True Crime Essentials: 9 Jaw-Dropping Classics and Hidden Gems

Adam Fay,

True Crime documentaries and docuseries have exploded into the mainstream in recent years, thanks largely to popular titles like Making a Murderer, Tiger King and more recently, The Tinder Swindler.

But for the genre purists, there are a number of titles that have established themselves as pillars of true crime exposes. These range from classic trailblazers, to stories that simply need to be seen to be believed.

Our list caters to both the true crime junkies looking for their next fix, or those who need an introduction to the genre by way of some bonafide classics and lesser-known hidden gems.

We’ve also added links to related Wikipedia pages to help you dive into your inevitable post-binge Wikihole.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015)

What Was The Crime?

This six-part series sheds light on Robert Durst, a wealthy real estate heir who was accused of three murders, but at the time, was never convicted.

Why You Should Watch it:

No other docuseries contains as many head-scratching “what the?” moments, right up until one of the biggest jaw-dropping scenes ever captured in a documentary. All we can say is to make sure you stay tuned right up until the final moments of the last episode.

Robert Durst’s story didn’t end after this series, as the case took more twists and turns after the cameras stopped rolling, with a major development taking place as recently as January 2022.

How to Find It:

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is available now in the Fetch TV Store

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

The life of Robert Durst is detailed here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Durst

West of Memphis (2012)

What Was The Crime?

An examination of the police investigation into the 1993 murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas which led to the arrest and conviction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley. All three were teenagers at the time and were convicted and imprisoned for 18 years.

Why You Should Watch it:

More than anything, West of Memphis is a shocking indictment of the US judicial system, surrounded by a sad and tragic event. The cast of characters in this story range from insightful and inspiring, to flat-out bizarre.

How to Find it:

West of Memphis is available now in the Fetch Movie Store.

For those interested in the case who want to delve even deeper, there are also 3 brilliant documentaries covering the shocking murders and subsequent cases that are considered pioneers of the true crime genre.

They are difficult to find, but worth the effort – Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations & Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

The story of the West Memphis 3 is here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Memphis_Three

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

What Was the Crime?

One night in November 1976, after his car breaks down on a road outside Dallas, Randall Dale Adams accepts a ride from teenager David Harris. Harris is driving a stolen vehicle and, later that night, when Dallas police officer Robert Wood pulls the car over to check its headlights, he is shot and killed.

Why You Should Watch it:

This 1988 trailblazer was one of the first of its kind. A feature length documentary on a true crime incident. It’s fair to say that while many documentaries since have successfully swayed our views or outraged public opinion, not many have actually been instrumental in releasing a man from prison.

Not only is The Thin Blue Line one of the first feature length true crime success stories, it also still holds up as one of the best.

How to Find it:

Unfortunately this one is tricky to track down. But for those keen to see it, your best bet is through AMC+ on Prime Video. It offers a 7 Day trial. Visit Menu > Apps > Prime Video > AMC+ on your Fetch box.

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

The life of Randall Dale Adams is detailed here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Dale_Adams

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

What Was The Crime?

The Friedman’s were a typical suburban family until father Arnold and son Jesse are arrested on multiple charges of child sexual abuse.

Why You Should Watch it:

Nominated for a 2003 Best Documentary Feature Oscar, Capturing the Friedmans can be a difficult watch but a fascinating one. The home movie footage of the family in their everyday lives doing what any normal family does, alongside the disturbing revelations depicts the sad, but all too real undoing of the American dream.

How to Find it:

Capturing the Friedmans is available in the Fetch Movie Store

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

The film’s Wikipedia page has extensive information on the case – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capturing_the_Friedmans

The Imposter (2012)

What Was The Crime?

In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappears from San Antonio, Texas. Three and a half years later he is found alive, thousands of miles away in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnap and torture. His family is overjoyed to bring him home. But all is not quite as it seems. The boy bears many of the same distinguishing marks he always had, but why does he now have a strange accent? Why does he look so different?

Why You Should Watch it:

If it wasn’t a true story, you would never in a million years believe it. The Imposter is another gripping documentary that plays out more like an edge-of-your-seat thriller, with enough twists and turns that you end up wondering if you are also part of some big con.

How to Find it:

The Imposter is available on the Fetch Movie Store

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

The bizarre life of Frederic Bourdin – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Bourdin

Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)

What Was the Crime?

On June 14, 2015, the body of Clauddine “Dee Dee” Blanchard was found in the bedroom of her house, lying on the bed with stab wounds inflicted several days earlier. There was no sign of her daughter, Gypsy Rose, who, according to Blanchard, had chronic conditions including leukaemia, asthma and muscular dystrophy, and had the mental capacity of a 4-year-old due to brain damage she had suffered as a result of her premature birth.

Why You Should Watch it:

One of the most shocking and famous cases of munchausen syndrome by proxy, this riveting HBO documentary goes beyond tabloid fodder and social media buzz that the story garnered at the time, to show a very sad and human side that plunges the viewer into a rabbit hole that seems to never end.

How to Find it:

Mommy Dead and Dearest is available in the Fetch Movie Store

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

The murder of Dee Dee Blanchard – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Dee_Dee_Blanchard

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (2020)

What Was the Crime?

The Golden State Killer terrorised California in the late ’70s and early ’80s, committing at least 13 murders, 50 rapes, and 120 burglaries. Journalist Michelle McNamara became obsessed with finding his identity.

Why You Should Watch it:

Far from taking the well-trodden path of most true crime exposes, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark takes a unique and fascinating approach by documenting the infamous case through the eyes of the endearing woman who would not give up on solving it. Providing something truly rare in the genre – a satisfying resolution alongside a heart-wrenching tribute.

How to Find it:

I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is now available in the Fetch TV Store.

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

Start with the life of Michelle McNamara – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_McNamara

Continue with learning about The Golden State Killer – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_James_DeAngelo

The Staircase (2018)

What Was the Crime?

In 2001 novelist Michael Peterson’s wife died by what he claimed was a fall down the stairs at their home. The medical examiner, however, determined that she had been beaten with a weapon, which led to Peterson becoming a suspect in what would become a murder investigation. 

Why You Should Watch it:

It can be viewed as both a fascinating whodunnit or another detailed study of the flawed judicial system in the United States. Either way, you won’t be able to look away for any of its 13 hour length.

How to Find it:

The Staircase is now available on Netflix

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

Learn more about the Michael Peterson Trial – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Peterson_trial

Tickled (2016)

What Was the Crime?

In a story stranger than fiction, journalist David Farrier uncovers a strange tickling subculture. Delving deeper into the dark world of “competitive endurance tickling”, he meets with resistance that is so abusive and puzzling that he just has to delve deeper.

Why You Should Watch it:

If the premise doesn’t grab you, nothing will. One of the most bizarre investigations that quickly goes from hilarious to horrifying…then to just plain puzzling.

How to Find it:

Tickled is now available on ABC iView. Visit Menu > TV > Catch Up > ABC iView on your Fetch Box.

Where to Start Your Wiki Rabbit Hole:

Difficult to find information on competitive tickling, but start with the film’s wikipedia page – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickled

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