What is the human fascination with a car accident? That morbid curiosity to find out the reason for the stoppage/delay (usually on the other side of the carriageway) to our journey. Yet there is the additional desire to discover how horrific said accident was, based on what we can see of the aftermath. I would draw a loose parallel between this phenomenon and the influx of true crime documentaries on multiple streaming services.
My obsession goes as far back as the tragic case of Meredith Kercher. Back in early October 2011, just as the key players had been cleared and subsequently freed, I found myself downloading the English translation of key Italian court documents and burying myself in every element of the case. Having been a big fan of the TV show Heroes, I even watched the made for television movie Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy (starring former indestructible cheerleader Hayden Panettiere). This provided a unique composite view of everything I had read on various outlets online over several weeks and months. While at times there is a dramatic license to reality, it was still gripping but nevertheless difficult to watch, even with the knowledge that Knox and her co-accused Sollecito would walk free eventually several years later. The film does follow the narrative of a group conspiracy to murder the British student without ever fully exploring the scientific evidence. I am trying to find the correct word to describe my morbid fascination with this case. Part of me feels that justice did prevail and the right individual is behind bars for the crime. However, there are so many questions unanswered that you wonder why this case became a media witchhunt. Would this still have been the case if one of the accused had not been a US citizen? Or the victim a local Italian rather than a British citizen? Did the over-scrutiny on the potential perpetrator(s) mean the victim was forgotten? Hold that thought because that actually becomes a regular pattern for all these documentaries. I even convinced my wife to watch the film loosely based on the crime. Although our viewing of The Face of An Angel lasted a mere twenty minutes. A strong reminder to always consult Rotten Tomatoes before streaming a film on a Saturday evening, regardless of the stellar cast (Beckinsale, Brunl & Delevingne). While the lead actors may sound like a fancy European fashion house (or even at a push European law firm) the 38% rating should have been a clear indicator to avoid at all costs.
Fast forward less the four years and I stumble upon by accident the most popular podcast on the planet Serial. Then once we got NetFlix I eventually got around to watch Making Of A Murderer. Everybody had been praising the documentary series, for what felt like eighteen months. Now let me set the record straight, my dear wife has no interest in this genre of television show but did at least try to watch together but then it just got too much. She had to rush onto the Daily Mail app on her mobile and find out the latest on the case, with at least half the episodes left. However, I stayed committed to trying to get to some kind of truth or at least a conclusion. In the end, it was difficult to maintain if the police had got the wrong person. Yet again, the victim is almost written out of the main narrative and left as a footnote. Such a shame because you never get to truly appreciate the loss felt by friends and family with the focus on the perpetrators.
My brother-in-law then recommended The Jinx which was not on Netflix but available on other services. I started watching this series but due to work and other commitments, it took several weeks, perhaps over a month to complete the documentary. Although deeply troubling throughout it was worth it for the powerful admission in the last three minutes of the final episode. Again this was not a story I had come across previously even though his initial arrest did gain worldwide attention in late 2001.
I suppose like any addiction you are then on the lookout for your next fix. Trying with great difficulty to feed my hunger for more content. I binge watched the shorter Evil Genius documentary over a lazy Sunday afternoon/evening, perhaps with hindsight not appreciating the true impact of the crime. The four episodes had only been released on the 11th May and on 13th May I had watched them all back to back over a few hours. The most haunting image remains of a beautiful young woman who turned into this serial killer as seen on the poster on NetFlix. A powerful still image but even more so when superimposed between her youthful good looks and police mugshot.
This brings us to my most recent true crime documentary, The Staircase which actually started on television but switched to the radio once I discovered BBC Radio 5 Live had produced an eighteen episode podcast series entitled Beyond Reasonable Doubt. Therefore I temporarily abandoned the television series on Netflix in favour of the radio as it gave a balanced view of events, whereas the documentary series had focused wholly on the defence and the Michael Peterson narrative. I learned more from the first podcast episode, wonderfully and warmly presented by Chris Warburton than I did from the first four episodes I had watched on NetFlix. Again, similar to the Serial I was left wondering if Peterson had actually committed the crime. As with Serial, there were issues with the original trial and contamination of key evidence which made a retrial impossible. As much as you want to believe in the innocence of the former writer and mayoral candidate, over the course of both television show and a radio podcast, I was left unconvinced. There are just too many questions left without a coherent explanation and even Owl theory does not cover the multiple of variables. If anything that creates more questions than it actually answers. In the end, I felt sorry for the victim, almost forgotten throughout the thirteen episodes. The Beeb did their best to counteract this with an episode dedicated to Kathleen but you end up feeling what a waste of a beautiful human being.
In case you are wondering what my next binge-watch will be, well I am going to watch The Keepers before the second season of Making of A Murderer returns.