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This story was published on Woman.
From single cases to multi-parters, we give our tried and tested listening recommendations.
Confession: I’m an addict and true crime is my vice.
For as long as I remember, I’ve had a fascination for true crime, devouring TV shows, documentaries and now podcasts any chance I get.
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I’m not sure where it started – if I have to think back, it may be somewhere around the late 90s, where some of my fond childhood memories include being gently lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of Peter Thomas as Forensic Files played in the background.
The obvious question of my parents’ child-rearing choices aside, you may be wondering: what is it about true crime that gets me? Is it the aspect of human psychology, the intrigue of the whodunit, the desire for justice served or just morbid curiosity?
I can’t quite pinpoint on one or all of the above, but whatever the case, I can’t get enough and while my passion (obsession?) hasn’t equipped me with any useful life skills except for an extra-strong dose of stranger danger, it does lend me to be able to give my tried and tested podcast recommendations.
So, whether you’re after a deep dive into a specific case, all things true crime, cases from here or abroad, here are some of my all-time favourites and recent listens that I couldn’t get enough of:
New Zealand cases
1. A Moment in Crime
If you want to know what’s really going on in our backyard, this is a must-listen. From the Christchurch terror attacks to the murder of Grace Millane, New Zealand Herald’s senior crime and justice reporter Anna Leask takes you inside some of our nation’s most infamous cases, going behind the scenes of high-profile trials and speaking to individuals involved and affected.
2. Gone Fishing
A podcast series by Stuff and RNZ, award-winning Gone Fishing takes a look at the case of West Auckland woman Gail Maney, who was convicted in 1997 for putting a hit on a man who stole drugs from her. The only problem? Gail says she not only had nothing to do with the disappearance of the man, but she also never met him. This podcast deep dives into the story, exposing problems of the police case and speaking to previously unknown key witnesses and Gail herself.
3. Black Hands
Ahh, the infamous case turned podcast turned TV show that grips and divides the nation to this day. Black Hands tells the story the Bain family murders and explores the case in detail, from the evidence, possible motives to witnesses. Written and narrated by award-winning journalist Martin van Beynen, who attended the entirety of David Bain’s second trial, the podcast takes a hard look at those involved and finally aims to answer the question that’s kept us up at night for years: who really dunnit?
4. True Crime New Zealand
Think New Zealand doesn’t have a large amount of true crime in its history? Think again. From the infamous Parker-Hulme murder that inspired Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures to the Raurimu Rampage, True Crime New Zealand covers some truly obscure and fascinating cases from our country’s history. Its long-format narrative style makes for a compelling listen, drawing you inside the details of each case and keeping you hooked.
5. Chasing Ghosts
This six-part series is a New Zealand Herald investigation into one of our nation’s most baffling and best-known cold cases, the 1992 disappearance of toddler Amber-Lee Cruickshank. It takes an in-depth dive into the case, the circumstances surrounding it and possible suspects. It’s a gripping and extremely well-produced listen, but beware where you listen to it – featuring interviews with Amber-Lee’s mother Nicola as she recounts her memories of her daughter and grapples with the effects of her disappearance to this day, it’s a tear-jerker.
Single case true crime podcasts
6. Your Own Backyard
What happens when a Californian freelance musician, journalist and podcaster decides to dig a little deeper into an infamous local missing person’s case? A gripping true crime podcast that finally ends in a breakthrough and arrests after over two decades. Created and narrated by Chris Lambert, Your Own Backyard delves into the 1996 disappearance of 19-year-old California Polytechnic State University student Kristin Smart. While most crime cases have no obvious suspect, this one does in the form of a fellow student and the last person to be seen with her, a man somewhat tellingly dubbed Scary Paul by classmates. So how did police overlook the mountain of red flags? Why was no action taken back then? What evidence old and new is there? What finally led to the arrest? Who really was Kristin Smart and the ultimate question – where is she? Tune in to unpack this case and join me in having a lot of feelings.
Warning: This case is still ongoing, so get invested at your own peril or prepare to search Google for updates every few days. Or even better, follow Chris Lambert’s Instagram account for live updates at @yourownbackyard.
7. The Teacher’s Pet
If I had to pick a single true crime podcast to recommend out of this list, this would be it. The Teacher’s Pet is an award-winning hit podcast by The Australian’s Hedley Thomas about “a star footballer, his schoolgirl lover and a wife who vanishes.” The podcast tells the story of the 1982 disappearance and probable murder of Sydney wife and mother Lynette Dawson and the tangled web of betrayal, lies, sex and missed opportunities surrounding the case. It’s a gripping, sad, frustrating and infuriating listen and lives in my head rent-free to this day.
Disclaimer: Much like Your Own Backyard, this is another podcast that finally led to an arrest and a pending case, so prepare to add this to that hypothetical Google search list.
8. No Strings Attached
Do you really know your spouse? This podcast may just make you think otherwise and make ‘trust no one’ your life motto. UK’s ITV News’ No Strings Attached explores the story of Emile Cilliers’ and his plot to murder his wife Vicky to start a new life with his lover. Told by those involved in the case, including the police officers who led the investigation, this is a riveting listen of sex, lies, betrayal, control and secrets.
9. Death of A Starlet
When a young and beautiful Canadian girl is catapulted into the world of glitz and glamour of the Playboy empire and Hollywood’s movie scene, what seems to be the start of a fairytale is cut short when she is murdered at just 20 by her estranged husband. Wondery’s Death of a Starlet takes a look at the death of Dorothy Stratten, the person behind the Playboy Playmate persona, the men in her life who helped shape her destiny, her path to fame and ultimately, her tragic demise.
10. Dirty John
Sound familiar? That’s because you’ve likely already spotted this popular podcast turned hit show browsing through your Netflix. Hosted by Christopher Goffard from the L.A. Times, Dirty John tells the true story of successful Californian interior designer and the love story that begins when she meets what seems to be her dream man – until things start to unravel and appear to be not be as they seem. Cue a complex web of love, deception, denial, and ultimately survival – and may I add, the most surprising ending of a podcast I’ve ever listened to.
11. Dr. Death
We’re taught to trust our doctors and turn to them in times of injuries and ill health – but what happens when your doctor is one inflicting the damage? Another hit Wondery podcast (and recently turned TV show starring Joshua Jackson), Dr. Death takes a look at the case of Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon who claimed to be the best in Dallas, Texas, but left behind a trail of damage and ruined lives.
12. Catching Melanie’s Killer
This podcast takes a look at the murder of a 17-year-old schoolgirl Melanie Road in England in 1984, a murder which made shockwaves around the country and which went unsolved for decades – until an arrest was finally made 32 years later. Released by UK’s ITV News, Catching Melanie’s Killer goes behind the scenes of the tireless investigation (which was filled with more dead ends and twists than I could count), featuring interviews from the detectives who put their lives on hold to bring Melanie’s killer to justice, and her family, who to this day struggle with the aftermath of their loss.
Google ‘best true crime podcasts’ and this one comes up on top without fail. And for good reason – upon its release in 2014, this award-winning investigative podcast hooked listeners around the globe and broke podcast records along the way, and to this day is lauded as the true crime podcast that kick-started the genre as we know it. Hosted by Sarah Koenig, this anthology focuses on three different cases over three respective series.
14. Confronting: Columbine
It’s one of the most infamous mass shootings in history, yet few of us know about Columbine beyond the names of the perpetrators and the base facts. Confronting: Columbine aims to change this narrative. Hosted by Columbine survivor Amy Over, the podcast speaks to the students, teachers, reporters and investigators to bring a first-person account of the shooting, delivers testimony of how lives have been affected by the massacre and debunks many of the commonly held myths surrounding it.
15. Root of Evil
Everyone’s heard of the infamous Black Dahlia, her brutal murder and the fact that the culprit has never been found – or have they? Get your conspiracy hat on, because Root of Evil lays out a compelling case for their top suspect. The podcast is created and narrated by sisters Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile, who claim their grandfather, Dr George Hodel, is the one who committed the infamous murder. They lay out their reasons and take a dive into their family’s past – which, to their claim’s credit, is the definition of murky.
16. You Must Remember Manson
Hands down the most detailed and fascinating look into the infamous Manson murders that could rival any documentary. Narrated by Karina Longworth and originally released as part of her popular You Must Remember This podcast, this 12-part series delves deep not only into the murders and Charles Manson himself, but also takes a look at the lives and legacies of the victims, the tangled web of Hollywood stars connected to the case, the rise of the hippie counterculture and the societal impact of the event which later became known as the ‘death of the 60s’. Podcast rating? Chef’s kiss.
17. Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo
From the victim to the circumstances, this isn’t your typical true crime podcast but is a powerful one worth listening to. CBC’s Finding Cleo investigates the case of Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine, a young Cree native girl who was taken from her family by child welfare workers in the 1970s as part of Canada’s “Sixties Scoop” and adopted into a white family in the United States. As a teenager, Cleo attempted to hitchhike her way back home and was murdered on the journey – at least, that’s the only piece of rumoured information about her fate that her biological family heard. The podcast follows Cleo’s family as they attempt to answer the question of what really happened to her, and brings to light a sad and sobering look at the oppression faced by Canada’s indigenous people.
18. Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen
Imagine being an aspiring worker in the Hollywood community and being shoulder-tapped directly by a high-ranking industry player to work on a once-in-a-lifetime job in Jakarta. You use your own money to travel there filled with excitement and the promise of a career changing opportunity – only to find out none of it was real. That’s the exact premise of the bizarre and long-running scam run by a mysterious perpetrator who became known as the Hollywood Con Queen.
Hosted by journalists Josh Dean and Vanessa Grigoariadis, this Campside Media podcast dives deep into the case by speaking to the victims, investigators and impersonated Hollywood elites all in the aim to answer the ultimate question: just who is the Hollywood Con Queen? (Spoiler: They do figure it out in the end and the answer is – for lack of a better word – absolutely bonkers).
19. Up and Vanished
Everyone loves a mystery solved and a guilty culprit brought to light – and Up and Vanished delivers big time. In its premier season, this hit investigative true crime podcast tackled the disappearance of Georgia high school teacher and former pageant queen Tara Grinstead – and helped solve the cold case after 12 years. Its success led to a second season focused on another case and spawned the creation of other podcast by its host and creator, Atlanta filmmaker Payne Lindsey.
Best multi-part true crime podcasts
It wouldn’t be a best of true crime podcasts list without a mention of Casefile. Narrated by an anonymous Australian commentator with a low voice and brooding tone, this hit podcast covers a variety of true crime cases from Australia and abroad, with its in-depth and extremely detailed storytelling format drawing you in and keeping you hooked as each case unravels.
RedHanded is part true crime and part social commentary served with a side of banter on top. Each week, its hosts Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala deep-dive into both obscure and well-known cases from around the world and analyse them through an analytical, critical and humorous lens. Taking out the title of most popular true crime podcast in the UK in 2020 and with a large international following of self-proclaimed ‘Spooky Bitches’, it’s one not to miss.
(As a side note, the podcast has given us plenty of useful catch-phrases, including ‘not in this economy’ and ‘get in the bin’, which are all very applicable to everyday jargon).
22. Crime Junkie
Can’t get enough of all things true crime? Crime Junkie is here for you. This hit podcast by best friends Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat deep-dives into an array of compelling cases from around the world, covering topics from murder, serial killers, conspiracies to missing persons. It’s another one with a cult following of ‘Crime Junkies’ and regularly tops international trending podcasts charts, so you know it’s worth a listen.
What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? Who was the Babushka Lady at JFK’s assassination? And just what was the deal with Rasputin’s death? Another hit podcast by Crime Junkie’s Ashley Flowers, Supernatural is part true crime and part all things mystical, mysterious, alien, unknown and the truly bizarre. Each week, the podcast looks at the facts of each case and tries provide an explanation – although sometimes, there may not really be a plausible one and the mystery lives on to keep you guessing for another day.
24. Serial Killers
What motivates a murderer? It’s the question this podcast aims to answer. Parcast’s Serial Killers takes an in-depth look into the lives and stories of the most notorious serial killers, with a psychological approach into their minds, methods and madness.
25. Crimes of Passion
While most relationships burn or fizzle out, some turn deadly – that’s when Crimes of Passion comes in. The Parcast podcast delves deep into stories, covering them in detail and analysing the psychology of those involved along the way to explain their possible motivations.
26. My Favorite Murder
If you enjoy a whole lot of chatter and banter in between the true crime deep-dive, this one is for you. Narrated by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, My Favorite Murder is a hit true crime comedy podcast with a cult following of ’Murderinos’. From well-known crime stories and criminals to the history of lobotomies and haunted ballerina dolls, there’s a wide array topics to choose from.
27. Morbid: A True Crime Podcast
Morbid is another lighthearted listen for those who prefer to have a dash of banter and humour sprinkled on top of their true crime serving to lighten the mood. Narrated by Alaina Urquhart and Ashleigh “Ash” Kelley, Morbid covers topics ranging from creepy history, all things spooky and – of course – true crime.
From a woman who became a PI to solve the cold case murder of her college roommate to the case of poachers stealing Venus Fly Traps to sell on the black market, Criminal tells the stories of everyday people who were involved in crimes, were accused of them or were caught up in the middle. Largely featuring cases unknown to the public and speaking directly to those involved, this award-winning podcast not only makes for a fascinating listen, but brings to light the everyday crime going on all around us. As a side note, its host Phoebe Judge has the most soothing voice that wouldn’t be out of place on a meditation podcast.
29. Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories
I’ll preface this mention by saying that if voice acted scenarios are not up your alley, you may want to skip right past this one. But for all those not averse, Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories is one to add to your listening list. Narrated by Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie and with an ensemble cast of voice actors bringing each episode to life, this podcast dives into the mystery of both obscure and infamous cold cases and unsolved murders. And with its impressive portfolio of episodes currently standing at 250, you’ll basically never run out of listening material again.
30. Dark History
When I started writing this article, I was debating whether to add YouTube star Bailey Sarian at the end as an honorary mention. And then, as though the universe sensed my dilemma and I manifested my own solution, she announced the launch of her own true crime podcast. Rejoice!
Having become a popular YouTube personality in large part due to her Murder, Mystery and Makeup Monday series, where every week she chats through true crime cases that have been heavy on her ‘noggin’ while creating stunning make-up looks along the way, Dark History is all about “murder, mystery and history” and covers, in Bailey’s own words: “the real history that went on around here and get down to the nitty gritty and gruesome details.” With Bailey’s friendly, engaging and humorous narrative style, Dark History is a must-add to your listening list.