Certain holiday songs tell us that this is, without a doubt, the most wonderful time of the year. But as we know, 2020 has been no ordinary year. While this season would typically be filled by visits with family and friends and holiday cheer, the 2020 holidays may feel a bit more isolated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Then what better time for a little escapism—and possibly even some amateur sleuthing? After you decorate your home (or not) with bright lights and holiday glam, consider pouring yourself a glass of red wine and diving into hours worth of 2020’s best true-crime series.
To help you, we’ve compiled (in no particular order) a list of the most binge-worthy 2020 true crime series for your holiday viewing:
1. The Case Died With Her
Oxygen has debuted a compelling two-hour special, “The Case Died With Her,” which focuses on the shocking case of Emilie Morris, a woman who died mysteriously before she was due to appear in court to testify against her high school cross-country coach. Morris had filed charges against Jim Wilde for alleged sexually inappropriate behavior she experienced as a minor.
Legal commentator and former prosecutor Loni Coombs dives into the case, which was first reported on by BuzzFeed News’ Jessica Testa. The show promises exclusive sit-down interviews with Morris’ sister Andrea and mother Joan, who are dedicated to shining a light on child sexual abuse.
The special, produced by Pulse Films and BuzzFeed Studios, debuted Sunday, and can be streamed below:
2. Tiger King
Yes, pretty much everyone has already seen "Tiger King” at least once or twice during this bizarre year. However, March — when the show debuted — feels like a century ago now, so why not watch again? It could be a great time to reflect back on the big cat personalities of “Tiger King,” and take another look at Joe Exotic’s downfall from eccentric zookeeper to inmate as he took his rivalry with big cat activist Carole Baskin to the extreme.
Even though the series is just a few months old, so much has happened since with its central figures. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle was indicted in October on wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty charges for allegedly trafficking lion cubs. Jeff and Lauren Lowe, who took over Exotic’s zoo, are being sued for alleged animal abuse. And Baskin herself was a cat print star on “Dancing with the Stars.”
3. Real Murders of Orange County
California’s Orange County is one of the wealthiest counties in the entire nation, but it's also the backdrop for some pretty unbelievable crimes. Oxygen's own “Real Murders of Orange County” has selected the top tier "most horrific, sinful and salacious cases that rocked Southern California’s wealthy coastal community.”
The show, which premiered in early November, examines multiple cases, including the murder of Jane Carver, a flight attendant who was killed in a murder-for-hire gone wrong in 1995. The case, like all the the ones featured in the series, was high-profile at the time.
Stream episodes on Oxygen.com below:
4. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” the HBO series chronicling the efforts to unmask California's notorious Golden State Killer, was released before Joseph DeAngelo was finally sentenced to life in prison for his decades-long reign of terror. The docuseries chronicles true-crime writer Michelle McNamara’s quest to identify DeAngelo, who murdered 13 people and raped at least 50 in the 1970s and '80s under several monikers, including the East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker, and the Visalia Ransacker.
The focus of the riveting docuseries is not the killer himself. Rather, it’s on McNamara’s tenacity and obsession with cracking the case. The series illuminates her success in shining a light on the unsolved crimes, which had gone largely unnoticed by the masses for years, as well as her personal life.
McNamara died unexpectedly in 2016, so she wasn’t able to see DeAngelo’s arrest in 2018, nor his 2020 guilty plea. A year-end binge on “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” is a perfect way to pay homage to a woman who dedicated much of her life to putting a vicious killer behind bars.
5. License to Kill
Nurses and doctors behaving badly? It may not sound like a holiday watch party, but trust us, it is! Oxygen’s “License To Kill,” about medical professionals who put their clients in harm’s way or worse, has chronicled several real cases of nurses who used their positions as healers to act out their homicidal impulses.
Have you ever heard about Donald Harvey? He was a prolific American serial killer who murdered at least 37 people while working as an orderly and nurse's aide. He eventually admitted to killing dozens at hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky. The episode on his crimes, entitled "Killing Everything," will bolster any true crime fan's knowledge of serial killers.
Click below to stream on Oxygen.com:
6. Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project
In recent years, the star has been successfully using her massive platform to shine a light on those who have been wrongfully convicted or are serving unjust prison sentences. Recently, she’s questioned the murder conviction of rapper Corey Miller, who was convicted of killing a teenage fan at a nightclub in 2002.
Binge the show below:
7. Trial By Media
If nostalgia is your thing, then you should be all about Netflix’s “Trial By Media,” a six-episode docuseries that focuses on six highly publicized trials. It kicks off with an infamous 1995 murder tied to “The Jenny Jones Show.” Jonathan Schmitz was invited onto the daytime talk show by his acquaintance Scott Amedure, who revealed his secret crush on him while also describing details of his sexual fantasies about him. While Schmitz appeared to be a good sport about it, he killed Amedure with a shotgun three days after the show’s taping. The trial ended up changing the way talk shows treat their guests.
Other monumental trials covered include the controversial Bernie Goetz case, in which a white man shot four Black teens on a New York City subway in 1984. The series also dives into the 1986 gang rape of Cheryl Araujo, which went on to inspire the Oscar-winning Jodie Foster film “The Accused,” and also looks at the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times by police in the Bronx.
8. Unsolved Mysteries
While 2020 has been an objectively bad year overall, it’s been a pretty good one for fans of the classic series “Unsolved Mysteries.” The show has released not one, but two batches of brand new episodes after a decade-long hiatus. As is tradition, the episodes range in topic from missing kids to paranormal activity. The first season focuses on six cases, including the murder of a French aristocratic family, the puzzling death of a man who apparently crashed through the roof of a Baltimore hotel, and the killing of a Black man in Kansas named Alonzo Brooks. The second batch ranges from the mysterious death of a former White House aide to the case of a child murderer who easily escaped prison custody.
If you binge all of these episodes and are still craving more, don’t forget that all 12 seasons of the original run are currently available to watch on Peacock. And another beloved version of the show will be airing during 12-hour Tuesday marathons on Oxygen.
9. The Innocence Files
“The Innocence Files” is a binge-able true-crime docuseries on Netflix which, like most such series, is filled with tragedy. But a silver lining in this particular show is that it shines a light on eight people whose wrongful convictions were overturned.
Even though many of the cases featured lingered for years, meaning innocent people were wrongfully kept behind bars, there is that feel-good element that at least some wrong has been made right. Cases highlighted include that of Franky Carrillo, who spent 20 years in prison for a 1991 drive-by shooting he did not commit, and the story of Thomas Haynesworth, who was jailed for sexual assaults in the 1980s while the real serial rapist continued to attack women.
10. Killer Siblings
Family is very important around the holidays, so what could be more important than watching a show about homicidal siblings? Oxygen has a season and a half worth of the series “Killer Siblings” for you and your brothers and sisters to watch together.
Each stand-alone episode spotlights some of the most amoral and calculating siblings alive—or at least the ones who were caught. Psychologists, detectives, and investigators take viewers inside the minds of the brothers and sisters who killed—sometimes brutally. The 2008 murder of Edwin Hawes, who was killed by his own brother and sister Andrew and Elizabeth, is one such gory tale. He was shot with a crossbow, beaten, run over, and burned in a bonfire.
You can stream "Killer Siblings" here on Oxygen.com.
11. Mark of a Killer
Each episode of Oxygen's "Mark of a Killer" dives into the trademarks and signatures left behind at murder scenes, as well as firsthand accounts from investigators and forensic psychology experts. The marks are often pivotal in helping investigators identify killers and end their murderous sprees. It's also a great show to binge to gain more knowledge about serial killer calling cards: "Deadly Summer," for instance, focuses on "Son of Sam" serial killer David Berkowitz and the marks he left in New York City during the summer of 1976.
Click below to watch:
12. Buried in the Backyard
Interested in finding out what kind of icky and morbid things exist under perfectly manicured lawns?
Oxygen's "Buried in the Backyard" explores cases in which murder victims are, yup, discovered buried in a backyard. When remains are found in such a way, investigators must determine just how the person died before they can pinpoint who is the killer. That’s not always an easy feat, and the show takes a riveting look at just how investigators put all of the pieces of the murder mystery together.
13. A Teacher
We’ve now, unfortunately, become quite accustomed to headlines about teacher-student sex abuse scandals. “A Teacher,” a new 10-episode FX on Hulu limited series, depicts a fictionalized version of this type of story — a pretty teacher preying on a high school student.
In the series, Claire Wilson (played by Kate Mara) ignores her own loving husband in favor of high school senior Eric Walker (Nick Robinson). She fantasizes about him and finds ways to get close to him before manipulating him into a relationship full of disturbing sexual abuse. Over the course of its 10 episodes, the show depicts how she grooms him, and then how the sexual abuse affects him later in life. While the series is fictional, many elements mirror the disturbing details from real cases of teacher-student abuse. In turn, it allows the audience to get an up-close look at how such incidents unfold and the lasting ripple effects of these crimes.
14. The Vow
If the dark world of cults is your thing, then HBO’s “The Vow” is definitely the 2020 show to binge. The nine-episode show, which explores the inner workings of controversial self-help organization NXIVM, captured the nation's attention in 2020—the same year that its leader Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison for a range of charges, including sex trafficking.
The docuseries shows how members of the group had a cultish devotion to Raniere, who cultivated a reputation as one of the smartest people in the world and insisted on being called "Vanguard" by his followers. Under Raniere's guidance, a clandestine sect of women followers known as DOS evolved within NXIVM, which was based on master-slave relationships, blackmail, coercion and sex. Members were ritualistically branded with Raniere's initials as a symbol of loyalty.
“The Vow” shows how a dedicated crew of former members, as well as the mother of a now-former member, banded together to take down Raniere and his top lieutenants.
15. Murder on Middle Beach
HBO’s “Murder on Middle Beach” is a riveting and heartbreaking tale of a young man investigating the unsolved murder of his mother.
Barbara Hamburg was brutally bludgeoned to death outside her home on Middle Beach Road in Madison, Connecticut in 2010. Her death was never solved, but her son Madison has dedicated the last eight years of his life trying to find the truth. His quest for answers has not been easy. It requires him to look at his aunt, his father and even his sister as possible suspects across the four-part series.
16. How To Fix A Drug Scandal
The docuseries "How to Fix a Drug Scandal” shines a light on shocking misconduct and begs some serious questions about morality and justice in America. The series focuses on two Massachusetts drug lab technicians who were caught manipulating evidence that was used to convict thousands of defendants on drug charges.
Lab technician Annie Dookhan was arrested in 2012 after it became apparent that she wasn’t even testing drug evidence assigned to her—rather, she simply fabricated results so she could impress her colleagues with her speed and efficiency. Sonja Farak, another technician who was caught in 2013, pilfered samples of the very drugs she was supposed to be testing for her own use and often conducted analysis while high.
After their arrests, prosecutors at the Massachusetts attorney general’s office then tried to sweep their crimes under the rug without addressing how their actions affected defendants who were convicted based on their drug testing. It's yet another sharp and fascinating look at complicated women in the true crime sphere by director Erin Lee Carr.
17. Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez
The life and crimes of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez make for a truly fascinating watch, and Netflix’s “Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez” goes deep into the athlete’s troubled life. Did he have brain damage from playing football? Did the death of his demanding father affect him? Was he afraid to express his sexuality?
The docuseries explores all these questions and more, three years after the former NFL star hung himself in his jail cell while serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of friend Odin Lloyd.
If you’re looking for true crime binging material but don’t feel like going ultra dark, HBO's "McMillion$" leans more on the light and playful side.
The docuseries chronicles an elaborate and bizarre criminal ring that defrauded McDonald’s of tens of millions of dollars by rigging its Monopoly game promotion in the 1990s. That in and of itself is pretty compelling, but what's even more entertaining is the docuseries’ colorful cast of characters. Not only does it feature criminals with connections to a the Mafia and a mastermind with an unknown number of wives, but there’s also the uncharacteristically enthusiastic FBI Special Agent Doug Mathews, whose boisterous personality and penchant for gold suits add some comic relief to this docuseries, and to the true crime genre in general.
19. Love Fraud
The Showtime docuseries “Love Fraud” is another binge-worthy docuseries that doesn’t feature murder, but does have enough colorful characters to make for a very fun watch. Serial dater and conman Richard Scott Smith would woo woman after woman, making them feel like they were the only one for him before taking their money and disappearing without a trace.
That is, until, the women seek justice. They band together, along with foul-mouthed bounty hunter Carla Campbell, to get revenge on the man who broke their hearts and violated their trust. “Love Fraud” has got it all: crab restaurant drama, karaoke, heartbreak, betrayal, and of course, revenge.
Happy holidays, indeed.
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