As a society, we’re fascinated with crimes. The news cycle thrives on crimes that feature bizarre perspectives and circumstances. Better than simple new stories are documentaries looking into crimes like these, talking with those involved in the crimes and the court cases that follow to shed more light and understanding on events that fascinate society. For those looking to dig into more documentaries true crimes and criminals, Netflix is the place to be.
Recently, Netflix unveiled Making a Murderer, the tale of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin resident who was exonerated after spending 18 years in prison for the brutal sexual assault of a young woman, only to be charged with rape and murder a few years after his release, under suspicious circumstances. But that's not the only true crime documentary on the streaming service.
To help you along the way, here’s a list of the 10 Best True Crime Documentaries on Netflix. It’s a mix of long form series and shorter, more intimate films about the cases and the people involved.
10 Cropsey (2009)
Starting out as a look into “Cropsey,” a sort of boogey man figure in New York urban legend, this film by friends Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio soon segues into a look at several missing child cases and the story of convicted child kidnapper Andre Rand. It ties together both the urban legend of Cropsey and multiple cases into an overarching narrative, while also focusing on Staten Island’s obsession with Rand’s case.
Despite several letters back and forth, the filmmakers were never able to get Rand to agree to speak to them. What they put to film is something that is possibly more horrible than the urban legend that the movie takes its name from.
9 Shenandoah (1965)
A struggling, working-class coal mining town is set ablaze when four of the star high school football players are charged with the beating death of Luis Ramirez, an illegal Mexican immigrant. Focusing on the racial tensions and how the town protects their own despite the horror of their actions, this movie is terrifying look into the lengths a struggling town will go to to keep its own identity and protect what it feels is the American dream.
Focusing less on the actual trial and crime than many on this list, the film is still worthwhile in the way it touches on personal nature of the crime and the town’s reaction
8 Brother’s Keeper (1992)
In a rural community near Syracuse, New York, four brothers lived together in a dilapidated house: William, Delbert, Lyman, and Roscoe Ward. Barely literate and with no formal education, the four lived on and farmed land that had been in their family for generations. One day, William would be found dead, with Delbert accused of killing him, most likely by smothering. Originally theorized as a “mercy killing” to put William out of his misery after a period of declining health, the case would draw large media attention after semen was found on Williams clothes and leg, leading some to say that it was a case of “sex gone bad.”
The films touches on how the media both flocked to the town during the case and how the media set the Ward brothers as rural people, called simple country folk by those who knew them, apart from those who lived in larger cities, who saw the Wards as uneducated hicks.
7 Prince of Pennsylvania (2015)
Focusing on the murder of Dave Schultz by John du Pont, this film provides new testimony and interviews about the tragic murder that struck down one of the greatest American wrestlers. For wrestlers in the 1980s and 1990s, the place to be was du Pont’s person training camp, dubbed “Team Foxcatcher.” Along with du Pont’s wealth backing them, wrestlers a part of Foxcatcher also got to train with two of the best wrestlers in the world, Dave and Mark Schultz.
While the relationship between the Schultz brothers and du Pont was strained at times, no one could imagine that it would end in the murder of Dave by du Pont, who killed him by shooting him in chest multiple times. These events were recently mined in the film Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carrell as du Pont, and Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as the Schultz brothers.
6 the Thin Blue Line (1988)
In 1976, after running out of gas on his way home from work in Dallas, Texas, Randall Adams was offered a ride by 16-year-old David Harris, who was driving a car stolen from his neighbor. The two would end up spending the day together; smoking, drinking, and eventually going to see a movie. Around midnight, the two were stopped by a police officer because their lights weren’t on. As the officer approached, someone in the car shot and killed him.
The police investigation would lead back to Harris, who had told friends he was responsible for the murder after returning home. Harris would accuse Adams of the crime, and Adams would be charged with murder despite the evidence against Harris. Many involved in the case felt that Adams was convicted because he could be given the death penalty, while Harris, a minor, couldn’t. A year after the film was released, Adams would have his case reviewed and he would be released from prison.
5 The Imposter (2012)
The Imposter focuses on the case of Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared in 1994, and the man who would come forward in 1997 claiming to be him. This man, Frederic Bourdin, was able to convince Barclay’s family that he was their loved one, despite having a French accent, brown eyes instead of blue, and being seven years older than Barclay actually was. Bourdin would live with the Barclay family for several months before finally being unmasked by a suspicious private investigator.
The film features interview with Bourdin and various other people involved, going into detail with Bourdin on the various stages of the impersonation.
4 Benji (2012)
In 1984, ESPN had rated Benji Wilson as the best high school basketball player in the country. Returning his senior year to help his school defend a state title, Benji looked to have a bright future ahead of him. The day before his senior season began, Wilson was shot during an altercation with other Chicago youth. He would die the next day. His death would lead to an almost immediate decline in city homicide rates due to renewed activism and public awareness.
As part of the film, many of Wilson’s classmates were interviewed, including future NBA star Nick Anderson and singers Common and R. Kelly.
3 The Central Park Five (2012)
This film, directed by Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns, along with David McMahon, follows one of the biggest cases of the 1980s: the assault, rape, and sodomy of Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. While a group of five juveniles were convicted of the crimes, a serial rapist already serving a life sentence, Matias Reyes, would later confess to the crimes and be linked to the crimes with DNA evidence. The group of original convicts, now having each served several years in prison for a crime they seemingly didn’t commit, would sue New York State for emotional distress, malicious prosecution, and racial discrimination.
After years of stalling, New York state would settle with the group for 41 million dollars. The film originally came to be as an extension of Sarah Burns’ undergraduate thesis about racism in the media coverage of the event.
2 Dear Zachary (2008)
After Andrew Bagby was killed by his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner, Bagby’s best friend Kurt Kuenne began to make a movie about his life. While awaiting charges, Turner revealed she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, so Kuenne began to make the project more about a video scrapbook to the child, Zachary, about who his father was. Over the course of the making of the film, Zachary would be born, his mother released on bail, and Shirley killing herself and Zachary in a murder-suicide. What began as a film about a friend’s life would morph into a heartbreaking true crime documentary that ended in terrible tragedy.
Zachary’s death would lead to Canadian lawmakers considering a bill, commonly called Zachary’s Bill, that urged judicial officials to keep a child’s safety as a prime motivator when deciding on bail arrangements. Seven years after Zachary’s death, the bill would finally be signed into Law.
1 Making A Murderer (2015)
Filmed over ten years, Making a Murderer follows Stephen Avery, a Wisconsin man who was convicted for sexual assault and attempted murder of a woman. After 18 years, Avery would be released as DNA testing would prove that he wasn’t involved in the sexual assault and was wrongly convicted for the crimes. After being released from prison, Avery would sue the county where he was convicted, along with the former sheriff and former district attorney. While this case was pending, Avery would be charged and convicted for the murder of another woman. Making a Murderer follows the course of both of Avery’s convictions, and how the pressure to make him lose the civil case may have led to his conviction of the later murder.
Since its release on Netflix, the show has led to many to call into question how valid Avery’s second conviction was. Petitions have been started to get the case reopened, along with members of the Innocence Project reportedly looking into certain aspects of Avery’s case.
Are there any other true crime docs on Netflix that we should be watching? Let us know in the comments!