Netflix’s latest true crime documentary “Why Did You Kill Me?” is a very interesting change of pace from the typical murder documentary.
It’s set apart by a strong emphasis on the politics of gangs in the area, and how the family of the victim may not be without blame either.
The documentary offers a look into the murder investigation of the 2006 death of 24-year-old Crystal Theobald in Riverdale, California. While the police continue their investigation, Crystal’s mother, Belinda, and her cousin Grace try to help with the investigation through MySpace. Grace created an account with a picture of Crystal, with a different name, Angel. When interacting as Angel, Grace tried to channel Crystal’s personality.
With the help of MySpace, Grace and Belinda connected with as many self-identified members of the gang 5150 as they could, since Crystal was shot in an area where the 5150 had committed many shootings before.
I enjoy true crime documentaries such as this, but I don’t watch them too often, as I feel like they can be played out at times. They usually consist of someone doing something awful, and then the family of the victim or the police department have to do something unorthodox to try and pin them down. However, “Why Did You Kill Me?” does a good job of painting a full picture. No one is truly morally correct in the story. Crystal’s family wants closure for the murder, but they still have problems that get in the way of justice at some points.
There are many twists and turns in the documentary, and although I’d like to keep some secret, one of the most shocking moments is when Belinda decided to take matters into her own hands and planned to kill members of the 5150, almost blindly. On the fake MySpace account, she began posting about a big party in the summer and invited all the gang members. Belinda was going to tell them to go out into the hills, and then she would try to shoot them all down.
Luckily, the detective who was working on the case found out about this and managed to stop Belinda from going through with it.
One of the strangest parts of the documentary was coded racist remarks scattered early on when discussing suspects for the murder. There is a long discussion of what the interviewees refer to as “Black and Latino gangs,” and the white detective assigned to the case even refers to the city as a zoo at one point— “[My database of gang members] sort of tells me who’s who in the zoo”.
When creating the MySpace account to attempt to find the murderer, Grace, who is white, makes a point of saying the account said “[I like to] drink cervezas”, instead of just “beers,” in order to attract “Latino” 5150 members. Even if the murderer was a member of the 5150, it would not be right to use these phrases.
Unlike some other murder documentaries, this one doesn’t romanticize the killing at all. The murder is gritty and unclean, and it wasn’t committed by a complex serial killer who has a system. It was a random, awful event. Although the family of the victim is usually painted as perfect in documentaries, this film does a good job of avoiding that. Many of Theobald’s family served prison time and had substance addictions. Additionally, Belinda’s desire was to kill members of the 5150 randomly, and her initial desire was to give the man who was arrested the death penalty.
One of the biggest takeaways from the documentary is how dangerous life in a gang can be. There are several testimonials from former 5150 members who discussed how the gangs target high school students in order to get them involved. In fact, one of the former members said the gang mostly consisted of 17 to 18-year-olds.
My favorite part of the documentary, by far, was the ending, where Crystal’s family members talk about the last time they’d had dreams about her, and all of them are very emotional. The documentary closes with Belinda pulling tarot cards to see what the future holds, and accurately predicting it.
“Why Did You Kill Me?” is available for streaming on Netflix.