True crime podcasts have become insanely popular over the past several years, exploring every nook and cranny of dark human behavior from unsolved murder cases to famous killers. My Favorite Murder, hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, is probably the best example of a new way to explore the classic true crime genre. They somehow manage to blend hilarity, empowerment and brutal violence, exploring why we’re so fascinated by murder, especially by ritualistic serial killers.
Admitting that crime is interesting while holding the perpetrators of those crimes responsible for their actions is the simple genius of MFM. It’s not the only podcast out there brilliantly exploring crime in all its many forms, though. If you’ve got a road trip coming up, or if you just need something new to get you through your daily commute, download a few of these, but be warned–they’re so engrossing you might just miss your stop.
Many of the most popular true crime podcasts focus on murder, but Gimlet’s Crimetown reminds us that corruption, local government, and the mob are equally worthy of the Serial treatment. Each season will explore the culture of crime in a different American city, and it kicked off with Providence, Rhode Island, last year. Crimetown starts with legendary (and infamous) Providence mayor, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, who even after being indicted on charges of bribery, kidnapping and assault, was easily reelected. “At some point did the mayor swing a fireplace log at you,” Marc Smerling (one of two hosts, along with Zac Stewart-Pontier) reads from grand jury testimony during Cianci’s trial. That’s just the beginning of the series, and the deep dive into Providence’s history, culture, and why Cianci was so beloved despite being so feared.
In later episodes, we learn about various mob figures Cianci was close to, how he assaulted a man his wife was having an affair with, despite myriad affairs of his own, and his attempts to cozy up to Ronald Reagan. You may not think it’s sexy now, but after a couple of episodes of Crimetown, you’ll never look at local government the same way again. –Ilana Novick
True crime junkies tired of all the Mansons, Bundys, and Dahmers of the world should check out this Australian podcast, which covers a new case every week. Particularly for American audiences, these aren’t the cases you’ve seen covered by every other true crime show. The Aussie narrator known only as Brad, along with a team of professional producers and sound designers take us through a variety of murder and kidnapping tales, including that of Tina Watson, an American who died scuba diving in Australia on her honeymoon. Her new husband, Gabe Watson, a certified rescue diver, initially claimed that his wife’s death was an accident, but was later charged with murder, when investigators came to believe that he deliberately turned off Tina’s air regulator.
Some episodes are just a half-hour, others up to ninety minutes. All are intricately detailed, with courtroom and investigation details and sometimes a comparison and analysis of competing theories of the crime. There’s also just one host, and unlike Crimetown or Serial, no additional interviews. Whether or not you’ll like the show depends on whether you like Brad, but it’s worth a listen for those who want more detail than say, My Favorite Murder. –IN
Cincinnati Enquirer reporter and true crime author Amber Hunt was originally simply going to write an article about the unsolved 1978 murder of Elizabeth Andes in Oxford, Ohio. Instead, she explained to Wired, inspired by the success of shows like Serial, she decided to turn her investigation into a podcast. The result is Hunt’s riveting deep dive into the murder. The police were convinced, almost from the start, that the killer was Andes’ boyfriend Bob Young. He was tried twice, first in criminal court, and then in civil court, but both times the jury found him not guilty. The police never followed up, but Hunt took up the case, and began interviewing as many of the players as would talk to her–old friends of Andes’, detectives who worked on the case, even Andes’ family, who while they don’t appear on tape, did consent to interviews with Hunt and producer Amanda Rossman. As Hunt admits in the final episode, they’re not detectives, and don’t have subpoena power, but the episodes are so engrossing, the reporting so dogged, it’s easy to forget.
So far there are just nine episodes, but the Facebook page indicates there will be a season two. No word on whether it’s the same case or a new one. –IN
On an October evening in 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling disappeared. It became one of the biggest missing child cases in American history, and as investigative reporter Madeleine Baran would find out over the course of reporting In the Dark, it was massively mishandled by local police. Clearly inspired by Serial, for me, In the Dark is even better. This may be because, slight spoiler alert, the case gets solved as Baran investigates. Her reporting and persistence are deeply intelligent and always sensitive, and Jacob’s parents speak openly with her about the living nightmare of losing a child in such a horrific and public way. These mild mannered Midwesterners come across as the two most impressively resilient people you might ever hope to meet.
Most of all, In the Dark explores America’s obsession with missing child cases, and the very nature of local law enforcement in a way that is incredibly revealing and disturbing. Baran frames it as asking the simple question, Is law enforcement actually good at solving crimes? This is one of the best podcasts I’ve ever listened to, and they are working on a season two, which will be about a new set of crimes and themes. –Annaliese Griffin
Ear Hustle is true crime from the perspectives of inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California. A partnership between inmates and hosts Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, and Nigel Poor, an artist who volunteers at the prison, it’s a fascinating set of perspectives and voices. The podcast is more about prison life than about crime specifically, but the men that Woods and Williams interview often end up reflecting on how they ended up in prison, and their insight into their own lives is likely to challenge your perception of who we label as a criminal and why. –AG
If you’re fascinated by crime, but uncomfortable with the exploitative, Nancy Grace quality of some coverage of it, take a listen to Criminal, which explores the implications of all manner of crimes, both major and less so. If I had to pick one word to describe Criminal it would be “thoughtful.” There’s as much sociology and history woven into the story telling as there is exploration of the legal system. For example, Episode 46: Tiger, profiles a Louisiana man who has a Siberian Bengal tiger that he keeps in a cage at a gas station and truck stop, delving into the ethics, as well as the legal specifics, of owning and confining wild animals. –AG
You Must Remember This is a podcast about historic Hollywood, but creator Karina Longworth is an obsessive and deeply knowledgeable researcher, and she often explores a theme, story or movement over the course of several episodes. If you want to know more about Charles Manson, how he insinuated himself into L.A.’s hippie culture, and what the Manson Family got up to, listen to her 12-episode series on Manson and exhaustive knowledge will be yours. I turned this on in the car with my husband, who counts himself as something of a Manson expert, having grown up in Southern California, and he was slightly taken aback by the level of detail and drama. –AG