A mystery junkie’s podcast line-up
by Lorien E. Menhennett
In a previous post, I called myself a “mystery junkie.” It’s true. Crime dramas, real and fictional, are my escape. There are plenty of excellent TV shows out there, especially some of the British stuff, like “Sherlock.” But I spend so much of my time in front of a screen that lately, I’ve gotten into podcasts. Lying on my couch, eyes closed, listening to the story unfold is a perfect way to unwind after a long day.
Most of these podcasts tell true stories. I’ve found the element of the “real” provides a compelling hook. And the journalism — the reporting, writing, and audio execution — is phenomenal.
One thing I initially found daunting about the world of podcasts is that there are just so many of them. How do you know what you’ll like, what’s good? Thankfully, you can find this out pretty easily by trying an episode (most podcasts are free to download or stream) and then deciding whether to continue with the show. But in the spirit of sharing and shortcuts, here is a list of the ones I’ve found and fallen in love with. I’m also including several that I plan to try, but just haven’t gotten around to yet. Click on the name of each podcast to go to the show’s website.
Serial. This is the podcast that turned me on to podcasts. It’s from the creators of “This American Life,” so you know it’ll be good. There are two seasons. The first season explores the 1999 murder of a high school student. The description of the first episode, from the website: “It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.” The second season is about a soldier who leaves his U.S. Army post in Afghanistan in the middle of the night. This season’s first episode description: “In the middle of the night, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl grabs a notebook, snacks, water, some cash. Then he quietly slips off a remote U.S. Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan and into the dark, open desert. About 20 minutes later, it occurs to him: he’s in over his head.” Warning: I was literally hooked within minutes of starting the first episode. This is really good stuff. Check out the show’s website for maps, photos, and other pieces of evidence from each season. And once you’ve watched “Serial,” check out this “Saturday Night Live” sketch about the show.
S-town. The tantalizing description from the podcast’s website: “John despises his Alabama town and decides to do something about it. He asks a reporter to investigate the son of a wealthy family who’s allegedly been bragging that he got away with murder. But then someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man’s life.” This podcast miniseries is from the same people who did “Serial” and “This American Life.” Also very addicting.
Criminal. From the show’s website: “Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” Many of the shows are about bizarre crimes, like the repeated theft of milemarker 420 signs in Colorado, or an exploration of how to fake your own death. Even the shows that are about more “standard” crimes like murder all have a twist to them. Each episode, which ranges from 20 to 30 minutes, stands alone which makes this show great for shorter blocks of time.
Accused. This is a wonderful, nine-episode show that explores an unsolved murder. From the show’s website: “When Elizabeth Andes was found murdered in her Ohio apartment in 1978, police and prosecutors decided within hours it was an open-and-shut case. Two juries disagreed. The Cincinnati Enquirer investigates: Was the right guy charged, or did a killer walk free?” The newspaper also did a print version of their investigation, and includes additional videos, photos, and other exhibits on the website. Pretty cool stuff.
In the Dark. The website’s description: “For 27 years, the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota yielded no answers. Reporter Madeleine Baran reveals how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, led to the nation’s sex-offender registries and raise questions about crime-solving effectiveness and accountability.” I’ve only listened to three of the 10 episodes, but so far they’re gripping.
Still in my queue:
Stranglers. “It’s been 50 years since 13 women were murdered in Boston … and we still don’t know who really did it.” There are 12 episodes exploring the cases.
Someone Knows Something. This Radio-Canada show has two seasons so far. The first season’s description: “What happened the day five-year-old Adrien McNaughton wandered into the woods and was never seen again? How does a family grieve for someone who may still be alive? And where might he be today? SKS host David Ridgen returns to his hometown to investigate the case.” The second season’s description: “On December 31, 1997, at a New Year’s Eve party broadcast on live TV, Sheryl Sheppard accepted a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, Michael Lavoie. Two days later, she disappeared. In Season 2 of SKS, documentarian David Ridgen joins Sheppard’s mother Odette on her search for answers.”
Real Crime Profile. From the show’s website: “Join Jim Clemente (former FBI profiler), Laura Richards (criminal behavioral analyst, former New Scotland Yard) and Lisa Zambetti (Casting director for CBS’ Criminal Minds) as they profile behavior from real criminal cases. Real Crime Profile will take you through the gripping Steven Avery case highlighted on ‘Making A Murderer,’ the OJ Simpson Trial, and much more.” Episodes 65 and 66, incidentally, profile the main characters of the podcast “S-town” that I’ve recommended. I plan to listen to those episodes soon.
Found. This show has a unique premise: “Have you ever found a note on the ground, maybe meant for someone else? Help Davy Rothbart solve these mysteries on the FOUND Podcast, where we explore personal stories of love, loss, hope, transformation and aspiration through the lens of lost and found notes –with the power of humor and music.” There’s even an iOS app where you can see the notes.
Crimetown. Another interesting premise: a show that explores the culture of crime in different American cities. The first season’s 18 episodes explore the world of crime in Providence, Rhode Island.
Reveal. This podcast is done by the renowned nonprofit group The Center for Investigative reporting. The shows are on everything from unsolved murders, smuggling, and whistleblowing to explorations of the situation in Standing Rock.
Secrets, Crimes & Audiotape. Unlike the other podcasts I’ve listed, this weekly audio drama tells fictional stories. There are murder mysteries, tales of political intrigue, even a radio musical.
Thanks to my family, friends, and colleagues for their podcasts recommendations (mystery shows and otherwise), and helping me find a new way to relax. In the stressful world of medical school, that’s priceless.