In Depth

Best true crime documentaries on Netflix and Amazon Prime

From cold cases to courtroom dramas, the real-life crime thrillers that will have you on the edge of your seat

In 2018, it seems everyone is a true crime junkie. From books to movies to podcasts, real-life tales of murder most foul have millions of us under their sinister spell.

But with a thriving true crime industry churning out hundreds of true documentary movies and TV series to choose from, how to pick the gems from the dross? Here are the best crime documentaries ready to stream today:

Abducted in Plain Sight

From the title of this documentary, you would be forgiven for assuming it was a relatively straightforward tale of kidnapping. What actually unfolds is a tale so bizarre that at times it seems impossible to believe. 

In autumn 1974, 12-year-old Jan Broberg was abducted by Robert Berchtold, a close family friend who had become obsessed with her.

After a weeks-long ordeal, she was rescued and returned to her family - who not only continued to see Berchtold, but also turned a blind eye to almost every red flag imaginable until, two years later, he snatched her again.

“Think of the wildest story you’ve ever heard. Now square it, multiply it by 50, and maybe you’ll have a sense of how nutso Abducted in Plain Sight is,” was Vulture’s verdict.

Each scene unveils new twists, as the film deftly explores how the canny predator was able to groom not only a pre-teen girl but also her entire family.

One scene in particular - in which the extent of Berchtold’s manipulative powers over Broberg’s father is revealed - astonished many viewers, who swiftly turned it into an early contender for the meme of 2019.

Available on Netflix

The Staircase

In 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs in the home she shared with her author husband, Michael. But getting to the bottom of the events of the evening would prove far from simple.

Rather than relying on expert talking heads, this acclaimed documentary follows Michael Peterson himself, his lawyers and his family throughout the subsequent trial, a premise which gives the mini-series “a sense of real intimacy that distinguishes it as a docuseries landmark”, says Vulture.

You’ll find yourself analysing every glance trying to figure out whether Peterson is an affable artist struggling to clear his name or a glib and remorseless killer. And be warned - if you’re watching in a group, you’ll almost certainly disagree.

Available on Netflix

Casting Jonbenet

Any true crime junkie worth their salt knows the case of Jonbenet Ramsey, the six-year-old beauty queen found dead in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado, in mysterious circumstances in 1996.

That’s what makes this innovative “documentary” such a thrilling watch. Rather than recount the tale, the film casts dozens of amateur actors from the community where the murder took place as members of the Ramsey family and lets each group play out their own version of the night of the little girl’s death.

Available on Netflix

The Jinx

New York real estate mogul Robert Durst has been a suspect in three deaths but has never been convicted - even when he admitted killing his neighbour and chopping his body into pieces.

Even more remarkably, he agreed to sit down with documentary-makers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling and discuss the cases. The interviews make for riveting viewing - Rolling Stone called Durst “one of the most fascinatingly brazen liars in TV history” - and end with an explosive twist that will knock you off your feet.

Available on Amazon Prime

The Keepers

This unsettling mini-series follows the efforts of two women whose attempts to solve the mystery of how their popular schoolteacher came to be murdered in 1969 lead them to a web of evil that goes well beyond the missing woman.

The results are “terrific but heartbreaking”, says HuffPost. Shining a shocking light on the horrors of Catholic institutional sex abuse and the culture of silence which ensured abusers were safer than their victims, The Keepers could hardly be any timelier.

Available on Netflix

Forensic Files

Artistic, award-winning documentaries are all well and good, but sometimes you just need true crime - and lots of it. Step forward, Forensic Files.

Yes, the production values aren’t always slick, and the reenactments are as cheesy as they come, but the long-running US TV docudrama into real-life murders and the DNA breakthroughs that solved them remains as addictive as ever.

Now in its 14th season, Forensic Files is ideal for binging when you fancy a down and dirty true crime fix.

Available on Amazon Prime

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