Over the past few years, true crime documentaries have become a worldwide obsession – due in large part to the incredible content created and distributed through Netflix streaming platform.
“If this were fiction I’d have called it far fetched, but this is all too real.”
And, if you haven’t seen the following 10 Netflix original true crime documentaries, you should put each and everyone on your watch list, and here’s why…
Making a Murderer
Shot over a 10 year period and released on Netflix on the 18th of December, 2015, the first season of Making a Murderer follows Steven Avery who was wrongly convicted of the attempted murder and sexual assault of Penny Beerntsen in 1985.
He served 18 years behind bars. He was only 23 when he was convicted. In 2003, DNA testing exonerated Avery and he was released.
Two years later in 2005, 25-year-old Teresa Halbach disappeared. She was last seen with Avery. Police began building their case and In 2007 he was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Brendan Ray Dassey, Avery’s 16-year-old nephew, who was of below averaged intelligence, confessed his involvement to police. Dassey was charged on 3 counts – party to first-degree murder, mutilation of a corpse, and second-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Season 1 follows these events and asks the question – were Avery and Dassey responsible or were they framed and manipulated by the Manitowoc County Police Department of Wisconsin?
Season 2 follows the efforts of Avery, Dassey, and their attorneys as they attempt to prove their innocence. In addition to this, the second season analyses in-depth the effect the case had on the victims family, the family of the convicted, and the public at large.
Making a Murderer single handily kick-started the streaming platforms reputation as producing incredible crime content – and it is not difficult to see why. For the cultural impact alone, Making a Murderer is a necessary watch.
The Confession Tapes
The Confession Tapes, which was released in 2017 and currently has 2 seasons, follows individuals wrongly convicted of murder based solely on false confessions obtained by interrogators using devious and outdated psychological tactics.
This series will make you question 2 things.
1, The American justice system – who else has fallen through the cracks? How many innocent people are wrongly imprisoned due to unethical interrogation techniques?
And 2, this series will make you reflect and ask yourself – if I were subjected to such interrogation techniques, what would I confess to?
When They See Us
When They See Us re-enacts the notorious Central Park Jogger case of 1989. On April 19th of that year, 28-year-old jogger Trisha Meili was sexually assaulted and beaten to the point of near-death.
5 boys of African American descent aged between 14 – 16 named Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise, were taken into custody and accused of the assault.
They were tried and convicted of the crime. Their sentences ranged from 5 – 15 years.
In 2001, a convicted killer and rapist named Matias Reyes admitted that he alone committed the crime. DNA evidence backed up his claim.
In 2002, the Central Park 5 were exonerated. In 2003, the 5 sued the city on numerous ground including racial discrimination. They were awarded $41 million.
The manipulation and conviction of young African American children at the hands of a predominantly white police force and justice system force us to reflect on the role of race in a criminal conviction – an issue just as prevalent in 2019 as it was in 1989.
The story of Amanda Knox has it all – a beautiful, foreign student (so beautiful in fact she was dubbed ‘Foxy Knoxy’ by the media) starts a passionate love affair with local boy Raffaele Sollecito.
Life seemed perfect for the young exchange student – that is until her roommate was brutally murdered.
Knox discovered the body of Meredith Kercher on November 1st, 2007. Several trials, acquittals, and 4 years behind bars later, this documentary examines the life of Amanda Knox and her fight to prove her innocence.
If you feel like laying on the sofa and immersing yourself in a soap opera-like narrative involving sex, scandal, and two people struggling to prove their innocence in both a legal court and the court of public opinion – this is the Netflix original is definitely for you.
This documentary follows the highly publicized Brian Wells case of 2003 – or, the “collar bomb” case as it has become widely known.
According to some, Wells, a pizza delivery driver, was abducted and a bomb was placed around his neck. He was then instructed to rob a bank through a series of scavenger hunt clues.
He followed these instructions and robbed PNC Bank – however, 911 was called by a bystander. He was promptly arrested and, whilst surrounded by police, the bomb exploded and killed Wells.
Alternatively, according to the FBI Wells had a hand in planning these events – however, unbeknownst to him he was betrayed and a real bomb placed around his neck.
Which version of events is true?
The death of Brian Wells is commonly regarded as;
One of the most complicated and bizarre crimes in the annals of the FBI.
And this Netflix mini-series certainly lends credence to that assertion. If you love true crime documentaries which seem stranger than fiction – you need to put Evil Genius on your watch list.
The murder of JonBenet Ramsey, which occurred on Christmas day, 1996, is one of the most notorious unsolved child murders in American history. That Christmas morning, Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet’s mother, discovered a ransom note which claimed JonBenet was taken and demanding payment for her return.
Police were called and the family separated to search for evidence – JonBenet’s body was discovered by her father, John Ramsey, in the families basement. According to her death certificate, she perished due to;
Asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma
In laymen’s terms, she was strangled and her skull was fractured. No one has ever been charged with her death, though many have theories have been considered – including her parents, her 4-year-old brother, and a paedophilic attack.
Casting JonBenet retells the JonBenet’s murder in an incredibly unusual way – by interviewing and casting actors in a fictional film.
This abstract and unusual narrative is a refreshing take on the traditional true-crime documentary and tells one of the most well-known murders in the most unique of ways.
Conversations with a Killer: The Tapes
The Ted Bundy Tapes, which is a four-part mini-series that premiered on Netflix on January 24th, 2019, documents the heinous crimes of Bundy.
This docuseries walks us through the life and crimes of Bundy by interviewing individuals formally in his life – including friends, victims, and of course Bundy himself, who offers his perspective whilst sitting on death row.
If you are someone who loves delving deep into the psychological complexities of the murderous mind, this is the documentary for you.
In The Bundy Tapes, the mind of one of the most terrifying and cold-hearted killers of the 20th century unravel before us as he reveals his point of view and outlines the motivations of his attacks.
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann
In 2007, and whilst on holiday in Portugal, Scottish toddler Madeleine McCann vanished from the hotel room she shared with her parents and her younger twin siblings.
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann outlines the circumstances surrounding the case and offers a number of potential theories and suspects.
Everyone is scrutinized, from her somewhat negligent parents to the potentially complicit hotel staff – forcing us to once again question what happened to Madeline that fateful night.
Over a decade has passed since Madeleine’s disappearance – however, public interest has not wavered.
With new suspects and theories being brought to the forefront, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is must-watch Netflix original true crime documentary.
The Staircase, which was released on Netflix on June 8th, 2018, consists of 13 episodes following Michael Peterson and the events following the death of his wife, Katherine, who he claimed to find dead at the bottom of their staircase on December 9th, 2001.
Peterson claimed his wife accidentally fell due to her intoxication – police, however, suspected he bludgeoned her to death, most likely with a blow poke.
Suspicion over his involved in Kathleen’s death only intensified due to the revelation that a family friend, Elizabeth Ratliff, died under almost the exact circumstances – Peterson also discovered her body.
The Staircase follows Peterson over three stages of his life – his conviction, his release, and beyond.
The Staircase was directed by Oscar-winner Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and provides an incredibly in-depth look at the case (in fact, he filmed over 600 hours of footage).
So, if you love in-depth, binge-worthy content expertly directed and dripping with uncertainty and tragedy – The Staircase is the Netflix series for you.
Abducted in Plain Sight
Abducted in Plain Sight covers the tragic events of Jan Broberg Felt who, in the mid-1970s, was abducted twice by neighbour and family friend Robert B Berchtold. She was 12 and 14 years old respectively.
Berchtold, a pedophilic man in his 40’s, grew obsessed with Felt – and this documentary outlines the extreme length he took to ensure she was his.
Sexual manipulation, blackmail, brainwashing, and an outlandish story detailing aliens who need the offspring of the abductor and abducted to survive to make up part of this bafflingly heart-breaking story.
The Netflix original Abducted in Plain Sight took the world by storm earlier this year – and for good reason. With a crime narrative ripped straight from an outlandish noir thriller, this bizarre and almost unbelievable events will have viewers on the edge of their seats and shaking their heads in disbelief – or, as one critic puts it;
“If this were fiction I’d have called it far fetched, but this is all too real.”
This is our list of 10 of the most addictive crime documentaries you must watch on Netflix. We hope you found our list intriguing and maybe found some new ones to add to your crime documentary watch list.
Hi there! I’m Heather and I’m a recent graduate achieving the title of Master of Arts with Honours in English and Film Studies. Along with my degree, I have acquired a HNC in the Social Sciences. In my free time I love to cuddle with my dog and immerse myself in all things True Crime and I am the new Crime Writer here at iTHINK Magazine.
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