Monday, December 5, 2022

True Crime Documentaries

True crime documentaries have been around for a long time. Only now, with the popularity of streaming, do the films and the filmmakers truly get their due. Documentaries can be powerful tools of truth or catalysts for our inspiration. Below, I look at a few of the documentaries that have left the greatest impact.

The Central Park Five

In 1989 Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. The city was soon gripped by fear and panic. There was a drive for justice to be served whether it was based on lies or not and a sense of mob mentality took over. Eventually five Black and Latino teenagers were convicted of the brutal crime, even though they and their families protested their innocence. In 2022 the charges against the men were dropped due to DNA samples. The film features interviews with the men who spent six to thirteen years of their lives in jail for a crime they did not commit and explores the racism and corruption within the NYC justice system.


Cropsey explores true crime and the urban legend phenomenon by bringing together a Staten Island modern myth and the disturbing, true-life story of convicted child kidnapper Andre Rand. Rand is serving twenty-five years for his crimes, with opportunity for parole in 2037. The true horror of his crimes mixed with unsettling backdrops, an abandoned mental hospital and actual crime scenes from the case, make this a haunting tale. This creepy documentary relies on traditional documentary formatting, yet at times displays shades of horror when using found-footage elements and the tale of the urban legend which many believe Rand inspired.

The Thin Blue Line

In 1976 Dallas police officer Robert R. Wood was murdered during a traffic stop. Though two men were connected to the shooting only Randall Dale Adams was eventually arrested for the murder and sent to death row, though he repeated his innocence. The film is as much a criminal investigation as it is an example of fiction morphing truth. The director’s research and Interviews within the film with the other person of interest led to a surprise confession and the eventual release of Adams. One of the first documentaries that landed in my memory The Thin Blue Line is very much like a Hollywood movie. Like The Central Park Five, this film explores the dark side of our justice system. Indeed, The Thin Blue Line motivated local law enforcers and the courts to re-examine the information, clues, case files and failings.

The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer

Richard Kuklinski was a devoted husband, loving father, all while living a secret life as the brutal killer of over 100 people. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer takes place inside Trenton State Prison where we meet Kuklinski and begin a series of chilling interviews. Now dead, he was, at the time, serving two life sentences for his crimes, Richard Kuklinski calmly tells of his early childhood, his family life, and, of course, his many horrible murders. The interview with Kuklinski is one of the most chilling moments set to film.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

Gypsy Rose Blanchard was the victim of abuse caused by the condition Munchausen by Proxy, whereby a guardian lies, inflates or causes illness or injury in their child for attention and sympathy. Gypsy Rose was forced into dozens of unnecessary surgeries and spent most of her life in a wheelchair, while her mother benefitted from the kindness of others. When Gypsy develops a relationship with a young man, they soon hatch a plan. It’s not until Dee Dee is murdered that the horrible treatment of Gypsy Rose comes to light.




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