There is something so fascinating about true crime. The genre that once had a cult following has gone mainstream, thanks to the success of Netflix’s Making a Murderer and podcasts like My Favorite Murder. While everyone has their reasons for getting into the genre, there’s something terrifying-yet-alluring about peeking inside the mind of a murderer. Many people take it as far as attempting to solve cold cases themselves, with theories spread all over the internet.
Since Jack the Ripper, and even before then, people have been transfixed by murderers and true crime. There’s something compelling about its stranger-than-fiction elements. Of stepping into a world that is so unlike your own, but something that could happen any time at any place. Media — like documentaries, books and podcasts give us that glimpse in the safety of our own homes.
1. The Jinx, Stream on HBO
Just a few seconds of watching Robert Durst and you immediately know he’s a weird dude. There is something about him you can’t put your finger on, but you know you don’t want to cross his path. Just as strange as Durst himself is director Andrew Jarecki’s obsession with his subject.
The Jinx isn’t the only Durst-centered piece with Jarecki’s name attached to it. The director previously filmed All Good Things, a film inspired by Durst. In The Jinx, we get a closer look at Durst’s life, the murders surrounding him and why he was arrested the day before the finale aired.
2. Mommy Dead Dearest, Stream on HBO
Ooooh boy, you are in for a ride with this one. Gypsy Rose Blanchard grew up thinking she was a severely sick child. She used a wheelchair, she had a feeding tube and even received gifts and special trips because of her cancer diagnosis. The twist is that she was healthy the entire time and her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard made up the illnesses and psychologically abused her daughter into believing she was actually sick. Dee’s condition is called Munchausen syndrome by proxy and it’s when a parent gets so much attention from having a sick child that they actually want to make their kid sick.
Dee Dee was so manipulative, controlling and abusive that Gypsy actually plotted her mother’s murder with her boyfriend at the time. The documentary gives viewers a glimpse into Gypsy’s unbelievable life and leaves you feeling for a young woman whose only choice was murder.
3. Paradise Lost, Stream on HBO
Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin spent 18 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. After being wrongfully convicted for murdering three young boys, Echols, who was labeled the group’s leader, spent that time on death row, while Misskelley and Baldwin received life sentences. Paradise Lost, a three-part documentary, helped their case get the attention and celebrity support to look deeper into the forensic evidence and get the three men a plea deal. The original documentary was released in 1996, with part two and three released in 2000 and 2011, respectively.
4. Beware the Slenderman, Stream on HBO
In 2014, two 12-year-old girls named Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier made headlines when they attempted to murder their classmate, Payton Leutner, to appease a fictional character they learned about online. The two were convinced that if they didn’t go through with the killing, a mysterious humanoid named Slenderman would kill them and their entire families. The documentary looks at the circumstances surrounding the attempted murder, including how mental health could have blurred the lines between reality and fiction for the young girls. You feel bad for all parties involved, but especially for Anissa’s father, a primary subject in the film, who does his best to take responsibility for the situation while trying to hold his family together.
5. The Keepers, Stream on Netflix
Sister Cathy Cesnik was a nun and teacher at Archbishop Keough High School whose murder is still unsolved. In digging into Sister Cathy’s murder, the filmmakers unravel years of abuse at the hands of the school’s priest, A. Joseph Maskell. Sister Cathy’s former students believe her murder was an attempt to silence her from bringing the abuse to light and take the case into their own hands to solve. Just as tragic as Sister Cathy’s murder are the interviews with the women whose lives were destroyed by Maskell’s horrific actions.
6. Amanda Knox, Stream on Netflix
Amanda Knox is a true crime story for the social media age. While studying abroad in Italy, Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered and Knox and her boyfriend were the main suspects. Media outlets dug up everything they could about Knox and framed her as a soulless, sex-crazed, occultist who performed the murder as part of a ritual. In the film, Knox takes the narrative into her own hands, giving the viewer a glimpse of what she says happened, unfiltered by tabloid reporting.
7. The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, Stream on Hulu
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most notorious, well-known and fascinating serial killers of all time. Convicted in 1991 for the murders of 17 men and boys, Dahmer received a 957-year sentence and was murdered in prison three years after his sentencing. What Dahmer did was more than just murder. He dismembered, flayed and preserved parts of the bodies, as well as performed necrophilia on some of his victims. The Jeffrey Dahmer Files takes a look at Dahmer’s surroundings, interviewing those close to him during and after the years the murders took place.
8. Cropsey, Stream on Hulu
Cropsey is what happens when fiction and reality collide. For years, Cropsey was a child-snatching boogeyman figure that lurked on Staten Island. In the 1970s, the legend came to life when a string of child abductions started happening on the island. Over the course of 15 years, five children went missing. Andre Rand was convicted of kidnapping two children and suspected to be the person behind the five abductions. Only one body of the five victims was recovered, for which Rand was charged and convicted for first-degree kidnapping.
9. Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop, Stream on HBO
Gilberto Valle III was an officer of the New York City Police Department, who had a wife and young daughter. A typical American nuclear family, Valle’s wife – a school teacher – discovered alarming content on her husband’s computer: detailed plans to abduct, rape, murder and eat various women he had met online or knew in real life. Thought Crimes follows his 22-month imprisonment and the shocking conviction overturn that led to him becoming a free man today.
10. A Murder in the Park, Stream on Netflix
Anthony Porter was only 50 hours away from execution when his conviction was overturned. Thanks to the work of the Medill Innocence Project, professors and students at Northwestern University researched the case and found holes in the prosecution. Eventually, another man shockingly came forward as the guilty party for the murders that Porter was convicted of. A Murder in the Park details the steps taken to free Porter and highlights the work of the Innocence Project.
11. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Stream on Netflix
Thanks to Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning performance in 2003’s Monster, we all are even more familiar with Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men between 1989 and 1990. A sex worker at the time, Wuornos claimed self-defense as the motive behind the killings, saying each man had raped or attempted to rape her. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer questions the decision to execute Wuornos and examines her mental state during the days leading up to her execution.
12. The Witness, Stream on Netflix
Whether you know the name “Kitty Genovese” or not, you know her story: The woman who was stabbed on the street, where 38 people heard her cries, and nobody did a thing. In The Witness, Kitty’s brother, Bill wants answers. He wants people to know his sister instead of the circumstances that lead to her death. Throughout the documentary, we learn what really happened the night Kitty was murdered, and how a decades-long myth was formed and spread into one of true crime’s most famous stories.
13. Into the Abyss, Stream on Netflix
Werner Herzog is an actor, director, screenwriter and producer who once made TIME’s list of 100 most influential people on the planet. He has a long list of film credits, including fictional narratives and documentaries. Perhaps his best-known documentaries are Grizzly Man and Into the Abyss. The latter’s subject is death-row inmate Michael Perry, who was actually executed before the film was released. His final interview for the film was conducted eight days before his execution.
14. The Thin Blue Line, Stream on Netflix
In 1988, A Thin Blue Line was released, asserting that Randall Dale Adams was convicted and sent to death row for a crime he did not commit. The documentary was so well done and impactful that it helped contribute to Adams’s release a year after the film premiered. This films set the standard for true crime documentaries. Many films, including Paradise Lost, have followed its lead to make a change using film. Adams has since passed away from a brain tumor, but his story is that of true-crime legend.
15. Team Foxcatcher, Stream on Netflix
In 2014, Foxcatcher was an awards-season darling. It was Hollywood’s account of John E. du Pont’s relationship with siblings Mark and Dave Schultz and the eventual murder of Dave at John’s hands. Two years later, the story got the documentary treatment when Team Foxcatcher debuted. The documentary takes a closer look at du Pont’s million-dollar wrestling facility, Team Foxcatcher, as well as du Pont’s wealthy background and descent into madness and murder.
16. Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers, Stream on ABC
This one is for anyone completely wrapped up with the first Law & Order: True Crime focus, The Menendez Brothers. Even if you haven’t gotten around to watching that yet, the ABC News Special will peak your interest. Following the story of two men convicted of killing their parents and the trial that proceded, twists and turns in the case will make you start questioning your own morals.