American Murder: Which Cases Should Netflix Spotlight Next?
Last year, Netflix viewers were left gripped and horrified by American Murder: The Family Next Door, a documentary about the murder of pregnant Shanann Watts and her two young daughters, Bella and Celeste.
Shanann was murdered by her husband and the father of her children, Chris Watts, who had been having an extramarital affair. The documentary shows how Watts initially attempted to appear confused about his family’s whereabouts, appealing for their safe return.
However, the sickening truth eventually emerged, and viewers were shocked to see how the seemingly ordinary family man was in fact capable of unspeakable cruelty and brutality.
Now viewers have begun to wonder about the sort of true crime documentaries Netflix could be unveiling in 2021, with a variety of interesting cases left unexplored and relatively unknown.
I’ve put together a list of 10 cases that I believe could make for gripping true crime documentaries. Some are stories that viewers might not be immediately familiar with. Others are well known, but deserving of deeper exploration beyond the tabloid headlines.
10. The Disappearance Of LaQuanta Riley
The last time relatives saw LaQuanta was at around 11.30 p.m. on December 7, 2003, as per The Charley Project. LaQuanta, of Montgomery, Alabama, had driven over to her mother’s house in a dark green, four-door car, which could have been a Ford Taurus or Chevrolet Caprice, where she asked for a jacket.
When her brother answered the door, he asked who the driver was, having never seen the car around before. LaQuanta stated that the driver was just a friend she had met from around the neighbourhood.
After this exchange, LaQuanta got back in the vehicle and was never seen again. Three days later, her mother reported her as missing.
Shortly after LaQuanta’s disappearance, her mother received an answerphone message she believes was from her daughter. The message was unclear, with the caller either saying, ‘leave me alone’ or ‘let me go home’.
A male voice in the background could be heard to say LaQuanta’s name before the call was disconnected. This phone call has never been traced and what happened to LaQuanta 17 years ago remains a mystery.
9. The Disappearance of Walter Collins.
This case was explored movingly in the 2008 movie Changeling, which saw Angelina Jolie play Christine Collins, a Los Angeles mother who endured the agony of her son going missing, only to be pressured into taking the wrong boy home with her.
Five months after Walter’s disappearance on March 10, 1928, Christine was given the news she had longed for. Walter had been found alive and was coming back to her.
However, when she went to meet her son from the train, Christine immediately knew she was looking at a completely different child. Not wanting to face humiliation, Captain J. J. Jones of the Los Angeles Police Department convinced her this was a trick of the memory and that she should take the boy home.
Subsequent dental records confirmed the boy was not Walter. However, the LAPD refused to listen to Christine’s story, and Captain Jones had her committed to a psychiatric hospital.
There are so many compelling aspects to this case, with Christine’s story highlighting the shocking corruption that can and does happen within police departments to this day.
8. The Infanticide Of Amelia Dyer
Victorian Britain offered limited opportunities for unmarried mothers, many of whom were driven to devastating measures to avoid complete destitution and ruin.
So it is easy to understand why so many women during this period were taken in by ‘baby farming’ organisations, which took their babies from them for a fee. Some of these infants would have been sold to childless couples and may have gone on to live happy lives. Others were not so fortunate.
Amongst the most notorious baby farmers was Amelia Dyer, a truly monstrous woman who took advantage of women during their most desperate times.
Dyer, is believed to have murdered between 200 to 400 infants over a 20-year period, as per the Crime Museum. She advertised to adopt or nurse babies for payment, reasurring mothers that they would be well taken care of.
However, she murdered many of the children within a matter of days, at first from neglect and starvation and then, as a means of increasing profit, by strangulation. Her crimes were eventually exposed after the body of baby Helena Fry was recovered from the River Thames in Reading.
After being found guilty, Dyer was hanged at Newgate Prison on 10 June 1896, aged 57. More than a century later, her story remains testament to the importance of having adequate social support in place for those who are struggling, ensuring that the Amelia Dyers of this world cannot take advantage.
7. The Sodder Children
On Christmas Eve night 1945, the Sodder family home in Fayetteville, West Virginia burnt down, sparking a mystery that continues to perplex true crime fans to this day.
Parents George and Jennie Sodder escaped the blaze alongside their two eldest sons and two of their daughters. However, their five middle children were nowhere to be seen, and no human remains were ever recovered from the property.
Up until their own deaths, George and Jennie remained convinced that their children had survived the fire, which they believed had been delibrately ignited to cover up an abduction.
The couple even erected a billboard close to the site of their destroyed home featuring photographs of their five children, promising a $10,000 reward for their safe return. The billboard remained up until Jennie’s death in 1989.
There are many bizarre and unexplained aspects to this case. For example, in 1967, Jennie received a letter containing a photo of a young man who closely resembled her missing son, Louis. A message on the back read, ‘Louis Sodder, I love brother Frankie, Ilil Boys. A90132 or (A90135)’.
A story of a couple’s tireless search for answers long after many would have given up hope, there is so much about this case that continues to intrigue.
6. The Murder Of Jeanette DePalmer
In 1972, the body of 16-year-old Jeanette DePalmer was discovered at the top of a remote cliff in Springfield, Union County, New Jersey; a location known to locals as ‘The Devil’s Teeth’.
Although descriptions of the crime scene vary, it’s understood that Jeanette’s body was surrounded by various occult or potentially Satanic objects, fuelling theories that her death was somehow connected to witchcraft or Satanism.
According to Sword and Scale, some have said the corpse was discovered in the centre of a pentagram and that the remains of dead animal remains were festooned all around.
However, one consistency in descriptions of the scene is that a coffin-shaped perimeter had been constructed around Jeanette’s body using tree branches and forest debris, and that several crosses had been crafted out of sticks.
Jeanette’s murder was never solved, and the case eventually went cold. Interest was renewed in the ’90s following an article published in Weird NJ, with the publication finding that many of those who recalled the death were too frightened to talk about it.
After the article was published, Weird NJ received various strange and creepy tips from readers about the case, including one that read:
I was a young teenager when the discovery of Jeannette DePalma happened, and lived in the next town. About two years prior, there was much talk in my school about a cult in the surrounding area. They were known as The Witches.
They must have let it be known in the area that they planned to kill a child on or about Halloween, either by kidnapping and sacrificing them or by poison.
I remember being anxious about this because I went trick-or-treating in those days. I didn’t read the newspapers, but I was well aware of the dog that brought home the girl’s arm. The story was well known, as I lived within three miles of the quarry.
5. The Disappearance Of Jim Sullivan
In March 1975, musician Jim Sullivan mysteriously vanished just outside of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, never to be seen again.
He had been travelling up to Nashville from Los Angeles to seek the success that had so far eluded him, leaving his wife and son behind. His VW bug was found abandoned some 26 miles from his untouched motel room, his beloved guitar still left inside.
Various theories surrounding Jim’s disappearance have circulated over the years. Some believe he simply got lost in the desert, while others believe he ended up getting on the wrong side of the Mafia.
Some more outlandish theories suggest he was abducted by aliens, a notion ‘supported’ by his 1969 album UFO, which contains cryptic lyrics about long highways, leaving behind his family and alien abductions in the desert.
In 2019, Jim’s son Chris Sullivan told The New York Times how his mother had taken comfort in the idea that her husband had been taken by aliens:
My parents weren’t addled by any great intake of drugs but they were very much of their times and believed in reincarnation and astrology. She was convinced he was up in the stars somewhere, waiting for her.
4. The Disappearance Of Teekah Lewis
On the evening of January 23, 1999, Theresa English had been bowling at New Frontier Lanes bowling alley on Center Street in Tacoma, Washington along with nearly a dozen of her family members.
Theresa turned away from her two-year-old daughter Teekah Lewis for a matter of moments, and when she looked again, she was plunged into every parent’s worst nightmare. Teekah was gone.
Teekah, who was last seen playing a race car game in the arcade section, was never to be seen again, and an extensive search of the area provided very little in the way of clues.
Earlier this year, a witness who had been at the bowling alley that evening spoke out publicly for the first time about a man he had seen with Teekah, an individual he had believed at the time to have been her father.
The witness, referred to only as John, told Q13 Fox News:
A gentleman with pockmarks … he was holding this little girl’s hand when he bumped into me and I was thinking, ‘this is the rudest person in the world’.
Police reportedly believe John’s sighting to be significant in opening up new leads in the case. The suspect in question is reported to be a white man with a ‘husky build’, standing at around 5 feet 11 inches tall. He had shoulder length curly brown hair, a thick mustache and a heavily pockmarked face.
3. The Disappearance Of Amy Lynn Bradley
Amy Lynn Bradley, from Petersburg, Virginia, vanished during a cruise vacation with her family aboard the Royal Caribbean International cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas in March 1998.
In the early hours of March 24, Amy, who was 23 years old at the time, had spent the night dancing with members of Rhapsody’s band Blue Orchid, with the group calling it a night at around 1.00 am.
At approximately 5.30 am, Amy’s father, Ron, found her sleeping on their balcony, but when he returned to check on her at 6am, she was gone.
According to History Daily, the cruise staff denied Amy’s family’s request to keep the ship on the waters until she was located, in a bid to prevent her possible kidnapper from absconding with her. Passengers were allowed to disembark before the search began, and Ron believes that this was when Amy was taken from the ship.
Amy disappeared without her belongings or any form of ID, and investigators could find no evidence to suggest that she had fallen overboard or died by suicide.
In the years since, there have been multiple alleged sightings of Amy. She is said to have had various distinctive tattoos, including a Tasmanian Devil spinning a basketball on her shoulder.
2. The Deaths of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon.
Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon were two friends from the Netherlands who had recently completed their university studies. In 2014, the two young women headed off to Panama after having saved up money for months, hoping to learn Spanish and partake in volunteering activities.
On April 1, 2014, Lisanne and Kris set off on a hike along the Pianista Trail, an area close to the Baru volcano and the continental divide. The hike, which was an approximate four kilometers long, should have taken them around four hours to complete.
However, they never returned and suspicions were raised when they failed to turn up to an appointment with a tour guide the following day. Ten days after their disappearance, Lisanne’s backpack was recovered from a riverbank.
Among other personal items, the backpack contained Lisanne’s digital camera, filled with photographs of their hike. There were 100 images in total, 10 of which were taken during the daytime on April 1, as per Forensic Tales.
However, the other 90 photographs were taken in the dark between the hours of 1.00am and 4.00am on April 8, seven days after their disappearance. The majority of the pictures are blurry, however some were clearer, with one appearing to show the back of Kris’s head.
Lisanne and Kris’s skeletal remains were discovered two months after their disappearance, and their deaths were officially ruled as a hiking accident. However, there are many strange aspects to this case and there are those who believe the women encountered something more sinister on the trail.
1. The Murder Of Bobbie Jo Stinnett
23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett was eight months pregnant with her first baby at the time of her murder, and earned a living running a dog breeding business from her residence.
Shortly before Christmas in 2004, Lisa Marie Montgomery managed to gain entry to Bobbie’s home under the pretence of wanting to buy a rat terrier. Once inside, she strangled Bobbie from behind and cut the unborn child from her womb.
The baby, who Montgomery intially attempted to pass off as her own, thankfully survived the horrific ordeal and was later recovered and returned to the care of her father following Montgomery’s arrest.
This case has gained renewed interest in recent times, with Attorney General William Barr having recently scheduled her for lethal injection in Indiana before January 20, making her the first woman to face federal execution in nearly 70 years.
This is a complex case, and many believe Montgomery shouldn’t face execution on account of her serious mental health issues and history of extreme childhood trauma.
In a piece written for Elle in November, Montgomery’s sister detailed how Montgomery had endured years of rape and physical assault, stating:
I will always love her, but what she did was the most awful thing a person can do. Lisa should spend the rest of her life in prison, no doubt, but she shouldn’t have to die. Because maybe if she hadn’t been failed by the people she needed most in society, she could have been part of it.
Netflix has proven itself as a leader in making quality true crime documentaries that get people talking. A thorough exploration of any one of these cases would surely make for a compelling watch.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this story, you can speak in confidence about where to get help from Mind free on 0300 123 3393, 9am–6pm Monday to Friday.
Most Read StoriesMost Read
CreditsElle and 10 others
STMU History Media
The New York Times
The Charley Project
The Charley Project