For many of us, the true-crime genre is an unholy paradox: the grislier the tale, the more comfort we take in its telling. And let’s face it: We’re all in need of comfort right now. We’re months into the global pandemic, several weeks into civil unrest in response to police brutality against Black Americans, and four straight years into anticipating the 2020 presidential election. Who can blame us for wanting to distract ourselves from the terrors of the world with, er, other terrors of the world?
This time is also something like a moment of reckoning for true-crime fans. Since Serial first ignited the true-crime podcast boom in 2014, the genre’s heaviest hitters—podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Crime Junkie—have come under fire for their reification of policing and the prison-industrial complex, among other issues. Now that we’re questioning the role of police in a just society, where does that leave true crime? Not abandoned overnight, that’s for sure.
Whether you’re looking for fresh, new comfort food or craving a more complex, nuanced take dishing on the horrors of man, we’ve got you covered. From serialised shows that dive deep into the indignities of the criminal justice system to anthology series that attempt to shed light on little-discussed crimes and victims affecting marginalised communities, here’s a list of must-hear true-crime podcasts.
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Missing & Murdered
Hosted by award-winning Cree journalist Connie Walker, the CBC News podcast takes a long-form approach to true crime, spotlighting a different missing indigenous woman over the course of each season. Season 1 tackles the unsolved murder of Alberta Williams; Season 2, titled Finding Cleo, follows the Semaganis family’s search for their missing sister.
With more than 10 million downloads since its 2017 release, a narrative TV adaptation, and a related Dateline NBC episode, it’s safe to say that Dirty John is a true-crime classic. Based on reporter and host Christopher Goffard’s series of investigative L.A. Times articles, the story follows the life of John Michael Meehan, focusing on his marriage to and abuse of Debra Newell and her daughters.
The Teacher’s Pet
Released in 2018, this Australian podcast follows the disappearance of Lynette Dawson and the strange behaviour of her husband, Chris Dawson, surrounding her disappearance—including an extramarital affair with a 16-year-old student at the high school where he worked. Sorry, Australians, but you’re out of luck on this one: Following Chris’s December 2018 arrest for Lynette’s murder—a development credited to interest generated by the podcast—producers removed The Teacher’s Pet from download in Australia out of respect for Dawson’s right to a fair trial.
Another Wondery podcast, this one tells the story of Christopher Duntsch, a Texas neurosurgeon whose malpractice resulted in the death and permanent injury of more than 30 patients in the span of less than four years. Fair warning: You may want to pass on Dr. Death if you’re squeamish about medical stuff. But if you like your true crime with a side of insight into the layers of deep structural issues plaguing a vital sector of society and don’t mind the visceral thought of blood, then this one’s definitely for you.
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The Fall Line
The majority of true-crime media revolves around the stories of missing and murdered white women and children, making little to no mention of the plight of sex workers, Black children, Indigenous women, and other marginalised victims. Created in response to that imbalance, each season of The Fall Line takes a deep dive into a different unsolved case involving victims from marginalised communities in the southeastern United States.
Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein—these are just some of the serial killers we have come to know by name. Less familiar (particularly among white folks) is the name of Wayne Williams, the killer arrested and currently serving life for the Atlanta child murders of 1979–81. Hosted by white reporter Payne Lindsey and produced by Tenderfoot TV president Donald Albright, who is Black, Atlanta Monster tells the story of Williams and his many victims.
Ah, the podcast that arguably started it all! If you’re not familiar by now with the story of Adnan Syed’s questionable arrest for the murder of Hae Min Lee, it’s high time you get acquainted with Season 1 of Sarah Koenig’s award-winning Serial. After you finish that one, you can get started on Seasons 2 and 3, each of which covers a brand-new case.
Once Upon a Crime
If you’re interested in hearing a new story every week but don’t care for the chatty banter that defines most popular true-crime podcasts, allow me to introduce you to Esther Ludlow’s Once Upon a Crime. Each episode is exhaustively researched and focuses on trudging through a crime story you may think you already know.
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What Did You Do?!
For a podcast that mixes true crime and comedy with insightful perspectives on social work and mental health, look no further than What Did You Do?! Hosted by two mental health professionals, whom you’ll wish were your best friends, its recent episodes spotlight cases like the Green River Killer and the Jesse James Hollywood–ordered murder of Nicholas Markowitz. Hosts Charneil and Dee will have you ROFLing while also sparking some serious introspection about the relationship between crime and mental health care.
Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad
Hosted by a writer and former cold-case investigator who were both instrumental to the identification and arrest of the Golden State Killer, this podcast mobilises its true-crime-obsessed fan base to help crack long-forgotten cases. Billy Jensen and Paul Holes pay particular attention to achieving justice for marginalised victims, and recent episodes have interrogated the role of long-deified institutions like law enforcement and the military in exacerbating violence against society’s most vulnerable.
Bruh Issa Murder
As hosts Andre and Battle describe it, this podcast splits its focus between “true crime cases of colour, dumb crime cases of stupidity, and music from artists you probably haven’t heard of.” Past episodes have covered various victims of police brutality, the conviction of Cyntoia Brown, and a car theft perpetrated by a woman claiming to be Beyoncé.
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For a show that’s been casting a consistently critical eye on the criminal legal system since 2014, look no further than this Phoebe Judge–hosted juggernaut, which changes up its format from episode to episode. Past episodes have featured interviews with incarcerated culprits, victims, and even historical scholars of crimes ranging from murder to arson to jailbreak.
Casefile is a polished, fact-heavy Australian crime podcast that largely sticks to a case-of-the-week format, although especially complex cases will sometimes be told over the course of several episodes. Hosted by an Australian man who has remained anonymous for the whole of the show’s years-long run, the series launched in January 2016 and has since covered more than 150 cases.
If you consume a lot of true-crime media, you may have observed that—with a smattering of British and Australian exceptions—the bulk of what’s out there focuses on North American stories. That’s what led Brazilian hosts Carol and Stephanie to launch Suspiria, a podcast that primarily tells the stories of Latin American crimes that have gone unnoticed by most of the world even as they’ve shaped the lives of many Latinos.
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Yes, there’s a podcast about serial killers of colour titled Fruitloops. Hooked yet? If not, hosts Wendy and Beth will surely draw you in with their razor-sharp banter. Past cases have included heavy hitters such as Christopher Dorner and the Night Stalker, as well as less-covered killers like Huang Yong and the Briley brothers.
Let’s Go to Court!
What do you get when you pair a woman who took one semester of law school and a woman with a single semester of criminal justice studies under her belt? “Two experts,” according to this court-themed true-crime podcast’s hosts, Brandi Egan and Kristin Caruso. Covering a range of stories—from family annihilators like John List to the Pepsi Points lawsuit and other lighthearted court cases—Let’s Go to Court is perfect for the true-crime junkie who occasionally needs a break from the heavy stuff.
In their quest to bring equity to the true-crime genre “in [their] own weird way,” hosts Alvin Williams and Francel Evans started this podcast to tell each other murder stories involving people of colour. Recent episodes have included the Tuskegee Experiment, obscure cold cases, and the tragic murders of Elijah McClain and Vanessa Guillen.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s Bazaar US.
- Affirmative Murder
- Atlanta Monster
- Bruh Issa Murder
- Dirty John
- Dr. Death
- Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad
- Let’s Go to Court!
- Missing & Murdered
- Once Upon a Crime
- The Fall Line
- The Teacher’s Pet
- What Did You Do?!