A few Christmases ago my sister, not unusually, gave me a book. It was called "The World's Worst Criminals", with Myra Hindley, Charles Manson and Ted Bundy looking their most soul-less on the cover. I was living in London at the time and read it on the bus to and from my job on Oxford Street. It hadn't occurred to me that a fascination with serial killers was strange to some, but I caught on quick when I saw the looks from fellow passengers.
The internet is a wonderful thing; the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make us odd in the real world are what bonds us in blogging and social media. My friend Emily exclusively watches horror films, but is yet to find one that scares her. Erin makes paranormal videos on YouTube, visiting famously haunted castles and museums. I like serial killers.
When film student Chris Lloyd emailed me with a snippet of his 'Dark Tourism' project, I was listening to comedy podcast 'The Last Podcast on the Left'. It just so happened to be the Fred and Rosemary West episode, so when Chris's video showed him standing on Cromwell Street, the literal scene of the crime, it seemed like fate.
My fascination with serial killers is a truly morbid one. After yet another mass shooting in the USA, we urge the press not to make celebrities of the men who inflict such cruelty and pain. Their desire is to be listened to, at any cost. But can I point the finger when I know the names and acts of Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Chase and Carl Panzram but not their victims?
Chris's film "Dark Tourism" touches on many of the complex issues surrounding the act of visiting somewhere simply out of morbid curiosity. Over 32 million people have visited Anne Frank's house since it opened in 1960 and more than two million travelled to Auschwitz just last year. Chris examines what's appropriate. Do you take group pictures? Do you smile? What about selfies? Group tours? Is it ethical to capitalise on pain?
I was really surprised to see the Aberfan disaster featured in the film, which made it all the more fascinating. To visit the site of Fred and Rosemary West's crimes, or a concentration camp appeals to my morbid nature. Victims are not as compelling as perpetrators. I like analysing their behaviour, walking in their shoes. A freak accident requires no analysis. I found it fascinating that other people would find it fascinating.
If, like me, you have the serial killer Top Trumps card game and read murderers' Wikipedia pages, I highly recommend Chris's Dark Tourism film and Last Podcast on the Left. Let me know what you think of them!