Ever since the massive success of “Serial,” true crime podcasts have been a staple of the medium. People love to listen to stories of murder and mayhem while they’re sitting in traffic, idly shopping or running on a treadmill at the gym.
What is it about true crime that makes it so perfect for audio? There’s just nothing that satisfies people quite like a good, old-fashioned scary story. Here are the best true crime podcasts that will give you shivers, scares and even a laugh or two.
Criminal is a great introduction to podcasting in general. Phoebe Judge’s expert reporting and hypnotizing voice will get anyone hooked onto this show about crimes, criminals and those who are affected by them. “Criminal” is about the crime stories that get lost between the cracks; the marginalia of true crime. Judge reports on crime stories that include curiosities like a superstar poodle, a woman who claimed to hear war secrets from ghosts, a bully who terrorized an entire town and the origin of the phrase “420.”
The last time I wrote about “My Favorite Murder,” I was writing about it as a comedy podcast. That’s one of the main joys of this crossover hit: it’s either and it’s both. Hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are wildly enthusiastic true crime fans, who chat about famous crimes as well as stories sent in by their listeners. These listener submissions, or “hometown murders,” as they call them, warrant their own mini episode every week and shed light on crimes that most people have never even heard of. “My Favorite Murder” isn’t just a podcast – it’s a community.
In a similar vein to “My Favorite Murder,” you’ll find “RedHanded,” another chatty true crime podcast. In “RedHanded,” hosts Suruthi Bala and Hannah Maguire pick one true crime story to tell together. Many similar true crime podcasts will have one host tell the story while the other listens and interjects, but the “RedHanded” formula allows for deeper research and more thoughtful analysis from both hosts. Although they’re not afraid of making jokes sometimes, “RedHanded” can get pretty serious and gruesome. These stories are not for the faint of heart.
Garnsey Sloan covers the life and career of one retired law enforcement officer per season on Investigation Discovery’s podcast, “Detective.” Sloan’s extensive interviews explore what it takes to be a detective, and what sort of people wind up wearing the badge. Lt. Joe Kenda, Detective Garry McFadden and Detective Rod Demery have all had unbelievable lives, and they all have stories to tell.
“In the Dark,” hosted and reported by Madeleine Baran, is a haunting podcast that examines the disappearance of an 11-year-old boy named Jacob Wetterling, and the long legal fallout of that disappearance. “In the Dark” is not a podcast about mystery or the joys of amateur sleuthing. It’s a podcast about how unexplained tragedies and law enforcement errors can affect a community for a lifetime. Season 2 of “In the Dark” follows another miscarriage of justice – the case of Curtis Flowers, who was tried six times for the same crime.
“Uncover” Season One: “Escaping NXIVM”
CBC reporter Josh Bloch is catching up with a childhood friend, Sarah Edmonson, when she reveals that she’s just escaped a cult. NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”) was a sprawling network of multilevel marketers, self-help groups and faux-feminist empowerment programs in upstate New York and Canada. Edmonson tells the story of how she went from sitting in a circle and talking about professional development to being blindfolded and branded in a bizarre ceremony. Bloch takes us through the history of founder Keith Raniere, the development of NXIVM and the aftermath of Edmonson’s explosive tell-all with the New York Times. While you’re there for “Escaping NXIVM,” check out the other seasons of “Uncover,” like “The Village,” “Satanic Panic” and “Brainwashed.”
“Dirty John” is one of the most gripping true crime podcasts ever, and it’s not even about a murder. Well, not really. Presented by the Los Angeles Times and hosted by investigative reporter Christopher Goffard, “Dirty John” tells the story of Debra Newell and her new boyfriend, John Meehan. When Debra’s daughters expect that John isn’t all that he seems, their lives go off the rails. Fast.
Justin Evans and Aaron Habel love to talk about crime, and on “Generation Why,” they analyze some of the most famous and chilling crimes in history. They are not only interested in who committed a crime and how, but in the motive behind the crime (in a nod to their title).
Sometimes there’s a dark side to the American dream. “Gangster Capitalism” is about white-collar crime and corruption in a society where money and status is everything. The first season of “Gangster Capitalism” focuses on the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, which saw wealthy parents paying scammers and professional test-takers to get their underperforming kids into elite schools. The most shocking parts of the podcast are the actual transcripts of conversations between the parents and the head scammer, Rick Singer. Singer sold his scheme as a “side door” to elite colleges – for parents who were wealthy enough to afford him, but not wealthy enough to “donate” millions to their school of choice. What does this scandal say about the current state of college admissions in America? “Gangster Capitalism” hopes to find out. Later seasons of “Gangster Capitalism,” “The NRA” and “Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University” are also worth a listen.
For more podcast recommendations, check out the full Podcast Pulse archives.
Do you have a favorite true crime podcast? Tell us about it in the comments below!