hat’s the strange fascination we have with true crime on TV? It usually has the satisfying components of a good story – a hero, a victim, a villain and (sometimes) a resolution. For those many unsolved mysteries, there’s also the ego massage that comes with trying to figure out the problem ourselves.
Whether we stay glued to the screen for the storytelling or for the drama, the genre has only grown in popularity in recent years, fed perhaps by the explosion in true crime podcasts that followed the launch of its first real blockbuster, Serial, in 2014.
The real crime, then, would be missing the countless carefully curated specials and docuseries that now take on the endless well of weird and warped crime from every angle imaginable. Here’s our pick of some of the year’s true crime documentaries and docuseries.
Who Stole Tamara Ecclestone’s Diamonds?
This BBC Three documentary from director Ben Bryant and journalist Thomas Mackintosh details Britain’s most lucrative home burglary. Back in 2019, while socialite Tamara Ecclestone (daughter of former Formula 1 chief executive and billionaire Bernie) was holidaying in Lapland with her family, a gang of thieves broke into her 57-room home on Billionaires’ Row.
The burglars somehow managed to spend an hour on the property before being clocked by security guards, stealing 400 items that were worth more than £26m. The subsequent tale involves an unsolicited dick pick, an escort, and a cast of comically distinctive characters. The documentary was described by The Guardian as, “Ocean’s Eleven meets Only Fools and Horses” - ie. absolutely worth a watch.
The Killing Season
Documentarians Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills investigate the unsolved case of the Long Island Serial Killer. Between 1996 and 2010 between 10 to 16 people (most of whom were sex workers) were found murdered in a desolate area on the South Shore of Long Island.
House of Maxwell
It was the case that rocked half of the world: financier Jeffrey Epstein, who moved in an elite social circle that allegedly included everyone from Bill Clinton to Prince Andrew to Les Wexner, was arrested in 2019 for sexually abusing as many as 36 young girls. He died in prison before he could stand trial.
Behind his injurious actions was girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, who was found guilty of enticing and procuring individuals under the age of 17 for sex in December 2021. This three-part documentary tracks the rise and fall of the socialite.
Surviving a Serial Killer
They survived encounters with some of the world’s most notorious serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Peter Sutcliffe, Bobby Joe Long. Now, these individuals share their stories about their ordeals. Long’s ex-wife details the emotional abuse she suffered at his hands; Mo Lea was attacked by the Yorkshire Ripper; Jade Reynolds found that one of her clients, Steve Wright, was a serial killer. Although each case is undeniably tough, the silver lining is, of course, that these are stories of survival.
Sins of Our Mother
This true crime starts on an intriguing premise and only gets more convoluted. Two of Lori Vallow’s kids vanish, her husband is found dead and so is her future husband Chad Daybell’s wife Tammy. There’s a background of domestic violence and sexual abuse, involvement with a Mormon church, a cult, plus talk of the end of days – does it get more true crime than this?
Through interviews with family members, including Lori’s mother and her third child Colby, plus material drawn from emails, podcast and police interviews, phone calls and bodycam footage the mystery is pieced together. It “is expertly structured and full of twists and turns, and leaves that slightly grubby feeling of getting sucked into other people’s suffering for the purposes of entertainment,” said The Guardian.
Daybell and Vallow are set to stand trial in January 2023 for first-degree murder (which they deny), meaning a second season is also beckoning.
I Am A Killer (Season 3)
This series returns for a third season. Each episode focuses on a different Death Row inmate and gives firsthand accounts of the crime that brought them to their prison cell. Obviously grisly and gruesome, the series still provokes some interesting questions about remorse, domestic abuse, memory, mental illness and trauma.
Murder in the Alps
A decade ago three members of the Al-Hilli family and local cyclist Sylvain Mollier were found murdered by a remote forest layby in the French Alps. Now this three-part documentary details the case - including two dozen bullet casings near the family’s BMW, the detention of Al-Hilli’s brother and a French former soldier. It’s full of juicy details, such as the police believing it could have been the work of a professional hitman.
(Volume 3 coming on October 18)
This Netflix reboot of the long-running American TV series of the same name, covers, as could be guessed from the show’s title, mysteries that have never been tied up. It has more of a paranormal angle than some of the other true crime series on this list - but cold cases are investigated too. The show has been produced by Stranger Things mastermind (and executive producer) Shawn Levy.
The Unsolved Murder of Beverly Lynn Smith
This Amazon Original covers the cold case of 22-year-old Beverly Lynn Smith who was found murdered in her kitchen in 1974. She lived in a rustic farmhouse in Ontario with her husband and baby, but it was Alan Smith (no relation to Beverly) who became the prime suspect in the case. Now, nearly 50 years later, the results of a polygraph test recharged the case. The four-part series uses interviews, firsthand accounts and archives to build a fascinating picture.
Anni: The Honeymoon Murder
This series details the story of Bristol millionaire Shrien Dewani and his wife Anni Dewani, 28, who found themselves slightly out of Cape Town on their honeymoon in 2010, just weeks after their wedding. When Anni was murdered in a taxi her husband was accused of orchestrating the crime. While Dewani has been cleared of all charges, Anni’s family are still haunted by what really happened that night.
This docuseries explores the unsolved crime and the unresolved feelings of bereavement and doubt. This isn’t the first series to tackle this story, but Discovery+ shows one of the offender’s accounts of Anni’s death and includes exclusive testimonies from her loved ones.
Memories of a Murderer – The Nilsen Tapes
Duration: 1h 25m
From the makers of the wildly popular true crime docuseries Don’t F**k With Cats, comes another true crime story, and this one has been narrated by the real voice of one of Britain’s most notorious murderers, Dennis Nilsen. Audio clips have been extracted from more than 250 hours of recordings Nilsen made from his jail cell, presumably in the hope of shaping his own story: “I was an inwardly troubled boy and nobody seemed to notice,” he says in one.
Nilsen recalls how he hunted his targets – mostly gay men, like himself – whose names he didn’t even remember. Whatever you think about the moral choice of the filmmakers to broadcast the tapes, this is a fascinating look at the former civil servant. For those who find the firsthand audiotapes too much, David Tennant’s 2020 portrayal of Nilsen in the ITV drama Des may be more up your street.
This series follows detectives in three different murder cases across the US, focusing on the police staff who investigated each case and their commitment to justice for the victims, even decades later. You can practically smell the coffee and cigarettes in original footage from the precincts showing the officers assigned to each case, as the clips take you back to the scene of the crime. It’s a small but effective portrayal of police work at its best. The satisfaction of a clear-cut conclusion alone is enough to binge this in a day.
Social Media Murders
This series comprises individual films all linked by the role of social media in the real-life murders of three young people. One for those with a stronger constitution: The makers of The Murder of Grace Millane, The Murder of Molly McLaren and The Murder of Alex Rodda certainly spare no details about the violent attacks. Horrifying as it is to watch, this series highlights the risky reality of online relationships and trust across the internet.
Sophie: A Murder in West Cork
French socialite Sophie Toscan du Plantier was killed just a few days before Christmas 1996 in West Cork, Ireland – the first recorded murder to occur there. This documentary, made with the help of Sophie’s family, dedicates itself to accurately painting the picture of grief experienced by those who suffered her loss. There was only one suspect, investigative journalist Ian Bailey, who was never prosecuted. The docuseries was criticised for largely following one version of events, and leaving all the probing and unpacking until the end. Nevertheless, a fascinating case which became the subject of a highly popular Audible podcast, West Cork, in 2018.
Murder Among the Mormons
“The only way to keep a secret between two people is to kill one of them” – says this series’ trailer ominously. This exposé of church scandal, forged documents, lots of money and, of course, murder, shows the lengths to which some will go to convince people of their version of events. A truly unpredictable series of transgressions – even for the more experienced true crime addicts.
Think less murder, more faux-feminist empowerment and million-dollar fraud. Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason’s true crime documentary LuLaRich follows Mark and DeAnne Stidham and the rise of their Mormon Multi-Level Marketing clothing business (cough, pyramid scheme) LuLaRoe, built off the backs of lonely mothers and women who are now suing the company to claim back their time, money and friendships. LuLaRich shares their stories. A refreshing break from serial killers, this documentary exposes the corruption of the worst type of girlboss, affecting those women who need the most uplifting.
Why Did You Kill Me?
Duration: 1h 23m
Why Did You Kill Me follows Belinda Lane’s amateur undercover investigation through MySpace to discover her 24-year-old daughter Crystal Theobald’s murderer. Due to her mistrust of law enforcement and the family’s previous criminal involvement, it becomes clear that Belinda may actually stand in the way of discovering the truth. The result is a complicated turn of events that also works to show viewers the human side of people who make mistakes.
Finding Kendrick Johnson
Duration: 1h 42m
The 2013 death of Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead and rolled up in a mat in his high school gym, remains unsolved to this day. Looking into the gross injustice of his death, ruled first as an accident, Kendrick’s family hired their own medical examiner who found evidence of much worse. Director Jason Pollock investigates the alleged cover-up.