[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Kit Frick guest posting on the site today. She’s talking true crime podcasts. Take it away, Kit!]
I’m an avid consumer of true crime media, but I’d stop short before calling myself a fan. That’s a strange term, right? Crime—especially of the murderous variety—is obviously terrifying, and I’m not here to champion gleefully rubber-necking someone else’s real-life tragedy. As an author of suspense, however, I’m endlessly intrigued by crime and criminality. There’s so much to be learned about humanity, the criminal justice system, prejudice, and even storytelling through the examination of real cases. I draw a great deal of my inspiration from this undeniably fascinating world—so much so that my latest novel, I Killed Zoe Spanos, includes the transcript of a fictional true crime podcast series.
With the genre booming, I would hesitate to call many true crime podcasts truly “under the radar” anymore, but it can be tricky to identify the best of the best from among the literally hundreds of options. So while we all hunker down at home and adjust to the strange new realities of a prolonged period of social distancing, here are 10 true crime podcasts that are less buzzed than the biggies like Serial, My Favorite Murder, or Dirty John (all excellent!) but no less binge-worthy.
This investigative podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio explores a pair of linked cold cases (two barrels found on the outskirts of NH’s Bear Brook State Park in 1985 and 2000, respectively, each containing the bodies of unidentified victims). The story only gets twistier from there.
I’d been hearing about Bear Brook since it aired in October and November 2018, and for good reason: the series of linked cases explored by the podcast—the barrels are only the beginning—are knotty and fascinating, the production quality is polished, and the story arc is brilliantly executed over the podcast’s run, which includes three update episodes—one truly groundbreaking—that have aired since the original series concluded.
Women and Crime
This new podcast just launched in late November 2019. Hosted by two criminologists (!!!)—which immediately sparked my interest—Women and Crime covers women “who have been victims of crime, those who have committed crimes, and those involved in the criminal justice system through their work.” This is the podcast for people who love the conversational, storytelling style of My Favorite Murder—similarly, hosts Meghan Sacks and Amy Shlosberg tell each other the story of a crime during each episode—but who crave a side of research and insight from women working in the field along with their murdery stories.
Over the years, I’ve fallen hard for Criminal, a true crime podcast about (wait for it): crime. Hosted by Phoebe Judge and co-created by Judge and Lauren Spohrer, Criminal hooked me with its thoughtful, critical approach to a broad range of topics under the wide umbrella of criminality. There are over 130 episodes available to download, and each is a unique story (so no need to listen in order). If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few episodes I’d recommend as a “starter platter”:
#51 “Money Tree”
#49 “The Editor”
#71 “A Bump in the Night”
#67 “Milk Carton Kids”
Finding Tammy Jo
This nine-part series from WXXI News and the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY hooked me right away. Hosts Gary Craig and Veronica Volk report on the story of “Cali Doe,” found dead in a cornfield in Caledonia, NY in November 1979 and identified over thirty-five years later, in 2015. This series stands out for its excellent and humanist reporting as well as the dedication of the local police—a refreshing rarity in true crime reportage.
In the Dark (season 2)
In this riveting podcast from APM Reports, host and lead reporter Madeleine Baran explores the over two-decades-long case of Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man accused of killing four people in a furniture store shooting in 1997—and tried six times for the same crime.
The early episodes focus on the three primary prongs of the prosecution’s case against Flowers (his walking route that day, a stolen gun which is allegedly the murder weapon, and the confessions allegedly given by Flowers to three jailhouse informants), which Baran explores and picks apart. It’s a fascinating and disturbing analysis of a case, which has progressed in astonishing ways since the beginning of the season, and there are now bonus episodes available to bring you up to speed on the remarkable updates in Flowers’ case—for which the podcast itself can take some degree of credit.
(By the way, if you haven’t listened to Season 1, which explores an entirely different case, I highly recommend you do so, but there’s no need to catch up before diving in to Season 2.)
To Live and Die in LA
To Live and Die in LA (no relationship to the movie, save the title) is a 2019 true crime podcast hosted by journalist Neil Strauss about the disappearance of aspiring actress Adea Shabani from her apartment complex in LA in February 2018. Adea was a twenty-five-year-old Macedonian native who had come to LA to follow her Hollywood dreams.
The podcast explores what really happened to Adea, digging much deeper and getting much, much closer to the truth than the LAPD’s official investigation. There were a couple moments throughout the course of the eleven-episode series where Strauss’s investigative techniques felt a little squicky to me (misleading interview subjects close to the possible perpetrator in order to get information) but that aside, this is an impressive investigation into a story full of gripping twists and turns.
Mared & Karen: The WVU Coed Murders
I recently discovered this 2017 podcast from Kromatic Media—and it is fascinating. Recommended to me by a friend who had just moved to Pittsburgh, PA, I was immediately intrigued by how close these murders I’d never heard of had happened to my hometown. Mared & Karen tells the story of the 1970 double-homicide of Mared Malarik and Karen Ferrell, two WVU students who were last seen alive hitching a ride home from a movie in downtown Morgantown, WV, on January 18, 1970. (Listen to your mother—don’t get into that stranger’s car!!!) Three months later, their decapitated bodies were found in a wooded area about ten miles south of Morgantown.
The case remains unsolved almost fifty years later—but not for a lack of suspects. Referred to as the “parade of horribles” by host J. Kendall Perkinson and researchers Sarah James McLaughlin and Geoffrey Cameron Fuller, there are a variety of possible suspects that have emerged over the years (including more than one with a history of decapitating their victims), and a couple that still seem viable today. If updates in the case emerge, there is the promise of bonus episodes.
Hosted by true crime author Tori Telfer (Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History) Criminal Broads is a “true crime + history podcast about wild women who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the law.” In each episode, Telfer tells the story of a different historical “criminal broad.” The podcast began as an off-shoot of Lady Killers, because of course there were too many harrowing tales to cram into one book. Each story is thoroughly researched, entertaining, and you can rest assured as a listener that, because these are historical figures and historical crimes, none of the victims’ immediate family members are impacted by the telling of these grim tales. Criminal Broads ran from 2018 – 2019 and there are thirty-seven fantastic episodes available in the archives.
The first season of Uncover from CBC radio Canada came highly recommended to me by friends who know me well: it hits on my interests in both true crime and cults. The first season, “Escaping NXIVM” (pronounced: Nexium) delves deep into the cult-slash-multi-level-marketing organization through the eyes of Sarah Edmonson, a former high-ish level member of NXIVM and the secret society DOS, a NXIVM sub-group for women. It also explores the legal defense and (upcoming at the time, now completed) trial of Keith Raniere, NXIVM leader/guru, accused of everything from running a sex cult to scamming and blackmailing members. There’s at least one bonus episode of trial coverage available.
The second season, while not quite as splashy (no sex cult or secret societies this time) was also thoroughly absorbing and will definitely appeal to true crime addicts. Season two, “Bomb on Board,” explores the unsolved 1965 crash of Canadian Pacific Flight 21, which went down in the Canadian wilderness, killing all fifty-two people on board. The hosts speak to family members of the victims, including those of the four police suspects, all passengers on the downed flight, and conduct their own investigation in hopes of uncovering something the police may have missed. While—spoiler alert—they don’t solve whodunnit, the six episodes are nonetheless a fascinating exploration of a little-known mass murder cold case.
DIE-ALOGUE: a true crime conversation
Created by true crime trivia host Rebekah Sebastian, DIE-ALOGUE: a true crime conversation is a weekly conversation-style podcast offering a thoughtful, critically aware approach to the true crime genre and media coverage—something I’m finding increasingly important as a listener as the popularity of true crime podcasts and documentaries continues to surge and the selection continues to multiply.
Sebastian may have entered the true crime sphere via the trivia night she hosts in NYC, but the show is anything but glib. Each week, Sebastian interviews someone connected in some way to the true crime world, from fellow podcasters to the creator of Crime Con to a cult survivor to a childhood friend of Jon Benet Ramsey. DIE-ALOGUE kicked off in late summer 2019, and there are now over thirty episodes in the archive with new content releasing weekly.
Happy listening—and stay safe and well!
About the Author:
YA novelist and award-winning poet Kit Frick was inspired by her lifelong passion for classic murder mysteries and a fascination with true crime reportage while writing her latest thriller, I Killed Zoe Spanos (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster; publication date: June 30, 2020), a modern and feminist YA reimagining of Daphne du Maurier’s romantic seaside thriller, Rebecca.
I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick, out now!
First print edition includes blue sprayed edges!
For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.
What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…
When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.
Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?
Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.