But which ones are really worth your time?
Here, we’ve picked out the most important true crime documentaries on Netflix.
And don’t worry; we’ll be sure to keep this article updated with new titles as and when they become available.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is a three-part documentary series that you’ll likely watch in one devoted go but will leave you thinking about it for days afterwards.
Examining what led to the murderous fall and shocking death of former NFL superstar Aaron Hernandez, we watch as friends, family and insiders all share anecdotes in a bid to uncover how Hernandez went from lauded sportsman to a convicted killer.
Award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States in the startling 2016 documentary film 13th.
Focusing on the fact that America’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans, the film explores the “intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States,” according to its synopsis. Titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, it was adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the US and ended involuntary servitude – except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.
DuVernay explores how slavery is a concept that still very much prevails today through systemic racism, the prison-industrial complex, the war on drugs and the mass corporations that are responsible for the inner workings of the US prison system.
The whole film is also available to watch on YouTube, as part of the streaming platform’s bid to make their most popular educational films free for all.
Why Did You Kill Me?
Produced by two-time Oscar nominee Lucy Walker and Emmy winner Julian Cautherley, Why Did You Kill Me? follows Belinda Lane as she tracks down those involved in the murder of her daughter, Crystal Theobald, using MySpace.
It’s a captivating and enlightening watch that marries the ideas of social media, sleuthing and justice together in one tragic case.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel
If you’re into true crime, you’ll have likely heard of the intriguing case of Elisa Lam. Her body was discovered in the water tank on the roof of one of LA’s most prominent hotels, the Cecil Hotel. The resounding mystery of it all though is the fact that investigators have not been able to determine how she got into the tank in the first place.
The notorious hotel skyrocketed in popularity on the announcement of Lam’s disappearance back in 2013 and is known to many as “LA’s deadliest hotel.”
This documentary talks to those who worked there, were drawn to the hotel after Lam’s disappearance and the internet sleuths that attempted to unpick every detail of the case in order to find out what happened to Lam.
The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness
The ‘Son of Sam’ case is a widely known one for true crime fans. David Berkowitz is one of America’s most notorious serial killers and his killing spree claimed the lives of six people and wounded seven others by July 1977.
However, did he really act alone? That’s the question that’s plagued much of the life and career of journalist and author Maury Terry. He’s spent 40 years trying to prove that Berkowitz was actually acting as part of a much larger force – the satanic cult known as “The Children,” which was allegedly connected to Charles Manson. It’s a slow-burner but will leave you looking at the case in a new light, we assure you.
As the synopsis states: “A closed case is only the beginning.”
As per Netflix’s description, Athlete A “follows the IndyStar reporters as they reveal the extensive cover-up and culture of cruelty that was allowed to thrive within elite gymnastics, the attorney fighting the institutions, and most importantly, the brave whistle-blowers who refuse to be silenced.”
Filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk made nearly a dozen visits to Indianapolis after IndyStar published its initial report, titled Out of Balance, on 4 Aug 2016. As in, yes, the same report that led to more than 500 women coming forward to accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.
Working closely with the IndyStar team, the documentary-makers were able to capture Marisa Kwiatkowski, Mark Alesia, Tim Evans, Steve Berta, and Robert Scheer’s award-winning investigation of Nassar’s abuse from start to finish.
As such, Athlete A details how IndyStar’s reporting led to the arrest, conviction, and sentencing of Nassar, the resignation of the organisation’s longtime president, Steve Penny, and bipartisan federal legislation co-sponsored by 16 senators and signed into law by President Donald Trump to prevent amateur athletes from being abused.
Murder By The Coast
Murder By The Coast begins with the disappearance of Rocío Wanninkhof in 1999, who was found stabbed to death three weeks after she went missing. Shortly after, a family friend – and Rocío’s mother’s ex-partner – Maria Dolores Vázquez was found guilty and imprisoned, despite the fact that there was no physical evidence to place her at the crime scene.
These events shook the Spanish and British expat communities in the Costa Del Sol, but this was only the beginning of the saga. Four years later, police returned to the case after finding DNA from Rocío’s murder at the scene of a different girl’s murder (Sonia Carabantes).
The documentary looks at how this gross injustice occurred, as well as who the culprit of both crimes was. And, as praised by Decider, it also allows Cecilia King, Christine P. Blewer and Sonia’s mother, Encarna Guzman, to give blistering testimonials, allowing this documentary the chance to become a platform for women to share their truth.
Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art
In this suspenseful documentary about the $80 million ingenious con everyone wanted to believe was real, filmmaker Barry Avrich chronicles the events of the largest art fraud in American history. You know, the one when Knoedler & Company unwittingly purchased fake works by famed artists and sold them on to collectors and the art world elite? That one.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
In the years leading up to his arrest in 2019, Jeffrey Epstein was accused of abusing women and underage girls for decades, assembling a network of enablers to help carry out and cover up his crimes.
We already, though, know a lot about the disgraced tycoon, which is why it’s so refreshing that Epstein’s accusers are the leading voices in director Lisa Bryant’s four-part docuseries.
“By revealing their emotional scars, some for the very first time, the sisterhood of survivors intend to stop predators – and the American justice system – from silencing the next generation,” promises the Netflix synopsis.
Cathy Cesnik, a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore, went missing on 7 November 1969. Nearly two months later, her body was found – but to this day, the killer remains unnamed. The story made headlines for a time, but eventually disappeared from the newspapers. That is, of course, until the 90s, when one of Cesnik’s former students accused the high school’s chaplain of sexual abuse, and claims that she was taken to Cesnik’s then undiscovered corpse and threatened.
In The Keepers, director Ryan White pieces together the story through conversations with friends, relatives, journalists, government officials, and Baltimore citizens, hoping to uncover the truth.
Murder Among The Mormons
This three-part true crime documentary series – directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Tyler Measom (An Honest Liar) – takes us back to 1985, when a trio of bombings shocked the Salt Lake City Mormon community and threatened the historical foundations of the church altogether.
Casting JonBenét takes shape as a series of auditions, as local actors vie to star in a new film about the unsolved 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty queen that shook their town some two decades ago. In the process, though, they offer up their unvarnished opinions on the media speculation and public fascination with JonBenét, allowing filmmakers the chance to delicately explore the macabre legacy of the world’s most famous child-murder case.
Murder To Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story
In 2004, 16-year-old Cyntoia Brown was arrested for murdering a 43-year-old man. She told the courts that Johnny Allen had picked her up for sex, and that she had been forced to shoot him in self-defence. Despite this, and despite her young age, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison.
Just seven days later, documentarian Dan Birman began recording her story. Since then, he has collected over 200 hours of footage – and this forms the basis of Netflix’s Murder To Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator
Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury is the subject of this Netflix documentary, which blends archival footage with first-person testimony and filmed court depositions to reveal how the narcissist – despite being publicly accused of sexual harassment, rape and maniacal control – was protected from consequences by his own inflated cult of personality, wealth and professional power.
Sophie: A Murder In West Cork
This three-part series examines one of Ireland’s most famous murder cases, the death of French producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier in the town of Schull, West Cork in 1996. The brutal murder, which shocked the country, triggered one of the biggest murder investigations Ireland had ever seen and became a national obsession.
The documentary, which has been praised by viewers (not to mention been in Netflix’s Top 10 since its premiere on 30 June), charts the circumstances of her death, unravelling the extraordinary story from its beginning, 24 years ago to the present day. And, with exclusive access to Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s family, the series brings together, for the first time, the views of her family with Ian Bailey, the man at the centre of the investigation.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal
This documentary goes beyond the celebrity-driven headlines and dives into the methods used by Rick Singer, the man at the centre of the shocking 2019 college admissions scandal, to persuade his wealthy clients to cheat an educational system already designed to benefit the privileged.
Using an innovative combination of interviews and narrative recreations of the FBI’s wiretapped conversations between Singer and his clients, Operation Varsity Blues offers a rare glimpse into the enigmatic figure behind a scheme that exposed the lengths wealthy families would go to for admission into elite colleges, and angered a nation already grappling with the effects of widespread inequality.
Carmel: Who Killed Maria Marta?
The Spanish-language docuseries takes us back to 2002, when Argentinian socialite María Marta García Belsunce was found dead in her bathtub at the age of 50, with a puddle of blood nearby.
The doctor who filled out her death certificate listed the cause as “non-traumatic cardiac arrest,” her family signed off on it, and her body was interred barely 24 hours after she died.
Not one person called the police. And, about a month after she had been interred at Recoleta Cemetery, though, prosecutor Diego Molina Pico ordered the exhumation of her body.
The results of that autopsy, as this four-part documentary series shows us, told a very different story – and the case quickly became one of the most controversial criminal cases of Argentina.
Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer
As per the official Netflix synopsis, Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer tells “the spellbinding true story of how one of the most notorious serial killers in American history was hunted down and brought to justice.”
It continues: “In the sweltering summer of 1985, a record-breaking heatwave hit Los Angeles, along with a series of murders and sexual assaults that at first seemed disconnected. The victims were men, women, and children. They ranged in age from six to 82. They came from different neighborhoods, racial backgrounds and socioeconomic levels. Never before in criminal history had a single killer been responsible for such a grisly array of crimes.
“Racing against the clock to stop this nocturnal monster were a young detective named Gil Carrillo from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the legendary homicide investigator Frank Salerno. As they worked tirelessly to solve the case, the media hounded their tracks, and panic gripped California.”
American Murder: The Family Next Door
Using home videos, social media posts, text messages, and police footage, the film aims to piece together the investigation into the August 2018 murders of Shan’ann Watts and her daughters Bella and Celeste.
For those who aren’t aware of the details surrounding the case already, Nickole Atkinson grew concerned for Shan’ann when her friend, who was 34 years old and 15 weeks pregnant, missed an OB-GYN appointment and didn’t show up to work.
Unable to locate Shan’ann and her children after visiting the Watts home in Frederick, Colorado, Nickole reported them missing to local police. And, while their murder has been recounted for TV many times over, the official Netflix synopsis for this documentary explains that this film is not about their killer.
Rather, it is “the first film to give a voice to his victims”.
American Murder: The Family Next Door follows the success of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries.
Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries
Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries looks at a range of (ahem) unsolved mysteries. And that could mean pretty much anything, from the trauma of a loved one’s unexplained disappearance, to a bizarre paranormal encounter, to the disappearance of an entire family.
But here’s where things get really interesting. Rather than tie things up neatly and present you with the full package, the show’s creators are relying on you, the viewer, to help them get to the bottom of things.
“Alongside detectives and journalists, family members offer clues, present theories, and identify suspects, hoping one viewer holds the key to solving the mystery,” reads a statement from Netflix.
Currently, there are only six episodes of Unsolved Mysteries available to stream on Netflix. Thankfully, though, the series is just one of many compelling investigative documentaries on the streaming platform right now.
The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke
On 11 December 1964, officers of the Los Angeles Police Department were dispatched to the Hacienda Motel after a reported shooting. There, they found musician and activist Sam Cooke dead on the office floor. He had been shot three times in the chest by the motel’s manager, Bertha Franklin.
The authorities ruled Cooke’s death a case of justifiable homicide, based on the testimony of Ms. Franklin, who claimed that Cooke had threatened her life. The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke, which boasts a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, explores the circumstances and controversy surrounding his murder.
The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson
When the body of pioneering transgender activist Marsha P Johnson was found in the Hudson River, her death was ruled a suicide by New York City police – much to the disbelief of her friends and fellow activists. Years later, Netflix’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores her little-investigated death while celebrating her integral role in the Stonewall riots.
Of course, The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson is by no means a perfect film. Indeed, there’s almost too much here for a standalone 105-minute format, which means that not nearly enough time is devoted to Johnson’s formative years. While her legacy is explored in great detail, her life is not – and hers is, undeniably, a life that deserves more screentime.
Saying that, though, the film highlights the extraordinary effect that Johnson had on the people around her. The importance of her activism. And the continued violence felt by the trans community.
In doing so, The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson shines a light on the continuing fight for justice by the LGBTQ+ community.
Watch the trailer below:
Surviving R. Kelly
Once famed as one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, R. Kelly’s name has since become synonymous with rumours of abuse, paedophilia, and predatory behaviour toward women. In this powerful documentary, civil rights activist Tarana Burke, musician John Legend, talk show host Wendy Williams, R. Kelly’s family members, and countless others shed light on the singer’s controversial past. And, in doing so, they expose the dangers of enabling predators.
Wild Wild Country
Every single episode in this phenomenal docuseries ends on a cliffhanger that leaves you desperate for more. It tells the tale of a controversial guru who builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, and, in doing so, causes a massive conflict with local ranchers. A massive conflict which, we might add, leads to the first bioterror attack in the United States and a massive case of illegal wiretapping. Prepare to be hooked.
The Innocence Files
A very different sort of true crime series, The Innocence Files is composed of three compelling parts – The Evidence, The Witness and The Prosecution. Each of these stories expose difficult truths about the state of America’s deeply flawed criminal justice system, while showing when the innocent are convicted, it is not just one life that is irreparably damaged forever: families, victims of crime and trust in the system are also broken in the process.
How To Fix A Drug Scandal
Oh yes, it’s the true crime series everyone was talking about on Twitter. In How To Fix A Drug Scandal, two drug lab chemists’ crimes cripple a state’s judicial system and blur the lines of justice for lawyers, officials and thousands of prison inmates.
Who Killed Malcolm X?
Historian, activist and investigative journalist Abdur-Rahman Muhammad helms this deep dive into the murder of civil rights activist Malcolm X.
Thanks to the tabloids’ ceaseless coverage of ‘Foxy Knoxy’, you might think you know everything there is to know about Amanda Knox. As this Netflix documentary proves, though, there’s far more to it than that.
Michael Peterson told police that his wife fell down the stairs after consuming a potent mixture of alcohol and Valium – a theory that was disputed by the post-mortem’s toxicology results. When investigators concluded that Kathleen’s injuries were not consistent with an accidental fall, they arrested Peterson on suspicion of murder. It is at this point that Jean-Xavier de Lestrade stepped in to begin filming the events for what would eventually become The Staircase, an award-winning docuseries that chronicled the legal battle all the way through Peterson’s eventual conviction.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Kalief Browder was 16 when he was arrested in the spring of 2010 for a robbery he insisted he had not committed. He spent three years in prison without being convicted of a crime, waiting for a trial that never happened. Tragically, he killed himself after his eventual release. This powerful documentary uses first-person accounts, archival footage, and cinematic re-creations of key scenes from Browder’s to offer a comprehensive look at the case, and explore how this teenager was repeatedly failed by the criminal justice system.
Almost everyone on the face of the earth has seen Tiger King, Netflix’s documentary about Joe Exotic – a gun-toting polygamist who presided over an Oklahoma animal park – and the murder-for-hire plot against animal activist Carole Baskin that led to his arrest. But if you somehow missed the lockdown TV sensation, go forth and start streaming now.
A true crime documentary unlike any other. The Pharmacist follows small-town pharmacist Dan Schneider who, after losing his son in a drug-related shooting, embarks on a crusade to bring a reckoning against the powerful figures behind the nation’s devastating opioid epidemic.
Abducted In Plain Sight
Abducted In Plain Sight isn’t just the story of a kidnapped girl. It’s the story of how that teenager was abducted twice by her neighbour and family friend Robert ‘B’ Berchtold, and the circumstances that allowed such a shocking crime to occur on more than one occasion.
Boasting a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Strong Island explores themes of grief, loss, and racial inequality as filmmaker Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of his brother, William Ford Jr.
Making A Murderer
The 10-part Netflix series that turned us all into amateur sleuths, Making A Murderer – which took a decade to film and construct – follows the story of Wisconsin-based Steven Avery. In the first episode, we learn of how Avery served 18 years of a rape sentence, that began in 1985, but was exonerated by DNA evidence which it is suggested the police previously had access to.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez
This devastating true-crime docuseries explores the tragic death of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. Detailing the abuse that Fernandez was subjected to at the hands of his guardians, and the subsequent public trials, this series prompts questions about the system’s protection of vulnerable children.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.