With the success of the 10-part Netflix true crime documentary Making a Murderer — and following the success of previous documentaries such as the HBO series The Jinx — real-life tales of justice and injustice are enjoying a surge in public fascination. While Making a Murderer and The Jinx were certainly gripping, there are dozens of true crime docs available for online streaming.
The following list compiles five of the most powerful true crime documentaries online and available for streaming right now — all of them just as good in their own way as Making a Murderer, exploring not only the crimes, criminals, and victims, but the provocative issues surrounding them.
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE
The brutal 1989 rape and near-fatal assault of a female jogger in Central Park horrified New York City and the entire country. The victim, a young Wall Street investment banker named Trisha Meili — but who was known simply as “The Central Park Jogger” at the time — was too severely injured to recall anything about the attack. But five teenagers, all of them black or Latino, were quickly rounded up and arrested. Under police pressure, all five confessed and for New Yorkers, the teenagers symbolized everything they feared about young black and Latino males.
But after the five accused attackers had spent anywhere from seven to 13 years in prison, they were all exonerated by DNA evidence, and another man — convicted rapist and killer Matias Reyes — admitted that he attacked Meili, alone.
Documentary director Ken Burns is better known for his chronicles of history and Americana, such as his multi-part Baseball, Jazz, and The Civil War series. But in The Central Park Five, he focuses in a self-contained film on how five kids with no previous experience with police or the justice system could be railroaded into confessing to the most infamous crime in years.
The Central Park Five is streaming now on Netflix.
THE CHESHIRE MURDERS
One of the most horrifying and disturbing crimes imaginable, a home invasion that quickly escalated into the brutalization, rape, torture, and murder of an entire family, except for one survivor, is the subject of this riveting but highly unsettling documentary, which details the hideous 2007 attack on the well-to-do Cheshire, Connecticut, Petit family — sometimes in the actual voice of killer Joshua Komisarjevsky (pictured at top of page, right), who carried out the atrocity with accomplice Steven Hayes (left, top of page).
But the film also explores the role of the police in somehow allowing the killings to happen. They had the Petit house surrounded but did nothing as the killings took place inside and the two killers set the house ablaze, burning the family’s young daughters alive. And perhaps most importantly, The Cheshire Murders asks uncomfortable questions about the death penalty, and whether it is ever worth it, even for monsters like Komisarjevsky and Hayes.
The Cheshire Murders is streaming on the HBO GO and HBO Now services, as well as on YouTube.
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TALES OF THE GRIM SLEEPER
British documentarian Nick Broomfield gained fame with his tongue-in-cheek, first-person investigations of such American tabloid fodder as the Heidi Fleiss “Hollywood Madame” scandal, the death of Kurt Cobain, and the unlikely political career of Sarah Palin. But his latest film asks the more serious question of how a Los Angeles serial killer known as “The Grim Sleeper” somehow got away with murdering, by some estimates, well over 100 women between 1985 and 2010 — even though, as Broomfield discovers, the man now accused of being the dreaded “Grim Sleeper,” a mechanic and car thief named Lonnie Franklin, took shockingly few precautions to cover his deadly tracks.
The answer that Broomfield finds, with the highly entertaining assistance of a colorful former South Central Los Angeles prostitute named Pamela Brooks, has more to do with the nature of the victims — almost all poor and working class African-American women — and the blighted L.A. ghetto area where the crimes were committed than with any criminal genius on Franklin’s part.
Tales of the Grim Sleeper is both frightening and deeply moving, and is streaming now on the HBO Go and HBO Now services.
THE SEVEN FIVE
Sometimes, the good guys are actually the bad guys, as this documentary about former New York City police officer Michael Dowd, possibly the most corrupt cop in New York history, and his crew of drug-running policemen in Brooklyn’s 75th Precinct forcefully demonstrates. Interviews with Dowd himself as well as his various accomplices and the partner who eventually turned him in highlight the shocking tale from director Tiller Russell — a tale that feels like it could have been told in one of the great 1970s films of Martin Scorsese.
Watch the trailer for The Seven Five in the video below.
The Seven Five can be streamed right now with a Showtime online subscription, available with the Showtime app, or through Hulu and Amazon — or on the Showtime Anytime service for existing Showtime cable subscribers.
3 1/2 MINUTES, 10 BULLETS
The so-called “Loud Music Murder,” in which Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old, white software engineer was tried for shooting and killing a 17-year-old black teenager named Jordan Davis, is the subject of this heartbreaking documentary that follows the parents of the slain teen throughout the trial. Dunn, in 2012, shot their son in the parking lot of a convenience store after complaining about loud “thug music,” or as Dunn claimed he called it, “rap crap,” coming from the SUV occupied by Davis and three friends.
Did Dunn actually fear for his life, claiming that he saw Davis aim a shotgun at him? Or was he blinded by the race of the teens — the survivors of the shooting are interviewed at length in the film — simply assuming that because they were black, they posed a threat to his life?
3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets is streaming now on HBO GO and HBO Now, and when those five are finished, almost every streaming service now features a wealth of engrossing true crime documentaries.
[Featured Photos By Connecticut Department of Correction ]