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From Gabby Petito To Ghislaine Maxwell: True Crime Docs To Binge This Holiday Season
From watching author Jillian Lauren confront one of America's most vicious serial killers to learning more about Gabby Petito, here are the must-binge true crime docs to watch this holiday season.
It’s that time of year again: the much anticipated, and for some, greatly dreaded, holidays. Whether you love or hate this time of year, we at Oxygen feel that true crime always has a place in one’s holiday heart. So whether you’d like to find a good docuseries to put on in the background as you decorate your home with a nice glass of eggnog in hand or you want a series to self-medicate with murder and fraud, we've got you covered.
Here are some of 2021’s best true-crime series that we promise will make your holiday dark and not bright, in all the right ways.
1. “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise”
Peacock’s six-part docuseries “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” is not only a deeper look into notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s despicable life and crimes. It’s also a larger commentary on the way that society ignores some victims. Gacy typically preyed on the vulnerable — young victims who were homeless or potentially drug addicted. Gacy's contracting and construction business, PDM Contractors, also served as a convenient hunting ground, as he could lure young potential victims with the promise of a well paying job.
The series takes a fresh look at the Gacy case, featuring interviews with investigators, prosecutors, and victims' family members, as well as rare footage of a prison interview Gacy gave in 1992, two years before his execution.
2. “Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell”
As Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial remains underway this holiday season, what better time to rewatch the Peacock docuseries “Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell”? It focuses on Maxwell's possible motivations for staying with the disgraced late Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted pedophile, and for allegedly facilitating some of his many sex crimes. The former Epstein confidante is currently on trial for allegedly recruiting and grooming teen girls as part of the late predator's pyramid of sexual abuse. She faces six federal counts, including transporting minors to engage in criminal sexual activity and sex trafficking of children or by force, fraud or coercion.
“We focused on Ghislaine because I think we all agreed she's much more complicated, she's much more interesting, her background is fascinating,” director Barbar Shearer told Oxygen.com in an interview earlier this year. “It had a lot to do with her trajectory and where she is sitting today and so I think there was much more of a meatier story there that we were all excited to sort of dive into and investigate and figure out who is this woman.”
3. “Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story”
It chronicles the incompetence bordering on sociopathy of Dallas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch who became known as “Dr. Death'' after he killed two patients and gravely injured others during surgery. In fact, 31 of his patients were left permanently paralyzed or seriously injured, Rolling Stone reported in 2018. He’d proclaim to be the “best” but had no qualms about botching the very people he claimed he would help with their back pain. He was ultimately sentenced to life behind bars in 2017 after a jury found him guilty of injury to an elderly person.
4. “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness”
“The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness” is a fascinating, four-part docuseries, available on Netflix, that dives into the theory that convicted serial killer David Berkowitz wasn’t a lone murderer. Berkowitz was convicted of killing six people between 1976 and 1977 and became known as “Son of Sam” because he initially claimed to have received instructions to kill from his neighbor's dog, who he said contained the soul of a 6,000-year-old man named Sam. Later, he admitted to making up the story of the dog, the New York Times reported in 1979. The name has stuck, however, and it indeed fits the image of a lone, deranged gunman. But were there actually multiple killers? “Sons of Sam” director Joshua Zeman takes a long hard look at the theory put forth by the journalist Maury Terry. He was convinced that Berkowitz was part of a larger, Satanic cabal, a theory that Berkowitz himself has stoked in several prison interviews following his conviction. Terry wrote a 1987 book called “The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation of America's Most Dangerous Satanic Cult,” which inspired this series.
The Hulus series “Sasquatch” doesn’t just dive into Bigfoot sightings around Northern California as the show’s title suggests. It follows veteran journalist David Holthouse as he tries to get to the bottom of a triple murder that he has some connection to, and which was initially blamed on a Sasquatch.
His quest takes place in the backdrop of Humboldt county, an area known for its violent history among cannabis-growing operations and its dangerous gangs. As Holthouse navigates an area known for outlaws and an exceptionally high missing persons rate, he doesn't stumble upon Bigfoot, but he discovers plenty of real-life monsters.
6. “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer”
“Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” features the investigators who hunted down serial killer Richard Ramirez, a man who terrorized the Los Angeles area in the mid-1980s. In 1984, Ramirez began breaking into people's homes to rape and sometimes murder. He had no identifiable victim profile or modus operandi. While his crimes were initially perceived to be the work of separate and random criminals, a rookie detective had a hunch that it was all the work of one sadistic killer. The four-part series features that detective, Gil Carrillo, as well as other investigators, survivors and witnesses connected to the crime spree.
7. “The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media”
“The Murder of Gabby Petito: Truth, Lies and Social Media” is an analysis of the public fascination an dmass global speculation surrounding the Gabby Petito saga.
The documentary asks the question: “Amidst the buzz and conjecture, the documentary brings clarity to two central questions - who was Gabby, and why did her case galvanize an online community in a way no case has done before?”
The 22-year-old travel blogger vanished in early September while on a road trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie, kicking off a national search and inspiring worldwide interest. Her family had reported her missing more than a week after Laundrie, 23, left the couple’s cross-country trip and returned to his parents' home in North Port, Florida without her. A few days later he himself vanished and his family's seeming reluctance to speak out fueled anger from the public and even inspired "Dog the Bounty Hunter" to get involved. Petito's remains were found in Wyoming on Sept. 19 and an autopsy revealed that she had been strangled to death, likely weeks before she was found. Investigators determined that Laundrie died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after his partial skeletal remains were found in Florida in October, following a national manhunt to find him.
The mysterious case was so massively publicized as it was unfolding that it was impossible to escape and that publicity, as well as Petito's true spirit, are examined in this riveting Peacock doc which premiered on Friday, Dec. 17. on Peacock.
8. “Alex Murdaugh: Death. Deception. Power"
Oxygen's new special on the mindblowing Alex Murdaugh case is sure to make your binge-worthy holiday least this year.
In “Alex Murdaugh: Death. Deception. Power,” veteran true crime reporter Troy Roberts joins “The Murdaugh Family Murders: Impact of Influence” podcast hosts Matt Harris and Seton Tucker, and Oxygen.com’s Stephanie Gomulka as they dive into all the twists and turns of this very twisted case. The South Carolina case garnered national attention this year after Murdaugh’s wife Maggie, 52, and son Paul, 22, were found shot to death at the prominent family’s home. It's a murder that has yet to be solved and the controversial family has been connected to other mysterious deaths as well as allegations of a massive fraud.
Allegations of drug abuse and Murdaugh’s own alleged attempt to arrange his own death as his personal and professional life began to crumble are only some of the more recent allegations made about the powerful family.
9. "Confronting a Serial Killer"
Samuel Little, possibly America's most notorious serial killer, got away with his horrific murder spree for decades because he intentionally targeted victims that he felt would be overlooked by society. Little confessed to killing 93 people in 14 different states across the country from 1970 to 2005. The FBI stated in 2018 that “Little chose to kill marginalized and vulnerable women” who often struggled with addiction, engaged in sex work, and were often women of color, which resulted in many of their cases going cold or unsolved.
So, it's interesting to watch author and former sex worker Jillian Lauren confront the serial killer in "Confronting a Serial Killer" as she fights to identify his unknown victims. The time is ticking too, as Little died in 2020.
But before his death at 80-years-old, Lauren struck up an unlikely relationship with him to help give some of his unknown victims their names back.
10. “The Murders at Starved Rock”
The Murders at Starved Rock” is a new, riveting docuseries that is currently streaming on HBO Max. It revisits the shocking 1960 triple homicide that rocked a small Illinois community. When three Chicago-area women— Frances Murphy, 47; Lillian Oetting, 50; and Mildrid Linquist, 54 — were murdered during what was supposed to be a four-day jovial stay at Starved Rock Lodge, the locals scrambled to find a suspect. While a young dishwasher named Chester Weger was ultimately convicted of one of the three slayings, his murder conviction divided the Chicago suburb of Riverside and even created a divide between the prosecutor who put him behind bars and the prosecutor's son. That son is David Raccuglia, a world-renowned hairstylist who spent years investigating the killings in his hometown. He grew up fearing Weger, in large part because of what his father told him about the convicted killer. As an adult, he spent years trying to determine whether or not Weger was wrongfully convicted. Portions of his research are prominently featured in “The Murders at Starved Rock.”