Top True Crime Podcasts
Today on Tne Tattooed Book, I take a look at the top true crime podcasts that you can listen to for free.
The media’s obsession with true crime is nothing new and although he wasn’t the first, Jack the Ripper was probably the earliest serial killer (although the term was only coined during the 1970s) that people are still fascinated with today. Both because of the heinous nature of his crimes and the fact he was never caught.
From Jack the Ripper to Charles Manson and Myra Hindley, serial killers fascinate people even if they can’t articulate why. Maybe it’s because serial killers are the adult version of monsters under the bed, a fear that people enjoy. Maybe it’s because of the way they are portrayed the same as celebrities in the media. Or maybe it’s their rarity that captures attention, forcing us to question ‘what creates a monster?’ They’re the car crash you can’t help but slow down to see, people want to understand something that’s so completely different from themselves.
One format of storytelling that is proving to be perfect for telling true crime stories, is the podcast. In 2014 a podcast called Serial was developed by This American Life and followed journalist Sarah Koenig as she investigated a murder case (more on this later!) and instantly became a hit. As of June 2017, the podcast’s episodes were downloaded 175 million times, establishing an ongoing world record. (If you’re unsure how to listen to podcasts than check out this article)
I know you’re used to me talking about books but The Tattooed Book is all about stories in any format, so I thought I’d gather together my top investigative true crime podcasts for you to enjoy. Whether this is your first experiences of listening to podcasts or you’re already a true crime podcast addict, I hope you find something on this list to tempt you.
SERIAL: SEASON ONE
Serial is the only way to start this list. As I mentioned earlier, it has broken podcast records and inspired numerous true crime podcasts since it began in 2014.
Journalist Sarah Koenig investigates the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old student from Maryland, USA. A month after she went missing, her body was found and h her ex-boyfriend, 17-year-old Adnan Masud Syed, was arrested. He was charged with first-degree murder and is currently serving a life sentence despite insisting on his innocence.
Koenig’s investigation into the case is extensive and completely addictive. She interviews witnesses, relatives and anyone involved in the case to look deeper than the law enforcement officials did at the time.
This case has progressed significantly since the podcast was released in 2014 so don’t forget to listen out for the updates or sign up for the Serial newsletter.
ACCUSED: THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF ELIZABETH ANDES
In Oxford, Ohio, on Dec. 28, 1978, student Elizabeth Andes was found murdered in her apartment. Her boyfriend, Bob Young, found her body in their shared home and raised the alarm after banging on multiple neighbours doors to no answer. Eventually, someone let him in to call the police. He was questioned as a suspect and fifteen hours later he confessed. Later he admitted to this being a false confession and two juries found him innocent, but the police were convinced of his guilt and looked no further.
This eight-part podcast by investigative journalists Amber Hunt and Amanda Rossmann of the Cincinnati Enquirer re-interview everyone (living) involved in this case and a number of people police never bothered with before. Unlike Serial, they have problems caused by the amount of time that has passed but their investigation into why someone would give a false confession and the new leads they reveal make for compelling listening. I devoured this series in a couple of days and have just started the second season that looks at an entirely separate case.
SOMEONE KNOWS SOMETHING
At the time of writing this article, Someone Knows Something has four full seasons available, each following host David Ridgen’s investigations into four separate unsolved crimes.
The first season looks at the case of five-year-old Adrien McNaughton who went missing on a family fishing trip in 1972 in Ontario and has never been found.
The second season investigates the missing person case of Sheryl Sheppard. On New Year’s Eve 1997 Sheryl’s boyfriend Michael Lavoie proposed to her on live TV. She accepted but two weeks later she disappeared.
Season three tells the story of two black teenagers, Charles Moore and Henry Dee, whose partial remains were pulled from the Mississippi River after their deaths in 1964. It was known that they were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan but no one was ever convicted. Host David Ridgen and one of the victim’s brothers, Thomas Moore, confront the Klansmen involved.
The fourth and most recent season was the one I found most intriguing and confusing. Christmas 1996, Wayne Greavette receives a present in the mail, a torch with a handwritten note reading ‘Have a very Merry Christmas and may you never have to buy another flashlight.’ When he turned it on, it exploded and killed him.
Each of these series is brilliantly done and sensitively handled. David Ridgen also includes updates of earlier series as the show continues.
S-Town (from the producers of Serial) is an unusual true crime podcast in the fact it begins by investigating one crime and finishes investigating something else entirely. A curve-ball halfway through this podcast changes its direction completely (apologies for the vagueness but I’m trying to avoid any spoilers).
John B. McLemore emailed producers in 2012 to request they investigate the alleged murder of a young man in his hometown of Woodstock in Alabama. After a year of messaging and talking on the phone, host Brian Reed investigates and becomes drawn into a town of no hope. He befriends John and is intrigued by his insistence to stay in a town he despises, as well as his obsessions with clocks, climate change and keeping his fortune hidden.
S-Town (Shit Town) genuinely shocked me. I hadn’t looked too far into the storyline but as it was from the producers of Serial, I knew I would be listening and didn’t delve too much further. John sounds like an incredible man and it’s easy to see why he caught the attention of host Brian Reed. A few episodes in, I felt the podcast was slowing, coming to a halt, the story seemed wrapped up. It’s John’s actions that change everything and turns this podcast on its head.
Criminal is one of the very few true crime podcasts I enjoy that looks at a different crime for every episode. Normally I am drawn to long-form investigations but this is my exception to the rule. It’s described as ‘Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.’ Instead of an investigative angle, Criminal documents all types of crime from streaking to fake séances and the origins of 420.
Running since 2014 and with a new episode from host Phoebe Judge every two weeks, there’s a great back catalogue for new listeners to enjoy; but if you’re looking for some highlights I recommend All the Time in the World, where Phoebe visits a body farm to talk about decomposition and Milk Carton Kids.
If the idea of listening to evidence and interviews from people directly affected by the most serious crimes is just a bit too heavy for you, this is a slightly more light-hearted approached.
DEATH IN ICE VALLEY
On 29 November 1970, the body of an unidentified woman was found severely burnt, all labels removed from her clothes and surrounded by what appeared to be her belongings, on the hills of the Isdalen Valley outside of Bergen, Norway. Over 45 years later and her identity still isn’t known and neither is the cause of her death.
This joint investigation from Neil McCarthy of the BBC’s World Service and Marit Higraff of Norway’s public radio service, NRK, attempts to answer some of the numerous questions surrounding the lady who is known in Norway as the Isdal Woman.
This podcast is the most interactive on my list; the hosts encourage their listeners to visit the podcast Facebook page to view the evidence as well as sharing information and ideas. This has assisted in furthering their research and leading to new advances in the case.
Death in Ice Valley is a new venture into investigative podcast journalism for the BBC World Service’s and the first episode has a film version available on YouTube. The music and atmospheric audio set it apart (as well as it being the quality production you’d expect from the BBC).
I’m really hoping the popularity of this series will encourage the BBC to create more content like this in the future because I really enjoyed it.
MISSING & MURDERED: WHO KILLED ALBERTA WILLIAMS
1989, 24-year-old Alberta Williams was found dead beside a highway near Prince Rupert in British Columbia. This stretch of road is known as The Highway of Tears due to the sheer number of murders and disappearances (mainly of indigenous women) that have occurred within this 450 miles. The police never caught her killer.
Reporter Connie Walker is drawn to the case by a message from someone involved in the original investigation, someone who says they know who killed her and wants to help find justice for her family.
Missing & Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams not only follows an incredible investigation but also highlights some truly heartbreaking facts about how the authorities have failed the indigenous people in British Columbia, and in a number of cases involving women, were themselves the perpetrators. Connie Walker takes the opportunity to discuss these cases, not only to raise awareness but help you understand the authorities approach to cases such as Alberta’s at the time.
Add all this together and you have an incredibly moving piece of investigative journalism. I’m looking forward to listening to the second season, Finding Cleo, very shortly.
In 2014 successful interior designer Debra Newell thought she had found the man of her dreams when she met “freelance anesthesiologist” John Meehan on a dating website, but as the couple got closer her grownup daughters started to highlight his questionable behaviour.
Within months they were married but her daughter’s concerns only grow. They wondered what kind of anesthesiologist could go into surgery every day with dirt under his nails. Why did he never have any money if he worked full time? While their mother fell in love with a man who recounted stories from the year he spent in Iraq working with Doctors Without Borders and treated her like a princess, they only saw facts that didn’t add up.
Author and staff writer for the LA Times Christopher Goffard tells the story by piecing together interviews from Debra and her family. Following the story from (Dirty) John’s early suspicious behaviour (what doctor constantly has dirt under his fingernails?) to its dramatic conclusion.
My feelings to this podcast weren’t as simple as the rest, there are numerous giant red waving flags that would’ve led most people running from John as fast as they possibly could, but Debra ignores them for an extended period of time. At one point she even seems to choose him over her daughters and then doesn’t find it disturbing when he revels in the fact and rubs her daughters face in it. One thing that can’t be underestimated though is the power of a lifelong manipulator and conman. It was his art and he had perfected it. He’s a loathsome individual and because of it, this podcast really gets under your skin.
If you’ve been listening to true crime podcasts and you’ve got a recommendation for me then let me know in the comments below!
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