Documentaries give a real life and in-depth view of famous incidents which have happened in the past. There are some incredibly well-made and acclaimed documentaries highlighting famous crimes or trials of the past, which were in the news for sometime, and even now. Most of them are pretty shocking with some gruesome or strange crimes being covered and for those who can digest them, they will certainly be a treat. Here are 10 of the crime based documentaries which are available online for viewing and are must-watch!
10. Just Melvin, Just Evil (2000)
American documentary by James Ronald Whitney about his grandfather, Melvin Just, and the devastating consequences of the sexual abuse Just inflicted on their family. It premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival and aired on HBO on April 22, 2001. The film was well received overall; critic Roger Ebert called Just, Melvin “one of the most powerful documentaries I’ve seen”. Four generations of sexual abuse, substance abuse, terrible secrets, neglect, and violence are explored in Just Melvin, Just Evil. In a large American family ravaged by alcohol and suppressed trauma, it seems that only one member “made it out”. And this man is James Ronald Whitney, who was brave enough to use this documentary as an outlet to explore his family’s history, searching for answers (and closure) to the horror suffered by himself and his relatives.
9. Cropsey (2009):
Interweaving the Staten Island urban legend of Cropsey with the real-life story of a man who was convicted of murdering one missing child, and suspected of kidnapping and presumably murdering another three children and one adult. His story dovetails perfectly with the horror story of a kidnapper living underneath an abandoned mental hospital: a real location where the body of Jennifer Schweiger was later found. A disturbing documentary where horror meets crime.
8. There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2011)
There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane is titled after the last words of one of the children killed in the crash, calling from Diane Schuler’s cell phone. The documentary examines one of the worst traffic accidents in recent history and the revelation that Schuler had high levels of alcohol and THC in her system when she drove the car down the wrong side of the freeway, eventually crashing and killing herself and seven others. As well as looking into the crash itself, and the possibility (put forward by Diane’s family) that she was not, in fact, intoxicated, the film looks at the problem of hidden alcoholism in mothers in America.
7. The Staircase (2004)
In 2001, 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. Brutal and shocking to say the least.
6. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008)
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 Dear Zachary as loving tribute to the child’s father, featuring interviews with family members and friends — but, unfortunately, this tragedy was far from over. Dear Zachary is incredibly moving, as Kuenne creates a stunning tribute to his friend at the same time as chronicling an incredible failure of the Canadian legal system to protect a truly innocent life.
5. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015)
This shocking HBO docu-series looks into the two violent deaths and one disappearance of people close to reclusive multi-millionaire Robert Durst. The film (and the crimes) span over twenty years of Durst’s life, and the documentary looks beyond that to paint a complex picture of him as a man, and a presumed murderer. A brilliant series mainly due to the ease with which it shows the two sides of the story in a good way.
4. The Central Park Five (2012)
In late 80s, Trisha Meili was brutally assaulted and raped while jogging in Central Park, five Black and Latino teenagers were convicted of the horrifying crime, despite vehemently protesting their innocence. This documentary does an incredible job of capturing the general attitude of fear in the city at the time, and a situation that led to a conviction based primarily on a desperate need to show justice being done. Exploring themes of racism and mob mentality, the film interviews the teens (now men), who spent between six and thirteen years of their lives in prison for a crime that they didn’t commit.
3. The Imposter (2012)
In 1994, a 13 year old Nicholas Barclay disappeared in Texas. Three years later, he was found in Spain. The teen was returned to his grateful family, and spent months living with them, happy to be home. However, there were some troubling issues. His coloring was off. He spoke with a French accent. His story, his personality, they didn’t add up. So, as the title states, you must have guessed it what this documentary is about. What makes the film so fascinating to watch is the exploration of why he did it (he is an active participant in the interviews), and how the Barclay family were convinced that he was their missing son, even though he was so completely different. Riveting and shocking psychological viewing.
2. Making A Murderer (2015)
Definitely the MOST popular docu-series of all time, this shocking Netflix series was filmed over a 10-year period having a look at one of the most shocking and famous legal case in US history. Making a Murderer is an unprecedented real-life thriller about Steven Avery, a DNA exoneree who, while in the midst of exposing corruption in local law enforcement, finds himself the prime suspect in a grisly new crime. Set in America’s heartland, the series takes viewers inside a high-stakes criminal case where reputation is everything and things are never as they appear. This 10-episode series is shocking, sickening and will surely give you sleepless nights!! Must must watch!
1. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hills (1996)
One of the most shocking documentaries and the one which shook me the most. Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the trials of three teenage boys in West Memphis, Arkansas for the murder and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys. Despite a lack of any significant evidence indicating that they are connected to the case at all, the three boys are charged and tried for the murders. A common theme throughout the film is the treatment of the boys based on their appearances and tastes in music, possibly as a Satanic ritual abuse. What makes this documentary shocking, are the various new revelations which appear in front of the film-makers during filming, and which probably turned the case upside down and caused a furore in the USA. The film was followed by a sequels, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000), which suggests that further evidence was missed or suppressed and attempts to prove Echols’ innocence, and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which tells the complete story of one of the most notorious child murder cases in U.S. history. Definitely my favourite.