True Crime Podcast
I have been an avid true crime observer (some might say junkie-potato, potahtoh) since my first episode of 60 Minutes.
With the advent and explosion of true crime podcasts, my pull towards the true crime genre has only grown.
While I usually like all the stories within a show, the tales that would hold my attention the most involved greed, law-breaking, and, especially, murder. It is just the way my mind works.
I find it to be interesting and oddly calming, that aspect of the human-animal, which finds it necessary to commit extreme acts of criminal behavior such as murder, extortion, or kidnapping.
With that qualifier in mind, I will discuss in this article what I consider to be the 5 best new true crime podcasts.
The list will focus on true crime podcasts that discuss only one case within a season.
Also, all of the podcasts discussed will have been released within the last 6 months to a year, so these are fresh podcasts covering what I feel are unique cases.
Let’s dig into some crime, shall we?
These are the 5 Best New True Crime Podcasts:
5. Wind of Change
Imagine a world where a plea deal over a major drug smuggling conviction, The Cold War, CIA, and The Scorpions (yes, the German heavy metal band of the 80s) all come together.
You are probably thinking: how, what, why, HUH? Me, too.
Released on May 11, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe explores in great detail the rumor (?) that the CIA enticed Klaus Meine, the lead singer of The Scorpions, to write what was to become their biggest hit, Wind of Change. Again, huh?
The idea was to reach young, impressionable adults from former Iron Curtain countries to encourage them to adopt more Western ideas of freedom and democracy.
As the tale spins, and it is quite a tale, Keefe and his best friend focus on the rumor that band manager, Doc McGhee, who guided the careers of Motley Crue and Bon Jovi, had, at some point, made a plea deal with the CIA to avoid a lengthy prison term for smuggling massive amounts of cocaine in the 80s.
At the heart of the deal was a plan to take a cohort of metal bands (Motley, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osborne, and the Scorpions) and play large concerts in a then quickly changing Soviet Union.
Suffice it to say this yarn has all the twists, turns, and the “that’s plausible” elements of any good spy novel. Think John LeCarre on steroids.
Keefe leaves no stone unturned in interviewing the major players and creating a credible ambiance for the listener.
Without revealing any spoilers, the CIA does have a reported history of “encouraging” social change through cultural means dating back to the 50s. Add to the mix great reporting and Keefe’s personable tone this series ticks all the buttons I want, as a listener, from all true crime podcasts.
Check out the Wind Of Change right here.
4. Missing In Alaska
The story about the Hale Boggs plane crash in Alaska has been a source of discussion and fodder for conspiracy theories for decades now.
The true crime podcast Missing in Alaska, from iHeart Radio, takes a deep dive into the mystery surrounding the case.
Going down the rabbit holes that mystery fans love to fall into is a fun aspect of Jon Walzac’s reporting on this mystery from October 16, 1972.
An added bonus is that Walzac assigns tasks to his audience each week which makes the podcast interactive if you are a web sleuth who wishes to engage.
Jon Walzac spent 9 years investigating the case of the missing plane.
Based in New Orleans, Walzac traveled all over the U.S. and requested massive amounts of government documents while researching the crash trying to uncover the truth behind the missing plane and the men on board.
Walzac sought out ham radio operators and investigated rumors of Croatian terrorist plots. He left no stone unturned in his search for the truth. He is an impressive, thorough journalist.
Further, Walzac struggled with the idea of telling the story because he claims that some people will be hurt.
Walzac asserts that influential Alaskans know the truth of the crash and that Alaskans should be concerned, even 48 years later.
He sounds like he was consumed, perhaps even obsessed, by the story that was leaving him exhausted, but determined.
The podcast, Missing in Alaska, is his last-ditch effort to tell this story that is long overdue. Whatever Walzac’s reasons, I’m in!
Check out Missing In Alaska right here.
3. Son of a Hitman
Next on my “5 Best Of” list is Son of a Hitman which premiered on May 5th, and tells the improbable, but true story of a convicted hitman, Charles V. Harrelson.
This case is the stuff of true crime legend. Also, Charles Harrelson is the father of Woody Harrelson, yes, the A-list actor known for films like White Men Can’t Jump and No Country for Old Men.
Charles Harrelson was convicted for the contract assassination of federal judge John H. Wood, Jr. on May 29, 1979.
This was the first murder of a federal judge in the 20th century and was hired by Jamiel “Jimmy” Chagra, a known drug dealer from El Paso, Texas.
Hosted by Jason Cavanagh, this new true crime podcast takes a deep, deep look into the life and criminal career of Charles Harrelson.
Included in the first episodes are the first investigations into Harrelson’s beginnings as a hired gun with the case of murdered carpet salesman, Alan Berg.
While only considering himself to be a card player, the allegations against the senior Harrelson are many, including a rumor that he carried out the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 as an operative for the CIA.
While many of the alleged hits claimed to have been committed by Charles Harrelson have never been fully substantiated or investigated, he is thought by many to have committed over 20 contract murders.
Woody Harrelson has continuously spoken on behalf of his father’s innocence claiming that his father never received a fair trial in the Wood case due to the nature of the crime.
Well reported, Cavanagh speaks directly with a variety of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement personnel familiar with Harrelson and the Wood’s conviction.
The first episode should be enough to convince you to add this to your podcast follow list.
Check out Son Of A Hitman podcast on Spotify right here and on Apple podcasts right here.
2. Paper Ghosts
From the first moment I heard M. William Phelps’ grizzled and vaguely New England voice at the start of his first episode, I knew I was hooked.
He sounds just like what a true crime writer and podcaster should sound like.
Having written five books about serial murderers, he also has an in-depth understanding of the subject matter.
The stories about the missing girls and young women Phelps shares with us in this new true crime podcast Paper Ghosts are personal to him.
My first podcast, PAPER GHOSTS, is live. One after the other, from 1968 to 1975, young girls vanished from quiet neighboring towns near my New England hometown. I’ve investigated the cases for the past 11 years.
Subscribe here: https://t.co/7QkBvJxzWn pic.twitter.com/3ugfFdKCWE— M. William Phelps (@MWilliamPhelps) September 2, 2020
True crime podcasts rarely get better than this, in my opinion.
The empathy for the families is evident in his tone. He lives in Tolland, Connecticut, the same area where these girls went missing.
He went to school with some of their family members.
When he speaks to the families of the missing, you can hear that they have found someone who cares, someone who is connected to them.
There have been some great true crime podcasts released in 2020 as featured in this article.
Many of these true crime podcasts have one thing in common: great reporting by veteran investigators who are all excellent storytellers.
Phelps, however, goes one step further in his iHeart Radio podcast. He lets us know, in carefully crafted detail, how these missing cases, starting in 1968 affected a group of rural Connecticut towns.
He explains how these sleepy hamlets went from feeling safe to being hypervigilant and suspicious.
There are now a lot of true crime podcasts available to help fill the hours of our quarantine lives, but Paper Ghosts, in my opinion, is special.
The intimacy from which Phelps derives his connection to the missing girls is unique.
Perhaps the closest 2020 true crime podcast with a personal approach, is Morally Indefensible which argues specifically the ethical issues around journalists being “too close.”
Is Phelps too close? I do not think he crosses any lines. Again, I will leave that for you to decide.
Be safe, be aware, and enjoy this new true crime podcast, from a distance.
Check out Paper Ghosts on iHeart Radio right here.
1. A Tie: Motive for Murder and The Thing about Pam
The last spot on my “5 Best Of” true crime podcasts list is a tie between Dateline’s The Thing about Pam and Motive for Murder.
Full disclosure, I love Dateline and I love Josh Mankiewicz and Keith Morrison, in particular. Their delivery of a true crime story in those magnificent voices is pretty much the gold standard by which I judge all journalists and podcasters.
Arguably the only journalist who could mesmerize me more would be Dan Rather, but, sadly, he doesn’t report on true crime.
The Thing about Pam began airing in September 2019 and was reported on TV and in the podcast by Keith Morrison.
The podcast looks at the murder of Betsy Faria believed to have been killed by her husband, Russ on December 27, 2011.
He always maintained his innocence but was convicted for Betsy’s murder in 2013.
This case eventually involved the slaying of another man and the unraveling of an evil plot by an unlikely perpetrator.
This murder begs for a rewrite of the old saying, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”.
Check out our full feature write-up on The Thing About Pam right here.
Motive for Murder is reported by Josh Mankiewicz and his production team at Dateline.
Premiering in May 2020, this new podcast investigates the complicated “honor killing” of a young, bright Iranian-American immigrant named Gelareh Bagherzadeh outside of her home in 2012 by the father of one of Gelareh’s friends, Ali Irsan.
Irsan is now on death row in Texas for the murder of Bagherzadeh and another person, his son-in-law, Coty Beavers.
This case is a grim reminder that the need for control over another person can lead to deadly consequences.
Check out our full feature write-up on Motive For Murder right here.
Which of these podcasts would I listen to first? I would probably choose The Thing about Pam only because Motive for Murder is, as of this posting, still releasing weekly episodes.
Whichever you choose, the reporting is top-notch by veteran journalists who know how to hold an audience.
The Wrap Up
What I have tried to do with this list is consider those new crime podcasts that are attempting to branch out from just retelling or rehashing overly familiar cases, like O.J. Simpson or Ted Bundy.
I chose all of the podcasts on my list because the cases were unique or they revealed new details, as in the Cosby case.
The other factor I considered was the quality of the reporting. I have been listening to news and news magazine shows for most of my adult life and I think I have a decent ear for credible journalism.
Every one of these cases is sensationalized and exploitatively told by the wrong person.
I looked for hosts that were respectful but accurate in their investigations and not afraid to ask difficult, sensitive questions.
I think this list is a good jumping-off point for you if you are new to true crime. If you are a veteran listener, I believe I have given you some new true crime podcasts to dig into.
Enjoy, perhaps with the lights on.
True Crime Podcasts Best Ever
While this article featured newer offerings from true crime, we have also curated a listing of the genre’s all-time greats.
These are The 13 Best True Crime Podcasts:
1. Sword and Scale
This is the podcast that shows that “the worst monsters are real.”
Creator Mike Boudet masterfully produces the best true crime podcast out there to date.
Boudet artfully uses real audio clips from 911 tapes, police confessions, and news sources to tell the tales from some of the most horrifying crimes our society has endured.
Boudet narrates and gives his commentary from time to time but as a great documentarian does, he allows the interviews to do the bulk of the storytelling.
This show is not for the faint of heart. If you are sensitive to explicit content involving murder and violence you may want to skip this show.
Check out Sword And Scale right here.
2. Crime Junkie
From the opening chords of the theme music, Crime Junkie podcast sets a serious but slightly sassy tone. The primary host, Ashley Flowers, does most of the heavy lifting in terms of research and reporting.
Brit Prawat, the co-host, is a strong contributor in that she represents the audience’s reaction through her visceral comments and supporting questions.
This true-crime podcast’s first episode aired in December 2017 and, from the start, the ladies stated that they are dedicated supporters of their local chapters of Crime Stoppers.
So not only want do they want to bring the crimes they discuss to a growing audience in an interesting way, but they also value having justice for the victims.
Go check out the entire 13 Best True Crime Podcast feature right here.