Top of the Docs #16 – The Ten Best True Crime Docuseries Streaming Now

If you loved Netflix’s Tiger King, then you’re in luck as there’s an abundance of true crime documentary series – a.k.a. docuseries – streaming right now. The docuseries format allows a story to be told with a level detail that couldn’t fit into a single documentary. To save you some time searching, here’s a list of the best ones out there. 

Due to the nature of true crime, these shows can be hard to watch at times, so be sure to check in with yourself before deep-diving into dark crimes. Although they can be very distracting, they can definitely stir up some unwanted emotions. The series listed here include discussion of sexual violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, and racist violence, sometimes accompanied by crime scene photos, so please watch with caution where necessary

1. Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children

Image courtesy of Get Lifted Film Company

Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children follows the investigation of the Atlanta child murders that occured from 1979 to 1981. At least 28 Black children, teens, and young adults were murdered over the three year period, yet there was little media coverage and inadequate response from the city of Atlanta due to the victims race and lower social class. The five part series includes interviews with parents of those who were killed, investigators, and forensic experts. Each individual story is heart-wrenching on its own but combined with a lack of action from law enforcement and city officials, the stories become infuriating. Few of the cases ever made it to trial, leaving the victim’s families, communities, and the city of Atlanta with far more questions than answers.

Where to watch: HBO

2. Wild Wild Country

Image courtesy of Duplass Brothers Productions

Wild Wild Country covers the rise and fall of the cult led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his assistant Ma Anand Sheela. The community, donning only red clothing, built their collective home in Oregon where they clashed with locals. As tensions built with the locals, so did their suspicion of the new community. The docuseries uncovers the dark secrets of Rajneesh and his followers through historical footage and interviews with surviving locals and former followers. 

Where to watch: Netflix

3. The Keepers

Image courtesy of Tripod Media

The unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik still haunts her former students fifty years later. The initial investigation was inconclusive, so to find answers, they dug deeper. What they found was shocking: Sister Cathy was likely killed for knowing too much. The Keepers shows the depth of corruption and child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, a problem shown time and time again, and documented in other media such as Spotlight (2015) and Doubt (2008). Though the show centers on Sister Cathy, it zooms out to explore the larger context that created the situation where the abuse was able to occur. 

Where to watch: Netflix

4. Who Killed Malcolm X?

Image courtesy of Ark Media

Scholar Abdur-Rahman Muhammad has researched the death of civil rights leader Malcolm X for upwards of three decades, finding details that suggest poor handling of evidence by police, confusing details, and possible government knowledge of the assassination before it happened. Who Killed Malcolm X? begins the work of untangling the mess of an investigation with the help of new information from Muhammad’s extensive research, though it does not necessarily produce the answers viewers want. 

Where to watch: Netflix

5. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

Image courtesy of Luminant Media

Eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez died  as a result of ongoing physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his parents. The Trail of Gabriel Fernandez documents the court proceedings and investigative work of lawyers. Gabriel’s death shines a light on the shortcomings of the Los Angeles DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services). Extremely hard to watch but very important, The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez shows what needs to change in order to prevent the death of children at their parents hands.

Where to watch: Netflix

6. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films

Robert Durst was accused of brutally murdering three people, one of which was the subject of the film All Good Things (2010). His case came into the national spotlight due to Durst’s extremely wealthy New York family. In The Jinx, Durst’s strange life is the focus. Never before seen documents, footage, and an interview with Durst himself unravel the motives and psyche behind the stomach-churning murders. Before The Jinx, Durst was always vehemently private but, because he liked the film All Good Things, he reached out to the director Andrew Jarecki. Durst shared personal documents and his perspective with Jarecki, giving the public a rare glimpse into the mind of a killer. His arrest coincided with the release date of the series finale in 2015, adding an extra layer of relevance to the series. His trial began in early March 2020 but has since been postponed due to COVID-19, so concrete answers are yet to come. 

Where to watch: HBO

7. Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer

Image courtesy of Raw TV

A video surfaced online of a man killing adorable kittens. Outrage grew and spawned a Facebook group determined to find the man;harming animals is a well-known precursor to escalated levels of violence, so the Facebook sleuths feared the worst. More videos appeared with progressively more graphic content, prompting an all-hands-on-deck search for the mystery man. Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer shows the terrifying creation of a killer, possibly fueled by the attention he garnered online. 

Where to watch: Netflix

8. The Staircase

Image courtesy of Maha Productions

Many of these docuseries cover cases without clear answers, but there’s something about The Staircase that is particularly unnerving. In 2001, Michael Peterson’s wife Kathleen was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their home, with some injuries inconsistent with the fall. The cause of death looks eerily similar to the death of another woman Peterson knew, raising further questions about his character. Peterson was charged with the murder, but vehemently maintains his innocence for the entire course of the proceedings. The series covers the trial and aftermath with footage of Peterson, lawyers, family members, and the trial itself. 

Where to watch: Netflix

9. The Golden State Killer: It’s Not Over

Image courtesy of Investigation Discovery Network

The Golden State Killer (GSK) — also known as the East Area Rapist or the Original Night Stalker — terrorized the state of California for over a decade (1974-1986) as he burglarized over a hundred homes, raped at least fifty people, and murdered at least ten. The GSK evaded capture for almost fifty years, despite mounds of evidence documented in The Golden State Killer: It’s Not Over. Watching the series now adds a new layer of intrigue because the killer, Joseph James DeAngelo was apprehended in August 2018 thanks to the use of familial DNA evidence.

Where to watch: Hulu

10. The Pharmacist

Image courtesy of The Cinemart

After his son was shot and killed, pharmacist Dan Schneider took it upon himself to find out who killed his son. Schneider’s search takes him to the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, US – a Black neighborhood with high rates of drug use and shooting deaths. There, his son went to buy drugs and never returned. In his self-motivated investigation, Schneider’s attention turns to doctors over-prescribing opioids, raising questions about the real source of drug abuse in the US.

Where to watch: Netflix