True crime documentaries netflix

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Photo: Netflix

Making a Murderer (MAM) follows Steven Avery for more than a decade as the center of two controversial criminal trials. Avery’s 1985 conviction for violating and attempting to kill a woman was exonerated, and he made it his life’s mission to expose the corruption of the law enforcement agency that put him in prison. Then, in 2007, he was convicted for the 2005 death of a Wisconsin photographer named Teresa Halbach and sentenced to life behind bars.

The series follows Avery’s second trial and questions whether the prosecution was misleading in how they presented the evidence gathered against him and his nephew, Brendan Dassey.

In September 2019, Shawn Rech, director of the documentary Convicting a Murderer, told Newsweek that a Wisconsin inmate confessed to taking Halbach’s life. The identity of the inmate will remain anonymous until law enforcement can confirm the legitimacy of the confession.

Rech’s documentary is an unaffiliated follow-up to MAM that aims to reveal all the evidence the original series left out. Rech said they have “uncovered an unfathomable amount of information and evidence that is leading to the truth,” including the anonymous confession, and that he feels a responsibility to keep investigators informed.

Is this bingeworthy?

As much as murder is, y’know, frowned upon in most societies, we sure like to watch television shows, movies, and documentaries about it. Netflix clearly understands this need, as the streaming service has provided plenty of crime and horror documentaries, some of which focus solely on serial killers.

A “serial killer” is typically defined as a person who murders three or more people, usually in a period of over a month in length, making it a pattern rather than a one-off thing. But the definition depends on where you look. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a serial killer as someone who has committed “two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone.”

See Also: Netflix Isn’t Killing Movies, Hollywood Studios and Theaters Are

Whatever the definition, one thing is for certain: serial killers are fascinating, and most people would probably agree that it’s hard to look away when some of these grisly acts are being described. So, with that in mind, here are six serial killer-specific documentaries you can stream on Netflix.

6. H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

As much content as there is out there about America’s first documented serial killer, most people will never get tired of hearing the disturbingly fascinating story of H.H. Holmes. This documentary explores Holmes’s well-documented crimes, as well as his Chicago-based, booby-trapped home, best known as the “Castle,” which was outfitted with torture dungeons and hidden rooms aplenty. Even though Holmes only confessed to killing 27 people, many guess that the number reached 200 by the time he was caught.

5. Into the Abyss

Oscar-nominated director Werner Herzog explores the story of death row inmate Michael Perry (scheduled to die within eight days of appearing on-screen), focusing in on the three murders he committed and interviewing the family members and friends of those victims. Herzog describes the work as “a gaze into the abyss of the human soul” as he questions not only why people kill but why the system kills those who do.

4. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer

Aileen Wuornos was the first documented female serial killer in American history, murdering men who took advantage of sex workers, otherwise known as “johns.” Nick Broomfield’s first documentary on Wuornos highlights the exploitation of Wuornos’s situation by those around her, including her adopted mother, Arlene Pralle, and lawyer, Steve Glazer, as well as the enthusiasm the police had for her case.

3. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Life and Death of a Serial Killer is the follow-up film to Broomfield’s 1992 documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. This sequel follows Wuornos’s declining mental health and explores the decision to put her to death in the state of Florida despite her being of unsound mind.

Netflix

2. Interview With a Serial Killer

This doc is exactly what it promises. In an in-depth interview with convicted serial killer Arthur Shawcross, otherwise known as the Genessee River Killer, the filmmakers question Shawcross on his motives and the crimes he committed, as well as whether or not he feels remorse for those things. His dead-eyed answers are chillingly blunt, as is his renewed relationship with his family, who seem to have no problems with what he did in the past.

1. The Confessions of Thomas Quick*

In 1993, Thomas Quick, a therapy patient in Sweden, told his therapist that he had kidnapped, raped, and murdered an 11-year-old boy named Johan Asplund 13 years prior, in 1980. Over time, Quick, confined to a psych ward, confessed to killing 39 men, women, and children, and became an overnight celebrity, especially amongst his fellow patients. Then, in 2001, he stopped talking about the murders and started going by his real name, Sture Bergwall, declaring that his alter-ego, Thomas Quick, was dead.

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13 True Crime Documentaries You Should Stream Right Now

The popularity of true crime as a genre continues to grow, especially as Netflix’s latest documentary series, An Innocent Man, follows in the steps of popular Making a Murder. Audiences have grown addicted to podcasts that re-examine cold cases like the Peabody-winning In the Dark, while books like Michelle McNamara’s memoir about her obsessive search for the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, top bestseller lists. Even parodies of true crime series, like Netflix’s American Vandal and The Onion’s A Very Fatal Murder, have found legions of fans.

The best docuseries about true crime have brought about real change or justice, attracting new lawyers to take up the cases of some of these documentary subjects. Others of these works probe our judicial system for flaws. And many simply mine the prurient and disturbing details of a real tragedy for entertainment value. Either way, there’s no denying the mass appeal of these types of stories.

If you’re looking to spend a night in watching a documentarian try to unravel a complicated case, there are plenty of options, from recent hits like Wild Wild Country and Evil Genius to classics like The Staircase and Paradise Lost. Here are the best true crime documentaries and docuseries.

The Innocent Man (2018)

Based on John Grisham’s first nonfiction book, the documentary focuses on two different murders that took place in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1980s. Two of the men convicted of the crimes claim their innocence, and as Grisham and the filmmakers comb over the investigations, parallels begin to emerge.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Making a Murderer (2015)

This was Netflix’s breakout true crime hit. The docuseries’ filmmakers have been praised for their dedication (they filmed over 10 years) and criticized for their possible bias in favor of subject Steven Avery, a man twice accused of murder, and his nephew Brendan Dassey. But few real-life stories have this many twists and turns. The saga continued with Making a Murderer: Part 2, which followed Avery’s and Dassey’s respective appeals processes.

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Where to Watch: Netflix

The Jinx (2015)

If you haven’t seen The Jinx—or read about the revelations from the documentary in the news—you need to watch the “Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” The six-part series explores the life of a wealthy man implicated in the disappearance of his wife, the murder of a family friend and the death of a neighbor. The final episode of The Jinx nearly broke the internet, and with good reason.

Where to Watch: HBO

The Staircase (2005)

The Staircase, a 2005 documentary series by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, is often held up as one of the best examples of the genre. Novelist Michael Peterson becomes the center of a criminal investigation after his wife is found dead at the bottom of a staircase. Lestrade never tries to solve the murder, but rather examines how the criminal justice system treats Peterson. Lestrade added two more episodes to the original eight in 2013 and another three in 2018.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Into the Abyss (2011)

Ostensibly about two teenagers who commit a triple homicide, Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss is really an examination of the morality of the death penalty. The famed director is able to get his subjects—including both those who would be subject to the death penalty and those who would carry it out—to open up for an emotionally wrenching film.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Paradise Lost Trilogy (1996)

In three movies (made in 1996, 2000 and 2011), the filmmakers follow the courtroom drama surrounding three teenage boys—Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin, known as the West Memphis Three—accused of killing three eight-year-olds. The trilogy was one of the first documentaries to have a major real-life impact on a trial.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Wild Wild Country (2018)

The Netflix original show veers from the structure of most traditional true crime series by examining a cult that moves from India to Oregon. Before the cult’s leaders are accused of criminal behavior, Wild Wild Country is one of the rare docuseries that lends sympathy to both sides, in this case members of the cult and their unhappy new neighbors. A true pop culture phenomenon, the series catapulted an esoteric cult into the mainstream.

Where to Watch: Netflix

There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2011)

A mom drives the wrong way on the highway and causes an accident that kills eight people, including herself, her daughter and her three nieces. After medical reports claimed that Diane Schuler had alcohol and drugs in her system at the time of the crash, director Liz Garbus investigates alternative scenarios.

Where to Watch: HBO

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

One of the most influential documentary films ever made focuses on the murder of a policeman and the hitchhiker accused of committing the crime. Filmmaker Errol Morris builds a near-unassailable case for Randall Dale Adams’ innocence.

Where to Watch: Netflix

The Aileen Wuornos Movies (1992)

Charlize Theron won an Oscar playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. But before Theron’s portrayal made the case famous, Nick Broomfield filmed Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992). Wuornos never denied her guilt, so Bloomfield focuses on Wuornos’ rising notoriety. His follow-up film, Aileen: Life & Death of a Serial Killer centers on Wuornos’ last interview in her prison cell in 2003.

Where to Watch: Netflix

The Central Park Five (2012)

Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns teamed up to investigate the infamous “Central Park jogger murder.” Five black and Latino boys (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise) landed in prison for the beating and rape of a white woman, even though evidence showed they did not commit the crime. The documentary doesn’t pick apart the crime scene; instead, the Burnses zoom in on the social and political tension surrounding the racially-charged case.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

The Keepers (2017)

The emotional Netflix true crime series centers on the unsolved murder of young nun Sister Cathy Cesnik. Cesnik knew about cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and many of her former students posit that she was silenced. Most true crime series focus on the suspects, but The Keepers gives a voice to the survivors.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Evil Genius (2018)

This documentary series is not about our broken criminal justice system or society’s ills. It’s about a truly bizarre crime involving a collar with a bomb attached, a scavenger hunt and a gun hidden inside a cane. It’s an outrageous case that only becomes more captivating—and bizarre—in the final episode when a crucial witness makes an appearance.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Write to Eliana Dockterman at [email protected]

Three years ago you’d probably never even heard of Steven Avery. But when we all came back to work/school/university/the pub after Christmas in 2016, he was the name on everyone’s lips, because the holidays had given us all the chance to binge on Netflix’s astonishing Making A Murderer. Ever since then, it still feels like true crime is all anyone can talk about.

So if you’re eyeing up another binge watch, you could do worse than checking these shows out:

1. MAKING A MURDERER

Netflix

Where can I watch it? Netflix

If you’ve somehow managed to miss Making A Murderer up to this point, then you should probably make it your mission to catch up now. The utterly compelling investigation into the case of Steven Avery – wrongly convicted of rape and then accused of murder after he was released – is painstakingly researched and will have you gripped. The show has already had real-life consequences, with Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey currently waiting to find out if the State of Winsconsin will uphold his release (ordered by the Court of Appeals to the 7th Circuit) or demand a retrial.

And with a sequel of sorts coming, following Avery’s new lawyer as she presents new evidence and attempts to get his conviction overturned, there’s even more exploration to be done. (Oh, and when you’re not spitting with rage watching the show, you’ll fall in love with lawyers Dean Strang and Jerry Buting. Don’t fight it.)

2. THE JINX

Gerald HerbertPA Images

Where can I watch it? Amazon Prime Video

When filmmaker Andrew Jarecki made a movie based on the life of Robert Durst (All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst), he probably didn’t expect Durst himself to get in touch and offer him an interview. Jarecki went on to document his chats with Durst and his investigation into the disappearances of women close to the businessman.

We can’t say too much without spoiling it, but you won’t believe the shocking paths that the show ends up taking, and the finale – hell, the final scene – proves that the truth really is stranger than fiction. You’ll probably feel uncomfortable about some of the decisions the team on the show make, but this is still a real must-see.

3. THE STAIRCASE

Netflix

Where can I watch it? Netflix

Before Making a Murderer and before The Jinx, there was The Staircase. The 2004 series – about the investigation into Michael Peterson, accused of murdering his wife Kathleen – is another deep dive into a case, complete with heaps of evidence to pore over. And as the filmmakers are there from the beginning, we see lawyer David Rudolf working on the case, complete with a trip to Germany to examine an unexpected and shocking twist to the tale.

The Staircase has launched a thousand theories (including, genuinely, an actually quite believable suggestion that an owl did it). And you won’t be able to watch without coming up with some of your own (and incessantly Googling the others).

4. THE INVESTIGATOR: A BRITISH CRIME STORY

Tony WardITV

Where can I watch it? Netflix

Even Simon Cowell is getting in on the true crime action – this ITV series was produced by Simon’s company Syco. It saw investigative journalist Mark Williams-Thomas attempting to find out what really happened to Carole Packman, a 40-year-old woman who disappeared back in 1985.

With her daughter Sam desperate to find out the true story behind her mum’s vanishing – and her father Russell Causley serving time for her murder, with no body ever found – it’s a hard task involving lies, deceptions and shocking moments… especially when Russell begins to write from his cell.

5. UNSOLVED: THE BOY WHO DISAPPEARED

BBC

Where can I watch it? YouTube

BBC Three is certainly making the most of its move online, with Unsolved making the most of the space it has on the internet. We’re not talking about overlong, clunky episodes – in fact, the instalments are truly bitesize, lasting around 15 minutes each.

Following the true story of Damian Nettles, a 16-year-old who disappeared from the Isle of Wight 20 years ago, journalists Bronagh Munro and Alys Harte visit the scene to interview people involved in the case including Damian’s mother, who has been left frustrated by the case. But being online, fans can also explore interactive maps, examine the evidence and get further information on the people affected by Damian’s disappearance.

6. CONVICTION: MURDER AT THE STATION

BBC

Where can I watch it? YouTube

This BBC documentary might only be a two-parter and so not exactly a true binge watch, but it received huge praise when it aired earlier this year. The films follow producer Louise Shorter as she investigated the murder of Paula Poolton in 2008. Paula’s on-off lover Roger Kearney was accused of the crime, but his daughter contacted the Inside Justice group for help so… Did he do it or not? Just when you think you know where you stand watching Conviction, you’re tipped over and wrong-footed.

7. FORENSIC FILES

TLC

Where can I watch it? Netflix or Amazon Prime Video

Previously shown on Channel 5 as Murder Detectives, Forensic Files is – funnily enough – all about how forensic science can be used to solve crimes.

If science sounds boring to you, you might be pleasantly surprised by Forensic Files, which shows all the surprising ways (other than your classic DNA and fingerprints) that detectives use evidence to bring people to justice. And it’s not always crimes – sometimes, it’s used to figure out how big accidents happened. Basically the inspiration for CSI, Forensic Files even includes its own dramatic re-enactments.

8. KILLING FIELDS

Discovery

Where can I watch it? Amazon Prime Video

If true crime is your thing, this is one you’re probably going to want to investigate. The series sounds like a drama, as detective Rodie Sanchez comes out of retirement to investigate a cold case that still haunts him from 18 years ago.

Never able to solve the murder of Eugenie Boisfontaine in Louisiana back in 1997, Sanchez is determined to figure out what happened – and the events all unfold in real time as he tries to do just that. It’s been compared to a real-life True Detective, which tells you all you need to know.

9. OJ: MADE IN AMERICA

Getty Images

Where can I watch it? DVD/Blu-ray

OJ: Made in America was shown on BT Sport and later on iPlayer but now you’ll have to shell out for it on disc. It’s worth it, though – this is a seriously deep dive into the OJ Simpson case, examining the person behind the fame, the cultural and social conditions surrounding that most famous of murder trials, and – naturally – the case itself.

It might be long (each episode lasts 90 minutes), but not a minute is wasted and you won’t be able to look away from the screen. It will be your new obsession.

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The Dropout

Available on iTunes/various
Her love of black rollnecks and a fake baritone voice might have made her a favourite of Twitter meme-makers, but the case of fraudulent US entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes is actually rather dark. Inspired by Wall Street Journal writer John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood, The Dropout podcast explores how the former Stanford student jacked in her studies to charm investors and big businesses alike with a supposedly revolutionary but actually useless blood-testing device. Like Enron for millennials, the endeavour itself is less important than the confusion and cult of personality that grew around it. HJD

The Keepers

Netflix
In 1969, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun and teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, was murdered by person(s) unknown. This seven-part documentary isn’t so much a hunt for her killers as a harrowing study of the long-term effects of child sexual abuse and the city-wide corruption that can allow it to go unchallenged. The schoolgirls Sister Cathy taught are now in late middle age, but have never given up on finding justice for the teacher who tried to protect them. EEJ

The Jinx

Google Play/YouTube
An oddball real-estate tycoon, suspected in the disappearance of his first wife, goes on the run after his best friend’s murder 18 years later. He lives undercover as a mute woman until the discovery of a dismembered corpse once again draws police attention. After fading from public notice for a few years, he offers himself up to director Andrew Jarecki for 20-plus hours of interview, culminating in a rambling “hot mic” confession. And that’s just the basic outline. File under “you couldn’t make it up if you tried”. EEJ

OJ: Made in America

Amazon
There are reasons to study true crime beyond simple ghoulishness. Nothing tells us more about a place and time than its most famous murder. For late-20th-century America, it was the double killing of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman and the subsequent acquittal of OJ Simpson. This staggering five-part, eight-hour odyssey takes in LAPD racism, America’s intoxication with sports celebrities, the way domestic violence was (and is) habitually ignored in well-to-do communities and much more. It’s a portrait of a nation in crisis. EEJ

Cuba Gooding Jr. & Joseph Bttler in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson. Photograph: AF/Alamy

American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson

Netflix
Yes, the wigs deserve a spin-off series of their own, but there is also serious reflection at the heart of this shamelessly entertaining series. Ryan Murphy, the trash TV maestro behind Glee, American Horror Story and Feud, here brings together a cast combining his regulars (Sarah Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark, Connie Britton as Faye Resnick) with unexpected star turns (David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian) to create a TV show that’s part true-crime classic, part Kardashians origin story. Even if you already know the details, the cumulative effect is mesmerising. EEJ

Capturing the Friedmans

Google Play/YouTube
Can you ever really know the truth? That is the deeply troubling subtext of this documentary by Andrew Jarecki (a film-maker whose career, along with The Jinx, has now been blessed by not one but two great true-crime exclusives). In the late 80s, Arnold Friedman and one of his three sons were accused of molesting boys who attended the computer classes they ran. While awaiting trial, the Friedmans began shooting home videos of family interactions both mundane and bizarre. Piecing together this footage with interviews, Jarecki asks us what to believe: was this whipped-up hysteria or something more sinister? EEJ

The Central Park Five

Amazon
If there is one thing true-crime documentaries teach us, it’s “never trust a New York real-estate tycoon”. In April 1989, a white woman in her late 20s was brutally raped in Central Park, leaving her in a coma for 12 days. Amid intense media interest, and based on dubious confessions, the police quickly rounded on their suspects: five Harlem teenagers, four black and one Hispanic. Yet even among the many examples of human error and structural racism that led to their wrongful conviction, Donald Trump’s idiotic interventions stand out. It’s part of what makes this particular miscarriage of justice so enduringly relevant. EEJ

S-Town

iTunes/various
After Serial, there was S-Town. Brian Reed’s backyard maze of a podcast used listeners’ interest in murder mysteries to lure us into a much richer and more novelistic tale. Or was it Reed’s endlessly compelling subject, John B McLemore, who did the luring? Either way, early listeners of this Alabama-set hit were advised to reserve judgment until at least episode two. By then, the story’s true themes had begun to emerge: antique clocks, buried treasure, environmental ruin, unconsummated romance and the strange ways of the American south. EEJ

Making a Murderer

Netflix
The series that transformed true-crime TV from late-night infamy to mainstream success, Making a Murderer combined an unbelievable real-life story with painstaking production from writer-director duo Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. Steven Avery – a Wisconsin man who had been wrongly convicted of rape and attempted murder, then charged with a second killing – provided the perfect subject, but it was Ricciardi and Demos’s film-making over 13 years that brought this possible miscarriage of justice to life, even if the second run didn’t manage to match the momentum of the first. HJD

Atlanta Monster

iTunes/various
The Atlanta Child Murders, which took place from 1979 to 1981, are not unsolved crimes – at least not officially. A man named Wayne Williams has been sitting in prison for the last 37 years, convicted of two murders and suspected in the rest. But something doesn’t quite add up. For the second of his investigative podcasts, Up and Vanished’s Payne Lindsey moves from small-town Georgia to the big-city, majority black setting of Atlanta. What begins as a sensationalist serial-killer hunt soon expands into something much more complicated. EEJ

Serial

iTunes/various
Helmed by This American Life journalist Sarah Koenig, Serial was a thrilling yet tragic podcast that also offered an intelligent exploration of a flawed US justice system and the lives of two first-generation immigrants. Over the course of 12 episodes, Adnan Syed – imprisoned for the murder of girlfriend Hae Min Lee – found himself alternately critiqued and validated by Koenig via their prison phone calls. Their dynamic highlighted the flaws and triumphs of modern journalism, while expanding the reach of the true-crime podcast. HJD

The Moorside

Amazon
The faked abduction of Shannon Matthews by her mother Karen in 2008 was one of the grimmer UK news items of recent times. So it was to the credit of writer Neil McKay that he found a way to tell the story that felt reasonably nuanced. Sure, the dysfunction at the heart of the tale was bleak. But thanks to the humanity and defiance of Sheridan Smith’s Julie Bushby (the neighbour who organised the search for Shannon but eventually uncovered her mother’s deception), this BBC drama actually became an almost uplifting parable of community resilience under pressure. PH

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Netflix
Forget about the whodunnit element: the killing takes place in the opening episode and, in any case, the killer’s identity is well known. This alternately glitzy and horrifying tale works instead as a study of cause and effect. Showing Andrew Cunanan’s life in reverse chronological order, it manages to interrogate fame and aspiration in modern America and paint a picture of the desperation and loneliness of some gay lives in the very recent past. At the heart of the story is an extraordinary performance by Darren Criss as the terrifying yet initially oddly sympathetic Cunanan. PH

The Staircase

Netflix
This was where the modern episodic true-crime craze began. Back in 2004, Jean-Xavier de Lestrade did a remarkable job of bringing the bewildering story of Michael Peterson to light. Peterson’s wife Kathleen died in December 2001 and Michael was accused of her murder. But what began to unfold feels like an uncanny precursor to the later likes of Making a Murderer, a confirmation that the truth really can be stranger than fiction. Had something like this happened to Peterson before? Could the prosecutors be trusted? And what on earth was “the owl theory”? PH

Dirty John

iTunes/various
While slick conman John Meehan follows a long line of American grifters, his gall is particularly impressive. Having been incarcerated for drug theft, the former nurse anaesthetist targeted California businesswoman Debra Newell, posing as a doctor and slowly inveigling himself into her life and affairs to dangerous ends. While Meehan’s unkempt appearance and general shadiness left some listeners wondering how Newell didn’t cotton on earlier, this podcast from feted US network Wondery and the LA Times (which also became a Netflix series) highlights his knack for compulsive, complicated lies. HJD

Mindhunter

Netflix
Although best known as the director of films such as Fight Club and Seven, David Fincher’s minutely detailed technique also lends itself perfectly to prestige-era television. His 2017 Netflix series Mindhunter provided the perfect vehicle for this kind of auteur approach. A thriller focused more on the psychology of crimes than the gore of them, it’s based on the true story of how the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit came to exist. With the steady, tell-rather-than-show type of storytelling that made Mad Men similarly compelling, it was unsettling, slow-burn TV at its best – and there is a second series on the way. HJD

Appropriate Adult

Amazon
The awful story of Fred and Rose West – who assaulted and killed a host of vulnerable young women between 1967 and 1987 – has long reverberated through British society and popular culture, with documentaries through the decades focusing on the pair. ITV’s Appropriate Adult – which first aired in 2011 – took a slightly different tack, focusing on Fred’s relationship with Janet Leach, a social worker who chaperoned him in police interviews. Dominic West plays Fred with just the right mix of ineptitude and coldness, in what is a compelling, unusual drama. HJD

See No Evil: The Moors Murders

Google Play/YouTube
Like Fred and Rose West, a sense of fear and fascination has long surrounded Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, from namechecks by the Smiths and Manic Street Preachers to Marcus Harvey’s 1995 painting of Hindley made up of children’s handprints. This 2006 ITV drama offered a dark and naturalistic portrait of the pair, with Maxine Peake and Sean Harris in the central roles. Although arguably overly neutral towards Hindley, it was a striking one-off, made in consultation with the victims’ families. HJD

Criminal

iTunes/various
Although the vast majority of them might seem to, true-crime podcasts don’t just focus on violence and murder. Criminal is an example of combining smart, longform storytelling with the genre to make something unpredictable and varied. Telling the tales of “people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle”, this long-running US series hasn’t had a breakout star like Serial’s Adnan Syed, however it manages to offer something genuinely engrossing with each episode, from police violence and counterfeit currency to black market adoption and captive animals. HJD

Wild Wild Country

Netflix
This six-part doc series tells the story of an Indian spiritual guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh – or Osho to his followers – his personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela, and the community of devotees they assembled on their “Big Muddy Ranch” in Wasco County, Oregon. While we learn early on that wire-tapping, immigration fraud and poisoning were part of the picture here, it’s the way in which these disparate elements and more come together in Osho’s cult that make this such an intriguing and troubling watch. HJD

The Case Against Adnan Syed is on Sky Atlantic

True crime may be the reason you sometimes have to check under the bed in the middle of the night, but that sure as hell isn’t going to stop you from consuming as many screwe up documentaries and TV series as possible! If anything, you’re really just killing two birds with one stone, because you’re watching some quality entertainment and learning to be more aware of your surroundings. Here are 13 true crime ~things~ you can binge on Netflix until you’re too scared to keep watching!

Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

Stream Now

You probably know Ted Bundy as the charismatic serial killer from the 1970s. Well, plot spoiler, he was actually extremely creepy, and these previously unreleased recordings from his time on death row show him in a whole new light.

Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Stream Now

Evil Genius is a docuseries that dives into the “pizza bomber” case of 2003. It’s an insane story about a bank robbery that ends in a public murder broadcasted on live television. Even once your heart rate has settled back down, there are scenes in this that will pop up in your nightmares for years to come.

Stream Now

Amanda Knox was convicted and acquitted twice for the 2007 murder of her study-abroad roommate Meredith Kercher. This documentary investigates the murder, trials, and tabloid coverage of the case, and gives a look at Amanda’s life after it all.

Stream Now

Do you like cults? (Like… as in… do you like learning about them. Not trying to get into any actual culty stuff here, sorry to disappoint.) If so, you’ll love Wild Wild Country, the documentary about a cult leader who creates a utopia in a desert in Oregon.

Stream Now

Steven Avery spent 18 years in jail for a crime he did not commit before he was exonerated. Two years later, he was convicted of the murder of Teresa Halbach. Now, he’s claiming that he’s innocent, and looking for a way out. Time to smash that “yes, I’m still watching” button.

Stream Now

When Michael Peterson’s wife died in 2001, he told everyone that she fell down the stairs. When a medical examiner investigated, it was revealed that she was killed with a weapon. The Staircase gives us a look at this super complicated, high profile murder case.

ReMastered: Who Killed Jam Master Jay?

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Jam Master Jay, the Run-DMC DJ was gunned down in 2002 and although there were witnesses, his murder is still unsolved. Who Killed Jam Master Jay examines his life, tragic death, and the conspiracy theories that still have the world wondering what TF actually happened.

Dirty Money

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Love true crime but hate murder? Fortunately (but, mostly unfortunately), corporations commit heinous crimes literally all of the time! Dirty Money exposes some of the most horrible, corrupt crimes that companies all over the world commit.

Audrie & Daisy

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Audrie & Daisy tells the stories of Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, two teen sexual assault victims from California and Missouri, respectively. The documentary details the disturbing ways both girls’ lives were changed as a result.

Team Foxcatcher

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This recently released Netflix original documentary takes yet another important look at the 1996 murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz by John E. du Pont. The New York Times describes the doc as “straightforward” and “good” for “those who haven’t already spent enough time with this strange, unsettling story.”

Related: The “30 for 30” take on the subject in 2015, The Prince of Pennsylvania, is also streaming on Netflix.

Forensic Files

Medstar Television/TLC/Screenshot

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It’s like CSI but real life. There are two collections currently streaming on Netflix and both have 40 episodes, so do take your time.

The Central Park Five

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Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah directed this 2012 documentary about the high-profile case of five black and Latino teens who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park in the ’80s and subsequently spent between six to 15 years in prison. The group would later sue New York State for racial discrimination, among other things.

Peggy Truong Entertainment Writer Peggy is Cosmopolitan.com’s entertainment writer, specializing in Leonardo DiCaprio, This Is Us, and the royals. Hannah Chambers. Hannah Chambers is an entertainment editor at Cosmopolitan.Photo: Netflix

All week long, Vulture is exploring the many ways true crime has become one of the most dominant genres in popular culture. This piece, originally published on October 6, 2017, has been updated and expanded for our weeklong series.

If you type “true crime” into the Netflix search field, you’ll be presented with an astonishing collection of shows, many of them indistinguishable from one another. The offerings include Occult Crimes, Corrupt Crimes, Stalkers Who Kill, Nurses Who Kill, Killer Couples, Killer Kids, Killer in the Family, Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer, and Killer Women With Piers Morgan. How do you even begin to sort them apart? Are they all the same? And are any of them actually good?

We’re here to help. Hidden among the genre’s vast selection of bad reenactments, gleeful-sounding narrators, and disgusting, exploitative dreck, you’ll find quite a few worthwhile productions. Here are the best true-crime series and movies currently available to watch on Netflix.

The original, genre-defining true-crime series The Staircase is now on Netflix, including several new episodes that follow up on the case after the show’s initial run. It’s genre-defining for a reason: Michael Peterson is a magnetic personality at the center of the series, alternately exasperated and believable and off-puttingly cold. The Staircase also takes advantage of being early to the televised boom of true crime. Its subjects don’t yet have much sense of how being on camera will change their lives, and they’re unguarded and unselfconscious in a way few true-crime subjects could be now. And like the best true crime, it also begins to fold in on itself as coverage of the case on cable news leaks into the events of the trial. Come for the vérité approach to trial filming, stay for the owl theory of the crime.

Wild, Wild Country

One of the best, most captivating true-crime productions to date, Wild, Wild Country is a welcome departure from the familiar “a white woman is dead” premise taken by so many murder mysteries. It’s a cult story, following the Rajneeshee community that arrived in Oregon in the late ’80s and proceeded to wrest political control from the local residents. Eventually the story escalates into extremely bizarre, legitimately harmful events (including a mass food poisoning), but for most of the series, Wild, Wild Country’s appeal lies in how even-handed it is, and how equally sympathetic and condemnatory it is to all sides of its story.

Far and away the strongest true-crime series on Netflix, and one of the best long-form true crime TV productions of recent years, this Netflix original combines several themes and ideas that are essential to the genre. There are sensational, horrific crimes. There are cover-ups. There is widespread corruption, police mismanagement, and deep, painful injustice. The series is about a missing young woman, who was pretty obviously killed to cover up rampant sexual abuse at her Catholic school. But the figures who drive its investigation are unusual. They’re older retired women, who’ve dedicated their lives to trying to piece together a story the Catholic church has sought to cover up, and police have abandoned. The Keepers approaches its subjects with sensitivity and care, and is especially painstaking in its depiction of the many women who suffered abuse and dedicated their lives to finding truth. It hits a rare and unusual note between condemnation of the system for failing to support victims, and celebration of the people who stepped into investigative roles, while also wrestling with the huge network of people involved. It is the uncommon true-crime series that tries desperately to give voice to the victims, and it mostly succeeds.

Wormwood

Made by the grandfather of the true-crime genre, Errol Morris, Wormwood is a docuseries that explores the possibility that the CIA tested psychotropic drugs on its own employees, and then covered it up when the testing went bad. What sets Wormwood apart is its unusual narrative design and its singular focus on the memories of one man who believes his father was murdered. The way Wormwood goes about unspooling and piecing together its facts is a mirror of its subject’s own obsession with therapy, memory, and collage, and it weaves together one-on-one interviews with dreamlike crime re-creations (starring Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker).

The Detectives

Not to be mistaken for the comedy series of the same name, this three-part BBC production explores the investigation of several sexual assaults in and around Manchester, including a case related to the Jimmy Savile scandal. The Detectives combines immediacy and intimacy with a helpful analytic distance, and it focuses on the emotional impact on the detectives (many of them female) as well as the sensitivity and trust required when trying to help rape victims find justice.

Netflix’s first breakout true-crime hit, Making a Murderer subsequently came under scrutiny for its filmmakers’ possible bias in creating the series, as well as for an unnecessarily generous edit that occasionally turns “unhurried” into “seriously, this is too slow.” It’s still a worthwhile story, though, especially in a moment when true-crime series look more and more like long-form serialized stories, and less like Cops. Its successes and its mistakes will be benchmarks for the genre for a long time.

Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist

Evil Genius doesn’t have quite the same filmmaking flair or narrative depth as something like The Staircase’s fly-on-the-wall access or Making a Murderer’s hypnotic rhythms. What it does have is a truly bizarre story about one of the strangest crimes I’ve ever seen explored in a true-crime framework. Many of the best examples of the genre are about widespread institutional failure, or the way social pressures have meant some stories get forgotten, or how some victims are ignored. Evil Genius is not about that; it’s a series about a truly unusual personality who may have orchestrated an unbelievably weird crime.

Partners in Crime

Maybe you don’t want something in the vein of the newer style of long-form true crime. Maybe you’re looking for one of the classic series. If these are the sorts of shows you want to watch, I’m going to assume you already know about Forensic Files, a granddaddy of the genre. But did you know about Partners in Crime, a series that explores “Hong Kong’s most bizarre murder cases”? One of the show’s main investigators is Dr. Carl Leung, a man described as “a forensic dentist, sexologist, and funeral parlor director.” And the first episode is about a head found inside a Hello Kitty doll.

Killer in the Family

If you’re not looking for the sensational “killers!!!” type of true-crime series and you’ve already finished off Partners in Crime, Killer in the Family is one of the better options. Its lead investigator is Laura Richards, a criminal psychologist with significant experience at Scotland Yard, and her aim is not only to tell these stories, but to point to what she calls “early warning” signs for domestic crimes.

Cold Justice

Many of the true-crime offerings on Netflix are British productions, and many of the available American series are not great. There’s something appealing about Cold Justice, though. It’s a Dick Wolf production that follows a former prosecutor named Kelly Siegler and a team of co-investigators as they look into unsolved murders, often throughout the American South. As with most true-crime series, the underlying premise — that it takes a TV show to find some kind of justice — is deeply upsetting. And the crimes themselves are often scarily mundane. But Siegler brings compassion to her meetings with victims’ families, which keeps the show from haring off into pure luridness.

The Investigator: A British Crime Story

From the get-go, this four-episode limited series feels like a familiar entry in the new guard of true-crime productions. A single crime (a missing and presumed dead woman, inevitably), a focused investigator, new findings that only compound the old questions, twists and turns. Neither the style nor the filmmaking breaks new ground, but it also doesn’t swerve into the seedier corners of the genre. What distinguishes The Investigator is something you might consider a spoiler, so heads-up: The end is a disaster, in a way that’s deeply frustrating. But it raises all kinds of questions about how much audience “satisfaction” papers over the deeper, inerasable issues of the genre: Why do we accept sensationalism and exploitation as the inevitable corollaries to our entertainment?

The Confession Tapes

Especially for fans of Making a Murderer, or for those whose interest in true crime is strongly rooted in a desire to watch how institutional forces and police tactics are used to exert unjust influence on citizens, The Confession Tapes is for you. Unlike the other docuseries on this list, The Confession Tapes tells multiple separate stories about the way interrogation strategies coerce people into saying things they otherwise wouldn’t. And it’s a good thing that its stories are short, because it’s not the juicy, exploitative, personality-driven true-crime narrative that gets an audience all hopped up on specific details of a crime. It’s grinding and slow and patient, and also quite illuminating.

Time: The Kalief Browder Story

Originally a debut on SpikeTV and produced by Jay-Z, Time is a different flavor of true crime than most other series on this list. There is no murder, no hidden paper trail, and no suddenly discovered witness. It is the rare true-crime series where the victim was able to explain exactly what happened to him, and to call for justice; the interviews with Browder are devastatingly raw. (Even more so because Browder committed suicide in 2015.) The series itself doesn’t expand much beyond earlier investigations about Browder’s life, but as yet another piece of culture that indicts the cruelty of a criminal-justice system that could let this happen, Time is an invaluable production.

Movies

If those series aren’t enough to scratch your true-crime itch, Netflix is also full of one-off or fully feature-length true-crime documentaries. Here are a few of the best:

Amanda Knox

Knox’s story is well-covered territory, but the documentary’s big get is Knox’s own participation in describing her experiences and explaining her actions.

Tabloid

A fantastic Errol Morris feature-length documentary about a former beauty-pageant winner who’s accused of kidnapping and raping a Mormon missionary. The key, as per his typical style, is Morris’s extensive interviews with the film’s subjects.

The Witness

A documentary about the Kitty Genovese murder, The Witness deals with the events of the murder, but is mostly focused on the New York Times’ coverage of the crime after the fact, and the long-lasting effects for the Genovese family.

Long Shot

This is a very short and well-made film (40 minutes!), and it’s also a fantastically weird story. A man accused of murder realizes there’s a way to prove he couldn’t have done it, and it hinges on the fact that he was at a baseball game at the same time Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm was taping there.

The Thin Blue Line

If you haven’t seen the Ur-text for true crime as a genre, make sure to watch The Thin Blue Line, which is streaming on Netflix. If you’re worried that it’s going to feel out of date, the American Vandal team promised that Thin Blue Line is one of their biggest influences for both the first and second season.

And a few to avoid …

Many true-crime series fall into a category of pretty gross and otherwise unremarkable storytelling. (Think cheesy clips of reenacted knife-wielding hands and gleeful narrators who just cannot wait to tell you about the next gruesome twist.) To enumerate them all would be a nearly impossible task, but there are a few worth noting to make sure you avoid them.

Definitely steer clear of Killer Women With Piers Morgan. There are only two episodes, but they’re unusual in how little their host brings to the topic and how superficially they examine the crimes. I don’t know much about horrific murderers, Morgan tells the subject of his first episode, but you’re not what I was expecting. There’s no further explanation of what he means, and for an hour-long look at terrible crimes, you come away with little insight and not much more than a blanket shock of “Well, this was bad.”

Likewise, avoid Under Arrest, a condensed version of the Canadian Cops rip-off series, To Serve and Protect. Despite the Canadian accents, it’s still just police manhandling people in some of the lower moments of their lives, often with little compassion or care.

We’re now in the middle of winter and that means shorter days, longer nights, and even fewer excuses for spending all day long outside. Since the sun goes down right around the time most people get out of work, there is very little motivation (okay, maybe it’s just us) to do something other than go right home and turn Netflix on — outside of stopping for happy hour, of course. Once you’re home, though, it’s time to binge, and binge you will with perhaps the most popular genre of anything across streaming services these days, true crime. The public’s obsession with the worst of humanity is ever-present, and myriad options for true crime are on Netflix (and elsewhere). And while the genre is everywhere these days — there are books, podcasts, and countless other mediums out there — those don’t really allow for cuddling up with a loved one (or your dog) and bingeing, so that’s why we lean toward the true crime documentaries.

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For whatever reasons — a macabre obsession, escapism, boredom, or something else — these documentaries are here and they’re here to stay. The thing about these docs is that many of them are broken into parts, making them beyond binge-able. It could be because you simply can’t believe what is happening right before your eyes or because you need to see the despicable human being guilty of crimes finally captured. Either way, true crime documentaries offer a multi-hour experience, unlike many other genres.

Below, you can find the best crime documentaries on Netflix right now. As you’ll notice, Netflix has done a good job of finding and producing high-quality crime docs and docu-series, taking the reins of the bandwagon and driving it full-speed into the future. And while Netflix isn’t the only place to binge (HBO’s The Jinx is a wonderful example of a doc not available on the platform), it is one of the best places to start.

Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)

Coming on December 18, Don’t F**k with Cats is a docuseries that looks at the crimes and eventual capture of Canadian serial killer and all-around trash person Luka Magnotta, who first became known to the internet for posting a video of himself killing cats. His crimes escalate, and the video itself sets off a firestorm on the internet as people around the world set out to try and find him and bring him to justice (thankfully, they do).

Watch

Making a Murderer (2015-Present)

Arguably, this is one of the most influential true crime documentaries when it comes to the nation’s current obsession with the genre. This doc looks at the imprisonment, exoneration, re-arrest, and subsequent trial of Steven Avery, who was charged with (and convicted of) the murder of Teresa Halbach. Since the first season’s premiere, countless articles have been written about the documentary and the case as a whole, but if you’re new to true crime documentaries, this is as good a place to start as any. Which is why we’re not linking to any of the articles — check out the show for yourself first.

Watch

The Innocent Man (2018)

Not all people convicted of crimes actually commit them. In fact, between 3% and 5% of capital crime prosecutions end with a wrongful conviction. The Innocent Man is an adaptation of John Grisham’s only nonfiction book, which looks at the 1998 wrongful conviction of Ronald Keith Williamson for the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter. The series also looks at another pending wrongful conviction in the same small town of Ada, Oklahoma (population: 17,000), and the effects that these types of cases have not only on those directly involved but the town as a whole.

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Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

If you’re a parent, then this doc is probably going to be a nightmare for you. If you’re not a parent, then this will still be one of the most frustrating documentaries you’ve most likely ever seen. Abducted in Plain Sight chronicles the abduction of 12-year-old Jan Broberg by her neighbor Robert Berchtold — twice. The documentary looks at how Berchtold embedded himself in the Broberg family and how he was able to abduct Jan both times. Littered throughout the documentary are also aliens, Mormonism, and a whole heap of “how the f*ck can you let someone do that to your daughter twice, you ignorant fools?”

Watch

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)

Perhaps one of the most infamous serial killers in American history, Ted Bundy went on a rampage that spanned multiple states, years, and victims. This documentary brings recordings of him to the front and center, allowing audiences a look at just how psychotic and terrible he was. While some have argued this glorifies serial killers, thereby expressing everything that is wrong with the country’s obsession with crimes, it is an interesting look at the mind of a notorious criminal.

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The Keepers (2017)

The unsolved murder of a nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik, leads to former students of Cesnik’s investigating a coverup involving a priest at Cesnik’s school, Anthony Joseph Maskell, and multiple counts of sexual abuse against students. The Keepers looks at the lengths the Catholic church appeared to go to in order to cover up crimes by one of their own. If you thought the government was terrible for covering things up, you should see how the Catholic church does it.

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Wild Wild Country (2018)

Just as serial killers are viewed with an unsettling amount of interest in our country right now, so are cults. Wild, Wild Country documents one of those cults: the Rajneeshpuram community, led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela. The Rajneeshis were responsible for the first bioterror attack in the U.S., and for corrupting countless people with their ideology (all while tucked away in middle-of-nowhere Oregon). This documentary has won awards for a reason — not only will you want to binge it, but you’ll also want to yell and scream at the screen while you do.

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Evil Genius (2018)

This one isn’t for the faint of heart, as footage of what would become a murder is played two minutes into the first episode. Evil Genius looks at the murder of Brian Wells, which was part of what might be one of the most insane bank heist stories ever told. If we told you the plot, you wouldn’t believe us because it is that crazy. While there have been other true crime shows made about this case, Evil Genius dives in deep, weaving an intriguing narrative that shows the lengths to which some people go to try and get away with murder.

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Murder Mountain (2018)

The marijuana industry in California is a big deal and, in Northern California’s Humboldt County, that industry encompasses both legal and illegal enterprises. The mixing of these different sects has led to disappearances, murders, and cover-ups as locals prefer to take an outlaw view on doling out justice. Murder Mountain focuses specifically on the case of Garrett Rodriguez, who was found murdered in 2013.

Watch

Amanda Knox (2016)

After being twice convicted for the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher while living in Italy, Amanda Knox spent four years in an Italian jail before being acquitted. Amanda Knox features interviews with a variety of people involved in the case, from her boyfriend at the time to journalists to law enforcement to Knox herself, to document everything that went on the case. This doc is as much about the case as it is about what can happen when tabloid journalism runs away with a story.

Watch

The Legend of Cocaine Island (2018)

Are you loving your Florida Man horoscopes these days and want more Florida Man hi-jinks? Then The Legend of Cocaine Island is for you. The newest Netflix true-crime documentary tells the story of a down-and-out Florida businessman who learns about a stash of cocaine on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra and decides to dig it up and resell it, thereby pulling his family out of the financial crisis they are in. If you know anything about literally any Florida Man story, then you can guess how this one ends.

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True crime documentaries, if done well, elicit the same kind of emotions people feel after watching 10 episodes of Making a Murderer on Netflix. From Ken Burns to Werner Herzog, the crime documentary has taken center stage in recent years, stepping beyond a mere headline and examining the details that can change public perception and, in many cases, the final outcome of a case.

Documentaries like Making a Murderer make viewers’ blood boil, divide them on just exactly who is right and wrong, and even cast doubt on the American justice system. Steven Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit and was then convicted of a murder many believe he also didn’t commit. This fact fits hand in hand with the theme of documentaries like the Paradise Lost trilogy, The Central Park Five, and Serial.

Documentaries like The Jinx and The Thin Blue Line make headlines because the documentarian uncovers new evidence that sparks a new trial, with varying outcomes. Robert Durst incriminated himself on camera. A key witness in Randall Dale Adams’s trial was enough to get him off death row and released from prison. Pressure from musical icons and filmmakers following the West Memphis Three case culminated in the release of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley 18 years later.

Why are viewers so fascinated with the true crime documentary and true crime TV shows? The best crime documentaries put the audience at the center of the story with access to information that may unlock an unsolved mystery. The documentarian has time on their side and they can focus on one story to uncover details and even evidence that was overlooked or hidden the first time around. In the hands of a seasoned and determined filmmaker or journalist, this access can be quite powerful.

If you’re looking for crime documentary series like Making a Murderer or documentaries like The Jinx, you’ll find them below. There are also other disturbing cases that haven’t gotten that level of attention. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of true crime coverage out there to take in. Each of these great documentaries makes an emotional impact, so maybe throw on a comedy or take a break between viewings.

January 23, 2020 – 15:18 GMT Emmy Griffiths There are some amazing documentaries on Netflix UK. From Don’t F*** with Cats to Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

From disturbing murder documentaries to festivals that went horribly, horribly wrong, Netflix has seriously been delivering with their host of insightful, detailed documentaries. For anyone looking for the next true crime story to get hooked on, we have put together some of the best documentaries available on Netflix. Take a look at our top picks…

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

This 2020 documentary focuses on the life of Aaron Hernandez, a NFL player who murdered Odin Lloyd, a man dating his fiancée’s sister. The series explores what led him to commit the crime, as well as cover his shocking death by suicide aged just 27. Aaron was a professional American footballer who played for the Patriots from 2010 and was considered to be one of the league’s most talented players. However, he was arrested for the murder of Odin in 2013 and found guilty of first-degree murder in 2015. During this time, he was also indicted for a double homicide which took place in 2012. Following his death, it was discovered that Aaron suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease which is caused by head injuries. Symptoms for CTE include mood swings, anger and behavioural problems.

Don’t F*** with Cats

This much-talked about series follows an online community – made up of animal rights activists and amateur sleuths – who become determined to track down a man who uploaded a series of videos of himself killing cats to the Internet. The three-part documentary is stranger than fiction, and sparked discussion about culpability and the nature of true crime documentaries.

Explained

Want to learn more about everything? A series from Vox dives into all sorts of fascinating topics for you to learn more, including all about why diets fail, how diamonds became a status symbol, and why K-pop has become such a huge success.

Cheer

Perhaps Netflix’s most successful documentary of 2020 so far, Cheer follows the Navarro College cheerleading team in Texas as they do whatever it takes to win the National Championships in Daytona, putting their wellbeing at risk to get to the top. They are also led by the indomitable Monica, the Miranda Priestly of the cheer world, whose competitiveness has made the squad the best in the world.

The Devil Next Door

This compelling series looks at a man who, after living in the US for decades, is taken to Israel after being accused of being an infamously cruel Nazi death camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible. But is he really the same man, or is it a case of mistaken identity?

The Confession Killer

Henry Lee confessed to being America’s deadliest serial killer after he admitted to killing hundreds of victims. But did he actually kill any of them at all? The documentary looks at the inconsistencies in Henry’s stories, and whether they hold any truth at all.

Surviving R Kelly

A tough watch, Surviving R Kelly follows several women’s stories as they make sexual abuse allegations against the American singer. Shortly after the show was initially released in 2019, Kelly was charged with ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

This recent documentary follows the trial of a generation as John Demjanjuk, a retired Ukrainian-American autoworker living in the USA in the 1980s, is accused of being ‘Ivan the Terrible’, a Nazi death camp guard. Claiming that it is a case of mistaken identity, Demjanjuk is taken to Israel to stand trial for crimes against humanity, where survivors of the Nazi concentration camps gave devastating testimonials over ‘Ivan the Terrible’ and his barbaric actions. Speaking about the show, one person tweeted: “The Devil Next Door documentary series on Netflix is absolutely fascinating. The whole process of the Ivan the Terrible trial is quite a lesson on justice. For the record, I don’t think John was Ivan, but it’s pretty obvious that he was a death camp guard.”

The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

This documentary takes a detailed look at three-year-old Maddie’s disappearance from the seaside resort of Praia de Luz back in 2007, a story which rocked the British public and became the most high-profile kidnapping case in recent history. The documentary looks at the investigation by the Portuguese police along with Scotland Yard, as they undertook a major investigation to try and find Gerry and Kate McCann’s daughter.

The Keepers

This series follows the unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun, Sister Cathy, nearly five decades after her death. In the 1990s, one of Cathy’s former students came forward with stories of sexual abuse by the high school’s chaplain, and claimed that she was taken to Sister Cathy’s as-of-yet undiscovered body and told, ‘See what happens when you say bad things about people.’ Despite her testimony, no one to this day has been held accountable. The documentary looks at whether there was a major cover up, and who killed Sister Cathy.

Tell Me Who I Am

This heartbreaking documentary tells the story of Alex Lewis, who survived a motorcycle accident aged 18 only to have realised that he has forgotten everything except the identity of his twin brother, Marcus. Relying on his twin, Alex learns everything about his life and family all over again, with no idea that Marcus is omitting major parts of their past to spare Alex pain. In the documentary, the pair finally go on a journey together to face the truth of just what happened all of those years ago, which Alex so desperately wants to remember and Marcus so desperately wants to forget.

The Ted Bundy Tapes

A collection of tapes recorded by one of the world’s most notorious serial killers is just about as disturbing as you might think. As his trial is retold by those closest to the case, the documentary also looks at Ted’s almost admission of guilt – that he killed 36 women – by describing his crimes in the third person – which makes for a truly disturbing watch.

Abducted in Plain Sight

Strap yourself in for the most bizarre true story you’re likely to watch this year. Taking place in the 70s, a family recounts befriending a new neighbour and seemingly normal family man named ‘B’, who groomed the entire family in order to get closer to their 12-year-old daughter, Jan, who he ends up kidnapping… twice. Just when you think you’ve heard the worst of this odd tale, something else utterly insane takes place. Make sure you recommend it to your friends because trust us, you’ll want someone to talk to about it afterwards!

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

If you have any sort of social media, you saw the horrendous circumstances of the Fyre Festival. It was meant to be a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to party like the rich and famous, and with the rich and famous – before things went apocalyptically wrong – leaving a bunch of rich Americans stuck in the Bahamas with almost no food or shelter. This documentary has a look at exactly what happened for everything to go so wrong so spectacularly, and casts an eye on the charming yet ignorant creator of the festival, Billy.

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox spent four years in an Italian prison for the 2007 murder of her housemate, Meredith Kercher, before being acquitted. In the documentary, Amanda recounts the circumstances surrounding Meredith’s death, and the intense media speculation follow her arrest, all the while maintaining her innocence. But do you believe her?

The Staircase

A devoted husband, Michael Peterson, maintains his innocence after his wife Kathleen was found at the bottom of their staircase, dead. While his family and friends defended him, and he himself strongly denied ever hurting her, the documentary looks at both sides of the story, and the amount of evidence that mounted against Michael throughout the trial.

Casting JonBenet

This documentary looks at the murder of JonBenét Ramsey, who was killed when she was just six-years-old. In an unusual twist, the film sets out to cast actors in the roles of the real people involved in the case, including JonBenét’s parents, John and Patsy, while the Colorado-based actors all recount their own memories of the case. The doc focuses more on the speculation and conspiracies surrounding the little girl’s death rather than who did it – which sets it apart from a standard crime documentary.

Wild Wild Country

The official synopsis for this much-discussed documentary reads: “A Netflix Original documentary series about a controversial cult leader who builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, resulting in conflict with the locals that escalates into a national scandal.” Viewers have praised the series, with one writing: “Just finished it, and it was superb.” Another person added: “I’m so fascinated by this documentary. Can’t believe I never heard of it before.”

Evil Genius

The truth story of America’s most diabolical bank heist. If you’re getting a little tired of murder documentaries, why not try one about a bank robbery that went horribly wrong? A man was forced to rob a bank while wearing an explosive around his neck – or was he actually in on the bank robbery the entire time?

Making a Murderer

Arguably THE documentary that kick started a new generation, Making a Murderer looks at the case of Steven Avery, a man who spent 18 years in prison for rape before he was exonerated by DNA testing. Shortly after his release, he was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. But did he really do it? The documentary examines the evidence of the flawed case and how the police handled the enquiry. Interest in Steven’s case led to a second series, which looked at the aftermath of the documentary’s release.

The Confession Tapes

Much like Making a Murderer’s Brendan Dassey, who it was claimed was coerced into confession for the murder of Theresa Halbach, the series looked at people who claim, after their conviction, that their confessions were actually coerced, involuntary or false. The series certainly inspired a strong reaction from viewers, and one wrote: “Every person who bullied & interrogated the victims should been stripped of their badges and fired straight away! The system has failed greatly & continues to fail the victims till today. How many cases like these is there that haven’t even been looked at?”

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