Get your Netflix true crime binge on with these series

Episode 1 of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021
Episode 1 of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021 /

True crime documentaries and series are almost always interesting, and often jaw-dropping. Although many streaming platforms and networks include plenty of true crime amongst their catalogues, Netflix ranks towards the top for quality true crime docs and series.

Before we dive into this small handful of recommendations, let me say that there are so many more excellent true crime choices on Netflix other than the ones I am writing about today. These are only the ones I have watched most recently, so for past tried and true docs, check out: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Evil Genius, Making a Murderer, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, Abducted in Plain Sight, American Murder – The Family Next Door, Girl in the Picture, The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann and Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal.

Now let’s move on to my recent Netflix obsessions, in no particular order.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel – The story of Elisa Lam’s mysterious behavior and disappearance at the notorious Cecil Hotel in LA has long fascinated me. But as well-versed as I believed myself to be, I didn’t know the half of it. In four episodes, Netflix gives us the chilling history of the Cecil and the full story of Elisa Lam and her ill-fated visit there.

The Cecil is located on Skid Row, so that’s dangerous territory for a young woman travelling alone, but Lam was so eager to have an adventure that it didn’t seem to bother her. She arrived in LA on January 26, 2013 and was reported missing by her parents six days later.

Police searched the hotel top to bottom, but no trace of Lam was found. On February 13, elevator footage was released showing some very unusual behavior coming from her, as she pressed multiple buttons, appeared to hide in the corner of the elevator, and made odd, elaborate hand gestures just outside the door.

Internet sleuths came out of the woodwork with their theories, and the footage went viral. And if you think that’s the strangest part of the story, ummm…this is where Elisa’s tale goes into horror movie territory.

After guests at the Cecil began to complain about weak water pressure and strange smelling/tasting brown water coming from the taps, a maintenance worker went up to the rooftop to check the water tanks. In one of them, he found the body of Elisa. The guests had been showering, brushing their teeth and drinking that water, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Compounding the story and aftermath is the violent history of the Cecil, and each episode of this docuseries deepens its mystery.

True crime
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel – Courtesy Netflix /

True Crime stories often begin with love gone wrong

I Am a Stalker – Those who have watched I Am a Killer will be familiar with the premise of this true crime series. People who are serving time for stalking speak on camera about the circumstances that led to their imprisonment, while their victims tell their own stories.

Full disclosure, I was stalked after a relationship ended more than 20 years ago. While I knew my ex was somewhat possessive, and suspected he was keeping an eye on me, I didn’t know the extent of it until much later. He never threatened me or physically abused me, but I know now that he would follow me home from work, and if I am being honest, he probably went into my apartment when I wasn’t home.

Thankfully, he moved out of state and has never tried to contact me since then, but I still have nightmares in which I walk out of my house only to find him standing in my front yard. Because of the mild trauma this has left with me, stalking stories are fascinating (and horrifying) to me.

Very few of the people who are interviewed seem to fully understand why they are serving time. Several claim that they didn’t understand that what they were doing was considered stalking, and that if they had known, they wouldn’t have done it. For the record, I don’t buy that, they are just trying to avoid taking responsibility for their creepy and sometimes violent actions.

But a couple of these guys sent chills down my spine as they were being interviewed. They were relentless while stalking their victims, and if they are set free, I truly believe they will go right back to the way they were. Ruben Jaramillo actually showed up at his ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house with handcuffs and a stun gun, and tasered her father, causing him to have a heart attack.

While talking about that incident, he repeatedly says that the cuffs and the taser were “toys.” Clearly, they were not, and he is serving a 45-year aggravated robbery sentence for the attack. It was just terrifying how calmly he lied about it, when those very real items were used as evidence to convict him.

Watching the eight episodes is a fascinating study in human behavior, and I was surprised to see that there were even two female stalkers featured.

My Lover My Killer – Naturally, I was drawn to this series, which also features the stories of several victims of stalkers. Unfortunately, as you can infer by the title, these victims did not live to tell their tales. Instead, their stories are told through friends, family members, criminal psychologists and law enforcement.

Many of the victims featured in this true crime series are heartbreakingly young, seemingly with their entire lives ahead of them. Take Hollie Gazzard, for example. Hollie was a young, vibrant woman whose dream was to work on a cruise ship as a hairdresser. She worked hard to get to that point, but shortly before setting sail, she became involved with Asher Maslin. While she did leave on that cruise ship, Asher contacted her repeatedly, and she ended up coming back home.

What Hollie didn’t know was Asher’s violent past; he had been accused of violent behavior with past girlfriends, and even his own mother. As he became more possessive and began to abuse Hollie, she finally summoned the courage to leave him. Unfortunately, he didn’t take the break up well.

In February of 2014, Hollie was working in a salon when Asher walked in and, in full view of patrons and the salon owner, stabbed her 14 times. Hollie died from her wounds, and Asher was eventually apprehended and is serving a sentence of 24 years to life.

Each of the other stories featured are equally compelling and heartbreaking, particularly the episode featuring Jayden Parkinson, who was only 17 when she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Jayden’s mother later campaigned for a domestic violence registry.

Next up for me is Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer. What about you, fellow true crime followers? Which documentaries, specials or series are you currently bingeing?

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Let us know which recent true crime series and documentaries have been your favorites by dropping the titles in the comments section.