Film & TV
Here at The Lineup, we’re always on the hunt for killer true crime documentaries. Not just the docs that everyone else has seen, but the little-known titles and the tragically overlooked gems.
So we dug through the depths of Netflix to find the best true crime documentaries you need to watch right now. What are you waiting for? Grab the remote and get your fix.
Note: This article covers titles available to U.S. Netflix users.
The Keepers (2017)
Who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik is the question that begins Netflix’s newest true crime docu-series, The Keepers. But as any professional binge-watcher knows, the real story is much darker and far more complicated than that. The Keepers has it all—abuse, religion, history, murder, family secrets, conspiracy, and a decades-old cold case. Throw in some dedicated amateur sleuths who will stop at nothing to discover the truth of what happened to their beloved teacher and you’ll see an obsession in your future.
Casting JonBenet (2017)
This unusual documentary about the unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey approaches its subject through the lens of casting a fictional film on the case. Director Kitty Green interviews actors from the place of the crime, Boulder, Colorado, in the form of auditions for the main players of the story: JonBenet herself, her mother Patsy, her father John, and more. Through their auditions, the actors reveal their thoughts on the case, creating a compelling portrait of the lasting impact of JonBenet’s murder on the Boulder community and on society in general.
Who Took Johnny? (2014)
The disappearance of Johnny Gosch is nearly too strange and tragic to believe. Johnny, a 12-year-old paperboy, disappeared on his route in Des Moines early one morning in 1982. The case went cold, despite the disappearance of a second paperboy two years later and reports of Johnny being seen in Oklahoma.
But things got really odd when Noreen, Johnny’s mother, claimed she was visited by Johnny in 1997, accompanied by a strange man who wouldn’t let him speak about where he had been. This 2014 documentary follows Noreen’s ongoing search for Johnny and puts forth fascinating (and terrifying) theories about his disappearance.
The Fear of 13 (2015)
Being sentenced for 105 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is beyond nightmarish. But that’s exactly what happened to Nick Yarris, who was convicted of murder and sat on death row for 21 years before DNA evidence vindicated him in 2004. The Fear of 13 is Nick’s story, narrated by him and featuring only him, in a unique one-man-show.
The Karma Killings (2016)
Between 2005 and 2006, children simply started disappearing in Nithari, India, a suburb of New Delhi. As many as 15 children vanished during this period. The police traced the disappearances back to one house, and the man who lived there confessed that he cut them up and cooked them for dinner. The horrific crime saturated India’s media, where the case seemed to grow larger and more complicated by the day. The police were accused of being involved inciting class violence and demands for justice. The lurid story of these murders is traced in The Karma Killings.
Team Foxcatcher (2016)
If you saw 2014’s Foxcatcher, starring Channing Tatum and Steve Carrell, you’ll be familiar with the rise and fall of the very wealthy and very eccentric John E. du Pont. It was du Pont’s dream to build an American Olympic wrestling team that would dominate the sport. He brought several athletes to live and train in his state-of-the-art gym on his sprawling family farm. But somehow du Pont’s dreams ended in cold-blooded murder—it was a tragic, seemingly senseless crime that few could have anticipated.
Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1993) and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)
Filmmaker Nick Broomfield’s journey to interview Aileen Wuornos, one of America’s most notorious female serial killers, is the subject of this 1993 feature. The documentary chronicles Wuornos’s trials and tribulations through the legal system, most notably, the lack of support she received from her original attorney.
Ten years later, in 2003, Broomfield returned to Wuornos as a subject in Life and Death of a Serial Killer, which follows the events leading up to Wuornos’s execution in 2002. Charlize Theron, for her preparation to play Wuornos in the film Monster, used the interview footage from both documentaries to get a sense of her mannerisms and personality.
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The Tower (2016)
Using rotoscopic animation and narration from the surviving victims, The Tower recreates the events of August 1, 1966, when a lone sniper went up to the clocktower on the University of Texas at Austin campus and started firing at random. By the end of his rampage, 16 people were killed and several dozen were wounded. The animation makes it feel like you are watching these events unfold in real time. The Tower is one of the most compelling movies of 2016, regardless of genre.
This heartbreaking documentary released in 2016 covers the difficult terrain of the Newtown Massacre on December 14, 2012, when 20 elementary school students and six of their teachers were murdered by gunman Adam Lanza. With the cooperation of several of the victims’ families, filmmaker Kim A. Snyder paints a searing portrait of grief and anger at the system that led to this horrific event.
Whitey: United States of America v. James L. Bulger (2014)
If you’re fascinated by organized crime, you’ll love this true crime documentary on Whitey Bulger, now serving two life sentences for racketeering and eleven counts of murder after a prolific life of crime. According to the FBI, Bulger worked as an informant for them beginning in 1975, a claim Bulger denies. This true crime documentary chronicles the long and winding road to bring one of America’s most notorious gangsters to justice.
The Seven Five (2014)
New York City was not the most pleasant place to live in the 1980s. It was the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, crime was at an all-time high—and criminal activity had seeped into the ranks of the New York City police department. NYPD officer Michael Dowd worked in the city’s 75th precinct for 10 years, running drug deals and accepting bribes. His arrest and subsequent trial led to one of the largest scandals in NYPD history, revealing dozens of crooked cops in its wake.
A Murder in the Park (2014)
There have been plenty of documentaries about wrongful conviction, a hot-button issue in the American criminal justice system. But what if the person released may have actually committed the crime? A Murder in the Park explores the other side of the coin with the story of Anthony Porter. Porter was convicted of murdering two people in 1982. His conviction was then overturned due to the work of a Northwestern professor and his students. Soon though, many of the Northwestern class’s claims would be called into question. This disturbing and overlooked documentary is a fascinating account of a deeply complex case.
My Friend Rockefeller (2015)
The cons to end all cons was pulled by a man named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter—though you may know him as your friend, Rockefeller. In addition to masquerading as a member of New York’s storied Rockefeller family, Gerhartsreiter had five other identities he used in the decades before his capture. When his wife grew suspicious, the whole show unraveled, revealing a long list of people he’d victimized over the years. Not even the FBI could believe the lengths to which he’d gone to make a fraudulent life for himself. And, yes, those lengths included murder.
Shadow of Truth (2016)
Thirteen-year-old Tair Rada was found brutally murdered on a cold December day in 2006. Her body had been stuffed inside a locked bathroom stall at her school in Israel. Her murder rocked the community, leaving children afraid to attend school. Just a week later, a Ukrainian immigrant named Roman Zadorov was arrested and confessed to Tair’s murder. But Zadorov’s confession was just the beginning of the mystery of Tair’s death. Many things just didn’t add up, from DNA evidence to other possible suspects, leading many to believe that Zadorov may have been wrongfully convicted.
Dear Zachary (2008)
There are plenty of shocking true crime documentaries out there. But the intense personal element to Dear Zachary makes it one of the most heartbreaking movies you’ll ever see. Kurt Kuenne set out to make a documentary about his friend Andrew Bagby, so that his infant son might someday get to know him. Bagby was murdered in 2001, before his son was born. But just when you think you’ve grasped the tragedy at the heart of Dear Zachary, the documentary hits you with a devastating and unimaginable twist.
Featured photo via Netflix