Horror films and fictional events just not cutting it anymore? If you love nothing more than scaring yourself silly for fun, these true crime documentaries on Netflix will be right up your alley.
Here’s a selection of some of the must-watch true-crime series – be warned though, you might want to double-check you’ve locked the doors and left a light on after watching some of these. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. From unsolved murders, shocking disappearances, cold cases, and unremorseful killers, it’s all in here.
1) Evil Genius: the True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Diabolical is the keyword here: a pizza delivery driver walked into a bank with a bomb strapped around his neck. Pennsylvania, 2013, became the scene for this bizarre heist. The initial robbery set off an unusual chain of events involving a murder and a love triangle.
2) Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer
One of the most reviled documentaries, the internet was awash with people regretting watching this. One for those with a strong constitution, it covers the story of Luka Magnotta. He began by sharing videos of him torturing and killing animals online, which led to a group forming who was determined to find him and prevent further deaths. They unwittingly discovered Magnotta was involved in one of Canada’s infamous unsolved crimes, the murder of Lin Jun.
3) I Am a Killer
I Am A Killer is unusual compared to many of the documentaries in this list, as the featured killers aren’t denying what they did and talk about the honest truth in horrifying detail of their crimes. Death row inmates own up to what happened, with no lawyers intervening.
4) Making a Murderer
The show that triggered an obsession with true crime documentaries that created a whole new generation of armchair detectives. Focusing on the case of Steven Avery who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He was exonerated but then became the prime suspect in the murder case of a photographer. There’s a second season too, covering the aftermath, and rumours of a third season.
5) Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
A newer series, released in January 2020, covers former professional American football player Aaron Hernandez. Sports fans were shocked when he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd. The three-part series features courtroom footage, interviews, and phone calls to portray the downfall from sports star to convicted killer.
6) Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke
The name may not ring a bell instantly, but Sam Cooke was the man behind “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “You Send Me” before his untimely death in a seedy LA motel aged just 33, in 1964 after he was shot by Bertha Franklin. It was classified as self-defence by police, but now people aren’t so sure and want his case to be investigated for murder.
7) Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
Another new one, released in May 2020, this docuseries features many stories from survivors. The four-part series discusses the way in which the billionaire used his funds to cover his tracks.
8) The Trials Of Gabriel Fernandez
Released in February this year, this is a six-part series about the abuse and murder of eight-year-old Californian boy Gabriel Fernandez. The show took two years to make and a therapist was kept on standby at all times for the crew as the facts were so disturbing. Gabriel died in 2013 at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend, and the series addresses systematic failures in the United States that allowed them to stay under the radar.
9) Serial Killer with Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan isn’t the first person you would think of to interview three serial killers, but the series received critical acclaim when it was released in 2017. A one-off episode followed in 2020. Featuring in-depth interviews in maximum security prisons, Piers interviews three men who terrorised neighbourhoods; Mark Riebe, Lorenzo Gilyard, and Alex Henriquez. All three insist they are innocent, despite overwhelming DNA evidence against them. Piers also speaks to families of the victims as well as law enforcement.
10) Abducted In Plain Sight
One of the documentaries with some of the most jaw-droppingly bizarre moments that spawned many disbelieving memes. Focusing on the Broberg family and the nightmare they went through when a family friend, Robert Berchtold abducted their 12-year-old daughter, Jan. Truly bizarre moments aside, the story is told from the perspective of Jan and her family.
11) The Confession Tapes
This eight-part series examines confessions, that on the surface seem like an open-and-closed case. The murders involved here all claim that their essential admissions were coerced in some way and that all is not as it seems.
12) Long Shot
As far as alibis go, Juan Catalan had a great one. He said he was part of a 56,000 strong crowd watching the Dodgers play baseball, and Juan insisted he was arrested for a murder that he didn’t commit. His case hinges on raw footage from Curb Your Enthusiasm to prove his innocence.
13) The Staircase
Author Michael Peterson was good with details, they were part of his job. When his wife died in 2001, he claims it was an accident and that she tumbled down the stairs, but all is not as it seems. Police, legal experts and even his children don’t believe him. At one point, even an owl is blamed. Yes, an owl.
14) The Keepers
Described as one of the most haunting documentaries that will linger long after you’ve watched it, The Keepers is the story of a Baltimore nun, Catherine Cesnik, who went missing in 1969. This decades-old murder has links to a priest and misdemeanours in the catholic church and accusations of abuse.
It can feel like true crime documentaries solely focus on murder, but what about those that survive or are victims of other crimes? Captive tells the tales of kidnapping victims who found themselves at the heart of a hostage negotiation.
16) The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann
Arguably the most high-profile missing child case ever, The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann had a lot of footage to comb through and varying conspiracy theories to filter. It doesn’t offer much in the way of new information about the case of the missing three-year-old who vanished on holiday, but it makes for interesting viewing seeing everything condensed into one place.
17) The Pharmacist
Another 2020 release, The Pharmacist portrays the efforts of Dan Schneider to get to the bottom of his son Danny’s murder. Dan is a small-town pharmacist and soon turns his attention to a prolific ‘pill-mill’ doctor from New Orleans, trying to put a stop to the addictions of young people in the way he had hoped someone would help his son.
18) Out Of Thin Air
Another series that confirms that confessions aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be. Six people were wrongfully convicted in Iceland for the disappearances of Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson, based on what has been dubbed the Reykjavik Confessions. This documentary picks up some 40 years after the convictions.
19) Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Aged just 16, Kalief Browder was walking home from a party when he was picked up by police on suspicion of stealing a rucksack. He went on to spend 800 days in solitary confinement at Riker’s Island while awaiting trial. Nearly three years in jail, without being convicted of a crime.
20) The Investigator: A British Crime Story
In 1985, 40-year-old mum Carole Packman was murdered. Not long after, her husband was arrested for her disappearance. Mark Williams-Thomas is one of the best criminologists around and after decades of inconclusive evidence he wants to get to the bottom of it: where is Carole’s body? He also looks into the disappearance of Eastbourne teen Louise Kay and the murders of Anna Kenny, Agnes Cooney, and Hilda McAuley.
21) The Innocent Man
Many of the people in these documentaries protest their innocence, but this one has a shocking outcome. Based on John Grisham’s only non-fiction book, The Innocent Man retells the small-town murder that gained national attention. Two locals were convicted of the murder of Debra Sue Carter, which then became doubtful. All charges were cleared, just five days before one of the men was due to be put to death.
22) Casting JonBenét
Another high profile case, this documentary takes a different angle when it comes to the murder of the six-year-old beauty queen. Instead of following the usual format, Casting JonBenét documents the process of choosing the actors to portray JonBenét, John and Patsy Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, John Mark Karr and Boulder police officials in the re-enactments. Actors are interviewed about their feelings being involved, and how the case became such a big part of pop culture.
23) Amanda Knox
It’s easy to forget that there were multiple people on trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, such was the intense media attention on Amanda Knox. Twice convicted and then acquitted of murder, this documentary features Amanda herself and the people closest to her case.
24) Confessions with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
The Ted Bundy murders have been everywhere in the media over the last few years, with Zac Efron playing him in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. This documentary features recordings of Ted Bundy himself talking candidly about the killings, as well as interviews with some of his victims who escaped.
25) The Confession Killer
Sentenced to life in prison for committing 11 murders, Henry Lee Lucas surprised law enforcement by admitting to hundreds of murders they hadn’t connected him to. He received preferential treatment for owning up… except he hadn’t actually done them.
How many have you watched? The truth is often scarier than fiction. Sleep well!
Images via Netflix