From Making a Murderer to The Keepers, true crime has become a big genre for Netflix. I happen to be a huge true crime fan, so this week, I’m rounding up an assortment of true crime options on Netflix, along with a book recommendation and two podcasts.
The latest big true crime project on Netflix is Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Heist. The four-episode miniseries unpacks a strange, twisted bank robbery, the “Pizza Bomber Mystery,” in which a pizza delivery man robbed a bank with a bomb strapped to his neck. It was unclear to investigators at first if the bomb was real and if the man, Bryan Wells, was a victim or in on the robbery.
The first episode of Evil Genius is really strong. It opens with the shocking Pizza Bomber crime and the mystery surrounding it, which is a gripping hook. You should be warned, they show the footage of the pizza delivery man exploding, which I almost, could not believe they did. From there, the series delves deeper into the life and psyche of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and her relationship with Bill Rothstein, her sometimes boyfriend and co-conspirator. The result is a portrait of a brilliant, manipulative, mentally-ill woman that often lacks substance. Marjorie is dynamic and alarming in front of the camera, but the documentary does not do a lot to push on the portrayal of her as an evil genius beyond having her BFF talk about how pretty and talented she was growing up. In the end the intriguing nuts and bolts of the crime get swamped by a lot of clumbsyish character study in episodes two and three. The story picks up steam again in episode four, so if you stick it out, the series is ultimately worth the watch.
Evil Genius was written by Barbara Schroeder who directed with Treb Borzillieri. It runs 3 hours 11 minutes and is rated TV-MA.
Killer Legends is a documentary I’ve watched and re-watched a couple of times over the last few years. The film looks at the true stories that may have inspired urban legends ranging from razors in Halloween candy to babysitters preyed on by killers. Killer Legends takes a more historical and anthropological approach to crime than many projects in this genre, but I find the result incredibly interesting and satisfying. If you like urban legends, it is a great film to checkout. Although director Joahua Zeman’s other film Cropsey (which is kind of teased in this movie) is creepy as all get out, he has more distance from this subject matter and I think it results in a stronger project. If you like this documentary, you should also checkout the book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, which examines what ghost stories can tell us about the history of institutions such as prisons, hospitals and more in American culture.
Killer Legends was written and directed by Joshua Zeman. It runs 86 minutes.
Another true crime gem is Long Shot, a short documentary about the arrest of Juan Catalan for murder and the great lengths his legal team goes to in order to keep him out of prison. The surprising resolution of the case, in which Juan’s lawyers have to prove he was at a Dodger’s game at the time of the crime, is enough to recommend the film, but the people involved are also charming and worth rooting for. Although the production quality is only slightly higher than a Discovery ID episode, it’s a surprisingly funny and uplifting true crime doc.
Long Shot was directed by Jacob LaMendola. It runs 39 minutes and is rated TV-14.
If you love true crime, you must read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. The bestseller is the best true crime book I’ve ever read. The case is chilling, and McNamara’s writing is beautiful and compelling. I could not put the book down. Finally, if you’re not listening to the podcasts Crime Writers On… and True Crime Obsessed, then you’re really missing out. They are hilarious sources to keep you up to date on which true crime media you should enjoy next.