I started this blog with the idea that I would recap and review true crime documentaries. I could do that for all of the documentaries on this list, but they have been covered so thoroughly, I don’t think I could add anything of value. So, instead, here is a list of my top 10 favorite true crime documentaries of all time.
This list is by no mean exhaustive and I’m sure there will be many people who disagree with my rankings. There are spoilers for each documentary. Let’s get into it.
These are in no particular order.
- The Staircase
- There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane
- The Devil Next Door
- Murder Among the Mormons
- I Love You, Now Die
10. Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Netflix 2019)
Don’t F**k with Cats features vigilante internet justice. We hear the story of how Baudi Moovin (not her real name) and John Green (probably not his real name) used their internet sleuthing to catch Luka Magnotta. He first came on their radar after a video surfaced of two kittens being suffocated by being vacuum sealed in a bag. From here the documentary is one twist after another. Using clues in the video like his comforter, a vacuum, and sound in the background, they eventually discover that Luka Magnotta is the abuser. They report this to Canadian authorities, but no one listened or acted.
This behavior escalates to the murder of Lin Jun, a Chinese student, which Luka records and uploads to the internet. Luka went on the run after this and was eventually arrested in Berlin thanks to help from Baudi and John. What makes this case so unique is Luka’s bizarre behavior. He was fame hungry going as far to start a rumor about himself that he was romantically involved with another serial killer Karla Homalka. He made fan pages for himself. Doesn’t seem like he had any real fans. The murder of Lin Jun was very similar to the murder in Basic Instinct, very similar. Justice was finally served. Luka was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
9. Our Father (Netflix 2022)
I wish I could rewatch Our Father just to experience the initial shock again. Dr. Donald Cline was a fertility doctor in the 1970s and 1980s. Turns out he was inseminating many of his patients with his own sperm instead of donor sperm. This all comes to light when one of his many sperm donor children took an at-home DNA test. When it is revealed that one of his donor children used Dr. Cline as her own OBGYN, I nearly fell off of my couch.
As the documentary progresses, more and more children are discovered. The tally is shocking. By the end the number is 94. 94 children with the same father in the same geographical area. And apparently none of this is illegal. He was motivated by religion.
8. Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix 2017)
Where to even start with this one. Abducted in Plain Sight was directed by Skye Borgman who will appear on this list again. It tells the story of Jan Broberg who was kidnapped twice in the 1970s by the same man-family friend Robert Berchtold whom the family met at their Mormon temple and most people called B. It’s based on Jan’s memoir Stolen Innocence: The Jan Broberg Story. B became close to all of the Broberg children, but it was Jan who was his real desire. To this end, he had sexual interactions with Jan’s mother and father to later be used as blackmail. This information is revealed in one of the most memorable television moments in my memory. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for the Broberg parents. They make bad decision after bad decision most of the time to protect their secret transgressions.
When Jan was kidnapped again in 1976, he again was not convicted for first degree kidnapping. The Brobergs were scared of Berchtold. B had burned down the Brobergs business. Jan was relieved when she turned 16 and none of the horrible things the aliens threatened had happened.
The ending is cathartic. Jan confronting Berchtold as an adult woman is an inspiration to victims. And the fact that he has the audacity to show up at Jan’s speaking events is shocking. Jan took out a restraining order after this. Berchtold later committed suicide by overdosing on his prescription medications.
7. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (HBO 2020)
Based on the book with the same name by Michelle McNamara, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark tells the story of the hunt for The Golden State Killer. McNamara actually coined that name for him. Before he was known as EAR/ONS, East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker. This is without a doubt the most difficult to watch documentary on this list.
Yes, Joseph DeAngelo is a monster and listening to his victims describe the pain and trauma he inflicted upon them is terrible, but the fact that Michelle died of a secret opioid addiction before she finished her book is haunting. You get the impression that her obsession with this case and the book she was working on led to this accidental overdose as she tried to numb the pain and anxiety she felt.
I’ve only seen this once and I don’t know that I will ever watch it again. I could only watch an episode or two at a time because of how heavy the content is. Michelle’s death casts a shadow over the entire series and the commentary from her loving husband Patton Oswalt is heartbreaking.
6. Tiger King (Netflix 2020)
Is there a documentary that is more polarizing than Tiger King? It was released in 2020 at the beginning of the COVD-19 pandemic and it seemed like everyone watched it. It seems that you can’t have a lukewarm opinion on Tiger King: you either love it or hate it. I fall in the former camp. I have rewatched it several times and it is as funny and entertaining as the time before. But it’s not all humor here. The treatment of these animals is outright abusive in my opinion and in the opinion of at least one judge and jury. You almost forget that this doc is actually about Joe Exotic’s murder for hire plot which targeted his rival Carole Baskins. The moment that stands out the most to me is when Joe’s husband Travis accidentally shoots himself while another employee watches on. His horrified face is haunting.
I’m not really sure how serious Joe was about murdering Carole. It might have just been all talk. But I’m okay with him serving that time considering the animals he abused over the years.
There is a second and third season, but I can only recommend the third season which focuses on Doc Antle. Antle owns a private zoo in South Carolina. He claims to be a conservationist but that’s up for debate. In 2020 was indicted for various animal abuse and trafficking violations. But the real story is Antle’s family for lack of a better word. It’s more like a cult. He is a bigamist who uses abuse and intimidation to maintain his harem of women and exotic animals. In the end, I think Doc is worse than Joe, which is a hard feat to accomplish.
Part 2 Coming Soon
Let me know your thoughts. What would be in your top 10?
Watch out for Part 2 coming soon!