Paris Brown wakes up every morning with murder on her mind. Don't worry — she's not a serial killer. She's a college English professor who just happens to be more than a little obsessed with true crime message boards.
“Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is check the message boards,” Brown told Oxygen.com.
“I’ll be in bed, grab my cell phone and my very first thought is — 'what’s new?'” said Brown (pictured above), who is in her mid-forties, a PhD candidate and a part-time professor at the University of California in Riverside.
The most popular true crime message boards differ in their layout and organization but they all focus on real-life horrors. The Dreamin’ Demon, for example, has sections dedicated to missing persons, animal abuse and crimes against children.
Users typically post under aliases — from GenericUser123 to Sugar Cookie. Sometimes posters to the boards share their disgust about a particularly heinous crime. Other times, they offer up theories on how to solve one.
There are subreddits devoted to all sorts of specific cases, including some notoriously unsolved ones. In the "Zodiac Killer" board, many are working to crack the ciphers that the suspect who called himself the Zodiac created, decades after he sent them to the media and police.
Michelle McNamara, author of "I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer," became obsessed with the then-unsolved serial killer case after becoming entranced by message board posts on the subject. She began posting on A&E’s Cold Case Files message board about her newfound focus, and her efforts have been linked to the recent arrest of suspect Joseph DeAngelo in the decades-old cold case. The arrest happened two years after McNamara, the first wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, died.
Most message board aficionados post under usernames, so it's difficult to know what percentage of the posters are women. Still, a large number of them appear to be female. This makes sense — a 2010 article published in Social Psychological and Personality Science revealed that more women than men tend to gravitate more towards true crime. Researchers who collected data from Amazon found that 70% of the site’s true crime book reviews were written by women, according to The Atlantic.
The English professor
Brown told Oxygen.com that she has been obsessed with the EARONS [acronyms for East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker, previous nicknames for the suspect investigators believe is the Golden State Killer] message boards ever since DeAngelo's April arrest. After perusing that board, she usually switches over to Unresolved Mysteries subreddit, she said.
To give a taste of some of the posts, one thread on the EARONS boards, not posted by Brown, wonders whether Joseph DeAngelo himself may have posted a comment on a 2014 Los Angeles Magazine article written by McNamara about the Golden State Killer. The post theorizes about the background of the serial killer, and some of the information eerily matches DeAngelo's dates and background.
"Someone mentioned on Reddit that they wondered if a poster/commenter on this article could very well be JJD [DeAngelo]." Another EARONs user replied with some skepticism, saying "I don't know. The poster mentions EARONS' 'short stature.' JJD is not short. He's 5'11" at the age of 73. Over the years he has probably lost an inch or two. So he could have been 6' in his prime."
Because she leads a busy life, Brown doesn't usually participate in the threads, she said, but mainly just lurks on the boards everyday.
“There’s not a whole lot of time I can devote to trying to solve crimes,” she said. “Every now and then I will offer an opinion on a pro-board.”
When she does, she posts under an alias, because it's more fun.
Brown told Oxygen she has been infatuated with true crime since the age of 14, when she first read prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's 1974 book "Helter Skelter," which details the arrest and prosecution of cult leader Charles Manson and the Manson Family. Brown said her "true crime gene" was passed down to her from her mother, who knows everything there is to know about the Manson Family murders.
Then, things got personal for Brown when she was just 18. Her teenage boyfriend and his best friend were in front of her California apartment complex when they were shot by a neighbor, who targeted them from a second-floor balcony. Her boyfriend survived, but his friend died. Brown remembers being covered in blood trying to help — but she also remembers handling the situation calmly. The neighbor was caught after a week-long manhunt and was sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in the shooting.
In her thirties, she became a 911 dispatcher, in part because of her fascination with true crime. She also worked as the webmaster for a police station and as a custodian of records. Now, she incorporates true crime literature (including “Helter Skelter”) into her syllabi when teaching college-level courses.
With her law enforcement background, her advice is often valuable, she said. On a message board about Brandon Lawson, who went missing in 2013, she posted information about how to request public records from the police department.
“I wanted to give them some insight on how that would work,” Brown said.
From time to time, though, she does some armchair detective work herself. In a 911 call before Lawson disappeared, he said his truck had run out of gas and that he was being chased by a man in a field.
“I wondered if he ever got a gas can or anything,” Brown told Oxygen. “So, from California, I started calling [convenience stores] and asking them if they sell gas cans. Occasionally, I’ll do that sort of thing.”
She did find at least one store that sells plastic gas cans, but that was as far as her sleuthing has taken her so far in the case.
Another chronic message board surfer is a woman, who, like Brown, says her love of true crime was passed down to her by her mother. This woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, works as a criminal prosecutor. Like Brown, she’s been a true crime fanatic for more than 30 years. She told Oxygen.com that she visits true crime boards every day, many times a day.
She eyes true crime boards on Reddit, The Dreamin’ Demon and other boards. She has a folder on her browser titled "crime," where she puts all her favorite boards to surf. Some of her favorite subreddits include r/UnresolvedMysteries, r/UnsolvedMurders, r/truecrimedaily, r/MissingPersons and r/serialkillers. Below is a screenshot of her regularly visited sites.
“For me, it's very helpful in my job being familiar with recent or cold crime cases,” she said. “More than once, a completely unrelated case I've read online that is not similar in location, type of crime, or even recent in time, has involved an issue unfamiliar with my colleagues or the police and gives us another avenue to pursue.”
The elementary school teacher
Another message board aficionado, who also asked to remain anonymous, said she used to visit true crime boards only a couple times a week — but ever since the capture of the Golden State Killer suspect, she finds herself frequenting them more often. A substitute teacher and mom in her forties, she has been interested in true crime since childhood, but began deep diving into it on the internet, she said.
Often, she will watch a true crime-related show and then start Googling to see if there was a resolution. She added that she's especially obsessed with serial killer cold cases, like the Long Island Serial Killer, who has eluded the cops for decades. Police believe the suspect murdered 10 to 16 sex workers, over a period of two decades, and dumped their bodies off Long Island’s Ocean Parkway.
“I want to know how he was able to fly under the radar for so long, and the theory that he may be a teacher or cop is really interesting,” she said. Now that a former cop has been arrested and charged with the 12 murders attributed to the Golden State Killer, that theory may not be so far off, she suggested.
A mother herself, she also ends up zeroing in on any true crime stories that involve children.
“I want to see the parents get justice and the monster that could take a child, off the streets. The Delphi murders are one of those cases,” she told Oxygen.com.
In the Delphi murder case, the bodies of Abigail Williams, 13, and Liberty Rose Lynn German, 14, were found on a hiking trail in Delphi, Indiana on Valentine’s Day 2017. No arrests have been made.
She said that one of message boards' best attributes is their ability to highlight cases that amateur sleuths are researching so that a spotlight can be shined on them. Bringing more awareness to unsolved crimes can help crack the case — and the Golden State Killer suspect's recent arrest is a case in point.
A way to connect
Many have credited the collective true crime community for keeping the murders that investigators believe the Golden State Killer suspect committed in the spotlight, even though they happened so many decades ago.
“The whole EARONS [acronyms for East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker] case, I feel like it was the public interest that helped make the arrest. There was all this pressure on police," Brown said.
In addition to cracking crimes, frequenting true crime boards can have a deeply personal impact, some aficionados say.
“It helps me to connect with people because I’m normally an introvert and it’s very hard for me to be social and start conversations sometimes,” Brown said. “So it’s a conversation starter, something that people can remember me by.”
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