The Case of Gabby Petito & World’s Obsession with True Crime

How true crime has captivated a generation.

The Case of Gabby Petito & Worlds Obsession with True Crime

Paige Fairbairn, Contributor

Ever since media became widely accessible to the general public, true crime has captivated people like no other. One of the earliest references to such a public obsession was the newspaper coverage of the infamous “Jack the Ripper” killings, a horrifying serial murderer in the 1880s with a fixation on trafficked women and reproductive organs. The homicides became more prolific as London reeled from fear and condemned the police department for their failure to capture this elusive yet not-so-subtle “Jack” who left taunting letters to the press, police, and other city officials. Unfortunately, the awareness and information from the coverage of the case never resulted in the arrest of the real killer, but as the decades have passed, investigators have brought new light to certain aspects of the case formerly unanalyzed. For example, considering how the women were killed, the instruments used, time of death, and locations of the assaults all contributed to the profile known as “Jack the Ripper”. The importance of acknowledging aspects of serial murderers and their cases, even seemingly insignificant ones, aids those looking for similar occurrences today and prevents more deaths.

A century later, with exponentially increased media coverage, some people, lucky or unlucky, will have their cases spread to the masses. This “collaboration” of like-minded people often manifests itself on social media platforms, spreading information and misinformation about various cases which catch users’ attention. No matter how far the convolution of the rumors go, the murders and assaults under the fine microscope of the public eye often see the most resources, providing a viable opportunity to close an otherwise unnoticed, unscrutinized case.

Most recently, a disappearance that rocketed to the forefront of the media was the Gabby Petito case. Petito, a famous influencer who took a trip across the country with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, turned to a missing person case and later resulted in the deaths of both individuals. Her audience contributed greatly to spreading the word about the specifics of her disappearance, including the release of bodycam footage from Utah Police after a reported physical dispute by a bystander driving past Brian and Gabby arguing. Gabby was allegedly struck in the face by Brian during a heated argument on the side of a Utah road. Authorities arrived to confirm the report and separated the couple for the night, sending Gabby with the van and Brian to a local motel. However, these points are not the outstanding ones from the video. Sobbing, Gabby seemed highly distressed. This in combination with Brian’s arrival in Florida shortly after the disappearance of Gabby warranted major concerns from the FBI, as well as Gabby’s audience. Unfortunately, search parties found her remains in Grand Teton National Park while authorities continued to look for the missing Brian. After grueling weeks of searching by volunteers, civilians, Florida police, and the FBI, Brian’s parents found his body a few miles off of a common trail in the Carlton Nature Reserve, Florida. This sudden find by Christopher and Roberta Laundrie remains highly controversial among unofficial public opinion on social media platforms, with those closely following the case stunned at the unsatisfactory and questionable end to this missing case.

Before the inevitable tragic end, the people had great hope for Gabby and her safe return due to her popularity on social media platforms, Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram. This cross-country trip was meant to be documented for the highly popularized “Van Life” movement which centers around a traveling, minimalistic lifestyle. Now, only utter confusion remains as many people dispute the circumstances surrounding her and her boyfriend’s death. While some users continue to post conspiracies as to what happened to the couple, others attempt to spread awareness about similar cases that never received the media attention and police resources Gabby Petito and her family gained access to. The public’s incessant cries to bring Gabby home on social media sites such as TikTok and Twitter were perhaps the saving grace in bringing a modicum of closure to Petito’s parents.

True crime popularity continues to circulate as the public’s morbid curiosity regarding true crime cases finds a new intrigue in an infinitely changing news cycle. Is this repetition of public obsession a sign of desensitization towards violence or perhaps a representation of the unforgiving curiosity of human nature?