Honourable Mentions/Less than Finest

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Catching Killers

(available on Netflix)

This four-part docuseries spotlights the primary investigators involved in the hunt for three notorious serial killers, namely the Green River Killer, Aileen Wuornos, and the Happy Face Killer. It does not provide extensive coverage of the cases but would likely be of interest to someone curious about detective work and the personal toll it takes on those assigned to high profile investigations. I particularly enjoyed the undercover segments in episode two, “Manhunter: Aileen Wuornos”.

UPDATE 

Netflix released Season 2. It is equal in quality and the officers selected were once again passionate. What makes this series satisfying is witnessing the successful resolution of these difficult  investigations. 

 
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Sins of Our Mother

(available on Netflix)

Reminiscent of “American Murder: The Family Next Door”, Netflix’s three-part docuseries “Sins of Our Mother” explores the disturbing case of a small doomsday Christian cult and how it destroyed multiple families. Through police bodycam footage, text messages, news clips, and family interviews, the sins of members Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow are slowly releveled and their motivations questioned.  
Unfortunately, this series is extremely premature and rushed. It does not include the participation of authorities, likely because the trial of these heinous individuals is only scheduled in 2023. Netflix jumped the gun on this one; watch only to pique your interest in the case.

 
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Ghislaine: Partner in Crime

(available on Paramount +)

The apparent suicide of multimillionaire pedophile Jeffery Epstein left many unanswered questions and a hollow sense of justice for his victims.  This four-part docuseries explores the accusations and trial of his notorious partner, Ghislaine Maxwell and her role in the elaborate sex trafficking ring which catered to the rich and famous.
Although the docuseries provides insight into Maxwell’s background and personality, the narrative is largely pieced together by reporters, victim interviews already in the public sphere, court evidence, and her family and friends. It does not include the participation of law enforcement officials or the attorneys directly involved in the case. It was repetitive and more akin to a summary of newspaper headlines than a serious True Crime docuseries.

 
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American Murder: The Family Next Door

(available on Netflix)

Warning: Child victims 
Through Facebook posts, text messages and police bodycam footage, documentarian Jenny Popplewell pieces together the tragic story of the murders of Shanann Cathryn Rzucek and her children by the man who swore to love and protect them.  Although this approach to the True Crime genre is novel, the lack of narrative structure gives this documentary an unfinished feel. Also, the inclusion of Shanann’s deeply personal texts about her husband and their relationship made me uncomfortable as I doubt she intended the messages to go beyond those on the receiving end. Despite these criticisms, I would recommend this short film as it does include interesting insights into the case.

 
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Two Worlds Colliding

(available on Amazon Prime and for free on the NFB website)

The Saskatoon Police became the center of a scandal after Darrel Night, an Indigenous man, reported that he was detained by police and abandoned in a field on a freezing January night in 2000. This accusation results in the conviction of two constables, the beginning of an RCMP investigation and a judicial inquest into several suspicious deaths linked to the long-time rumoured and sadly now confirmed practice known as “Starlight Tours”. My only complaint about this documentary is its length; I wanted to know more about the trial and the results of the investigation/inquest.

 
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Money Machine

(available on Amazon Prime)

Extreme Warning: Features graphic footage and gruesome first-person descriptions of the massacre by concert attendees

On October 1st, 2017, a 64-year-old man named Stephen Paddock opened fire on the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada.  The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in United States history[1].

Las Vegas is my second home and I have been searching for a documentary which objectively covers the shooting and its aftermath through solid reporting.  “Money Machine” is definitively not it. It watches like a Q drop, full of conspiracy theories about multiple shooters, terrorists, the police, the FBI, politicians, attorneys, judges, casino executives, crowd funding campaigns, and comp programs. The “documentary” presents and then retracts some of these theories, leaving the door open for viewers to pick and choose whatever they wish to believe, largely based on opinions and little facts. Any legitimate truths were buried in this chaotic and ridiculous exercise.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Las_Vegas_shooting

 
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The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story

(available on YouTube)

The fascinating story of Lou Pearlman, record producer and the man behind the 90s boy band craze. He was responsible for teenage girls covering their walls with pictures of the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, O-Town, LFO, Take 5, and Aaron Carter just to name a few.  However, Pearlman’s perceived success hid his true legacy, one of America’s largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes. Produced by Lance Bass of NSYNC fame, this documentary brought back fond memories of high school dances while scratching my true crime itch.

 
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Stranger Than Fiction: The Nanny Killers

(available on Amazon Prime)

A short documentary about the murder of French nanny Sophie Lionnet by her rich employers. Unfortunately, this low budget 55-minute short was bloated with unnecessary re-enactments and the case was entirely told by reporters without any participation from authorities. The only touching moments were the interviews with Sophie’s parents and friend. If you are interested in this case, I recommend episode 83 of the “Minds of Madness” podcast (see previous FTC review/recommendation).

 
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Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story

(available on Netflix)

On the night of August 6, 2004, Johnny Michael Allen picks up a prostitute and takes her to his home for sex. The well-respected Nashville real estate agent and youth pastor is then shot in his bed and robbed by Cyntoia Brown, who is apprehended shortly thereafter and convicted of the crime. The narrative as presented is simple and not surprising. However, what if the girl is sixteen and a victim of sex trafficking? Is justice served by trying her as an adult and handing down a life sentence? This documentary follows the pre and post conviction process which eventually leads to Governor Bill Haslam granting Cyntoia clemency after fifteen years in prison.
Although the documentary provides a good overview, it fails to shed light on the systemic issues which are intrinsically part of story. Moreover, this is an “unauthorized” recounting, combining footage and interviews from various sources, resulting in Ms. Brown’s voice being markedly absent overall.