Crime docu-series are all the rage—no pun intended—right now. The Keepers, released on Netflix in 2017, is one of the most talked about crime documentaries. The Baltimore nun’s mysterious unsolved murder evolves into a much larger story about corruption within the Catholic Church. Divvied up into six episodes, The Keepers explores not only the crime itself, but gives an in-depth look at what goes on behind closed (church) doors and questions who killed Sister Catherine Cesnik—and what secrets she took to the grave.
However, not all crime documentaries are made equal. Satiate your morbid curiosities with true crime documentaries ranging from unsolved murders to terrifying urban legends. Double lock your doors before pressing play on these stand-out documentaries that offer a peek into truly evil minds behind some of the most heinous crimes.
10 The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst
The truth can be stranger than fiction and, in the case of Robert Durst, almost unbelievable. The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst is a six-episode series chronicling the life of Robert Alan Durst, including hours of interview footage with the man, himself—a particularly exceptional feat given how uncooperative he’s been with journalists in the past.
Durst, a millionaire many times over, is suspected of murdering three individuals in three different states: New York, California, and Texas. Born into wealth as the son of NYC real estate investor Seymour Durst, Robert exhibited strange behavior early on in life, and, it’s safe to say, he’s since gotten much, much stranger.
The Jinx mini-series splices real case evidence, including key pieces currently in use for Durst’s upcoming trial for the murder of writer Susan Berman. The hours of interviews with the oddball murderer will leave you scratching your head and the groundbreaking revelations will have you double-locking your doors.
Robert Durst is certainly a man of many faces and The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst exposes them all.
9 The Witness
In March 1964, a young woman was raped and stabbed to death in New York City. Easily one of the most famous crimes in modern American history, Kitty Genovese’s murder—and the 38 witnesses who heard her 30-minute attack and did nothing to help—still sparks polarizing debates and continues to be researched by psychologists and sociologists around the world.Narrated by her younger brother, William Genovese, The Witness investigates the crime that gripped the nation and put a name and face to “the bystander effect,” and, in doing so, exposes bombshells The New York Times’ would have preferred to have left in the past. If you think you know one of America’s most chilling crime stories—you’re wrong.
8 Josef Fritzl: Story Of A Monster
Josef Fritzl: Story of a Monster exposes a crime is as horrible as it is mind-boggling—a jarring reminder that the evilest monsters are real. Chronicling the decades of sexual, physical, and mental abuse taking place just below the surface, the documentary gives viewers an unvarnished look into the life and mind of a truly heinous man.
When his daughter, Elisabeth, turned 18, Fritzl secreted her away beneath the family home in a custom-made dungeon for 24 years. Forced to live in a damp, windowless cement vault, Elisabeth was repeatedly sexually abused by her father—and as a result, birthed seven children. Relaying Elisabeth’s nightmare through interviews with doctors and Fritzl’s family members, Josef Fritzl: Story of a Monster will make you second guess human nature, how well you know your neighbors, and what it truly means to be evil.
7 Child Of Rage
Compiled from real footage of Dr. Ken Magid’s interviews with young children whose trauma during their early stage of life is so severe they cannot form healthy bonds with other people Child of Rage is an unfiltered view into the violent and disturbed mind of six-year-old Beth.
The interview, which comprises most of the 30-minute video, is both gripping and terrifying as Beth shares her murderous urges without hesitation and openly admits to hoarding knives with intent to kill her adoptive parents. The juxtaposition of the six-year-old's vocabulary, for example using “boo boo” in reference to the vicious assaults she inflicts on her younger brother, only serves to underscore the abuse Beth, herself, suffered at the hands of their birth father.
With the help of doctors, specialists, and a home dedicated to caring for children with such extreme trauma, the short film closes with updates on Beth’s journey and positive growth. The documentary may be short, but you’ll be unpacking what you’ve watched for a long time to come.
6 Abducted In Plain Sight
Covering the kidnappings—yes, two—of Jan Broberg Felt, who was abducted by the same man, her neighbor, at 12 and 14-years-old. Felt, herself, appears in the documentary, along with her parents and siblings.
Piece by piece, Abducted in Plain Sight, reveals how the Idaho teenager ended up in the clutches of Robert Berchtold. Family man and neighbor to the Felts, Berchtold used and abused Jan’s trust right under her parent's noses.
The documentary is full of salacious and dramatic twists—making the two separate kidnappings all the more horrifying. Her parent’s failure to protect their daughter twice. Because of their mind-boggling naiveté and out of conceited self-preservation, Jan’s parents only compounded the trauma Jan experienced by welcoming Berchtold back into their lives—even after her first kidnapping. Released by Netflix in 2019, Abducted in Plain Sight will have you second-guessing your neighbors and send your mind reeling.
5 Audrie & Daisy
Audrie & Daisy tells the tragic tale of two young girls, two rapes, two closed communities, and one tragic death. Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, 15 and 14 years old, respectively, at the time of their rapes, were sexually assaulted on tape and subjected to further abuse by ruthless cyberbullies.
While Audrie Pott’s rape is given equal coverage in the documentary, unlike Daisy, Audrie does not appear on camera to share her traumatizing story. Why? Shortly after her attack, which included photographs of three 16-year-old boys graffiti-ing and sexually assaulting her while unconscious, Audrie took her own life.
Filmed over two years and chronicling the vicious assaults and painful aftermath, the documentary features interviews with Daisy, her family members, and two of the boys involved in Audrie’s attack. Audrie & Daisy is an eye-opening documentary about modern rape culture and the very real consequences of our social media-obsessed society’s condemnation of victims.
4 Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is a documentary unlike any other. When young physician Andrew Bagby was murdered by his jilted lover, his best friend and the film's director, Kurt Kuenne, traveled the nation to compile interviews from Bagby’s friends and family as a tribute of sorts. Shirley Turner, Bagby’s aforementioned ex-girlfriend, was charged with his murder. Turner, who was a Canadian citizen, skipped town and ran to St. John’s, Newfoundland. Complicating things further, Turner announced she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, Zachary.
The documentary is best watched without too much background, as the fight for Zachary—and justice—takes dramatic twists and turns. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father is heart-wrenching and infuriating, as the final, tragic twist will leave you sobbing and screaming.
3 The Imposter
Just how well do you know your family? If you went three years without seeing your son, would you recognize them? The Barclay family didn’t. In 1994, Nicholas Barclay disappeared after a basketball game with friends. Three years later, their son was found—but something wasn’t quite right.
The Imposter's prime investigation is of this warm reception. Something was off about Nicholas. In the time since his disappearance, the young man’s appearance and demeanor had drastically changed. It’s almost as if they aren’t the same person…
They aren’t. The “Nicholas” of 1997 is Frédéric Bourdin. The Imposter chronicles how and why Frédéric Bourdin—23 years old at the time—stole the boy’s identity. The grief-stricken Barclays emotional accounts are juxtaposed with interviews of Frédéric Bourdin, who is giddy with arrogance over out-smarting the press, the law, and, most disturbingly, the Barclays.
With the M. Night Shyamalan-style twists and lives layered in deceit, this documentary could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood thriller. A must-see for all crime doc fans, The Imposter begs the question: Was the Barclay family so blinded by grief they bought the con man’s rouse?
2 Thought Crimes: The Case Of The Cannibal Cop
Produced by HBO, Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop documents a groundbreaking case in which Gilberto Valle III stood accused of conspiracy to kidnap due to evidence found on his computer detailing his plans to abduct, torture, rape, and cannibalize women. The verdict? Innocent.
Though the disturbed ex-cop was found guilty, the judge in the case overturned the verdict. But, before you grab your social media pitchforks, consider this: Is Valle actually guilty of a crime? The documentary delves into the unprecedented legal issue of where describing criminal activity—however horrendous—crosses the line into criminal intent. Sure, the ex-cop’s writing is sickening, but where does it end? Should a person be punished for their thoughts before committing any criminal act?
Brace yourself for a simultaneously stomach-churning and thought-provoking ride down a slippery slope by watching this documentary with friends, as you’ll have plenty to debate by the time the credits roll.
1 Killer Legends
Researcher Rachel Mills joins director Joshua Zerman as they investigate the real-life origins behind the urban legends we tell around campfires and share at sleepovers. The duo travel to Texas, Missouri, and Illinois to investigate the veracity of The Hookman, The Candyman, The Babysitter, and the Man Upstairs, and The Killer Clown.
Killer Legends, directed by the mind behind Cropsey (another must-see urban legend expose), is gripping, fascinating, and creepy. If you’d like to continue telling yourself these monsters only exist in scary stories, you should pass on Killer Legends, because the truth is stranger—and scarier—than fiction.