For true crime addicts that haven’t yet explored the recent surge of podcasts on the subject, it can be pretty difficult to figure out where to dive in. This is made twice as hard if it’s your first time trying out audio journalism at all. For one, iTunes doesn’t have “True Crime” or “Horror” listed as a category, and searching “crime” is only going to get you so far. Secondly, creating a podcast has a much lower barrier to entry than the true crime storytelling you may be used to watching as a popular documentary or series on more well-established networks. Because just about anyone can upload a podcast, it’s easy to get stuck wasting your time on a show with a sub-par production value, or a show that’s just plain boring. Boring happens a lot.
I’m not going to let you wander off on your own and receive a poor introduction to one of the best ways to get your true crime stories. Here’s are five podcasts I recommend you start with while exploring the genre.
SERIAL (WBEZ Chicago / This American Life)
I get it. Chances are that if you’re here, you’ve been told this before. But if you STILL haven’t listened to Season 1, it’s absolutely where your journey should start. It was my first experience with true crime in podcast form, and the first podcast I ever listened to. Since I’m writing this, you can probably tell that it’s also what got me hooked.
One episode at a time, SERIAL investigates the 1999 murder of then 18-year-old high school student, Hae Min Lee. It comes at the story and possible suspects from every angle, and by the end of Season 1, every listener has chosen a team to side with. SERIAL gained loads of media attention when its first season premiered in late 2014, as it was the fastest a podcast has ever made it 5 million downloads. Most of the hype was due to the talented team of producers and incredible storytelling, but what adds to the fun is that the story is still unfolding in real time. Its cult following was quick to reveal itself and praise the show on every corner of the Internet, and I have a feeling you’ll be the next to do so.
IN THE DARK (APM reports)
If you like the feel of following a long-form story piece by piece, my recommendation is to try IN THE DARK next. Produced by APM reports, the program uses serialized episodes to deep dive into the child abduction case of Jacob Wetterling, which went unsolved for 27 years. IN THE DARK examines the missteps that law enforcement took during the investigation, and the fear that the infamous case instilled in families across the country, eventually leading to the nation’s first registry of sex offenders. I like the series because it makes good use of interviews from the Wetterling family, former suspects, and some involved officers to show the true depth that the case’s effects had on the community for decades to come.
SWORD AND SCALE is my next recommendation, though its occasionally gruesome subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart. I often find myself skipping episodes that make me feel uneasy, and I’m a horror lover. This true crime series chronicles one insane case per episode, with occasional two-parters for the extra juicy tales. The show does a good job of telling the complete story of a case from start to finish using audio clips from interrogations, 911 phone calls, and interviews with case experts. You’ll have a lot to catch up on with 80+ episodes at the time of this article, but a couple of my favorites are episode 62 on Jenelle Potter who’s dubbed the “Catfishing murderer,” and the recent two-part feature on the Craigslist killer over episodes 79 and 80.
CRIMINAL (Radiotopia / PRX)
CRIMINAL is an awesome pick for a short listen, with most of their episodes ranging between 20 to 40 minutes. For a true crime podcast, CRIMINAL also has a lighter air to it, with some of their stories even resulting in a happy ending. This is partly because only a small piece of the crime they cover is dark and bloody. When they say crime, they mean everything from gambling to illegal adoptions, focusing more on the stories and sociology of those involved than the sheer horrors of the situation. It also probably has to do with host Phoebe Judge’s oddly soothing voice.
STRANGLERS takes an interesting look at the high-profile Boston Strangler crimes of the 1960s. I’d recommend this series for newbies to the genre of true crime podcasts because we’ve all heard of this series of stranglings that shook New England, but many don’t know much beyond the “what.” Host Portland Helmich takes you through this epidemic of unsolved crimes that killed 13 women, and you’ll be left wondering how anyone managed to solve a crime half a century ago. If you can get through the dramatizations (they’re not my thing in general), you’ll love this well-produced series and your newfound understanding of one of the country’s most notorious criminal(s).