In a recent poll centered around true crime, half of participants gave the chilling genre their nod of approval. If you can’t get enough of these gritty stories, consider yourself among the 13% of respondents that claimed it’s their favorite genre. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason true crime has become such a phenomenon, one factor is likely that these often graphic real-life nightmares feed our innate desire to solve the unsolvable. Some people, however, take their love for mysteries to the next level. 

Known as armchair detectives, these everyday members of society use their sleuthing abilities—and Wi-Fi connections—to solve these unresolved mysteries. While some armchair detectives have found success in solving decades-old cases, others have ruined lives by falsely accusing innocent individuals. Today we’re doing some sleuthing of our own as we dig into the world of armchair detectives and their relationship to true crime stories. Join us as we debate whether they’re helpful or harmful in their quest to unravel unsolved crimes. 

What Is True Crime? 

Whether you get your murder mystery fix during your morning commute or while you’re chopping veggies for dinner, one thing is for sure—true crime is taking over podcasts and television in a big way. But what exactly is a “true crime”? 

True crime is a non-fiction genre found in a multitude of mediums. It dissects the stories of real-life violent crimes, including kidnappings, murders, serial murders, sexual assault, robbery, and more. And while we may not have a list of the best true crime podcasts on hand, we do know the secret list of ingredients that most mediums use to create the most addictive content, such as: 

  • The crime: What did the crime consist of? 
  • The investigation: What was the investigative process like? 
  • The criminal: What was the alleged criminal’s psyche, motivation, and background? 
  • The victim: Who was the victim? What impact did the crime have on their life and that of their family? 
  • The trial: What was the legal system’s role in the case? 
  • The resolution: Was the crime resolved? What justice was found for the victim and their family? 

What Are Armchair Detectives, Really

An armchair detective is someone who enjoys solving mysteries from home. While they may feel the call of the investigative trench coat, they don’t actually need to leave the comfort of their chairs thanks to modern advancements like the internet. Once they find a case they’re passionate about, they have several tools at their fingertips, including: 

  • Scanning the Internet for public records. 
  • Using web browsers to research almost anything, from blog posts to maps of specific addresses. 
  • Utilizing social media forums to research potential suspects and discuss their theories with other like-minded individuals. 

Armchair Detectives: Friend or Foe? 

While the idea of untrained (and unlicensed) detectives solving true crimes from their living rooms may seem farfetched, their theories and extensive computer-sleuthing skills have aided in solving long-unsolved murders and crimes. For example, in the documentary “Don’t F**k With Cats,” a group of ordinary people banded together to identify a man who’d been posting disturbing videos online. With the help of public video footage, online maps, and a heated social media discussion forum used to discuss their theories, they were able to find a murderer that had previously roamed free. 

But the inquisitive nature of armchair detectives doesn’t always end with a happily ever after or a conviction of the guilty party. When it comes to cold cases, an onslaught of theories or “leads” from armchair detectives can turn into hours of futile work for detectives who are currently working 40 or more hours a week on more recent, open cases. 

There have also been reports of amateur detectives distracting investigators and providing police departments with false accusations and rumors. For example, in 2022, four college students were murdered in the college town of Moscow, Idaho. Before a suspect was in custody, armchair detectives took to the internet to find the killer. One of those internet investigators claimed that a professor was guilty of initiating the plan to have the students murdered. While police later debunked this theory, this brazen claim altered the reputation of the accused and resulted in a lawsuit against the armchair detective who made the false statement. 

Turn Your Passion into Your Career at UTPB 

From the successful documentary “The Staircase” to the countless true crime podcasts you can sift through like a sugar addict searching for their next sweet fix, it seems like this pop culture fad is here to stay. If you’re interested in translating your armchair enthusiasm for true crime into a fulfilling career, one of UT Permian Basin’s online criminal justice programs can help. 

Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies 

UTPB’s online undergraduate criminology and criminal justice studies program is ideal for students seeking a thorough grasp of the criminal justice system, including corrections, courts, and law enforcement. Not only do our experienced professors provide a rigorous, research-based curriculum, but the online format makes it simple for you to choose from a wide selection of courses that align with your busy schedule. 

Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration 

Our online graduate criminal justice administration program is ideal for individuals looking for a deeper understanding of the world of criminal justice and ready to enact positive change. Whether you’re already a working professional in the industry or recently completed your bachelor’s degree, you can complete this 30-credit program entirely online at your own pace. 

Your courses will help you: 

  • Identify and craft solutions to issues from criminal law to law enforcement and correction. 
  • Influence policy as a leader to create positive change from within. 
  • Protect your agency and its employees while serving the public. 

Interested in learning more? Request more information or take the next step and apply to the program that’s right for you.