1. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
The brutal 1993 murder of three young boys shocked the community of West Memphis, Arkansas—a crime made all the more scandalous by whispers that the slayings were satanic in nature. A trio of local teens were singled out and accused of the crime. The prosecution stressed the possibility that the accussed had slaughtered their victims as part of devil worship. All three were convicted and one received the death penalty. Despite this swift judgement, multiple individuals, including documentarians Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger, remained unconvinced by the court ruling. They believed the teens were innocent, and that their convictions had far more to do with small town mistrust and shoddy investigative work rather than cold, hard evidence. So the filmmakers set out to document the case. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is the first entry in what became a three-part series, exploring the trials and tribulations of the so-called West Memphis Three.
2. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
may be best known as the real-life inspiration behind Charlize Theron’s Academy Award-winning performance in the film Monster. Yet there's far more to Wuornos' life and death than what was depicted in the Hollywood biopic. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield seeks to unpack the killer's story and disentangle it from fiction in this in-depth documentary, along with its predecessor, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer.
3. The Witness
The 1964 slaying of Kitty Genovese seized headlines across the nation when it was reported that multiple people had witnessed the murder, yet did nothing to help—a report that later turned out to be exaggerated. Over 50 years later, filmmaker James Solomon documents Kitty’s brother, Bill, as he searches for the truth behind his sister's notorious murder, all while celebrating her life.
4. Into the Abyss
Werner Herzog trains his eye on capital punishment in this harrowing portrait of a triple homicide in Texas and the final days of Michael Perry, a death row inmate and one of the two men convicted of the slayings. Whether you support capital punishment or oppose it, Herzog's Into the Abyss is essential viewing for anyone interested in true crime.
5. Dear Zachary
Dear Zachary remains one of the most haunting true crime documentaries released in recent years, due both to its inventive structure and the utterly devestating story that it tells. In truth, the less you know about the film the better. Just understand that once you see it, you'll never forget it.
6. The Thin Blue Line
Considered by many to be the one of best and most important true crime documentaries ever made, The Thin Blue Lineargues the case for the innocence of a man who had been sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. The wrongly-accused man was released from prison a year after the documentary was released.
7. Brother’s Keeper
The Ward brothers, semi-literate farmers, lived on the outskirts of society in Upstate New York. When one of the brothers was found dead in 1990, and another brother stood accused of murdering him, the press flooded the scene, determined to paint the Wards as dangerous hicks. Despite their estrangement from the rest of the community, however, the Wards were staunchly defended by locals, who were resentful of the higher-ups invading their town, and—rightfully—suspicious of the Wards’ treatment at the hands of the (non-local) police.
8. Capturing the Friedmans
A typical Long Island family comes apart at the seams when the father and one of the sons are charged with child molestation. After a stash of child pornography is found in the Friedman home, the authorities worry that Arnold Friedman, who taught computer classes to children out of his home for years, may have been abusing them. Told in part through home videos the Friedmans took while Arnold and son Jesse awaited trial, Capturing the Friedmans is a deeply unsettling look into the psyche of a family in crisis, and the ease with which quests for justice are corrupted.
9. Crazy Love
10. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations With a Killer
This is the first in a documentary trilogy produced by HBO, about the notorious mafia hit man, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski. In a series of interviews recorded behind the walls of the prison where he was serving double life sentences, Kuklinski looks back on his shocking double life: as devoted family man on one hand, and a cold-blooded killer on the other.
11. Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere
Author Poe Ballentine attempts to solve a horrific and bizarre crime committed in his isolated Nebraska community. A local mathematics professor goes missing, and is later found tied to a tree, his body burned almost beyond recognition. Ballentine investigates the heinous murder, reflecting on his own life along the way.
12. The House of Suh
The Suh family seemed to be living the American Dream. Yoon Myung and Tai Sook Suh had immigrated to the United States from Korea to provide a better life for their children, Catherine and Andrew. The Suh siblings, however, were anything but well-adjusted: brother and sister conspired to murder Catherine’s boyfriend. This documentary revisits the shocking case over a decade later, revealing a portrait of a deeply troubled family, and raising questions about the clash between traditional values and cultural assimilation.
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