17 Incredible True Crime Documentaries You Can Stream Online This Weekend
Finished with <em>Making A Murderer</em>? Seen every episode of your favorite ID shows? Desperate for something to watch to fill the hole in your true crime-loving heart? Don't worry, here are 17 amazing documentaries about real-life court cases that shocked, rocked and terrified the nation.
1. Paradise Lost 1-3 (1996, 2000, 2011)
The Case: Filming on what would become a three-part documentary series began just a few weeks after the bodies of three eight-year-old boys were found in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. The first film takes a look at the faulty police investigation into the three teenage boys – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley, best known as the West Memphis 3 -- who end up being convicted of what the police and prosecution called a Satanic cult killing. Parts two and three continue to follow the case as the defense tries to prove their innocence, right up until -- spoiler alert! -- their release on an Alford Plea in 2011, a deal that might not have happened if not for the attention the <em>Paradise Lost </em>films brought to the case.
2. West Of Memphis (2012)
The Case: If you still can't get enough of the West Memphis 3, the Peter Jackson-produced <em>West of Memphis </em>is a must watch, especially because of its focus on the defense's efforts to find new evidence to exonerate Echols (who was sentenced to death), Baldwin and Misskelley (both sentenced to life in prison) before it's too late. The documentary also proposes a new theory about who killed the three children -- someone who will be very familiar to <em>Paradise Lost </em>viewers.
Watch On: Amazon
3. The Thin Blue Line
The Case: Directed by the legendary Errol <del>Flynn</del> Morris, <em>The Thin Blue Line </em>examines the wrongful conviction of Randall Adams for the 1976 murder of a Dallas police officer. Adams was implicated in the murder by 16-year-old David Harris, a juvenile delinquent who gave Adams a ride after his car ran out of gas the day of the murder. Though there was much more evidence pointing to Harris, the Dallas prosecutor charged Adams instead because he was an adult and could be sentenced to the death penalty if convicted.
4. The Staircase (2004)
The Case: In 2001, best-selling author Michael Peterson was arrested for the murder of his wife Kathleen, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple's Durham, North Carolina home. The prosecution argued that Peterson was having extramarital affairs with men and women, and that he beat his wife to death when she found out. Peterson -- who claimed that he and Kathleen had an open marriage -- claimed that his marriage was a happy one and that he had no idea how she had died, though the defense argued that she had likely fallen down the stairs. This eight-part documentary series is an in depth look at Peterson's side of the story, as he spares no expense in trying to prove his innocence in a town that was desperate to convict him. (Don't miss the two part followup released in 2013.)
Watch On: DocClub
5. Into The Abyss (2011
The Case: Legendary director Werner Herzog documented the final days of convicted murderer Michael Perry, who was executed in 2010 for the murder of three people in Conroe, Texas. <em>Into The Abyss</em> (which was financed by Investigation Discovery) does not focus on Perry's guilt or innocence, though there are many interviews with the victims' loved ones and law enforcement, not to mention Perry himself; instead, the critically acclaimed documentary serves as an indictment of the death penalty, featuring absolutely soul-crushing interviews with a priest who delivers last rites to death row prisoners, and a former executioner turned anti-death penalty activist.
6. The Central Park 5 (2012)
The Case: In 1990, five teenagers – four of them black, and one of Latino descent -- were convicted in the brutal rape of a woman in New York City's Central Park in 1988. In 2002, a man named Matias Reyes came forward and DNA confirmed his involvement in the rape. While the statute of limitations had passed so he couldn't be charged, the Central Park 5's convictions were vacated and those who were still serving time were released from prison. Directed by Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah, <em>The Central Park 5 </em>looks at how the five juveniles each came to offer a false confession that was later retracted, and raises serious questions about the NYPD's failure to link Reyes to the crime right away.
7. The Imposter (2012)
The Case: Now here's something a little different and totally creepy.This film is about French <a title="Confidence trick" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence_trick">confidence trickster</a> <a title="Frédéric Bourdin" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Bourdin">Frédéric Bourdin</a> who, in 1997, impersonated a teenager named Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared in 1994 when he was 13. Despite being <em>much </em>older than Barclay's age of 17, not to mention bearing no real resemblance to him, Bourdin still seemingly fooled Barclay's own family members into believing he was their long lost Nicholas. How? Why? Well ... that's the mystery.
8. There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2011)
The Case: In 2009, Diane Schuler drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in New York and crashed head-on into an SUV, killing herself and seven others, including Schuler's son, daughter and three nieces. Toxicology tests revealed that Schuler was intoxicated on both alcohol and marijuana at the time of the crash -- but her husband, who saw Schuler before she left and said she was fine, insists she did not abuse drugs or alcohol. This film contrasts the media portrayal of Schuler as an irresponsible drunk with. the loving wife and mother her family knew her to be, in an attempt to solve this tragic mystery.
9. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
The Case: Now here's a tearjerker. In 2001, Andrew Bagby was murdered by his girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner, after he ended their often difficult relationship. A few months later, Turner found out she was pregnant and later gave birth to Bagby's son, Zachary. Turner was eventually imprisoned for the murder, and Bagby's parents were awarded custody of the boy. Kurt Kuenne was Bagby's best friend, and he started to film <em>Dear Zachary </em>as loving tribute to the child's father, featuring interviews with family members and friends -- but, unfortunately, this tragedy was far from over. Bring the tissues for this one, let's put it that way.
10. Southwest of Salem<em> (2016)
The Case: After being wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two little girls during the Satanic Panic witchhunt era of the 80s and 90s, four Latina lesbians fight against mythology, homophobia, and prosecutorial fervor in their struggle for exoneration in this riveting 'True Crime' tale.
Watch On: ID Go
11. Capturing The Friedmans (2003)
The Case: This documentary by Andrew Jarecki explores the child sexual abuse accusations leveled against Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse in the 1980s, using home videos the Friedmans made to document their home life as they prepared for trial. The movie prompts questions about the veracity of some of the claims and the Friedmans' confessions, though the answers are hauntingly ambiguous. It's an unpleasant subject, to be sure, but an exceptional documentary overall.
Watch On: YouTube
12: The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015)
The Case: Here's another Andrew Jarecki documentary, this time about accused murder Robert Durst, who initially inspired Jarecki's feature film "All Good Things." Durst liked the film so much that he called Jarecki and volunteered to do an interview; "The Jinx" is the result of 20 hours worth of conversation over a couple years. The six-part series explores the mysterious disappearance of Durst's wife Kathie in 1982, the execution-style murder of his close friend Susan Berman in 2000, and the death and dismemberment of Durst's neighbor in 2001, culminating in a final few minutes that must be seen and heard to be believed.
Watch on: HBO
13. Cropsey (2009)
The Case: A documentary with a dash of horror, this film is at first about a mythical bogeyman in New York and then transitions into the real tale of convicted child kidnapper Andre Rand and the disappearance of five children.
14. The Trials Of Darryl Hunt (2006)
The Case: In 1984, Darryl Hunt, a Black man from North Carolina, was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a young white woman, and then later exonerated by DNA evidence, resulting in his release from prison after 19 years. This independently produced film is about the tenacity of Hunt, his wife and his supporters as he fought to prove his innocence, as well as the role that racism played in his conviction.
Watch On: iTunes
15. Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001)
The Case: Directed by France's <a title="Jean-Xavier de Lestrade" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Xavier_de_Lestrade">Jean-Xavier de Lestrade</a> – who also directed <em>The Staircase </em>– this Academy Award-winning documentary is about the case of Brenton Butler, who, at age 15, was charged with the murder of two tourists in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2000. While in custody, Butler confessed to the crime, but when the case went to trial, Butler testified he had been brutalized by the police until he falsely confessed.
Watch On: YouTube
16. The Cheshire Murders (2013)
The Case: In 2007, in a quiet suburb of Connecticut, Jennifer Petit and her two daughters were brutally raped and murdered in a terrifying home invasion and arson fire. The patriarch of the family, Dr. William Petit, barely escaped with his life. The film explores the details of the horrific crime and reveals details about the sloppy police investigation, indicating their deaths could have been prevented.
17. Captivated: The Trials Of Pamela Smart (2014)
The Case: In 1990, Pamela Smart was convicted of conspiring with her teenage lover and two of his friends to murder her husband, in one of the first publicly televised trials in the United States. The case served as the inspiration for multiple movies, including Gus Van Sant's <em>To Die For, </em>starring Nicole Kidman, and books, and was a featured subject on numerous daytime television shows like <em>Geraldo. </em>But Smart, while she admits to having an affair with 15-year-old Billy Flynn, has long maintained that she had nothing to do with her husband's death. This film looks at how the media's exploitative coverage of the case the jury's guilty verdict.