The public’s morbid fascination with crime and mystery can be seen in the popularity of the True Crime genre – and few places are better to find compelling True Crime fare than Netflix, which has been producing its own crime documentary series for years.
From massive hits like Making a Murderer that had the whole world watching, to outrageous stories of historical crimes like Wild Wild Country, to series focusing on contemporary cases that may still be ongoing, Netflix offers plenty of choice when it comes to True Crime.
Here are 10 of the best crime documentary series the streaming service has to offer.
This recent five-episode series tells the story of John Demjanjuk, a man accused of being the Nazi concentration camp guard known as ‘Ivan the Terrible’, who had spent the later years of his life living in Cleveland, Ohio. Extradited to Israel in 1981, Demjanjuk faced trial. The Devil Next Door examines the case using historical footage, testimony from Holocaust survivors and extensive interviews with those involved in Demjanjuk’s trial.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
One of the most famous serial killers of all time, Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides on the night before his execution, but some investigators place the true estimate at over 100. This four-part documentary by Joe Berlinger draws from many hours of interview footage with the sadistic criminal, who was characterised in the press as charismatic and good-looking. Working chronologically through Bundy’s life and crimes, the series tries to get to the heart of one of the twentieth Century’s biggest monsters.
Wild Wild Country
This universally acclaimed six-part documentary delves into the rise and fall of the Rajneeshpuram community in Wasco County, Oregon. Established in 1981, the settlement was home to spiritualist cult leader Rajneesh and his legion of followers. The cult built what amounted to a functioning city in the middle of the country and attracted attention from the US authorities, culminating in the biggest biological terror attack in American history.
When its first season was released in 2015, Making a Murderer raised the bar for what True Crime documentaries could achieve. Making a Murderer looks over the case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder, and served 17 years in prison, only to be released and convicted of a different murder two years later. The series was a smash, following in the footprints of the hit podcast Serial, and had Netflix viewers around the world debating Avery’s innocence.
Who killed Sister Cathy? That’s the question asked by The Keepers, Netflix’s original 2017 docuseries that focuses on the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun who taught English and Drama at a Baltimore high school in November 1969. Investigators theorise that the murder happened after Cesnik uncovered sexual abuse by a priest also teaching at the school. This seven-part doc is acclaimed for tackling its subject with sensitivity – and being no less gripping for it.
In 1953, CIA operative Frank Olson fell to his death from a hotel window, nine days after being secretly dosed with LSD by his supervisor. Directed by Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line), this docuseries uses starry reconstructions (with a cast that includes Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Blake Nelson and Molly Parker) to explore Olson’s life and his involvement with the CIA’s Project MKUltra, an experimental mind control operation. Frank’s son, Eric Olson, plays a major part in Wormwood, trying to get to the sordid, unbelievable bottom of his father’s mysterious death.
This four-part documentary, subtitled ‘The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist’ follows the strange case of Brian Wells, an alleged bank robber who died in 2003 after a bomb that was chained around his neck detonated. Other people have been named as conspirators in the robbery, but the central mystery revolves around whether Wells was a willing participant or simply a tragic victim.
When three-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing during a family stay at a Portuguese resort, the media went wild with speculation. 12 years on from the incident, this eight-part documentary explores all the possibilities surrounding her disappearance. Don’t expect any definitive answers, although the mystery of the crime itself still fascinates viewers in the UK and abroad.
Surviving R. Kelly
This six-part documentary, originally produced for the Lifetime network, has attracted a fair share of controversy – mostly because its subject, popular musician R Kelly, had not been charged with any of the alleged crimes the series discusses. Featuring in-depth interviews with Kelly’s alleged victims, the publicity led to the musician being dropped by his record label, and now Kelly faces serious criminal prosecution.
Michael Peterson was put on trial after his wife’s death. Though he insisted she had fallen down the stairs while drunk, Peterson was convicted of her pre-meditated murder. The question of Peterson’s guilt hangs over this detailed 13-episode True Crime doc. The early episodes aired on French TV back in 2004, with more instalments being produced to cover new developments in the case.