We live in the era of the true crime documentary. Luckily, we also live in the era of streaming services, each of which offers its own extensive collection of documentaries. Revealing the best and worst of humanity, and of the criminal justice system, there’s something uniquely stirring—and disturbing—about a great true crime doc. Here are 13 of the best true crime documentaries streaming on Amazon right now.
1. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
In 1993, three second grade boys were found brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenagers were convicted of slaughtering the boys as part of a Satanic ritual. Many, including filmmakers Joe Berlinger and and Bruce Sinofsky, believed the teens were innocent, and that their convictions were based more on community biases and dubious police work than on actual evidence. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is the first documentary in a trilogy about the lives of the teenagers, who became known as the West Memphis Three.
2. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
The general public knows of Aileen Wuornos from Charlize Theron’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of the serial killer in the movie Monster. There’s a good deal more to Wuornos than Monster reveals, however, as this documentary, along with its predecessor, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, shows. Though Wuornos was undoubtedly guilty of horrific crimes, filmmaker Nick Broomfield presents a picture of a woman completely out of touch with reality, whose execution—in some respects—seems like the fulfillment of an agenda that falls way outside of the realm of criminal justice.
3. The Witness
The Witness puts to death the persistent, pernicious myth—that 38 people saw Kitty Genovese being murdered on the street in 1964, yet did nothing—to bed once and for all. Filmmaker James Solomon follows Kitty’s brother, Bill, as he goes on a journey to uncover the truth of what really happened that night, while celebrating the life of his sister along the way.
4. Into the Abyss
Wener Herzog’s harrowing look at a Texan inmate’s final days on death row is considered a modern-day classic. No matter your stance on capital punishment, this documentary is an essential part of any true crime aficionado’s repertoire.
5. Dear Zachary
Want to lose all faith in the criminal justice system—at least, in the Canadian criminal justice system—and in humanity in just an hour and a half? Watch Dear Zachary. While we’re being a bit hyperbolic here, Dear Zachary is one of the most profoundly disturbing documentaries in recent memory: a tale in which bureaucratic red tape becomes truly, devastatingly lethal. The murder of promising young doctor Andrew Bagby by his deranged ex-girlfriend sets off a chain of events that will leave you reeling.
6. The Thin Blue Line
Considered by many to be the one of best and most important true crime documentaries ever made, The Thin Blue Line argues the case for the innocence of a man who had been sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. The wrongly-accused man was released from prison a year after the documentary was released.
7. Brother’s Keeper
The Ward brothers, semi-literate farmers, lived on the outskirts of society in Upstate New York. When one of the brothers was found dead in 1990, and another brother stood accused of murdering him, the press flooded the scene, determined to paint the Wards as dangerous hicks. Despite their estrangement from the rest of the community, however, the Wards were staunchly defended by locals, who were resentful of the higher-ups invading their town, and—rightfully—suspicious of the Wards’ treatment at the hands of the (non-local) police.
8. Capturing the Friedmans
A typical Long Island family comes apart at the seams when the father and one of the sons are charged with child molestation. After a stash of child pornography is found in the Friedman home, the authorities worry that Arnold Friedman, who taught computer classes to children out of his home for years, may have been abusing them. Told in part through home videos the Friedmans took while Arnold and son Jesse awaited trial, Capturing the Friedmans is a deeply unsettling look into the psyche of a family in crisis, and the ease with which quests for justice are corrupted.
9. Crazy Love
“Love is blind” is an eerily appropriate idiom when it comes to the bizarre case of Burt and Linda Pugach. Theirs is a love story that seems to defy all sense of logic and rationality—and, indeed, legality. This doc will leave you utterly befuddled, as well as disturbed.
10. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations With a Killer
This is the first in a documentary trilogy produced by HBO, about the notorious mafia hit man, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski. In a series of interviews recorded behind the walls of the prison where he was serving double life sentences, Kuklinski looks back on his shocking double life: as devoted family man on one hand, and a cold-blooded killer on the other.
11. Without Charity
In rural Indiana, in the summer of 2000, three construction workers were murdered in a robbery gone wrong. When police discover that a young woman named Charity Payne may be linked to the crimes, the question arises: Is she directly responsible for the deaths, or merely a pawn in a larger scheme?
12. Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere
Author Poe Ballentine attempts to solve a horrific and bizarre crime committed in his isolated Nebraska community. A local mathematics professor goes missing, and is later found tied to a tree, his body burned almost beyond recognition. Ballentine investigates the heinous murder, reflecting on his own life along the way.
13. The House of Suh
The Suh family seemed to be living the American Dream. Yoon Myung and Tai Sook Suh had immigrated to the United States from Korea to provide a better life for their children, Catherine and Andrew. The Suh siblings, however, were anything but well-adjusted: brother and sister conspired to murder Catherine’s boyfriend. This documentary revisits the shocking case over a decade later, revealing a portrait of a deeply troubled family, and raising questions about the clash between traditional values and cultural assimilation.
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Feature still from "The Thin Blue Line" via American Playhouse