Well, here we are. I'm not surprised you're here. I'd probably read this article too, because like you, I am also a true crime aficionado and I love learning about true crime and forensics. Some may call it an addiction, but I call it what it is, a thirst for knowledge; knowledge of the macabre. But so what, you know? I'd venture to guess a ton of people are in this little (well, not so little) club and want to know more, more, more, and even more about true crime.
I've watched probably thousands of movies at this point and when I see "Based on a True Story" or "Inspired by a True Story", I just have to know how many liberties these writers have taken. I also just kind of want to know what really happened because I'm that weirdo. You are too, so don't get all high and mighty, Broseph.
Anyway, along the way I've watched some very interesting movies and read the true stories behind them. The films listed below are some of the best true crime movies I've seen and have some of the most interesting and sometimes heartbreaking true stories behind them. I've divided the list into regular movies and documentaries, with descriptions under each film.
Here's the list:
There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2011)
There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane is a documentary about a woman named Diane Schuler who was responsible for a fatal car crash in 2009 on the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant, New York. The crash killed Diane, one of her children, three of her nieces, Michael Bastardi, Guy Bastardi, and Dan Longo. The sole survivor was Diane's young son. Diane was held responsible because her Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was 0.19%, with the legal limit being 0.08%. Diane's autopsy also revealed she had high levels of THC (found in marijuana), which meant that it was likely Diane smoked marijuana just before the crash occurred. The documentary focuses on why it was so unlikely that Diane would have purposely endangered her own children and nieces, as well as the safety of complete strangers, as she was usually very controlled, loving, and responsible.
I think this is such an interesting documentary because it is such a mystery as to what occurred before the crash that devastated so many lives. In the interviews with Diane's family and friends, it does seem as if she was very responsible, but that she may have had a hidden side not many had seen, as she had childhood trauma, chronic pain, anxiety and depression that she may have self-treated with marijuana and (sometimes) alcohol. However, it seems very unlikely that she would have purposely tried to murder her children and nieces, as well as three innocent men. This documentary drives me crazy because as much as I try to look for clues as to what could have made Diane imbibe so much alcohol and marijuana and cause such a catastrophic loss of lives, there aren't any real answers.
Beware the Slenderman (2016)
Beware the Slenderman is a documentary about two young girls who begin to believe that the Creepypasta creation, Slenderman, is real. The two young girls believe that they need to murder their best friend in order to protect their families from the Slenderman, because if they don't, the Slenderman will kill their families. They also believe that they will be able to join the Slenderman after they complete the murder. The documentary focuses on these two girls, their victim, their families, and the investigation and trial that followed the attempted murder.
I liked this documentary because it showed me just how much mental illness and influence from the internet can impact vulnerable children. The families of the perpetrators talk about how mental illness impacted the girls to the point where they wholeheartedly believed the Slenderman was real and that they'd be in danger if they didn't go through with their plan to hurt their friend. I was so happy to learn that their friend survived the attack and also happy to learn (through news websites) that both girls were found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, because I believe they really can be rehabilitated and helped. This documentary showed me that it is so important to monitor children and teenagers who are naive and easily influenced by material they see and read on the internet. It is also very important to educate children and teenagers about mental illness, what it looks like, what it feels like, and that it's okay to ask questions about mental illness.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Dear Zachary is a documentary about a man named Andrew Bagby, who fathered a son, Zachary, with a woman named Shirley Jane Turner. In November of 2001, Andrew broke up with Turner over her increasingly disturbing, controlling behavior, and Shirley drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania (where Andrew lived) and murdered Andrew in cold blood. After murdering Andrew, Shirley fled to Canada (where she was a citizen) and gave birth to Zachary. Even though she was a murder suspect, she was allowed to keep custody of Zachary. Andrew's parents moved to Canada to be able to gain custody of Zachary and to try to get Shirley to surrender to extradition to the United States for the murder trial. Through a series of legal maneuvers in Canada, Shirley was first arrested and jailed, but then released after a Canadian judge deemed her "no threat to society". Shirley regained joint custody of Zachary, much to Andrew's parents' dismay. On August 18, 2003, Shirley took Zachary and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean in a murder-suicide.
This documentary is devastating to put it bluntly. It was one of the saddest, most heartbreaking cases I've ever heard of in my life. I thought to myself, how was Shirley not a threat to society? She murdered an innocent man in cold blood, without remorse, without a care as to how it would affect anyone else. There were so many people who could have stopped her from hurting Zachary, yet no one in the Canadian justice system did anything to try to prevent her from hurting him. The injustice that occurred is just mind-boggling, but one thing I was thankful for was after this case, Canada changed their laws regarding custody of children when it comes to suspected murderers. I'm so proud of Andrew Bagby's parent's, David and Kathleen Bagby, for fighting to change Canada's bail laws and fighting to protect other children from heartless killers. I hate that sometimes it takes something like this to happen to change laws that don't protect the innocent, but I am thankful that other children can't be harmed now. I don't think it's possible to watch this documentary without crying, so keep some tissues handy.
These are some of the best true crime films and documentaries I've watched so far. Do you have any recommendations? Did you find a new favorite film or documentary in this list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.