The Saddest True Crime Docs Out There

Voting Rules
Vote up the docs that gutted you.

The items on this list aren't for the faint of heart, so grab a tissue box if you haven't seen them. Warning: Major spoilers ahead!

Photo: There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane / HBO

  • Who Killed Adam Mann?
    Photo: PBS
    27 VOTES

    Who Killed Adam Mann?

    What It’s About: In New York City in March 1990, 5-year-old Adam Mann's parents fatally beat him after he ate a piece of cake without permission.

    This PBS special looked into the case and exposed years of abuse on behalf of Adam’s parents. Authorities and Child Protective Services knew of the abuse, yet for varying reasons, the children were always left with/returned to their parents.

    Why It’s So Heartbreaking: Authorities found Adam with massive head and internal injuries when he was taken to the hospital shortly before being pronounced dead. His autopsy revealed nearly every bone in his body had been broken at some point.

    He and his brothers were horrifically abused for years. The Bureau of Child Welfare Services knew this, but no steps were taken to protect them.

    27 votes
  • Deliver Us from Evil
    Photo: Lionsgate

    What It’s About: This documentary looks into the life of Irish priest Oliver O’Grady, who admitted to and was convicted for molesting and raping approximately 25 children. The film interviews O'Grady himself, as well as survivors of his abuse.

    Why It’s So Heartbreaking: As a whole, the film presents the Catholic church as not only being aware of O'Grady's crimes, but as actively participating in concealing them. O'Grady was meant to protect and care for the children he victimized, but instead, he traumatized and terrorized them.

    Available On:

  • What It’s About: Released in 2008, this film, created by Kurt Kuenne, documents the 2001 murder of Kuenne's friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby.

    After breaking up with his girlfriend, Shirley Turner, Bagby agreed to meet her at a park in Derry, PA, where she shot him five times. Afterwards, Turner fled, and during that time, she learned she was pregnant with Bagby’s child. She gave birth to a boy and named him Zachary shortly before she was arrested.

    The film shares Bagby’s parents' struggle as they fought to gain custody of Zachary, only to lose him to a tragedy that was likely preventable.

    Why It’s So Heartbreaking: Apart from the horrendous killing of an innocent man with a bright future, the utter failure of the Canadian court system is similarly difficult to comprehend.

    The courts, after deeming Turner wasn’t a threat to society, released her on bail in early 2003. She then received custody of Zachary, despite his grandparents' concerns regarding Turner's mental stability.

    She ultimately jumped into the ocean in August 2003 with Zachary strapped to her, resulting in a murder-suicide. A profound sense of injustice still permeates the deaths of both Bagby and Zachary.

    33 votes

    Available On:



  • Sins of Our Mother
    Photo: Netflix
    32 VOTES

    Sins of Our Mother

    What It’s About: This three-part docuseries is not only incredibly complex, it's still unresolved. The series centers on Lori Vallow Daybell, a Mormon mother of three from Idaho who has been charged with murdering two of her children.

    Lori and her fifth husband, Chad Daybell (who has also been charged), lived by an extreme set of beliefs that led them to prepare for an imminent apocalypse, as well as the rise of zombies and demons. They also believed Lori would be the leader of the Second Coming of Christ.

    In September 2019, two of Lori’s children, 7-year-old JJ and 16-year-old Tylee, went missing. In June 2020, Tylee and JJ’s remains were found buried on Chad’s Idaho property. The series delves into the investigation, accusation, and ultimate arrest of both Lori and Chad. As of January 2023, the case is still ongoing.

    Why It’s So Heartbreaking: Authorities discovered JJ's remains in a plastic bag tied with duct tape. Tylee was found dismembered and buried in a pet cemetery.

    Prior to his death, Tylee and JJ’s father, Charles, stated he was worried for his children’s safety, but his concerns were dismissed, despite Lori’s bizarre beliefs and behavior.

    Lori claimed multiple times that she could see demons, and when she and Chad got together, they claimed they had a mission to kill zombies. Lori was heard multiple times calling Tylee and JJ zombies.

    32 votes
  • What It’s About: The film looks at the Ward brothers and the murder case that became a media frenzy. The Ward brothers were a group of four brothers who lived in a rural community near Utica, NY. One day, the second youngest brother, William, who’d been sick for some time, was found dead. His younger brother, Delbert, was accused of mercy-killing William.

    The ensuing trial became a judgment against the brothers, who were illiterate and who had no formal education, rather than an investigation into the crime and its evidence.

    Why It’s So Heartbreaking: Due to the Ward brothers' rural, hermetic lifestyle and their lack of formal academic education, the media portrayed them as ignorant and, therefore, guilty.

    While the townsfolk who knew the brothers stepped up to defend them, people from the surrounding cities were quick to judge the Ward brothers as mindless and feeble-minded. The authorities went so far as to make Delbert sign a confession he didn’t understand, despite knowing he was illiterate.

    19 votes

    Available On:

  • The Family I Had
    Photo: Filmrise
    38 VOTES

    The Family I Had

    What It’s About:  This documentary centers on the murder of 4-year-old Ella Bennett on February 4, 2007. On this day, Ella’s 13-year-old brother, Paris, tortured and killed her while their mother was at work. Afterwards, he called 911 himself and confessed to the crime.

    Paris has been adamant that he is not insane and that he killed his sister to punish his mother. In interviews with the children’s mother, Charity, and their grandmother, Kyla, both women claim they knew something wasn't quite right with Paris but had no idea the extent to which he would go.

    Why It’s So Heartbreaking: The film delves into the family’s unstable dynamic before the murder and the devastation that followed.What's more, the crime's shocking brutality is in itself difficult to fathom.

    Paris sexually assaulted, strangled, and stabbed Ella over 17 times. The complexity of the love and hate that Charity feels for her murderous son is also difficult to witness.

    38 votes