True Crime

‘TRUE CRIME’: a fascination for dark plots

These are the keys to the success of ‘True Crime’, a trending genre that goes over the most resounding crimes of history to analyse them in depth.

BY Laura Martos | 11 January 2024

Within the human condition, the profile of a murderer is one of the most historically controversial. From conceptions such as evil, betrayal or madness, the limits that separate moral and psychopathological behaviour, at the very least, awaken curiosity. And often, we seek to explore the motives that drive people to cross these boundaries. 

For this reason, the two characteristics that any true crime should meet are its narrative, based on a real crime retold by close relatives and professionals who were linked to the case and its media coverage. 

This second element is even more important, because it recovers the point of view from which it was told and the influence this had on the court proceedings. And the fact is that this genre does not only put the spotlight on the investigation, but also on the parallel conspiracy theories, the media circus or the criticisms of the institutions and the judicial system.


From Capote to Berlinger

It is difficult to talk about a specific origin for true crime. Many specialists in the genre affirm that between 1500 and 1700 there were already publications that informed readers about capital crimes, a predecessor of the incidents columns that continue in some newspapers today. 

However, the first incident dealt with in an informative way could be read in the masterpiece in which Truman Capote narrated the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, at the hands of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. In Cold Blood, a journalistic-literary work that covered both the facts that took place in 1965 and the terror that invaded the neighbours and relatives of the victims, was the birth of a new way of understanding and, above all, consuming crime.

Following this, the United States has become the cradle of this documentary genre. The reason is obvious: it is by far, the country with the most serial killers in the world, ranging from the case of Lizzie Borden, in 1892, to Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Ed Gein, who inspired Thomas Harris for his novel The Silence of the Lambs or Robert Bloch for Psycho

Joe Berlinger, therefore, was not the first producer who became interested in the police investigations with most media coverage, but he was the person who made the murderer’s testimony available to the public, responding to the question that usually impregnates any crime: Why did they do what they did?

In any event, it is obvious that the success of this genre could be explained by itself: the list of incidents that have terrified the world –Amanda Know, the Watts case, Tiger King, The Tindler Swindler, Bad Vegan…, or in Spain, El caso Asunta, Alcàsser, Las últimas horas de Mario Biondo, ¿Dónde está Marta?...– is so long that production of documentaries and films has not stopped since the phenomenon of The Jinx or the podcast Serial

And now, people such as Berlinger or Carles Porta have crossed the thresholds into all our homes, inviting spectators to relive incidents that seriously question human behaviour and activate a seriously primary survival instinct in all of us. 


Four essential documentaries in this genre

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