Since its premiere on December 18, the Netflix docu-series Making A Murderer has captivated viewers all over the world, with discussion about the ten-part saga dominating the Internet in the three weeks since its release. There’s a sub-Reddit thread dedicated to sleuthing and alternate theories; hundreds of thousands have signed petitions calling for pardons for both Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, the convicted killers at the center of the story; and celebrities like Olivia Wilde, Alec Baldwin and Ricky Gervais have all publicly supported the series via social media.
Public fascination with true crime stories can be traced all the way back to the 1966 publication of Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood, which is often thought to be the first major work in the genre. The appeal of true crime lies in the allure that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, but also in the investment it requires from its audience: it presents the facts and the evidence (or lack thereof, depending on the case), and demands for some type of intellectual or emotional response from the viewer about how they feel, where they stand, or what they think really happened. The Internet only further adds fuel to the fire in that it enables the obsessive in all of us. Now it’s all too easy to find yourself lost on Twitter or Reddit reading others reactions, spending hours going further and further down the rabbit hole of articles and research.
The story of Making a Murderer doesn’t end when the credits roll on episode 10. It’s impossible that the petitions will have any real impact, but Dassey’s case still lies with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and while Avery has exhausted all his appeals there’s more of a chance now than ever for new evidence to arise that could possibly get him the chance at a new trial. If you’re wondering what to binge-watch next to satisfy the sleuth in you as you keep an eye on the Avery/Dassey case, we’ve rounded up a list of our favourite true crime documentaries.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Perhaps the only thing more bizarre than the story of accused murderer Robert Durst is how director Andrew Jarecki came to make this 2015 documentary mini-series about him, which aired on HBO last spring. Jarecki had previously directed the feature film All Good Things that was inspired by Durst’s life; Durst himself watched the film and was so impressed that he contacted Jarecki to let him know. This would ultimately lead to the two men meeting for 20 hours over a period of several years, despite Durst being notoriously wary of speaking to any other media or journalists. The Jinx is an intense, unbelievable ride that saw a murder mystery playing out in real-time, concurrently on and off-screen. Jarecki constructs a masterful narrative over the six episodes, with an ending that will leave you speechless.
Watch The Jinx on HBO-NOW.
The Central Park Five
If the questions posed by Making a Murderer about the validity of confessions and authorities’ coercive techniques drove you insane, then prepare to be just as baffled when it comes to this 2012 film that examines the notorious “Central Park jogger” case. On April 19, 1989, Trisha Meili was jogging through the park when she was subjected to a brutal rape and assault that left her in a coma for 12 days. Five juvenile males were arrested, and four of them would confess to the crime, though they would later retract their statements claiming that they had been intimidated into making false confessions. The damage was done, however, and the teens were subsequently tried and convicted for the crime, and received sentences ranging from five to 15 years. The Central Park Five examines the cases and convictions of the suspects, as well as presents evidence that suggests the police should have been able to connect Matias Reyes —who eventually confessed that he was the real perpetrator, a confession corroborated by DNA evidence — to the case at the time that it happened. It also exposes how intense media scrutiny can affect an investigation.
West of Memphis
This gripping 2012 documentary tells the tragic case of the West Memphis Three, in which three teenagers were arrested for the murders of three 8-year old children. The crime sent the politically conservative and mostly Evangelical Christian city of West Memphis, Arkansas into frenzy as many believed the killings to be part of a satanic ritual. West of Memphis examines the many troubling aspects of the case, from witness coercion, concocted evidence, media manipulation and the bizarre decision by the authorities not to investigate an obvious prime suspect. Even when the three accused are given a chance at release thanks to new DNA evidence, they are forced to make a difficult decision regarding their freedom.
Watch West of Memphis on Netflix.
You can’t exactly “watch” Serial, being that it’s a podcast, but we promise the absence of accompanying visuals doesn’t make this series any less riveting. The series — a spinoff of the wildly popular This American Life — took the world by storm when it was first released last winter, and has since been downloaded a mind-blowing 68 million times. Season 1 investigates the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee, for which Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, was eventually convicted despite the absence of any DNA linking him to the crime and the inclusion of unreliable cell phone data as a key piece of evidence in the prosecution’s arguments. Host Sarah Koenig and her producers do an incredible job at immersing listeners as they unpack the case, with the podcast including extensive analysis of the court records as well as interviews with all those close to the case, most notably Syed himself and the mysterious “Jay.” Just three weeks after the season finale was released, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals allowed Syed to appeal his conviction on that his original attorney had provided ineffective counsel during his trial, an appeal that just a year earlier was denied.
Download Serial on iTunes.
Like The Jinx, Serial and Making a Murderer, The Staircase regards a case that is still active in the judicial system. Author Michael Peterson was convicted in 2003 of murdering his wife Kathleen, despite his assertion that she died falling down the staircase in their home. During his trial, the prosecution had argued that Michael had killed Kathleen because she had found out that he was bisexual and had been having affairs with men, whereas Peterson claimed his wife knew about his sexuality and that they were engaged in an open marriage. He spent eight years at the Nash Correctional Institution before being granted a new trial and released on house arrest with a tracking anklet. He was granted the new trial after a larger case came to light involving the investigative tactics of the State Bureau of Investigation agents, as well as its false representation of evidence in over 30 other cases.
Watch The Staircase on the SundanceNow Doc Club.