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Ten years ago, most people hadn’t even heard of a podcast. Now, they’re an integral part of the media landscape, and none more so than those about true crime. To rank the best, we polled true-crime aficionados about their favorite shows, then sifted through the top choices. Whether they cover a new case each episode or present a story over the course of a season, these picks each shaped the genre in their own way. Some are the results of deep investigative journalism; others are by amateur sleuths trying to help families find answers. Some focus on bringing publicity to cold cases in underrepresented communities, and some changed the way we think about crime storytelling altogether. Perhaps equally important, they’re all great listening, promising the kind of captivating intrigue that continues to draw generation after generation to true crime: tragedy, mystery, a search for answers, and always the hunger for justice.
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Fans of procedurals will bond with former broadcast journalist Delia D’Ambra’s approach to investigating murders. Dogged and savvy, she interviews law-enforcement officers but doesn’t take them at their word for anything. She re-creates witness timelines and reads the details of case files, turning up clues detectives overlooked and calling out bungled procedures that may have compromised evidence. Season Three covered the brutal 1989 murder of four members of the Pelley Family in Indiana. Over the course of 20 bingeable 20-minute episodes, D’Ambra raised doubt about the conviction of the slain couple’s teenage son for the shootings. Season Four, out now, investigates the unsolved 2003 murder of 17-year-old John Welles, who’d been working on his family’s farm in Florida before being found dead in a creek. —Andrea Marks
In Somebody, a Black mother leverages the popularity of true crime podcasts to search for answers about her son’s killing. In 2016, Shapearl Wells’ 22-year-old son, Courtney Copeland, was shot through the window of his beloved BMW while he was driving. Chicago police said he got out of his car near a precinct and flagged down an officer for help before collapsing. When Wells picked up his hospital records, however, a note from the EMTs described Copeland as “violent” and “combative” and said he’d been in handcuffs when he arrived at the hospital. Wells knew then that there was more to the story of her son’s death than police were telling her. Partnering with the Intercept and the Invisible Institute, she got to work documenting her search for answers, as well as her efforts to grieve as a mother. Wells re-interviews witnesses, gathers security-camera footage from the scene of Copeland’s death, and collects any documentation she can from the day’s events. The seven-part series was a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist for “a dogged and searing investigation of the murder of a young Black man in Chicago and the institutional indifference surrounding it.” The podcast is in one sense a compelling investigation into an unsolved killing. In another, however, it demonstrates the power of the format and the privilege of many true-crime creators. In one memorable scene, Wells returns to the police station to try once again to get answers. On this visit, she has Invisible Institute reporters with her. “Maybe this time, if I came in with two white journalists, they’d actually listen to me,” she says. —A.M.
23. Atlanta Monster
Following the success of Tenderfoot TV’s flagship series Up and Vanished, host Payne Lindsey brought renewed attention to the underreported case of Atlanta’s child murders with Atlanta Monster. In the 1970s and Eighties, a real-life boogeyman was snatching young Black boys from poor neighborhoods one after another, and brutally murdering them. It was the era of the television PSA that intoned: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” and some parents did not. Interviews with people who grew up in the city at the time capture the fear Black residents, in particular, felt at the time. Lindsey also scrutinizes the assumption that Wayne Williams, convicted for two of the murders, was responsible for all the killings. Lindsey contrasts interviews with police and FBI officers who are certain they caught the right guy with voices of activists and public figures who are certain they did not. The Tenderfoot team even arranges a jailhouse interview with Williams himself, although the one-time talent scout lives up to his reputation for talking a lot without saying much. Later seasons of Monster cover the Zodiac Killer and the D.C. Sniper with different hosts. —A.M.
In the world of true crime, the unfortunate reality is that there are only a handful of cases and stories that tend to get the most attention, which is why it’s so refreshing to see reporters use the podcast boom to shine a light on older, less notorious cases. Accused, hosted by Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Amber Hunt (who also hosts the excellent history pod Crimes of the Centuries), focuses on older cases in the Midwestern region, such as the 1978 murder of Miami University student Elizabeth Andes and the 1984 mysterious death of pipe fitter David Bocks. While these cases don’t have as much notoriety as many of the other subjects on our list, Hunt’s thorough reporting and gripping narration will keep you hooked regardless. —EJ Dickson
21. Anatomy of Murder
Most true-crime podcasts are hosted by, for lack of a better term, armchair detectives — people who have a morbid curiosity, but little hands-on experience in the world of criminal investigation. So when a podcast comes along that’s hosted by two people with real-world law-enforcement bona fides, you can tell the difference. Hosted by a former homicide prosecutor and a former deputy-sheriff-turned-investigative-journalist, Anatomy of Murder from Audiochuck is somewhat short on crackling narrative detail, but makes up for it by showcasing more of an insider perspective. —E.D.
In some respects, the first season of Crimetown, which focuses on organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island, commits a cardinal sin of true-crime podcasting: It doesn’t focus on one singular crime or culprit, but rather several different ones, weaving in and out of the lives and travails of different law-enforcement officers, terrifying Mafia figures, and corrupt politicians throughout the season. In the context of the investigative, narrative-driven podcast climate, this was something of a risky move, but it pays off: Crimetown, from Gimlet Media, which focused its second season on the history of Detroit is an absolutely riveting tour de force. —E.D.
19. Up and Vanished
In his first podcast as Tenderfoot TV co-founder, Payne Lindsey brought a guileless, post-Serial ambition to Up and Vanished. In the 2016 debut, he basically admitted he was on a mission to be the next Sarah Koenig when he started Googling cold cases near his hometown of Atlanta. He then narrates each step of his nascent investigative-reporting process, from discovering sources on websleuths.com to birddogging public-records requests and cold-calling friends of high school teacher Tara Grinstead, who had been missing since 2005. Following Serial’s example, Lindsey released episodes as he completed them, unsure where the reporting would lead. He struck gold: Six months after the debut, police arrested two suspects in connection with Grinstead’s murder, in part because of the renewed attention Lindsey’s podcast had brought the case. Lindsey continued making episodes throughout the trial of Bo Dukes, who was sentenced to 25 years for helping cover up the killing. (In May, Ryan Duke was acquitted of murder charges but convicted of concealing Grinstead’s death. He now faces new charges in the case, including tampering with evidence and concealing facts.) The podcast’s second season covered the 2016 disappearance of Kristal Reisinger, who moved to Colorado on a quest for enlightenment. Season Three investigated the disappearance of Ashley Loring Heavyrunner, an indigenous woman who went missing from the Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation in 2017. —A.M.
18. Someone Knows Something
It may sound odd to describe a crime show as soothing, but when host David Ridgen describes the bucolic Canadian countryside in his gentle Bob Ross voice over a recording of cicada song or crunching leaves, you might momentarily forget you are in the midst of a hunt for answers in cold cases. For seven seasons now, the CBC’s Ridgen has worked with missing and murdered people’s families to help them search for answers, with a focus on neglected cases in rural and working-class neighborhoods. Seasons have covered mysteries from a five-year-old boy who vanished on an Ontario fishing trip 40 years earlier to the Ku Klux Klan murders of two young Black men in Civil Rights-era Mississippi. The latest season delves into the 1988 murder of an abortion doctor, and investigates a network of anti-abortion violence that has persisted for decades. In each case he covers, Ridgen interviews surviving loved ones with sensitivity and compassion. The podcast operates under the assumption that someone somewhere has information that could bring closure to grieving families, if only they can reach the right person. —A.M.
17. Crime Junkie
Thanks to the success of My Favorite Murder, there are about as many dishy true-crime discussion-based podcasts out there as there are think pieces arguing that Kim Kardashian is a feminist. But while it didn’t reinvent the wheel format-wise, Crime Junkie holds a special place in our hearts, for the sole reason that Ashley Flowers and former co-host Brit Prawat, who stepped back from the podcast due to health issues earlier this year, really, really know how to tell a story (unlike many other true-crime podcast hosts, they also seem to harbor genuine compassion for the victims, recently branching out into more original reporting by interviewing many of the victims’ surviving friends and relatives). Sure, the longtime besties haven’t always been great about citing their sources, but every single episode of Crime Junkie is compulsively listenable for the sole reason that it delivers on exactly what all true-crime podcasts offer: It feels very much like you’re sitting at brunch with your friends, swapping details and theories about a case you’d just read about on Wikipedia. —E.D.
16. You Must Remember This: Charles Manson’s Hollywood
There’s perhaps no true-crime story covered more than the Tate-LaBianca murders, orchestrated by Charles Manson — in fact, it was the prosecutor’s own account of the crimes and the trial that helped launch the genre in the 1970s. But perhaps no one has covered the story so well as Karina Longworth in a single season of her history podcast You Must Remember This. Over 12 episodes, which have since been repackaged as the stand-alone You Must Remember Manson, Longworth weaves together the stories of Manson, his followers, their victims, and the people in their greater orbit — including a who’s who of the Laurel Canyon folk-pop scene in the 1960s. After an entire episode examining the myths surrounding the events, she probes the lives of Terry Melcher, Jay Sebring, and Roman Polanski; the most heartbreaking is probably that of Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys drummer apparently so haunted by his involvement that his life unravels completely. Between her diligent reporting, quippy writing, and soothing voice, it’s no wonder Longworth’s venture into hard crime became an instant classic. —Elisabeth Garber-Paul
15. Heaven’s Gate
In March 1997, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department found 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult dead inside a rented mansion. Several were lying on bunk beds beneath purple shrouds, with only their matching black Nikes sticking out. They had ingested phenobarbital and vodka, dying by mass suicide in a bid to catch a ride on a UFO that was supposedly trailing the Hale-Bopp comet as it passed Earth. Host Glynn Washington (Snap Judgment, Spooked) takes listeners back to the founding of the group in the 1970s, and shows how well-intentioned truth-seekers could go so far down the wrong path. He interviews family members of people who died, followers who got out before the end, and experts on the group. Snippets of recorded sermonizing offers a taste of the founders’ personalities and monastic doctrine. And for those who doubt they could get sucked into a group like this, Washington cites his own upbringing in the Worldwide Church of God, where he was raised to prepare for the coming apocalypse. “If [our leader] had given us a potion to meet Jesus, a lot of us … would’ve guzzled it down without a thought,” he says in one episode. “I felt like after a wrong turn or two, it could’ve been me in that San Diego mansion.” —A.M.
14. In the Dark
Combining skillful storytelling, surprising developments, and compassionate, rigorous reporting by veteran journalist and host Madeleine Baran, In the Dark is a near-perfect specimen of the crime-podcast genre. The Peabody award-winning first season, which came out in 2016, centered on the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, whose case led to the establishment of federal sex-offender registries. The season includes one of the most chilling scenes in crime podcasts to date: three young boys biking home by flashlight when a man steps out of the brush and onto the road in front of them. Season Two, from 2018, exposed wrongdoing in the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man tried six times for the same murder charges. The In the Dark team reported the story for a year from Mississippi, and revelations from their work — including that the prosecution in the most recent trial misrepresented evidence and intentionally eliminated Black jurors — contributed to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Flowers’ most recent conviction in 2019. Prosecutors dropped the charges in 2020. —A.M.
13. Dr. Death
As if going to the doctor wasn’t scary enough, this Wondery podcast — the first season of which premiered in 2018 — introduced listeners to a pair of medical professionals who were more than a little unprofessional. Season One centered on Christopher Duntsch, a North Texas neurosurgeon who was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 for performing 32 botched spinal surgeries on patients, two of whom ended up paralyzed and two dead. Season Two, which dropped in 2020, dealt with Farid Fata, a Detroit hematologist-oncologist who was sentenced to 45 years in prison in 2015 for taking part in a health-care-fraud scheme that saw 533 patients receiving unnecessary cancer treatment — and Fata pulling in millions in fraudulent insurance claims. And Season Three … that was all about the dangerously charming Italian surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, whose risky experimental surgeries were just one thread of his web of lies. Like Dirty John before it, Dr. Death set off a new wave of true-crime podcasts — terrifying tales of scammers whose actions could very well lead to fatal results. —Brenna Ehrlich
12. The Dropout
Much ink has been spilled about Elizabeth Holmes, the Stanford-wunderkind-turned-biomedical-CEO/girlboss-turned-disgraced-con-artist whose startup Theranos was revealed to be a sham in an explosive 2015 Wall Street Journal article by John Carreyrou. But few narratives have probed quite so deep into Holmes’s inner life — or the impact her actions had on her unwitting marks — as The Dropout, an eight-part ABC News-produced podcast hosted by Rebecca Jarvis, which inspired the eponymous Hulu series that aired earlier this year. Featuring interviews with former Theranos employees and investors, who describe in stomach-turning detail the chaos Holmes’ lies wrought on their lives, The Dropout offers a true portrait of Holmes as hyper-ambitious striver and shines a light on the lengths she took to hoodwink gullible Silicon Valley investors, as well as the weaknesses inherent in the startup culture that allowed her to accrue such tremendous wealth and success in the first place. —E.D.
11. Man in the Window
This 2019 series opened with a jaw-dropper: Bonnie Colwell in her first interview since being identified as the ex-fiancée of the since-convicted Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo. She describes breaking off the engagement, only to awaken in the middle of the night a short while later to DeAngelo tapping a gun against her window. Pulitzer winner and L.A. Times criminal-justice reporter Paige St. John takes listeners through the chilling chronology of DeAngelo’s rape and murder spree that terrorized California in the Seventies and Eighties. But in this account of the Golden State Killer’s crimes, survivors drive the narrative. From enduring brusquely administered rape kits, to feeling alienated by parents who refused to speak about the attack, to escaping the aftermath of the trauma with drugs, women share how their lives were shaped not just by DeAngelo’s violence, but by societal attitudes towards his victims at the time. —A.M.
10. The Shrink Next Door
The saga behind the Shrink Next Door — namely, the convoluted friendship between Martin Markowitz and his therapist, Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf — lasted more than 20 years. So it’s fitting that it took over a decade for the story to be fully told. Journalist Joe Nocera, then working for The New York Times, first stumbled upon the story in 2010 — when he was invited over to his Hampton neighbor’s house for cocktails — but spun the thread for years, finally releasing the podcast in 2019. In the initial eight-episode run, Nocera unpacks Markowitz’s allegations: that Herschkopf ingratiated himself into Martin’s life to the point where he took it over entirely, making him sever relationships with friends and family, even giving up the master bedroom in his country home. In the years since the podcast was released, it’s taken on a life of its own, too: Last fall, Will Farrell and Paul Rudd starred in an adaptation for Apple TV+; around the same time, Herschkopf had his medical license revoked for his conduct with Markowitz. —E.G.P.
9. In Your Own Backyard
Musician-podcaster Chris Lambert grew up haunted by the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, the decades-old local mystery finally impelling him to immortalize Smart with her own podcast, Your Own Backyard. The show — which is a one-man effort — launched in September 2019, and honed in on Paul Flores, a Cal Poly student and the sole person of interest in Smart’s disappearance. Merging extensive reporting with a sensitive point of view that strives to keep Smart’s humanity central, the show quickly became a top true-crime show across platforms. Partially due to new information uncovered during Lambert’s sleuthing, Flores and his father, Ruben, were arrested in April 2021 — Paul for first-degree murder, and Ruben with accessory after the fact to the crime of murder for allegedly helping Paul conceal Smart’s body. (Both have pleaded not guilty.) New episodes are in the works as Lambert’s following eagerly await updates, and the Flores family heads to trial later this month. —B.E.
8. Last Podcast on the Left
Although conversations on this chat show extend beyond crime and cults to conspiracy theories and demonology, LPOTL deserves its spot on this list as a pioneer of the genre. Comedian Ben Kissel, actor Henry Zebrowski, and researcher Marcus Parks have put out nearly 500 episodes since 2011, including a standout five-part series on Jonestown that is as thorough a primer as any on Jim Jones, his followers, and — after they drank cyanide-laced Flavor Aid — the largest loss of American civilian lives before 9/11. Raunchy bro jokes take up about as much time as debates over the mechanics of UFO landings, but deep research by Parks, Zebrowski, and a team of research assistants guarantees you’ll get an in-depth education on the macabre topic of the week. In recent years, the trio have also made a pointed effort to dismantle the glorification of serial killers, disparaging infamous murderers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy as losers who should have sought help before acting on their worst impulses. —A.M.
7. S Town
Hosted by journalist Brian Reed and produced by the makers of Serial and This American Life, 2017’s S Town started off like your usual true-crime podcast: Clock enthusiast John B. McLemore wrote a letter to Reed asking him to help solve a crime in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama — a.k.a. “Shit Town.” It took a decided turn, though, when Reed discovered that no murder actually occurred, turning his microphone, instead, on McLemore — his life, his troubled friends, the gold he reportedly hid somewhere on his property, and, ultimately, his suicide. McLemore killed himself while the podcast was still in production, drinking potassium cyanide in 2015. The show continued after his death, however, digging into the whys and hows of his suicide. S Town presented an incisive — and profoundly sad and human — look at an eccentric, haunted genius, a 180-degree spin on its original purpose. —B.E.
6. Root of Evil
It’s classic Hollywood’s goriest story, which inspired a Ryan Murphy show, a Scarlet Johansson movie, even a video game. But what if your family had a connection to the Black Dahlia murder? This 2019 podcast — a companion piece to the TNT show I Am the Night — delves into the life of the Hodel clan, whose patriarch, George, was a mysterious physician to the stars, as well as suspect in the gruesome 1947 murder. After the 2017 death of George’s daughter Fauna (author of the memoir on which the TNT show is based), her daughters, Yvette and Rasha, picked up the torch. As they delve into their family history, though, they find more uncomfortable surprises than an L.A. noir. As Yvette puts it early on, “It turns out murder was just one of the Hodel secrets.” —E.G.P.
5. Missing and Murdered
Journalist Connie Walker has spent more than a decade covering the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women, her efforts culminating in a stellar series of podcasts from CBC and Gimlet. Season One, 2016’s Who Killed Alberta Williams?, centered on the 1989 unsolved murder of an indigenous woman in British Columbia, while Season Two, 2018’s Finding Cleo, launched a search for a young girl who was lost in the welfare system in the Seventies. The show — in its latest incarnation, Stolen: The Search for Jermain — moved to Gimlet in 2021, and focused on a young mother who went missing in 2018. An indigenous woman herself, Walker treats these stories not as salacious true-crime fodder, instead highlighting the very real issues that women like her face in these communities. —B.E.
Launched in 2014, the same year as Serial, this University of North Carolina-produced podcast (now on the Vox network) takes a different approach than its more famous counterpart: Instead of following one story, to get to the bottom of it, each 40-minute episode covers a different case, focusing more on the emotional resonance of it for the people involved than the forensic facts. Host Phoebe Judge keeps a wide definition of crime, taking a thoughtful and measured approach to each event — keeping front of mind that crime is a thing that happens to people, not an isolated incident at which to gawk. —E.G.P.
3. My Favorite Murder
If Serial sparked a demand for crime podcasts, My Favorite Murder poured gasoline on the trend when it premiered in 2016. For good or ill, it ushered crime fanaticism directly into the mainstream, making it cool to be obsessed with serial killers and their macabre crimes. With dishy retellings of history’s most notorious killings and plenty of candid chitchat about addiction, therapy, and pets, the series quickly rose to the upper ranks of Apple’s comedy-podcasts chart and pretty much stayed there. It even garnered its own fan army of so-called murderinos. A generation of spinoffs followed, repeating the hosts’ surprise-hit pairing of comedic banter with recaps of brutal slayings, but none as successfully as the original. —A.M.
2. Dirty John
In the wake of the success of Serial, media outlets and podcast producers spent years scrambling to find the next big true-crime thriller — preferably, one that could be adapted into various creative formats, translating into big bucks for everyone involved. Wondery found that with Dirty John, an eight-part adaptation of a nail-biter of a reported investigation by Christopher Goffard (who later hosted the show) that ran in the L.A. Times in 2018. A deep dive into the dark deeds of John Meehan, a con artist posing as a Navy doctor who met businesswoman Debra Newell on a dating site and gaslit her and her friends and family for years, Dirty John, which was later adapted into a Bravo TV series, marked the apex of the true-crime genre, offering the perfect combination of stellar pacing, psychological insight, and a story you just couldn’t manage to look away from with every new sickening turn. —E.D.
When it premiered in 2014, Serial didn’t just introduce a new format of audio storytelling — one chapter of a story each week — it ushered podcasts themselves into the mainstream. When This American Life previewed the first Serial episode on air that October, Ira Glass had to explain to radio listeners that they could find the rest of the WBEZ podcast episodes on a computer or iPad. During that first season, host Sarah Koenig questioned the conviction of Adnan Syed, who was serving a life sentence for the 1999 murder of his high school ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. Koenig read thousands of documents, listened to police interviews and trial testimony, and interviewed witnesses. She discovered the case had been flawed in several ways — another development that feels commonplace today only because so many podcasters have followed in Koenig’s footsteps. Also unique to Serial at the time was that Koenig hadn’t finished her reporting when the show debuted. She took listeners along during her process. Feedback from the audience even shaped the direction of the investigation. Perhaps most memorable were Koenig’s jailhouse phone calls with Syed, a charismatic inmate who maintained his innocence and whom Koenig struggled to dismiss — and to fully trust. The podcast resonated with listeners and became a major cultural moment, demolishing download records and spurring water-cooler conversation. Serial birthed a generation of true-crime listeners. It challenged the way we think about convictions, and shone an early light on how true-crime storytelling can impact victims’ families, as word got out that Lee’s family had been unhappy with the hit series. It was the start of a new genre in crime storytelling and an undeniably enthralling yarn resulting from vigorous reporting. Other creators have been trying to replicate the formula ever since, but few come close. —A.M.
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