5 Great True Crime Documentaries

With the recent popularity of Netflix’s Making a Murderer, there has been a recent surge in interest in true crime documentaries.  Such films examine the details of specific murders and other serious offenses. They will give you opportunities to see what police, suspects and witnesses experience when felonies occur.

These highly rated documentaries engage viewers with stories of complex and sometimes bizarre crimes:

1. “The Thin Blue Line”

In 1976, someone shot and killed a policeman after he stopped a car in Dallas. This popular 1988 documentary looks at how the authorities collected dubious evidence and wrongfully convicted a man named Randall Adams. It all began when a teenager gave Adams a ride because his car’s fuel tank had run empty. Sixteen-year-old David Harris befriended him and they went to a theater after sharing some beer. Police stopped the teen’s vehicle when he departed from the cinema. Harris later accused Adams of shooting a patrolman, but Adams said they had parted ways before the crime took place.

2. “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

This six-part documentary aired on HBO in 2015. Today, viewers can pay to download it from the Internet. The movie examines multiple felonies that a New York millionaire was accused of committing. A court acquitted Durst when he stood trial for killing and dismembering a neighbor, according to The Guardian. Some people also believe he played a role in his former wife’s disappearance. The film features dramatic reenactments, courtroom recordings and lengthy interviews with Durst. Andrew Jarecki directed this movie as well as a child molestation documentary called “Capturing the Friedmans.”

3. “Bernie”

If you prefer a true crime story with some humor, watch this 2011 film about a peculiar murder in Texas. Jack Black stars as Bernie Tiede, a generous and eccentric man who befriends a grouchy widow. The elderly woman is unpopular but wealthy. After she becomes a homicide victim, the local prosecutor must work to convict her killer. Tiede’s strange behavior and amusing words make this film a comedy despite the serious plot. Top-notch acting helped it earn a four-star review from Mr. Movie at the Tri-City Herald.

4. “A Murder in the Park”

This 2015 documentary highlights the killing of a husband and wife at a Chicago swimming pool. The 91-minute film looks at mistakes made by journalists and university students who helped free the murderer and put another man behind bars. Viewers discover that the students’ professor and his associates employed deceitful tactics to gather false testimony from various individuals. This movie also covers the original investigation into the 1982 crime; you’ll see several interviews with police officers and witnesses. Although it involves some disturbing scenes, the film’s homicide reenactments only contain enough gore to earn it a PG-13 rating.

5. “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father”

Unlike most true crime films, this 2008 documentary showcases a murder victim rather than focusing on criminals or investigators. It features home movie footage and interviews with people who knew Andrew Bagby. Viewers learn about his friendly personality and compassionate behavior. “Dear Zachary” also covers the suffering endured by the man’s mother and father. It explains that Bagby’s girlfriend became pregnant shortly before the homicide took place. This deeply saddening film was named after her son, Zachary. It highlights the long-lasting harm that a person’s untimely death can cause.

While these documentaries certainly don’t rank among the most uplifting films, they deliver valuable insights regarding the American justice system. Such movies also help viewers understand the motivations of criminals and recognize the fallibility of all parties involved in an investigation.

Additional reading: What Makes a Killer? (Infographic)