The true crime section of the library has always been popular (364.1523 if you’re browsing!) and from the avalanche of books, TV shows, documentaries, and podcasts it seems our appetite is only increasing. Unless you’ve been living off the grid you’ve probably heard of the incredibly popular podcast Serial hosted by Sarah Koenig, and the even more popular (and at least in my case, rage-inducing) Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos. These recent productions are even more fascinating because they cast doubt on who really knows the truth, from the lawyers to the suspects themselves. Although Making a Murderer is not yet available on DVD, there are other twisty true crime documentaries worth watching.
The Staircase directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade looks at the death of Kathleen Peterson and the resulting trial of her husband, novelist Michael Peterson. There are a couple of unexpected twists in this eight-episode drama. Lestrade also filmed a two-hour followup on the case several years later. Unfortunately this update isn’t included in the DVD so you’ll have to track it down online.
Another fascinating crime case is HBO’s six-episode series The Jinx directed by Andrew Jarecki, featuring the strange saga of Robert Durst, an American real estate heir investigated in relation to the disappearance of his wife and the murders of two other individuals. You have to watch it to believe it.
The ‘West Memphis Three’ also made headlines for years. Three consecutive documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky followed the lives of three teenagers accused of murdering three eight-year-olds in Arkansas: Paradise Lost: the child murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996) followed by Paradise Lost 2: revelations (2001) and Paradise Lost 3: purgatory (2012). A fourth documentary titled West of Memphis directed by Amy Berg premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, also in 2012.
Why are people so fascinated with true crime? Popular Crime: reflections on the celebration of violence by Bill James attempts to answer this question by taking us through various famous crimes, from the Lindbergh kidnapping to O.J. Simpson. He entertains the reader while considering how infamous crimes – and our reactions to them – affect our culture.
After watching and reading about some of these cases, you may want to up your game on crime scene analysis by reading Forensics: what bugs, burns, prints, DNA, and more tell us about crime by Val McDermid. McDermid usually writes crime fiction, and her background research resulted in a fascinating look at how forensic scientists use everything from entemology to psychology to uncover the truth.