Documentary

12 Crime Documentaries Set in the Lone Star State

Some of the most terrifying crimes happened in Texas. Here are the documentaries that revisit them.

By Shelby Stewart With Anna Rajagopal

 

The Lone Star State is notorious for many things, but did you know crime was one of them? All over the state, you’ll find everything from the heinous to the downright bizarre, and some live to tell the story. The following true crime documentaries revisit some of the state’s most prominent crimes—some of which remain unsolved. 

Find out the origin of the Amber Alert, get to know the “serial killer” before the serial killer, and learn about the tragedies on Lovers' Lanes—they all took place in Texas. If you’re looking for something closer to home—the Candy Man and the Killing in the Texas Fields happened right in our backyard. Here are 12 documentaries on crimes that happened in Texas.

Trauma warning: The following crimes mentioned in these documentaries may be disturbing for some viewers. 

Murder in the Moonlight, 2018

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

In 1946, the entire city of Texarkana was terrorized by someone known as the Phantom Killer. The suspect attacked and killed several young couples parked in the small town's famous Lovers' Lanes. The city was gripped with fear for two months until police arrested a man named Youell Swinney. Many people today believe that he was the killer, but it was never proven in a court of law. 

Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields, on Netflix. 

Crime Scene: The Texas Killing Fields, 2022

Where to Watch: Netflix

Also known as the Calder Road Killings, the cases linked to the Texas Killing Fields remain unsolved. Roughly two dozen women went missing and were found dead in the Calder Road Fields from 1971 until 2016. Many theories lean toward multiple killers in different eras, and the three-part docuseries on Netflix identifies some of the men thought to be involved with the case. The rapid disappearances of many teens and young women (including his daughter, Laura Miller) compelled Tim Miller to found the Texas EquuSearch, the local nonprofit which has recovered hundreds of missing persons since its inception. 

Night Shift Nightmare: The Unsolved Austin Yogurt Shop Murders, 2021

Where to Watch: Youtube

Amy Ayers, Sarah Harbison, Jennifer Harbison, and Eliza Thomas were four nature-loving teenage girls who passed away in Austin in December 1991. The three young girls were all at a yogurt shop when they were trapped inside by multiple assailants. The girls were found raped and murdered inside the shop. The killers set the yogurt shop ablaze with the girls inside. Numerous parties were involved, but it remains unclear who killed the four girls. Plenty of leads and tips were given to the Austin Police Department, but no arrests were made. The devastating case was regarded as “the crime where Austin lost its innocence.” 

After Amber, 2016

Where to Watch: Youtube

If you’ve ever been curious about where the Amber Alert came from, it’s from the tragic case of Amber Hagerman in Arlington, Texas. The nine-year-old girl was abducted while riding her bike outside her grandparents’ home, which caused a local outcry from parents and children alike. Her death sent shock waves through the nation, and her mother used the media to call attention to her cause. She assisted in crafting legislation that would change the level of pursuit and punishment for missing children, known today as the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act, signed into law on April 30, 2003. 

After the Dance Began, 2022

Where to Watch: NBC News

The story of Carla Walker is about a teenage dream gone wrong. Her case began at the Valentine’s Day dance at Western Hills High School in Arlington in 1974. After the dance, she and her boyfriend were sitting in the parking lot of a bowling alley when a man opened the passenger door and pulled her out. Her body was found three days later in a drainage ditch just 30 minutes south of Fort Worth.

I Am A Killer, on Netflix. 

I Am A Killer: Sympathy for the Devil, 2018

Where to Watch: Netflix

In 1991, Miguel Angel Martinez, 17, Manuel “Milo” Flores, 17, and Miguel Angel Venegas, Jr., 16, each played a role in a triple murder that shocked the city of Laredo. The crime is widely referred to as the “triple ax-murders,” as the three suspects used an ax on their victims. The Netflix documentary interviews some of the key players in the case, revisits the gruesome night and notes some of the motives. The case set a precedent for Laredo, as Martinez became the youngest defendant on death row in Texas. 

The Candyman Murders, 2021

Where to Watch: ABC13

Before the term “serial killer” came to be, there was Dean Corll: the Candy Man. In 1973, Pasadena Police received a call for help from a young man who claimed he had killed his friend. However, police eventually realized it wasn’t an open-and-shut case but the hair-raising end to a years-long scheme by Corll. He tortured, raped, and killed dozens of young men in the area. Nearly 50 years later, the cases beg the question—are there more bodies?

The State of Texas vs. Melissa, 2020

Where to Watch: Hulu

Melissa Lucio was the first Hispanic woman in Texas to receive a death sentence. Lucio was accused of the abuse and murder of one of her children. In 2007, paramedics arrived at Lucio’s residence, stumbling upon an unresponsive two-year-old who had died. Based on cited evidence indicating the child in question experienced abuse, Lucio was arrested and convicted of murder. Melissa Lucio was sentenced to death in 2008, and while still on death row, her case remains open as she is determined to demonstrate her innocence. 

The Phantom. 

The Phantom, 2021

Where to Watch: Netflix

Wanda Lopez, a young gas station attendant, was stabbed to death in Corpus Christi in 1983. A man named Carlos was arrested shortly after that. But, until his execution, he insisted on his innocence, claiming another Carlos with a different last name committed the crime. The story has haunted Corpus for years—bringing up questions about the Texas justice system and the treatment of working-class Mexican Americans. 

Into the Abyss, 2011

Where to Watch: YouTube

This film is about a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas, that resulted in an execution and a death sentence for Michael Perry and his accomplice, Jason Burkett. On October 24, 2001, a 50-year-old nurse, Sandra Stotler, was shot and killed by the two teenagers, attempting to carjack a red Camaro. What happened after has been the subject of controversy and communal tension, as the sentencing, trial, and execution brought forth questions of the finality of capital punishment for then-teenagers. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog, this documentary explores the life and death of prison inmates.  

The Imposter, 2012

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

What could be worse than the nightmare of a missing son? Someone pretending to be that missing son. In June of 1994, Nicholas Barclay disappeared from San Antonio, Texas; three years later, someone turned up claiming to be him in Spain. This documentary reveals how a family can be manipulated in their most vulnerable moments and how international identity theft shook a Texas city. 

Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, 2016

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

The Satanic Panic of the 1980s created undue confusion, scapegoating, and blame, particularly for minorities. Amid this tumultuous time, four Latina lesbians were wrongfully convicted of assaulting two little girls. The homophobia the four experienced led to false accusations, spurred on by the political climate of San Antonio at the time. This documentary details the journeys of convicted women as they worked to prove their innocence. 

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