Crime Film Documentaries

|| spring.2015 ||

Instructor: James R. Elkins


Supplementary Films & Material

Crime Films, Documentaries, and Clips
[Michigan State University Libraries]

Documentary Films About Crime


" Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?" (1997)

Convicted in the 1981 murder of a white Philadelphia policeman, black inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks for the first time from death row in this fascinating documentary. Considered a political prisoner by activists because of possible irregularities in his case, Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence. This film, taken from Home Box Office's "America Undercover" series, explores both sides of the issue and includes new footage and interviews. ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"4 Little Girls" (1998)

"Director Spike Lee uses this feature-length documentary to tell the story of the 1963 bombing of an Alabama African-American church—an event that took the lives of four young girls and became a pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle. Lee's film examines the crime and its perpetrators as well as the four young victims (as described by friends and families). It also includes interviews with noted civil rights activists and journalists." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"The Brandon Teena Story" (1998)

"Brandon Teena—a Nebraskan woman who was born Teena Brandon but identified and dressed as a man—is the focus of this in-depth documentary. Brandon finds happiness with a girlfriend and makes a number of friends, but when his secret is discovered, he's brutally attacked and later murdered. Here, the filmmakers use interviews, reenactments and news footage to tell Brandon's story (which also served as the basis for the film Boys Don't Cry)." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Reckless Indifference" (2000)

"Shining a light on the criminal justice system as it pertains to the middle class, this compelling documentary traces the tragic chain of events that led to the murder of a Los Angeles teenager, who just so happened to be the son of an LAPD officer. In the wake of an emotional trial, four teens — only one of whom wielded a weapon—were convicted of first-degree murder and sent to prison for the rest of their lives." ~ Netflix

"Reckless Indifference" (2000)

"Shining a light on the criminal justice system as it pertains to the middle class, this compelling documentary traces the tragic chain of events that led to the murder of a Los Angeles teenager, who just so happened to be the son of an LAPD officer. In the wake of an emotional trial, four teens—only one of whom wielded a weapon—were convicted of first-degree murder and sent to prison for the rest of their lives." ~ Netflix

"The Execution of Wanda Jean" (2002)

"Filmmaker Liz Garbus's in-depth documentary examines the controversy surrounding the 2001 execution of black inmate Wanda Jean Allen, a convicted murderer whose low IQ bordered retardation, yet an Oklahoma court sentenced her to death by lethal injection. The film chronicles her final days and the state's execution process as Wanda's family, joined by legal and medical professionals, fights tirelessly for commutation of her sentence." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Murder at Harvard: American Experience" (2003)

"PBS's 'American Experience' series turns its probing eyes back on one of America's most shocking murder trials. On November 23, 1849, former Harvard professor Dr. George Parkman disappeared. In time, a Harvard janitor discovered his remains. When word got out that Dr. Parkman was brutally murdered, the entire city of Boston became obsessed with the subsequent trial, in which the main suspect turned out to be a well-liked doctor." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"The Larry Davis Story: A Routine Typical Hit" (2003)

"At age 19, Larry Davis was the subject of one of the largest manhunts in the history of the New York City Police Department. After eluding the law for 17 days, Davis turned himself in to the FBI in exchange for their vow to investigate the NYPD's involvement in drug deals he says he was forced to participate in. Now, for the first time, Davis talks about that fateful night in 1986 when 30 cops arrived to kill him for backing out of a drug deal." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Farmingville" (2004)

"In the late 1990s, the hate-based attempted murders of two Mexican workers catapulted a Long Island town into national headlines, unmasking a new front line in the border wars: suburbia. For nearly a year, filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini lived and worked in Farmingville, N.Y., documenting the stories of residents, day laborers and activists battling one another over the American Dream. Won a Sundance Special Jury Prize in 2004." ~ Netflix Internet Movie Database

"The Trials of Darryl Hunt" (2005)

"This poignant documentary details the story of Darryl Hunt, a black North Carolina man who spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. After the rape and murder of a young white journalist in 1984, public outcry and intense media scrutiny—along with simmering racial tensions—pressured officials to close the case. Hunt was quickly convicted. In 1994, DNA evidence proved his innocence, but Hunt wasn't exonerated for 10 more years." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"King of Kings" (2005)

"Before their high-profile capture in 1995, brothers Anthony 'Pretty Tony,' Lance and Todd Feurtado—known collectively as the King of Kings—sat at the head of a lucrative drug trafficking empire that pulled in $15 million a week. This fascinating documentary tells the unbelievable story behind their considerable legend on the streets, with commentary from A-list celebrities including Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, Irv Gotti and Fat Joe." ~ Netflix

"The Life of Rayful Edmond: The Rise & Fall 1" (2005)

"Notorious drug dealer Rayful Edmond's life of crime didn't end after he was sent to prison to serve two life sentences; the Washington, D.C., man began using the phone in the federal prison to set up a drug trafficking operation with Colombian drug lords. Although he later cooperated with federal agents to trap four other inmates doing the same thing, 30 years were added to his sentence. This documentary chronicles Edmond's rise and fall."~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Ray: The Rayful Edmond Story: Part 2" (2008)

"In 1989, 24-year-old Rayful Edmond was sentenced to 25 years in prison for drug trafficking and homicide, but as director Troy Reed's documentary shows, Edmond didn't let incarceration stop his criminal activities. Coincidence put him in a cell with one of Colombia's biggest cocaine distributors, allowing Edmond to expand his Washington, D.C. based empire from behind bars. The irony of the ensuing events is as riveting as any Hollywood film." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Soldiers in the Army of God" (2005)

"Connected by the Internet and an unshakable belief in their cause, a tight-knit group of extreme pro-life activists who—all members of the Army of God—have turned to violence to abolish abortion. This fascinating documentary examines several of the soldiers involved in the ongoing 'battle,' including Paul Hill, the man who committed the infamous 1993 murders of two abortion clinic workers in Pensacola, Fla." ~ Netflix Internet Movie Database

"The Poet and the Con" (2006)

"Poet Eric Trules uses home movies, original footage and clips from "America's Most Wanted" to tell the story of how his uncle became the prime suspect in a 1982 murder. The focus of the film, however, is as much on Trules's relationship with his uncle—a lifelong criminal and underworld boss—as on the crime itself, providing a commentary on morality, creativity and criminality within families and sociocultural institutions." ~ Netflix

"The Real Rick Ross Story" (2006)

"Witness the larger-than-life true story of Ricky Donnell Ross—also known by his street moniker 'Freeway Rick'—who made history in the 1980s and '90s as one of the most notorious drug dealers in the business, pulling in daily profits ranging from $300,000 to $1 million. Rising from poverty and illiteracy, he climbed to a level that no one expected, spreading his empire from the streets of New York and Los Angeles to everywhere in between." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Shooting Henry Hill" (2006)

"Filmmaker Luke Heppner tracks down and interviews Henry Hill, the infamous Mafioso turned informant whose story was dramatized in the feature film Goodfellas. Ousted from the witness protection program for ongoing criminal activity, Hill reveals his still-troubled life as he makes a living by cooking in an Italian restaurant, battles alcoholism, and continues to be embroiled in controversy over his involvement with the mob." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"NBC News Presents: Inside Evil: Jeffrey Dahmer and Son of Sam" (2006)

"This feature-length documentary that originally aired as a pair of NBC news reports chronicles the crimes of two of the world's most notorious serial killers: Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz (aka 'the Son of Sam'). Bonus material includes never-before-seen footage from Stone Phillips's exclusive interviews with Dahmer and his father, Lionel, which offer startling new insights into the mind of a cold-blooded murderer." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Mario’s Story" (2007)

"Shot over the course of seven years, this documentary from filmmakers Susan Koch and Jeff Werner relates the inspiring true story of Mario Rocha, an East L.A. teen who unlocked his talent for writing while serving out a murder sentence behind bars. As his family and a team of pro bono attorneys labor on the outside to clear his name for a crime he didn't commit, Mario keeps himself grounded on the inside by writing poems, short stories and plays." ~ Netflix

"Crazy Love" (2007)

"This documentary from director Dan Klores chronicles the disturbing true story of an obsessive relationship gone awry in 1950s New York between Burt Pugach, a married lawyer, and his twentysomething mistress, Linda Riss. In a shocking reversal of the traditional 'woman scorned' formula, it was Pugach who came unglued when Riss broke up with him—and the subsequent fallout made headlines across the country." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

"Albert Fish" (2007)

"One of the most notorious deviants in the history of crime is profiled in H.H. Holmes director John Borowski's docudrama-style account of the reprehensible transgressions of cannibalistic child murderer and molester Albert Fish. His dark rampage fueled by distorted interpretations of Biblical tales, Fish ritualistically tortured and murdered scores of children in Depression-era New York before being arrested by authorities and executed for his crimes in 1936." ~ Jason Buchanan, All Movie Guide Wikipedia

"Cocaine Cowboys" (2007)

"In the early '80s, a new business emerged in Miami, FL, that changed the face of the city forever. That business was cocaine smuggling; as America developed a growing appetite for the drug, Colombian suppliers found that Miami was a good place to bring it into the United States, and a new breed of outlaws were more than happy to face the risks of importing cocaine in exchange for the massive profits to be made. At one time, cocaine runners were making so much money that the city's banks were running out of room to store the cash, and smugglers were developing new ways to move the product, from floating tanks with radio tracking devices dropped into the ocean to cars stashed with drugs so well-connected drivers with tow trucks could haul them away and abandon them if necessary. The profits from Miami's cocaine explosion helped to transform the city into a major American playground, but it also brought a criminal element interested in more than just dealing drugs, as bloody reprisals between competing gangs of smugglers became commonplace, and hitmen began working overtime to keep up with the demand for revenge. Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman are a pair of Miami-based filmmakers who were able persuade a number of key figures from Miami's '80s cocaine trade to speak on-camera about their exploits, as well as law enforcement officials who struggled to keep up with them. The result was Cocaine Cowboys, a true-life thriller about the underworld culture that helped spawn the film Scarface and the television series Miami Vice. Jan Hammer, who composed the Miami Vice theme song, created a like-minded score for the documentary." ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

"Cocaine Cowboys 2: Hustlin' with the Godmother" (2008)

"Set in 1991 on the inner-city streets of Oakland, California, cocaine dealer Charles Cosby's life is changed forever when he writes a fan letter to the 'Cocaine Godmother' Griselda Blanco, who is serving time at a nearby federal prison. Six months later, Cosby is a multi-millionaire, Blanco's lover, and the head of her $40 million a year cocaine business. Also known as "The Black Widow" for her propensity to permanently dispose of her men when she's done with them, Blanco will stop at nothing to ensure that Charles is by soon learns that he's in way over his head." ~ Netflix

"Conviction: The True Story of Clarence Elkins" (2009)


[55 mins.] [film by Mike West & Bill Ward]

"When a man is wrongly convicted of murder and rape, his wife devotes her life to proving his innocence. Conviction is not only a gripping story of justice gone wrong, it's also a meditation on the role of luck in the criminal justice system. In order for Clarence Elkins to prove his innocence, all of the stars had to align. It's a story that would be unbelievable if it weren't true." ~ Michael West

Big Sky Documentary Film Festival

Resources for Film Discussion

"One summer night, Melinda Elkins' mother was raped and murdered, and her husband, Clarence, was convicted of the murder and sent to prison for life. Melinda knew her husband was a victim of mistaken identification. Proving it would take years. A do-it-yourself detective, Melinda discovered a person she believed killed her mother a convicted sex offender overlooked by police. In a twist of fate, the suspect was incarcerated in the same prison as Clarence. In prison, Clarence picked up a cigarette discarded by the suspect. DNA testing showed that the man was, in fact, the real killer. Because of his wife's tenacity and conviction, Clarence walked out of prison a free man." ~ Durango Independent Film Festival


Popular Films: Real Stories

"Reversal of Fortune" (1990)

Adapted From: Alan Dershowitz, Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case (1985)

"In this tauntingly ambiguous courtroom drama, the enigmatic Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) stands accused of putting his wife, Sunny (Glenn Close), into a perpetual coma with an insulin overdose. Claus hires hard-charging attorney Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), who scrambles to defend his client—with help from some impassioned Harvard law students—while Sunny narrates flashbacks that shed light on the events that lead to her condition." ~ Netflix Wikipedia Internet Movie Database Movie Trailer

The von Bülows: Claus von Bülow Sunny von Bülow

Alan Dershowitz on the Claus von Bulow case (1986)

An Interview with Alan Dershowitz Conversation with Alan M. Dershowitz & Kenneth Star at Pepperdine University School of Law

TV Films: American Justice Crime Series, "Von Bülow: A Wealth of Evidence" (narrated by Bill Kurtis); Biography, "Claus von Bülow: A Reasonable Doubt" (with interviews Claus von Bülow and Alan Dershowitz)

TruTV Crime Library

Oscar Award, Best Actor, Jeremy Irons for his performance in "Reversal of Fortune, 63rd Annual Academy Awards, 1991

Bibliography: Susan J. Drucker & Janice Platt Hunold, "The Claus von Bulow Retrial: Lights, Camera, Genre?" in Robert Hariman (ed.), Popular Trials: Rhetoric, Mass Media, and the Law 133-147 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990)

"Fatal Vision" (1984) [The Jeffrey MacDonald Case]

Adapted from: Joseph McGinnis, Fatal Vision (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1983) Wikipedia

TV Films: "American Justice: The Green Beret Murder Mystery" (A&E Television Networks, 1998)(DVD)(approx. 50 minutes)

The Jeffrey MacDonald Case [Professor James R. Elkins]

Bibliography: Jerry Allen Potter & Fred Bost, Fatal Vision: Reinvestigating the MacDonald Murders (W.W. Norton & Company, 1995); James Blackburn, Flame-out: From Prosecuting Jeffrey MacDonald to Serving Time to Serving Tables (Leslie Books, 2000); Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)


"Charlie Manson Superstar" (1989)

"Get an inside look at the mysterious and dangerous Charles Manson, who, in 1969, became one of history's infamous villains, presented by the media as "evil incarnate"; this documentary sets the record straight after years of media disinformation. It features an exclusive interview with Manson, which allows him to speak for the first time without being censored or sanitized, as well as rare archival footage, police documents and photos." ~ Netflix Wikipedia

Leslie Van Houten 1999 Parole Hearing

Leslie Van Houten 2007 Parole Hearing

Van Houten Denied Parole, August 30, 2007

Leslie Van Houton: 1975 Interview [pt.2]

Excerpt from Leslie Van Houten Documentary, 1991

Manson Murders: 35 Years Later
[Dianne Sawyer]

Linda Kasabian Interview 1988 [pt.2]

Susan Atkins 1985 Interview [pt.2]

Susan Atkins 2002 Interview with Dianne Sawyer

Susan Atkins 2008 Parole Hearing

Manson 2007 Parole Hearing Prelude [pt.2] [May 23, 2007 Parole Hearing Decision]

Manson Interview with Charlie Rose pt.2 pt.3 pt.4 pt.5 pt.6 pt.7

The Manson-Tom Snyder Interview pt.2 pt.3 pt.4 pt.5 pt.6

Court Rulings & Briefs

Appeal: Supreme Court of Florida (1982) Chi Omego Appeal (1982) Supreme Court of Florida (1984)

Supreme Court of Forida (1985) Bundy v. Florida, 479 U.S. 894 (1986) [denial of certorari] Brief on Appeal and for Stay of Execution (1989)


JonBenét Ramsey Case

Crime and Punishment: The JonBenét Ramsey Case: pt1 pt2 pt3 pt4 pt5 pt6 pt7

Ramseys on Larry King JonBenét Ramsey DNA Test 'Touch DNA' Clears Ramseys Ramsey Family Cleared [CBS News, July 10, 2008]

Wikipedia: JonBenét Ramsey