Social Media and Entertainment’s Fascination with Murder Mysteries and True Crime

Ana Walshe's murder is the latest true crime case to attract viral social media attention.
By Madison E. Goldberg
Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/FilmMagic)/Getty Images

Ana Walshe, a woman living between Washington, D.C. for her job and with her husband and children in Cohasset, Massachusetts, went missing on New Year’s Day. She was expected to board a flight to D.C. that she never boarded.  Weeks after her disappearance, her husband Brian Walshe was charged with her murder.

Cohasset, a picturesque historic town an hour outside of Boston, it not typically home to crimes of these proportions. The South Shore of Massachusetts is home to wealthy and upper-middle class families, and hosts a family friendly atmosphere. Such is the case with many idyllic American cities and towns that quickly become crime scenes.

Ana and Brian Walshe share three children, and were married in 2015 in Boston. But previously, Ana reported to D.C. police that a man called her and threatened to kill him. She later dropped the investigation, potentially because Brian threatened her, but authorities working on the current case confirmed that the call was placed by Brian from a phone in Boston.

Walshe brazenly smiled as he was taken into custody for misleading investigators days ago, in a chilling video that circulated on Twitter.

Walshe was previously arrested in 2018 for a his many art fraud crimes, and was most recently on house arrest that only granted him the freedom to take his children to school. In the ongoing investigation, it was discovered that Walshe wore a mask and gloves to Home Depot to purchase hundreds of dollars of cleaning supplies, and a bloodied weapon was found in the garbage near his mother’s house in nearby Swampscott.

Before Walshe’s murder charge, details about the case rapidly made the rounds on TikTok amid self-proclaimed true crime aficionados and internet sleuths, as people scrambled to hopefully discover Ana’s whereabouts.

@crime_cast

Updates in the disappearance of Ana Walshe! #missing #anawalshe #crimecast #fyp

♬ original sound – Sarah Rose

@crimewithkourt

MISSING: Ana Walshe. Where is she?? #truecrime #truecrimetiktok #truecrimecommunity #missing #missingperson #anawalshe #massachusetts #unsolved #unsolvedmysteries #fyp

♬ A somewhat creepy and sad atmosphere music box – MoppySound

While the social media attention helped raise awareness about the case, it contributes to the ongoing fascination with true crime on social media, and in turn its influence on the entertainment industry. The recent murder of several college students in small town Idaho attracted similar spectacle, as did Jeffrey Dahmer’s case from the 70s and 80s when Netflix dropped Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story starring Evan Peters.

It begs the question of why the recent fascination with the American murder mystery, and the complex ethics of resurfacing cases online.

The TikTok Trends

The growing true crime podcast movement began around 2014 with “Serial”, a public radio spinoff of “This American Life.” The podcast notably featured Adnan Syed’s case in its first season, which most recently led to the overturn of his 1999 murder conviction for which he served 23 years in prison.

Ever since, true crime podcasts have sprung from various platforms, but most notably YouTube and TikTok. Some podcasts honor the lives of the victims of the crimes discussed, while others focus on the psychology behind the crimes, which has lead some fans of the genre to question its ethics.

@ashleypodcasts

Need some new #truecrime #podcasts to listen to?

♬ Stranger Things – The Theme System

Other creators on TikTok bake cookies or create makeup looks while discussing events of murder cases. This can certainly be seen as insensitive to those personally impacted by the cases discussed, but also speaks to the perceived desensitization of violence for Gen Z post 9/11 and amid countless mass shootings. While these types of videos do help raise awareness on active cases, some close to them view it as performative.

@bakersmanncookies

Replying to @purpleduck183 I’m SHOCKED that there are no leads. Rest in peace 😔 #truecrimecommunity #CookiesandCrime #cookiedecorating

♬ Lofi and Chill BGM.(859999) – Kazuhi

Some podcasters focus heavily on the murderers, and less about the legacy of the victims. Such can be said for the coverage of the 2022 Moscow, Idaho murders. 

Four students who shared a home near their University of Idaho campus were stabbed to death in November. Brian Kohberger, a 28-year-old criminology PhD student at the nearby Washington State University at Pullman, was arrested after his DNA was discovered on a knife sheath he left at the crime scene. The mysterious motive and striking connection to the suspect’s life in academia is straight out of Criminal Minds, which has led some to focus on the shock of his involvement and not the victims’ families.

@realityshelly

#idaho #idaho4 #kohberger #bryankohberger #suspect #moscowmurders #universityofidaho #arrested #fyp #truecrime

♬ original sound – ⭐️

@noelmulk0

Replying to @mommy_panda5 THE FACT THAT THEY HAVE HIM IN A TURTLE SUIT!!!! UPDATE FOR THE MUG SHOT! #briankohberger #idahomurder #idaho #turtlesuit #truecrime #greenscreen

♬ Crime (Dramatic Instrumental Music) (feat. Adrian Benegas) – Introspectunes

The ethics conversation came to the forefront following the fall 2022 release of Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which sparked questionable memes and TikToks about both the case, and the show’s leading actor, Evan Peters. Peters recently won a Golden Globe for his performance in the limited series.

@the_mannii

😂☠️ #jeffreydahmer #themannii

♬ Psycho Killer – Talking Heads

In Film and Entertainment

Some of Peters’ most notable roles include the characters he’s played in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. This is likely what has garnered a large teenage and young adult fanbase of the actor, and what caused some to sexualize his performance as Dahmer. Dahmer killed 17 young men in Ohio and Wisconsin in the late 70s and early 80s. Following the release of the show, the cast was praised for their accurate performances, especially that of Niecy Nash. Nash portrays Glenda Cleveland, who is based on the real woman who initially alerted the police to Dahmer after she saw 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone running from him in an alleyway.

Dashawn Barnes was also praised for her accurate depiction of Rita Isbell, victim Errol Lindsey’s sister’s testimony at Dahmer’s murder trial.

 

The acclaimed Hulu dramedy Only Murders in the Building, which stars Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez, nearly satirizes the genre. Tina Fey plays true crime podcast royalty Cinda Canning, whose All is Not Ok in Oklahoma brings the main characters, Charles (Martin), Oliver (Short) and Mabel (Gomez) together, is eventually shown to be an emotionless person who tampers with evidence to make the crimes she covers more entertaining.

Unlike some of the other shows coming out in the true crime genre, this one depicts the emotional impact the crimes have on victims and communities as the gang of misfits unravels them. Specifically, in season one, Gomez’s character Mabel Mora mourns the loss of a personal friend named Tim Kono, and the complex emotions attached to another friend wrongly accused of a murder decades ago. The show’s unique approach to the genre has garnered praise, and many of its actors were nominated for Golden Globes this year.

@catquinn

Why Selena Gomez wears marigold yellow as Mabel in Only Murders in the Building. Source Dana Covarrubias via @popsugar #selenagomez #mabel #bloodymabel #omitb #onlymurdersinthebuilding #onlymurders #greenscreen

♬ Only Murders In The Main Building Main Theme (From “”Only Murders In The Main Building””) – Geek Music

The Victim’s Families

The real Rita Isbell spoke up after the release of the Dahmer limited series and heavily criticized it. The accuracy was traumatizing, and none of the families of the real victims were involved in its creation. Isbell’s statements are what led some initial fans of the show to start questioning the circumstances under which it was made.

@brutamerica

Replying to @brutamerica Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer series has upset one of the victim’s family. Here’s why. #jeffreydahmer #netflix #fyp

♬ original sound – Brut.

Another creator named Melissa Moore, who is the daughter of the Happy Face Killer, has taken to the platform to speak about being a family member of a serial killer, and also to help others who have dealt with similar grief. She points out that the “guilty by association” rhetoric is unfair to the families of victims, who were likely unknowingly living with killers while they maintained double lives.

@lifeafterhappyface

My point of view on #dahmernetflix #dahmer as someone who works with serial killer relatives and is also a relative of a serial killer, I feel like I can speak to this one.

♬ original sound – Melissa Moore

While it is important to spread awareness of ongoing cases with modern technology and social media, it is important to understand that many cases, whether ongoing or closed, impact the families of the victims and sometimes those of the killers. While viewers ogle them through a phone screen, many in America are facing these things in their own backyards.