Beyond ‘Serial’: 10 True Crime Podcasts You Need to Follow
Sure, podcasts existed before Serial. But who cared? When Sarah Koening spun off from the OG podcast-chart-dominator This American Life, even podcast die-hards didn't know what they were in for. But Serial quickly changed the way we listened – and the way we felt about Thursday mornings – keeping us hooked every week, as we hoped for another clue into the saga of Adnan Syed. Was he innocent or wasn't he? Had Jay been lying the whole time? And most importantly, what's this thing called a "phone booth?" Syed's popularity on the podcast circuit eventually got him enough attention to have his conviction vacated, meaning he could soon get a new trial. But that wasn't the only thing Serial accomplished: in the year and a half since it first premiered, podcasts – and the true crime genre – have experienced a grand resurgence. Here, 10 of the best podcasts available on the internet for when you've re-listened to Serial and you still can't get your fix.
Launched in April 2015, just four months after Serial ended its first season, Undisclosed reexamined the case of Adnan Syed in even more depth than its predecessor. The three lawyers hosting the show – Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller – were able to uncover evidence that led to a post-conviction hearing for Syed. (He recently won this hearing, which means his conviction is vacated and he potentially could have a new trial.) For their second season, which launched this month, the team brought in vocal Syed supporter (and Emmy Award winner) Jon Cryer but changed the focus completely. Instead of Syed, they're looking at another 15-year-old murder case: the 2000 death of Isaac Dawson, pinned on Joey Dawkins, who shared an ex-girlfriend with Dawson. But the case, brought to Undisclosed by the Georgia Innocence Project, has the team thinking that they could possibly overturn another conviction. New episodes are released Mondays, while "Addendums" – explainers on legal questions brought up in the show, hosted by Cryer – are released Thursdays.
‘Sword and Scale’
When host Mike Boudet launched Sword and Scale in December 2013, he'd tried his hand at a few different podcasts, but nothing had felt quite right. He'd been enthralled by the criminal justice system since he was young – both through following shows like Law and Order and real-life episodes like the O.J. Simpson trial – so he decided to try true crime reporting. The result is one of the most singular, visceral podcasts around. Using original audio, like 911 tapes and news clips, along with creepy atmospheric music, Boudet tells the stories of disappearances, murders, and conspiracies – everything from the legends of 19th century serial killers to the very real story of Christy Sheats, the Texas mother who brutally shot her two daughters in front of their home earlier this summer. It's one of the more polished podcasts on the list, which is especially impressive since Boudet and his small group of contributors make the episodes during their free time.
‘My Favorite Murder’
Hosts Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff will be the first to tell you that My Favorite Murder is filed under the "comedy" section for a reason. They don't care too much about facts, but they do tell a great story. These are just two L.A.-based comedians with anxiety issues and a love for true crime who wanted to record their off-color banter and see what happened. They ended up with a hit podcast – number one on the Comedy charts six months after its release – and a growing legion of very dedicated fans. Kilgariff, a veteran of cult HBO hit Mr. Show, and Hardstark, one half of the Cooking Channel's BFF road trip show Tripping out with Alie & Georgia, get together weekly to talk murder. Each comes prepared with a story of a murder to share with the other, but they fill the rest of the hour-plus episodes with listener contributions of hometown murders, hilarious commentary, and on-point true crime recommendations.
Criminal proudly brings the gray area into true-crime reporting, while keeping focused enough to tell a full story in less than a half hour. Billing itself as "stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged or gotten caught somewhere in the middle," the podcast – part of Public Radio Exchange's Radiotopia – was cooked up by North Carolina Public Radio producers Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer. Over lunch one day, they decided if they started a podcast about crime, they would never run out of stories. Since launching in early 2014, they've put out almost 50 episodes where they look into the stories around a crime. Using expert original reporting – interviews with perpetrators, victims and onlookers – Criminal delves into what it means to make bad decisions – and why we all do it.
For those who thought the best part of Serial was hearing a person describe the pains of being unjustly imprisoned for years, Actual Innocence is the podcast for you. Started last April by social worker Brooke Gittings, Actual Innocence was borne out of an innocence of Gittings' own: It wasn't until she listened to the seminal NPR podcast and watched Netflix's hit Making a Murderer that she realized false imprisonment was such a big problem. "I didn't realize that people actually got wrongfully convicted," Gittings explains. "So I decided to make the show. I don't think that the problem can be changed if people aren't aware that it exists." In the harrowing podcasts, which last about 50 minutes, Gittings interviews a person who have seen the worst parts of the criminal justice system and lived to tell their tales.
Most Notorious! could quite possibly be just an excuse for host Erik Rivenes to interview his favorite writers – but even if that were the impetus, the result is excellent. Each week Rivenes, a historical detective novelist, posts lengthy interviews he's conducted with people who literally wrote the book on a murder or other gruesome event – from Joseph Conforti on Lizzie Borden's 1892 parricide, to Michael Fedo on the 1920 lynching of three young African American men in Duluth, Minnesota. Rivenes, who was a professional 19th-century reenactor and led Saint Paul Gangster Tours before settling into a career as a teacher and writer, also has produced audio tours of Minneapolis. Though the production quality isn't particularly spectacular, the podcast is impressive because of Rivenes' insatiable curiosity and pointed questions, which make even the most seasoned experts reconsider the stories they know so well.
As Casefile points out in their tagline, fact is scarier than fiction. But what the podcast might really prove is that fact is even scarier when told in a thick Australian accent – especially when accompanied by ambient, pulsing noise from a trio of professional sound designers and musicians. In each weekly episode, which can run anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half, the narrator, known only as "Brad," calmly tells a story of a devastating Australian crime. The podcast expertly covers murder and abduction, sometimes walking the listener through the criminal's trial, and other times discussing potential theories for a crime whose perpetrator was never caught.
‘Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories’
One of the newest podcasts on this list, Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories was launched just last June – but offers one of the most complete, well-realized products on the podcast market. Hosted by actor Carter Roy and voice artist and coach Wenndy Mackenzie, Unsolved Murders is more radio drama than straight storytelling, using an impressive set of voice actors and sound effects to illustrate each tale. They started their first season with a three-part look into the Axeman of New Orleans, an early 20th-century jazz-loving serial killer who terrorized the big easy for 18 months, before turning their attention to the first Hollywood murder during the silent era, and a real-life, mid-century madman who terrorized a Texas town and inspired the classic urban legend of the hook man. The only problem with this podcast is that it releases new episodes every other Tuesday – which is not nearly often enough.
‘True Crime Garage’
Nic and the Captain host the weekly True Crime Garage, a kind of male answer to the absurdly popular My Favorite Murder – two friends with a deep love of true crime who also enjoy cracking each other up. Each episode starts with a spooky retelling of a particular crime – like the Slender Man stabbings in 2012; the Son of Sam murders in 1970s; or the 1990s West Memphis Three who were incarcerated for a brutal crime they didn't commit – before cracking a beer and kicking back to discuss for over an hour. You can hear the hosts loosen up as they imbibe, going through the details of a crime and offering their own insights – as off-base as they might be after a few drinks.
‘Crime Writers On…’
Perhaps the most meta show on the list, Crime Writers On… is a podcast about a podcast that often discusses and promotes other podcasts. Started in December 2014, Crime Writers was a place for, well, crime writers to discuss their latest obsession: Serial. (This was somewhat impromptu; they missed the first nine episodes and started making the podcast after Serial's 10th installment.) In the year-and-a-half since Serial wrapped its first season, Crime Writers has expanded to a place for the four hosts – married couple Rebecca Lavoie and Kevin Flynn; Lara Bricker and Toby Ball, all crime writers in some capacity – to discuss Adnan Syed, journalism, true crime and pop culture in all capacities, offering theories like Sarah Koenig cribbed her narration style from Angela in My So-Called Life.