Crime is everywhere. It’s in big, bustling cities, small sleepy towns, in dark alleys and hidden behind closed doors. There are people who want to deny bad things happen, and then there are people who want to know every detail about those bad things. The fascination with real life crime and the people who commit those crimes has only grown bigger in the last few years thanks to the success of documentaries like Making a Murderer, podcasts like Serial, and the resurgence of interest in old cases like the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. If you can’t get enough true crime, there’s plenty to keep you occupied, including these 10 documentaries.
HBO’s six part documentary about real estate heir, Robert Durst starts out kind of slow as it presents the facts about Durst’s possible involvement in his wife’s disappearance and the death of a man named Morris Black. But the real draw is that Durst agrees to be interviewed for the series and as filmmaker Andrew Jarecki uncovers more and more incriminating information, Durst is backed further and further into a corner. The final episode is one you won’t forgot.
The Killing Season
A&E is a go-to network for all things true crime, but their series, The Killing Season, by filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills reveals how deep the rabbit hole can go once you start really digging into the details of cold cases. They start by investigating a suspected serial murderer known as the Long Island Serial Killer, or LISK, and they find out that there are most likely a lot more active serial killers operating in the US—and around the world—than we could possibly know.
Paradise Lost trilogy
If you’ve never heard of the West Memphis Three case, you probably can’t call yourself a true crime buff in the first place. In 1994, teenagers Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys, with Echols receiving a sentence of death. They maintained their innocence and HBO made three documentaries chronicling their fight to be exonerated. The films show how powerful satanic panic was in the early 90s and how quick a community was to condemn three teenagers who never really fit in.
In 2003, novelist Michael Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson. The Staircase is a miniseries that offers a depiction of the defense preparation for his trial. Peterson has maintained that his wife’s death was an accident (one theory is that an owl flew into the house and attacked her, causing her to fall down the stairs), and the story is about to be reignited because he’s been granted a new trial scheduled to begin May 8th, 2017.
The Thin Blue Line
This 1988 film by Errol Morris is still considered to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made by some critics. It tells the story of Randall Adams, a man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for killing a police officer. Told through a series of interviews and re-enactments, the film suggests five of the trial witnesses committed perjury. The publicity and Morris’ own investigations helped get Adams’ conviction overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The story of French trickster, Frédéric Bourdin is one that sounds like it has to be fiction—but it’s completely true. Bourdin is found one night on the streets of Paris and claims his name is Nicholas Barclay, an American boy who disappeared three years earlier when he was only 13. Not only do the authorities believe him, but so do members of Barclay’s own family, even though Bourdin is seven years older, has a French accent and looks nothing like Nicholas. The film includes interviews with both Bourdin and the Barclay family.
If you finish watching Dear Zachary without at least a couple tears in your eyes, you’re probably heartless. After 28-year-old Andrew Bagby was shot in cold blood by his ex-girlfriend, she flees to Canada, pregnant with his child and is able to walk free. The film, originally intended to be a gift to baby Zachary and a chance for him to eventually get to know his father, also follows Bagby’s parents as they embark on mission to win custody of their grandson and convict their son’s killer. Somehow, that mission isn’t as straightforward as it should be.
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
Matt Shepard was an American college student who was beaten, tortured and killed in 1998. His death and the subsequent trials of his two murderers got extensive media attention due to suggestions that he was killed because he was gay. The documentary, made by Shepard’s close friend, aims to tell the world who Matt was as a human being beyond his posthumous status as an icon in the LGBT community.
Who Took Johnny?
Children vanish without a trace every day, and that’s exactly what happened to 12-year-old Johnny Gosch in 1982. He was out one morning on his usual paper route when he just disappeared. There have been no leads regarding Johnny’s whereabouts since then other than his mother Noreen’s insistence that he is alive and well but he can’t come home because he is mixed up in a child prostitution ring. The documentary presents the facts as well as a number of conspiracy theories regarding Johnny’s fate.
The murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York in 1964 is a relatively well-known story. While walking back to her apartment building one night, Kitty was attacked and stabbed to death. The New York Times published a story claiming that 38 witnesses either heard her screams for help or saw her being attacked and did nothing, making Kitty’s death a symbol of “urban apathy”. The Witness follows Kitty’s brother, Bill as he investigate the story of his sister’s death and finds out if it really happened the way everyone thinks.