“The Confession Killer,” Netflix’s five-part deep dive into serial killer Henry Lee Lucas drops on December 6, so clear your schedule. But was Lucas really America’s most prolific serial killer, as he claimed, or was it all a hoax? To help sharpen your analytical skills, here’s a look at some of Netflix’s most compelling true crime docuseries, ranked from theydunnit to whoreallydunnit.
The Devil Next Door
Sometimes a documentary leaves behind its own central question as it raises new ones — and answers those more effectively. After five hours investigating whether John Demjanjuk, a church-going Ford employee in Cleveland, was actually Ivan The Terrible, one of the most notorious and sadistic guards at the Treblinka death camp, The Devil Next Door gets fuzzy with that particular thread. But was this guy still terrible? There is enough evidence to dispute his exact identity, but his previous employment as a Nazi guard is beyond doubt.
When Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in her North Carolina home in 2001, suspicion immediately fell on her husband, author Michael Peterson. His bizarre 911 call kicks off Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s 13-episode series, which gets up close with Michael’s extended family and attorneys throughout the trial, conviction, and appeals process. Among the many twists and turns are another dead woman found at the bottom of the stairs, and the infamous alternative theory that the killer was… an owl.
The Disappearance Of Madeleine McCann
In 2007, three-year-old Madeleine McCann went missing from a vacation resort in Portugal while her parents were at dinner nearby with friends. Chris Smith digs into the avalanche of media coverage that followed, from allegations that the McCanns themselves were involved in a cover up to theories that Madeleine was abducted but is still alive and has potentially been sighted thousands of times. There are no new revelations presented here, and the McCanns refused to take part, but viewers must judge for themselves whether they made one terrible mistake — or did something much worse.
Making a Murderer
It’s a lonely world for the five remaining people who haven’t watched the two-season epic that upped the true crime ante. To recap: Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey are either extremely unlucky or stone-cold killers who are exactly where they belong. Avery was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder and released after 17 years in prison in 2003, only to be charged alongside Dassey with the murder of Teresa Halbach two years later. Both remain in prison in Wisconsin while there are whispers of a third season as they seek clemency.
“Foxy Knoxy’s” trial, dual convictions, and acquittal for the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher — a fellow exchange student in Italy — captivated the world. On one side there was a beautiful brunette who was completely out of her depth in a foreign country, on the other an insane prosecutor spouting theories about a sex-crazed, pot-smoking she-devil. So which is it? Knox, her codefendant and former lover Raffale Sollecito, and Italian prosecutor Giuliano Mignini tell their own truths straight to camera, but are unlikely to make you switch camps.
The Innocent Man
John Grisham was executive producer on this six-part series, which is based on his (only) nonfiction book, about two killings that shook a small Oklahoma town in the 1980s. Between the murder of Debbie Carter in 1982 and the disappearance of Denice Haraway two years later, four men were arrested and convicted. Two have since been exonerated and two remain in prison, despite strong signs that the evidence against them was also botched. That none of them are sympathetic challenges viewers to think critically about the corruption behind the scenes.