But what is it about a manhunt that can grab our attention and hold it for weeks, even months?
Amanda Vicary, an associate professor of psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University, points to the immediacy and unfinished story.
“Not only could we be in danger ourselves, but there’s the mystery element — where is the person and what are they going to do?” said Vicary, who studies the drivers behind women’s interest in true crime.
Sordid crime stories have interested us for “thousands of years,” Vicary said, but watching a manhunt unfold live is different from watching a “Dateline” episode about a crime that took place years prior. The danger is real, and with few answers, those following along are coming up with their own conclusions like the law enforcement officials on a fugitive’s tail.
The story is stranger than fiction
“Members of the general public want to know how dangerous somebody is — that’s going to be the thing that gets people to look up from their breakfast cereal,” said Dr. Michael Bourke, former chief psychologist for the US Marshals Service and current instructor at George Washington University.
“It sounds like a movie but is real life,” Vicary said. “It’s not surprising people are following along.”
The fact that White was an established law enforcement official who suddenly left her job with a convict lends the case a degree of “romance,” Bourke said — a hook for viewers.
Internet sleuths enjoy following along
Vicary said the same amateur detectives who sought clues in Petito and Laundrie’s case may be drawn back into the fray for the Alabama corrections officer and convict: Those following along “are enjoying thinking about where (White and White) went and where they may be hiding.”
Bourke said many people who follow tales of criminals on the run do so to exact justice, to “feel a part of mitigating that threat” in their community. But some of them also enjoy trying to “beat (law enforcement officials) at their own game” and “solve” a mysterious disappearance along with the pros.
“Mysteries are fascinating to people,” Bourke said. “People are looking for the clues; people want to solve the puzzle.”
Media coverage holds our attention — even when it’s disproportionate
“These are subjective choices to elevate them to national attention, and it’s also hinged on the idea that the default of who — somebody that you’re going to want to know about is going to be somebody White and female,” Folkenflik said on NPR.
It’s a twisted form of escapism
In the same way that some true crime enthusiasts fancy themselves amateur, independent investigators, some are drawn in by watching someone else make an extreme choice, like going on the run with a criminal, Vicary said.
Leaving a stable job for a convict is a major deviation from societal norms, Bourke said.
“It’s that fall from grace,” he said. “What makes someone like that go bad? There’s a magnetism, a pull toward things that are so aberrant, so out of our realm of normality that we’re intrigued by it.”
Deep down, “a lot of people wonder how they could also ‘escape’ their everyday lives and start over,” Vicary said, which may very well play a part in why these stories hold our attention. But while it may be tempting to consider going on the run and developing a new identity, she noted that fugitive stories “usually don’t have a happy ending.”
Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: Mr Blow Up