Are you like the rest of the known universe? Have you devoured Making a Murderer? Are you labouring over every detail of Serial? Are you craving a sequel to The Jinx? Do you know what to do with yourself when you’re not fussing about whether so-and-so committed this-or-that crime, while soothing yourself to the dulcet tones of Sarah Koenig? Well, luckily for you – but sadly for the world – there is plenty more true crime out there for you to dive right into. Here are six more true crime stories and where to get your fix
The name may not immediately sound familiar, but you will no doubt recognize him as the husband who was convicted of pushing his wife down the staircase in a story that became bait for true crime obsessives and the media alike. It was in 2001 when he called 911, alleging his wife had fallen down the stairs in their family home. The amount of blood at the scene led to suspicion, and as they dug deeper, detectives discovered a family friend that had died in almost the exact same way in 1985, and that Peterson had adopted that friend’s children as his own. This, tied together with other seemingly-damning evidence, lead to a guilty verdict after one of the longest trials in North Carolina history.
Where to Watch: The famous documentary mini-series The Staircase is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about this case. This eight-part series documenting Peterson’s life was culled from over 600 hours of footage and charted all of the individual strands that came with the story. It is an extraordinary achievement with unparalleled access to Peterson and his family. In 2012, a sequel was released, The Staircase 2: The Last Chance, which looked at Peterson’s successful efforts for a retrial.
Best to stick with this non-fiction take on the story. The 2007 Lifetime TV movie based on the events, The Staircase Murders with Treat Williams as Peterson, certainly isn’t worth the time unless you’re in need of some ridiculously-overwrought silliness.
Perhaps the most famous of all modern maniacs is this cult-leading murderer, who was responsible for a series of deaths across California in 1969 — both directly and indirectly. Most famously, it was the death of actress Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski and heavily pregnant with their child, that turned his rampage into a national sensation. He remains in prison to this day, aged 81.
What to Watch or Listen To: Charles Manson has been the subject of many films, including two named Helter Skelter from 1976 and 2004, plus documentaries like 1973’s Manson, 1989’s Charles Manson Superstar, and most recently Life After Manson in 2014. He has also been the inspiration for any number of films about deadly cult leaders.
True crime fanatics, however, need go no further than the exceptional podcast You Must Remember This. Narrated by Hollywood film historian and journalist Karina Longworth, this long-form podcast charts Manson’s strange story, as well as those that spun off from it. Playing out like a riveting drama, this 12-part series was essential listening last summer. If you missed it, then you have no reason not to catch up with it now, since it can be found on iTunes.
The West Memphis Three
The perceived Satanic and ritualistic nature behind the 1993 sexual mutilation and murder of three young Arkansas boys led to the demonizing of three older — but still arguably young — men, whose penchant for Metallica and black clothing made them prime suspects. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were all found guilty, with Echols sentenced to death. They claimed their innocence, except for Baldwin who later claimed he was coerced into giving misleading information. Naturally, new forensic evidence in 2007 lea to them being proven right, and the three have subsequently been released from prison.
Where to Watch: The documentary trilogy Paradise Lost is all you will need. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996), Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000), and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011) each directed by the very hands-on filmmaking duo of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The three films amount to 340 minutes of investigation, and it’s all entirely worth it. All three won major awards, with the third even being nominated for an Academy Award. The three newly-liberated men walked the red carpet on Oscar night alongside the directors.
The story of the West Memphis Three has been filmed elsewhere, too, although only Amy Berg’s West of Memphis is worth the effort. Honestly, though, condensing the story of these boys’ mistrial of justice into just two-and-a-half hours can’t quite compare to Paradise Lost. Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan made his own dramatization of the story in 2013, featuring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, called Devil’s Knot, but it was critically lambasted. Elsewhere, many books and TV specials have appeared.
One of the more… enduring members of the modern true crime pantheon is Aileen Wuornos. The infamous serial-killing prostitute murdered seven of her johns between 1989 and 1990. While she claimed that they were all in self-defense after rapes or attempted rapes, she was nonetheless convicted for six of the murders and sentenced to death. She was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.
Where to Watch: Most famously portrayed by Charlize Theron in her Oscar-winning role in Monster, Patty Jenkins’s movie is actually a stunning portrayal of a life gone horribly wrong. Less effective is Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story (1992) to capitalize on the press around her murder trial.
If you want the real thing, however, then look no further than the two documentaries made by Neil Broomfield. The first, 1993’s Airleen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, focuses on the exploitation of her name by family and her legal counsel, and was even used in her 2001 trial as evidence of her lawyer’s incompetence. Broomfield made another in 2003, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, which followed that 2001 trial and focuses on Aileen’s mental health. It ends with video from the last day of her life. Wuornos has also been the focus of books, television specials, and even an opera. She was recently portrayed by Lily Rabe in American Horror Story: Hotel.
A high school media coordinator from New Hampshire who seduced a high school boy and convinced him and his friends to kill her husband. Smart’s murder trial was the first to ever be televised and with it brought not only incredible media attention, but grandstanding investigators – the lead detective famously said upon visiting Smart to arrest her that “I have some good news and I have some bad news. The good news is that we’ve solved the murder of your husband. The bad news is you’re under arrest.” The judge also seemed keen to make a name for himself on the national stage. Smart was found guilty of being an accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and witness tampering. She is currently serving life in prison, having avoided the death penalty.
Where to Watch: The Joyce Maynard novel To Die For was published in 1992, having liberally taken from the story of Pamela Smart to tell the story of a success-hungry weather reporter who seduces and then convinces a group of teenagers to kill her husband. The book was adapted by Gus Van Sant into a movie of the same name, and won star Nicole Kidman a Golden Globe. Other books include Teach Me to Kill and Deadly Lessons, which became best sellers. A 1991 made-for-TV movie called Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Wojas Smart Story is a relic of another era, but features Helen Hunt as Smart in another amusing before-they-were-famous moment.
In 2014, the HBO documentary Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart premiered at Sundance and told Smart’s story through first-hand accounts of the woman herself, as well as many involved in the investigation and the trial. Inventive visuals and editing make this a livelier documentary than most.
American Crime, Season 2
Okay, so this isn’t true crime, but it is phenomenal and worth talking about. 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley takes network television into daring cable-oriented directions with this extraordinary series that examines real-life crimes that never get the attention they deserve in mass media. In this case it’s male-on-male rape, which is a topic that many people think, as one character suggests, simply “doesn’t happen.” It really is a fascinating, enthralling work of television mini-series that everybody ought to be watching. Watch this show!
Where to Watch: It’s currently airing right now on ABC.