True crime podcasts, TV shows and films offer us an insight into criminal investigations, but some have had huge impacts in ongoing inquiries and have reopened cold cases. From podcasts that have resulted in arrests to films that have seen murder charges overturned, here are the true crime shows that truly made a difference…
Robert Durst was the subject of the 2015 documentary, which looked at the murders of three women closely linked to the wealthy real estate heir; his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, his long-time friend Susan Berman, and his neighbour, Morris Black. While he appeared in the documentary to deny having any involvement in the deaths, he accidentally left his microphone on while in the bathroom, and he is heard saying to himself: "There it is. You're caught! .... You're right, of course. But you can't imagine. ... Arrest him ... I don't know what's in the house ... Oh, I want this ... What a disaster ... He was right. I was wrong. And the burping ... I'm having difficulty with the question ... What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
WATCH: The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst trailer
He was arrested for first-degree murder two months after the series aired for the first time. His trial began in March 2020, where the jury were shown The Jinx, including the moment he appears to confess to the crimes in the bathroom.
Robert Durst is currently on trial for murder
The Teacher's Pet
Hosted by Hedley Thomas, this Australian podcast looked into the disappearance of Lynette Dawson, who vanished in 1982. The podcast became a massive success, reaching the number one spot on the podcast charts on Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK – but it did much more than that. After Hedley uncovered new evidence and examined the police's reactions to the incident, Lynette's husband Chris Dawson was arrested and extradited to Sydney. He will be standing trial for murder later in 2020, and has pleaded not guilty to the crime.
Chris was arrested after the podcast sparked new interest in the case
As the podcast had arguably kick-started a new wave of interest in true crime, Serial was a roaring success, with listeners adamant that the police convicted the wrong man for the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee. Adnan Syed, who has been in prison since 2000, was granted a new trial in 2016. However, this was eventually overturned, and Adnan remains in prison while carrying out his original sentence.
Adnan Syed was granted a new trial after the podcast was released
Making a Murderer
The Netflix series looks at the conviction of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, for the murder of Theresa Halbach. While convicted in 2007, the reaction from the crime documentary led to a federal judge overturning Brendan's conviction on the grounds that his confession had been coerced. However, prosecutors appealed the decision, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit eventually ruled that Brendan's confession was properly obtained in 2018.
The Netflix documentary raised doubts of Steven's guilt
Meanwhile, Steven's petition requesting an evidentiary hearing for a new trial was granted by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. His lawyer, Kathleen Zellner, recently tweeted: "If you think Steven Avery has given up on being freed think again!!! He is surrounded by people who love & support him. We work on his case everyday & we will prevail...you can count on it!!"
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The Thin Blue Line
Released back in 1988, the film looked at the life of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted and placed on death row for the murder of a police officer, Robert Wood. His sentence was based on the testimony of David Ray Harris, who was suspected to be the actual perpetrator. The lawyers who represented him during the trial claimed that Randall was only charged as he would be tried as an adult while David was still a minor.
Randall was released from prison
Six months after the film's release, Randall was released from prison after 12 years with his sentence overturned. He never received compensation for his wrongful conviction. David was incidentally executed by lethal injection for another unrelated murder.
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Michael Peterson was accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen, and hired a film crew to document the cases, allegedly stating that he didn't believe that he would have a fair trial after claiming that his wife died after falling down the stairs. Michael was convicted of the murder before he was granted a new trial when a witness (the blood spatter expert) gave a misleading testimony. Michael submitted an Alford plea – where a defendant asserts innocence while admitting that the evidence would find them guilty, and was released due to time already service.
Michael was accused of murdering his wife
Speaking about whether he believed the documentary had an impact in Michael's case, his lawyer David Rudolf told Metro: "It was really Michael who said, 'You know, I'm not going to get a fair trial here, and I'd like to have a record, if you will, of what happens.' I was reluctant at best, and opposed for the most part… I feel okay about how it came out."