Episode 60-Five Netflix True Crime Documentaries

The four-part docuseries “Missing: Dead or Alive,” features cases that occurred between 2019 and 2021. The series provides a firsthand perspective from Vicki Raines, missing persons investigator with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Columbia, South Carolina, J.P. Smith, who focuses mostly on missing juveniles, Sergeant Nina Mauldin, and their captain Heidi Jackson.

The four episodes are all tied together as one long narrative, which made the pacing a little slow sometimes, but I appreciated the way the storytelling arc was pieced together. This is not filmed in the manner of “Cops, or “The First 48.” “Missing: Dead or Alive” initially confused some viewers because it appears to be scripted, with footage shot after the cases have been resolved but made to look like they are occurring in real time. The first episode was moody and dark, featuring a missing woman who appeared to be afraid of her adult son. The team discussed lots of circumstantial evidence. The episode featured a lot of red herrings and tension, and then was resolved by the second episode.

Three of the four cases featured cases of people who were found to be alive, while only one was deceased. I felt the show did a good job depicting the number of cases a missing persons unit is juggling at one time, and how it can be difficult to figure out where to put the most resources. You also never know the twists and turns a missing persons report can take, and it takes a heavy toll on the family members as well as the investigators. I won’t say too much else about the specific cases featured, other than there are two with older adults and two with juveniles, because I don’t want to spoil the series. But I especially think listeners of this podcast will want to check it out because it features South Carolina specifically.

Don’t Pick Up the Phone

Up next, I want to talk about the three-part “Don’t Pick Up the Phone.” This series of phone call hoaxes to fast food store managers resulted in many adults being charged with various sexual assault offenses. This gist of the story is that a man pretending to be a police officer called up as many as 100 fast food restaurants in 32 states over 12 years, and convinced managers to strip search young employees on the grounds that they had stolen money from customers and committed other crimes. The caller targeted restaurants in small towns and rural communities—areas where the managers were likely to be more trusting. This includes places like Fargo, North Dakota, Leitchfield, Kentucky, Roosevelt, Iowa, and Raleigh, North Carolina was even mentioned as one of the stores that had reported receiving a hoax call.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you my jaw was on the floor as I watched the first episode, and this is probably a good time to add a sensitive content warning. This docuseries features video surveillance footage from the restaurants (with faces and body parts covered up with editing) and many of the offenses were filmed in plain view of the camera. Participants and law enforcement also discuss the harrowing accounts of how these managers were manipulated by what was only a voice on the phone, sometimes for hours, without any proof of the man being an actual police officer. Why would they do that? You might wonder. Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who conducted a prison experiment in which college students assigned to play guards became so sadistic the experiment had to be brought to an abrupt halt, said, the caller was “very skilled in human psychology—he may have even read about psychologist Stanley Milgram, a controversial American social psychologist who conducted obedience experiments at Yale University.

You’ll learn how two investigators from Kentucky and Massachussetts finally teamed up to figure out how to track down the caller, a man they believed was using calling cards to make the phone calls from pay phones in Panama City, Florida. Unfortunately, this case does not exactly end the way you think it will. See for yourself in “Don’t Pick up the Phone.”

I recommend further reading on this series of hoaxes, the aftermath, and how various store managers involved were punished by the legal system. I’m including a list of newspaper article links on the page for this podcast episode at missinginthecarolinas.com.

Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies, and The Internet

Now, let’s discuss the six-part docuseries, “Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies, and The Internet.” This is another series that will leave you both angry and concerned about the faith of humanity in the digital age. It explores several stories of how digitally-distributed misinformation can contribute to real life chaos, and in extreme cases, people getting killed.

As an article on “Decider” stated, “Awful people have always been around, but the internet has made access to the general public much easier, leading to larger-scale chaos. It’s a fact of life in the 2020s that’s hard to accept, which is why it might be tough to watch this docuseries, and it’ll be a harrowing experience for those who do watch.” When I read this article, it confirmed what I was feeling while watching. I wanted yell at the TV, and longed for the days when technology had much less of an impact and reach on our society.

The first episode discusses “swatting,” which involves people making fraudulent 911 calls to SWAT teams and sending them to innocent people’s homes. You’ll want to forget the name Tyler Barris, a person I feel is now rightfully in prison for the role he played in the death of an innocent young man named Andrew Finch during a “swatting” incident with another online gamer. Episode Two explores the 2016 murder of a Washington, D.C. staffer that results in a wild mix of conspiracy theories, Episode 3 takes a deep dive into how one woman got involved in a leadership role for a white nationalist group, Episode 4 discusses a group of women who were targeted by virtual blackmail demanding sensitive sexual material, and the final two episodes share the stories of hackers and their fraudulent cyber schemes that landed them in the crosshairs of law enforcement.  

D.B. Cooper Where Are You?

The next docuseries I want to discuss, “D.B. Cooper Where Are You?” explores what I consider a much lighter topic. Being born in the mid-1970s, I had heard about this case, and remember seeing a segment on “Unsolved Mysteries” about it, but this documentary filled in many of the gaps for me. It spans four episodes, and explains how the skyjacker known as D.B. Cooper became a modern-day folk legend after he threatened the employees with a bomb on a Northwest Orient Airlines flight from Portland to Seattle in November of 1971. He then demanded $200,000 in cash and four parachutes before parachuting off the plane somewhere in route to Mexico City. His body was never found, leaving many to believe he successfully escaped. D.B. Cooper has been featured in pop culture in many songs, TV shows, and movies. Fans even created t-shirts praising the mysterious man in black sunglasses for “sticking it to the man” and executing such a smooth crime without hurting anyone.

I enjoyed the archival footage and bits of nostalgia featured in this docuseries. It was interesting to see the lack of airline security in the 1970s as well as the culture of the airlines. The first episode details the plan and skyjacking. The second episode goes into more detail about why this case became such a pop culture phenomena. The third episode then showcases several different people who were considered suspects at the time. The fourth episode zeroes in on one specific man who claimed to actually be D.B. Cooper, and spoiler alert, we still don’t have definitive answers to this question, and probably never will. Author Tom Colbert, brother of Steven Colbert, wrote a book in 2021 titled “The Last Master Outlaw” and he is featured heavily in the series. If you enjoy stories about bank robberies and heists I think you’ll enjoy this one, and you may develop a few of your own theories along the way. In 2020 HBO also produced their own documentary about this case documentary in “The Mystery of D.B. Cooper,” and you can find that on the streaming platform Max.

Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan

And finally, I want to wrap up with “Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan.” At the time I’m recording this podcast I have two more episodes to finish but I still want to give you an overview of this four-part docuseries.Twenty-two-year oldBilly Milligan was accused of the kidnapping and rape of four women on the Ohio State University campus in 1977. But after psychiatric evaluation, it appeared Billy had multiple personalities, or what is now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Allegedly, a personality named Ragen had committed the robberies and a female named Adalana was responsible for the rapes. This was several years after the infamous case of Sybil and her multiple personalities had been made into a book and then tv movie adaptation. Sybil’s psychiatrist, Dr. Connie Wilbur, was one of the first people to examine Billy and make the diagnosis.

The first episode covers rapes on the Ohio State University campus, the arrest of Billy Milligan, and interviews with his siblings and childhood friends. The second episode delves into the childhood trauma Billy and his family suffered, mostly at the hands of an abusive stepfather. It then shares archival recordings of his interviews with the psychiatrists, and how the DID diagnosis has been known to divide the professional community. A little spoiler here, but Billy was acquitted of the crimes by reason of insanity. He was hospitalized in mental institutions for many years before escaping and living in obscurity Along the way, he was also briefly married to a woman he met when she was visiting the psychiatric hospital. The third episode details how Billy’s case made him somewhat of a celebrity, and the fourth details his escape. For years, this case has captivated movers and shakers in the entertainment industry. Author Daniel Keyes, who wrote “Flowers for Algernon,” published “The Minds of Billy Milligan” in 1981. James Cameron spent hours interviewing Billy for a potential film project before eventually scrapping it. Billy was also suspected of murdering a roommate who went missing from Washington state in 1986, but investigators were never able to find concrete evidence tying him to a crime. While I believe most viewers will be conflicted on Billy Milligan’s actual diagnosis, I think this documentary was well done and provides a compelling look at our country’s mental health care system.

Listen to the episode here.

Support the Show!

SkinXErin-Use code MISSINGCAROLINAS10 for 10 percent off your skincare order.

WOW! Women on Writing contests

Show Sources:

Missing: Dead or Alive



Don’t Pick Up the Phone





Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies and the Internet


D.B. Cooper: Where are You?




Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan