Savage Appetites offers up a timely look at our obsession with true crime, viewing the topic through the past, present and potential future.
Much has been made about the so-called mainstreaming of true crime in recent years. From zeitgeist-defining podcasts to award-winning docu-series and best-selling books, true crime seems more and more prominent in popular culture. But, like the so-called “crime waves” exploited by media outlets looking to fill a 24-hour news cycle, true crime and its inherent popularity has and likely will always exist, a byproduct of our innate fascination with the darker side of humanity.
Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe makes a play for capitalizing on true crime interest by calling it out. She begins her first book-length foray into this world of by recounting her time spent attending a true crime convention in Nashville, Tennessee. Here she encounters all manner of individuals, the vast majority of them women of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, obsessed with violent cases in all their iterations.
A lifelong fan of the subgenre herself, Monroe finds a number of kindred spirits. She also questions her own motives for scurrying down many a dark and disturbing rabbit hole in her insatiable need to consume true crime stories. Using this as her jumping off point – the idea of obsession and getting lost within the stories themselves – Monroe takes a look at four very different women and their involvements in true crime stories both well-known and somewhat obscure.
The first, and frankly most compelling in terms of unfamiliar territory, is that of the wealthy eccentric Frances Lee who spent a fortune crafting mind-bogglingly detailed recreations of crime scenes in miniature. Her so-called Nutshells not only served as mid-century curios, but invaluable training tools for what would come to be known as forensic science. So invested was Lee in aiding in police work, that the Nutshells became an all-consuming passion that not only became her final legacy, but also her undoing in the eyes of law enforcement, then a veritable boys club not keen on having elderly women tell them how to do their jobs. It’s ultimately a tragic story of a woman possessing a skill set grossly undervalued in its own time simply because of her gender.
Her look at Alisa Statman, a young woman who essentially weaseled her way into the lives of the Tate family more than two decades after the Manson murders at Cielo Drive, is more unsettling and, unfortunately, convoluted. Statman comes off as someone very much into the idea of coopting the pain of others, inserting herself into an already sordid history of violence and mayhem and being generally despicable. The piece shifts focus from Statman to the Tate family to the latter’s work in the field of victims’ rights without ever really coming into any sort of coherent focus, all falling under the well-worn tag of Manson lore.
She follows these up with a look at Lorri Davis, the woman who fell in love with and ultimately married accused West Memphis Three member Damien Echols, and Lindsay Souvannarath, a young woman whose life existed almost exclusively online until she was arrested for plans to go on a murder spree in Canada. The former is, like the story of Statman, familiar territory and thus a high-profile example of a woman who gave up nearly everything in her life in order to ensure justice was properly carried out. The latter is more nuanced and shows the effect of fascination with true crime in our modern age.
Because of this, it’s one of the more effective entries in Savage Appetites, taking a look at the cult of Columbine and a generation of young girls growing up idolizing murderers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Souvannarath fell into this latter category, fantasizing with her online boyfriend about carrying out a mass murder spree that would rival their idols and ensure their own immortality, infamy and online adulation. Though nothing ultimately came of it, the planning and discussions were seen as evidence enough to convict Souvannarath (she went so far as to fly to Canada to meet her boyfriend, who killed himself when confronted by police at his parents’ home) and sentence her to life in prison.
Here is where Savage Appetites becomes most relevant as it takes a look at the nature of crime in an age when virtually anyone can say anything online and (generally) get away with it. The major difference, however, is that the majority of those spouting their mouths off are doing just that without ever intending to act on their idle threats. Ultimately, Souvannarath’s story plays out like the horrifying endgame of an obsession with true crime and its “celebrities.” Yet as these unspeakable events become more commonplace, the names of the perpetrators become lost in the endless news cycle.
In this, their attempts at infamy are foiled by the horrifyingly passé nature of what less than two decades ago would’ve resulted in their immortalization and fetishization at the hands of countless disturbed individuals – the more we are exposed to these types of horrors, the less they resonate. We’re still talking about Columbine 20 years after the fact, but the hundreds of mass shootings in the intervening years rarely go remarked upon. Savage Appetites offers up a timely look at our obsession with true crime, viewing the topic through the past, present and potential future.