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We’re in the middle of the summer doldrums, but crime, and true crime shows, don’t take holidays.
And even though TV and film writers and actors are currently on strike over fair pay, working conditions and concerns about AI, canceling Netflix and other streamers is not how they want consumers to show their support. (HuffPost’s unionized employees are represented by the Writers Guild of America, East.)
So kick back and get lost in some of the best true crime shows so far this year, in no particular order. If you’ve found yourself wrapped up in the news around the Gilgo Beach serial killings, below is also a guide to the shows and podcasts that kept a spotlight on the case for more than a decade.
“Age of Influence” (Hulu)
Five episodes of this six-part series focus on a different con artist who used social media in their grift. The sixth is about a feud between two influencers and the lawsuits swirling around them. There are no murders, but warning: The fifth episode, “The Bad Momfluencer,” tells the story of horrific child abuse perpetrated by the adoptive mother of seven children, whom she forced to perform for a popular YouTube channel. Each episode includes extensive interviews with victims, family members and some grifters themselves — including the infamous Anna Delvey, who shared a cell at Rikers with the subject of one episode. Naturally, filmmakers had a treasure trove of YouTube videos, social media posts and DMs from the influencers themselves to plunder. The audaciousness of the con artists’ schemes is jaw-dropping, but you can’t help but empathize with the people who believed them and marvel at the … influence of content creators.
“American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing” (Netflix)
This three-parter, released on the 10-year anniversary of the deadly attack along the finish line of the iconic marathon, includes heartwarming interviews with victims and family members, behind-the-scenes revelations from investigators and one unlikely hero: Danny Meng. The bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother Dzhokhar, carjacked Meng’s Mercedes SUV and made him drive it. When they stopped for gas, Meng ran away to another gas station and alerted police. One critique: “American Manhunt” skews toward the police perspective in the case, allowing Boston Police Department Commissioner Ed Davis to bask in the spotlight and failing to mention that a transit police officer’s critical gunshot injuries were likely caused by a fellow officer.
“Jared From Subway: Catching a Monster” (Investigative Discovery / Max)
I had to take several mental health breaks while watching this three-part docuseries and then still felt like showering in bleach, but it offers a close (maybe too close) look at Jared Fogle, the former Subway pitch person now serving a 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting children and possessing and distributing child sexual abuse images. His claim that he lost nearly 250 pounds by eating Subway every day led him to become a celebrity shiller for the sandwich shop and motivational speaker to combat childhood obesity. “Jared From Subway” includes interviews with the journalist who pretended to be Fogle’s friend to expose him and also the children of Fogle’s co-conspirators, Angela Baldwin and her then-husband, Russell Taylor — the head of Fogle’s charitable foundation. The former couple were sentenced to decades in prison for producing, possessing and distributing child sexual abuse material, including secret video they filmed of Angela Baldwin’s own daughters.
“Shiny Happy People” (Amazon Prime)
“Shiny Happy People” yanks the mask off the all-smiles Duggars, the reality TV darlings beloved for their aw-shucks devotion to family, parenting and faith. Jill Duggar Dillard, the only member of her family to participate in this four-part docuseries, opens up about growing up in the patriarchal family and the lengths she went to to protect them, at great cost to herself. (I’ll never forget watching her and her sister years ago defend their brother Josh in a prime-time Fox News interview after it became public that he had admitted to molesting them.) But “Shiny Happy People” goes beyond the daily drama (and crimes) of the Duggar family to examine their fundamentalist religion, the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), which has often been compared to a cult. IBLP founder Bill Gothard has been accused of sexually harassing dozens of women and radicalizing followers to believe that women should be submissive to the men in their family, exerting unquestioned authority and perpetuating cycles of abuse.
“Take Care of Maya” (Netflix)
You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you think this is a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy or a family victimized by an overzealous social services system and/or a quackish physician. Regardless, the story of Beata Kowalski, a nurse who became consumed with treating her daughter Maya’s mysterious illness, ends in tragedy. She documented every aspect of her daughter’s treatment through detailed notes, video and audio recordings of phone calls with medical professionals, who were put off by her aggressiveness and blunt manner. One unconventional specialist diagnosed the girl with complex regional pain syndrome. At his urging, Maya — who suffered from debilitating pain and loss of function in her extremities, requiring that she use a wheelchair — and her family traveled to Mexico, where she received a massive dose of ketamine and was intentionally placed in a coma. She survived the treatment, and her symptoms dramatically improved, but she still had bouts of pain and at one point was admitted to the hospital. When doctors there learned about the possibly life-threatening ketamine treatment, they contacted child protective services, which responded by barring her family from seeing the girl. It seemed like a draconian measure that devastated Maya and her family, whose doctor had told them Maya would not survive without the ketamine treatment. The thing is, after she was cut off from her family, Maya seemingly improved and is even seen playing the piano for the first time in years in one scene. By the haunting conclusion, you’ll be wondering who was really taking care of Maya.
“Loch Henry” (“Streamberry”)
Aspiring filmmakers Davis and Pia travel to Scotland with the intention of making a documentary about a conservationist who guards rare eggs. Instead, when Pia learns that a serial killer had targeted tourists in Davis’ hometown, she persuades him to shift their focus to true crime — and they end up being the unwitting subjects of their own documentary. The film won a BAFTA and a deal for a docudrama (in the “Black Mirror” universe anyway), but at a terrible cost.
“The Curious Case of Natalia Grace” (Investigation Discovery)
This six-part docuseries addresses the case of an allegedly 6-year-old Ukrainian girl adopted by Kristine and Michael Barnett, who claimed she terrorized their family and was actually an adult pretending to be a child. A judge sided with the Barnetts and ordered that her birth certificate be changed, making her 13 years older. Then the Barnetts and their other kids moved to Canada, leaving Natalia, who has a form of dwarfism, to fend for herself in an apartment they rented for her. As I pointed out before, this is a lopsided telling of a complex, fraught story. Natalia herself isn’t interviewed, nor is Kristine Barnett. The story is so intriguing that I recommend watching the series — with reservations. Be ready to fast-forward when you reach the limit of how much you can take from the insufferable, histrionic Michael Barnett, and prepare for an unsatisfactory conclusion.
“Murdaugh Murders” (Netflix)
Paul Murdaugh has largely been an elusive figure, in spite of the media circus that began when he and his mother were murdered by his father, Alex Murdaugh. The three-episode “Southern Scandal” stands apart from the plethora of TV shows and docuseries about the Murdaughs by featuring dozens of photos and videos of Paul and extensive interviews with his friends and longtime girlfriend, Morgan Doughty. She was one of the passengers on the boat that he was allegedly driving drunk when it crashed into a bridge, killing Mallory Beach. Paul was charged with causing Beach’s death and injuring two others, including Doughty, and prosecutors allege that a pending lawsuit was a factor in Alex’s decision to kill his son and wife. (On July 16, insurance carriers for the store who sold Paul, then underage, alcohol settled with the Beach family for $15 million in their wrongful death lawsuit.)
Doughty says in the documentary that Paul physically abused her, drank heavily and was extremely reckless; she describes being his passenger in a previous drunk driving crash, when Paul rolled his truck in a ditch. Just like their actions following the boat crash, Doughty says, Alex and Paul’s grandfather rushed to the scene to do damage control, removing Paul’s guns and beer cans from the truck and berating Doughty for trying to call 911. In addition to the boat crash and the murders of Paul and his mother, “Southern Scandal” also examines the deaths of Stephen Smith and the Murdaughs’ housekeeper, Gloria Satterfield, but it is a must-see for the archival footage of Paul and heartbreaking interviews with the people who paid a heavy price for loving him.
“Waco: American Apocalypse” (Netflix)
Netflix’s three-part docuseries about the 1993 51-day standoff between the federal government and David Koresh’s Branch Davidians at their compound outside Waco is unflinching. It’s infuriating, and sickening, and sad — for myriad reasons — but also riveting: I suspect you will find it difficult to pause between episodes. Filmmaker Tiller Russell (who also directed Netflix’s 2021 documentary “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer”) intersperses emotional interviews with people on all sides of the siege — including surviving Branch Davidians, hostage negotiators, federal agents and journalists — with archival film footage and sophisticated 3D graphics.
I called the documentary unflinching, but I flinched several times, starting with raw video of ATF agents getting shot, some of them fatally, in the firefight that followed a bungled Feb. 28 search warrant for illegal weapons stockpiled at the compound. Six Branch Davidians were also killed that day and many were wounded, including Koresh, a self-proclaimed messiah; on Day 51, 75 more died, including 25 children, when a fire engulfed the compound. Federal agents and surviving Branch Davidians blame each other for starting the fire — and 30 years later, the details about what happened that day, and who provoked whom during the 51-day siege, are still the subject of debate.
“Lost Girls” (Netflix)
Actor Amy Ryan chews up the scenery and then some in this 2020 movie as Mari Gilbert, the mother who fought for justice when her daughter Shannan went missing. Mari Gilbert thought her daughter’s disappearance wasn’t taken seriously because she was a sex worker and was tenacious in her efforts to pressure the Suffolk County Police Department to do a thorough investigation. Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance didn’t gain national attention until the bodies of the Gilgo Four were found, even though it was reportedly a search for Gilbert that led a police officer with a cadaver dog to find Melissa Barthelemy’s body as part of a training exercise. Days later, the remains of Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman and Maureen Brainard-Barnes were found nearby, and police announced they were looking for a serial killer. Shannan Gilbert’s body wouldn’t be found for another year, in different circumstances, but “Lost Girls” and the book that inspired it — journalist Robert Kolker’s 2013 bestseller of the same name — centered on the sisterhood formed between Mari Gilbert and the mothers of the four victims found on Gilgo Beach. (Kolker had previously written an article for New York magazine about the women.) Police still believe Gilbert’s death to be accidental and unconnected to the “Gilgo Four.”
“People Investigates: The Long Island Serial Killer” (Investigation Discovery / Max)
People launched its true crime partnership with ID in 2016 with a two-parter on the Long Island serial killer. The re-creations can be annoying, but the documentary includes interviews that provide context with family members, officials, People reporters and Robert Kolker, the author of “Lost Girls.” The first part focuses on Shannan Gilbert and includes interviews with her mother, Mari, and Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, the man with whom she famously clashed over his handling of the investigation. It is interesting to see archival footage of the investigation and family videos and snapshots, but in hindsight, there are some problems. This documentary is one of many that perpetuate the myth that the victims were found in “burlap bags” and names several men as potential suspects whom recent developments suggest were not involved.
“LISK: Long Island Serial Killer”
The “LISK” podcast comprises two seasons devoted to the Long Island killings, including the Gilgo Four and other bodies found in the area, as well as Shannan Gilbert’s mysterious death. Just last week, the first episode of Season 3 dropped, focusing on the new developments in the case. “LISK” provides a lot of content, some of it outdated, and its speculation has veered into conspiracy theory territory. But if you’re eager to absorb everything related to the Gilgo Beach Four and the other bodies found in the area, this is the podcast for you.
“Unraveled: Long Island Serial Killer” (podcast and Investigation Discovery documentary)
Alexis Linkletter and Billy Jensen are co-hosts of the “Unraveled” podcast, whose first season was dedicated to the Long Island serial killer (their investigation is also the subject of a companion ID documentary). Both are Long Island natives and have a unique perspective of the case. “Unraveled” focuses on rampant corruption involving the Suffolk County Police Department and other officials accused of obstructing the investigation. Linkletter went to high school with Chris Loeb, whom then-Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke brutally assaulted while Loeb was shackled, and their interview provides a firsthand look at that attack and its aftermath. (Burke and others went to jail for their role in its cover-up.) Jensen’s career was later derailed after sexual misconduct allegations came out against him, so Linkletter is flying solo in a brand-new ninth episode examining the new developments in the case.