Hands up if you ever been left out of a conversation because people were discussing their favourite true crime podcasts and you just didn’t have a clue?
We’ve all been there.
Of course, among devotees, it will always hold the top spot.
But with its close to the bone subject matter and a proliferation of less-than-adequate wannabe podcasters trying to get in on the action, picking which true crime podcasts to listen to can be a minefield for those unfamiliar with the genre.
With that in mind, the crime and courts team at the Press and Journal have put together a list of essential listens to bring those who have missed out on this podcasting phenomenon up to speed.
Vanished: The Arlene Fraser Murder
How can someone just disappear?
On April 28, 1998, Arlene Fraser waved goodbye to her two children as they left the house for school. She was due to meet a friend for lunch and later in the day visit a divorce lawyer.
But when her friend showed up a few hours later, she found the house unlocked and empty. Arlene was never seen again.
He speaks to Arlene’s friends, family and those who finally brought her killer to justice.
Hunting Mr X
First up is one from us – The Press and Journal’s first true crime podcast. Hunting Mr X reveals the unbelievable story behind the biggest drugs importation in Scottish history – and the man who masterminded it all, Julian Chisholm, aka Mr X.
In this new five-part series we take you inside Julian Chisholm’s criminal enterprise that spanned the globe. The series also hears from those involved in the huge law enforcement operation to bring him to justice and reveals how Chisholm formed links with one of Europe’s most feared gangsters while in jail before mounting a daring prison escape.
Universally recognised as “the podcast that launched a genre”, Serial has been delighting true crime fans since its debut in 2014.
Season one hooked listeners in with its re-examination of the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee and how suspicion and, eventually, conviction fell on her one-time boyfriend Adnan Syed.
This groundbreaking audio deep dive took listeners directly to the questions that Adnan, who has always protested his innocence, and his supporters wanted to address, picking holes in the story that put a young man behind bars.
Now Serial Productions – having joined forces with The New York Times – is back with a new story – The Coldest Case in Laramie.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times, Kim Barker, revisits an unsolved murder that took place while she was in high school in Laramie, Wyoming, nearly 40 years ago.
Crimetown (Season 1)
If you love The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos then Crimetown is THE true crime podcast for you.
Populated by an ensemble cast of mob bosses and made men, the Providence of the mid-20th century was a place where anyone could be crooked – from the parish priest to the mayor – but the people loved them anyway, because they always looked out for their own.
This podcast follows the major players through the terrifying twists and turns of life (and death) in a mob town.
“There was New York, there was Chicago, then there was this little city in the smallest state in the union—the third-largest Cosa Nostra in the country,” Crimetown tells us in the first episode, before laying out Providence’s mob credentials in spectacular style.
Someone Knows Something (Season 1)
This cold case podcast seems to sit somewhere between labour of love and act of penance for investigative journalist David Ridgen.
Ridgen is haunted by all the unsolved cases he has investigated over the course of his journalistic career, and also by this story from his own home town that he grew up alongside. His emotional investment and closeness to the subject matter comes across in the sincerity of the reporting of every episode.
Equal parts devastating and captivating, Someone Knows Something season one looks at a nightmare scenario of a child who disappears on a fishing trip, never to be seen again.
Turning all the stones (figuratively and, eventually, literally) Rigden hopes to uncover new leads, that may bring peace to the family of forever five-year-old Adrien McNaughton and the isolated Canadian community that lost him.
Up and Vanished
Presenter Payne Lyndsay – who is also the voice behind lauded true crime offering Atlanta Monster – guides listeners through the (once) cold case of missing teacher Tara Grinstead.
Filmmaker Lindsay stumbled across the Tara Grinstead case while looking for a mystery to make a documentary about, and instead ended up creating this amazing podcast that takes the case from cold to potentially solved in spectacular fashion.
Whether this detailed examination of Tara’s movements, her life, and the community she lived, worked and ultimately died in, played a role in piling on enough pressure to create a breakthrough in the case, we may never know. But we do know that there was a breakthrough, and justice may now be done.
The Teacher’s Pet
Set in glamourous, sundrenched, early-eighties Australia this podcast exposes the underbelly of a community where sporting heroes go unchecked teachers are left to their own (sometimes dark) devices.
When Lynette Dawson disappears from the family home, leaving her beloved daughters behind, her former pro-football star turned teacher husband barely misses a beat before moving his teen mistress in to take her place.
So what really happened to Lyn Dawson?
Riveting theories abound, but no body was ever found. This, has not, however, prevented prosecutors from their decades-long pursuit of justice on Lyn’s behalf, which looks set to play out in an Australian court imminently.
“If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one,” wrote Susan Cox Powell prophetically, before her disappearance in 2009.
The prime suspect? Her husband Josh, whose many deficiencies as a husband and a father were well documented by Susan before her presumed death.
Managing to avoid arrest, despite some very suspicious circumstances, Josh fights his inlaws for access to the children Susan wanted them to raise in her absence, with tragic and chilling results.
Not for the faint-hearted, Cold is nonetheless a fascinating tale of control, abuse and devastating consequences, which has earned its place in this list for its comprehensive coverage of an extremely challenging case.
Man in the Window
Criminals often earn themselves a nickname, but few continue their careers for so long, over such an expanse of territory, that they can lay claim to more than a handful.
But the Man in the Window was known as many things: the Cordova Cat, the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Creek Killer, the original Night Stalker and, eventually, the Golden State Killer.
From the first person accounts of those who thought they knew him best, to the chilling crime scenes he left in his wake, Man in the Window charts an epic pursuit of a burglar, turned rapist, turned murderer – to a satisfyingly scientific conclusion and a surprising twist explaining how he was able to elude law enforcement for so long.
Down the Hill
When two young teenage girls set out for a hike on a popular trail near their home in Delphi, Indiana they could not have known that they would never make it home.
Their bodies were found the following day, not far from the trail they had planned to follow.
Law enforcement wondered exactly who they had met on that trail, but, from beyond the grave, the girls had an answer.
Tech-savvy Libby German had had the presence of mind to start recording when they encountered a strange man on their hike, and the haunting audio of him ordering the girls “down the hill” was released to the public as part of the investigation.
While not an easy listen, this podcast offers a compelling overview of an as-yet unsolved crime of the worst possible kind.
The Dating Game Killer
When Rodney Alcala appeared on The Dating Game (the US version of Blind Date) his slick answers saw him selected by the woman on the other side of the screen.
But once they had come face to face, that woman refused to go on a date with him, an instinct that may just have saved her life. Because the smooth-talking bachelor was in fact a sociopathic serial killer, he had already killed women, and would go on to kill more.
The Dating Game Killer looks at the monster behind the slick TV persona, his dark history, his twisted mind and how he was finally brought to justice.
Paper Ghosts (Season 1)
M William Phelps grew up in New England with the shadow of missing girls hanging over his childhood.
As memories fade like the myriad of missing posters tacked to telegraph poles around his hometown, the women become nothing but “paper ghosts” to many.
But for those who knew and loved them, the mystery, and pain remains, driving investigative journalist and true crime author Phelps to spend more than decade of his life attempting to solve the half century old mystery before a breakthrough finally appears to offer some answers.
- Enjoyed this introduction to True Crime podcasts and want to hear more? Check out more top picks of True Crime podcasts you may have missed.