True Crime Documentaries You Need to Watch This Fall
Updated: Apr 9
While spooky season is in full swing and horror films are all the rage this time of year, not everyone is into paranormal activity or pools of fake blood. Some of us are into the real thing: true crime. This has become a hot topic over the last couple of years with many podcasts gaining international attention.
I, however, prefer a visual element when it comes to storytelling and am fascinated by the real-life events that have occurred from the actions of serial killers, cult leaders, and other evil figures throughout history. Having watched just about every documentary on the subject, I curated a list of the best true crime documentaries you should see this fall. So grab a blanket and a cuddle buddy, because you won't want to watch these alone.
WARNING: Not for those who easily get nightmares or are at risk of becoming extremely paranoid just walking down the street.
For Fans of True Crime:
Evil Genius (Netflix) details the harrowing story of Brian Wells, a pizza delivery man who met his unfortunate fate on August 28th, 2003. Wells was sent to deliver a pizza at the end of his shift, only to be met by a group of men who kidnapped him, strapped a bomb around the collar of his shirt, and sent him to rob a bank. In order to have the bomb removed, and ultimately save his life, Wells was told to follow a set of instructions that would lead him to the key that would remove the bomb. Unfortunately, he was caught by police in the process and was unable to convince them that he was a victim rather than a perpetrator.
Who Was The Unabomber? on Youtube. Another less common criminal story is that of Ted Kaczynski, otherwise known as The Unabomber. Kaczynski managed to escape the police for 18 years, killing 23 people in the process of his elaborate scheme to send letter bombs to people working to make technological advances. You can learn about his story in this film.
For Fans of Live Footage:
Nightwatch (Hulu, Youtube, YoutubeTV) is the show for you if you like to see what it's like to be a first responder. The series takes viewers alongside police, fire, and EMS as they go through their routine nightshift, though anything can happen. The first three seasons take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, while the following seasons are filmed in Tampa, Florida. Although very different settings, both cities provide plenty of entertainment and trauma.
A Killer on Floor 32 (Hulu, Youtube) is a special presentation by ABC's Nightline series that provides an inside look at what took place the night of America's deadliest mass shooting in Las Vegas. Though it can be difficult to watch due to the real, raw footage from both police body cams and victim' cellphones, it's interesting to see what takes place during a public disaster such as this one.
For Fans of Confessions & Interrogations:
Kemper on Kemper (Hulu) features Edmund Kemper aka "The Co-ed Killer" gained notoriety in 1963 when he murdered both of his grandparents, purely for the satisfaction of knowing what it felt like to kill someone. He went on to kill his mother along with six other young women in the 1970s, making him one of America's most famous serial killers. The film gives viewers a chance to hear about his crimes from the killer himself, providing insight into what it's like to come face to face with a serial killer.
JCS Criminal Psychology on Youtube is great for a more in-depth perspective with an emphasis on the psychological aspect of murderers. If you're obsessed with learning about body language and alarming actions to look out for, you'll definitely want to check out.
For Fans of Cults:
The Jonestown Massacre: Paradise Lost on Youtube. Just about everyone has heard the stories behind The (Charles) Manson Family and The Waco Massacre, so if you're looking to learn about some less popular Cults, Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite come to mind. Both men were the leaders behind cults that gained a widespread following and ended in mass suicides. Jim Jones moved his cult, known as "The People's Temple", to Guyana in 1974 to create his idea of a utopian atmosphere for him and his followers though he eventually poisoned all of them with cyanide-laced Kool-aid upon discovering several members planned to leave the church.
Heaven's Gate on Youtube is great if you want to learn more about a UFO cult. On the contrary, Marshall Applewhite believed himself to be a self-proclaimed prophet whose purpose on Earth was to help others reach "The Next Level" through a group he called "Heaven's Gate". His teachings were based on the belief that when the right time came, he and his followers would be transported off the Earth by UFO. In March 1997, Applewhite and the rest of the group took their own lives by overdosing on a mixture of vodka and sedatives.
For Fans of The Unthinkable:
Bigger Warning: These next films are NOT for the faint of heart.
Dahmer on Dahmer (Youtube) features Jeffrey Dahmer, who is famously known for being a serial killer, but not many know the details of his crimes, including dismembering and storing bodies in his home, cannibalism, and creating real-life zombies out of victims. The killer discusses these details and talks about moments of his upbringing that led him to commit gruesome crimes.
In addition, The Fifth Estate: Bus 1170 (Youtube) tells the story of the dismembering, beheading, and eating of 22-year-old Tim McLean by Vincent Li as innocent bystanders watched in horror.
Did these spook you a bit? Good, because 'tis the season. Keep this list in mind the next time you're wanting to watch something suspenseful or scary while educating yourself. We know documentaries can seem boring and not many positive connations come with the term, but we promise you, it's so worth it.
What's your take on documentaries and true crime? Let us know in the comments below!