There’s something about criminals and the way they operate that not only captivates us but also compels us to uncover more about their lives, their motives, and even those close to their brutal offenses. That, along with the several easy-to-access streaming services available, is probably why the true crime genre has seen such a massive spike in the past few years, especially since the covid-19 pandemic first came about. But because it’s been quite a while, let’s only delve into the best true crime documentaries and docuseries of 2021 on Netflix, shall we?
12. Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal
‘Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,’ named after the federal inquiry into the same, explores the infamous conspiracy to influence undergraduate admission decisions at some of the top American universities. This scandal came to light in 2019, but the damage had already been done, with William “Rick” Singer masterminding the whole thing and big names like Lori Loughlin, her husband Mossimo Giannulli, and Jane Buckingham also being involved. In other words, driven by re-enactments, this incredible film emphasizes how the rich and famous used their resources to give their kids an unfair advantage for years. You can check it out right here!
11. Why Did you Kill Me?
With a run-time of 1 hour and 23 minutes, ‘Why Did You Kill Me?’ is another documentary movie and one that we believe to be quite underrated. After all, it follows Belinda Lane as she attempts to use social media platforms to track down the individuals responsible for the senseless 2006 shooting death of Crystal Theobald, a loving 24-year-old mother of two and her daughter. It encapsulates not just a mother’s fight for justice but also how a single loss of life can affect an entire city, leading to some much-needed changes. You can stream it whenever you want here.
Unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, ‘Heist’ is an enthralling series that gives us an inside look into some of the most daring robberies across the US through the first-hand narratives of those who managed to pull them off. It thus incorporates interviews with those directly involved, along with creative dramatization, to showcase how ordinary people almost got away with their extraordinary crimes as well as their need to do the same. From love and lust to greed and need, it has everything in just three cases, and the best part is that you can binge all six episodes right now, right here.
9. The Phantom
Written and directed by Patrick Forbes, ‘The Phantom’ revolves around the disturbing case of Carlos DeLuna, a condemned murderer who maintained his innocence almost to his dying day. Back in early 1983, a young gas station attendant named Wanda Lopez was murdered at work, an offense Carlos was arrested for a mere 30 to 40 minutes later. The charge on him eventually led to his execution by lethal injection in late 1989, yet numerous pressing and perplexing doubts about the entire matter have since come to light. Therefore, this documentary movie, which you can watch here, genuinely considers whether he was blameless or not.
8. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
‘Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’ delves deep into the world of downtown Los Angeles and the infamous Cecil Hotel by profiling the mysterious 2013 disappearance of Canadian student Elisa Lam. The 21-year-old was last seen alive acting strangely in the budget lodge while on a solo trip to California for some new experiences, only to be found dead in its water tank mere weeks later. There were countless theories on what could’ve happened to her, but the truth turned out to be much more tragic than anyone could have ever anticipated. And if you wish to understand all this in detail, you can stream all four episodes right here.
7. This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist
As the title suggests, ‘This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist’ is a four-part limited series that examines the theft of 13 art pieces from the renowned Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in March 1990. The number of artworks stolen in itself is significant, but the truth is that this is the largest heist of all time because the FBI has since valued the haul at $500 million. The fact that no arrests have ever been made and not a single piece has been recovered also plays a role here. But if you wish to learn how the burglars pulled off such a feat, who the possible suspects are, and what else the investigations have unraveled, you can binge the series here.
6. Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes
Directed by Michael Harte, ‘Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes’ details the bizarre tale of Dennis Nilsen through the audiotapes he had recorded while behind bars for killing at least six young males between 1978 and 1983. This documentary not only highlights the serial killer’s heinous offenses and motives but also gives us an inside look into the early years of his life to present a comprehensive outline of who he was. From Dennis’ history to how a simple call to a plumbing service brought him down for good, you can learn it all in the film here.
5. Murder Among the Mormons
‘Murder Among the Mormons’ chronicles the story of Mark Hofmann and the shocking 1985 crimes he committed in Salt Lake City, Utah. As one of the most notable forgers in history, he did create imitations related to the Latter-Day Saint (LDS) Movement, but he also chose to go a step beyond and eventually set off three bombs in two days. This three-part series even explores the history of Mormonism and the LDS community in order to truly shine a light upon how many people Mark betrayed and how. So now, if you wish to know the same, you can watch it right here.
4. Sophie: A Murder in West Cork
‘Sophie: A Murder in West Cork’ explores the life of French television and film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier, along with her savage homicide and the investigations into the same. After all, the 39-year-old mother was found dead just outside her holiday home in Schull, Ireland, two days before Christmas in 1996, and even though justice has been served in a French court, there are still countless questions swirling around what transpired on that fateful day. In short, despite speculations and international arrest warrants, her case largely remains unsolved, all of which the three-part show concedes here.
3. Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
‘Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer,’ as the title suggests, follows two detectives as they race against the clock to apprehend a nocturnal attacker who terrorized the state of California from 1984 to 1985. A series of seemingly disconnected homicides and sexual assaults took place during that year on men, women, and children of all races alike, but it ultimately turned out to be the work of a single, depraved man. From his public capture to his satanic beliefs to how a few women continued to support him, it’s all illustrated in this four-episode production. You can stream it here.
2. Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami
By examining the rise and fall of Miami drug kingpins and best friends Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon through archival footage and interviews with those closest to them, ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ is one of the most intriguing true-crime documentary series’ of 2021. These two operated a drug ring without severe consequences for years, but when their actions did catch up to them, they were accused of smuggling over 75 tons of cocaine, making it the biggest narcotics case in US history. You can binge it here.
1. The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness
If you’re into disturbing and creepy cases that break all bounds of normalcy in every sense of the word, then ‘The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness’ is for you. After all, it profiles how investigative journalist Maury Terry spent the better part of four decades trying to prove that David Berkowitz, a notorious serial killer who pleaded guilty to shooting around a dozen people, didn’t act alone. For that, it delves into witness statements and aspects like cults and sacrifices as forms of evidence, which somehow only end up giving rise to more questions than answers. You can watch this four-part series for more mind-boggling facts here.
Read More: True Crime Netflix Docuseries You Must See