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Serial Killers, Urban Legends, And More Explored In True Crime Docs About New York City

Before the premiere of the new Oxygen series "New York Homicide" about infamous NYC crimes, dive into other true crime documentaries about the city that never sleeps.

Joel Rifkin Robert Chambers G

New York City is easily one of the most iconic cities in the world. When people think of NYC, they picture a place where people go to make dreams come true — but sometimes, those dreams turn into nightmares. 

In Oxygen's new series, "New York Homicide," premiering Saturday, January 1 at 10/9c on Oxygen, crimes that could only happen in New York are explored. Before the series premiere, consider watching one of the many true crime documentaries about the city that never sleeps.

1. "Rifkin on Rifkin: Private Confessions of a Serial Killer"

Rifkin On Rifkin

From 1989 to 1993, Joel Rifkin terrorized the Long Island and New York City area, ultimately killing at least nine women, although he's believed to have killed more. In this Oxygen special, interviews with Rifkin in Attica Correctional Facility are shown, giving insight into New York's most prolific serial killer.

2. "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst"

Robert Durst Ap

This 2015 HBO documentary series is one of the most famous in the genre: "The Jinx," which followed New York real estate heir Robert Durst and covered the strange murders that had occurred around him, led to his arrest the day before the finale aired. Durst had made what seemed to be a confession while still on tape after being interviewed by the filmmakers. In October 2021, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his friend Susan Berman.

3. "Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn"

Yusuf Hawkins G

Bensonhust, a predominantly Italian-American Brooklyn neighborhood, became a site of citywide furor in 1989 after a Black teenager, Yusuf Hawkins, was murdered by a mob of young white men. He had come to the neighborhood with two friends to see about buying a car; a rumor he was seeing a white girl in the neighborhood led to the mob attack. In this HBO documentary, the murder and the racial unrest it inspired in New York City are examined.

4. "The Central Park Five"

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A vicious crime in Central Park in 1989 led to a shocking miscarriage of justice. A woman was jogging through the park when she was raped and beaten severely she was in a coma for 12 days. Police zeroed in on five Black and Latino teenagers in Harlem, and the boys were wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn't commit. Their convictions were vacated in 2002, and the real rapist was later identified through DNA testing.

In this PBS documentary from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, the five men speak out about their ordeal. 

5. "Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer"

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Times Square is one of the most iconic spots in New York City — but in the '70s and '80s, it had a much different atmosphere. A serial killer stalked the area during that time, and in the Netflix documentary "Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer" Richard Cottingham's murder spree across New York and New Jersey is examined, as well as the societal forces that allowed these killings to go unnoticed for so long.

6. "The Preppy Murder: Death In Central Park"

Jennifer Levin Robert Chambers G

Before the Central Park Five incident occurred, another violent crime in the park captured media headlines. In 1986, 18-year-old Jennifer Levin was killed in the park. A suspect was quickly identified: 19-year-old Robert Chambers. But Chambers insisted Levin died as a result of rough sex gone wrong, and the case quickly became a tabloid frenzy, with many headlines blaming Levin for her own death. Chambers' own good looks and Upper East pedigree ultimately earned him the nickname "The Preppy Killer," and he was only convicted of manslaughter.

This AMC miniseries dives into the disturbing killing and the way media headlines and social forces shaped the conversation around it.

7. "The Sons Of Sam: Descent Into Darkness"

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David Berkowitz, an NYC serial killer, is better known by his nickname "Son Of Sam." Berkowitz, who killed six people and wounded seven others throughout the city from July 1976 to July 1977, infamously claimed he was only murdering people at the instruction of a demon appearing as a dog belonging to his neighbor "Sam." Berkowitz, who was sentenced to life in prison ultimately admitted the story was false.

This Netflix documentary focuses on a journalist Maury Terry who spent decades obsessing over the case and trying to prove Berkowitz acted on behalf a Satanic cult.

8. "The Witness"

Most people have heard of "the bystander effect" — the idea that the more people there is to help in an incident, the less likely people are to offer it. The story of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender who was stabbed to death in 1964 outside her own apartment building in Queens, New York, is often used as an example of it. As the story goes, over 30 people heard Genovese screaming for help while she died and didn't go to help — but this detail isn't exactly true, according to a 2016 New York Times article.

In "The Witness," a 2015 documentary film, Genovese's brother works with filmmaker James D. Solomon to uncover the truth about his sister's murder and debunk the myths surrounding her death.

For more on shocking New York City crime stories, watch "New York Homicide," premiering on Saturday, January 1 at 10/9c on Oxygen.

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