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screenshot of a murderer's case file in The Lady Killers
Photograph: Supplied/Binge

The best true crime programs you can stream right now

If you have hunger for the macabre, we've got you sorted with this killer list of shows we guarantee you'll want to binge

Written by
Travis Johnson
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It’s a bit of a grim time in Sydney with the city in lockdown and its cultural life flatlined. But things can always be worse: you could fall prey to a serial killer, or get sucked into a bizarre cult, or any number of grim fates that are the province of the true crime genre.

It’s all bit nasty, but we can’t pretend we’re not fascinated by the macabre and malevolent things that real people do to other real people. The ratings don’t lie, after all: true crime is a booming business.

Perhaps it’s comforting to know that, no matter how bad your iso situation, things could be demonstrably worse. Perhaps it’s simply that we’re all a lot more morbid than we like to let on. Here, then, are some truly frightful and fascinating true crime series for you to sink your teeth into.

After you watch the drama series Dr. Death (also on Stan), dive into this documentary series about the real events that inspired it. Christopher Duntsch was an American neurosurgeon who, over the course of his career, caused the maiming of over 30 patients and the deaths of two. Duntsch was ultimately convicted of criminal charges and is currently serving a life sentence, but the question remains: were his actions the result of incompetence or malice? Utilising exhaustive interviews with patients and colleagues, this four part series attempts to find an answer.

Following on from the three Cocaine Cowboys feature documentaries, director Billy Corben spreads a wider net to tell the story of Sal Magluta and Willie Falcon. In the early ‘90s, they were charged with importing over 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. Taking place in the heyday of the South Florida drug trade (think Miami Vice), this six-parter is an intoxicating look at both the glamourous and gritty sides of the narco world, full of dizzying excess, audacious corruption, colourful characters, and the odd brutal gangland murder. As it has been noted, cocaine is a hell of a drug.

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This 13-part series changes things up by taking a geographical and anthropological view of crime, with each episode looking at how a different city was – and continues to be – affected by a shocking crime. From the assassination of a veteran police officer in Atlanta, Georgia, to the Washington DC sniper killings, we delve into not just the crime itself, but the way its effects ripple through the community, affecting the lives of all who live there.

When is a sports series also a true crime series? When it looks at the lurid world of professional wrestling and what the larger-than-life personalities who inhabit it will do to grapple their way to the top of the pile. What happens inside the ring is just the undercard: the main attractions are the behind-the-scenes scandals. They include murder, substance abuse, assault, robbery, organised crime – the works. By turns dazzling and sobering, this three season (so far) offering from VICE will give you a ringside seat to some of the most scandalous action in sports.

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Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas claims a body count numbering in the hundreds, but was later proved to be an inveterate liar, with may of his confessions discounted due to contradictory evidence. Lucas died in prison in 2001, but mystery still hangs over his life and criminal career. This exhaustive multi-part series digs into the investigation that ran after Lucas was caught, and the painstaking efforts devoted to separating fact from the fiction in the hopes of finding the actual killers behind many of the victims initially attributed to him.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, so the old (rather sexist, really) saying goes. Still, this British 10-part series goes to great lengths to prove that there’s at least a skerrick of truth in that dated adage, with each episode detailing one of the country’s most notorious slayings perpetrated by a woman. Some are crimes of passion, some of greed, some of sheer desperation, and others are just about justifiable. All are fascinating, presented here with a combination of dramatic re-enactments and actual courtroom transcripts.

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In 1979, a terrible fire ripped through the ghost train ride at Sydney’s Luna Park, killing seven – six of them children. Some 40 years on, investigative journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna looks back on the shocking incident and finds not a tragic accident, but a web of corruption, malfeasance, and incompetence. One of the most genuinely impressive acts of investigative journalism in Australian history, Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire actually saw the case reopened this year, with the NSW Upper House voting to empower a special commission of inquiry into the fire itself and the subsequent police investigation. Where there’s smoke…

The posthumous masterwork of true crime reporter Michelle McNamara, she was a civilian sleuth whose work was instrumental in the capture of prolific serial killer and rapist Joseph James DeAngelo, aka The Golden State Killer. McNamara even coined the name. Executive produced by McNamara’s widower, the comedian Patton Oswalt, and based on the book by the same name, I’ll be Gone in the Dark showcases an empathy for the victims that is uncommon in the genre, while at the same time painting a chilling portrait of a decades-long crime spree by a truly reprehensible monster.

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Inspired by the fictional HBO series True Detective, Netflix’s Real Detective intersperses interviews with actual law enforcement investigators with dramatic re-enactments of the crimes that still haunt them. Each episode in the anthology series is self-contained, taking on one particular case, which means that over the course of two seasons there are a whopping 16 heinous acts to dig into. The focus on law enforcement, in particular the psychology of cops, makes this one a must for fans of James Ellroy, Joseph Wambaugh and the like.

Hosted by the star of The Wire and Lovecraft Country, VICE’s Black Market follows the money, with each episode looking at a different element of the underworld economy and attempting to explain the economic drivers of crime. From abalone poachers in South Africa to gun runners in the United States, to shoplifters in London, we’re taken on a tour of the criminal demimonde and reminded that, no matter what side of the law you’re on, cash is still king.

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The grand old man of the true crime genre, the undying popularity of this series saw host Robert Stack (and later, among others, Dennis Farina) bring steely gravitas to 15 seasons worth of mysterious murders, disappearances, robberies and more. The show frequently spilled out over the banks of true crime – it wasn’t ashamed to look at UFOs and other paranormal phenomena – but its bread and butter were more mundane, but still inexplicable, events. Netflix has the latest season, released in 2020, but Amazon has literally hundreds of episodes of the original run.

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