Stranger Than Fiction: The Best True Crime Series on Netflix
Netflix made a name for itself with true crime fans with the extremely popular docuseries, Making A Murderer. However, its true crime library’s depth is enough to intrigue even the most voracious true crime consumers. Whether you’re fascinated by the psychology of criminals, the scientific process that identifies them, or the justice system, Netflix has a true crime documentary series that highlights precisely that.
Offering a wide range of docuseries that are full of rare insights into the crime and those affected by it, Netflix is the standout streaming service for true crime fans. We’ve cultivated a list of the very best true crime series on Netflix. It’s time to play armchair detective.
Tiger King became a national sensation upon its release right as the U.S. was going into quarantine for the pandemic, and with good reason. The true story of Joe Exotic, wild cat collector and breeder, polygamist, and a would-be politician is too crazy to be fiction. While Joe Exotic’s antics at his Oklahoma “zoo” would be fascinating enough, Tiger King centers on his overwhelming hatred for a fellow wild cat lover, Carole Baskin. As Joe’s contempt consumes him, he begins a murder for hire plot that is truly jaw-dropping.
Originally titled Medical Detectives, Forensic Files is one of the pioneering true crime shows that showed real-life CSI work before anyone knew what CSI was. Profiling the most baffling true crime cases that were at an impasse before forensic scientists solved them, Forensic Files served as the world’s introduction to the science behind crime-solving. The long-running series aired from 1996-2011 and was revived in 2020 for an updated Forensic Files II.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez
This heart-wrenching docuseries highlights the horrific abuse and eventual murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, as well as the system that failed him. Based on L.A. Times journalist Garrett Therolf’s coverage of the abuse, the case brought to light the failings of systems set up to protect the most vulnerable children. This intense look at mental illness disregarded warning signs, and a child’s unfailing love for his abusive mother is harrowing but necessary.
Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer
This captivating docuseries follows a group of amateur internet detectives determined to track down the perpetrator of an animal cruelty video posted online. A niche online community comes across videos of a perpetrator murdering kittens and vows to find the perpetrator and bring him to justice. As the cat murderer’s violence escalates, an international manhunt begins, aided by the group armed only with their tenacity and keyboard skills.
The Innocence Files
Profiling the work of the nonprofit agency, The Innocence Project, The Innocence Files focuses on the personal stories of those wrongly convicted and the major causes of wrongful convictions. The nine-episode series divides into three parts, revealing where most verdicts go astray: flawed forensic science, or “The Evidence,” misuse of eyewitness accounts, or “The Witness,” and prosecutorial misconduct, or “The Prosecution.” A must-watch for anyone fascinated by the criminal justice system, The Innocence Files is a revealing look at where the process goes astray.
Covering the unsolved 1969 murder of beloved high school teacher Sister Cathy Cesnik, The Keepers exposes way more than a surprising murder suspect. Cesnik was a popular teacher at Baltimore’s all-girls Archbishop Keough High School. Decades later, former students allege that a priest at the school sexually abused them and that Cesnik planned to bring his crimes to light. Their accounts tying Cesnik’s murder to the abusive priest reveals the possibility for a much bigger coverup.
Making a Murderer
Making a Murderer stands out as a series not just because it was such a massive success for Netflix, but because it covered an unprecedented ten year period of injustice and uncertainty. Stephen Avery was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in 1985 and spent 18 years in prison before The Innocence Project worked for his exoneration. Two years after his release, police charged Avery with murder. He maintains that law enforcement planted the evidence against him due to the $36 million civil suit he filed against the county. Making a Murderer emphasizes what happens to those who get caught up in the legal system without financial resources and how vital effective legal counsel is.
Carmel: Who Killed Maria Marta?
Maria Marta Garcia Belsunce was an Argentine socialite found dead in her bathtub at the age of 50. Police initially believed she hit her head accidentally, but the autopsy revealed five bullets in her head. Maria’s widower, brother, and half brother have all faced charges related to her death, which is still unsolved. The docuseries explores everything from a connection to a drug cartel to Maria’s neighbour’s potential involvement. Audiences will draw their own conclusion to the question, Who Killed Maria Marta?
When Unsolved Mysteries aired in 1987, it was the first of its kind. The iconic show offered a dramatized mystery documentary that faithfully graced our televisions for 15 seasons. Netflix’s new reboot of Unsolved Mysteries is a refreshing update, eschewing the 3-4 mysteries an episode format, the narrator, and the dramatic reenactments, and offering each episode as a deep dive into the unknown, focusing on interviews with those involved, and served up in a documentary-style. The refresh is just what the show needed to stay relevant, and the new episodes bring back everything there was to love about Unsolved Mysteries.
The Confession Killer
Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas is more famous for the murders he didn’t commit than the ones he did. Convicted of murdering eleven people between 1960 and 1983, Lucas was already in prison when he began confessing to further unsolved murders. Law enforcement enthusiastically recorded his confessions, clearing hundreds of cold case files. As journalists started covering his admissions, they turned a sharp eye to interrogation techniques and police procedures. The Confession Killer uses actual recordings of Lucas’s time with the police to uncover both sides’ manipulation.
Trial 4 is the frustrating and heartbreaking story of Sean Ellis, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering a police officer in 1993 when he was just 19 years old. Chronicling Ellis’s fight for his freedom after spending 22 years in prison for the crime, Trial 4 is a weighty docuseries. Covering the three trials that landed Ellis in prison, as well as the fourth trial that eventually freed him, Trial 4 deals with police misconduct, systematic racism, and longstanding corruption.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
Based on the book by renowned author and former neighbour of Jeffrey Epstein, James Patterson, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich offers a comprehensive look at the billionaire financier’s crimes and the influential people who exonerated him. Full of horrific stories of Epstein’s human trafficking, sexual assaults, and financial crimes, along with speculation around who was involved in his misdeeds and what information he lorded over them. When Epstein managed to avoid justice, it was the work of his victims’ lawyer Brad Edwards who led to his eventual demise.
Evil Genius: The Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Widely known as the 2003 “Pizza Bomber” case, Evil Genius looks at the ongoing investigation into Brian Wells, a pizza delivery man who robbed a bank with a bomb strapped around his neck. Police caught Wells, but his bomb detonated on live television as they waited for the bomb squad to arrive. The investigation into the case unveils a complicated plot and the uncertain role that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong played in it. Was she a mentally ill victim or a criminal mastermind?
The French documentary series The Staircase follows the mysterious death of Kathleen Peterson. This 13 part series investigates her husband’s role in her death and the subsequent trials. On the surface, Kathleen’s death looks simple. She fell down the stairs. However, the ensuing investigation and proceedings around her murder prove that nothing is as it seems. With illicit affairs, discredited experts, and the infamous “owl theory,” The Staircase has become one of the most shocking documentaries on television.
Forensic evidence is the highest standard of proof in a criminal case, offering scientific data that may render other factors irrelevant. Exhibit A showcases where forensics can be misinterpreted or mishandled, leading to a wrongful conviction. With each of the four parts, the series dives into four types of evidence: video surveillance, blood spatter, cadaver dogs, and fingerprint DNA. This fascinating look at how the science isn’t as rock-solid as it can seem is a must-watch for any true crime lover.
Cold Case Files
Cold Case Files highlights the cases that have gone unsolved for years. This classic true crime docuseries emphasizes crimes solved through forensic technology advances, criminal psychology, and new witnesses coming forward, finally finding justice for victims and their families after years without answers. Since it began in 1999, Cold Case Files has highlighted hundreds of unsolved crimes deserving of a second look.
The Innocent Man
Based on John Grisham’s 2006 nonfiction book of the same name, The Innocent Man follows two murder cases in Oklahoma and examines potential false confessions. This six-part series takes a comprehensive look at the investigations and trials around these murders. The Innocent Man chiefly focuses on the 1982 murder of Debbie Sue Carter and the wrongful conviction of two men in her case. While that story is fascinating enough, The Innocent Man examines it against the 1984 murder of Donna Denice Haraway, with startling similarities. Are her killers’ victims of the same corruption?
Exploring notorious murders in modern history, Murder Maps looks at these cases in detail, highlighting a different period in every episode. A fascinating combination of history and crime, this docuseries covers the forensic evidence found at these crimes, the investigation techniques used by detectives during that era, and the societal mentalities that sparked these crimes. Audiences discover how law enforcement’s tactics evolved throughout history, beginning in the Victorian Era and beyond.
Wild, Wild Country
Told in a six-part series, Wild Wild Country spotlights the Indian guru that was considered a cult leader by some, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. With access to over 300 hours of archived footage, this series provides a first-hand look at the Rajneeshpuram commune in Wasco County, Oregon, in the early 1980s. As the community transforms from a free love utopia to a violent and destructive gang willing to do anything to maintain control, this series offers a mesmerizing look at a complex and unexamined time in American history.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
One of Netflix’s most popular true crime offerings, Killer Inside, provides a look at the life of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez and the events that eventually led him to take his own life. Seemingly at the height of his professional football career, Hernandez murdered Odin Lloyd, leaving the world to wonder why someone who had it all would throw it away? The Killer Inside attempts to answer that question by probing into Hernandez’s punitive upbringing, abusive father, and sexuality.