The best true crime podcasts are hard to listen to. They’re stories of often the most horrific moments of people’s lives, not entertainment. But, the best ones, and the reason we listen at all, are the podcasts with their eyes on justice. The ones forensically searching for answers even after official investigations have long since gone cold. There are also the true crime podcasts giving survivors a voice and those telling stories that we would otherwise have never known.
So whether you want your stories from two LA comedians in My Favourite Murder, or directly from those who experienced them in the truly exceptional Criminal, the best true crime podcasts can deliver tales of survival and endurance in many different ways.
It’s also more important than ever to talk about true crime and the systemic racism that enables so much of it in the world today. Many of the podcasts below are currently addressing the murder of George Floyd and the many other disturbing crimes like it but there is also plenty of further listening available in our Black Lives Matter: Here’s what you can do to help. Listening and learning is essential.
Between Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Mindhunter season 2, it’s clear that Charles Manson is still making a grisly impression more than half a century after his crimes. But who was Charlie Manson, what did he and his Family actually do, and what on earth did The Beatles have to do with anything? Here’s where Karina Longworth steps in. A special eleven part series within her history of Hollywood podcast You Must Remember This, her dive into Manson history is essential true crime listening.
While she of course goes into masterfully researched disturbing detail on the murders, Longworth delivers a full colour snapshot of the time itself. She effortlessly brings to life Hollywood in the late ’60s as the movie industry was desperately giving itself a facelift to remain relevant amidst the newly born Flower Power. Atmospheric and with the occasional sprinkling of excellent voice actors, You Must Remember Manson is a perfect, not to mention terrifying, history lesson.
How dirty is the eponymous John, you might ask? Well, so dirty is the nefarious John Meehan that he has inspired this Los Angeles Times podcast, a documentary series, and a Netflix show starring Eric Bana and Nashville’s Connie Britton. Here is definitely the best place to start though as journalist Christopher Goffard deftly takes us through the whole disturbing story in six bingeable episodes.
After a whirlwind romance of only a couple of months, a 59-year-old Debra Newell marries who she sees as the love of her life. Sure, none of her grown up children trust him, but really, how bad can John be if he’s so helpful and loving all the time? Spoiler: Bad. Really, really bad. Debra and her family spill their souls to Goffard. What’s truly remarkable, though, is not just their honesty, but the truly scary idea that we really don’t know other people the way we think we do.
And, if you can’t get enough of Christopher Goffard’s style of true crime journalism, his Detective Trapp series is an exceptional gaze into the life of an LA homicide investigator. It’s only five episodes long, although the emotional impact makes sure it’s not an easy listen.
18. To Live and Die in LA
From the outside, Los Angeles is so alluring. The palm trees, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the promise of super stardom only being one audition away. It’s this that draws aspiring actress and model Adea Shabani to the city like a moth to the flame, and it’s there that she vanishes from her apartment complex without a trace. In To Live and Die in LA, Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss attempts to find out exactly what happened to Adea, and what he uncovers is truly extraordinary.
While there’s a central mystery at its heart, this podcast feels very different from the others on this list. Strauss’ investigation feels immediate and constantly like he’s flying by the seat of his pants, falling down a rabbit hole of clues and lies. Equally intriguing and utterly heartbreaking, this is essential, raw journalism that will sneak under your skin.
17. Who the Hell is Hamish?
Finished with the Teacher’s Pet? It’s time to say hello to Hamish, a podcast that also comes from The Australian newspaper. Listen to this and Dirty John back to back and chances are you’ll never trust anyone you meet online ever again. Thanks, internet. From the outside, Hamish Watson is a suave businessman and charming individual, with his expensive cars and dashing smile.
However, delve below the perma-tanned surface and this is a man who has swindled more than $7 million from innocent individuals around the world and left broken hearts wherever he went. Journalist Greg Bearup makes a perfect narrator here, giving Hamish’s many victims a platform to tell their story, with the time and space they need. Terrifying on so many levels, if nothing else, Who the Hell is Hamish is a great reason to Google your Tinder match ups. Twice.
16. The Dream
Are multi-level marketing companies – MLMs for short – truly a crime? Can it really be a bad thing to have parties where everyone sells products to each other? Well, it turns out that if your friend who is constantly posting links to their Arbonne products on your Facebook wall sounds like they are in a cult, they kind of are. Emmy award-winning journalist and ex-This American Life producer Jane Marie dives into the seedy world of MLMs in this compelling eleven-part podcast.
While companies like Amway swear that they aren’t a pyramid scheme – “because that would be illegal” – the laws around the structure of MLMs are incredibly vague. Interviewing those involved at every level of MLMs, Jane Marie uncovers the fascinating truth behind these elaborate exercises in psychology, manipulation, and, of course, cold hard cash. X-Files-style, it turns out that the nefariousness here goes all the way to the top.
Even better is the fact that Season 2 is currently underway with Jane Marie investigating the culture of wellness and its associated myriad products in the USA. If you’ve ever had any questions about Goop, dietary supplements, and essential oils ‘changing your life at a cellular level,’ here’s where to find out that it’s, as you might expect, all lies.
The best true crime podcasts bring us into investigations ears-first. They make us feel like we’re truly involved. Few series do this as spectacularly as Cold. Susan Powell disappeared in 2009 and, while her husband Josh was a suspect from the outset, he was never charged or arrested and her body has never been found. Over eighteen hour-long episodes and three comprehensive bonus add-ons, Dave Cawley breaks down the case in granular detail. This is no true crime quick fix. Stories like this one take time.
While we hear interviews with the people who matter, members of the Powell family and the detective who worked on the case, Cawley does his own digging and investigating, revealing details from Susan’s diary, and recordings from within the Powell household. The story itself is deeply upsetting and frustrating as Cawley reveals the desperation of the police at the time as they failed to snare proof of Susan’s husband’s guilt before tragedy struck again. But the case is, as the title says, Cold, and Cawley is still deeply involved, tracking GPS movements from 2009 and attempting to find his way into hard drives. It’s not easy but Cold is essential investigative journalism.
In 2016, Shapearl Well’s son Courtney was found outside a police station in Chicago with a bullet wound. Despite an ambulance being called, he died four minutes before he reached the hospital. The podcast Somebody is the truly disturbing investigation by Wells into what happened to her son. So many true crime podcasts have interviews with those directly connected to the case and, thus are hard enough to listen to, but to be taken through an investigation by Courtney’s own mother is a challenging experience.
In association with Tenderfoot TV, Wells worked with two journalists from Chicago’s The Invisible Institute, a non-profit organisation with the aim of holding public institutions such as the police accountable via investigative reporting. Here in Somebody in her quest to find justice, Wells examines and discusses the clear prejudices when it comes to the murder of a Black man in Chicago. The podcast is an utterly compelling listen with a heart wrenching constant reminder of the reasons that change needs to happen so urgently.
13. The Clearing
There are plenty of sayings about family. You can even buy them etched on wood and scatter them around the house. ‘You don’t have to be mad to live here but it helps…’ or just ‘family is everything.’ April Balascio would probably like to make a giant bonfire of these signs. She had always been afraid that her father was up to no good but at 40, when she pieced together her childhood of endlessly moving home, she called a detective with her suspicions. Edward Wayne Edwards, it turns out, was a serial killer and April had supplied the missing piece for a swathe of cold cases.
The Clearing feels like far more than just solving the unsolved though. April’s honesty about her father and genuine quest for the truth as she and host Josh Dean delve into Edwards’ past, makes this an emotional journey. Supplemented by tapes from Edwards himself, who obsessively documented everything, the podcast is a terrifying glimpse into a depraved psyche. One that was hidden until his daughter finally went looking.
12. Hunting Warhead
The podcasts on this list tend to revolve around traditional police work. Solving murder in physical form. Boots on the ground. Dusting for fingerprints. But what happens when investigations go digital? Hunting Warhead is a riveting six-part series following journalists and police as they scour the dark web for the sources of horrific child abuse images and the criminals associated with them. It’s not an easy subject matter. Daemon Fairless’ investigation means we hear the voices of not only those trying to enact justice across the internet but also the people affected first hand by these crimes.
Hunting Warhead is a essential reminder that the internet that we experience on a daily basis is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital content online. While we do all our shopping and reading about the best true crime podcasts on the clear web, much darker and disturbing content is lingering where anyone who wants it, can find it. This is an eye-opening look at the challenges that modern law enforcement faces in the always-online age of the 21st century.
11. The Shrink Next Door
Your relationship with your therapist is meant to be healthy; the one safe space where you can spill all of your innermost thoughts and feelings and not be judged. You’re paying for it, aren’t you? Well, it’s not ruining anything to say that, given that this Bloomberg podcast is from Wondery, the network behind Doctor Death and Dirty John, of course this titular shrink isn’t the good kind.
Again, the less I say the better, but The Shrink Next Door from journalist Joe Nocera is a fascinating glimpse into what happens when therapy goes so, so wrong that right is basically a dot. It’s not an easy listen and you’ll be afraid to ever go to therapy again but this is even more brilliant podcasting with a story effortlessly stranger than fiction.
10. The Teacher’s Pet
Are spoilers still spoilers if it’s real life? This is surely a 21st century existential dilemma. I’ll err on the fact that they are and merely point you in the direction of the this spectacular multi-part series from The Australian, The Teacher’s Pet. Investigative journalist Hedley Thomas presents this tour-de-force of a documentary series, uncovering the details around the disappearance of Lynette Dawson who went missing – *cough* – from her family home in Australia in 1982.
If you’re already screaming ‘the husband did it’ then you’re not new to true crime, but the stories around Lynette’s famous rugby player husband Chris Dawson are devastating. The interviews and desperation of Lynette’s family and friends for justice after 37 years makes The Teacher’s Pet a raw and occasionally frustrating journey, but consider this your new Making a Murderer-style obsession.
9. My Favorite Murder
If you’ve ever heard anyone wish friends farewell with the vaguely sinister-sounding “stay sexy and don’t get murdered,” don’t panic, you’ve just found yourself next to some Murderinos, the collective name for fans of My Favourite Murder. Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff started off recording their thoughts on their favourite crimes in an LA loft in 2016 and have since spawned a veritable true crime phenomenon. Now the pair have their own podcast network and still get together for two episodes a week to deliver their thoughts on all manner of crimes and reader supplied ‘Hometown’ murders.
With their frank attitude towards mental health and hilarious rapport, the duo perfectly balance the darkness of the subject matter with a healthy dollop of humour. This isn’t where to go to find the forensically precise version of events – there’s a weekly ‘Corrections Corner’ slot – but if you want to feel like you’re listening to your friends chat murder in the pub, this is the best true crime podcast for you. It’s time to sit crooked and talk straight.
One of the most satisfying things about Criminal – other than host Phoebe Judge’s ultra-soothing tones – is its glorious conciseness. We all know life is short and if true crime is to be believed, much shorter for some than others. These 20 to 30-minute self-contained stories then are miniature pieces of sometimes disturbing art to fit perfectly into your commute.
From stories about prized poodles being stolen to the origins of the term Stockholm Syndrome and a story from the police investigator who donned a suit and dived the La Brea Tarpits, every episode is a new journey into the truth being stranger than fiction. True crime podcasts can sometimes feel a little samey but Judge always finds fresh voices to bring new perspective to uniquely human stories. It doesn’t matter if you start at the beginning, end, or somewhere in the middle (you monster), Criminal is constantly a surprise and one that will stay with you longer than most.
7. Real Crime Profile
Ticking the trained professionals box nicely, Wondery’s Real Crime Profile is presented by retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente, ex-New Scotland Yard criminal behavioural analyst Laura Richards, and Criminal Minds casting director Lisa Zambetti. This is an ongoing weekly pod and perfect for fans of true crime TV as the trio delve deeper into the cases made popular by shows such as Making a Murderer, Evil Genius, The Staircase, and Tiger King.
Not content with one episode per show though, the team focus on one element of each case for each episode, making sure that the story centres around the victim, and consistently deliver intelligent, knowledgeable conversation. If you want a gore-soaked gloves-and-mask-on dissection of your new crime obsession, this is essential post Netflix binge listening.
6. Uncover: Escaping NXIVM
If I was describing these podcasts like Friends episodes, this would be ‘The One With the Allison Mack Sex Cult’. Yep, the Smallville actress. Now you’re interested. Uncover: Escaping NXIVM (pronounced Nexiom) is an eight part podcast series that tells the inside story of Sarah Edmondson, an actress who joined the multi-level-marketing scheme and self help organisation only to discover some seriously questionable activities at work. Can anyone else smell Kool-Aid?
The especially interesting element here is that Edmondson is an old school friend of CBC journalist presenter Josh Bloch, making the tale all the more honest and unique. The story of NXIVM is an incredible one as Bloch investigates cult – wait, I mean multi-level-marketing company – leader Keith Raniere, whose power over women appears frankly super villainous.
And Escaping NXIVM is only the beginning, Uncover has moved through a series of fascinating cases. The Village is a devastating investigation into a serial killer preying on men in Toronto’s gay neighbourhood, Sharmini looks into the tragic unsolved murder of a 15 year old, and the current season, Satanic Panic, is a fascinating dive into the headline grabbing story of daycare owners accused of Satan worship and extreme child abuse.
5. The Last Podcast on the Left
If you want to be that person on the bus desperately trying to cram your fist in your mouth to stop yourself from laughing at absolute depravity, then The Last Podcast on the Left is for you. Host Ben Kissel, researcher Marcus Parks, and comedian Henry Zebrowski now have more than 350 episodes under their blood-spattered belts but don’t let that put you off. Wherever your interest in true crime lies, it’s here.
Whether it’s serial killers, cults, or the paranormal, if it’s weird or disturbing, you can guarantee these three can educate you on the matter, and make you feel exceptionally guilty for wanting to laugh about it. It’s important to note that, while Zebrowski’s brand of humour is an infectious strain of madness, Parks’s meticulous research means you’re going to know far more about the horrors at work than your nightmares might like. The multi-part episodes on true crime’s grisly ‘Heavy Hitters’ such as H.H Holmes or Jeffrey Dahmer are unmissable journeys into the evil that men (and women) do.
4. Dr. Death
Not one to listen to before you or any loved ones head into hospital, this multi-part podcast from Wondery looks into the horrific crimes of the titular Dr. Christopher Duntsch. Medical journalist Laura Beil dissects the actions of this neurosurgeon whom patients trusted to rid them of their back pain only to leave them maimed or even worse.
Somehow the depravity here seems even worse than the other crimes on this list. This is butchery lurking in the assumed safety of the operating room. It’s also worth noting that Dr. Death is not for the squeamish. Surgical procedure descriptions come thick and fast, pouring into your ears with squirm-inducing physicality. These are situations we all understand and know, making every word and description a ghastly journey into murderous medical malpractice. And, once you’ve finished that, Laura Beil is a busy human and also presents Bad Batch. This is a disturbing look at the stem cell treatment industry in the USA and what happens when salesmen promise a miracle cure without the support of science.
3. West Cork
The only entry on this list not available on all podcast services. West Cork is an Audible Original offering, making it freely available only if you have a membership through Amazon. If you haven’t already used your free trial though, this 13 part documentary is a brilliant excuse to sign up. Might I recommend I’ll Be Gone in the Dark as your free audiobook at the same time?
Anyway, West Cork is an utterly compelling investigation into the mysterious murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier in Ireland in 1996. What’s astonishing here isn’t just the access to the inhabitants of West Cork and the twists and turns at work, but the many quotables from the man whom many believe to be the murderer. Much like Serial, your inner guilt-ometer will be a swinging metronome as this tangled web unravels. Prepare to lose eight hours in a very short space of time. As bonus Audible Original podcasts, check out Body of Proof, an investigation into the conviction of an Edinburgh man for the murder of Suzanne Pilley, and also 2019’s Murderabilia, a delve into the word of criminal paraphernalia that sells for ludicrous sums online. Serial killer hair anyone?
2. Someone Knows Something
Cold cases are fascinating and it’s easy to see why. These are unfinished stories, jigsaws with only one vital piece still to slot into place. And yet they don’t often make for good watching or listening. We like endings where villains are brought to justice and everyone lives happily ever after. Thus it’s all the more surprising to listen to Someone Knows Something, where CBC’s David Ridgen spends a season at a time investigating a cold case, and realise that the story itself is what matters here.
Ridgen’s gentle narration and interview technique is compelling. Each of the seasons now available is packed with an evocative sense of place, with true heartbreaking insight into those left behind after brutal crimes. The current sixth season investigates the case of Donald Izzett Jr who has been missing for 25 years. His mother suspects he was murdered, a fact seemingly corroborated by a man who claims he saw the body. Listening to Izzett’s mother Debra quest for justice is a difficult listen but the lengths to which the investigation goes is a hopeful reassurance of eventual closure.
We can probably blame – or thank – Serial host Sarah Koenig for this entire list of the best true crime podcasts. If it wasn’t for the astonishing success of the first season of Serial, our thirst for piping devastatingly good documentaries into our heads might not be quite as strong. Koenig breaks down the still in contention case against Adnan Syed, the then-teenager convicted for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. Koenig’s in-depth breakdown of the case, access to Syed himself, and investigations into the evidence and inconsistencies surrounding the investigation make for ludicrously compelling listening.
The 12 episodes that make up season 1 are now true crime podcast royalty for very good reason. Season 2 of Serial departed murder investigations as it followed the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier captured by the Taliban, but has now returned to its roots for season 3 where each episode covers an individual criminal case.