Nowadays, it seems that every true crime gets its own dedicated podcast. Five years ago, Serial appeared and inspired countless narrative podcasts. Now, the true-crime genre is expanding, and dozens of shows are trying to become the next My Favorite Murder by blending comedy, crime, chatter and chardonnay.
The most compelling true-crime podcasts tell stories with intelligence, empathy and momentum, making you want to hear more. Here are 10 of the best that you can download or stream today.
Radio journalist Sarah Koenig set a standard — for better (mostly) and worse (sometimes) — by creating an evocative narrative about an unsolved murder that unfolds over multiple episodes. The host herself is a vital character — curious, persistent, open about what she’s thinking. The first season of Serial was followed by two more, the most recent in 2018.
Try this episode: Route Talk, episode 5 of season 1, takes the listener on a road trip and highlights how riveting it can be to accompany journalists as they try solving a mystery first-hand.
In S-Town, a 2017 spin-off of Serial, journalist Brian Reed heads to the tiny town of Woodstock, Alabama — the slightly censored “Shittown” of the title — to meet an eccentric, colorful man who’s been bugging him to write about a local criminal conspiracy. Then things go awry. Any more details would spoil the shocking and moving story, which is told with the great sensitivity that it needs.
Try this episode: Chapter 1. There’s no way to jump into this podcast except to start at the beginning.
In each of more than 100 episodes of Criminal, master interviewer Phoebe Judge dips briefly — and elegantly — into a single tale from the world of crime. This podcast doesn’t come with audio frills or ongoing narratives, and it doesn’t need them. The stories — and Judge’s unique voice — stand alone.
Try this episode: Homewrecker, Episode 109. An anonymous troll on the Internet falsely smears an Alabama realtor online as a “homewrecker.” The stunned victim tries to restore her reputation, find the culprit, and understand why. She succeeds, and listeners will be shaken up.
Ted Kennedy was on the road to the presidency when he drove off a bridge in Chappaquiddick in 1969. How did he end up in a car next to a dying woman, and why did he and his allies work so hard to obscure the truth? This intense and fascinating story is told in Cover-Up through unexpected interviews and intensive, non-sensational reporting in this 2018 podcast.
Try this episode: The Secret Keepers, Episode 4. Hear from the woman whom Kennedy called early in the morning after the crash, and listen as she describes their intimate relationship.
In Cincinnati, newspaper reporter Amber Hunt has investigated murders over two seasons of Accused with an appealing blend of warmth and vulnerability. This podcast is unusual because it dives into the tedious nitty-gritty of reporting in a compelling way. Hunt isn’t a radio veteran, and it shows, making her even more appealing.
Try this episode: Season 1, Episode 1. Start at the beginning as Hunt becomes engrossed in the life and death of a young Ohio woman murdered in 1978. “I think I would have liked her,” Hunt says.
Not every true-crime podcast needs to be about murder. Exhibit A: The Dream, a bold, investigative deep dive from 2018 into the allegedly scammy world of multi-level marketing companies. No, it turns out, it isn’t easy to make a bundle by selling products to your friends and then convincing them to get into the business. Ruined lives are just part of the story.
Try this episode: Lazy, Stupid, Greedy or Dead, Episode 7. Learn from a man who was there about how a federal case 40 years ago failed to snuff out the multi-level marketing movement. Featuring a cameo appearance by the family of the current U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Through decades-old recordings, interviews and extraordinarily creepy sound production, this 2017 podcast explores the Heaven’s Gate cult, which came to its end in a 1997 mass suicide that left 39 people dead in a mansion outside San Diego. Tune in to Heaven’s Gate even if you followed this story when it first occurred since there’s plenty of new information to discover.
Try this episode: The Two, Episode Two. Meet cult leader Marshall Applewhite, his crucially influential partner Bonnie Nettles, and their bizarre vision.
In New Hampshire, four bodies are discovered in two barrels, 15 years apart. No one knows who they are or where they came from. This grisly story is authoritatively and sensitively told by local public radio journalist Jason Moon. Bear Brook has something that’s unusual in investigative true-crime podcasts: A conclusion that (mostly) ends the story. The narrative unfolds in a follow-up podcast that appeared not long after the series initially aired.
Try this episode: Hide and Seek, Episode 1. Start at the beginning, when a barrel gives up its secrets.
A law professor is shot to death in his suburban Tallahassee driveway, and the ensuing Florida saga spits out suspects galore in the first season of 2019’s Over My Dead Body. The twisty story has plenty of emotion and momentum, thanks to recordings of potential culprits and interviews with relatives. The revelation of what authorities think happened is a stunner.
Try this episode: Start at the beginning with The Husband, Season 1, Episode 1.
Through interviews, historic true crimes are brought back to life by authors who recovered them from the past. Host Erik Rivenes, a Minnesota crime buff, steps back to let the authors spin their yarns in this ongoing podcast with dozens of episodes dating back to 2015. The Most Notorious! shows are bare-bones, except for the nifty player-piano-style theme music, but that’s all they need.
Try this episode: The 1881 Murder of James Garfield, with author Candice Millard, about the heart-wrenchingly tragic assassination of the 20th president (who lingered in agony for weeks), and his insane killer.
Multiple composers (and at least one composer’s head) have met unfortunate fates, as this quirky BBC podcast from 2018 reveals. Maybe it’s time to give true crime a classical music soundtrack?
Try this episode: The Mystery of Tchaikovsky’s Death, Episode 5. Learn about Tchaikovsky’s music, his wife, and his secret life.