Looking for the best true crime documentaries on the telly? We’ve got you covered. If you’re willing to give the true crime genre a go, here are seven picks for what to watch. PS, if you prefer a podcast, head here!
On December 2001, novelist Michael Peterson calls the police to report that his wife, Kathleen, is dead. It appears she has fallen down a set of stairs, which is what he tells police. However, they immediately suspect Michael is lying and that instead, he likely bludgeoned her to death with a blow poke that was discovered missing from the house.
This story takes turn after turn – with some uncanny, bizarre coincidences (or are they?) continuing to turn up from the past. It’s riveting, creepy and confusing stuff.
Now, this one is not to be confused with the Neon show, also called The Staircase, which isn’t a doco (but a great show starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette and is a dramatisation of the murder!)
IT WILL: Leave you heading straight to Google to search for different theories (My favourite is the owl one)
American Murder: The Family Next Door
Shannan Watts – mother of two daughters, with another on the way – was a proud mum who shared much of her life online on Facebook. On August 13 2018 she returned to her home in the early hours after a short business trip – dropped to the door by a colleague who was also a close friend. But later that day, Shannan and her daughters were reported missing by her friend when she missed a business meeting and she couldn’t be found at her home.
Her husband made an impassioned plea on TV for his family to return home – or someone to come forward if they knew anything about her disappearance. But it soon appears there is a lot more going on in this story…
I found this documentary completely chilling – in part because of the hideousness of the crime, but also because of how it is put together. The story is mostly told by Shannan herself, thanks to all the footage she loaded up to Facebook and her text messages to her husband and friends. When combined with all the footage taken from body-cameras on the police who turned up to investigate her disappearance – it puts you right in the room.
IT WILL: Make your blood boil – the deaths in this story are just so upsetting.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
True crime author Michelle McNamara set about on an obsessive quest to finally unmask one of the world’s most prolific and notorious serial killers: The Golden State Killer. For decades, detectives and amateur sleuths tried to solve the mystery which saw one man terrorise California over two decades, committing 50 sexual assaults and 10 murders. This haunting documentary focuses on Michelle’s contribution as she narrowed in on the killer – but tragically passed away before she could finish the case.
Over on Netflix you’ll find a rival doco-series – Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer – but I much preferred this one. Weaving in the personal story of Michelle, alongside survivors who bravely tell of their experiences – this doco has real heart.
IT WILL: leave you wanting to check all your cupboards and wardrobes for intruders. Oh, and you probably won’t be able to sleep with the window open after watching. Be warned!
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
I am not a sporty person, so I’d never heard of Aaron Hernandez, a rising football star who played for the New England Patriots alongside Tom Brady. Aaron seemed to have it all, until he was charged with the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. I found this three-part documentary to be completely riveting: it’s well put together and slowly unfolds the complex – and often disturbing – true story.
IT WILL: Keep you in suspense
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
This Emmy Award winning, six-part documentary was released back in 2015 and follows the chaotic life of reclusive millionaire, Robert Durst. Robert – the scion of a New York real estate empire had long been the suspect in a notorious 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie. Then, things got stranger when his confidante and close friend (who also happened to be a key witness into the investigation of Kathie’s death), was killed. A third murder is added to the list when Robert’s neighbour is later murdered and dismembered. Robert has consistently maintained his innocence – is it all just a bizarre coincidence, or will crucial evidence nail Robert of all three murders?
IT WILL: Give you chills at the end
This bizarre but delightful short documentary tells the unlikely true story of how a 2004 Curb Your Enthusiasm episode helped clear an innocent man from being charged with murder.
The execution-style killing of Martha Puebla seemed to be an open and shut case. She was a witness in Juan Catalan’s brother’s trial for murder and a bystander identified Juan as the killer. As time begins to run out on Juan, his team continue to search for evidence that can prove his alibi – he took his six-year-old daughter to see the Dodgers and stayed to the end of the nail-biting ninth inning. That alibi comes in the most unlikely of sources…
IT WILL: Lift your spirits (yes, even though it is in the True Crime genre!)
The Life and Trials of Oscar Pistorius
He was a South African hero – lauded across the world for his story of overcoming adversity.
Oscar Pistorius – who lost his legs as an infant – was dubbed Bladerunner, after becoming the first amputee runner to compete at the Olympics.
But on Valentine’s Day 2013, the Olympian shot to death his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp in his home. He fired four shots into the closed toilet door, where she was crouched inside – although he claimed he didn’t know it was her, that he believed it was an intruder.
This three part documentary looks into the life of Oscar and the subsequent murder (which he served 10 months in prison for, after being found guilty of culpable homicide). It’s made by ESPN and is a slick piece of work – but, for me it lacked too much of Reeva’s story and the emotional abuse she’d already suffered in her relationship with Oscar. I get that ESPN is all about the sports, but it was too heavy on the rise and achievements of Oscar’s sporting career – making it a bit too sympathetic of his demise.
IT WILL: Likely leave you a bit frustrated.