of which being the unsettling nature of it all. It’s easy to be creeped out when reading an article about home invasions, or watching a video about people being kidnapped in broad daylight. However, there’s something about the communal aspect of watching the content with a group of others that makes it a bit more palatable.
Ericka “Boze” Bozeman is an online creator that’s been producing true crime content on her YouTube and Twitch channels for over five years. She put the pedal to the metal nearly a year ago and began streaming on a consistent schedule. Her streams would pull in a few hundred viewers back then. Nowadays, Boze’s true crime livestreams reel in a few thousand concurrent viewers. I spoke with Boze about her experience making true crime content, as well as the genre's recent boost in popularity.
During the interview, Boze chimed in on the communal aspect of watching true crime content online.
It’s that emphasis on making the content a learning experience that’s so present in Boze’s streams and videos. Though her enthusiasm and excitement is surely a major draw for viewers, so is her dedication to ensuring there’s worthwhile takeaways from any topic she decides to cover. This is highlighted in the video in which she explained why she wasn’t going to cover the case surrounding Gabby Petito, a woman who had recently gone missing and was then found deceased after going on a hiking trip with her boyfriend. In the video, Boze criticizes those that use true crime stories to simply increase their own clout and reel in views.
True crime can serve as a cautionary tale, but there’s a line where those feelings of caution become full-on paranoia. As someone who consumes an inordinate amount of true crime content, I was curious if Boze ever found herself on edge or with feelings of unease as a result.
“There was one day that I got off stream and bought a whole goddamn security system,” she shared. Someone who admittedly tends to give people the benefit of the doubt, she stated that the past year has made her a bit more skeptical about the world around her.
Producing true crime content on such a consistent basis means it’s necessary to shake things up here and there, as to not bombard audiences with heavy stories and dark themes. This is another focus of Boze’s, as is evident by the content on her YouTube channel. In a video about Emma Presler, a woman that was accused of dousing two people in gasoline and setting them on fire, Boze opens with a story about a raw chicken that somebody tried to send through the luggage carousel at an airport. It’s not to make light of a serious situation, but more to give viewers levity between bigger, heavier stories. Something that Boze refers to as “caring for her audience.”
The Harry Horror Show is another Twitch channel that specializes in true crime content, though his motivation behind it is a bit different. Harry likes to focus on content that forces viewers to challenge their own worldviews and biases. It’s a concept that we spoke about during an interview.
One of the biggest criticisms of true crime content, in any form, is that it puts truly evil people on a pedestal, making them the primary point of interest while pushing the victims to the side. This is an issue that Harry looks to directly contest when making his own content, where he always makes sure that the human side of these stories stay intact, and that the victims of these crimes aren't lost in the shuffle.
A lot of the content on The Harry Horror Show looks to examine the minds and thought processes of not only serial killers and kidnappers, but members of hate groups as well. He takes a closer look at the behaviors and patterns that people exhibit “on the road to becoming a monster.”
Breaking it all down
Matt Orchard got his start in true crime content when he made a comedic parody in the style of JCS’ videos. The video was enough to catch the attention of the folks behind the JCS channel, who asked Matt to show them a breakdown of an actual police interrogation. Though it didn’t result in an ongoing partnership, it was enough to encourage Orchard to continue making videos about true crime.
Unlike the other two content creators that I spoke to for this story, Orchard doesn’t livestream any of his content. Instead, he produces longform videos for his YouTube channel, which can range anywhere from 1-2 hours in length. When speaking with him, Orchard shared that he actually isn’t a major true crime fan, but was hooked by the style of JCS’ interrogation breakdowns
It’s a style that Orchard mimics in his videos, often pausing to dive deep into different psychological concepts or intricate aspects of an investigation. It’s a formula that obviously goes over quite well with audiences, as evidenced by the retention time in videos that run far longer than your average internet clip. I asked Matt Orchard if he would ever consider branching off into livestreamed content. He stated that if he did, it wouldn’t be on his main channel, as his viewers have come to expect few uploads, but ones that are of high quality and production value.
Matt told me that when it comes to true crime content, he’s often drawn towards ambiguous stories, where there may not be a definitive answer at the end. Instead, viewers have to take all of the information presented to them, examine it, and draw their own conclusions.
That ambiguity is present in the video in which Matt Orchard explores the case of David Bain, who was convicted of shooting and killing both of his parents, as well as his three siblings back in 1994. The sole survivor of the crime, David Bain was the only suspect, and was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. However, David was released in 2007 after an appeal found that the case was grossly mishandled, leading to Bain’s acquittal on the charges. It’s possible that the crime was carried out by another party, but it also can’t be ruled out that David Bain was indeed responsible for the killings. Matt Orchard’s video looks at the case from top-to-bottom, providing convincing arguments for both sides.
A new era of true crime
True crime has long been a staple of daytime network television, but it’s seen quite the evolution on YouTube and Twitch. Creators are taking the content, and reshaping it in a way that makes it more palatable, intriguing, and informational for audiences. Whether you’re a true crime fanatic or somebody that’s only seen a couple of crime docs, it’s hard not to be fascinated by what feels like a new era for true crime stories.