21 Best True Crime Documentaries Streaming Online - ELLE.com

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Soon, you’ll be sleeping with the light on.
The appetite for true crime documentaries has only multiplied in recent years, and in the streaming age, there are a plethora of TV shows and movies exploring mysteries, murders, and cold cases. From Netflix juggernauts to sleek HBO offerings, here are 21 of the best true crime documentaries to watch if you have a passion for justice and don’t mind feeling a little scared when you go to bed at night.
American serial killer Richard Ramírez, known before his arrest as the “Night Stalker,” was responsible for the murders of at least 14 people, and committed spurious other crimes including kidnap and torture, during the ’80s in throughout California. Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, explores the desperate search for the elusive murderer and the many attempts to stop him from killing again. WATCH NOW
If you’re not already scared of priests and nuns, you might be after watching this haunting documentary about the still-unsolved 1969 murder of Cathy Cesnik. A group of the popular teacher and nun’s former pupils have since continued the investigation into what really happened to Cesnik. The documentary also delves into a devastating sexual abuse cover-up by the Catholic church, and questions whether Cesnik’s murder was part of a much bigger story. WATCH NOW
It’s undeniable that Robert Durst is a fascinating documentary subject with an unbelievable story to tell. Your jaw will drop as director Andrew Jarecki gains unprecedented access to to Durst, and explores unsolved murders and strange coincidences that appear to lie in the real estate mogul’s wake. Not many documentaries uncover key crime evidence, and viewers won’t be disappointed by HBO’s seven-parter. WATCH NOW
The Yorkshire Ripper terrorized women in West Yorkshire and Manchester between 1975 and 1980, murdering 13 and attacking many more. Netflix’s The Ripper explores how intense sexism, particularly against sex workers, let the police investigation falter, failing women across the North of England and beyond. It includes interviews with survivors of Peter Sutcliffe’s attacks and details of his eventual arrest. WATCH NOW
HBO’s The Vow is a deep-dive into the world of NXIVM, a self-help organization dubbed a “sex cult” by the press, and overshadowed by the involvement of celebrities such as Smallville‘s Allison Mack. However, the truth is much more complicated, and led to leader Keith Raniere being found guilty of sex trafficking, racketeering, conspiracy, and sexual exploitation. WATCH NOW
Catfish meets animal lovers meets true crime connoisseurs. Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer tracks the incredible community investigation into a killer who posted videos featuring acts of animal cruelty online before graduating to murder. Examining the astounding abilities of Internet crowdsourcing, the documentary proves that people power can often aid in solving crimes. WATCH NOW
I Love You, Now Die tracks the well-publicized case of Michelle Carter and the investigation into her involvement in the death of Conrad Roy III. Roy died by suicide in 2014, but his girlfriend Carter was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter after allegedly encouraging Roy’s death via text messages and phone calls. The documentary interviews Roy’s family, and examines Carter’s potential state of mind leading up to the infamous incident. WATCH NOW
David Berkowitz pled guilty to a string of brutal murders that took place in New York City in the ’70s. Also known as the Son of Sam and .44 Caliber Killer, Berkowitz claimed to act alone in the slayings, which often targeted couples parked in cars late at night. The Netflix documentary explores an alternate theory that Berkowitz may have been part of a Satanic cult, and didn’t, in fact, carry out the killings alone. WATCH NOW
At times, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel crosses the line from true crime to supernatural scaremongering, while incorporating ableist notions of mental health. However, the show’s relentless quest to discover what really happened to Elisa Lam explores the important issue of the safety of women traveling solo, and the lack of understanding regarding invisible health conditions and their real-world effects. WATCH NOW
If you thought HBO’s Big Love was pure fantasy, think again. Netflix’s Murder Among the Mormons revisits the story of forger Mark Hofmann, who conned almost everyone with his artifacts related to the Latter Day Saints. The documentary explores how forging turned into bomb-making, and a deadly series of events hit the church. WATCH NOW
In 2001, Michael Peterson’s wife, Kathleen, died after falling down the stairs in their home. What followed was an extensive court case attempting to determine whether or not Michael was somehow involved in her death. With the documentary team returning to interview its subject on multiple occasions, The Staircase is an unusual example of following a case in what feels like real time. A dramatized version of the story starring Colin Firth and Toni Collette is heading to HBO Max, so it’s the perfect time to brush up on the case that’s captivated the world for two decades. WATCH NOW
Ken Burns’ documentary covers the Central Park jogger case, which saw the arrest, coercion, and conviction of five Black and Latino young people for the alleged rape and assault of a woman in Manhattan in 1989. Those convicted maintained their innocence while serving prison sentences, and their convictions were eventually vacated when another inmate confessed to the crime. In 2014, a $41 million settlement was reached. WATCH NOW
Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady decided to make a documentary about Richard Scott Smith, a con man on the run after marrying and extorting multiple women. While interviewing Smith’s victims, the directors decided to throw Showtime’s resources behind the search for the on-the-run criminal, making for some compulsive viewing. WATCH NOW
It feels strange to describe a true crime book about murder as beautiful, but Michelle McNamara‘s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is a literary rarity, at once examining cold cases with brutal precision while simultaneously allowing readers into the author’s personal life. McNamara tragically died before her book was published, but with the help of her close friends, the non-fiction tome and subsequent HBO series are a testament to one woman’s dedication to the truth. WATCH NOW
Tiger King literally needs no introduction, and with the recent release of Season 2, Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin’s drama is occupying the zeitgeist once again. Also worth watching is Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight on Discovery+, for a look at the much-maligned woman pitched as Exotic’s nemesis. WATCH NOW
Lifetime’s documentary focuses on R. Kelly’s history of alleged sexual abuse, and features interviews with musicians such as Chance the Rapper and John Legend. In 2021, Kelly was convicted of sex trafficking and sexual abuse, and Lifetime’s series attempts to give his victims a voice, while bringing the news story to an international audience. WATCH NOW
Much like Tiger King, Making a Murderer is a much-referenced crime documentary series that probably needs no introduction. While Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey remain in prison convicted of murder, Avery’s new lawyer Kathleen Zellner continues the search for justice in the death of Teresa Halbach. WATCH NOW
Showtime’s true crime series, based on the book of the same name, examines the unsolved murders of eight women in Louisiana. Known as the Jeff Davis 8, police initially pursued a serial killer theory, after the women’s bodies were found in canals and ponds in the Jennings area. However, digging deeper showed a town tainted by alleged institutional corruption, and an unexpected political link to a motel called the Boudreaux Inn. WATCH NOW
Filmmaker Nick Broomfield examines the case of the Grim Sleeper, who spent 23 years terrorizing South Central Los Angeles. In 2016, serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was found guilty of the murders of 10 women, but the cases remained unsolved until the 2000s when DNA and ballistics linked him to the crimes. Tales of the Grim Sleeper also explores the racial prejudices that impinged on the murders of multiple women of color, leading to their deaths remaining unsolved for decades. WATCH NOW
Netflix’s American Murder: The Family Next Door pieces together the moments leading up to the disappearances of Shanann Watts and her two daughters. News footage, social media posts, texts messages, doorbell cams, and personal photographs piece together a terrifying timeline of deceit, and ultimately attempt to explain why Chris Watts did what he did. WATCH NOW
Abdur-Rahman Muhammad investigates the assassination of Malcolm X in this docu-series, which led to the reopening of the investigation regarding the civil rights leader’s murder. Two of the men previously convicted of the assassination have since been exonerated, proving that media pressure can sometimes impact a case. WATCH NOW

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