Like the detective novels from Raymond Chandler or Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, the best true-crime podcasts are addictive. The genre has become hugely popular, starting with the unexpected overwhelming success of Serial in 2014; today you'll find 200 options on Apple's top true-crime podcast feed. Here are five of the most gripping — and occasionally grisly — podcasts about, among other things, serial killers, bizarre crimes from history and cleverly cracked cold cases. You can listen using apps such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or go directly to the websites included below.
Season 2 of Conviction will hook you from the first minute. Called “American Panic,” it opens with a satanic ritual in a Texas field, two murders, and a 10-year-old boy who testifies in court against the cult's leader: his father. But did it really happen? The eight-episode season (the first seven episodes are on Spotify) grows more compelling as the tale extends beyond Texas and explores issues such as recovered memories, brainwashing and the often hazy search for truth. Conviction relies on interviews from the central characters, which gives this investigative series its emotional power. Don't miss the equally spellbinding Season 1, on flamboyant New York private investigator Manny Gomez, which probes the complexities of America's criminal justice system.
Listening to Crime Junkie is like sitting down for coffee with two fun pals who love chatting about murder. This popular podcast — it's routinely the top-rated true-crime program on Apple's podcast feed — every Monday offers a new episode focusing on a particular crime. Hosts Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat faced controversy in August 2019 when a reporter accused them of plagiarism (multiple podcasters also claimed that the duo had improperly used their reporting). But they removed several episodes and seem to have learned their lesson: An episode on the Hillside Strangler released after the charges, for instance, cites 12 sources, according to the New York Times. And the show's devoted fanbase keeps tuning in, lured by the hosts’ enthusiasm, casual chemistry and endearing skills as storytellers.
This raw-and-riveting podcast explores “the culture of crime” in different cities, starting in Providence, Rhode Island, and then moving to Detroit for Season 2. Hosts and producers Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier are documentary film veterans, and it shows: Crimetown has a gritty, cinematic, you-are-there feel, and each season features a broad story arc. Season 2 starts with Mary Jarrett Jackson, an African American crime lab technician who exposed a racist cop's lies in a 1973 Detroit murder case, and ends with former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was sentenced to 28 years on corruption charges in 2013. It's a frequently profane and always mesmerizing podcast that examines race, crime, violence, anger and, sometimes, hope.
Scene of the Crime
In February 2017, two small-town Indiana eighth graders, Abby Williams and Libby German, disappeared on a hiking trail. One day later, search teams discovered the bodies. Season 1 of this seven-episode podcast focuses on the girls’ lives and the continuing investigation into their unsolved murders. Each episode features interviews with family and friends, as well as a detective, a forensic genealogist, the county prosecutor, and an expert on child abduction murders. But it's the conversations with family that are most memorable — and most heartbreaking. In Episode 3, Abby's mother, Annie, tells the story of meeting with her pastor, who told her that her only child was dead. “Before the words came out, I knew,” she says. The final episode debuted on Feb. 13, 2020, the third anniversary of the girls’ murders. Family members hope the podcast will lead to new information.
This twice-a-week podcast has aired episodes on high-profile serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz — how could it not? — but it also tells the stories of lesser-known butchers with creepy nicknames such as Arsenic Anna, the Servant Girl Annihilator, the Co-Ed Killer and the Vampire of Sacramento. Hosts Greg Polcyn and Vanessa Richardson offer historical details and psychologist insights on each spotlighted psycho, including the Axeman of New Orleans, a never-identified killer who targeted Italian immigrants in 1918 and 1919. The recent episode investigates not only the Axeman's likely motivation but also the prejudices that Italian Americans faced in early 20th-century America. And yes, with nearly 160 episodes (many of them are two-parters), the series is evidence that serial killers aren't nearly as rare as we'd like them to be.