Ever since Serial came along in 2014 and awakened the world to the wonders of podcasting, true crime fans have been looking for a way to recreate that high. The story of high school senior Hae Min Lee’s murder and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Sayed has since received a TON of press and has been turned into both a book and an HBO documentary.
If you haven’t listened to it, then jeez, by all means, start there. Highly recommend Season 1. Season 2 was pretty meh, but I liked Season 3, which followed the goings-on of a courthouse in Cleveland for a year. I’m originally from Cleveland, though, so it may have been a little extra fascinating to me for that reason.
There are a few other obvious crimecast choices out there that you’ve probably already heard of: Criminal, a half hour(ish) show that covers a wide range of criminal antics, Dirty John, which has since been turned into a Bravo TV show, and Crimetown, about the culture of crime in a big city. And then of course there is the gem known as S-Town about a murder in a town not-so-lovingly referred to as Shittown, Alabama. It’s good stuff.
But once you’ve exhausted the basics, where do you turn? Not just any old crimecast will do; a good true crime podcast has to feature compelling storytelling, along with mystery or drama. You want to go in depth without feeling like things are dragging on too much. And, perhaps most importantly, the host’s voice can’t be annoying.
The story of a Texas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, whose operations left dozens of patients seriously injured or dead, is riveting in an awful sort of way. After listening to this, you will vow to research the hell out of every doctor you ever go to from now on. You will trust no one.
The first season, about the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling and the case’s botched law enforcement investigation, is a must-listen. The case led to the creation of the sex-offender registry and helped stoke the “stranger danger” fear in parents. While you’re at it, check out 99% Invisible’s episode on “Milk Carton Kids,”which details how the pictures and information about missing children started appearing on milk cartons in the 1980s.
Two bodies are found near an overturned barrel in Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire in 1985. Fifteen years later, two more bodies are found in a second barrel. Without being able to even identify the victims, let alone a suspect or motive, DNA evidence and genealogy websites are used to further the complex investigation.
Two attractive, wealthy, ivy-league educated lawyers get married and move to Tallahassee. What could possibly go wrong? An awful lot, apparently. This case, from 2014, takes some chilling twists and turns, including some interesting extended family dynamics and a couple of (alleged!) hired hit men.
Beauty queen/high school history teacher Tara Grinstead goes missing in 2005, vanishing from her Georgia home without a trace. Season One takes a deep dive into this case, which is known for having the largest case file in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s history. A lot of romantic interests = a lot of potential suspects.
Speaking of a deep dive—and Georgia—if you want a deep, deep dive into a murder case, Undisclosed’s investigation into the The State v. Joey Watkins case will keep you busy for a while. A Georgia man was (…wrongfully…?) sentenced to life in prison for aggravated assault, stalking and murder. The presentation is reminiscent of Serial’s first season.
A murder at a Taco Bell, followed by three more brutal murders in Adel, Georgia. This one is short—only six episodes, plus an epilogue—but it has it all, including a shocked small town and a possible wrongful conviction.
What is going ON, Georgia?? I don’t know why that state produces such a big chunk of the best true crime podcasts, but here we are. Atlanta Monster is the first season of the “Monster” podcast (Season Two is about the Zodiac Killer), telling the story of the disappearance and murder of more than 25 black kids in Atlanta 40 years ago.
If you’re looking to lighten things up a bit, My Favorite Murder is about as fun as you can get when you’re discussing, you know, murder. This true crime comedy podcast, hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, features the tagline “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered,” which is very good advice. I actually prefer the “minisodes” in which they read listener letters about almost-murders the letter-writers have experienced. The mini-episodes are short and sweet and don’t include as much of the hosts’ random banter that tends to overshadow the longer episodes, which are focused on one case.
I know I can’t possibly yet have discovered all the crimecasts worthy of a listen, so I threw the question out to the Lifehacker staff, asking for their faves. They were not, in all honesty, very helpful. I got a Serial suggestion (sigh), S-Town, My Favorite Murder and Dirty John. Food and beverage editor Claire Lower enjoys the Last Podcast on the Left, which is apparently a cross between comedy and horror, so I can see the draw.
Just when I was about to write off the staff entirely, our dedicated editor-in-chief, Melissa Kirsch, took a break from her busy day to graciously—and thoroughly—present her recommendations:
I have listened to a lot of Australian podcasts about murder and the only thing I have to say is STAY OUT OF “THE NORTHERN BEACHES” because if you go there you are probably going to get killed.
The two best ones I’ve listened to are “The Teacher’s Pet,” about a gross high school gym teacher and former Rugby League star who had an affair with student and may or may not have buried his wife in his yard; and “Phoebe’s Fall,” about a woman who either climbed into or was stuffed into a garbage chute.
As for North American crimecasts, I love “The Dream,” about multilevel marketing companies; “The Pope’s Long Con,” about a southern politician who’s a total sham; and Season 1 of the Canadian masterpiece “Uncover: Escaping NXIVM” about that upstate New York cult, even though no one was murdered by them that we know about.
Then she came back an hour later to let me know that the Bikram season of the 30 for 30 Podcasts is good, too. A quick search brought up this description, which moved it to the top of my To Listen list: “Bikram Choudhury’s fitness revolution brought a yoga boom to America. But his guru status enabled increasingly dark behavior.”
So there you have it. Stay sexy and… don’t get murdered.
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