7 Investigation Discovery Personalities on Why People Love True Crime

Investigation Discovery
Investigation Discovery

Investigation Discovery held its second annual IDCon last weekend in New York City. More than 300 true crime enthusiasts and ID Addicts (as they proudly call themselves) gathered in the Altman Building to take polygraph tests, snap photos in a “Notorious Headlines” photo booth, and, of course, see panels featuring their favorite Investigation Discovery personalities. All proceeds from the event’s ticket sales went to the Silver Shield Foundation, which provides educational support to the children of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.

True crime has always been popular, but these days, you can’t turn on the TV or your favorite streaming service without finding some ripped-from-the-headlines offering. We decided to ask the hosts of Investigation Discovery’s most popular shows why people—and women especially—love true crime.

1. JOE KENDA // HOMICIDE HUNTER

Lieutenant Joe Kenda solved 92 percent of the homicide cases he worked on during his career in law enforcement in Colorado Springs, Colorado—many of which he’s covered on his Investigation Discovery show, which will air its seventh season this year. True crime resonates, he says, for a number of reasons. “Complex feelings and issues don’t have simple answers or motivations, they don’t,” Kenda tells Mental Floss. “I think people are tired of fiction, tired of made up stories. It attracts them to truth, to something that’s happened to real people.”

He also believes that people love mysteries and good storytelling. “For thousands of years, people have gathered around the fire and said, ‘Tell me a story,’” he says. “If you tell it well, they’ll ask you tell another one. If you can tell a story about real people involved in real things, that draws their interest more than something some Hollywood scriptwriter made up that always has the same components and the same ending. And then: Who buys mystery novels? Women do, for the most part. They always have. So now you have motion picture mysteries as opposed to printed mysteries. That’s part of it, too.”

2. TAMRON HALL // DEADLINE: CRIME

During a panel discussion about why people involved in crimes—whether they’re families of the victims or the perpetrators—choose to speak for ID shows, Tamron Hall took a moment to talk about why ID viewers tune in to true crime shows. “It reminds us of humanity and the tragedies that can happen, and the journey for these people,” she said. “I think all of you guys watch our shows and say, ‘But for the grace of God, this could happen to me.’ A lot of these [shows have] themes of, wrong place, wrong time. Wrong choice … It really is something that could happen to someone you know, and the way the way the network handles it, is just that way. This could happen to anyone we know, and possibly us at some point in time.”

3. GARRY MCFADDEN // I AM HOMICIDE

For McFadden—whose show, I Am Homicide, returns for its second season on June 6—the public’s love for true crime all boils down to mystery. “People love mystery, they love intrigue, they love excitement,” he says. “When you’ve got that all together, and you can watch it every day, you want it. When you’re talking about ID, you’re talking about something that people say, ‘I’m going to figure this out,’ or ‘I’m going to see how this ends.’ The best movies are about mystery.”

4. CHRIS HANSEN // KILLER INSTINCT

Chris Hansen has had a long career in crime journalism (who can forget To Catch a Predator?), and it’s something he was drawn to early in his life, thanks to a very famous—and still unsolved—case. “When I was about 14, Jimmy Hoffa was kidnapped from a restaurant that’s about a mile and a half from the house where I grew up,” he tells Mental Floss. “It was on the news and in the papers. I’d ride my bike up there and see the yellow tape, the FBI agents and local police, and the TV news correspondents, and I kind of got bitten by the bug.”

Hansen believes people love true crime because it takes them places they wouldn’t normally go. “We go to places so the viewers don’t have to,” he says. “They see things they wouldn’t normally see, and they hear things they wouldn’t normally hear. And I think there’s a fascination with that. And at the end of the day, it’s good storytelling, too. Voyeuristic isn’t the right term, but it does allow people to escape and to see this other side of life that’s fascinating, and I think it’s also this fascination with becoming an armchair detective. To walk through [cases] with detectives, sometimes retired, you get that hindsight and that experience and that knowledge that people are interested in hearing.”

5. TONY HARRIS // SCENE OF THE CRIME

“I don’t know that I have a great answer,” Tony Harris, who hosts Scene of the Crime and Hate in America, tells Mental Floss when asked about why people love true crime shows so much. “One of the easy things to say is that people love train wrecks. That’s an easy thing, and I think that’s simplistic.” More likely, he says, is that viewers prefer to watch true crime over something like the news cycle because most of the stories have a definitive end, where the killer is found and justice is done: “In most of the shows, we button it up.” But it also boils down to very good storytelling. “The producers on our shows do a really good job of getting you over the commercials so you’re still in the story when we rejoin,” he says. “And that’s just master storytelling. Some of my cases were adjudicated, some weren’t. But I think that’s the other thing—these teams really know how to tell stories.”

6. ROD DEMERY // MURDER CHOSE ME

Rod Demery is the new kid on the block on Investigation Discovery—the first season of his show, Murder Chose Me, aired this year, and it’s just been renewed for a second season—but he’s a seasoned detective who solved 99 percent of his homicide cases. And he has plenty of thoughts about why people love true crime. “It’s like a roller coaster,” he tells Mental Floss. “I think one of the other things is fantasy. I’m certainly not a psychologist or anything close to that, but I think everybody that watches this kind of stuff, they identify with a different person in there. When I watch it, I watch the police officer: ‘If I was that guy, I’d do this.’ Everybody can relate to a different part of it. Real life is always better than fiction.”

7. CANDICE DELONG // DEADLY WOMEN

DeLong—a retired FBI profiler who was famously part of the team that caught the Unabomber—just wrapped the 11th season of Deadly Women. She believes that the reason true crime, and ID in particular, resonates with women is because “the vast majority of victims of interpersonal violence are women and children,” she says. “And I think that’s why ID’s such a hit. I’d like to think that people watch these shows and go, ‘Oh, if I ever see that, I’m going to run.’ And I think that’s why so many women watch ID.”

In fact, every investigator Mental Floss spoke with said they hoped that watching true crime shows on Investigation Discovery would lead potential victims to think more critically about certain situations and to recognize warning signs—which is a good enough thing to tell people if they think your obsession with true crime shows is unsettling.

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7 Things You Might Not Know About Mario Lopez

Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley
Angela Weiss, Getty Images for Oakley

While several of the actors featured in the 1990s young-adult series Saved by the Bell have fared well following the show’s end in 1994, Mario Lopez is in a class by himself. The versatile actor-emcee can be seen regularly on Extra, as host of innumerable beauty pageants, and as the author of several best-selling books on fitness. For more on Lopez, check out some of the more compelling facts we’ve rounded up on the multi-talented performer.

1. A WITCH DOCTOR SAVED HIS LIFE.

Born on October 10, 1973, in San Diego, California to parents Mario and Elvia Lopez, young Mario was initially the picture of health. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. In his 2014 autobiography, Just Between Us, Lopez wrote that he began having digestive problems immediately after birth, shrinking to just four pounds. Though doctors administered IV hydration, they told his parents nothing more could be done. Desperate, his father reached out to a witch doctor near Rosarito, Mexico who had cured his spinal ailments years earlier. The healer mixed a drink made of Pedialyte, Carnation evaporated milk, goat’s milk, and other unknown substances. It worked: Lopez kept it down and began growing, so much so that his mother declared him “the fattest baby you had ever seen in your life.”

2. HE STARTED ACTING AT 10.

A highly active kid who got involved in both tap and jazz dancing and amateur wrestling, Lopez was spotted by a talent scout during a dance competition at age 10 and was later cast in a sitcom, a.k.a. Pablo, in 1984. That led to a role in the variety show Kids Incorporated and in the 1988 Sean Penn feature film Colors. In 1989, at the age of 16, he won the role of Albert Clifford “A.C.” Slater in Saved by the Bell. By 1992, Lopez was making public appearances at malls, where female fans would regularly toss their underthings in his direction.

3. HE COULD PROBABLY BEAT YOU UP.

Lopez wrestled as an amateur throughout high school. According to the Chula Vista High School Foundation, Lopez was a state placewinner at 189 pounds in 1990. (On Saved by the Bell, Slater was also a wrestler.) He later complemented his grappling ability with boxing, often sparring professionals like Jimmy Lange and Oscar De La Hoya in bouts for charity. In 2018, Lopez posted on Instagram that he received his blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Gracie Barra Glendale instructor Robert Hill.

4. HE TURNED DOWN PLAYGIRL.

Lopez’s active lifestyle has made for a trim physique, but he’s apparently unwilling to take off more than his shirt. In 2008, Lopez said he was approached to pose for Playgirl but declined. The magazine reportedly offered him $200,000.

5. HE WAS MARRIED FOR TWO WEEKS.

Lopez had a well-publicized marriage to actress Ali Landry, but not for all the right reasons. The two were married in April 2004 and split just two weeks later, with Landry alleging Lopez had not been faithful. Lopez later disclosed he had made a miscalculation during his bachelor party in Mexico, cheating on Landry just days before the ceremony.

6. HE APPEARED ON BROADWAY.

Lopez joined the cast of Broadway’s A Chorus Line in 2008, portraying Zach, the director who coaches the cast of aspiring dancers. (It was his first stage appearance since he participated in a grade school play, where he played a tree.) His run, which lasted five months, was perceived to be part of a rash of casting choices on Broadway revolving around hunky performers to attract audiences. The role was thought to be the start of a resurgence for Lopez, who had previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars and has been a co-host of the pop culture newsmagazine show Extra since 2007.

7. HE BELIEVES HIS DOG SUFFERED FROM POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION.

In 2010, Lopez and then-girlfriend (now wife) Courtney Mazza had their first child, Gia. According to Lopez, his French bulldog, Julio César Chavez Lopez, exhibited signs of depression following the new addition to the household. Lopez also said he used his extensive knowledge of dogs to better inform his voiceover work as a Labrador retriever in 2009’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas and 2010’s The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation.

The Legend of Cry Baby Lane: The Lost Nickelodeon Movie That Was Too Scary for TV

Nickelodeon, Viacom
Nickelodeon, Viacom

Several years ago, rumors about a lost Nickelodeon movie branded too disturbing for children’s television began popping up around the internet. They all referenced the same plot: A father of conjoined twins was so ashamed of his sons that he hid them away throughout their childhood. (This being a made-for-TV horror movie, naturally one of the twins was evil.)

After one twin got sick the other soon followed, with both boys eventually succumbing to the illness. To keep the town from discovering his secret, the father separated their bodies with a rusty saw and buried the good one at the local cemetery and the evil one at the end of a desolate dirt road called Cry Baby Lane, which also happened to be the title of the rumored film. According to the local undertaker, anyone who ventured down Cry Baby Lane after dark could hear the evil brother crying from beyond the grave.

Cry Baby Lane then jumps to present day (well, present day in 2000), where a group of teens sneaks into the local graveyard in an effort to contact the spirit of the good twin. After holding a seance, they learn that the boys' father had made a mistake and mixed up the bodies of his children—burying the good son at the end of Cry Baby Lane and the evil one in the cemetery. Meaning those ghostly wails were actually the good twin crying out for help. But the teens realized the error too late: The evil twin had already been summoned and quickly began possessing the local townspeople.

MOVIE OR MYTH?

Parents were appalled that such dark content ever made it onto the family-friendly network, or so the story goes, and after airing the film once the Saturday before Halloween in 2000, Nickelodeon promptly scrubbed it from existence. But with no video evidence of it online for years, some people questioned whether Cry Baby Lane had ever really existed in the first place.

“Okay, so this story sounds completely fake, Nick would NEVER air this on TV,” one Kongregate forum poster said in September 2011. “And why would this be made knowing it’s for kids? This story just sounds too fake …”

While the folklore surrounding the film may not be 100 percent factual, Nickelodeon quickly confirmed that the “lost” Halloween movie was very real, and that it did indeed contained all the rumored twisted elements that have made it into a legend.

Before Cry Baby Lane was a blip in Nick’s primetime schedule, it was nearly a $100 million theatrical release. Peter Lauer, who had previously directed episodes of the Nick shows The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Adventures of Pete & Pete, co-wrote the screenplay with KaBlam! co-creator Robert Mittenthal. Cry Baby Lane, which would eventually spawn urban legends of its own, was inspired by a local ghost story Lauer heard growing up in Ohio. “There was a haunted farmhouse, and if you went up there at midnight, you could hear a baby crying and it’d make your high school girlfriend scared,” he told The Daily.

BIG SCARES ON A SMALL BUDGET

Despite Nickelodeon’s well-meaning intentions, parent company Paramount wasn’t keen on the idea of turning the screenplay into a feature film. The script was forgotten for about a year, until Nick got in touch with Lauer about producing Cry Baby Lane—only this time as a $800,000 made-for-TV movie. The director gladly signed on.

Even with the now-meager budget, Cry Baby Lane maintained many of the same elements of a much larger picture. In a bid to generate more publicity around the project, Nickelodeon cast Oscar nominee Frank Langella as the local undertaker (a role Lauer had originally wanted Tom Waits to play). All the biggest set pieces from the screenplay were kept intact, and as a result, the crew had no money left to do any extra filming.

Only two scenes from the movie ended up getting cut—one that alluded to skinny dipping and another that depicted an old man’s head fused onto the body of a baby in a cemetery. The story of a father performing amateur surgery on the corpses of his sons, however, made it into the final film.

The truth of what happened after Cry Baby Lane premiered on October 28, 2000 has been muddied over the years. In most retellings, Nickelodeon received an "unprecedented number" of complaints about the film and responded by sealing it away in its vault and acting like the whole thing never happened. But if that version of events is true, Nick has never acknowledged it.

Even Lauer wasn’t aware of any backlash from parents concerned about the potentially scarring effects of the film until The Daily made him aware of the rumors years later. “All I know is that they aired it once,” he told the paper. “I just assumed they didn’t show it again because they didn’t like it! I did it, I thought it failed, and I moved on.”

But the idea that the movie was pulled from airwaves for being too scary for kids isn’t so far-fetched. Though Cry Baby Lane never shows the conjoined twins being sawed apart on screen, it does pair the already-unsettling story with creepy images of writhing worms, broken glass, and animal skulls. This opening sequence, combined with the spooky, empty-eyed victims of possession that appear later, and multiple scenes where a child gets swallowed by a grave, may have made the film slightly more intense than the average episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

IMPERFECT TIMING

Cry Baby Lane premiered at a strange time in internet history: Too early for pirated copies to immediately spring up online yet late enough for it to grow into a web-fueled folktale. The fervor surrounding the film peaked in 2011, when a viral Reddit thread about Cry Baby Lane caught the attention of one user claiming to have the so-called “lost” film recorded on VHS. He later uploaded the tape for the world to view and suddenly the lost movie was lost no longer.

News of the unearthed movie made waves across the web, and instead of staying quiet and waiting for the story to die down, Nickelodeon decided to get in on the hype. That Halloween, Nick aired Cry Baby Lane for the first time in over a decade. Regardless of whether the movie had previously been banned or merely forgotten, the network used the mystery surrounding its origins to their PR advantage.

“We tried to freak people out with it,” a Nick employee who worked at The 90s Are All That (now The Splat), the programming block that resurrected Cry Baby Lane (and who wished to remain anonymous) said of the promotional campaign for the event. “They were creepy and a little glitchy. We were like, ‘This never aired because it was too scary and we’re going to air it now.’”

Cry Baby Lane now makes regular appearances on Nickelodeon’s '90s block around Halloween, which likely means Nick hasn’t received enough complaints to warrant locking it back in the vault. And during less spooky times of the year, nostalgic horror fans can find the full movie on YouTube.

The mystery surrounding Cry Baby Lane’s existence may have been solved, but the urban legend of the movie that was “too scary for kids’ TV” persists—even at the network that produced it.

“People who were definitely working at Nickelodeon in 2000, but didn’t necessarily work on [Cry Baby Lane] were like, ‘Yeah I heard about it, I remember it being a thing,'" the Nick employee says. “It’s sort of like its own legend within the company.”

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