Welcome to our new True Crime Series here at Nerds And Beyond! While an obsession with true crime isn’t necessarily a new thing, we have definitely seen an increase in interest since the success of the pioneering podcast Serial — which started a true crime renaissance — as well as several influential documentaries, movies, and TV series. In the following weeks, we will bring you our favorite true crime stories in different media formats, ranging from television and podcasts to movies and documentaries. We would like to show you a diverse range of stories and mediums dealing with this highly interesting topic, not only because we love it so much, but because we know from experience that finding new stories to delve into is always a treat. Why is true crime so interesting, especially to young women like us? We hope that this series will show you, and we hope that you will find some inspiration from them if you’re not already a true crime junkie.
The first part of the series will showcase our favorite true crime TV shows. Please enjoy some recommendations from our staff!
Conny: Mindhunter (2017)
Like true crime fans everywhere, I devoured the first season and not-so-patiently waited for the second one, which I also finished watching within days. Mindhunter is based on the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. It tells the story of the revamped Behavioral Science Unit within the FBI in the 1970s. In the show, produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, special agent Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff) and special agent Bill Trent (Holt McCallany) work together with psychology professor Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to develop a new way of profiling serial killers and offenders by interviewing imprisoned culprits. Among the cases covered are those of the Co-Ed Killer, Ed Kemper (played brilliantly by Cameron Britton), Son Of Sam, Jerry Brudos, Richard Speck, and of course, the building storyline of Dennis Radar, also known as the BTK-Killer.
My favorite case covered is the one of Ed Kemper, mainly because he is a recurring character and so astonishingly well played. Britton not only captures Kemper’s mannerisms and looks, but also his high intelligence, his analytical way of thinking, and the way he manipulated people. The scenes with Kemper — while not always focused on his case — are among my favorites in both seasons.
While Mindhunter is a work of fiction, it is still based on true events. The casting, as well as the make-up departments have done a tremendous job of portraying these serial killers and offenders.
The second season widely covers the case of the Atlanta murders and focuses on the hinderances law enforcement and the victims’ families ran into. While it misses the controversial conviction and the fact that not all murders were proven to be committed by the person captured, it is still an insightful portrayal of police work in the 1970s.
I recommend Mindhunter to everyone interested in the psyche behind the well-known cases like BTK or the Co-Ed Killer, because it brings the cases to life differently than the tenth or twentieth podcast on the topic does. It helps that the show is so incredibly well done. The cinematography, acting, and overall execution are truly a delight to watch.
Mandi: The People vs. OJ Simpson (2016)
The People vs. OJ Simpson details the true story of football and movie star OJ Simpson, the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and the subsequent trial that occurred where OJ was tried for both murders and eventually acquitted. The TV show pulls from Marcia Clark’s book, Without A Doubt, and Christopher Darden’s book, In Contempt, the two trial prosecutors on the case, as well as pulling from the hundreds of hours of real-life trial footage that was broadcast during the case. While parts of the show are heavily dramatized, most of what is shown in the show are easily verifiable due to how much coverage the case garnered worldwide.
The show featured some heavy hitting actors like Cuba Gooding Jr. as OJ Simpson, John Travolta as Defense Attorney Robert Shapiro, Sterling K. Brown as prosecutor Christopher Darden, Sarah Paulson as Chief Prosecutor Marcia Clark, and David Schwimmer as friend and defense attorney Robert Kardashian. The casting was pretty spot on. The only role I felt was slightly miscast was that of Gooding Jr.’s role as OJ, but no one can deny he’s an amazing actor.
As someone who grew up with this case being broadcast on TV 24/7, it has stuck with me. I can still remember where I was during the bronco chase and when he was acquitted. I am one of those people who firmly believe a guilty man was set free, and have spent decades researching the politics surrounding the case, as well as the mistakes made during the trial. I think the show did an excellent job of showing what went on with the trial and the case. However, where it lacked was showing the devastation the family members of the victims went through. I understand not wanting to dramatize their pain, but the focus of the show was mainly on the possible murderer and not on the victims, especially Ron Goldman and his family. My main concern with shows and documentaries that focus on the OJ Simpson case is how easily they forget the victims, Ron Goldman in particular.
I would recommend this show if you don’t mind a highly dramatized version of events and if you enjoy great acting. The show is well done, wonderfully shot, and is very much an obvious product of Ryan Murphy. If you are somehow new to the case and want to watch something entertaining while learning about it, this show is absolutely for you. If you grew up knowing about this case and watched the trial as it happened, it’s interesting to watch this show and how they show those clips of the courtroom. It’s also interesting to see the “behind-the-scenes” moves that were taking place as far as the defense and prosecution are concerned. It’s a great foray into the true crime world if you’re new and just want to dip a toe in.
Emelie: Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime (2016)
While Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime might not be the most conventional true crime show out there, hosts Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej have a way of both taking crime seriously while using humor to dismantle the harsh truths. Through the five seasons (currently available on the Buzzfeed Unsolved Network) they cover classic cases like The Black Dahlia, Jack the Ripper, and the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. They also bring out lesser-known unsolved cases, like the Reykjavik Confessions, The Eight-Day Bride, and the Disappearance of Bobby Dunbar.
I like that there is a big spread of cases, not just a ton of famous ones that have been talked about on a multitude of other shows. I greatly enjoy the banter between Madej and Bergara over the cases. Just like with My Favorite Murder, combining true crime and comedy might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for me, it takes the edge off the darkest parts of humanity. The crimes are still horrible and gruesome, but I feel like the comedy in the show is tasteful, and a lot of the time it consists of poking fun at themselves or each other.
In each episode, Bergara goes over the facts about the case, with interspersed commentary from Madej. While I do think the show is accurate, you should look into the cases yourself and not depend wholly on what is presented on the show to be fully informed about the particulars of some of the cases.
I would recommend this show if you want to take a break from super serious documentaries or re-enactments. While shows like that are very good at handing over facts, Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime tends to bring a bit of humanity to the cases. If you need a break and easily accessible information about some very interesting cases, this show is something for you.
Amanda: Nurses Who Kill (2016)
Similarly to Emelie’s pick, my choice is slightly unconventional, in that Nurses Who Kill focuses on a different case with each new episode. I wanted to narrow the focus onto the sixth episode, titled “Kimberly Saenz,” who was a nurse based out of Lufkin, TX. As I was scrolling through the list of episodes recalling each one, this one stood out to me for two reasons: the first, and likely the most obvious, being it’s based in Texas. As a Texan, I am naturally inclined to lean towards anything and everything relating to my state, even if it is a murder case. Second, the method used crosses the line into my professional life as a Biomedical Equipment Technician. What that means is that I work on medical equipment, so seeing an episode focused around a nurse in a dialysis clinic poisoning her patients while they were undergoing their treatment piqued my interest very easily.
Now, if you’ve never seen an episode of Nurses Who Kill, it consists of factual reconstructions of the investigative process, focusing on the interrogation portion; it’s a “how the murderer talked themselves into prison” kind of thing, which is why I love it so much.
Here’s an overview of the case:
Nurse Saenz injected bleach into the IV lines of several patients (keep in mind the IV used for dialysis patients is different than the IV line used on the average patient in the hospital. These lines are typically permanent due to needing to be used about every other day), which means the bleach was injected directly into the patient’s bloodstream. She became a suspect when two patients, who were waiting to be treated, witnessed her pour bleach into a bucket, fill a syringe with the bleach, and ultimately inject the contents into a patient’s IV line. When the investigation began, it was quickly realized that there were more victims than they thought, rather than the initial two. It was more like 15 or more (the official number cannot be calculated due to the disposal of evidence before suspicion was raised). As for evidence, Saenz was pointing to her own guilt. Like I said, these cases usually turn out to be a “how they talked themselves into prison” situation, and this one is no different. Nurse Saenz, while being interviewed by two Lufkin investigators, was the first to mention the bleach. Up until that moment, no one had even come close to asking or talking about it. Lastly, a piece of evidence that served as one of the final nails in her freedom coffin was that her soon to be ex-husband had seen that her searches on the internet had consisted of “poisoning with bleach,” and “can bleach be detected in IV lines?”
Are these episodes accurate? Yes. Why do I recommend Nurses Who Kill? You hear the evidence and details directly from the people involved in the case. It isn’t the retelling of a story from the lead investigator’s third-cousin’s aunt’s sister’s boyfriend, and it doesn’t have added drama. It’s just a simple statement of facts on how they caught the killer.