20 True Crime Documentaries About Unsolved Mysteries

Samantha Sutton | Mar 21, 2019 Crime
20 True Crime Documentaries About Unsolved Mysteries
Image: Netflix

Steven Avery in Making a Murderer photo
Netflix

When it comes to our favorite weekend activity, it probably won't be too surprising to learn that it involves a big bowl of popcorn, a remote, and a good amount of time devoted to an addictive movie or show. Binge-watching is a luxury that we can't always afford (ugh, life), and so, when we finally get a free moment to do just that, we intend on doing it right.

That means that if we're in the mood for a rom-com, we'll go for the classics -- or if we want a laugh, we'll browse around for an underrated sitcom (we suggest Schitt's Creek, though we just heard it's coming to an end ... *tear*). Sometimes, the mood strikes and we need some suspense, in which case, our go-to is anything true crime.

While there are plenty of feature-length movies that are creepily based on real-life events -- and, spoiler alert, all of them have a chance of keeping us up at night -- there's nothing quite like a documentary to really suck us in. We'll occasionally come across something that's especially intriguing, prompting us to sit on the edge of our seats, gasp every so often, and ultimately leave us scratching our heads, curious about what we just saw.

For those who don't mind spending the next few days wondering about planted evidence, coerced confessions, and feeling slightly suspicious of friends and family members, there are a handful of unsolved, true crime mysteries that have been the subject of both documentaries and docu-series. There's a reason why Making a Murderer is still making headlines, and why Netflix can't stop releasing more stories about people who might have been wrongfully convicted. These must-watches are infuriating, suspenseful, and eye-opening, all at the same time.

We're rounding up a few that we think are worth watching.

  • 'Making a Murderer'

    1

    Steven Avery already spent years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, and it's possible he's doing it again. Just after he took action against the town and people who originally locked him up, he was accused of killing 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach.

    But did law enforcement plant evidence and coerce a confession out of his nephew, who is also serving time for possibly assisting with this murder?

    That's the question this doc -- and Steven's lawyers, who are fighting for his freedom -- are posing.

  • 'Disappearance of Madeleine McCann'

    2

    Ever since Disappearance of Madeleine McCann hit Netflix, it's been hard not to look away. This real-life unsolved mystery follows the story of Madeleine, a 3-year-old who went missing over a decade ago during her family's vacation in Portugal. There's so much speculation as to what happened, though this case has yet to be solved.

  • 'The Staircase'

    3

    Michael Peterson's wife died at the bottom of the staircase -- but whether she fell or was beaten to death by Michael himself, the only other person in the house with her, is the question that begs to be answered. While Michael is originally convicted of the crime and serves time in prison, new information comes to light years later that changes everything, and filming spans over 13 years.

    Also, once finished, viewers will definitely want read about the "Owl Theory."

  • 'The Innocent Man'

    4

    It's the story that inspired John Grisham's nonfiction novel of the same name, now playing out on-screen. This one is similar to Netflix's other highly addicting, true crime offerings: When it comes to a small-town murder, did the police really do a good job in finding the killer? Do the stories line up with the evidence? Are the wrong people in prison?

  • 'The Keepers'

    5

    The question being asked here is "who killed Sister Cathy?" In 1969, a Catholic school nun disappeared and turned up dead ... but her killer has never been caught. As we get deeper into the story, we realize that the key to finding her killer is finding out what she knew about the sexual abuse occurring at the school -- and who wanted to keep her quiet.

  • 'Killing Jimmy Hoffa'

    6

    Jimmy Hoffa was a powerful man and former leader of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, an American labor union. Then, in the mid 1970s, the guy just vanished. It's was assumed that he was killed, but was it because he was involved with the mafia?

    Or because he butted heads with the Kennedy family?

    The facts are all laid out for us, but we're still unsure what really went down.

  • 'The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst'

    7
    The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst photo
    HBO

    Murder has been a common theme in real estate heir Robert Durst's life, and this documentary tells us how he's been linked to three different cases: the disappearance of his wife, the murder of his friend Susan Berman, and the murder of a neighbor -- which he's admitted to, but was acquitted after claiming self-defense. We get a look at Robert's life leading up to this point and also hear from the man himself.

    The most chilling part comes in the form of newly uncovered evidence and a moment where Robert forgets his mic is on.

  • 'There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane'

    8

    In 2009, a woman drove the wrong way on New York's Taconic Parkway, killing herself and seven other people -- including her own child and three nieces. She was labeled as a drunk, but it seemed so out of character for this suburban mother that it's worth questioning if that was really the case.

    Many are still wondering what really happened that tragic day.

  • 'Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills'

    9

    Three children turned up dead in West Memphis, Arkansas, with three teens charged with their murder. Due to the graphic nature of their deaths, and the way the kids were found, it's thought that they were the victims of a satanic ritual.

    But confessions may have been coerced, and evidence isn't solid, making us question what exactly happened in this case.

  • 'The Life & Death Of Marsha P. Johnson'

    10

    In 1992, trans woman and activist Marsha P. Johnson turned up dead. But as for what exactly happened to her remains a mystery, and her case has since been closed. Many believe she was murdered, so her friend, Victoria Cruz, decided to launch an investigation of her own, interviewing Marsha's friends, family, and other activist.

  • 'Who Took Johnny'

    11

    Johnny Gosch was a paperboy in Des Moines, Iowa, when he suddenly disappeared, never returning from his route one morning. But as for what happened to the child, who was the first ever to have his face appear on a milk carton, is still unknown -- even with all the clues, stories, and sighting this documentary was able to gather.

  • 'The Imposter'

    12

    What's creepy about this story is that, years after a child's disappearance, a man was able to lie and convince the boy's family that he was actually their long lost son. He later confessed to the deception, and we get to see how he was able to pull it off -- but it still doesn't solve the mystery of what truly happened to the boy he was pretending to be.

  • 'Cropsey'

    13

    Two Staten Island filmmakers begin looking into the cases of multiple children who went missing years ago and how the whole thing ties into the local urban legend. (The mysterious drifter, Andre Rand, may be connected to their disappearance.) Many questions remain unanswered, and the question of whether or not Andre was used as a scapegoat is posed.

  • 'Out of Thin Air'

    14

    When two people disappear in Iceland in 1976, an investigation was launched, and it's suspected that foul play was involved. Then, when six suspects confess to murder, it seems like the mystery has been solved ... but it turns out the whole thing is way more complicated, and that the group's story may have come from false memories and torture.

  • 'The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer'

    15
    The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer photo
    A&E

    The identity of the Zodiac Killer -- a serial murderer who was linked to a series of deaths in the '60s and '70s -- still remains unknown, but there have been clues. In this miniseries, a new investigation is launched, and the Zodiac Killer's Z340 is attempted to be cracked once more.

  • 'The 43'

    16
    In 2014, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. The government had one story about what happened -- involving a local gang and the burning of the group's bodies. But the story is inconsistent, and loved ones are still left wondering what the truth is.
  • 'Biggie & Tupac'

    17

    Here's one with a pop culture twist and a story that many are familiar with.

    This documentary asks the question of who killed rappers Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace and Tupac "2Pac" Shakur -- raising the question if it was actually the head of Death Row Records, Suge Knight, and involved collusion with the LAPD.

    Hmm.

  • 'Capturing the Friedmans'

    18
    Capturing the Friedmans documentary photo
    HBO

    What started out as a documentary about clowns led to a deeper, more disturbing story than could've ever been expected. Originally, a popular clown called Silly Billy -- whose real name is David Friedman -- was set to be one of the subjects of the story, until it was discovered that this same man's brother and father had both pleaded guilty to sexually abusing children. The focus shifted to this family, and whether they are guilty is questioned.

  • 'Brother's Keeper'

    19

    This story focuses on four semi-literate brothers who worked as farmers in a rural New York town. When one of the brothers dies, and foul play is suspected, another brother is arrested for his murder. While a confession is signed, we wonder if he was coerced and also question what his motive would be for killing his family member.

  • 'Murder Mountain'

    20

    Humboldt County, California, was home to at least 60 percent of America's black market, and illegally grown marijuana -- and people who found themselves in that area often went missing. In this series, we hear the story of one of those missing people, 29-year-old Garret Rodriguez, who disappeared on this "Murder Mountain." We also learn what role law enforcement possibly plays in these events.

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