For the past few weeks, I have been listening to true-crime podcasts and making recommendations to my newsletter readers.
There are lots of such podcasts out there, and you have to admire the effort, dedication, and skill that it takes to put these together. The reporting on some of them is excellent.
Here are the best ones that I have found so far.
The Vanished. What about people who go missing, usually under suspicious circumstances, and are never found? They simply vanish. If that fascinates you, this is the podcast you will want to listen to regularly. Host Marissa Jones does a fine job of researching, interviewing, and writing this show on a weekly basis. The podcast is partnered with Wondery and has an excellent audio quality. The latest episode involves a young Atlanta-area woman, Jenna Van Gelderen, and has a maddening account of how law enforcement agencies in the area bungled the investigation of her disappearance.
Crimetown. This multi-episode podcast takes a close look at former mayor Buddy Cianci and organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island. Cianci began his political career as a reformer but found that even though he had been elected mayor, real power in Providence lay outside city hall. The podcasts are hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier, and they use a wealth of audio interviews with city officials, lawyers, friends of Buddy, crime bosses, mistresses, show girls, and wise guys to tell a mesmerizing story. And unlike many podcast episodes which last an hour or more, most of these are 30-45 minutes long.
S-town. The makers of This American Life and Serial have done it again. They have created a podcast series that begins in one direction and zigs and zags through a variety of fascinating scenes, situations and characters. You think it’s about murder or small-town corruption, but by episode 3, it’s headed off somewhere else. The story comes from Woodstock, Alabama — just up the road from Tuscaloosa where I used to live — and begins with John B., an unhappy resident there, calling reporter Brian Reed and asking him to investigate the cover-up of a murder that has occurred in Woodstock. Once you have listened to episode 1, you’ll be on the roller coaster and won’t be able to get off.
Casefile, a well written and well delivered podcast from Australia, deals with stories of real crime under the moniker: “Fact is scarier than fiction.” Casefile is this week’s true crime podcast recommendation. Casefile deals with crimes from all over the world, not just Australia, but their native cases are often the most interesting and intriguing. The narration is delivered by Anonymous Host, an unnamed voice whose Australian accent is positively charming. The podcasts are well-researched and tightly written and are a pleasure to listen to. Casefile has a large following around the world and has gathered a number of prestigous awards. After listening to a few episodes, it’s easy to see why. Start with Episode 66: The Black Widow and get hooked.
True Crime All the Time , hosted by Mike Ferguson and Mike Gibson, or “Gibby,” presents some fascinating cases, and the hosts are well informed (though not experts of any sort). Both have engaging personalities, and a big part of the fun is just hearing them play off of each other. Try episode 45, the case of Adolpho Constanzo and Sara Aldrete. It’s typical of Mike and Gibby’s approach. (Be careful; some of this episode is graphic and hard to take.)
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Real Crime Profile is this week’s true crime podcast recommendation. This series features Jim Clemente, a former prosecutor and FBI profiler, Laura Richards, a criminal behavioral analyst and former Scotland Yard officer, and Lisa Zambetti, casting director for the CBS show Criminal Minds. Their discussions of criminal cases are riveting and insightful. Richards is an expert on domestic violence, and she is particularly persuasive in arguing that laws and attitudes should change toward this very series problem.
The link provided above is to a list of some of the recent podcasts. Start anywhere. You will be fascinated. (Real Crime Profile on Facebook.)
Last week we recommended Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and a series he has written and narrates called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”
Dirty John: Christopher Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has written and narrates a series called Dirty John. It’s the story of Debra Newell and John Meehan and is a true crime podcast of the highest order. It will take you a while to get through it, but once you start, you’ll likely be hooked. The reporting is thorough, the interviews are fascinating, and the story is full of twists, turns, and surprises. The ending is well worth the journey. Here’s a link to part 1, “The Real Thing.”
Examination of “true crime” is increasing in popularity on one of the newest media: podcasts. I have been spending a good bit of time lately listening to some of these podcasts. They vary greatly in style, approach, and length. I am going to review some of these over the next few weeks and make some recommendations.
My first recommendation is a series called Sword and Scale. This website and podcast, according to its own description, is about “the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it.” The folks associated with Sword and Scale have spent a lot of time producing interesting and informative podcasts about serious crimes. One episode I listened to was episode 90. Here’s the description:
When Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist Claudia Rowe, author of The Spider and The Fly, decided to write to a serial killer, she wasn’t prepared for how it would change her life. In her quest to understand the nature of cruelty, she ended up discovering much more about herself.
It was an hour well spent.
Uncivil. This week, I stray in my podcast recommendations from the strict true-crime paths and recommend something that would be more easily classified as history. Uncivil takes a look at untold or rarely told stories connected with the American Civil War, and it often looks at them with a point of view different from anything you might have heard before. Here is how Uncivil describes itself:
America is divided, and it always has been. We’re going back to the moment when that split turned into war. This is Uncivil: Gimlet Media’s new history podcast, hosted by journalists Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika. We ransack the official version of the Civil War, and take on the history you grew up with. We bring you untold stories about covert operations, corruption, resistance, mutiny, counterfeiting, antebellum drones, and so much more. And we connect these forgotten struggles to the political battlefield we’re living on right now.
Uncivil (in my defense) occasionally deals with crime. Listen to the fascinating episode about the Yankee counterfeiter who nearly wrecked the Confederate economy. It’s No. 7: Paper on the list on this page.
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Tags: Brian Reed, Buddy Cianci, Casefile, Chenjerai Kumanyika, Christopher, Crimetown, Dirty John, Jack Hitt, Jim Clemente, John Meehan, Laura Richards, Lisa Zambetti, Marc Smerling, Marissa Jones, Real Crime Profile, S-town, Sword and Scale, The Vanished, True Crime All the Time, Uncivil, Zac Stuart-Pontier