A True Crime Story Which Never Happened
I [hereafter known as The Author] have been considering truth and fact. Truth, as something malleable. Fact, as something that influences the changing of truths. The Author has considered this in particular detail in relation to True Crime and the ways in which truth is manipulated here (no, the ways in which the reader is manipulated here), and to how truth becomes something which The Author is drip-fed through an IV of carefully constructed prose, figurative language, and sources that cannot be verified. Initially, it was The Author’s intention to use this platform as a space in which to explore alternative narratives, using the “I” of a true crime victim. Though of course, to use this “I” would be a blatant un-truth, given that The Author is a) not a victim of true crime in any capacity and b) that this lack of victim status can be verified by the very fact that she is writing this essay. Instead, then, The Author will use “she” because a) statistically, women are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than men and b) statistically, this narrative has already happened
to a woman somewhere.
- She was especially well-known in her neighbourhood for being the first to hang up her Christmas tree lights. This wasn’t because she was fond of the holiday, necessarily, but more because she was fond of the joy that it brought her two children. She was a devoted mother and was often playfully mocked – albeit, with tenderness – by other mothers in the area for her forensic attention to packing her children’s lunchboxes. She did this in such a way as to cater to their core nutritional needs, to ensure they had enough energy to last them through a typical afternoon of school. Though she was known to change these constructions on days when there were likely to be physical endeavours such as ballet practice or a football match. She had been married to the children’s father for thirteen years when the crime occurred. They had met and bonded during their second and third years at university. While many people said they were too young to get married, they found themselves committed to the idea nonetheless. And so, after finishing their degrees, they eloped. Their marriage was uneventful, which is to say nothing of note happened, either good or bad. Though there was the occasional argument, there was nothing particularly explosive about these encounters, neither of them having the temper or temperament for such things. Their worst disagreement came when, two years into their marriage, she informed her husband that she didn’t want children. Despite believing that he would be a good father, she believed she would be an unfit mother. She was never able to qualify this claim, but it remained her central rebuttal to the suggestion of any offspring – even so much as a consolatory house pet – and, unmoving on the matter, the argument eventually collapsed into quiet agreement. Her husband simmered with rage that occasionally manifested in unexpected ways: he was resentful of the time she would spend out of the house with friends rather than with him, homemaking; he was especially judgemental of poorly cooked meals that lacked nutritional value. On this latter point, though, she remarked that this was something she had never considered. And, given that they had spent their youth living primarily on pizza, beer and vitamin supplements, this was, in many ways, she thought, something he could have inferred about her character before he married her. To the former point her argument was, and remained, that she could afford to be out with friends frequently, as could he, on account of their not having children to be at home for. She spent increasing amounts of time with friends, finding that as she got older, and succeeded in climbing the career ladder in her respective field, she had more available income to pursue other interests. Her friends would report that she was generous with both her time and her money, often paying for meals out and, occasionally, a spa weekend. Whenever questioned about her available income – not in an accusatory or judgemental fashion, but rather a concerned one, and only ever from those especially close to her – she would remark that she could spend her money how she saw fit, on account of not having any dependents. Despite her age, she remained single and childless, which was something she allegedly boasted about during nights out. She was, according to some reports, “a bit of a goer”; while the meaning of this remains somewhat ambiguous, it can be inferred that she was liberal in her sexual endeavours.
Now, knowing everything and nothing of the victim, attention should be turned to the nature of the crime.
- The woman was driving home from a charity fundraiser late one evening. Her husband had intended to go with her; they would arrange for a childminder to sit with the children. However, after a long day at work, he decided to stay at home instead. The woman was driving back from the fundraiser when she exited a junction that was adjacent to another junction with a STOP sign. The woman, knowing that this stop sign was there, proceeded with some caution, although she felt relatively safe in venturing forward, assuming that any incoming driver would halt at the line. On exiting her own junction, the woman’s car was struck – on the driver’s side – by a man who police later discovered was not only driving dangerously, but was also intoxicated. The woman was killed on impact, and attending services made no attempt to revive her when they arrived at the scene. Throughout the neighbourhood there was great unrest in the following weeks; it was such an uncommon and unlikely crime for that particular town. The husband claims they were in good form, following an evening at a local eatery where they had been dining out together on their monthly Date Night. The woman and her husband had been walking down a well-populated street – though it was late – and the area was well-lit, too. Still, this did not prevent a young man from exiting an alleyway as they walked past and demanding that they give him their valuables. The woman made to comply and removed her handbag from her shoulder. The husband refused, instead informing the young man that he should leave before they shouted for help or called the police. The young man reportedly lost his temper then, and without so much as demanding their valuables for a second time, he lunged forwards, attacking the woman, before leaping toward the man. The man – aka the husband – dodged the strike. On seeing that his wife had collapsed to the floor, he dropped to his knees to attend to her. At this point the young man fled, and the husband called first the ambulance services and then inquired about the police. Reports claim that he was distraught and in a state of shock when both service providers arrived at the scene. There was considerable blood loss from the woman, from what turned out to be a fatal stab wound. The ambulance team made an effort to escort the victim to hospital, but she died seven minutes into the journey. The police are still looking for the man in question. They have a basic composite drawing that has been distributed throughout the local area, including colleges and higher education institutions, as there has been considerable contestation from witnesses regarding estimates of the offender’s age. The image has also been distributed to local bars and nightclubs, as it is assumed this is likely where the woman encountered the offender. Statements from friends, whom the woman had been out with before the incident, claim that they left the unnamed nightclub earlier than she did. Although security footage shows her leaving the establishment at 12:23am, she appears to have left alone. The alleyway where her body was discovered remains sealed and investigations are ongoing.
Now, knowing everything and nothing of the crime, attention should be turned to the offender.
- He was a drunk driver youth from a broken home, a young man who refused to take no for an answer, who lost his temper when the woman persisted in her rejections.
Now a reader knows everything and nothing of this crime/these crimes. Only that they likely occurred. So familiar are the narratives, a reader may have even found themselves midway through and already thinking, Ah, yes, I remember this. This can be explained in two ways: a) a reader does indeed recognise the case as a true one which is a statistical possibility given the beige details provided or b) a reader is now so familiar with true crime dressed up in consumerism’s clothing that, without knowing a case – including the truths and un-truths that form it – a reader will somehow superimpose what knowledge they have of crime within society as it functions now and think, Yes, I know this one, simply because the explanation(s) above have triggered a schema response.
There is no neat conclusion. To end, all The Author can offer is this: If you are told that one of these narratives is fact, it changes your truth. And what a terrifyingly vulnerable place that leaves us all in.
 The Author would like it known that Truman Capote’s 1965 novel In Cold Blood is largely responsible for these philosophical minefields. Small black holes have opened up sporadically over the last eighteen months, during which time The Author has started to interrogate what, of the materials she consumes, is in fact truth, and what is sold to her as truth for the sake of making it more appealing – a kind of “truth”, if you will.
 There is space here for another note, but The Author knows she will only talk of Truman Capote again.
 Even this, of course, is a tangible concept. When The Author uses the phrase “a true crime victim”, there is space for a distinction to be made between one of two things. In the first instance, this may refer to a victim of a real crime who has been re-documented in a true crime production. In the second, this may refer to someone who has been a victim of bastardisation, through true crime – which is to say, the truth of their narrative has been altered, as much by fiction as by provable fact.
 This was done to the dismay of their families. She had never done anything against her parents’ wishes before and it caused a temporary rift in her relationship with them. However, the longer the marriage lasted, the softer its brittle beginnings became.
 Though this is dependent on who exactly you ask.
 She reserved this line of rebuttal for special occasions, though, sensing that her husband had never quite made peace with the right of fatherhood that she had denied him.
 There is some debate around the nature of her field of work.
 The Author would like it noted here that this information cannot be concretely verified, though it still seems worthy of documentation.
 The Author would like it noted here that the woman and the victim are the same individual but, having already reduced this character to her gender alone, The Author is unsettled at the thought of reducing the character for a second time. Take note.
 This is conjecture. There is no way of knowing whether the woman thought this or not. Yet such is the nature of the telling that we can superimpose this set of assumptions onto the character. The reader may have mixed feelings about this. Do not worry; The Author has no such mixed feelings.
 Why is it always a young man?
 The Author would like it noted that this re-telling has been drafted based on testimony provided by the husband of the deceased, aka the woman.
 The reader will notice that minimal detail has been provided here, which is not to say that minimal details are available. Rather, The Author wonders why in the retellings of these narratives such space – both physical on the page and psychological in our collective wonderings – is afforded to the person who committed the crime. The crime exists, now, independently of the offender who orchestrated the crime and so, if we are indeed interested in true crime, should our attentions not lie beyond the realm of the individual whose hand the crime occurred by, to instead consider a more holistic view of what happened and to whom? The Author is essentially exhausted, now, by these rehashed narratives of Theodore Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and others who serve no true purpose other than to be contemporary boogeymen and cautionary tales for minority groups. That, and SEO devices for true crime releases, which is to say that to some, at least, they still serve a practical purpose. To most, though, they are or should be irrelevant. The Author would like to wipe their names from mouths and replace them with their victims’ names.
 Or, to nurture the connective tissue between this here and the start of the thread, it changes what is believed to be true.
Dr Charley Barnes is an author and lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, where she teaches in Creative and Professional Writing. Barnes is a crime and psychological suspense author, and is currently researching representations of true crime in contemporary literature. She has written several pieces for Porridge exploring the nature and role of the true crime genre.