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Murders, Cults and Suspicious Circumstances

A look into some Netflix true crime documentaries for you to binge next.
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Ever since the first true crime magazine, “True Detective,” was published in 1924 the world has been captivated by true crime media in film, podcasts, TV and more.

Most teenagers have probably gone down some type of true crime rabbit hole. It’s natural to find ourselves intrigued by something terrible or strange so we can figure out why and how it happened. Netflix has produced what feels like hundreds of true crime documentaries and docu-series. Here are a few interesting ones to highlight:

****When reading this article please keep in mind there will be mentions of murder, death, sexual assault and other serious issues. Please keep in mind that crime documentaries oftentimes capitalize off these issues ****

 

American Murder: The Family Next Door 

This documentary is a dark and revealing explanation of what occurred to the Watt’s family on August 13, 2018 when Chris Watts finds his wife Shanann and two young daughters Bella and Celeste had gone “missing.” 

The documentary takes a slightly different and more exciting approach to retelling true crime. There is no narrator of the documentary and no direct follow up interviews with the people involved, instead, it’s like the viewer is watching in real time. The documentary compiles footage from news programs following the disappearance, police interrogations, bodycam footage, Shanann’s Facebook posts, Chris’ text messages and police press conferences. 

Through this unique approach, viewers watch the events unfold in real time as if they were back in 2018. This is all footage and audio that could be found on the internet but the documentary compiles the information in an exciting way all in one place. In this documentary there is no one telling the viewer how to feel about the horrific events which allows for them to make their own opinions and assumptions as new information is shown. And the truth is shocking. Viewers leave impacted by the strong messages about trust, family, anger and images of “perfection.”

Unsolved Mysteries

This classic docu-series always promises something new to anyone who chooses to watch. Formatted into easily digestible forty minute episodes they cover everything from an entire town who claims to have seen or been on a UFO to suspicious circumstances of a man never found to an unidentified woman who is still getting away with a terrible crime.

The show is adapted from an older version from the 90s to the early 2000’s but maintains the same concept. It interviews people from the event and gives a recount of what occurred, what they know and what they don’t. There is even a website for people to send in tips if they find they know something additional about the case and some cases have even been solved as a result. 

The only downside of this series? The mysteries are unsolved! This can sometimes leave a viewer wanting more when there’s just simply nothing more to look at. 

Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal 

Similar to “American Murder: The Family Next Door,” this docu-series tells the story of how the Murdaugh family’s perfect reality quickly unraveled. The Murdaughs were once one of the most prominent families in the South with a successful law business and a lot of influence. However their downfall begins with Paul Murdaugh who drives a boat while drunk and crashes it killing his friend 19-year old Mallory Beach. 

The docu-series then explores the fallout of the boat crash with direct accounts from those also on the boat. Through interviews from those who knew the Murdaugh’s or were directly involved with their different cases, the truth becomes exposed. Again and again the Murdaugh’s attempt to use their power to cover up every issue, yet again and again they fail. 

In 2021, Paul Murdaugh and his mother are “found” dead at their family estate, with the patriarch of the family Alex Murdaugh quickly becoming the primary suspect. Alex Murdaugh is found to have committed tax evasion to fuel his drug addiction. He even stages a hitman on himself but winds up alive in jail for the murder of his wife and son. 

These investigations lead to new discoveries regarding two other suspicious deaths that could be traced back to the Murdaughs. The docu-series is just one captivating plot twist after another leaving viewers amazed by how much can be kept secret by those with influence. 

Keep Sweet, Pray and Obey 

If stories of murder aren’t quite your speed, a four part docu-series like this may be more fitting. “Keep Sweet, Pray and Obey” covers an offshoot of the Mormon Church called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). This offshoot was created by the self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs who institutionalized child abuse and sexual assault into his very strict way of life. 

Jeff has had a total of 78 wives throughout his life, many underage, and led his followers around the country in a cult-like fashion by stealing their money and indoctrinating them into a specific (and incredibly sexist) belief system. He claims he will bring them eternal life while the rest of the world burns. The docu-series takes interviews from former members of the FLDS and covers Jeff’s eventual downfall at the hands of law enforcement. 

The series is sure to make viewers think about belief systems, power, religion and escaping a terrible situation. It brings attention to what religion can do to people at its most extreme and brings awareness to the power Jeff still holds over some remaining followers, even today. While dark, grim, disgusting and horrifying, the series tells an important story which makes viewers consider to what extent humans are able to believe in something so sinister   

Our Father 

This documentary is another revealing story of misused power. It focuses on Dr. Donald Cline, a fertility doctor in Indiana during the 1970’s and 80’s. However with rising popularity of family tree discovery kits his dark secrets were revealed.

Dr. Donald Cline artificially inseminated dozens of women with his own sperm without their knowledge, claiming it was their husbands sperm or a randomized donor. The reasons that he did this are speculated and unclear with some believing it aligned with his religious beliefs. 

But what’s important about this documentary is that it focuses on the lack of justice for Cline’s victims. It interviews the once unknown children of Dr. Cline, how it has impacted their lives and uncovers the story in full. It brings attention to the necessary actions that have still not been taken by authorities and the violations are not considered rapes by law. It adds a new perspective on the questions of bodily autonomy and how law plays into the rights over one’s own body. 

Although it is dark and disturbing, the stories shared by the victims are truly inspiring and captivating as they attempt to bring justice to a complicated situation. 

Missing 

For those who aren’t the biggest fans of real life true crime, the Netflix film “Missing” is a great fit! The story is told completely through the lense of a teenage girl, June. When June’s mother and her boyfriend go missing on a trip to Colombia it is left to June to uncover the dark and messy truth behind her mother’s disappearance. The movie is presented through June’s computer desktop in a very different format from the normal murder mystery. 

June is a captivating character and this story is told in a unique way and the ending is truly unexpected leaving the watcher surprised and intrigued. For those who want to watch a movie while trying to be a detective at the same time, this movie is for them!

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About the Contributor
Katie Galligan, Writer
Katie Galligan is a senior who has been writing for Neirad since the Fall of 2022. She enjoys writing about the arts, music, clubs, and current events in the Darien community. She spends her free time as a ballet dancer at the Darien Arts Center and the Editor-in-Chief of the Current Literary Magazine. She is interested in pursing international relations and journalism in the future.

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