Making a Murderer is the latest in gigantic hit to come out of streaming overlord Netflix’s “Originals” stable, and it’s just about as gripping, sad and terrifying as a true crime documentary gets.
It focusses around Steven Avery, a man wrongly convicted of a brutal sexual assault in the 1980s, cleared of the crime after an arduous 18 years in prison, only to find himself (and his teenage nephew Brendan Dassey) accused of a heinous murder shortly afterwards. With shady policeman and US legal failings working against them, the two seem destined never to receive a fair trial.
More than ten years in the making, it’s total binge-session stuff, and if you’ve yet to watch it I urge you to fire up Netflix and dive in straight away. You’ll fly through its ten hour-ish long episodes. But what about once you’re finished? Pull on our best Sherlock deerstalker and check out these true crime shows and documentaries next.
Capturing the Friedmans
While Making a Murderer makes the corruption stacked against Avery and Dassey seem very clear cut (though evidence the show withholds may suggest otherwise), the story told by Capturing the Friedmans is far more difficult to decipher. I've seen the documentary a handful of times now, and still can't decide if its main players are innocent or not.
2003's Capturing the Friedmans follows the titular Friedman family, whose figured Arnold (and later son Jesse) are accused of child molestation in the 1980s. Using home video footage shared by the Friedmans, it's about as balanced and ambiguous in any bias as a documentary gets, totally leaving you to decide who, if anyone, committed the crimes.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Last year's equivalent of Making a Murderer, and one that came to quite an astonishingly public and revelatory end, even before the final episode of the series aired. For that reason alone, those that like the conclusions of their true crime explorations should avoid the 'net in relation to the show. It's littered with details that could spoil the deft-pacing that the revelations unfurl at.
The Jinx... is a six-part TV series from HBO that focuses on Robert Durst, a multi-millionaire real estate heir who faced murder charges for the 2000 death of his friend Susan Berman. Over the years Durst's behaviour had become increasingly erratic. Does he have something to hide?
Serial (Season One)
A podcast this time as opposed to a show or film, you've probably heard of Serial anyway. Its first episode aired in October 2014, and quickly became a phenomenon, downloaded more than 68 million times, spawning sprawling Reddit theory threads and making a star of its host Sarah Koenig.
The first season of Serial is in a similar vein to Making a Murderer, in that it centres around a murder case in which the imprisoned accused vehemently claims innocence. And, like Capturing the Friedmans, the evidence is presented in such a way that you're left free to come to your own conclusions about who (if anyone featured) is responsible for what.
The podcast takes a deep look into the murder case of Baltimore high-schooler Hae Min-Lee, a crime that ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed would quickly be convicted for. But timelines don't add up, and motives are murky. Those relied upon to give evidence are less than convincing, and possibly even covering up their own involvement. It's fascinating and terrifying all at once.
And, once you're down with season one, check out Serial's equally-gripping second-and-current season. More a military mystery than a true crime story, its well-researched look into the capture and release of American soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the hands of the Taliban is different in tone, but equally interesting. Season one can be found here, season two here.
In Making a Murderer, the Avery family is particularly vulnerable due to the fact its family members are either poorly educated or have learning difficulties. Similar exploitative action by the authorities takes place in Brother's Keeper, which looks into the case of Delbert Ward, accused in 1990 of the murder of his brother William in Syracuse, New York. The ageing brothers live in admittedly unusual circumstances – even sharing a bed in their dilapidated rural home – but also seem incapable of the acts depicted herein. The fact that Delbert's signed confession is used against him in court – despite the fact he couldn't even have read it – speaks volumes on the kind of injustices that may well have played out here.
The Imposter focusses on a crime of a different nature – identity theft rather than murder – but is no-less intriguing for it. In 1994, Texan teenager Nicholas Barclay went missing under mysterious circumstances, his family left distraught. Three years later, someone claiming to be him turns up in Spain. The relieved family take him in, but something is quite clearly changed in their son, but his explanation doesn't quite add up. An insightful look into love, loss, desperation and (again) systematic state failings, it'll have you gripped.