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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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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Peter Elliott
Authorities Have Cracked a Bizarre Cold Case That Could Have Ties to the Zodiac Killer
Peter Elliott
Peter Elliott

One of the strangest cold cases in Ohio, if not the United States, has now been solved—but pieces of the puzzle remain.

In 2002, a man known as Joseph Newton Chandler III fatally shot himself in the bathroom of his tiny apartment in Eastlake, Ohio. His body wasn't found for a week, by which point it was badly decomposed, and police were unable to obtain fingerprints. He hadn't left a note, and police found more than $80,000 in his bank account. A private investigator, hired by a probate judge to find surviving family members, soon discovered that the man known as Chandler wasn't Chandler at all—he'd stolen the identity of an 8-year-old boy from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who died in a car crash in Texas in 1945.

Since then, rumors have been building. Police felt the man was most likely a fugitive on the run—who else leaves $80,000 in a bank account and hides behind a stolen identity? Some said he might have been a Nazi war criminal. Others thought that he could be the Zodiac Killer, based on his likeness to a police sketch of the infamous murderer who left a trail of terror through Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. (And, in fact, Chandler was in California at the time of the crimes.) But after the initial round of research following the suicide, the case went cold.

Today, U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott announced that his office and a team of forensic genealogists had cracked the case. Yet they've only solved the first part of the mystery‚ and are appealing to the public for help connecting the rest of the dots.

Their research shows that the man known as Chandler was actually Robert Ivan Nichols of New Albany, Indiana. A Purple Heart Navy veteran who served in World War II, Nichols had disappeared from his family in 1965. He had left his wife and sons the year prior, telling her, "In due time, you'll know why," according to Elliott. In March 1965, he wrote to his parents, saying he was "well and happy" and asking them not to worry about him. The same month, he mailed an envelope to his son Phillip, which contained only a penny. There was no note. It was the last his family would ever hear of him.

According to family lore, the war had taken a heavy toll on Nichols, and he burned his uniforms in the backyard after returning from service. He had no criminal history. Associates who worked with him as "Chandler" described him as a loner, someone who refused to let others get close. Co-workers said he would frequently disappear for days, and even weeks, at a time. He kept a bag packed and ready in his apartment at all times.

After disappearing from his family, he traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, and then to the San Francisco and Richmond, California areas. He assumed the Chandler identity in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1978, when he applied for a Social Security card using personal information (including the birthdate) of the boy who died in 1945. At the time, such frauds were easier to pull off, since Social Security cards were rarely given to children, and so the real Joseph Newton Chandler III had never been given a Social Security number.

Robert Ivan Nichols circa 1992
Robert Ivan Nichols circa 1992
Peter Elliott

The break in the case came only after painstaking detective work that involved both sophisticated DNA techniques and pounding the pavement. When Elliott took on the case in 2014 at the request of the Eastlake police, he discovered Chandler had had colon cancer surgery in 2000. He sent tissue samples taken at that time to the local medical examiner, who obtained a DNA profile. Unfortunately, there were no matches between the profile and various national criminal databases.

Stumped, in 2016 Elliott turned to forensic genealogists Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick and Dr. Margaret Press of California-based IdentiFinders and the DNA Doe Project, a non-profit humanitarian initiative created to help identify Jane and John Does and return them to their families. (Fitzpatrick also helped crack the case of identity thief Lori Erica Ruff in 2016.) Despite a badly degraded sample, they used Y chromosome genealogy to trace a family line that indicated the dead man's last name was likely Nichols or some variation. In March 2018, authorities tracked down a Phillip Nichols in Ohio, who provided a DNA sample. The sample matched with that of the dead man, indicating the pair were father and son. Phillip said at a news conference today that he instantly recognized photos of "Chandler" as his father.

Although the cold case has been solved, mystery remains. Why did Nichols abandon his family? Why did he end his life? What accounts for the rest of his odd behavior? Although it's clear he wasn't a Nazi war criminal, there's still a chance—however slight—that he could be connected to crimes in California, given his residence at the time of the Zodiac Killer's activities. "There has to be a reason he assumed the name of a deceased 8-year-old boy and went into hiding for so many years," Elliott says. When asked about the potential Zodiac Killer connection, Elliott responded, "I can't say for sure that he is, and I cannot say for sure that he's not [the killer]. We have been working with San Francisco, [and the] Department of Justice, but that's a question for them, that's their investigation."

Elliott says he is appealing for the public's help in tracing the rest of Nichols's life and mystery. Tips can be sent to the U.S. Marshals at 216-522-4482.

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