Compelling true-life mysteries that end with a definite resolution
December 15, 2014 12:35 PM   Subscribe

The final episode of Serial will be released this Thursday, and I fear that there will not be any sort of satisfying conclusion to the central mystery of what, exactly, happened to Hae Min Lee. So, as an antidote to the frustration that I'm likely to feel soon, I'm looking for real (non-fiction) mysteries that do get resolved in an unambiguous way.

I'm not necessarily looking for just true crime stories – any sort of mystery will do (history, personal anecdote, archeology, other scientific fields, etc.), as long as it makes for a good, gripping story. The format doesn't matter much: documentary movies, podcasts, books, magazine articles, etc. are all good.
posted by akk2014 to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
I used to be hooked on 48 Hours Mystery. No time for TV any more, so I'm not sure if they still have new episodes.
posted by Dragonness at 12:54 PM on December 15, 2014

Forensic Files! I mean, it's crap, but it's satisfying crap.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:02 PM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I also was going to say forensic files or cold case or similar shows on netflix. They're addicting.

He Galapagos affair documentary on netflix is pretty good!

Also perhaps the woman who wasn't there.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:05 PM on December 15, 2014

I used to like watching the TV show "Cold Case Files." Not all of them were fully resolved, but many were.
posted by Michele in California at 1:17 PM on December 15, 2014

I am 100% with you. I bet someone a sandwich that there will be no resolution, so at least I have that to look forward to.

Lots of the crime longform pieces do this, though I'm not sure most pieces will be as "resolved" as you would like, which is probably the nature of true crime. That said, I do think that many of these pieces at least offer a compelling narrative of what actually happened, at least much more so than Serial has offered.

That said, here are a few of my favorites:

The Strange and Mysterious Death of Mrs. Jerry Lee Lewis
Trial by Fire: Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?
The Chameleon: The Many Lives of Frederic Bourdin (and also this later documentary)
The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia
posted by joan cusack the second at 1:38 PM on December 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

This American Life has devoted a few episodes to a single 'mystery'. The two below are captivating listens:
The House on Loon Lake
The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar
posted by prinado at 1:45 PM on December 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Slate actually put the same question to the listeners of their Serial Spoiler Special.

Among the things they suggest:

The First 48 on A&E
The Staircase
The Paradise Lost film series
Murder on a Sunday Morning
The Journalist and the Murderer
posted by inturnaround at 1:58 PM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, the Paradise Lost movies were interesting and well-made, but I'm not entirely convinced that the three teens were innocent (i.e., there is still too much ambiguity there for my taste).
posted by akk2014 at 2:05 PM on December 15, 2014

I really enjoyed People Who Eat Darkness.
posted by gone2croatan at 2:26 PM on December 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

I came here to mention's crime stories.

One of my all time favorites is this story: A Murder Foretold. I've read it multiple times, and even on re-read I still found it fascinating and engrossing.

In general, the Texas Monthly often does very good true crime writing, and frequently links to them.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:57 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Thin Blue Line, which is streaming on Netflix, is surely an inspiration of Serial, and it does have a resolution. Don't google anything about it before watching it because you will likely discover the resolution before beginning!
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:56 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

In particular you might enjoy Skip Hollandsworth's articles from Texas Monthly, which now appear on Longform.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:22 PM on December 15, 2014

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code about the decipherment of Linear B is a fun read that fits your requirements.
posted by MeadowlarkMaude at 4:49 PM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

My favorite solved(ish) radio mystery so far is Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde. Also done by Sarah Koenig!
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:29 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

All The President's Men

At the time it was published, there were still a lot of loose ends. But in the 40 years since, most of the mysteries have been resolved, including the biggest one, the identity of Deep Throat.

I would recommend these books as follow-up:

The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It by John Dean. The publisher's blurb on the book: Based on Nixon's overlooked recordings, ... Dean connects the dots between what we've come to believe about Watergate and what actually happened. Note: Dean served as Nixon's White House Counsel when most of these events were taking place.

The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat by Bob Woodward, one of the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, along with Carl Bernstein, and both wrote All The President's Men.

The movie's pretty damn good too.
posted by marsha56 at 2:31 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know you said non-fiction but I like this genre - of solving real life mysteries - and I am enjoying enormously the fictional 8 part series "The Missing" about a little boy who goes missing - showing now on the Starz network"
posted by cda at 4:45 PM on December 18, 2014

Well if you want a satisfying and neat ending then avoid the hell out of the recent BBC miniseries The Missing, despite the fact that it's probably the best thing that appeared on telly this year.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:55 PM on December 18, 2014

This is an old question, but the new answer is definitely The Jinx.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:48 PM on April 16, 2015

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