As we found out yesterday, it turns out that true crime podcasts can do a lot more than just provide a couple of hours of eerie entertainment. In fact, as Adnan Syed discovered, a true crime podcast could even potentially get you out of jail.
Syed was 19 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the death of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, whose body was found buried in the woods in 1999. Last week, prosecutors had asked the court to throw out his conviction saying a year-long case review had turned up two “alternative suspects”. Now at age 41, after spending over 20 years in prison, Syed will be released into home detention. Baltimore Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn said she was vacating his conviction “in the interest of fairness and justice”, adding the state had failed to share evidence that could have helped his defence at trial.
It was the 2014 podcast Serial that brought worldwide attention to the case and cast doubt on the reliability of Syed’s guilt. The podcast became a pop culture sensation and featured an in-depth 12-episode-long examination of the case against Syed, including the controversies around his lawyer, who agreed to be disbarred following complaints of wrongdoing in 2001.
Following the news, HUNGER is taking the opportunity to run you through the best true crime podcasts the internet has to offer.
My Favourite Murder
Following the success of Serial, true crime podcasts were coming out of the woodwork in a seemingly endless fashion. However, it was My Favourite Murder that helped push the genre even further into the mainstream with a podcast that doesn’t take itself too seriously. After debuting in 2016, the podcast made a name for itself for its riveting retellings of history’s most famous killings with a comedic spin from Comedians/hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstarl.
Welcome to your fantasy
Historian Natalia Petrzela’s Welcome to Your Fantasy takes an eight-episode dive into the largely unknown story “behind the powerful mullets, oiled pecs, and non-stop parties” of the Chippendales dancers. Male stripping isn’t the usual subject of a true-crime podcast but this show brilliantly tracks how mastermind Steve Banerjee built up the dancers into a phenomenon and how overindulgence in drugs, greed and murder burnt down his legacy.
Last Podcast on the Left
While the podcast may sometimes veer from true crime into slightly more supernatural focuses (there’s an episode about a criminal werewolf), Last Podcast on the Left has cemented itself as a pioneer of the genre. The show’s hosts, comedian Ben Kissel, actor Henry Zebrowski, and researcher Marcus Pikes, have released nearly 500 episodes since 2001 including a stellar five-part breakdown of Jonestown. If you’re looking for something that stands a little bit on the sillier side with some well-timed comedic punches, LPOTL might be for you.
As you’ve probably guessed by the name, Crime Junkie hosts Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat are committed to giving you your much-needed true crime fix. Each week, they look into the most compelling cases ever, with everything from modern mysteries to unsolved cases from the 1940s. The whole podcast takes the casual route and feels more like a discussion with your friends as you swap theories about a case you’d just found out about on Twitter.
Although it launched in 2014, the same year as Serial, Criminal takes a different approach to its more famous counterpart. Instead of focusing on one story in order to get to the bottom of it, each episode covers a different case, centring on the emotional impact on the people involved rather than the forensic facts. Host Phoebe Jude hits home the notion that crime happens to real people, and we should be wary of that before we label it as entertainment.
Missing and Murdered
This captivating show is hosted by journalist Connie Walker, who has spent more than a decade covering the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women. As an indigenous woman herself, Walker doesn’t treat these stories as salacious true-crime stories but instead highlights the very real horrifying issues that women like her have faced in these communities.
In Your Own Backyard
The host of In Your Own Backyard, Chris Lambert, was compelled by the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart and decided to immortalise Smart with her own podcast. The show launched in 2019 and honed in on Paul Flores, a Cal Poly student who was the sole person of interest in Smart’s disappearance Lambert merges extensive reporting whilst remaining sensitive to the case and keeping Smart’s humanity central. Partially due to new information uncovered during Lambert’s show, Flores and his father were arrested in April 2021. Paul was charged with first-degree murder and Ruben with accessory after allegedly helping Paul conceal Smart’s body (both have pleaded not guilty).
This NPR podcast acts as a powerful window into the terrible secrets of race relations in the American South. The show itself looks back at the 1965 murder of Reverend James Reeb, who was a white pastor involved in the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama. White Lies became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in audio reporting in what is a masterful display of audio journalism.
In the Dark
Veteran journalist and host Madeleine Baran delivers skilful storytelling and compassionate, rigorous reporting for this incredible addition to the true-crime podcast genre. The first season, which was released in 2016, focused on the 1989 abduction of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, whose case led to the establishment of federal sex-offender registries. Season two exposed wrongdoing in the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man who was tried for the same murder charges six times. The In the Dark team reported on the story for a year and revelations from their work contributed to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Flowers’ most recent conviction in 2019, with prosecutors dropping all the charges in 2020.
The Shrink Next Door
Hosted by New York Times journalist Joe Nocera, The Shrink Next Door details the bizarre tale of the friendship between Martin Markowitz and his therapist, Isaac “Ike” Herschkopf. In the initial eight-episode run, Nocera unpacks allegations that Herschkopf ingratiated himself into Markowitz’s life to the point where he took it over entirely. Markowitz alleged that Herschkopf made him sever ties with family and friends and even forced him to give u the master bedroom in his country home. Since the podcast was released in 2019, the story has made its way into the mainstream, as last fall Will Ferrell starred alongside Paul Rudd in an adaptation for Apple TV+.