2021 Review: Netflix’s most unsettling true crime documentaries


Image used with permission from Netflix

The official Netflix poster of Night Stalker, a popular docu-series from 2021.

It is the time of year where we look back at what happened in the past 12 months and luckily for true crime fans, 2021 brought a wave of new true crime series to binge. Here are the best true crime documentaries of 2021, in no particular order. 

Starting off gentler with a nonviolent true crime scheme is the film Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (Netflix). Rick Singer, who was a college recruiting counselor, helped wealthy parents con their kids’ way into elite colleges. This film takes a look at the infamous college admissions scandal scheme, showing original media clips from the trial as well as scenes based on actual FBI wiretaps. When the film first came out, to watchers the real-life swindle seemed too comical to be real; as if it was made for TV. But broadly, the film examines how privilege in general plays into college admission.

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (Netflix)

It was the summer of 1985 in Los Angeles, and there was a serial killer on the loose. With no defined pattern, the “Night Stalker,” as he was called by news headlines, terrorized citizens while police chased for answers. This new Netflix documentary chronicles the case and includes interviews with the two L.A. County Sheriff’s Department detectives who finally caught the killer.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (Netflix)

This four-part documentary dives into the mysterious, dangerous and notorious history of Los Angeles’s disreputable and suspicious Cecil Hotel, where serial killers and criminals have stayed. This case was huge before it made its way onto the big screen, with internet sleuths concocting their own theories about what happened. The Netflix original focuses on the disappearance of a specific Cecil Hotel guest, Elisa Lam, and the investigators who worked the case. 

Dr. Death (Peacock)

Doctors are sworn to protect human life, but one neurosurgeon from Texas decided to be the one to take life instead. Based on the popular podcast of the same name, this series dissects the details of the confounding case of a surgeon who killed/maimed 33 patients under his care. The series also reveals the flawed hospital system in the United States that allowed him to continue to practice medicine for years. 

For something to look forward to, Netflix will be releasing a new film in 2022 called Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix) 

Monster explores both Jeffrey Dahmer’s crime spree as well as the botched police investigation that allowed him to continue to kill for over 10 years. It is also told through Dahmer’s point of view, which is a new perspective in the world of true crime, but it is for a reason. They will focus on times when Dahmer was almost captured by authorities before ultimately being allowed to walk free and continue his reign of terror. The series seeks to portrays the white privilege and  police incompetence that led Dahmer to get away with killing so many for such a long time.