Crime Documentaries tell different sides of different stories; they uncover facets of crimes you might not have otherwise known existed. Due to an early interest in forensic science and pathology, I've long been interested in crime documentaries, especially when they capture controversial occurrences. They spark debates and make you think, and if they're very good they can inspire you to look deeper, to read about the cases and crimes around which they are based. That's actually one of my favorite things to do: I'll watch a documentary based on a true crime and then find all the information about it that I can, so I can see both sides of the story. The following true crime documentaries are by turns disturbing and moving, but they are all intriguing.
1. The Paradise Lost Trilogy
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills premiered in 1996; Paradise Lost 2: Revelations came out in 2000; and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, premiered just last year, put on hold because its three central subjects, the West Memphis 3, were released from jail. These three films are my favorite crime documentaries, and the release of the third one actually spawned this post. I've been following this case – i.e., hardcore researching, reading material from both sides, et cetera – since 1996, even though I was only 14 at the time. It's really worth it to watch all three films; your heart will go out to the families of the victims and to the accused themselves.
2. Capturing the Friedmans
This documentary is extremely interesting as well, and disturbing for a number of reasons. At the time it was shown, it was considered incredibly controversial due to both the subject matter and the depiction. This one isn't for the faint of heart and it can be a trigger for some viewers, so I suggest watching the trailer and researching it a little bit if you think this tale about a family torn apart from allegations of molestation might trigger you in some way.
3. The Thin Blue Line
This is without question one of the most amazing crime documentaries ever made. It revolves around Randall Dale Adams, who was accused of murdering a police officer in Dallas, TX. As with the Paradise Lost documentaries, the research conducted both for the film and because of it led to several amazing results, such as the confession by the actual killer.
4. The Trials of Darryl Hunt
As you can see, a lot of crime based documentaries have to do with convicted killers. This one is also similar to The Thin Blue Line and the Paradise Lost trilogy because it, too, ultimately showed that Darryl Hunt was innocent of the rape and murder for which he was convicted. He spent 19 years in jail before DNA evidence proved that his claims of innocence were true.
5. Cocaine Cowboys
Cocaine Cowboys is one of the most illuminating crime documentaries I've ever seen. If you've ever wondered about the drug trade, specifically as it pertains to cocaine, it's a wonderful watch. It's extremely interesting and in depth, and includes interviews with individuals on both sides of the trade. The sequel is an intriguing film as well.
6. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
If you liked Monster, with Charlize Theron, you'll love the real story of Aileen Wuornos. It's actually the 2003 follow-up to Nick Broomfield's Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, and both are worth watching. This one, however, includes the last days of her life – and the stunning revelation, by Aileen, that much of her defense had been based on lies.
7. The Execution of Wanda Jean
This one is one of HBO's many crime documentaries, not as well known as the others but still extremely thought provoking. Wanda Jean Allen was the first African American woman to face the death penalty in recent times. You hear about her crime, her life, her afterlife – that is, her life in prison, especially in the days leading up to her execution – and her reasons.
Some crime documentaries show the flaws in the justice system, while others simply show a different point of view. A lot of crime documentaries can leave you wondering about the guilt or innocence of the subject. They make you wonder, for that matter, about the nature of guilt and innocence. Some sweep the nation, even the world, alerting people to specific cases, while others are swept under the rug and out of the mainstream, leaving you to trip over them later, so you can be posthumously introduced to lives wasted, gone, and even forgotten by everyone but their loved ones. Do you enjoy watching true crime documentaries? Let me know why; tell me what they make you think about and how they make you feel.
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