Content warning: this article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
Whether it’s trawling your way through the best true crime podcasts or the best true crime documentaries one thing is for sure—we’re binging our way through true crime faster than scoffing down a box of popcorn at the movies.
We would argue that there is absolutely no shame in cancelling those Sunday session plans to settle into a dangerously addictive true crime show, one with all the plot twists, cliff-hangers and continued investigation.
Here are the best true crime shows on Netflix.
The Puppet Master
Enter the jaw-dropping story of one of the world’s biggest conmen. Over the course of a decade, Robert Freegard controlled, conned and fleeced at least seven women and one man, stealing millions. His traumatised victims were led to believe they were accomplices in highly elaborate secret service operations and that their families were in grave danger if they didn't obey him. You can watch The Puppet Master here.
It’s the true crime show which has been inspired by HBO’s epic True Detective series so you know it’s going to be nothing less than fantastic. Combining doco-style filming and dramatic recreations doesn’t always work well but this true crime show nails it by following actual homicide cases through the memories and words of law enforcement officers.
I am A Killer
I am A Killer is a true crime but not as you know it. Taking a big leap into the deep end, this true crime show interviews death row inmates convicted of capital murder to share their account of their crimes. Some admissions sound like the straight out truth but others conflict with evidence and will have you questioning whether some people should be on death row at all.
Don’t F**k With Cats
We all know that there’s a part of the internet dedicated to funny cat videos, cat memes and cats doing dumb things. It’s easy enough to get sucked in here but when a video gets posted online of a mysterious man killing two kittens, the whole internet basically rallies around to find this guy and bring him to justice. Don't F**ck With Cats is easily one of the best true crime shows of the year.
Enter this true story of America’s most diabolical bank heist. Evil Genius is a true crime series where things start weird… and then progressively get weirder. In 2003 a pizza man walked into a bank with a bomb locked around his neck. What happens next will actually shock you.
The Confession Killer
The Confession Killer looks at the life of Henry Lee Lucas during the 1980s. This guy basically confessed to hundreds of murders, bringing closure to a heap of unsolved cases. As for where things get suss (yep, brace your detective skill sets here), there’s no direct evidence linking Lucas to the crime scenes so he stunned authorities with his ability to accurately sketch victim’s portraits while citing brutal details of each attack.
The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann
It was a disappearance that reverberated around the world as the Portuguese police together with Scotland Yard mobilised a major investigation, which would go on to become the most high-profile missing child case in British history (and the world). The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann takes a detailed look of the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine, who vanished from the seaside resort of Praia de Luz in Portugal, while on holiday with her family back in 2007.
Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes brings the infamously twisted mind of serial killer Ted Bundy into the light for the very first time. This doco includes never-before-heard interviews from the “Jack the Ripper of the United States,” himself. This docuseries focuses on a man whose personality, good looks and social graces defied the serial-killer stereotype, allowing him to hide in plain sight as he committed the brutal sex-crime slayings of more than 30 women before being caught in 1978. While on trial, Bundy received extraordinary adoration from American women, which made his gruesome crimes doubly haunting, even in an era of anything-goes mayhem.
The Innocence Files
This documentary series will span nine, hour-long episodes, so it’s an easy binge-takeover for any weekend. In other words, get comfy. You’re in for the tell-all behind nine actual stories in the US of wrongful convictions, with the series being broken down into three main parts—The Evidence, The Witness and The Prosecution.
When teenager Marie Adler, played by Kaitlyn Dever, files a police report claiming she's been sexually assaulted by an intruder in her home, the investigating detectives, as well as the people closest to her, come to doubt the truth of her story. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, detectives Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall (played by Emmy winners Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) meet while investigating an eerily similar pair of intruder rapes and partner to catch a potential serial rapist. Unbelievable was the true crime show which we watched a number of times, it's that good.
The Trials Of Gabriel Fernandez
If you consider yourself a true crime connoisseur of sorts you should have definitely binged this crazy-good true crime show on Netflix by now. In 2013, eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez died as a result of horrific and prolonged abuse by his mother and her boyfriend. This six-part documentary is hard to watch but it offers an inside look at the trial as well as an eye-opening investigation into the government systems that failed to protect Gabriel, despite multiple reports and warning signs.
The Keepers is a seven-part documentary series about the unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik. The beloved nun and high school teacher went missing back in 1969, her body found nearly two months later. Sister Cathy Cesnik’s murder remains unsolved to this day. The case saw some light again in the 90s when one of her former students came forward to share her experience of horrendous sexual abuse by the high school’s chaplain. The former student also admitted she was taken to Sister Cathy’s body before it was discovered and told, “See what happens when you say bad things about people”. Connection? That’s up to you.
If something like The Teacher’s Pet podcast caught your attention back in the day, you’re probably going to be a big fan of Netflix epic true crime show The Staircase. It tells the story of Michael Peterson, a crime novelist accused of killing his wife Kathleen after she’s found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their home, and the 16-year judicial battle that followed.
Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is a three-part documentary series examining what led to the murderous fall and shocking death of former NFL superstar Aaron Hernandez. As a gifted young football athlete from Connecticut, Aaron Hernandez had capitalized rapidly on his promise, playing for a top tier college program before being drafted into the National Football League at the age of 20. But in 2013, fresh off of a newly inked five-year, $40 million contract with the New England Patriots, Hernandez would become a household name for the most infamous murder case involving an American athlete since OJ Simpson.
The Devil Next Door
The Devil Next Door is the true story of John Demjanjuk, a retired Ukrainian-American autoworker living a pretty relaxed life with his family in Cleveland in the 1980s. When a group of Holocaust survivors identify Demjanjuk’s photograph as “Ivan the Terrible” (who you’d know as a notoriously cruel Nazi death camp guard who tortured and killed nearly one million Jewish prisoners during World War II), Demjanjuk’s American dream is shattered and he is extradited to Israel to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Naturally, a media frenzy erupts around the trial in Jerusalem and it’s dubbed as “the trial of the century”.
Trial By Media
The way we consume true crime shows (faster than we could eat a box of popcorn) is a prime example of the way crimes and courtrooms are a modern form of entertainment. Trial By Media reflects on some of the most dramatic and memorable trials in recent history. Over six episodes this Netflix true crime show goes into all the ways in which the media essentially reshaped people’s perceptions of guilt or innocence before, during or after a trial.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
This could be one of the most polarising documentaries of the year and if you’re in the mood for some really messed up stuff, this is the one for you. We all know the horrendous circumstances surrounding the mysterious tycoon Jeffrey Epstein, his name made headlines last year after he was accused of abusing women and underage girls for decades, assembling a network of faithful enablers (all in great positions of power) to help carry out and cover up his crimes. He managed to lie and manipulate his way to the top of the financial world, eventually gaining tremendous wealth while running an international sex trafficking ring.
Surviving R. Kelly
Surviving R. Kelly is a doco that gives a slew of young women the spotlight to reveal new allegations about the R&B artist’s physical, mental and sexual abuse. There’s no denying R.Kelly’s career has been plagued with stories of predatory behaviour so expect more than 50 interviews with those including civil rights activist Tarana Burke, musicians John Legend and Sparkle, talk show host Wendy Williams, and some of R. Kelly's family members.
When They See Us
Based on a true story, When They See Us tells the notorious case of five teenagers of colour, labelled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit. The four-part show focuses on the five teenagers from Harlem—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, and when the teenagers were first questioned about the incident. All five were eventually exonerated but it did take 25 years.
In 1999, after losing his son in a drug-related shooting in New Orleans and no answers from police, a small town pharmacist, Dan Schneider, starts out on a mission to bring his son’s killer to justice. Throughout The Pharmacist, Dan starts noticing the troubling number of young and healthy people who begin to visit his pharmacy with high dose prescriptions for OxyContin. His mission then changes to save the lives of other sons and daughters within his community. Then take the fight to Big Pharma itself.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
It’s the seriously whack docuseries that took 2020 by storm (and saved many of us from complete lockdown boredom). If you haven’t already watched this one and you’re wondering what all the big fuss is about, let us enlighten you. Among the eccentrics and cult personalities in the stranger-than-fiction world of big cat owners in the US, few stand out more than Joe Exotic, a mulleted, gun-toting polygamist who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo. Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, conmen, and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats, and the status and attention their dangerous menageries garner. But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, stoking a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe’s arrest for a murder-for-hire plot.
The Family explores the history of a quietly powerful religious organization with strong ties to US politics. This organisation is literally known as “The Family” or “The Fellowship” and has drawn a likeness to be a modern day cult. It’s not your classic true crime situation with missing persons or murders but it’s a super chilling show which shows just how much this one Christian family has on America’s conservatives.
Making A Murderer
Arguably the one that started it all, Making A Murderer is the OG of all true crime shows. Right now, there are two seasons of this brilliant series to work your way through. The first episode aired back in 2015 but in our opinion, it’s never too late to start this one. Steven Avery was exonerated after spending almost 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit but sometime after, he was behind bars yet again for a completely different crime.
Naturally, here are the best documentaries to watch on Netflix right now.
Image credit: Netflix