Thanks to “Serial,” “The Jinx,” and “Making a Murderer,” true crime stories are back in a big way. A couple of years ago, everyone in your social circle was begging you to watch “Mad Men.” Now, we're much more interested in actual mad men.
For most of us, binge-watching these series is enough to satisfy our morbid appetites. Others feel a deeper curiosity, though. Just as some history buffs feel the urge to visit the site of major battles, there are people out there who plan vacations around famous crime scenes.
Hey, some of us like Walt Disney World. Some prefer Charles Manson's hangouts. No judgment.
If the idea of a tour through the darker side of history appeals to you, check out these spots below, where you can indulge your inner crime buff.
1. The Sixth Floor Museum (Dallas, Texas)
While the endless barrage of conspiracy-minded movies and books will forever cloud the tragic events of November 22, 1963 in our collective memory, as far as the official story is concerned, President John F. Kennedy was killed when lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald shot him from his perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.
These days, the building is home to a museum. While you can't actually access the infamous window where Oswald took aim, you can learn a lot about Kennedy, his assassin and Jack Ruby, the man who shot Oswald before he could go to trial.
For those of you swayed more by Oliver Stone's arguments than the Warren Commission, the grassy knoll is a short walk away.
2. “Devil in the White City” Tours (Chicago, Illinois)
After opening a hotel close to the site of Chicago's World's Fair, he lured victims to his “Murder Castle,” taking their lives in various, unspeakable ways. (Hanging them. Locking their rooms and gassing them. Locking them in a vault to suffocate. Locking them in their rooms to starve to death…)
Holmes would eventually confess to 27 murders, though some estimates put the number closer to, uh, 200. Nope, that's not a typo.
His reign of terror was famously chronicled in Erik Larson's “The Devil in the White City,” which took the true crime genre to new levels by serving as an informative historical narrative as well as a shocking thriller.
This tour mimics that approach, giving visitors a bus ride through Chicago that provides lessons on both the World's Fair and the notorious Mr. Holmes.
3. Lizzie Borden House (Fall River, Massachusetts)
“Lizzie Borden took an axe…”
The gruesome slaying of Andrew and Abby Borden has inspired everything from popular songs to Lifetime movies. Though Andrew's daughter Lizzie is generally believed to be responsible for the murders, she was acquitted at trial. No other suspect was ever charged.
Nowadays, the house where the crimes took place has been converted into a bed-and-breakfast, because nothing says hospitality like “This was the site of an axe murder.”
For those who aren't crazy about the idea of staying overnight at a notorious crime scene, but are still curious to take a look at a legendary part of true-crime lore, tours of the house are also available.
4. Jeffrey Dahmer Tour (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious serial killer responsible for the murder of 17 men and boys, took our nightmares to a new level by engaging in cannibalism and necrophilia with the bodies of his victims.
But serial killers often become quasi-celebrities in our culture, inspiring in some the kind of fascination usually reserved for rock stars and royalty.
Perhaps that explains why true crime buffs can take a walking tour of the Milwaukee streets where Dahmer picked up seven of his victims, all while learning more about the chilling details behind his crimes.
Maybe not the kind of place to go on a family vacation.
5. Mob Tour (Las Vegas, Nevada)
If the small-time vices offered by casinos merely leave you wanting more of the criminal lifestyle, a tour of Vegas focusing on the mafia's role in the city ought to do the trick.
Taking a detour away from the familiar tourist traps, this excursion into Sin City visits the sites of robberies, murders and the popular hangouts of famous underworld figures like Bugsy Siegel. The tour ends with a pizza dinner at a restaurant that once served as a gangster meeting place.
It's not clear from the website whether or not you'll take a bullet to the kneecaps if you don't pay up for your ticket.
6. Helter Skelter Tour (Los Angeles, California)
In American history, few names are more synonymous with evil than Charles Manson. Through his charismatic personality, he convinced members of his “family” to commit nine murders during the summer of 1969.
For those with a certain kind of morbid curiosity, an epic, three-and-a-half hour tour will shuttle you to the site where Manson's followers took the life of Sharon Tate. Married to filmmaker Roman Polanski (a man with his own criminal tendencies), Tate had a successful acting career and was weeks away from giving birth when she was murdered.
The tour includes details on the lives of the killers and victims, and, according to its website, “is not recommended for children.”
7. Clinton Road (West Milford, New Jersey)
This 10-mile stretch of pavement through the woods of northern New Jersey has given birth to numerous urban legends. Ghost children haunting a bridge. Demon dogs roaming the forest. Phantom trucks pursuing motorists.
As a very, very bored adolescent, I made frequent late-night trips here with my friends. I never saw any ghosts. I did see people having sex in their cars, though.
Which isn't to say there's nothing truly frightening about the road. Though the supernatural stories probably aren't based in reality, the place does have a dark past.
In 1983, cyclists on the road spotted a body that had been dumped in the woods. Investigators determined that the victim was involved in mafia activity, and had been killed by Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, a feared mob hitman who would later take credit for hundreds of murders.
Real life is scarier than ghost stories sometimes.
8. “Crimes of the Gold Coast” Tour (New York)
If recent history is any indication, murder and scandal are certainly common among the wealthy elite.
This tour, led by an NYU instructor, looks into the financial subterfuge and violence that lay beneath the veneer of New York's Fifth Avenue during the late 19th century.
After all, sometimes the scariest criminals of all are the ones rich enough to get away with their crimes.
9. “Serial” Locations (Baltimore, Maryland)
While the case of Adnan Syed, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, hasn't resulted in any official tours (yet), “Serial” addicts have already made pilgrimages to the major locations featured in the podcast, eager to put real-life images to the story.
With the help of a custom Google Maps, you can visit the Best Buy where a major phone call was made, or take a trip to Leakin Park, where Hae's body was discovered. Plenty of “Serial” fans felt the urge to “solve” the case after listening, and likely used maps like this one to help them in their goal.
That's one of the side effects of the true-crime explosion: Everyone's a detective now.
10. The Dakota (New York, New York)
It was the celebrity death that shocked the world. While returning to his apartment on the evening of December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot in the back by Mark David Chapman.
The building where the murder took place, The Dakota, still stands. Though you probably can't afford to live there, you can walk by on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, seeing the spot where the life of one of our greatest popular musicians ended forever.
The Dakota also showed up in “Rosemary's Baby,” in case that movie wasn't creepy enough for you already.
Now, if you recoil at the idea of a tourism industry devoted to tragic crimes, no worries: that's merely proof that you're still a decent human being. Snapping selfies at the site of a mass murder isn't exactly classy.
That said, war is just as troubling as homicide, if not more so. But we don't judge people who visit Gettysburg, because we know they're driven by a genuine curiosity.
The same can be said for these spots. If you're simply trying to get some sort of vicarious thrill from stopping by the site of a tragedy, maybe you need to rethink your vacation plans. But if you're drawn to such locations out of a desire to gain an even deeper understanding of the darker side of American history, then you're honestly no worse than the audiences that have driven the true crime renaissance.
You're just interested in going that extra mile.