Way back in 2014, when I was two months postpartum, I was looking for a way to keep my brain entertained while staying home with my baby. There were endless hours of breastfeeding and laundry and cooking, and I needed an escape that didn’t involve turning on the TV. Reading wasn’t the best option either because it made me sleepy, or it was just too hard to hold a book while also holding a baby. Enter: podcasts. I had never listened to a podcast before, but when I heard about this new podcast coming out called Serial, I knew I had to give it a try.
Serial is true crime investigative journalism, reported in story format by Sarah Koenig (who is, in my opinion, the Queen of Podcasting). It follows Adnan Syed, who has been in prison since 1999, and who was accused and later convicted of the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. The catch is, Adnan still to this day claims he is innocent. Let me tell y’all, I was riveted. Serial stirred up in me a love for true crime that I just cannot shake.
Now listen, I am a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat. My mind flies to worst-case scenarios like a moth to a flame. I see the impending doom, but I just can’t stop myself. I constantly run through exit strategies and assume hyper-vigilance everywhere I go. I once ruined an entire massage because I couldn’t stop thinking about which clothes I would grab and put on first if the building suddenly caught on fire. So, if you’re like me, I recommend you enter the true crime universe with caution! Part of my podcast vetting process is researching the topic and making sure it won’t be too triggering for me. I also am not afraid to stop in the middle and move on if it becomes too much.
Here are five true crime podcasts I’ve loved lately. There are so many out there, but admittedly, I’m most drawn to podcasts that work in a series format. I’m starting with the tamest and working my way up to the scarier podcasts, so keep that in mind if you start listening!
Okay, so if you’re a little wary of true crime, Dr. Death is a very safe place to start. Season one is all about Christopher Duntsch, a former neurosurgeon who committed gross malpractice while operating on patients in the Dallas, Texas, area. I don’t want to spoil anything, but dang this story blew my mind. It also really opened my eyes to more of the brokenness of the American healthcare system and the problems patients can face while putting all their trust in doctors if their motives are not pure. Seasons two and three continue to explore more bad doctors and the effects their actions have on not only the patients, but their families as well.
I love this excerpt from the podcast’s description: “Catlick is the lost story of how spies, villains, and midnight vigilantes nearly destroyed the South’s grandest city. Catlick is part true crime, part historical narrative, and part memoir.” It truly is such masterful storytelling. The narrative twists and turns and goes off on rabbit trails that somehow find their way back. It also sparked in me a curiosity about Atlanta and definitely made me add it to my list of cities I want to visit!
Up and Vanished
Hosted by Payne Lindsey, Up and Vanished has had a three-season run, investigating three different disappearances. What I find so captivating about this podcast is the of-the-moment nature of the reporting. With each of these disappearances, investigations are happening in real-time and Payne is interacting with the major players in an effort to find out what truly happened. This isn’t just creative story retelling, and that becomes very clear as each season develops. Season three is especially interesting to me because it covers the disappearance of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, “an indigenous woman who went missing from the Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation in North West Montana in 2017.” I have learned that indigenous people go missing all the time and rarely is there any justice for them. This is a really important look at a specific case but also eye-opening to a problem that rarely gets much media attention.
Darkness is a podcast by The Drag Audio Production House right up the road in Austin, Texas. This production house is made up of students at the University of Texas and covers true crime events in Austin. Season one, “The Orange Tree,” covers the disappearance and tragic death of Jennifer Cave, a 21-year-old woman who was a student at Texas State University. She left school to move to Austin and begin working, all while trying to find her path. This story is gruesome and chilling, so please proceed with caution.
Everyone loves a good serial killer, right? (Wrong.) I couldn’t make a post about true crime podcasts without including a serial killer, though! Here’s the description of Bear Brook: “Two barrels, four bodies, and an enigmatic killer. The cold case that changed the way murders will be investigated forever.” This podcast truly lives up to the description of binge-worthy. I think my husband and I listened to this on a long road trip and we were both completely enthralled from beginning to end. It is such an interesting look at how advances in the field of forensic science can truly make or break an investigation.
Though these are very heavy topics, the journalists do such an amazing job of humanizing the victims and their families. This isn’t just entertainment or creative storytelling. These podcasts seek to teach us about the underlying systems that govern these types of investigations. While listening, I learned so much about the role of witnesses, police, investigators, and our criminal justice system. I hope you learn something too!