I live and breathe true crime. Ever since my first James Patterson mystery at age 12 I have been captivated by murder, meyhem, and all that follows it. I’m hoping to include more true crime stuff on the blog in future and thought: why not start with the spate of true crime docs I saw recently? Some were awesome, some were boring, but each was horrifying in its own way.
Who Took Johnny? (Beilinson/Galinsky, 2014)
In 1982 Johnny Gosch vanished from his paper route in the early hours of the morning and was never seen again. Hard evidence with respect to the Gosch case is scant to non-existent. There was no crime scene, and there was no evidence of a crime save the fact that Johnny was gone. Unfortunately this is the point at which a great many missing persons cases dry up. What makes up the meat of this film is discussion of a conspiracy theory centering around a peadophile ring brought to the family’s attention by Paul Bonacci, an incarcerated man who claimed he was forced to participate in Johnny’s kidnapping. Johnny’s mother Noreen believes wholeheartedly in Bonacci’s statements and to this day believes her son was a victim of a peadophile ring. It becomes increasingly clear that Noreen’s need to believe that Johnny is still alive is seriously clouding her judgement. Who Took Johnny? covers all the bases of the case and is certainly interesting enough to support it’s short (under 90 mins) runtime but it has nothing new or profound to say.
Sword and Scale covered this case as well and they dive pretty deep into the conspiracy theories.
Available on: Kanopy
Beware the Slenderman (Brodsky, 2016)
This is the real gold here. A case so shocking, so unbelievable, but utterly tragic. On May 31st, 2014 two 12-year-old girls named Anissa Weier & Morgan Geyser lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods. Morgan proceeded to stab Payton 19 times in order to appease the The Slenderman; a fictional boogy-man type character featured on the much famed Creepypasta website. In extensive police interviews featured in the doc Morgan and Anissa detail how they truly believed that the Slenderman was real and that they had to appease him otherwise their families would be killed. The Slenderman is modern-day folklore, created and nurtured exclusively on the internet. He is very tall, and always wears a suit. His hands are white and long-fingered. His face is featureless. He has long tentacles with which he can reach out and snatch children away. If the Slenderman myth is a childish expression of fear, death, and what may lurk in the dark these girls most certainly (metaphorically) summoned him with their brutal act. I don’t want to give much of the film away as it is well worth the watch. It features extensive interviews with the parents, and speculation on what drove these girls to commit such a crime. Those answers are not supernatural but Beware the Slenderman asks pertinent questions about what we assume we know about the inner-lives of children, and what may truly lurk in the dark.
Available on: Crave
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (Smith, 2019)
The only docuseries on the list. Netflix has become proficient in recent years at making docuseries’ that I find….. uh, boring (eg The Staircase ) The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is no exception. On May 3 2007 Madeleine McCann disappeared from her bed at her family’s holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal. And…. that’s about all the truth anyone knows. Much like the Gosch case, the McCann case looks stone cold from the beginning. So… why does Madeleine McCann get an 8 hour tv show while the Gosch case can barely handle an hour and twenty one minutes? I’m sure that has everything to do with the media frenzy that surrounded the McCann’s following their daughter’s disappearance, and the resulting documentary material available. This was a huge international media sensation. In any case, this series is not good. It has no new information. They spend lots of time showing us picturesque beaches and the endless media appearances of Madeleine’s parents. I don’t think this case had nearly enough information to merit such a lengthy series.
Alternatively you can check out Generation Why Podcast for their coverage of the McCann case. It clocks in at a meer 57 minutes.
If you ask me the parents did it!
Available on: Netflix
Missing 411 (DeGrazier/Paulides, 2016)
There’s something lurking in the woods of North America’s national parks. Something that makes children and adults disappear suddenly, and without a trace. Missing 411 is based on a series of books written by David Paulides about unexplained disappearances in Canadian and American National parks. The doc covers several such disappearances and focuses in particular on the disappearance of Deorr Kunz Jr, a 2 year old boy who allegedly vanished from his family’s campsite in 2015. Soon after the conclusion of filming Deorr’s parents were named suspects in their son’s disappearance.
While the idea that there is something, or someone, or a series of somethings or someones that may or may not be supernatural lurking in the woods is interesting… Missing 411 provides no compelling evidence of same. For one it occurs to me that people would vanish in the woods more often because the forest is isolated and dangerous the way the outdoors are. There are often no roads, it’s sparsely populated, and it’s ridiculously easy to die of exposure if you don’t know what you’re doing. Nonetheless Missing 411 is not a complete waste of time. It covers some cool cases I’d never heard of before. Just don’t go searching for proof of bigfoot.
Available on: Amazon Prime
Mommy Dead and Dearest (Carr, 2016)
I covered the Starz tv show based on this case in the post prior to this.
Needless to say Mommy Dead & Dearest is the real deal, and in many ways it is far more distressing than the dramatization. In 2015 strange posts appeared on the facebook page belonging to mother Dee Dee Blanchard and her terminally ill daughter Gypsy Rose. The posts stated in part “That bitch is dead!!” and deeply alarmed those who knew the pair. Police were called and Dee Dee’s body was discovered in her house. She had been stabbed to death. As it turns out Gypsy had never been sick and the murder (carried out by Gypsy’s boyfriend at her behest) was a desperate attempt to flee an extremely abusive situation. It is thought now that Dee Dee suffered from Munchausen’s by-proxy and that Gypsy had been her long standing victim. Dee Dee used Gypsy’s supposed illnesses to defraud numerous high profile charitable organizations such as the Make-a-Wish-Foundation and Habitat for Humanity (who built the house Dee Dee was killed in). Mommy Dead & Dearest takes a first-hand look at this case and includes extensive interviews with Gypsy Rose, her father Rod Blanchard, and many friends and neighbours who knew the pair and never suspected a thing. I find this case supremely fascinating and it’s a bit of a dream just how well documented it is.
Available on: Crave