7 Great Crime Podcasts for Armchair Detectives
July 13, 2015 at 1:41 pm
It’s True Crime week at POME, and that means we’re kicking things off with some criminally good listening to put you in the mood for mystery. Do you have an unexplainable affinity for bad guys, good guys, and unsolved mysteries? Are you secretly a detective in your heart of hearts? Did Serial awaken in you a fascination for engaging, real-life crime stories with charming underdogs and more twists than Chubby Checker?
We know the feeling, trust us. But hey, good news! We’ve prepared a carefully-curated selection of podcasts to satisfy that True Crime craving.
Undisclosed is the podcast for people who are genuinely committed to Adnan Syed’s case, and the one true continuation of the work Serial began. It’s hosted by three lawyers including Susan Simpson, Colin Miller, and Rabia Chaudry, who you may remember from Serial as Adnan’s friend. NPR set an impossible production standard with its juggernaut show, but Undisclosed doesn’t really try to be Serial Part 2. The hosts place many more details under the microscope than Sarah Koenig was able to during her run, though, so it’s just as addictive. They take an investigative rather than journalistic approach, and re-examine Hae Min Lee’s murder by devoting each episode to a specific piece of the puzzle. Who was involved that day? Where did they go? Who did they see (or who saw them)? There’s even a couple of pretty major developments that Serial either glossed over, missed altogether, or simply didn’t have time for. The hosts also post weekly addendums for new information between episodes, so it’s the best source for updates if you’re rooting for Adnan.
Start with: Episode 1 – Adnan’s Day
Go back to the beginning with Rabia, Susan and Colin.
Criminal has that fluid, modern style common to professionally-produced shows like Radiolab or Invisibilia. While most podcasts on this list focus on murder, Criminal tells stories about broader kinds of wrongdoing and focuses on the damage that white-collar criminals can do to our lives. Scammers, compulsive liars, and Venus flytrap poachers tell their own tales, while hosts Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer weave in and out of the narrative in short, exciting bursts. Episodes usually only run about 18-20 minutes, so it’s a great way to get your quick fix.
Start with: Episode 22 – Ex Libris
This is the story of a cunning book thief who ran a scam up and down the West Coast throughout the 90’s, the shopkeepers he fooled, and their plan to bring him down. This one’s got everything that sets Criminal apart.
Sword and Scale brings you stories about the monsters among us, and it goes to dark, dark places. You’ll hear accounts of killers, cannibals, corruption, and crime rings. This podcast loves a rabbit hole, and sometimes dives in so deep that you’ll have a hard time believing it isn’t fiction. The drama, pacing, and authenticity are unmatched, but be warned: Sword and Scale cuts together actual audio from crime scenes in its narration and can be downright graphic at times. It’s not uncommon to hear a victim’s last moments on this show, and those moments are definitely not for the faint of heart (or stomach). It’s also worth mentioning that host Mike Boudet isn’t always completely impartial. Sometimes he’ll make snarky comments that will give a mystery away before it gets started. Nonetheless, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated host when it comes to bringing you the real stuff.
Start with: Episode 22
A mysterious disappearance, an uncooperative family man, police incompetence, and dark secrets that whipped the media into a frenzy. It was hard for me to choose just one episode, but this tragic tale is Sword And Scale at it’s best (and humanity at it’s worst).
Perhaps the most traditionally formatted podcast on the list, True Murder’s host Dan Zupansky interviews authors about books they’ve written on murder cases. The audio and production quality aren’t always the most polished, but the genuine chills more than make up for the technical shortcomings. Each guest is an expert on their particular case, offering a level of respect and attention to detail that you just can’t find anywhere else. Who were the people involved in the murder? What mysteries still remain? You’ll get pretty much the whole story in each episode, so you don’t have to read the book to enjoy the show. After listening to these authors tell it, though, you might find that you need more space on your bookshelf anyway.
Start with: Bath Massacre
We tend to think of mass school killings as a modern-day phenomenon, but author Arnie Bernstein takes us back 86 years to the first ever mass school murder. In 1929 in Bath, Michigan, a faculty treasurer hid and then detonated a series of bombs underneath the school where he worked, killing over 40 people before killing his wife and eventually himself. Bernstein walks us through the mind of a madman and the trauma of an entire town.
What makes Generation Why interesting is that it’s got a sort of home-grown, indie feel and a lot of heart. It’s the kind of discussion your friends might have while sitting around the table, but the topics are as broad and fascinating as any other podcast on this list. Sometimes the conversation examines the careers of criminals, sometimes it’s conspiracy theories or the Loch Ness Monster. The guests range from authors to listeners of the show. It’s pretty chill, so if suspense and high drama are not your bag, this podcast might be the one for you.
Start with: Episode 64 – One To The Wolves
Lois Duncan has written numerous horror fiction stories including “I Know what You Did Last Summer,” but she never imagined she’d end up living the worst horror story she’d ever have to tell: the murder of her own teenage daughter. In this episode, Lois and host Aaron dissect the mystery of her daughter’s death. At first billed as a random shooting, evidence points to the involvement of more sinister forces. At times she may seem like a grieving mother grasping at straws, but the details suggest otherwise.
While not a true crime podcast specifically, this is a podcast about “things we simply don’t know the answer to.” Thinking Sideways feels like something you might hear on the drive to work, like three of your favorite local morning radio DJ’s decided to start solving mysteries. It could be a missing persons case, or Tupac and Biggie, or an unexplained signal that’s been broadcasting an uncracked code from Russia for the last four decades. Steve, Devin, and Joe have no formal training when it comes to investigation, but they do a great job of laying out the facts surrounding a case and giving us the best theories out there. It can be an oddly goofy show in contrast to the serious topics many episodes cover (and especially compared to other podcasts on this list), but the banter makes even overdone, stale topics feel fresh and interesting.
Start with: Tube Sock Killer?
One of the great things about this podcast is that they take topic suggestions from their listeners. It makes for some pretty unique episodes, like this one: A couple is found dead in the woods. The woman is decapitated. A tube sock with several knots in it is tied around her neck. Several months later, another couple is murdered while camping, and a body is again found with a tube sock around the neck. After that, nothing. Is it a bizarre serial killer’s limited run? Or a remarkable coincidence?
The Atlanta Journal’s Breakdown is essentially a southern Serial with Georgia accents and twanging guitars. While it doesn’t quite have Serial’s podcasting chops, it does live up to the tagline “Railroad justice in a railroad town.” Host Bill Rankin brings us the story of Justin Chapman, who was convicted of setting fire to his duplex home and killing Alice Jackson, his 79 year old neighbor. The evidence against him held little water and the state’s case was flimsy at best, yet he is spending his life in prison. Was he guilty? This podcast examines how the system broke down during his prosecution, complete with twists, turns, and southern city names that aren’t pronounced how they look on paper.
Start with: Episode 1
Justin Chapman was a tough customer, and not without his enemies. But were they responsible for the fire that sent him to jail? This episode introduces you to his world.
We hope these shows keep your download queue full for days to come. If you’ve got any other podcast suggestions you think we ought to include in future articles, we want to hear from you in the comments. And be sure to check back here all week for more exciting true crime content! Now get on the case, detectives!