Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story is your next true-crime series to binge watch



Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story will be your next favorite true crime documentary series to binge watch.

Bella Meza, Writer

As a journalist, I love watching true crime documentaries; the only cable TV I happen to watch is either the news, 20/20 or Dateline. Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story was released on the streaming platform Hulu on April 21, 2022. This true crime mini-documentary series contains three nearly 45-minute episodes, which I thoroughly enjoyed because I watched it for the first time with my parents and it was an easy watch. The three episodes feature the true story of the kidnapping of Steven Stayner, a boy who was abducted and found his way home seven years later. The series is rated TV-MA for some language and thematic elements, including mentions of sexual assault. In my opinion, however, it was pretty tame and could have easily been rated TV-14.

This series was overall very captivating and held my attention throughout, except for the final episode. I watched the majority of it but dozed off towards the end–not because it was boring, but because I was extremely tired. Throughout the documentary, there are clips from the single-season 1989 docudrama entitled I Know My First Name Is Steven, directed by Larry Elikann, which I’m very anxious to watch. This added another dimension to the documentary because it allowed the viewer to visualize what was happening to the characters. I wish more documentaries featured this element.

The year is 1972, and seven-year-old Steven Stayner goes missing from his home in Merced, CA near Yosemite National Park. He returned seven years later at the age of 14. It turned out that he had been abducted by a child molester named Kenneth Parnell, with the help of Parnell’s coworker, Edward Ervin Murphy. Stayner was brought to live in Catheys Valley, CA with Parnell. When he eventually came home, he saved another abducted child, Timothy “Timmy” James White. 

The documentarians interview Steven’s mother, sister, grown children and wife. Unfortunately, Steven can’t be interviewed because he passed away on Sept. 16, 1989, in a motorcycle crash. I have to say, this was the most emotional part of the series. After seeing what Steven went through–becoming a hero and coming home–it’s upsetting to imagine that he died so young, especially with young children to raise.

The third and final episode of the series is about the killing spree that Steven’s older brother, Cary Stayner, went on in an attempt to gain media recognition. Cary remains on death row for killing and beheading Joie Ruth Armstrong and three other Yosemite National Park sightseers. This episode was definitely a surprise; it’s hard to imagine the trauma that the Stayner family went through.

This fast-paced documentary series is perfect to watch with your friends or family. Whether you adore true crime documentaries or are simply searching for something new to watch on Hulu, look no further than the true-crime series based on Steven Stayner’s kidnapping, Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story.

What do you think?