what to follow your 'making a murderer’ binge with
Already watched all of 'Making a Murderer'? Listened to all of 'Serial'? Here's the best true crime stories for you to tackle next...
You've probably finished Making a Murderer by now. But that hasn't stopped you joining the procession of armchair detectives who, after eye-rolling at the final verdicts of the trial, went online to read more about it. Maybe because you felt dissatisfied by all the unanswered questions in the series -- like, why was there zero trace of blood in the bedroom and the garage, where this bloody killing supposedly took place? Did the jury never stop to consider Steven Avery has an IQ lower than 70 and doesn't wear underwear? These are important facts.
Part of what makes the series so compelling is that it feels like an anomaly, a unique case in the history of America's criminal justice system. But here's the thing. It's not. As shocking as it is, the case of Steven Avery is not a one-off. Innocent men have been wrongly convicted before. Probably more times than we know. So, if you're fascinated by true-crime documentaries that make you ask yourself, "What if that happened to me? How would I cope being locked up for something I definitely didn't do?" And you're also on the verge of tears about finishing Making a Murderer, Serial, and The Jinx, then you might want to check out these astonishing films that will once again leave your jaw dangling.
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
If you dress a bit like Robert Smith, listen to Metallica, have an interest in Satanism, and live in Memphis, beware. You might land in jail if there happens to be a "ritualistic" murder in town and the cops can't find anyone else to pin it on. That's basically what happened to three teens in 1994, when they were convicted of the murder and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys. The film -- essentially a courtroom drama that feels as if it were lifted straight from the pages of a John Grisham novel -- underlines serious doubts and inconsistencies in the trial, but it didn't prove the teens' innocence. It took three more documentaries to do that. The last of which is the equally captivating West of Memphis, which picks up the case some 18 years later and lays bare, in forensic detail, the bogus "facts" put forth by the prosecution. Of course, it did help to have the singer from Pearl Jam onside.
Central Park Five
Keen Burns' sobering dissection of America's criminal justice system follows the 1989 Central Park jogger case in which four black teens and one Hispanic male were convicted -- again wrongly, as we now know -- of the brutal assault, rape and sodomy of a white female jogger in the Big Apple's most famous park. As in the case of Steven Avery, that little thing we call "presumption of innocence" was flipped on its head from day one. And as this film points out, the media played a huge role in shaping the public's imagination of how the notorious crime unfolded. It's a harrowing story of race, injustice, and journalistic incompetence, and it will disturb you to your very core.
Centered on the high-profile murder trial of novelist Michael Peterson, The Staircase is a fascinating documentary mini-series that's not hard to scoff down in one 360 minute sitting. In December 2001, Peterson found his wife lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina mansion. She tumbled down the stairs... or so he says. The prosecution claims there was far too much blood for that scenario to be true. They say he bludgeoned her to death, possibly with a blow poke -- and what's more, he had motive: he was bisexual and sent emails to gay military men behind his wife's back. The whole time, we're scanning the facts ourselves, going back and forth. He seems so friendly, a great dad, an honest man. But those grisly photos, featuring a blood-soaked corpse worthy of James Ellroy don't look good, do they?
The Trials of Darryl Hunt
This HBO documentary was, like Making a Murderer, ten years in the making. And its subject, Darryl Hunt, has another thing in common with Steven Avery: he also spent nearly twenty years of his life locked up for a crime he didn't commit. Hunt was 19 when he was wrongly identified and convicted as the perpetrator in the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a young white newspaper copy editor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The documentary follows the three -- yes, three -- trials of Darryl Hunt and unveils how sloppy and misguided the case against him turned out to be. From day one he was the scapegoat. But as uncertainty mounts and new DNA evidence comes to light, the filmmakers usher us towards the doc's moving finale. Today, Darryl Hunt is involved in the Innocence Project, the very project that stepped in to the original case of Steven Avery.
Murder on a Sunday Morning
Academy Award-winning documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning follows the case of Brenton Butler, a 15-year-old black kid who was wrongly arrested and tried for the 2000 murder of a tourist in Jacksonville, Florida. The victim was a white female tourist, Brenton was a black boy, and press outlets began to spin their typically macabre narratives. It didn't look good. But Brenton had one thing going for him: his attorney. A chain-smoking, combative lawyer, Patrick McGuinness exposes gaping holes in the investigation and how it was handled from the get-go. Most disturbingly, he illuminates the sickening "interrogation" techniques of one detective, who literally beats a confession out of the kid. Essentially, the lawyer did everything the police investigators didn't. He is the hero of this story and I tip my hat to him.
Also worth a watch:
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)
Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
Text Oliver Lunn
Image via YouTube