7 True Crime Docs You Should Stream Right Now

One of the greatest takeaways from 2017—if, indeed, any such takeaway could be considered “great”—is that real life can be much more frightening than anything Hollywood could ever conjure. Maybe that’s one way to explain the public’s rabid fascination with all things true crime-related. From podcasts like Serial to docuseries like Making a Murderer, audiences are hungry for mystery and mayhem—especially now that the second season of Making a Murderer has been delayed (presumably because of ongoing advances, and setbacks, with convicted murderer Steven Avery’s case). Luckily, streaming services have plenty of true crime documentaries to satiate their needs. Here are seven of the best currently streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.

Into the Abyss (2011)

No matter what your position on capital punishment may be, Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss offers an intriguing probe into the realities of the death penalty that is sure to get you thinking about the practice in new ways, if not rethinking your position entirely. Though it’s ostensibly about two teenagers who commit a triple homicide just to get their hands on a car, its Herzog’s ability to get the people he interviews to bare their souls in unexpected ways that makes the movie so profound—particularly its focus on those people who are tasked with actually carrying out death sentences.

Where to stream it: Amazon, Hulu, Netflix

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)

On May 6, 1993, three 8-year-old boys were brutally murdered in the small town of West Memphis, Tennessee. Within 24 hours, local police suspected that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley, Jr.—a trio of teenagers not much older than the victims—were the perpetrators, despite zero evidence linking them to the crime. In 1994, all three young men were convicted, with Echols—who was singled out as the ringleader—being sentenced to death while the other two received life sentences. In 1996, filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky provided a voice for the teenage victims, who were clearly convicted under dubious circumstances. Yet the documentary does a stellar job of walking a neutral line, giving just as much screen time to the families of the young boys who were killed and their supporters as it does the friends, family members, and strangers who believed that the “West Memphis Three” got a raw deal.

Over the next 15 years, the filmmakers made two more documentaries about the case (both of them streamable as well), which helped turn it into a cause célèbre. Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, The Dixie Chicks, Peter Jackson, and Fran Wilson are just a few of the celebrities who helped draw international attention to the case, which saw the West Memphis Three finally freed in 2011 (though not under the most ideal or fairest of circumstances). More than a true crime documentary, Paradise Lost is a fascinating look into the prejudices of small-town America and the implicit trust that some communities have in their authorities—whether it’s deserved or not.

Where to stream it: Amazon

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

More than 25 years before Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi had Netflix viewers questioning the fairness of our justice system with Making a Murderer, Oscar-winning nonfiction filmmaker Errol Morris took on the role of private investigator with his deep dive into the case of 28-year-old Randall Adams, who, after his car broke down while heading home to Dallas in 1976, accepted a ride from an unknown teenager and ended up being sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Morris’s use of traditional film elements mixed with artistic reenactments, candid interviews with the case’s key players, and a haunting score by Philip Glass make it a groundbreaking step forward for the documentary genre. But its real power rests in the fact that The Thin Blue Line brought additional attention, and scrutiny, to the case and saw Adams released from prison about a year after the film’s release.

Where to stream it: Netflix

Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992) and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)

Aileen Wuornos, America’s first female serial killer—who killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990—has never denied her murderous deeds (though she did claim that they were all acts of self-defense), which means that there’s not so much of a whodunit here. What documentarian Nick Broomfield seemed to be more interested in capturing was the cult of celebrity around Wuornos and exposing the many people who attempted to exploit her notoriety. In Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, we see Wuornos’s lawyer, Steve Glazer, attempting to “sell” Broomfield the exclusive rights to interviewing his client, and offering him her personal effects following her scheduled execution. The movie was later admitted as evidence that Wuornos’s original legal team was incompetent (ouch).

Alieen: Life & Death of a Serial Killer sees a more reflective side of Wuornos, who seems very aware that this is the last interview she’ll ever be able to give. She personally requested that Broomfield interview her for this, and decided to be forthright about her life and circumstances—including how she believed that her brain was being controlled by radio waves. This kind of unfettered access into the mind of a serial killer is rare, and captivating.

Where to stream them: Amazon, Hulu

Dear Zachary (2008)

There are few stories as tragic as that of Andrew Bagby, a charismatic and fun-loving doctor who got romantically involved with Shirley Jane Turner, a GP more than a dozen years his senior. When it became clear that Turner was expecting more from the relationship than Bagby wanted to give, he called it off; within just a few days, he was found dead, shot five times. Knowing that it wouldn't take much for police to find her, Turner fled to Canada, where she announced that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child, a son she named Zachary. When attempts to extradite Turner failed, Bagby’s parents moved to Canada to be closer to their grandson and to attempt to gain custody of him. Eventually, Turner was sent to jail and the Bagby’s got their wish—but their victory was short lived. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, a lifelong friend of Bagby’s, decided to make this documentary as a way for Zachary to get to know his father. Little did he know that he’d end up documenting one of the most simultaneously heartfelt and heart-shattering cases of justice gone awry.

Where to stream it: Amazon

There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (2011)

On July 26, 2009, 36-year-old mom Diane Schuler made national headlines when she ended up driving her minivan the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in upstate New York and having a head-on collision with an SUV that killed Schuler and seven other people, including her young daughter and three nieces. Medical reports claimed that Schuler was both drunk and had high levels of THC in her system at the time of the crash, but her husband and other family members vehemently denied those charges in the years following the crash and sought out various experts who might help shed some light on what happened. Though the documentary doesn’t offer any easy answers or resolutions, director Liz Garbus does a commendable job of showing what a tragedy looks and feels like to the people on both sides.

Where to stream it: Amazon

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/streaming-true-crime-documentaries/