If you’ve been here any reasonable amount of time, you might have noticed that I have a bit of a thing for true crime documentaries, podcasts, reconstructions, the lot. It’s been somewhat of an interest of mine since I was a young teenager, sitting up late with my grandmother watching Forensic Detectives when I probably should have been gone to bed. The advent of podcasts, Youtube and Netflix has made it all the easier to pursue my not-as-creepy-as-it-sounds hobby. (I should really get to writing the crime novel so that I have a fully fledged excuse for all of it…). In the meantime though, I’ve been catching up on lots of documentaries on Netflix. They’ve just added a lot more true crime documentaries, including the much acclaimed The Staircase. A previous post last year went down well, so I thought I’d compile an up to date list of 24 True Crime Documentaries available on Netflix UK in July 2018.
This is what I’m currently engrossed in, and really enjoying. The Staircase is a documentary circled around the death of Kathleen Peterson, and the case for murder made against her husband, novelist Michael Peterson. He claimed she had fallen down the stairs. The medical examiner, however, determined that she had been beaten with a weapon, which led to Peterson becoming a suspect in what would become a murder investigation. This series, which began with eight episodes in 2005 before being updated in 2013 and 2018, follows the investigation as it proceeds from Peterson’s arrest to a verdict being reached in the ensuing trial. The real-life courtroom thriller offers a rare and revealing inside look at a high-profile murder trial and an examination of contemporary American justice. I know a little about this case before going in, thanks to listening to True Crime Podcasts, but I’m finding the new details in it, especially in the updated episodes to be eye opening.
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Released in May this year, Evil Genius is a fascinating documentary mini-series which tells the story behind the “Pizza Bomber” case in 2005.This baffling true crime story starts with the grisly death of a pizza man who robs a bank with a bomb around his neck — and gets weirder from there.
Who Took Johnny
An investigation of a cold case tries to determine what became of Iowa paperboy Johnny Gosch, who disappeared 30 years earlier. It premiered at the Sundance Festival in 2014, and details a mother’s fight to find out what happened to her son, who was just 12 when he went missing and became the first missing child to appear on a milk carton. The film focuses on the heartbreaking story of Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, and her relentless quest to find the truth about what happened that tragic September morning in Des Moines when Johnny never returned from his paper route. Along the way there have been mysterious sightings, strange clues, bizarre revelations, and a confrontation with a person who claims to have helped abduct Johnny.
Making A Murderer
If you’ve not heard of Making a Murderer, or the case of Steven Avery, there’s a very good chance you’ve spent much of the last few years in a coma. Welcome back to the real world. If you’ve not already watched the ten part series, produced for Netflix, you’re in for a treat. Steven Avery was incarcerated for 18 years for a sex crime he didn’t commit. Once DNA cleared him and he was released, it all looked like life was turning around for him – until a few months later, he’s back in a cell again, this time for the murder of a photographer, Teresa Halbach. The case is fascinating, and definitely leaves you questioning whether this man is indeed guilty, or whether a huge frame job is in hand.
This one is not for the easily distressed, I found it difficult to get through as a parent of a small child just a little younger than those involved in the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In the aftermath of the worst school shooting in history, the traumatized community of Newtown, Connecticut finds a new sense of purpose in this intimate story of resilience as told by those whose lives were changed forever. While this documentary is not directly about the shooting, and does not mention the perpetrator, rather about the aftermath and how the community dealt with it, it is still a tough watch but an essential one in the current climate regarding gun control.
The Confession Tapes
Surely if you get someone to confess to a crime, that’s it solved, right? Well, sometimes confessions may not actually be the truth, or the whole truth – that’s the concept being explored in this documentary series from Netflix. The Confession Tapes is a seven part series, with each episode looking into a crime where the person who confessed to it has since recanted and stated their confession was false, coerced or otherwise incorrect. It’s not all about the accused – the series takes in interviews with lawyers, judges, and experts in wrongful conviction. Are they telling the truth, or was the confession the truth to begin with? A really interesting watch!
West Of Memphis
Filmmaker Amy Berg tells the story of the fight to stop the state of Arkansas from executing an innocent man. Beginning with an examination into the police investigation into the 1993 murders of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, Berg brings to light new evidence surrounding the arrest and conviction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. All three were teens at the time and lost 18 years of their lives after being wrongly convicted and imprisoned. There are echoes of Making a Murderer in this one.
The documentary didn’t disappoint. It tells the story of Amanda Knox, a young American student accused of the murder of her housemate while in Italy as a transfer student. The case was highly publicised, in particular the sexually explicit motives which the prosecution claims led to Meredith Kercher’s death. Twice convicted and acquitted of murder, Amanda tells her story in this documentary, along with insights from family, members of the prosecution and the media. Prepare for your skin to crawl when the journalist from the Daily Mail is on screen. If you’ve any interest at all in the justice system, other true crime documentaries, or even a passing interest in the case, I’d recommend this one. Not a light watch – some of the documentary is in Italian, so you’ll need to focus on subtitles, but worth it.
My true-crime loving self got really stuck into The Keepers when it was released last year. It’s the story of the murder of a young nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, in November 1969 in Baltimore, Maryland. Simple murder mystery this one is not, I’m feeling ALL of the emotions. It took me a while to finish as it is an INTENSE watch, but it is so worth it.
On Aug. 1, 1966, a sniper rode the elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower and opened fire, holding the campus hostage for 96 minutes. When the gunshots were finally silenced, the toll included 16 dead, three dozen wounded, and a shaken nation left trying to understand what had happened. Archival footage is combined with rotoscopic animation in a dynamic, never-before-seen way to illustrate the action-packed untold stories of the witnesses, heroes and survivors. In a society where school shootings unfortunately don’t shock like they used to, it’s interesting to watch the very first.
Kitty Genovese became synonymous with apathy after news that she was stabbed to death on a New York City street while 38 witnesses did nothing.
Forty years later, her brother decides to find the truth. He uncovers a lie that transformed his life, condemned a city and defined an era. It’s a powerful documentary well worth checking out.
Captive for 18 Years: The Jaycee Lee Story
Jaycee Lee Dugard was snatched by a man on her way to school at the age of 11 in June 1991. She vanished off the face of the earth, presumed dead, for 18 years, until she escaped the custody of her captor. In that time, she had given birth to two children and lived under a different name. I knew a little about this story before watching and found it hugely informative and compelling, as well as being an absolutely inspiring story.
In this Oscar-nominated documentary, Ava DuVernay looks into the role of racial inequality in the United States, questioning the mass incarceration and the criminalisation of African Americans. One that will definitely get you angry. Netflix also accompanies this with a half hour long conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay about the topic which is well worth checking out.
November 13: Attack On Paris
On November 13th, 2015 a number of co-ordinated terrorist attacks took place in the city of Paris, France. This three part documentary, in French but subtitled to English, tells the stories of the people involved in a tragedy that was watched all around the world, and that has changed France forever. Definitely needs a bit more focus unless French is your first language as you’ve got to follow along with the subtitles, but it is worth it to get an eyewitness account of the terrible happenings of that day.
I Am Jane Doe
I am Jane Doe is a documentary chronicling the legal battle that several American mothers are waging on behalf of their middle-school daughters, who were trafficked for commercial sex on Backpage.com, the classified advertising website formerly owned by the Village Voice. It’s a moving documentary about a situation that every parent doesn’t even want to think of – and the fight that these parents are having to get justice for their daughters.
Freeway: Crack In The System
Take in the true account of drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross’s empire and how the CIA helped him fuel America’s devastating crack cocaine epidemic. An eye opening tale.
The Fear Of 13
After more than 20 years on death row, a convicted murderer, Nick Yarris, petitions the court asking to be executed. But as he tells his story, it gradually becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems. It’s a gripping and at times emotional documentary that everyone should watch.
Documentarian Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of her brother, 24-year-old William Ford Jr. This film exposes the racial inequalities in the justice system, as an all-white jury declined to indict Ford’s killer, who is also white.
Casting JonBenét isn’t exactly what you’ve seen in other true crime documentaries. The concept is a bit different – casting various actors to play the role of JonBenét Ramsey and her family in a fictional film, with the actors expressing their own views on the child pageant queen’s death at Christmas 1996. Quite a disturbing watch in parts (although you could say that about this entire case in general).
Inside the Mind Of The Serial Killer
Takes viewers inside the minds of some of the most brutal, indiscriminate, international killers to date. The factual crime series uncovers and analyzes signs of psychopathic behavior and uses chilling real life footage to dissect the mind of the killer. Its ten episodes feature notorious criminals such as Anders Breivik, Eddie Leonski better known as the ‘Singing Strangler’ and Joanna Dennehy. The ten part series is made up of 42 minute episodes, which are easy to fit in.
Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of A Serial Killer
In this documentary, filmmaker Nick Broomfield follows the saga of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who has been accused of committing a brutal series of murders. Broomfield conducts interviews with Wuornos herself, and his crew films her trial as well as her interactions with religious fanatic Arlene Pralle, who gives Wuornos dubious advice and legally adopts her. The cameras also roll as the accused’s attorney ignores the case at hand to negotiate a deal to sell his client’s story. It’s fascinating – I’d seen little bits of the case in articles before watching, but it’s easy to see why the media (and Hollywood, Charlize Theron won a LOT of awards for her portrayal of Aileen in the 2003 film Monster) were captivated by her.
The Hunting Ground
This was a tough watch, but I felt an important one – my blood pressure rose by several levels throughout. The documentary looks at the treatment of sexual assault in American universities, the attitude of the governing bodies to both the victims and the perpetrators. I’m not surprised in the content of the documentary, which makes me quite sad. It painted the picture of exactly what I thought I knew, from seeing news reports and “Ripped from the headlines” episodes of Law and Order SVU on the same topic over the last few years. It did however let the victims share their stories. Of being told it was their fault, questioned on what their behaviour was to prompt him to do it, of being shown that their college, where they studied and paid fees, cared more about the reputation of the abuser than the welfare of the victim. Sexual assault is so underreported as a crime, because it is the only crime that the victim has to prove they didn’t want – and the conviction late is so, so low. The Brock Turner case, the man who sexually assaulted a fellow student and was released from prison after serving only three months of his exceedingly short six month sentence, was a reminder of the attitude towards victims in modern America. This should be mandatory viewing for all secondary school students, and anyone who jumps on the #NotAllMen wagon. Definitely do keep in mind a trigger warning for anyone who may be affected by themes of sexual assault or abuse.
Audrie & Daisy
My heart is honestly broken after watching this documentary. Not unlike The Hunting Ground, it deals with rape culture in the American young adult population and how it affects the wider community. This time it’s just individual stories; two underage young women find that sexual crimes against them have been caught on camera. From acclaimed filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (The Island President, The Rape of Europa), Audrie & Daisy – which made its world premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival – takes a hard look at America’s teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control. Having read Louise O Neill’s Asking For It, which was inspired in part by the cases discussed in this documentary, it shocked me just how shocked I was to see what happened – you think you know the extent of the problem until you really look into it. While an important topic, this one definitely carries a trigger warning and while it has an important message for young people, should probably not be watched around children.
India’s Daughter is a documentary film directed by Leslee Udwin and is part of the BBC’s ongoing Storyville series. The film is based on the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh who was a physiotherapy student.
The film was scheduled to be aired on TV channels round the world on March 8 2015. This was to coincide with International Women’s Day. However, when excerpts of the film, which included an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the four men convicted of the rape and murder, were broadcast, a court stay order prohibiting the broadcast was obtained by the Indian police. The film is still banned in India. It makes for compelling watching. I found myself getting very angry at the views about the place of women and how they are treated.
Hopefully this list will help you to find a new documentary to stick on this evening and a few more to add to your list! I’d love to hear what recommendations you’ve got for true crime documentaries, whether they’re on Netflix or not – it’s a genre I absolutely love and have a real interest in so am always looking for new things to watch! Leave a comment below, or chat to me on Facebook or Twitter. I’m also over on Instagram if you want to follow along over there.
Disclosure:I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and received a Netflix subscription and an iPad Mini in return for posting Netflix updates and reviews, however, all opinions are my own, and I already had a personal subscription before joining the Stream Team.