There’s something addicting about true crime. Most of us can’t peel our eyes away from the screen when we start watching some of these documentaries, wanting to know just how these cases unraveled or were solved (or sometimes remain unsolved). We want conclusions, we want to detangle the web of intrigue and see just what happened and why in a way that’s sometimes more urgent than fictional horror movies. It’s bone-chilling to know these are true stories–and that somehow makes them all the more frightening.
If our last listicle didn’t sate you, here are even more that you can check out. 2020 has brought with it even more gripping, suspenseful titles that we just can’t stop watching until the very end. So whether it’s just a one-and-a-half-hour documentary or a docu-series you’re going to binge-watch until 3 AM, get ready. Grab that popcorn and buckle up, there are mysteries abound.
10. Strong Island
If you’re into more memoir-type documentaries that still tie in the harrowing details of a true crime story, Strong Island is for you. It delves into the death of a 24-year-old African American teacher by a car mechanic who was only 19 years old. The director is actually the brother of the deceased and he looks straight into the camera as he narrates the ordeal and what happened to his brother, making it personal, raw, and absolutely gutting. It is far removed from the often calculated and clean nature of how we discuss crime, but a very personal and very real discussion of grief and loss intercut with the facts of the case. The interviews feel unaltered and genuine, not needing that polish and the presentation of the case–with all the family members speaking up and interviewees being their sincere selves without filter–is just as important as the case itself. It’s incredibly poignant and even tear-inducing. You may need tissues.
9. Evil Genius
Evil Genius was an instant hit when it came out–and for good reason. It starts out very graphic (you’d think they’d cut that part but… no), launching you into the gruesome and intensely complex bank heist that occurred in Pennsylvania in 2003. It links several people together, all of them playing a strange part in the deadly scavenger hunt that Brian Wells, the man who pulled off the robbery but with a bomb around his neck, had to participate in. It connects a body in a freezer, a string of dead exes, and a number of people who came together to play a sick game. Evil Genius is a dizzying docu-series that demands your attention from start to finish–and it never lets up. The mystery just continues to baffle as more and more people are roped into what was seemingly a simple heist and turned out to be something even more sinister than one can imagine.
8. The Staircase
A classic case of did-he or didn’t-he, The Staircase zeroes in on the night Michael Peterson’s wife, Kathleen, died. She allegedly fell down the staircase and passed while Michael was out by the pool. He claims to not have heard anything–no fall or screams–and they even tried to test the theory by playing a recording of screaming for help while some people remained outside. This scene alone sends chills down my spine. It only gets weirder from there as they discover wounds on her that couldn’t have been sustained by a fall down the stairs. Suspicion immediately falls on Michael, whose past is slowly revealed. It’s a whopping 13 episodes that slowly rolls out the facts, the confusion, and the mysteries.
7. The Pharmacist
The Pharmacist is interesting as it’s an ordinary citizen, not anyone on the police force or a detective, who uncovers illegal activity and the death of his son. This four-episode thriller follows Dan Schneider, a pharmacist, whose son is killed while trying to procure crack cocaine. Upset at the investigation efforts, he takes things into his own hands and finds his son’s alleged killer. But he doesn’t’ stop there. His paranoia leads him to follow other leads, taking a look into opioid addiction. He uncovers frightening truths, all on his own, despite the tension within the rest of his family because of how invested he became in the case. It’s haunting and it really shows the bigger picture.
6. Shadow of Truth
Shadow of Truth is an Israeli documentary that attempts to probe at the murder of Tair Rada, a 13-year-old schoolgirl whose body was found in a school bathroom. In the four episodes of the docu-series, fingers are pointed in different directions, including a bizarre confession despite the police already making an arrest, as well as a chilling conspiracy that it might have been her classmates who carried out the murder. It’s paced well despite the dizzying shifts of who did it and who’s really innocent. And conspiracy theories always make things a little more intriguing. It’s been lauded in Israel as one of the best documentaries and subsequently debuted on Netflix, too.
5. Beware the Slenderman
Slenderman has been an urban legend for a while now, a tall, lanky figure that wears a suit and has no face. He’s haunted stories for years, scaring children and adults alike. There was even a game that was based on the legend. Some people took his existence incredibly seriously–but two young girls took it much too far. 12-year-olds Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser entered the forest with their best friend Payton Leutner but only Weier and Geyser emerged. They had stabbed Payton over and over in order to appease the Slenderman, the internet phenomenon that’s been haunting internet forums and Youtube for over a century now. They were only caught because Payton was able to survive the stabbings, crawling out of the forest to ask for help. The documentary looks into the psychological aspects of the killings, the urban legend that is Slenderman (as well as alleged sightings, Youtube videos like “Marble Hornets,” as well as other creepypasta that discuss how he often preys on children. With interviews from the families and a look into who had power over who (apparently Anissa had egged Morgan on and Morgan apologized before stabbing Payton), it’s an unsettling look into childhood violence. It attempts to pry into what could have caused this, but it doesn’t directly diagnose, which makes it palatable as it doesn’t point fingers to obvious answers like internet usage or bad parenting. It’s almost hard to believe and even harder to swallow.
4. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark follows late author Michelle McNamara in her dedicated search for the Golden Coast Killer, a serial rapist and murderer. She’d dedicated her life to not just writing about it, but to trying to solve who it is altogether. In her book, she lays out the facts of the cases and murder, her research intensely comprehensive. This, however, took a toll on her, understandably. She would have nightmares and felt overwhelmed by all the grisly stories as she continued to track him down. In a surprisingly touching, very human documentary, her loved ones recount her life. She, unfortunately, overused the medication she used in order to keep her stress levels down, the nightmares became too much for her. Her husband and her loved ones remember her and her life as she tried to solve the case on her own. It’s touching and a good change of pace as compared to other true crime documentaries.
3. The Confession Killer
Henry Lee Lucas, when acquitted for the murder of his girlfriend and landlady (and even his mother), began to confess, saying: “What about the 100 other women I killed?” This caused an uproar in police stations all over the country, having them pin him as their lead after not having any for years. They closed cases and brought closure to many families. However, he began to confess to more and more–150, 200, even over 600 murders, the numbers always fluctuating and people began to doubt. It’s a tale that becomes so confusing, having detectives and the media scramble for the truth. Lucas remained locked up but was treated with some leniency for talking, even if there were obvious discrepancies in his stories and confessions. To this day, families suffer because of his false confessions, as if reopening a wound they thought had already closed.
2. Long Shot
Long Shot has Juan Catalan, a regular young father, having to prove that he wasn’t a murderer as he was caught up in the ninth inning of a Dodgers baseball game. In usual talking head fashion, the facts of the case and murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla. A witness even places him at the scene of the crime. Death row was in his future when an unlikely video surfaces that proves that he was, indeed, there at the game–and you’ll never guess who the video comes from. It’s suspenseful but straightforward, making for an interesting watch.
1. American Murder: The Family Next Door
This documentary truly blew up, with people sharing the Facebook photos of the Watts family in the documentary. A seemingly normal, loving family unravels as Shanann Watts, pregnant with their third child, and their two daughters Bella and Celeste went missing. Father Chris Watts publicly called for them to come home, wherever they were, painting him as a grieving father and husband until it was later revealed that he may have killed them. In a flurry of text messages, video footage, and infidelity, this documentary is gripping from start to finish.
Which one are you watching first? Let us know!
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