True crime is one of the most binge-worthy types of film and TV that we’re consuming right now. We just can’t seem to get enough of it. But because there is so much of it readily available, it can be hard to decipher the good shows from the “meh” ones.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 6 of our current favourites for you true crime addicts to devour. We’ve even thrown in the links so you don’t have to search for them!
1. Paradise Lost
Often referred to as “The West Memphis Three”, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley gained international notoriety when a series of candid HBO films documented their conviction and incarceration for a triple child murder in Arkansas in 1994. The mutilated bodies of second-graders Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were discovered in a wooded area in May, 1993.
Misfit teenagers Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were put on trial for the killings, with a documentary crew permitted to film in court. Prosecutors asserted that the children were murdered as part of a “Satanic ritual” after it was discovered that the teens listened to heavy-metal music and were interested in the occult. The teens pled innocent.
The three-part documentary series follows the high-profile case from the ’90s right up until their subsequent release in 2011, after a huge public campaign argued that the three young men had been subject to a gross miscarriage of justice.
2. The Jinx
The 2015 HBO mini-series, The Jinx, follows the bizarre tale of Robert Durst, who was suspected of murdering three people, including his first wife. After a multi-state manhunt, Durst, an affluent American real estate heir, was put on trial. The investigation that would ensue was one that baffled and frustrated everyone involved in the case.
The Jinx examines the unsolved 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, the 2000 execution-style murder of writer Susan Berman, Durst’s longtime friend, and the 2001 death and dismemberment of Durst’s neighbour Morris Black.
The detailed and cinematic series features a mixture of news and security footage, interviews, dramatic reenactments and police evidence. Durst’s brother and head of the Durst Organization, Douglas Durst, was extremely anxious about how The Jinx would portray the Durst family and even petitioned for the New York Supreme Court to force the documentary’s director, Andrew Jarecki, to reveal his sources of information. Jarecki argued that his film had never promised to entirely defend Durst’s innocence.
You can watch The Jinx on Amazon.
3. Wild, Wild Country
Netflix’s 2018 series, Wild, Wild Country, has taken the internet by storm. The six-part documentary series takes an eye-opening look at a 1980s cult founded by controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also called Osho).
A multi-million dollar organisation run by Rajneesh and his followers buys up a large area of land near Antelope, Dallas, and, to the alarm of their solitary neighbours, transforms it into a “utopian community” known as Rajneeshpuram. Concerned by the sudden flood of strange people in the area, Antelope residents inform the authorities and a lengthy fight between the locals and the ‘outsiders’ ensues.
Wild, Wild Country weaves an astonishing story about the powers of love, paranoia, belief and politics. Fuelled by a mixture of fear and almost blind devotion, the documentary shows how Rajneesh’s disciples were driven to extremes – but, refreshingly, it doesn’t appear to be taking sides with either party. Instead, it provides first-hand information about the events that took place, showing us interviews with people from both sides who were affected, and allowing the footage it uses to speak for itself.
You can watch Wild, Wild Country on Netflix.
4. Capturing The Friedmans
A provocative mixture of real home videos and interview footage, Capturing The Friedmans offers a disturbing insight into the investigation of a father and son charged with child molestation in the 1980s.
Also directed by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, the film was (allegedly) originally supposed to be a much lighter film about David Friedman, a popular children’s clown in New York. However, the focus quickly changed when Jarecki learned that David’s brother, Jesse Friedman, and his father, Arnold Friedman, had previously been accused of sexually abusing young students in the basement of their family home – and that, incredibly, the family had actually captured a great deal of their experiences on camcorder.
The Friedmans were permitted to remain at home whilst preparing for court and recorded numerous home videos while Jesse and Arnold anxiously awaited trial. Viewers are a fly on the wall to some very personal scenes between the family. The visible strain on the Friedmans in these clips is palpable and provides a fascinating angle on the case from a fly-on-the-wall perspective. Through piecing together the family’s private home movies and tracking down some of the children involved in the case, Jarecki put together a documentary that would go on to win numerous awards and garner international attention.
You can watch Capturing The Friedmans on Amazon.
5. The Confession Tapes
At first glance, the 2017 TV series The Confession Tapes might look like just another cheesy true crime programme – but it’s far from it.
The seven-part series presents six different cases in which people convicted of murder may have been coerced into giving false confessions. In each episode, a case is examined in detail. We are shown interviews with police, lawyers, forensic experts, suspects and their families – and of course, the taped confessions.
Rather than mainly focusing on the grisly details of the crimes or the perpetrators, however, the series emphasises the role of the American justice system in each case. It asks us to question why exactly a person might confess to a crime they didn’t commit.
Shedding light on the psychology behind the baffling “false confession phenomenon” and daring to question the trust we put in law enforcement, The Confession Tapes is likely to leave you with more questions than answers, but that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important.
You can watch The Confession Tapes on Netflix.
6. Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Salvation
One of history’s most infamous serial killers, Albert Fish is a name that still makes many people shudder today. The unassuming elderly man murdered and cannibalised children for years under the guise of the loving father and friendly neighbour, preying on his victims during the Depression era in New York City. Fish’s gruesome story is one filled with pain, torture and suffering – making Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Salvation a documentary that is probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
Director John Borowski‘s 2007 low-budget docu-drama provides a collection of facts, interviews, insights, theories and dramatic recreations (some of which are quite explicit and hard to watch). There aren’t very many feature-length documentaries about Fish online, so Borowski’s approach has received a lot of attention – and understandably mixed reviews.
However, if you’re keen to learn more about one of America’s worst (and yet surprisingly unknown) people-eating-murderers (and you don’t mind the cringe-worthy acting, bizarre editing and sickening subject matter), then it’s well worth a watch.
You can watch Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Salvation on Amazon.
What’s your favourite true crime documentary?
Let us know in the comments below!