Like Under the Banner of Heaven and Candy? 9 Other True Crime Books Becoming TV Shows and MoviesPhoto: Courtesy of FX Books Lists
From Richard Brooks’ Academy Award-nominated film adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood to HBO’s docu-style interpretation of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, TV and film have long mined narrative investigative reporting for high-brow storytelling.
And, in today’s cut-throat market of prestige programming, there’s an even bigger thirst for compelling dramas based on reported events and criminal cases, many of which were non-fiction best-sellers in addition to attention-grabbing newspaper and magazine stories.
These include series like FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which is based on the Jon Krakauer story of a horrific double-murder in an insular Mormon community, and Hulu’s Candy, one of two TV projects based on, among other details, Jim Atkinson and John Bloom’s reporting of the death of Texas housewife Betty Gore.
To look for clues on what other true-crime stories will soon become synonymous with some actors’ portrayals of the people involved, Paste has made a list of true-crime books and stories that will soon be turned into TV shows and movies.
Alice + Freda Forever
In 2019, Amazon Studios bought the global rights to The Babadook director Jennifer Kent’s adaptation of historian Alexis Coe’s book about a clandestine love affair gone awry.
Set in 1890s Memphis, Alice and Freda Forever tells what happens when jilted Alice Mitchell kills her ex-girlfriend Freda Ward with a razor in broad daylight in the middle of the street. What happened next was a sensational trial—women can be in love with each other? How is anything like that even possible?—and a conversation of power and privilege as the much wealthier and better-connected Mitchell family railroaded its way through the trial that rocked the then-burgeoning Southern city.
Devil in Ohio
Technically a work of fiction although it’s inspired by a true story, Devil in Ohio’s neck hair-raising suspense thriller is about a teenage daughter of a hospital psychiatrist who comes to find that her mom has brought home one of her patients: another girl, and one who claims to have escaped from a cult.
Netflix is turning the book into a limited series with Emily Deschanel playing the shrink mom, Dr. Suzanne Mathis, and Xaria Dotson playing her daughter, Jules. Madeleine Arthur plays their new houseguest, Mae.
The Devil in the White City
A story where architecture and serial killing intertwine: Erik Larsen’s heavily researched historical non-fiction book The Devil in the White City looks at the crimes of H. H. Holmes, who is often credited with being the first modern serial killer and who did his deeds in Chicago as the city was busy preparing for the 1893 World’s Fair.
A project long in development—Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights back in 2010—it’s now set to be a limited series on Hulu with Keanu Reeves reportedly set to star.
Evidence of Love
Had your fill of Candy? Hulu has already premiered a miniseries about Candy Montgomery’s 1980 ax-murder of Betty Gore, the wife of her paramour. But the story, which is largely known thanks to Texas Monthly writers Jim Atkinson and John Bloom’s book on the subject, will also be depicted in the HBO Max limited series Love and Death.
While the Hulu series stars Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey and is created by Nick Antosca and Robin Veith, the upcoming HBO version stars Elizabeth Olsen and Lily Rabe and is written by David E. Kelley and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter.
One of the most truly heart-breaking stories on this list, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System is Cyntoia Brown Long’s memoir of her time as a victim of child sex trafficking and who was found guilty of robbing and murdering a man who’d hired her for prostitution.
While there have been some documentaries about the case, including the Netflix special Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story, Starz is adapting Brown Long’s story into a scripted limited series with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and La La Anthony executive producing and Power Book III: Raising Kanan’s Santa Sierra writing it.
The Good Nurse
Do no harm? Ha. According to journalist Charles Graeber’s accounting in The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, registered nurse Charlie Cullen might have been the most prolific serial killer in American history; implicated in the deaths of at least 300 patients.
In the upcoming Netflix film based on the story, which is directed by Tobias Lindholm and written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Eddie Redmayne portrays Cullen while Jessica Chastain plays Amy Loughren, another nurse and coworker of Cullen’s who became a confidential informant for detectives on the case. Noah Emmerich and Kim Dickens also star.
Killers of the Flower Moon
Set during the birth of the FBI in the 1920s, David Grann’s Western noir looks into the multiple murders of members of the Osage tribe in northeastern Oklahoma after they helped broker an oil deal.
Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Eric Roth, the upcoming Apple TV+ film adaptation stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jesse Plemons, and Lily Gladstone as well as Robert De Niro as William Hale, the cattleman who became the mastermind of the murder plot.
The Monster of Florence
One of the first rules of journalism is to not become the story. But then, most reporters don’t have to contend with the Italian police department. Ostensibly, American novelist Douglas Preston and Italian journalist Mario Spezi’s 2008 true-crime book is about a rash of killings that happened in the Italian city of Florence over the span of two decades—the victims being couples having sex in their cars along deserted highways.
Eventually, as the duo became more critical of the investigation and prosecution of the case during their research, they became suspected accomplices. It was reported in 2021 a limited series adaptation of the book was in the works with Antonio Banderas set to portray Spezi.
Writer Sierra Crane Murdoch’s 2020 story, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is as much a family drama and a story of wealth as it is a true-crime saga. It follows Lissa Yellow Bird, an ex-con who returns home to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota after serving her sentence. She finds the community changed and much wealthier, thanks to an oil boom. She also is surprised that no one seems to notice, or care, when a young white oil worker, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, goes missing.
So she takes it upon herself to crack the case. Paramount+ is adapting the book to series and executive producers include Reservation Dogs’ Erica Tremblay and Sterlin Harjo.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.