One of the reasons true-crime stories has struck a chord with so many listeners comes down to the intimacy of the podcasting experience: hearing recordings of family members and friends interrogating what happened to their loved ones is always heart wrenching and powerful.
“It’s different from the inverted pyramid model of journalism (what happened, who did it, why, when, where). This stuff is necessary, but it doesn’t make for intimacy: it’s just facts. In podcasting we have facts, but equally important is feeling. Feelings are as important as the facts,” said Associate Professor, podcaster and oral historian Siobhan McHugh to GIJN.
While many true-crime podcasts can be exploitative by using a person's death as a means of cheap entertainment, some deeply-researched and well-produced projects have provided enough evidence to reopen cases. Below are some of the best true crime podcasts out there to listen to. Many of the reporters and producers working behind the scenes of these popular true crime podcasts have uncovered vast inadequacies in criminal justice systems.
7. Phoebe’s Fall
In a 2016 six-part series by The Age, senior journalist Richard Baker investigated the perplexing death of Phoebe Handsjuk. In 2010, the young woman fell feet-first down the small garbage chute of her apartment. A trash compactor blade severed her foot, causing her to bleed to death on the garbage room floor.
The coroner's report found she climbed into the chute while intoxicated and sleepwalking, and when her family sought to appeal these findings, they learnt it would cost them around $120,000. Phoebe's Fall posed the question: was this case an accident, murder or suicide?
The podcast raised public interest in Phoebe's case, which helped to prompt a review of Victoria's Coroner's Act so that the public can more easily challenge a coroner's findings.
Why is it worth a listen? Phoebe's Fall is an emotionally searing investigation of a botched police investigation and coronial inquest. The podcast was downloaded 1.2 million times and awarded a gold medal at The New York Radio Festival.
Listen to Phoebe's Fall on Spotify.
A spinoff from much-loved public radio podcast This American Life, Serial looks into the murder of teenager Hae Min Lee. It's interviews with her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed, who is currently serving a sentence for her murder, leave you questioning if he's truly guilty.
Why is it worth a listen? Serial was the first true-crime podcast to garner a mass following and introduced many listeners to podcasts in general. Its reporter and host Sarah Koenig has made a massive impact on modern investigative storytelling. The show broke podcast-streaming and downloading records, and led to renewed court proceedings.
Listen to Serial on Spotify.
5. The Killing of Marilyn Monroe
This 12-part documentary series takes a deep dive into the death of Hollywood darling Marilyn Munroe, which was deemed a "probable" suicide at the time.
Why is it worth a listen? If you're following the #MeToo movement, this podcast could help to fill in some holes of how Hollywood has come to be what it is: it looks at the corruption of some of America's most powerful men at the time.
Listen to it on Apple Podcasts.
4. In the Dark
2016's In The Dark has arguably been one of the most impactful podcasts ever made. The first season investigated the kidnapping of 11-year-old boy Jacob Wetterling, a case that went unsolved for 27 years. The second season looks at Curtis Flowers, a man tried six times for four murders. The series gave enough evidence to show that he likely didn't commit these crimes.
Why is it worth a listen? It's a gripping listen. “In the Dark pushes out the boundaries of true crime podcasting, raising universal questions about accountability in the criminal justice system and the need for systemic reform,” writes investigative journalist Sharon Davis.
Listen to it on Apple Podcasts.
This popular anthology murder podcast debuted nine months before Serial, so it's one of the original masterminds of the genre.
Why is it worth a listen? This podcast goes deep into the motivations of killers and presents more than just the crime itself.
Listen to Criminal on Apple Podcasts.
One of Australia's first true-crime podcasts to make waves, The Australian's Bowraville looked into the '90s murders of three Indigenous youth who lived on the same street. Their murders took place all within five months of each other.
Why is it worth a listen? The case reopened after the podcast came out. Deeming itself as a podcast "on innocence and guilt", it's essential listening for anyone living in Australia. Similarly to the ABC's Unravel and the popular Canadian true-crime podcast Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo, Bowraville is a heartbreaking story about how Indigenous deaths are often overlooked by the justice system and the media.
Bearing witness to these crimes is key to understanding our history and present, and the way Indigenous people are still mistreated and even targeted by the criminal justice system. It even shows how modern apartheid exists in Australia. It's hard to walk away from this podcast without feeling outraged.
Listen to Bowraville on Apple Podcasts.
1. Witch Hunt
While not necessarily a true-crime podcast in the traditional sense of the genre, this series looks into the #MeToo movement in Australia, and how our defamation laws have protected sexual offenders.
Why is it worth a listen? The women involved in creating this interesting podcast have put out some fascinating content. Witch Hunt unpacks a legal system that still silences survivors of sexual assault and rape.
Listen to Witch Hunt on the Guardian's website.