My favorites are of the nonfiction variety; specifically, true crime. So what’s the best out there? Let’s take a look at my top five:
5. Real Crime Profile Your hosts are former New York prosecutor and FBI profiler Jim Clemente, criminal behavioral analysist and former New Scotland Yard agent Laura Richards, and Lisa Zambetti, casting director for Criminal Minds. These three take a look at crimes (some famous, some not so much) and explore the victimology, suspect behavior, and evidence in the cases and give their theories.
PROS: Jim and Laura know their stuff, and Lisa’s there to ask the questions someone like you or me would ask.
CONS: The audio isn’t spectacular—it’s sometimes difficult to hear Jim and Laura unless you crank up the volume. And Jim can get defensive at times.
EPISODES YOU CAN’T MISS: Their thirteen-episode discussion of the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson was utterly absorbing, and brought to light things you may not have known about the case.
4. Missing Richard Simmons is a new podcast hosted by filmmaker Dan Taberski. Arguably, this isn’t true crime—we don’t know that there is a crime here—but it’s fascinating just the same. The premise: Taberski, who knew Simmons through his "Slimmons" exercise classes, wants to know why his friend cut off all contact with everyone and hasn’t been seen since February 15, 2014. Taberski interviews Simmons’s friends and family, does a little reconnaissance work, and muses on this cultural icon and why he might want to shut himself off from the world.
PROS: Who doesn’t love Richard Simmons? Aren’t you worried about him? We want answers! Also, Taberski is really likeable.
CONS: Maybe the guy just wants to be left alone.
EPISODES YOU CAN’T MISS: Just download all of them. There are only six.
3. Generation Why Hosted by friends Aaron and Justin, this podcast covers criminal cases from start to finish in about an hour. Sometimes they do interviews, sometimes they talk about personal stuff, but it's always entertaining.
PROS: The hosts sound like guys you’d want to hang out with. Plus, it’s a quick, satisfying fix that gives you a little more insight into cases you may not have heard about.
CONS: Sometimes they rush things, or take on cases that are just too big for one episode.
EPISODE YOU CAN’T MISS: Episode 146, “Hauptmann’s Ladder Restored,” about the Lindbergh kidnapping case, brought up new insights I hadn't heard before, and left me—for the first time in my life—with an opinion on Hauptmann's guilt or innocence.
2. Crimetown Hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier, this is an in-depth look at corruption and organized crime in Providence, Rhode Island. (They’ll look at other cities in future seasons.) With audio clips of Buddy Cianci, commentary from former mobsters and molls associated with crime lord Raymond Patriarca, and interviews with characters like former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet (nicknamed “Attila the Nun”), this podcast brings to life a vibrant, corrupt underground in a city that arguably was made a better place by mobster—er, Mayor—Buddy Cianci.
PROS: Excellent audio, sound bites, interviews . . . you’ll be enthralled from start to finish. Also has a great website with additional material showcasing the players involved.
CONS: I do wonder if I wouldn’t be so fascinated if I weren’t a former Rhode Island resident. I suppose I’ll find out in Season Two.
EPISODES YOU CAN’T MISS: Start with Episode 1, “Divine Providence,” about the rise of Buddy Cianci. Oh, Buddy. How we loved and hated you, you corrupt bum. Thanks for a beautiful city.
1. Up and Vanished This is the podcast that shouldn’t have been as amazing as it is. Host Payne Lindsey tells you in the first episode he is neither an investigator nor a podcaster. He did this on a whim. Lindsey investigates the case of Tara Grinstead, a teacher and former beauty queen who disappeared from her Georgia home in October 2005. Lindsey interviews friends, relatives, a private investigator who worked on the case for years, and even deals with online trolls. But here’s the thing: the quality is excellent, Lindsey is hands down the best podcast narrator I’ve heard, and the attention his podcast drew to the case resulted in an arrest on February 24, 2017, then a second one on March 3, 2017. Think podcasts are a waste of time? This one brought about results in a cold case over a decade old.
PROS: I can’t say enough about the likeability and professionalism of Payne Lindsey. Also, he interviews his grandmother (and yes, she’s relevant to the case at hand).
CONS: The arrests certainly took Lindsey off guard, and he’s scrambling—he had episodes ready to go, but all of that has had to be scrapped due to this latest twist. He’s doing a fine job of keeping us updated, but the episode of the audio from the gag order hearing felt like filler.
EPISODES YOU CAN’T MISS: The whole thing. Then subscribe so all future episodes will be automatically downloaded.
Honorable mention: The first season of Serial led to increased public interest in Adnan Syed’s possible wrongful conviction. This led to Undisclosed, Season 1, which did a much deeper dive into the case, and introduced us to Rabia Chaudry, lawyer and personal friend of the Syed family. These two podcasts, besides being riveting, brought about action in the Syed case: he was recently granted a retrial. (Season 2 of Undisclosed, about the possible wrongful conviction of Joey Watkins, is also excellent.)
Finally, now seems the perfect time to bring up my recent appearance on The 9th Story Podcast. This podcast, which has nothing at all to do with true crime, is hosted by Jeanette Andromeda and Immortal Alexander, and discusses “storytelling in all its forms.” Jeanette is a social media guru, writer, and artist; Alexander a filmmaker, writer, and photographer, and their past (and current) experiences bring intriguing insight into the creative arts as a whole. Have a listen, won’t you?