Image Credit: Netflix

The Best True Crime Documentaries If You're Obsessed With 'American Nightmare'

When I’m walking the dog and smiling at my neighbors, I assume they have no idea that my AirPods are blasting the most gruesome true crime podcasts into my delicate little ears. Just like how my cozy Friday nights at home involve peanut M&Ms and watching a six-part documentary on the brutal murder of a young girl just like me, who had a life and didn’t stay home.

Sometimes I wonder what my ancestors would make of my interesting hobby. They’d probably look up from their embroidery, baking, or fortune-telling (definitely some witches in my line), and be like, “What? Why does my kin want to hear about dismembered body parts and incompetent policemen?” Although, I’m sure they were the first to rush to a hanging or gossip about a bloody murder at the town square.

But all of this time spent watching true crime documentaries allows me to become a self-anointed expert in them, and give you a list of the best ones to watch. 

1. Tiger King

Let’s start by talking about the true crime that got us all through the first months of the pandemic. If you weren’t watching these oversized kitty cats and their blonde overlord, what were you doing? Making sourdough?

The best part of the Tiger King documentary isn’t that there are multiple seasons, as no one really cared about the later ones. It’s that Joe Exotic genuinely thinks he is the victim. He is a firm part of filming as he wants to tell his story and prove his innocence. Like, sir. 

It’s an animal rights mess, and despite how cuckoo she seems, you’re kinda on Carole Baskin’s side. Especially as it turns out she didn’t kill her husband?? Like, low-key disappointed in truth. So watch Tiger King, get a mullet, buy a bicycle with streamers on the handlebars, and definitely don’t visit these tiger shows.

2. Don’t Fuck With Cats

The first rule of the internet is don’t fuck with cats, or you will be hunted down. 

It’s giving Vigilante Shit, as a group of Facebook sleuths (back when we all still used Facebook) track down Luka Magnotta, who will later be convicted of killing and dismembering Jun Lin. But that’s not why they’re after him — they’re angry about the videos he’s posted of himself torturing kittens. This is also very bad, like literally this dude.

One of the best things about Don’t Fuck With Cats is that it takes such a different format from other true crime series. It’s not the police piecing things together, but a bunch of self-proclaimed experts who love cats.

Watch this snuggled up with your own cat and lean over frequently to tell them, “See how lucky you’ve got it with me.”

3. Abducted in Plain Sight

I had to watch this documentary twice, as the first time I just couldn’t believe it. Like, I have watched some crazy shit in my true crime days, but this might just take the bloody cake.

Abducted in Plain Sight is the story of how Robert Berchtold wormed his way into the Broberg family in order to kidnap the daughter Jan, not once, but twice! Yes, more than one time! Oh, after he had a relationship with both her parents. Yep. Did I mention he convinced young Jan that they had to procreate to stop aliens from killing her parents?

Buckle up for a wild, wild ride with this one. 

4. The Tinder Swindler

This is the reason I deleted Tinder. No, just kidding, I deleted Tinder because I felt like my algorithm said too much about my perceived hotness, and I was sick of receiving “hey.” Plus, I got banned, but that’s a story for another time.

To sum it up: a bunch of girlies were all the victims of the same con man who uses Tinder, and they join forces to hunt him down and recover the millions of dollars he stole from them. It legit sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie. Margot Robbie, hop on this! I see it as Suicide Squad meets John Tucker Must Die. Netflix, get in touch, pls.

This documentary is absolutely WILD. My favorite part is the final victim, Ayleen, who is a fellow Dutch girlie and absolutely savage. If you ever wanted a glimpse into the blunt honesty of Dutch people, this is it.

5. Lover, Stalker, Killer

In all honesty, I can be quite clingy in relationships. But that is nothing compared to the shit that goes down in Lover, Stalker, Killer. This made me feel a million times better about how I act in relationships, wow. 

David Kroupa is single and ready to mingle, so he goes on a dating website and starts matching with girlies. He stresses that he is not looking for anything serious, basically today’s version of a situationship, and starts dating Liz Golyar. That ends, and he starts dating Cari Farver — also SUPER CASUALLY. 

But suddenly, Cari asks to move in. He says no, and she grows super hostile. She seems to disappear from the face of the earth, yet the messages and threats continue. Not just against David, but to Liz, and his other ex-girlfriend Amy. Then the threats turn into actions, and shit really hits the fan.

This true crime documentary had me gasping for air. I was so surprised at all of the twists and turns. Again, no dating apps for me after this one, wowza.

6. The Keepers

If you’re a Catholic school girlie, then this is definitely the docuseries for you. On the surface, this looks like an investigation into who killed beloved nun teacher, Sister Cathy. But it’s everything under this idyllic Baltimore tale that gets you, including corruption, sexual abuse, and an elaborate cover-up. 

This is such a tragic and frustrating story as there is no real justice, but it’s as vital today as it was 50 years ago when the events happened.

7. Death on the Staircase

Not the series starring Colin Firth, which had me feeling very confused about Mr. Darcy. I’m talking about the documentary series, which explores all the facts of this case.

Kathleen Peterson fell to her death on the stairs of her home… or was she pushed by her husband, Michael Peterson? As the medical examiner found evidence that she had been beaten with a weapon. It’s all so unbelievable and yet believable, and will leave you struggling to make up your mind. It’s a crime that involves the entire family and community, and can be followed by watching the Mr. Darcy dramatized version, or Pride & Prejudice for a breather.

It’s giving Humpty Dumpty — did he fall, or was he pushed?

8. Who Killed Little Gregory?

The death of a toddler is always tragic, but in Who Killed Little Gregory? it takes a twisted turn. This story involves paranoia within a small community, a stalker named “The Crow” repeatedly threatening the family, and the suicide of the magistrate. Oh, and literally, the whole family ended up as suspects at some point. 

If you’re a scared wittle girl like me, do not watch this documentary alone at home. Force someone to watch it with you. They play some of the recordings of the stalker over the years and it is absolutely terrifying. I didn’t sleep for months after.

And just to further tempt you, Gregory isn’t the only murder in this series…

9. The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann

I can still remember the first time I saw a missing poster for Madeleine McCann. She had a bigger effect on my childhood than my own parents. Since then, I have gorged myself on every podcast, documentary, and article I could get my hands on. You would not believe how long her Wikipedia page is. A part of me always thought she’d turn up eventually, and then another part really believed we’d at least get the truth one day.

The Netflix documentary about her is one of the best I’ve watched. It covers so many aspects of this case and doesn’t take the same extreme biases present in other series. It is a very long series, with eight episodes of about an hour each, but if you’re as interested as I am, you’ll love it.

While it doesn’t per se bring anything new to the table, it does really highlight the conflict between law enforcement and the media in this case. In many ways, this was the first trial by media we witnessed, but not the last.

10. Amanda Knox

She’s having her hot girl summer in Italy, and suddenly she’s convicted with the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Wtf? How?!

I think the craziest part of Amanda’s story is how much you feel it could be you. Girlie was living her life up with spaghetti and espressos, and suddenly spent four years in an Italian jail. The investigators were just so focused on how hot she was and how she could have wooed anyone, which maybe is less relatable, but still.

Instead of being a question of whether Amanda was a murderer, it became a question of her morality, her choices, and her right to live her life as a gorgeous, gorgeous girlie.

Some people don’t like this documentary because of how it focuses on gossip, but as a gossip girlie myself, I am here for it. Like give me the rumors, give me the tea, bestie. Let’s talk shit together. 

11. American Nightmare

Okay, I saved the best for last, as this story is so wild that I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Like it feels so meta, as it is the effects of Gone Girl (love you, Amy Dunne) and the media frenzy around true crime. 

A couple are woken up in the middle of the night by a group of intruders, and Denise Huskins is kidnapped and sexually assaulted, before being dumped 400 miles away. But that’s not even the most traumatic part of the story. As then Huskins and her boyfriend Aaron Quinn are accused of orchestrating the entire ordeal to get media attention. Because of the literal film Gone Girl. Like, I love that movie, but you don’t see me faking my murder and disappearing — not a terrible idea, really.

This three-part documentary is just so insane that you have to watch it for yourself. Even though all the true crime stories on this list are real, this one hits so close to home in our world of crime podcasts and series.

My respect and thoughts go out to the families and victims of all these terrible crimes. 

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.