Colin Howell was a respectable dentist from Northern Ireland, but when he teamed up with a local Sunday school teacher, Hazel Buchanan, the pair became cold killers. The Secret, starring James Nesbitt as Colin and Genevieve O’Reilly as Hazel, retells this true crime story across four episodes, now available on SBS On Demand.
To get in the mood, here are five more of the best series in the genre.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
This six-part documentary is shot like a premium drama, and the plot is so interesting it could have come from an HBO writers’ room. Robert Durst is a storybook monster, from his all-black eyes and ice-cold stare to his New York-royalty family background. His wife mysteriously disappeared in 1982, his close friend Susan was executed in 2000 and he killed and dismembered an elderly neighbour in 2001... in self-defence, apparently. Mind-blowing from beginning to end.
Making a Murderer
Filmed over the course of 10 years, this zeitgeist-capturing series revolves around Steven Avery, who served 18 years in jail for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Within two years of being released, as he was preparing to sue the county for $36 million, he was arrested again – this time for murder. Sloppy police work, elements that don’t add up, mental illness and strange accents all combine in a compelling saga that leaves plenty of room for strong opinions and plenty of doubt.
The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
A spiritual spin-off from the American Horror Story anthology series, the first season of ACS recreates one of the most famous criminal cases of the past few decades – OJ Simpson’s 1995 trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Robert Goldman. Based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, it’s mostly positioned from the perspective of the lawyers on both sides – including, of course, Kim Kardashian’s dad. Cuba Gooding Jr plays the man at the centre of the trial, taking us beyond the iconic Bronco chase and glove fitting.
Each episode of this enthralling series follows a different homicide case in which a woman has committed murder (usually of her significant other). Featuring interviews with friends and family as well as law enforcement folk, it’s been running since 2004 and shows no signs of slowing down. We wouldn’t want to use the word “sensationalist”, but it’s a fascinating insight into how female killers are driven to their crime.
Crimes that Shook Australia
Most of the items on this list are American, because they are the best at crime. But we’re no slouches Down Under, as this series, hosted by Stan Grant, reveals. From Martin Bryant’s shooting spree to the Hoddle Street Massacre to the abduction of Ebony Simpson to the real-life inspiration for Wolf Creek, these are the horrific acts that have shaped and scarred our nation.
With eight episodes released in 2004 and a two-part follow-up from 2013, it’s the perfect time to marathon this series. It has everything that makes these shows so enthralling – multiple twists and turns, expert filmmaking that builds atmosphere without drawing attention to itself and a wealthy writer accused of killing his wife. Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her home (hence the title). But was it an accident, or was she pushed by her husband, Michael, when she found out about his extramarital affairs with men and women?
If shows like Orange is the New Black or Wentworth have made prison seem like it wouldn’t be all that bad, really, this dose of reality from the Discovery Channel is here to pour cold water over those misconceptions. After watching this four-part exploration of America’s high-security prisons, you’ll think twice about jaywalking – and you definitely won’t illegally download The Secret.
The Secret airs on Wednesday, 7 September at 9:30pm (AEST) on SBS.
The Secret is also available on SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode right here:
Then you should probably watch the first episode of Death of a Pilgrim, based on the real, still unsolved murder of a Swedish prime minister:
Then, to keep the true crime vibes going, you need to watch Romanzo Criminale, based on the true story of three hoodlums trying to take over Rome's underworld: