True crime documentaries are a fascinating piece of media. While it’s unnerving to uncover the disturbing side of society, it makes for compelling stories. Combine the drama, the mystery, and the understanding that it isn’t fiction and that these are the lives of real people and you’ve got a gripping series.
During the height of the pandemic with endless hours of free time, I have watched a lot of true crime documentaries. There were some that left me confused, baffled, saddened, and asking more questions than they had answers. There were some that left me wondering how deep the corruption goes and if the documentary was only peeling back the first layer of something much more sinister.
1. Our Father
Our Father was one of the documentaries that had me gripped from when I saw the trailer. The film features interviews with those affected by the actions of Dr. Donald Cline, a fertility specialist in Indiana. In the 1970s and ’80s, he inseminated dozens of patients with his own sperm without their knowledge or consent.
The stories of the women and at least 94 biological children of Cline are told through their interviews. In a time when the right to safe and informed reproductive care is under threat in the U.S. Our Father is resonant given the questions it raises about how our legal system views those seeking control over their reproductive choices and the restitution when the autonomy is violated.
It’s a spine-chilling story following how the siblings uncover their parentage as well as their journey to see Dr. Cline be held accountable for his actions in a court of law.
2. The Tinder Swindler
The Tinder Swindler is a topical documentary it goes through the story of how not everything is what it seems when it comes to the internet. The story follows the women who were tricked by the Israeli conman Simon Leviev who used Tinder to connect to individuals to then only emotionally manipulate them to financially support his lavish lifestyle under the pretense that he needed money to escape his “enemies.”
I must say this one was more frustrating to watch, not for anything involving the story, but because these women were gaslighted into giving Leviev thousands and thousands of dollars because they were convinced it was life or death for this man who claimed to love them. But anytime the women tried to question or ask what happened to the money they already sent, the response was always aggressive and accusatory. But as the women do more digging on Leviev, it uncovers something far more sinister and manipulative.
3. Dirty Money
One of the most common types of true crime documentaries is the one that unveils corruption in today’s society and how greed can tarnish those who consider themselves untouchable. There are two seasons of Dirty Money on Netflix and the most recent season speaks to those affected by the corrupted actions of the greedy and how the judicial system responded.
This docuseries explores stories from the fraudulent actions of Wells Fargo to the horrible ramifications of Formica Plastics on a small town in Texas. They include interviews with whistleblowers who suffered retaliation from employers but knew that they were doing the right thing. It explored that corruption and greed can reach every corner of this country and the world.
4. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
This was one of the more heartbreaking documentaries that I watched. This 2020 documentary series is about the convicted murderer and former professional football player Aaron Hernandez.
The three-part documentary explores his conviction for the murder of Odin Lloyd, other murder cases in which he was a suspect, and the factors in his life that shaped his behavior. It took a more in-depth look at Hernandez’s life before football and how the prosecution built the case against him.
There is a further commentary on how brain damage from concussions in the NFL could have been the cause of Hernandez’s change in behavior after many years of playing professional football. It was definitely one of the sadder documentaries I’ve seen, but still an interesting watch.
5. How to Fix a Drug Scandal
Lastly, this documentary follows a shocked Massachusetts criminal justice system as two separate drug chemists working in two separate labs were convicted for their actions which led to thousands of cases being thrown into legal limbo.
The story follows how one drug chemist had all of the cases she signed off on put into question as she was not only taking drugs from the control cabinet in the lab she was working at but also the drugs she was testing for trials. The other chemist while not tampering with the evidence itself, was caught forging tens of thousands of tests in order to win over her superiors and prosecutors as a star employee. Their certified assessments of the content and amount secured thousands of drug convictions for the state, and they routinely appeared in court to affirm them; without a chemist’s signature proving an illegal substance, the charges of possession could not stand.
So one chemist doing drugs while working and the other not even testing the drugs and signing as many assessments as possible in a day without actually testing the content, made it hard for the prosecution to hold up the convictions.
Now, these chemists did not know each other and worked on opposite sides of the state, but their actions exposed a neglected system designed to streamline the “war on drugs” effort. It showed that the actions of one unreliable person can unravel an entire system.
I found one of the most interesting aspects of the documentary to be following the lawyers whose clients were either wrongfully convicted or served their time. It showed how the drug conviction on their record made it difficult for them to get a job and integrate back into society.