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10 Must-Listen True Crime Podcasts

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True crime has been a compelling feature of television for decades (Forensic Files and Dateline, anyone?), and now, it's hard to remember a time when true crime podcasts weren't all the rage. The trend can largely be traced back to Serial, which debuted in 2014. The podcast examined the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 2000, when he was 18; Syed, who is serving life plus 20 years for the crime, never confessed and proclaims his innocence to this day. Serial was a sensation, becoming the fastest podcast ever to reach 5 million downloads, and reaction to the podcast infused new hope into Syed's defense. (He was recently granted a new trial.)

After Serial's incredible success, it wasn't long before other true crime podcasts were being created and downloaded in droves. These 10 podcasts cover ground both episodic and serial and combine great storytelling with expert theorizing—and they're all addicting.

1. SWORD AND SCALE

Sword and Scale, hosted by Mike Boudet, has been unraveling stories of lesser-known crimes since January 2014. In each episode, Boudet weaves together fact (expert commentary, witness statements) and drama (sound effects, eerie music) to create an extremely compelling way to deliver information—and you’ll get a lot of information, from detailed timelines to mental health diagnoses. One of the most riveting episodes is actually the very first: It follows the case of Bruce Blackman, a young schizophrenic man who murdered his family in Canada.

2. CRIMINAL

Created in 2013, Criminal stands out from a sea of true crime podcasts that seem to focus almost exclusively on murder. Criminal covers every kind of crime imaginable, some sad, some scary, some actually funny. They do so in very digestible doses, too: episodes are about 20 minutes long. The main mission of producers Lauren Spohrer and Eric Mennel and host Phoebe Judge is to find the personal angle in each story. Who did this crime affect; how and why? They’ve interviewed a mother-daughter coroner team and a man who broke up a Venus flytrap crime ring. Every episode is so different from the last, and yet all feel so fully fleshed out with commentary right from the people involved in the crime. For crime with a touch of humor, try their episode on the sought-after bourbon Pappy Van Winkle.

3. SNAPPED

Snapped is nothing new to Oxygen viewers. The TV show is on its 18th season. But just this past August, producers launched a podcast version of the episodes—and it doesn’t feel like anything’s missing not being able to watch the action on TV. Snapped features women who killed or attempted to kill—their life stories, circumstances surrounding their crimes, and the fallout of their actions. What’s unique about Snapped is that it often includes interviews with the women in question. Guided by host Sharon Martin, the suspects or convicted killers, family and friends, witnesses, police officers, and lawyers tell the tale. Start with episode one, in which Carol Kopenkoskey herself remembers the day she shot her husband.

4. ACCUSED

Accused will appeal to those still looking to fill the Serial void, since it is, in fact, a serial. Amber Hunt and Amanda Rossmann are two Cincinnati journalists who spent a year investigating the 1978 murder of Elizabeth Andes in her Oxford, Ohio apartment. Andes’s boyfriend, Bob Young, confessed, then recanted. Two juries—one criminal, one civil—acquitted Young, but police never looked into any other suspects. Hunt spends each episode taking listeners through the facts, Elizabeth and Bob’s relationship, evidence for and against Bob and other suspects, and where Elizabeth’s family stands on the case now. Every episode is brimming with the emotional accounts of Elizabeth’s friends, and Hunt and Rossman’s Serial-like experiment—driving from point A to point B in the police’s proposed timeline for Bob on the night of the murder—will leave you constantly questioning your own conclusions. Of course, you’ll have to start from the beginning with this one.

5. REAL CRIME PROFILE

Real Crime Profile is not only riveting, it’s incredibly satisfying. It features carefully explained theories from two expert hosts: Jim Clemente, former FBI criminal profiler and NYC prosecutor, and Laura Richards, former New Scotland Yard crime analyst. Guided by co-host Lisa Zambetti, Clemente and Richards unpack cases currently under the media spotlight and explain some of the most confusing elements of the crimes and trials. They invite questions from listeners so they can shed light on things like DNA evidence, motives, and prosecution loopholes. Fans of Making a Murderer might be most intrigued by the podcast’s first six episodes, which concentrate on Steven Avery’s arrest, Brendan Dassey’s confession and Jodi Stachowski’s Nancy Grace interview.

6. CASEFILE

“Fact is scarier than fiction.” That’s Casefile’s tagline, and from the ominous sound effects to the anonymous host's voice, this Australian podcast really lives up to it. Casefile covers crimes from all over the world, and whether it’s a mystery from the 1940s or a string of murders from the 1990s, every subject has the common thread of eeriness. The darkness of the stories is tempered by the redeeming accounts of rescuers, survivors, and witnesses. Casefile doesn’t rely on interviews, but is clearly impeccably researched—carefully told even when the mood does feel like a Halloween-appropriate ghost tale. For one such example of this balance, check out episode 31, about a killer couple that abducted girls from Perth in the 1980s.

7. GENERATION WHY

Generation Why is the podcast for you if you’re fascinated by the circumstances surrounding true crimes but not so into the gory details. Hosts Aaron and Justin don’t dwell on the dark or disturbing elements of murders and abductions, and never go for the scare or gross-out with their stories. While the mood is conversational (they’re real-life friends, after all), Generation Why takes a somewhat intellectual approach. Aaron and Justin spotlight both well-known and relatively unknown cases, and they play down the drama, choosing to concentrate on things like evidence supporting a wrongful conviction or events in a murderer’s life that might have caused him or her to break. Episode 196 features an unsettling case you might not know about: the Baton Rouge serial killer.

8. TRUE CRIME GARAGE

Nic and Captain, hosts of True Crime Garage, discuss cases over brews. (They pair every episode with a craft beer.) Their back-and-forth effortlessly guides what might otherwise be complicated tales of mysteries, trials, and controversies so you get all the facts in a very absorbable way, with a sprinkling to humor (which provides a sometimes necessary mood-lightener). Nic and Captain cover all bases, discussing legendary serial killers, oft-debated missing persons cases, and theories like whether Kurt Cobain’s death was indeed a suicide. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Ed Gein, sit back for the roller coaster that is Nic and Captain’s intricate retelling, episode 49.

9. TRUTH & JUSTICE WITH BOB RUFF

Michigan firefighter Bob Ruff was a Serial fan who started Truth & Justice to dissect theories about Syed's case. Researching that case led him to the vast number of other either wrongful or in-question convictions there are out there, inspiring him to retire early and commit to looking into these cases. His podcast, therefore, is more than just that—Ruff actively investigates the cases each season concentrates on. His second season focuses on Kenny Snow, serving a 40-year sentence in Tyler, Texas, for an aggravated robbery he may not have committed. Ruff is in constant contact with the sheriff’s department, as well as the town, obtaining and poring over any documents he can get his hands on, and he’s also traveled back and forth to Tyler. His podcast is a behind-the-scenes look at the work he’s doing with hypotheses about Snow’s possible innocence. Start from the beginning of the Snow story with episode 201.

10. THINKING SIDEWAYS

Thinking Sideways occupies a middle ground between true crime and mystery. Hosted by Joe, Steve, and Devin, the podcast takes the familiar but reliably appealing approach of a few friends talking crazy cases—and their light banter is a welcome breather from some of the heaviest moments. Thinking Sideways fixes its attention on the open questions in history and crime. They discuss the “Paul [McCartney] is dead” conspiracy and the disappearance of Amelia Earhart along with the 1907 theft of the Irish crown jewels, Jack the Ripper, the Monster with 21 Faces crime organization, and the Mad Axeman of New Orleans. There’s definitely a history lesson vibe among this eclectic range of episodes, but one that’s always exciting and never dry. For a lesser known case with lots of surprisingly well-known tie-ins, listen to their episode on the Wonderland murders.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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German Police Tried to Fine Someone $1000 for Farting at Them
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In Berlin, passing gas can cost you. Quite a lot, actually, in the case of a man accused of disrespecting police officers by releasing a pair of noxious farts while being detained by the police. As CityLab reports, Berlin’s police force has recently been rocked by a scandal hinging on the two farts of one man who was asked to show his ID to police officers while partying on an evening in February 2016.

The man in question was accused of disrespecting the officers involved by aiming his flatulence at a policewoman, and was eventually slapped with a fine of 900 euros ($1066) in what local media called the "Irrer-Pups Prozess," or "Crazy Toot Trial." The errant farter was compelled to show up for court in September after refusing to pay the fine. A judge dismissed the case in less than 10 minutes.

But the smelly situation sparked a political scandal over the police resources wasted over the non-crime. It involved 18 months, 23 public officials, and 17 hours of official time—on the taxpayers’ dime. Officials estimate that those two minor toots cost taxpayers more than $100, which is chump change in terms of city budgets, but could have been used to deal with more pressing criminal issues.

[h/t CityLab]

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