10 Must-Listen True Crime Podcasts
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.