True crime has long been a popular genre in print and television, but in recent years it has exploded in the podcasting world as well. What draws people to stories of deception, theft, and even murder? Is it a thirst for adrenaline? A way to cope with the horrors lurking in the world? Whatever your reasons for listening, we combed through the many true crime podcasts out there, assembling a list of the very best.
For those looking for different fare, we also put together a list of the best podcasts as well as the best true crime shows. If you’re feeling brave, you could even check out the best scary podcasts — but leave the lights on. So grab yourself a mug of your favorite brew, cozy up, and enjoy our favorite true crime podcasts.
It’s easy to fall under the spell of Los Angeles: The Hollywood Walk of Fame, the palm trees, the promise of being a superstar. When Adea Shabani follows her dreams of being a model and actress to LA, who could have guessed she would vanish without a trace? Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss investigates what happened to Adea, getting the inside story on a multi-state investigation, with first-hand reporting. If you liked Atlanta Monster or Up & Vanished, this podcast is from the same team.
Who the Hell is Hamish?
Dirty John fans — this one’s for you, and it will certainly make you think twice about those Tinder matches. Hamish Watson was the quintessential surfer dude from Sydney, before he transformed into a suave, charming businessman who turned heads. In reality, he was a con artist who swindled over $7 million from individuals around the world. This podcast hears the stories of the victims, as told to journalist Greg Bearup, and takes an in-depth look at just how he got away with his crimes for so long — and what he did with all the money he stole. It’s pretty haunting stuff, and will have you Googling your online matches thoroughly before arranging a date.
There are plenty of podcasts about cold cases — let’s face it, an unsolved mystery makes for pretty compelling listening. But Cold takes a different approach to the podcasts that look into a different case each episode or season, instead focusing on just one: The disappearance of Susan Powell from her home in West Valley, Utah, in 2009. Susan’s husband, Josh, was suspected of her murder but never arrested, and Cold takes a deep dive into the case, uncovering never-heard-before details to see if the question of what happened to Susan can ever really be answered.
Root of Evil
Root of Evil discusses the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, also known as The Black Dahlia. Today the case is the most infamous unsolved murder in America — although many people think Dr. George Hodel was Elizabeth’s killer. But this isn’t just about the murder — it’s also the story of the Hodel family and their horrifying secrets. First-time interviews, newly uncovered archival audio, and a deep dive into the Hodel’s family history makes this eight-part series a compelling listen. If you enjoy this, you’ll also like the TNT series I Am the Night, starring Chris Pine and inspired by the true story of the Hodel family.
Wrongful convictions are the name of the game on Undisclosed — more specifically, taking a look at the perpetration of a crime, the investigation, trial, and verdict … then digging up new information that never made it to court. There are more than 350 episodes to listen to, with each season looking at a specific case. The most recent season investigates Jeff Titus, who was arrested and convicted of the murder of two deer hunters in a public hunting area in western Michigan in November 1990. Turns out, the original detectives who were on the case think the wrong man is behind bars, and Undisclosed sets out to uncover the truth.
For many Americans, organized crime may seem like a relic of a distant past. The past informs the present, however, and as Crimetown shows, the roots of organized crime run deep in some cities. Each season takes a look at a different city. In season one, hosts Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier take listeners on a fascinating tour of Providence, Rhode Island, a small city with a surprisingly large mafia presence. Each episode tells a different chapter in the city’s sordid history, tied together by two giants: Mob boss Raymond Patriarca and Mayor Buddy Cianci. Season two takes listeners to Detroit, Michigan. Crimetown is a polished, confident production, which should come as no surprise given that its creators also worked on HBO’s The Jinx. It’s available exclusively on Spotify.
The show that brought podcasts into the mainstream (and won a Peabody Award), Serial follows journalist Sarah Koenig and the show’s staff as they investigate a single story over the course of a season. The show’s serialized nature gives the storytelling an added dramatic weight, as episodes often end on revelations that leave listeners wondering where the next episode will go. Season one examines the case of Adnan Syed, a prisoner serving time for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, but who claims to be innocent. Season two explores a more recent story, the capture and negotiated release of U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was eventually charged with desertion. Season three spends a year in a Cleveland courthouse, looking at the extraordinary stories behind cases.
Serial is unique not just for its production values — Koenig and her fellow producers originally worked on This American Life, and that experience shines through in the audio — but for its insight into the journalistic process; as episodes are recorded as the investigation progresses, so listeners hear Koenig and company grappling with new evidence.
A Peabody Award-winning podcast, In the Dark follows the story of the abduction of Jacob Wetterling, whose disappearance in 1989 prompted a federal law implementing sex offender registration. Wetterling’s fate was unknown until 2016, when a man confessed to killing him. The first season of In the Dark follows Madeleine Baran’s exploration of the case, with a focus on the police investigation, and the ways in which it changed society and law enforcement. Season two investigates the case of Curtis Flowers, a black man from Winona, Mississippi who was tried six times for the murder of four employees at the Tardy Furniture store downtown. Flowers is still on death row for the crime, and the season follows the two-decade-long legal battle that he faced.
Despite its glamorous facade, Hollywood has always had a seedy side, and among the acting world’s most infamous unsolved mysteries is the death of Natalie Wood, an acclaimed actress who drowned in 1981 while on a yacht with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and Christopher Walken, with whom she was starring in the film Brainstorm. Season one of the limited podcast series Fatal Voyage explores the strange circumstances surrounding Wood’s death. She was notoriously afraid of water, neither of her companions could account for when exactly she left the boat, and according to the autopsy report, there were bruises on her body. The podcast makes use of interviews with experts and those close to the case, and it also makes use of an incredible primary source: Wood’s unpublished memoir, in which the actress bares her secret anxieties about the falsehoods of the celebrity world. Wood’s tale is a fascinating one, not just one of murder, but of an actress’s personal struggles with the corruption of Hollywood. Season two takes a look at the death of Princess Diana and the suspected cover-up surrounding her accident, while season three, which wrapped earlier this year, is about the death of JFK Jr.
Many true crime podcasts have a decidedly American bent, but as Casefile demonstrates, murder is a global phenomenon. Produced out of Australia, Casefile tells crime stories from around the world, using creepy music and sound design to unsettle listeners. Episodes touch on a variety of topics, including serial killers and kidnappings gone wrong. The content is disturbing, but despite Casefile’s dramatic flourishes, it never feels ghoulish.
While murders and kidnappings make for enticing stories, some of the biggest crimes in history are carried out not by men and women with knives or guns, but by people in boardrooms. Swindled explores the world of “white collar” crime, which, although nonviolent, can be devastating for people and even communities. Each episode investigates a different case, such as an attempt to rig a lottery or an environmental disaster caused by a company recklessly dumping toxic chemicals. The stories are remarkable and often enraging.
Murder is depressing. Listen to enough stories of people murdering people and strewing their limbs around in strange patterns, and it takes a toll on you. Thankfully, My Favorite Murder adds a dash of levity, making even the most gruesome crimes a bit more fun to hear about. Hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark both have backgrounds in comedy, and they have a lively rapport, with the podcast often veering into improv. The show recognizes that humor has its limits, however, treating the victims in its stories with appropriate gravity. While the juxtaposition of murder with laughs may seem odd, many find it therapeutic. My Favorite Murder is a delightfully macabre addition to any true-crime podcast rotation.
Having worked as a crime reporter and novelist, Christopher Goffard has experience with the darker elements of humanity and a knack for storytelling. Both of those qualities are on display in Dirty John, a six-episode series (and accompanying written feature) in which Goffard tells the story of Debra Newell, a 59-year old interior designer who meets a man named John Meehan on a dating site. Meehan comes on strong, but Newell falls for him, even as her daughters suspect something is off. Goffard interviews Newell and her family, among others, constructing a multifaceted narrative that may surprise listeners. It helps that Goffard has a measured, professional voice, making Dirty John feel at times like an audiobook. Whether you’ve seen the Netflix show of the same name or not, this is a great listen — and fans of the show will love the bonus podcast episodes, which take an inside look at the series.
In 2008, news broke that Bernie Madoff, a respected stockbroker and former chairman of Nasdaq, had been running a hedge fund that was essentially a giant Ponzi scheme, a revelation that blossomed into one of the biggest financial scandals in decades. What possessed Madoff to commit the crimes that led to his 150-year prison sentence? Steve Fishman goes straight to the source to find out in Ponzi Supernova, interviewing Madoff and the people in his life to construct a portrait of the man who became one of the greatest villains in modern finance in this six-part audio series.
Author and psychology expert Maria Konnikova delves into the world of con artists with her podcast The Grift, which provides a detailed look into the minds of people who run scams. Each episode focuses on a different con artist, running the gamut from card sharks and art forgers to even a cult leader. The Grift lays out not just the art of the con, but what makes people susceptible to such schemes. It’s something a little different from the other podcasts on our list, and a really interesting listen.
If you’ve begun to find true crime stories a bit grotesque, that’s not surprising. You can only listen to so many stories of stabbings, shootings, decapitations, defenestrations, and scaphism before the whole genre starts to feel a little tasteless. The Onion’s A Very Fatal Murder brutally guts true crime podcasting, telling a satirical tale about a reporter on the hunt for a murder case that will titillate audiences. The story takes place in the small town of Bluff Springs, where prom queen Hayley Price was found dead with a cascade of injuries (she was shot, stabbed, strangled, and drowned, among other things). Onion Public Radio reporter David Pascall ventures to Bluff Springs to investigate and make compelling radio. A Very Fatal Murder is particularly biting when it comes to the somewhat exploitative nature of true crime storytelling; Pascall is looking for a murder that will tie into larger themes about the decline of the American economy, and expresses some sadness about not being present to capture the victim’s parents’ grief when it was fresh. It’s funny stuff, and the series is short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
- The best podcasts of 2020
- The best scary podcasts to keep you up all night
- Best political podcasts for 2020
- The best Halloween apps and games for a spook-tacular October 31
- The 53 best shows on Amazon Prime right now