Society has a deep-rooted interest in serial killers, with their disturbing stories and crimes inciting both terror and fascination in the masses. Delving into the minds of these notoriously frightening figures is often difficult to stomach, but many documentarians set out to educate people on the atrocities these criminals have committed in an attempt to gain answers and perspective. Witnessing these depraved and violent individuals and learning about their backgrounds, heinous crimes, and innocent victims, can be an intense and heart-heavy journey for many viewers.
From Ted Bundy to Jeffrey Dahmer, “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy, and America’s first serial killer H.H. Holmes, filmmakers have provided insightful and disturbing profiles on these vile murderers. These are the best of those serial killer documentaries.
Updated on August 18th, 2023 by Federico Furzan: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
17 World’s Most Evil Killers (2017-Present)
World’s Most Evil Killers (a sister show to Britain’s Most Evil Killers) as suggested by the title, focuses on the most disturbing serial killers society has come across. The series that started off in 2017 is still going strong. The interesting element of this particular show is how it brings in numerous lawyers, criminologists, writers, and forensic scientists to analyze the stories of these killers.
From the crimes committed to the evidence collected and the backgrounds of these killers, the show attempts to give an overall examination and analysis of each selected murderer. For someone who is interested in a version of Ted Bundy’s or Velma Barfield’s story, this show is the ideal segue. Also, since the ending of the episode draws in what happened to the killer at the end, there is a conclusion to almost every story in this true crime series.
16 The Ripper (2020)
The case of Jack The Ripper is a well-known mystery around the globe. The killer that went on a murder rampage in the late 1880s was never identified. However, The Ripper is NOT about Jack The Ripper. Rather, it is about serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, who has taken notes from Jack The Ripper’s murders. He is named the Yorkshire Ripper.
By bringing in investigators, journalists, family members of the victims, and the survivors, the series tracks down Sutcliffe’s murders, which were predominantly sex workers in red-light districts. The show also focuses on the possible negligence on the part of the police, which caused many debates about this particular case. In a way, The Ripper is not only focused on a serial killer but on society as a whole, making it an intriguing watch that leaves a lot to think about.
15 Killers Behind Bars: The Untold Story (2012-2013)
Yet another British TV Documentary series that focuses on several serial killers. However, unlike many other serial killer documentaries, Killers Behind Bars: The Untold Story brings in professor of Criminology for help in clarifying the cases.
David Wilson, who used to teach at Birmingham City University, uses his expertise in the field and knowledge to analyze the evidence and clues gathered during the investigations of several infamous serial killers in England. Thus, the show focuses on unraveling certain missing parts of several murder cases as the show does not merely spit facts but instead illustrates how these cases are handled or could have been handled.
14 I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (2020-2021)
The 2020 true crime documentary series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is based on the Michelle McNamara novel of the same name, in which the late author examines the unsolved crimes of the notorious Golden State Killer who caused widespread panic and fear in San Francisco during the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The show also focuses heavily on the dedicated efforts of McNamara, as she immerses herself in the horrific crimes carried out by the murderer when writing her book. The novelist died in 2016 and her husband (actor and comedian Patton Oswalt), researcher Paul Haynes, and true crime writer Billy Jensen joined forces to complete her work in McNamara’s honor. She coined the name Golden State Killer in 2013, and when Californian authorities arrested Joseph James DeAngelo in 2018, authorities used the name McNamara conceived.
13 Murder in the Bayou (2019)
Five episodes are enough. More would be unbearable. Murder in the Bayou tells the story of a series of murders in a rural town in Louisiana that no one’s been convicted for. The case reeks of police corruption and involvement, and the documentary sheds light on the probable culprits, some of which are featured in the series.
It isn’t very hard to suspect who may have been involved with the murders, but the docuseries does a great job at leaving everything to doubt without being unbiased. This is a very disturbing show that will probably leave you scarred and afraid of some parts of the state of Louisiana.
12 Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer (2021)
Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer depicts how the infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez was captured and brought to justice, chronicling the valiant efforts of homicide investigator Frank Salerno and detective Gil Carrillo to identify and apprehend the murderer.
The four-part program examines the Night Stalker case through the use of crime scene photos, archival footage, and candid interviews with Salerno and Carrillo, as well as the media who covered the frightening crimes at the time. The documentary not only addresses Ramirez’s grisly murders but also the sexual assault and child abduction cases that would later be tied to him, and shines a light on the methods, knowledge, and experience the detectives used in order to put an end to Ramirez’s violent killing spree.
11 H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (2004)
Exploring the life and crimes of con artist and serial killer H.H. Holmes and the lore surrounding his “Murder Castle,” the 2004 biographical documentary H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer details the horrific exploits of the 19th-century murderer at his Chicago hotel, where he allegedly carried out his chilling atrocities. At the time, the yellow press had labeled the building as Holmes’ “Murder Castle,” claiming that the site was a deadly labyrinth equipped with secret trap doors and torture chambers, yet these claims were proven false.
Though Holmes confessed to 27 murders, he was convicted and sentenced to death for only one, that of his business partner and former accomplice Benjamin Pitezel. The gripping feature sheds light on the realities surrounding Holmes’ crimes while debunking the long-established myths, and features footage of his childhood home, expert interviews, and reenactments.
10 Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer (2020)
Recounting the heinous murders, trial, and eventual execution of serial killer Ted Bundy through the eyes of his long-time girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly, the 2020 true crime docuseries Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer provides audiences with riveting interviews with surviving victims, reporters, and police officials involved in the case.
After having retreated from the public eye for nearly 40 years in an effort to distance themselves from the notorious murderer, Elizabeth and Molly share their personal experiences with Bundy and provide insight into the mind of the man suspected of killing more than 36 women. The serial killer series garnered praise for its refreshing focus on Bundy’s victims.
9 The Raincoat Killer: Chasing a Predator in Korea (2021)
Netflix’s docuseries The Raincoat Killer: Chasing a Predator in Korea is cut with the same model the streaming services use for all its documentaries. There’s no question about it. However, there’s a dreadful atmosphere with this chronicle.
It dives into the evil acts of a horrible monster in South Korea who had killed, raped, and eaten some of his victims. He had a very unnerving view of the world, feeling special hatred for women and rich people.
8 The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012)
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files chronicles the summer of 1991 in which serial killer and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer was apprehended and arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The 2012 independent documentary features fictionalized reenactments.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files also included deeply detailed interviews with the case’s lead detective Patrick Kennedy, as well as medical examiner Jeffrey Jentzen and one of Dahmer’s neighbors, Pamela Bass.
7 Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)
Recounting the Los Angeles murder spree of serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr. from 1984 to 2007, the 2014 documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper was written, produced, and directed by the aforementioned Nick Broomfield and delves into the at least 10 murders committed by Franklin.
Coined the “Grim Sleeper” by the media due to his 14-year break from crimes during the period of 1988 to 2002, the killer was convicted and sentenced to death for his violent crimes. Broomfield expertly analyzes how the killer was able to go free for so many years, dissecting the classism and racial prejudice against his victims, which led authorities to treat prostitutes as less than human and to not care about the crimes. Upon its widespread release, Broomfield’s documentary earned rave reviews and was even shortlisted for the 2015 Academy Awards.
6 John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise (2021)
Told from the eerie perspective of John Wayne Gacy himself, the serial killer and pederast infamously known as the Killer Clown, the 2021 documentary series John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise features recordings of the notorious murderer as he details his gruesome crimes through chilling confessions.
Gacy was convicted of 33 murders and sentenced to death on March 13, 1980, and later executed in 1994. Viewers and critics were engrossed by the docuseries, with many lauding it for its compelling commentary from Gacy and its ability to make sure the killer’s notoriety never overshadowed his victims and their families.
5 American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)
The true crime feature American Murder: The Family Next Door isn’t technically about a serial killer. But it’s still a revealing look into the heinous act of a very disturbed individual who killed his pregnant wife and his two daughters.
The film shows the progression of the case, as police had the collaboration of a notably concerned Chris Watts, but then found he was a suspect in the killings. This is one of the most disturbing documentaries you can watch.
4 Cropsey (2009)
After exploring the inspiration behind the New York City urban legend known as the “Cropsey,” filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio made the chilling discovery that the boogeyman figure of their childhood is not nearly as terrifying as the real-life evil lurking in the shadows.
The 2009 documentary Cropseydelves into the background of Staten Island child kidnapper and suspected serial killer, Andre Rand, analyzing evidence that potentially links the murderer as the source of the disturbing legend. Many people as well as the detectives in the case have surmised that Rand was possibly involved in Satanism and the Satanic panic of the ’80s and ‘90s. Cropsey garnered widespread critical acclaim upon its release.
3 The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness (2021)
Again, Netflix with a documentary about a serial killer. However, The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness isn’t like any other. It’s not just a chronicle about the acts of a serial killer that involves interviews with law enforcement agents and witness.
Instead, the show tells the story of the serial killer’s brutal rampage and journalist Maury Terry’s persistence to convince everyone, Berkowitz didn’t act alone. It’s directed by Joshua Zeman, a guy you’ve seen already in the list. By the end, you will possibly change your mind and start addressing the case as the one involving “the sons”.
2 Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)
The great Nick Broomfield directed the 2003 documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, which serves as the follow-up to his 1992 film that featured his attempts to interview the murderer. The picture centers on Aileen Wuorno’s deteriorating mental state and the controversial decision to execute her despite her being of unsound mind. She had been convicted of robbing and killing six of her male clients, later claiming that the victims had sexually assaulted or attempted to assault her, and that she shot them in self-defense.
After 12 years on death row, Wuornos was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002. Broomfield interviewed the serial killer throughout her final days. The filmmaker would later speculate on the overall state of mind of Wuornos, having mused, “I think this anger developed inside her. And she was working as a prostitute. I think she had a lot of awful encounters on the roads. And I think this anger just spilled out from inside her. And finally exploded. Into incredible violence.”
1 Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer (2019)
With the docuseries Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer, there’s no denying a serial killer will be categorized as so, even if the acts include other species. This extraordinary series produced by Netflix tells the story of Internet sleuths who took it upon themselves to hunt down Luka Magnotta.
He was an actor who indulged in animal cruelty, posted his acts online, and then went on to commit murder. You will not be prepared for what happens in the case, and how director Mark Lewis masterfully adapts the true events in a thriller-like series.
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