True Crime TV

True Crime TV (23)

Review: 'House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths'

Written by 06 November, 2021

"There is a fine line between faith and delusion"

That's a quote from a psychologist midway through the three episode Netflix true crime limited series House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths and it's a pretty solid explanation of the unbelievable events that inspired this special.

In 2018, police in the New Delhi area of Burari discovered a horrifying scene: 11 members of the Chundawat family were found hanging in the central room of their apartment. The bodies resembled vines hanging from a native Banyan tree and the three generations of mostly women has been bound with wire at their hands and feet, blindfolded, gagged and had their ears plugged with cloth. 

As you might imagine, the story quickly became a national sensation in India, with theories ranging from murder to some form of ritualistic suicide. Police quickly decided the murder idea didn't fit the facts, but neither did suicide. Two weeks before the deaths, the family had held an engagement party for 25-year-old Priyanka. It seemed impossible to believe that a newly engaged MBA graduate would willingly participate in some suicide pact. To say nothing of the family's two fifteen-year-old boys. 

Camera footage from outside the home was quickly discovered and it revealed that no outsiders had been inside the Chundawat family home that night. But even stranger, it showed various members of the family outside in the street laughing and joking with neighbors as they returned from shopping trips with sets of stools and rolls of wire.

But when police discovered a series of diaries inside the home, the explanation of how the deaths occurred came into focus, and without giving too much away, it's an explanation that is rooted deeply in the mores of Indian society. 

That look into Indian society is much of the reason why House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths is so compelling to watch despite some slow spots spread over the three hours. It's a true crime story that is very specific to India and the deep-held beliefs in the wisdom of the family patriarch and the hope of a better world beyond. 

Much of the series focuses on interviews with family members and friends, as well as experts who attempt to put the events into some sort of societal context. But despite the best efforts, it's still difficult to imagine how the death of an entire family could happen without any warning. And while the diaries do provide a general overview of the events that led up to the deaths, viewers are left with so many questions that simply can't be answered. This is one of those cases where the fact there are no surviving witnesses means that we will never have any real insight into the family's last moments and how much of the ritual was voluntary.

In the end, House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths provides some insight into daily life in New Delhi and the challenges of living in a society where so much of family life is still bound up inside these long-held beliefs that can seem unreasonable to outsiders.

House Of Secrets: The Burari Deaths is now streaming on Netflix.


Last modified on Monday, 08 November 2021 13:46

Review: 'Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan'

Remember crop circles?

Back in the 1990s, they seemed to be everywhere. Mysterious, complex designs carved into wheat fields from Kansas to the U.K. Were they created by aliens? Was it all some sort of an elaborate fraternity prank? Despite a lot of investigations, no one was ever able to definitively determine who created them. But at some point, he circles just stopped showing up in fields.

It's a bit like that with the idea of "multiple personalities." For about a 20-year period beginning with the publication of the story of Sybill in the mid-1970s (a woman with supposed many personalities living in one body), psychologists began to embrace the idea that some small subset of mentally ill people were, in fact, harboring multiple personalities. And like crop circles, multiple personalities is an idea that is now mostly considered to be some unexplained aberration that may not in fact, exist at all.

One of the people most famously diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder) is an Ohio man named Billy Milligan. Milligan was arrested in 1977 for the rape of four women at Ohio State University. There was little question that he had committed the crimes. But when arrested, he claimed not to have any memory of the assaults, and he appeared to exhibit personality traits that could radically change from moment to moment.

A team of psychiatrists diagnosed him as having 24 different personalities, and he was eventually found innocent by reason of insanity.

But as the four-part Netflix documentary series Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan illustrates, that was just part of his story. From claims of severe childhood abuse (corroberated by family and friends) to a planned film project that would have seen director James Cameron direct the story of his life, Billy Milligan's story is two parts horror show and one part the American Dream gone sideways.

There is a good amount of evidence that he killed several people, although he was never charged in either case. And while Milligan had many supporters, there were also people who believed that he didn't have multiple personalities. Instead, he was just a charismatic sociopath who knew how to play the system.

The series doesn't provide a clear answer either way, but it does a solid job of telling a story that is almost impossible to believe in many ways.

The tragic and bizarre Billy Milligan is a very American story, and I am not sure that is a good thing.

Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces Of Billy Milligan premieres Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021, on Netflix.

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 September 2021 14:28

Discovery+ Orders Three-Part Expose Of The Hillsong Church

Written by 21 June, 2021

Discovery+ announced on Monday that it has ordered a three-part expose of the troubled Hillsong Church entitled Breaking Hillsong.

Here is the description of the project provided by Discovery+:

The project will chronicle the headline-making world of global star-studded megachurch Hillsong and the downfall of its ultra-hip, celebrity senior pastor, Carl Lentz. Through a partnership with the New York Post with investigative journalist Hannah Frishberg’s in-depth coverage, the series will feature exclusive, never-before-seen interviews including Ranin Karim, the New York-based fashion designer whose five-month affair with Lentz led to his downfall.

Breaking Hillsong will take viewers into the world of Hillsong, the megachurch with more than 150,000 global members that has recently come under scrutiny. The series will profile numerous current and ex-members of the church who have come forward en masse to share harrowing stories of the trauma, abuse, financial and labor exploitation, homophobia and racism that created a culture of chaos at Hillsong. Additionally, BREAKING HILLSONG will examine the greater phenomenon of corruption within megachurches.

Breaking Hillsong is produced by Breaklight Pictures, part of The Content Group (TCG), in association with New York Post Entertainment for discovery+.

At its height, Hillsong Church had churches in 30 countries and scores of celebrity attendees. But a series of scandals that involved allegations of toxie leadership, sexual abuse and homophobia.

In November 2020, Carl Lentz, the pastor of the popular New York City Hillsong branch was forced out of his job following allegations of infidelity. There were also allegations from other church members of sexual harassment and emotional abuse.

And in May, a pastor at the Montclair, NJ Hillsong Church was forced to resign after allegations of infidelity and sending explicit photos to a church volunteer.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 June 2021 22:47

Vanilla Ice Turns Detective In New BBC Podcast

Written by 15 June, 2021

Rapper-turned-home renovator Rob Van Winkle - aka Vanilla Ice - has had an astounding range of careers over his lifetime. But citizen detective is maybe the strangest one to date.

Winkle is narrating a new episode of the BBC Podcast "Sport's Greatest Crimes" which examines the kidnapping of legendary racehorse Shergar. The kidnapping is perhaps the highest profile crime in the racing world and in a statement, he says that as a longtime racing fan, he has long been fascinated with the disappearance.

Shergar won the 1981 Epsom Derby by a record ten lengths and owner The Aga Khan retired the horse to County Kildare in Ireland, in anticipation of a long and extremely profitable life as a stud horse.

But a group of masked gunmen kidnapped the horse and his groom Jim Fitzgerald at gun point in February 1983. The groom was later released but after a $2 million pound ransom demand and four days of back-and-forth contact between the kidnappers and police, the contact abruptly ended.

The horse was never found and no one was ever officially connected to the crime, although speculation has been the kidnapping was done with the cooperation of the IRA.

"There is no story out there that even compares to the story of Shergar because it's so deep that the minute you start absorbing what really, actually happened and to know this is a true story - it sounds like something that could've been made up in Hollywood!" said Winkle in a statement. "But it's so fascinating, this story just intrigues you, it's like a really good book you can't set it down. You start asking questions, 'Well, what happened next?'

"They breed these horses and so all of the trainers were sending big money ransom to get this horse back and all of the kidnappers were sending ransom notes - this is just the most amazing story ever!" he continued. "It's a 50/50 toss up whether his remains will ever be found and that's the mystery of the whole thing. There's a big mystery that's still there. A lot of questions will never get answered."

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 June 2021 18:20

First Look: 'Relentless'

Written by 14 June, 2021

When 21-year-old Christina Whittaker disappeared in the small town of Hannibal, MO, a frantic search immediately ensued. Eight months later, filmmaker Christina Fontana met Whittaker’s mother when filming a documentary about the families of missing persons. Little did Fontana know, this one case would lead her down a dark path full of conspiracies, betrayals, suicide, and murder. Using more than 400 hours of footage from field investigations and video diaries filmed over 11 years, this docuseries follows not only a complex search for a missing person, but the journey of a filmmaker who becomes dangerously ensnared by the story she’s documenting.

Relentless premieres June 28th, 2021 on Discovery+.

Last modified on Monday, 14 June 2021 22:09

First Look: 'Murder Nation'

Written by 24 May, 2021

HLN is premiering a new investigative docu-series it promises "puts a spotlight on deadly crimes that are unique to particular locales in the United States."

According to HLN, Murder Nation "focuses on the crimes that are distinct to one U.S. region, whether it is bodies that turn up in swamps in the Bayou, killers stalking the sandy beaches of the Jersey Shore, victims lusting for fame in the Hollywood Hills, or screams lost in the cold Alaskan tundra. The series illuminates what connects these crimes to their environments and what makes them so uniquely American."

The series premieres on June 13th and season one focuses on "Blood On The Bayou," which "delves into the Louisiana Bayou, home to a rich and diverse culture, lush swampland, and hearty southern food. But beneath the green marshes and in the shadows of the bright Mardi Gras lights, lie some of America’s most vicious murderers."

Here are the loglines for the first few episodes:

Sunday, June 13, 9-10pm: SOUTHERN HARM When four seemingly unconnected women are murdered in their homes in Baton Rouge, LA, authorities go on the hunt for a serial killer. But when more murders happen 20 miles north, a small-town PD presents a theory contrary to the FBI’s. The town’s theories are ignored. More women keep turning up dead until finally, DNA evidence unlocks the key to catching one of the most prolific serial killers in Louisiana history.

Sunday, June 13, 10-11pm: BIG EASY BLACK WIDOW In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the NOPD’s resources are stretched and depleted. So, when a beloved Pastor turns up dead outside of his New Orleans apartment, his case—along with countless others—goes cold. But when his wife’s next husband turns up dead as well, the family suspects something is amiss. They revisit her previous husband’s mysterious death and begin to untangle a sinister web woven by scheming and heartless Black Widow.

Sunday, June 20, 9-10pm: BACKCOUNTRY BACKSTABBER Genore Guillery moved to a small rural town in the backwoods of Louisiana for solitude and space to raise rescued animals. But after she is viciously slain in her country home, police are stumped as to who could have had a vendetta against the kind and generous woman. Months later, a jailhouse tip uncovers a hateful and violent conspiracy that plagues the struggling town and ended Genore’s life.

Sunday, June 20, 10-11pm: TIL DEATH DO US PARTY When, Thomas Talley, a hardworking family man is gunned down in his driveway, his bereft widow Kendra recounts how a wild night in New Orleans ended in murder. Only after police begin to dissect her story, do they realize that there might be more to her tale of partying and jealousy than meets the eye.

 

Last modified on Monday, 24 May 2021 10:01

Review: 'The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness'

Written by 05 May, 2021

The reasons why true crime stories are so popular is a complex and nuanced discussion, but there are probably two primary reasons. One just have to do with the crime itself and the resulting investigation. Most people can't conceive of murdering someone or planning and committing some complex, often evil crime. So learning the details of someone else's crime is..well not entertaining exactly. But it can be a fascinating story to follow and a great true crime story has everything from loss and revenge to love and redemption. Stories of true crimes are as complex and compelling as the finest novel or scripted movie.

But the second reason for their popularity have to do with the need for justice to be fulfilled. There are tens of thousands of people in America who spend every day consumed by the smallest detail of some crime that has captured their imagination. They can devote hundreds or even thousands of hours into chasing down the next detail, the next person who can put them closer to bringing some sort of resolution to their pet case. Sometimes it's bringing a murderer to justice. Other times it's just determining how the crime was committed or freeing someone who they believe has been wrongly convicted of the crime.

Tracking down the details of any crime can be heady stuff and it quickly the line between determination and insanity can be very hard to discern. There's a temptation to think that if you just spend one more hour going over casefiles or devote time to another phone call that the "truth" of the crime will reveal itself. It's hard for even the most level-headed person to keep their perspective and that's why the detective obsessed with a case until it eats him or her up is such a familiar true crime trope. History is littered with well-meaning people who ended up lost inside a case they couldn't quite solve.

At first glance, watching a four-episode docuseries about the infamous "Son Of Sam" killings feels like overkill. Beginning in the summer of 1976, someone began shooting people in New York City in what seemed to be an almost random basis. At first, the crimes were given the name "The 44-Caliber Killer" due to the type of gun used in the crimes. But a letter eventually was sent to a local newspaper by someone claiming to the suspect. They called themselves the "Son Of Sam" and it was a nickname that seemed to perfectly fit psyche of New York City in the late 1970s. Crime was up, the police were seen as often corrupt and incompetent and the city's tabloid newspapers were at the height of their tawdry glory.

By the time David Berkowitz was arrested by police in August 1977, eight shootings had taken place, resulting in six deaths and seven injuries. Berkowitz quickly confessed and explained that he committed the crimes because of instructions given to him by a demon which had manifested itself into a dog owned by his neighbor Sam. He later admitted that story was false and pled guilty to the crimes. He was sentenced to six life sentences and to be honest, like many people that is pretty much everything I knew about the crimes before I watched the unsettling and often frustrating new Netflix docuseries The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness.

Even before David Bertkowitz made his confession, there were growing questions about the details of the police investigation. The Berkowitz confession was a convenient break for police, who had bungled his arrest. An officer had broken into Berkowtz's car and that was how police had obtained the evidence that ultimately led to his arrest. A trial and evidence discovery could have led to all of the tainted evidence being excluded from the case - which could have led to Berkowitz's release. Instead, he confesses to the shootings and initially provides a crazy explanation that involved a demon manifesting himself as the dog of Berkowitz's neighbor.

Maury Terry was writing corporate puff pieces for IBM's in-house magazine when the shootings began, but he quickly became interested in the case. Even more so after Berkowitz was arrested and sentenced to six life terms. Terry quit his job to become a local newspaper crime reporter focused on the Son of Sam case and began writing a series of increasingly critical pieces about the investigation. As he pointed out holes in the Berkowitz confession, he began to fall into a rabbit hole of conflicting stories about Satanic cults, police corruption and the desire of many New Yorkers to just move on, no matter what the problems with the confession.

While The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness begins as a recounting of the increasingly unhinged details surrounding the case, it slowly morphs into a telling of the increasing obsession of Maury Terry. The journalist makes some real progress with the case and seems to find substantial proof that Berkowitz didn't commit the crime by himself. He found solid proof of Berkowitz's membership in a cult and lots of circumstantial evidence that other murders took place, including the death of several people who appear to be have been members of the cult.

But he struggled to get police officials to reopen the case and his growing frustration led to an obsession that overwhelmed every aspect of his life. His marriage failed, his health faltered. He struggled to discern the differences between valid clues and unlikely conspiracy theories and by time he of his death he was left with nothing more than his theories and a small group of like-minded investigators.

In the end, The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness is as much a story about getting lost in the search for justice as it is a recounting of the details of the Son Of Sam killings. It's a compelling, sad and complex story that is well worth devoting four hours to telling.

The Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness
premieres Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 on Netflix.

Last modified on Wednesday, 05 May 2021 01:32

Review: 'When Phillip Met Missy'

Written by 28 April, 2021

72-year-old Phillip Snider wasn't one of the most-liked people in the group of older men and women who met for coffee every morning at the local Hartsville, Ohio McDonald's. But he was liked enough that when Roberta - his wife of 52 years - mysteriously died, local residents were reluctant to consider that Phillip might have been responsible for her death. Even though his initial description of her death just sounded insane.

According to Phillip, he took her to Memphis to see Graceland and she died while she was at the hotel. So he hailed down an ambulance, they pronounced her dead and took her body off to be cremated. Not surprisingly, Roberta's brother and her children were less convinced this was the complete story. And once the police became involved, they quickly began to suspect Phillip.

And while all of this was going on, Phillip struck up a friendship with Missy, a woman at least 20 years younger than Phillip. She had just moved to town and seemed unconcerned about the rumors floating around town about Phillip and his missing wife.

It's pretty funny to hear the range of reactions about Phillip's relationship with Missy from the men and women he had coffee with every morning. The reaction from all of the women was that the relationship was "hard to believe" and "kinda gross." The reaction from the men was along the lines of a chuckle and "more power to him."

As you might suspect, there is much more to the story and it's told through the typical true crime story interviews, but also with a large amount of surveillance video and audio. At some point about halfway into the documentary, you might be able to figure out the outlines of what is going on. But it's well worth sticking around to the end because there are some pretty crazy twists and turns along the way.

When Phillip Met Missy premiered Wednesday, April 28th, 2021 on Discovery+.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 May 2021 21:49

Can True Crime TV Help With America's Cold Case Problem?

Written by 22 February, 2021

There are a few familiar sub-genres staples of true crime television. The well-known stories that always bring in a viewing audience, such as Jon Benet Ramsey or the Zodiac Killer. Then there are the cases that feature less-familiar criminals, but ones involving a case so complex it merits a two or three-episode telling (The Chameleon Killer or The Widower). The biggest group are the one-hour recreations of some crime - typically a murder - which can be told and wrapped up in an hour-long episode.

One area that hasn't received much coverage are murder cold cases. Which is unfortunate, since this is a topic which seems like a perfect fit for the true crime television audience. I don't mean a "let's find this fugitive" series like America's Most Wanted. I'm specifically talking about cases that are legitimately unsolved and unlikely to be solved unless some outside force intervenes.

How massive is the cold case problem is America? This piece in the Texas Observer paints a pretty grim picture of the issue:

And all those previously undetected homicides had become part of a larger national problem: a backlog of more than 250,000 unsolved murder cases, a number that increases by about 6,000, nationwide each year. 

This enormous backlog represents what the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) called a “cold case crisis” in a June report. As more and more homicide cases go unsolved, the backlog grows, allowing an estimated 2,000 serial killers nationwide to remain free to kill again. Too few police departments are effectively deploying their resources to stop them.

And then there are the murders that are never solved because the homicide detectives for whatever reason don't expend much effort on the investigation:

Her son, Scott MacPhee, came to his mother’s house to meet Plano police officers that day. He was mystified by what he observed: “It was cold that day, but her coat had disappeared. And two valuable rings she always wore were missing.” He challenged a Plano detective about the missing items, but the response was, according to him, “Old people hide their stuff.” There was blood in the bathroom, in the garage, near her body, and even on her glasses. And yet his mother had no obvious wounds. Officers collected no samples of the blood. Nor did they take photos or videos, he said. No autopsy was ordered by Collin County officials. 

The death investigation seemed like a whirlwind, Scott said: “We found her, the cops show up, the paramedics show up, the CSI department shows up, and they rope things off, they do all their investigation, and the detective says she died of natural causes."


A few years back, TNT briefly had a murder cold case series, but it was built around a team of investigators that tried to solve a specific case. Aside from the fact that it was cumbersome TV format, it was also an expensive approach that only allowed the show to focus on a handful of cases throughout the season.

What I would like to see is a straight-forward murder cold case series. Each episode focuses on one or two cold cases. A basic outline of the facts, some interviews with police, family and friends. And then a highlighting of the type of information that would might lead to a break in the long-cold murder case.

Even better, since the online amateur crime sleuth community is already so active, channel that community and bring them into the show. Give people an opportunity to suggest cases. Build a platform that allows people to interact with the show and each other as they uncover facts. Use the reach of television to engage an already engaged audience and build a new sub-genre of true crime television from scratch.

Have a thought about this piece? Contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or follow me on Twitter at @aysrick




Last modified on Monday, 22 February 2021 12:14

This Week In True Crime TV: 02/21/2021-02/27/2021

Written by 21 February, 2021

Here is a rundown of all the new true crime television premiering this week:

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 21ST, 2021:
Evil Lives Here (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "He Still Haunts Me," an extended interview with Gwen Bailey, who married Norman Starnes. She discovered she never really knew him at all and in fact she was his unwilling accomplice.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 22ND, 2021:
Murder In The Middle (Investigation Discovery)
A popular college student is found murdered on the kitchen floor of her family's home in a small Southern town.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23RD, 2021:
48 Hours On ID (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode "Crosley Green's Hard Time," Crosley Green is convicted of killing a 22-year-old Florida man in 1980 despite no physical evidence tying him the case. A federal judge overturns his conviction in 2018, Yet Green remains in prison as of 2020.

The List Of Ten (Discovery+)
In 2010, a probation officer conducts a routine check on 76-year-old Joseph Naso, in Reno, Nevada. During a search of Naso’s home for probation violations, the officer finds a shocking cache of materials: thousands of pictures of women in hosiery, mannequins dressed in lingerie, and a journal recounting dozens of sexual assaults. But the most important piece of evidence found is Naso’s “List of Ten,” a handwritten list with ten cryptic entries of vague locations, but no names or dates. Investigators fear that they have stumbled upon a hidden serial killer and his list of victims completely by chance. Working against time, investigators have one year to decode the list before Naso goes free.

Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (Netflix)
A woman walks into a New York gallery with a cache of unknown masterworks. Thus begins a story of art world greed, willfulness and a high-stakes con.  

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 24TH, 2021:
The Truth In The Casket (Investigation Discovery)
Something is revealed at a funeral.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25TH, 2021:
Field Of Nightmares (Investigation Discovery)
The execution-style murder of a beloved maternity ward nurse in a cornfield shakes up a small Indiana town.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26TH, 2021:
Fear The Neighbor (Investigation Discovery)
In the episode entitled "Hell In Hawaii," a handyman, living rent-free in the home of a generous friend, grows increasingly paranoid about his neighbors. He films them constantly and rights with them incessantly until the conflict escalates out of control and culminates in explosive violence.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27TH, 2021:
Beyond the Headlines: Surviving Child Abduction And Imprisonment (Lifetime)



 




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