My favourite true crime podcasts and documentaries

When I was at a party last Friday (a rare occasion for a dork like me), someone asked me to tell them something about myself that I thought would surprise them. I defaulted to my main obsession for the past few months (and basically my entire life, come to think of it): true crime. 

I know I know, apparently being into true crime is a total hype right now and it's one of those things that is starting to invite derisive comments about being a "typical white women" obsession. But honestly, crapping on a field of interest simply because a lot of women (white or otherwise) have an affinity with it is plain old misogyny and doesn't make you cooler than the people you're trying to take a dig at. 

Also, ever stopped to think that a big reason why women seem so interested in true crime is probably because we've been raised to expect something bad (i.e. sexual violence) will someday happen to us, and obsessively educating ourselves gives us the feeling that we're preparing ourselves for that worst case scenario? Or alternatively, that it might be a coping mechanism to make ourselves believe that if we follow allll the xyz rules we might be able to cheat the system that is rape culture?

Yeah, this post got real dark real fast but this is basically why I think women are so commonly interested in true crime.

During my PhD I spent some months conducting an ethnography among 9-11 year old kids in after school care, and I noticed how most of the girls were at once repulsed and fascinated by media content on topics that scared them, like child abuse, sexual violence, sexuality in general and child birth. Seeing those girls exploring these scenarios to try and quell their fears of the (mostly) unknown and as of yet unexperienced threw me back to my own girlhood and how I was exactly the same. Scenes in books, series and movies about child abuse and rape always had a big impact on me and were seared into my memory, undoubtedly influencing the way I perceived the world and my future within it.

I feel like growing up and experiencing life has made me less afraid, more self-confident, but the fascination with the dark side of humanity has never disappeared. Not to sound too much like Rusty Cohle here (I'm not a nihilist), but I do believe that humanity is only a thin layer of cultural veneer that covers our inherently selfish nature. And horror narratives or true crime coverage gets the closest to what is the reality of humanity underneath that layer.

Anyway, enough existentialism. Let me tell you about the true crime content I've enjoyed the most in recent times.


I never really "got" podcasts, until I realized that it's a lot like listening to audiobooks as a kid with some soothing voice reading you a story. But infinitely geekier because there's probably a podcast about even the most niche field of interest. And since I got into podcasts I've been hooked: I listen in the shower, during my commute, when cooking, basically whenever I have a couple of minutes to spare. It relaxes me and allows me to create my own bubble where I shut out stress and the world at large. I listen via Castbox, btw, great free app! Here are my favourite true crime podcasts, in no particular order.

  1. Criminal - short episodes with Phoebe Judge's perfect soothing voice, following strong human interest angles into peculiar stories that will stick with you. Most stories have some link to crime, but the range of angles is very wide, going from the epidemic of 60s airplane hijackers and families of coroners and what they talk about over dinner to famous poodles being kidnapped. It's the best. I recommend it to everyone, even people who aren't necessarily true crime buffs. Favourite episode: 100, Ten Thousand Feet in the Air and following, about a failed airplane hijacking.
  2. My Favourite Murder - two girlfriends talking about murder, missing persons cases, ghosts stories and things found in walls. Karen and Georgia create a wonderful atmosphere of warmth, authenticity and realness, talking about mental health and intersectionality between the stories they discuss, and they are great at respecting the humanity of the victims and not letting themselves be swept away with sensationalism. Favourite episode: hard to pick but I loved 129 on the Galapagos Affair
  3. Serial season 1 - the most hyped true crime podcast ever, probably. This podcasts follows one story throughout the entire season, about a guy being possibly wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, and what friends and family remember from those days, years and years ago. I fully believe Adnan's guilty, by the way.
  4. True Crime Garage - not as smooth and slick as the other podcasts in this list, but very thorough, very respectful, and I love how Nick and The Captain have a heart for cold cases and missing persons cases, taking the time to explore all angles and let the listener come to their own conclusions. Favourite episode: 256 and following on Photo 509
  5. Last Podcast on the Left - this one took some getting used to because of the bro-y humor and Henry Zebrowski's general loudness, but the guys are absolutely hilarious and if you follow them it becomes clear that the fact that they have crude humor does not take away from their empathy for the victims. Favourite episode: 371 and following on Dennis Nilsen.
  6. The Teacher's Pet - the story of a charismatic rugby star and P.E. teacher who, despite his ridiculous story of her running off to join a cult and despite being part of a group of teachers who preyed upon underage students, most likely got away with murdering his wife because the community didn't care enough. The episodes get a bit repetitive if you get further along in the story, but the earlier episodes are so strong and so sad. Chris has since been arrested, 30 years after his wife disappeared and he promptly moved in his sixteen-year-old student girlfriend, so this is one of those amazing examples of a podcast actually contributing to solving a crime by putting pressure on law enforcement and drawing out witnesses. 


I have watched basically all of the recent trending documentaries on true crime featured on Netflix and beyond, and again, here are my favourites in no particular order. If I don't mention something here you can assume I thought it wasn't that good, otherwise I'd mention it.

  1. Evil Genius - completely crazy story about some very compelling human beings. I had never heard about the whole bomb-collar-pizza-delivery-guy thing before, and the series is extremely bingeworthy and short, making you fly through it.
  2. Making a Murderer - only season one though, the second season had too little content if you ask me. Steven Avery's story lays bare a lot of questionable practice by law enforcement and features a cast of great characters, both as protagonists as well as antagonists. I still fully believe he was involved in the murder of Theresa Halbach, though.
  3. The Keepers - an all too familiar story about sexual abuse and a murder covered up by the Catholic Church. A must watch if you ask me, for how much respect it gives to the victims and their journey of coming to grips with what happened.
  4. The Innocent Man - about two murders in a small town in the U.S.A., and four probably wrongfully convicted men struggling for justice. What I loved most about this one is its character studies of all involved.
  5. The Confession Tapes - real footage of coerced confessions, leaving the viewer to decide whether the confession was true or not.
  6. I Am A Killer - every episode follows the same format of first letting a convicted murderer tell their story of what happened, and then allowing the family of the victim or other witnesses tell their side, combining to a very nuanced look into the various ways the justice system and the human psyche work.
  7. O.J.: Made In America - simply a beautifully made documentary series exploring the story of O.J. Simpson and the intersection of racism, sexism and domestic abuse in America.
  8. Wild Wild Country - a fascinating history of the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (or Osho) and how his incredibly charismatic right hand Ma Anand Sheela basically uprooted a community of thousands of disillusioned yuppies from India to Oregon culminating in attempted murder. My parents could have totally been part of Bhagwan's cult, so seeing this was like a look into their mind at the time for me.


I really only have one title to mention here because I've mostly read fiction up until now, but this book is so good it can hold up the category on its own: Mindhunter by John E. Douglas. Douglas is a retired FBI agent and one of the people who started using profiling as a way to understand (sexually) violent offenders. This guy interviewed everyone from Charles Manson to Ted Bundy and has an absolutely unique insight into the mind of rapists and murderers.

What I love most about his analyses is they clearly show how the toxic masculinity and machismo that is rampant in our society is simply amplified in these murderers, which explains why violence against women is so epidemic. Douglas never says it outright, but that's the message I get from his writings.

Whew, that was a lot, but I basically just pointed you towards hours and hours of fascinating content. Be sure to send me your recommendations as well!

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