True crime is a genre that has captured the imagination of audiences for decades, from pulp paperback analyses of crimes that shook nations, to a slew of reality TV series that opened up the world of criminal investigation to the masses.
And now? Well, now we have true crime podcasts, metaphorical mountains of them.
From standalone episodes telling the stories of crimes solved and unsolved to limited series that take a closer look at a single case, the listening public, it seems, simply can’t get enough.
As true crime podcasts continue to go from strength to strength, the Press and Journal crime and courts team take a look at some of the most engaging and intriguing offerings we came across in 2021.
The best true crime podcasts of 2021
This 10-episode series takes a close look at the 2008 murder of Arpana Jinaga, a gifted and fearless Indian immigrant found dead in her Washington state apartment after a Halloween party, and at the subsequent investigation, arrest and trials.
This podcast will make you question everything you thought you knew about DNA evidence and will confirm much of what you suspected about the impact of confirmation bias and prejudice on such cases.
2021 saw the arrival of season two of LISK – a serialised podcast investigating the Long Island Serial Killer and the mystery of the Gilgo Beach bodies.
If you’ve not listened to season one then this is the perfect opportunity to go back and familiarise yourself with a multiple murder case that has caught the imagination of true crime followers across the globe before diving into seven new episodes and a raft of bonus content.
While the killings have featured on a number of podcasts, TV documentaries and even a dedicated feature film, the depth of this podcast, its focus on the humanity of the victims and the impact of their loss makes it a standout shout for best coverage of this ongoing case.
The Apology Line
No apologies here for the inclusion of this amazing piece of podcast production from Wondery that may stretch the definition of the genre just a little, but whose twists and turns will lead the audience through a fascinating investigation to an unexpected conclusion.
The Apology Line explores what happened when one man provided an outlet for people to confess and atone for their sins, real or imagined.
Not since Serial bought us S-Town has a podcast followed such an unpredictable yet intriguing course to a touching and thought-provoking conclusion.
Up and Vanished
If you enjoyed Payne Lindsay’s exploration of the disappearance of Tara Grinstead, but thought it was a standalone investigation, you might be surprised to learn there have since been two further podcasts under the Up and Vanished banner.
The latest offering in 2021 is an investigation of the disappearance of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner, an indigenous American woman who disappeared from the Blackfeet Nation Indian Reservation in 2017.
As well as being an in-depth look at one woman’s sad story, this podcast is a vehicle in which Payne passionately highlights the issue of how crimes against women in indigenous communities are approached.
This breakaway podcast in 2021 takes a look at an intriguing tale of arson, arsonists and the hunger for flame and fame.
As a series of fires is set on the US West Coast in the 80s and 90s a manuscript lands on the desks of publishers purporting to be a work of fiction, but with details that closely mirror those of real crimes – so is it a dramatisation of current events or the confession of the firebug?
If you want to really enjoy this podcast and all of its amazingly crafted twists and turns (which come courtesy of podcast production veterans who brought you such sublime offerings as Crimetown and The Ballad of Billy Balls) then resist the urge to Google as you go.
As Ghislaine Maxwell is convicted on five charges of facilitating the abuse of girls in the US, this podcast investigating the backstory of the woman labelled ‘Epstein’s madam’ comes even further into its own.
Originally released at the tail end of 2020, the podcast has been updated with trial coverage this year.
This investigative piece caught the ear of the P&J crime and courts team not only for presenter John Sweeney’s accurate assertion that “If someone tells you journalism is glamourous, they’re lying,” but also because of the depth of background it provides on Maxwell.
From her early years as the youngest daughter of a grieving and likely damaged meglomaniacical father, to her seeming, but short-lived, salvation at Epstein’s side after her father’s spectacular fall (metaphorical and, fatally, literal) Sweeney’s initially imagined physical hunt for Ghislaine turns into an intriguing and unmissable exploration of the woman behind the crimes.
Skinwalker – Kevin McLeod
This standalone Skinwalker episode hits close to home with a look at the death of Kevin McLeod in Wick almost a quarter of a century ago.
Amazingly atmospheric, this investigation recalls the sense of loss in the small community following the sudden death of the young man, and juxtaposes it with a feeling of closing ranks that the host seems to suggest has potentially offered a killer – or killers – protection.
A tale that bears telling and retelling, until a satisfactory conclusion is reached.
Who Killed CJ Davis?
Originally broadcast in 2020 this podcast was rereleased in 2021, the year it took the British Podcast Awards Gold Medal for True Crime, and updated with an emotional additional episode that listeners are unlikely to finish dry-eyed.
Telling the story of London schoolboy CJ Davis who finds himself caught up in county lines drug dealing, before being shot dead at the age of 14, this podcast is painfully poignant and fraught with missed opportunities for intervention.
In the year CJ would have turned 18, his murder, at the hands of person or persons unknown, remains unsolved but the investigation turns the spotlight squarely back towards those suspected.
The Next Call
When David Ridgen, the man behind the acclaimed historic murder podcast Someone Knows Something, found himself in Covid lockdown in 2020 he decided that the restrictions on meetings and movement would not prevent him from following his cold case calling.
And calling is what he does. Taking his investigations onto the telephone, this new offering tracks cold cases over the phone, with listeners lugging in as each call leads to the next lead.
Bonaparte is a classic cold case retelling inspired by host Jason Stavers’ former lawyer colleague Anne Champion and her quest for truth in the 25-year-old case of the death of her childhood friend Laura van Whye.
Evocative and emotive, this podcast poses questions that demand answers as well as questioning the positions of those closest to the case over the last quarter of a century.