If, like me, you devoured the hit podcasts Serial and S-Town and are in desperate need of new material to support your growing career as a detective, fear not. The podcast boom is still well and truly reverberating with many twisty, cerebral and gripping pods still emerging, drawing listeners in with their nuanced and perceptive observations of crimes that may not be immediately on our radar. Don your monocles and follow us down a rabbit hole of true crime with these great recommendations.
West Cork requires an Audible subscription, but if you’re an avid enough listener, you can devour the whole series before your first free month runs out and cancel with no charge. This is an utterly gripping and fascinating true story: in 1996, French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier was beaten to death outside her holiday home in West Cork, Ireland, with no witnesses. One of the first journalists on the scene, reporter Ian Bailey, becomes a prime suspect after he begins to behave incredibly strangely – but he’s also simultaneously reporting on the case and in close contact with the podcast creators as they try to figure out the story. It’s not hammy or Americanized; its UK presenter-creator team Jennifer Forde and Sam Bungey work out the narrative with us. It’s a murky, shocking story of trust, journalistic manipulation and sociopathy.
The Missing Cryptoqueen
If you had told me last month that I’d be practically addicted to a podcast about cryptocurrency and financial scams, this numerophobe probably would have laughed at you. But, something about the honest and crystal-clear storytelling of journalist Jamie Bartlett really draws you in to this labyrinthine story about OneCoin, a Ponzi scheme scam masquerading as a legitimate cryptocurrency and scamming thousands of people across the globe. What starts with one woman – the charismatic Dr Ruja Ignatova – soon spills out into something far more sinister when she goes missing. It’s utterly unnerving and atmospheric (due in part to the original sounds crafted by the London Bulgarian Choir) and truly gets under your skin. The podcast is still ongoing and expanding, and the case is far from being closed. Capitalism is bad, kids.
Evil Has a Name
One only needs to look at the recent series of Mindhunter to see how the unresolved deaths of loved ones at the hands of a serial killer is unthinkably painful for the family left behind – but perhaps Evil Has a Name is a beacon of hope for those families. So goes the narrative of this podcast, where one man is eventually found to have perpetrated three separate crime sprees thought originally to be separate – the Visalia Ransacker (1974-5), the East Area Rapist (1976-9), the Original Night Stalker (1979-86) – later renamed as the Golden State Killer. For forty-four years, the perpetrator goes unreprimanded. You hear from victims and their loved ones, and all about the tenacious effort of one detective to keep the cases from going cold, even when everyone around him was telling him to give up. The podcast is frustrating and unbelievable, with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. Each new piece of evidence? Useless. Each new lead? A dead end. Using pioneering methods of conviction, from DNA to genealogy, the final episodes where investigators finally begin to hone in on the suspect are truly gripping.
The Butterfly Effect & The Last Days of August
Though not true crime per se, these two series by Jon Ronson explore how the porn industry has ended in tragedy in two separate cases. The Butterfly Effect was released in 2017 to acclaim, investigating the fall-out of porn going digital and interviewing porn performers, creators of bespoke porn, porn magnates and the families of those affected by certain events. Ronson’s judgement-fee and genuinely curious investigative style continues in The Last Days of August, which adopts a considerably bleaker tone. Soon after finishing The Butterfly Effect, Ronson learnt that porn performer August Ames had killed herself, and that her widow, Kevin Moore, was blaming Twitter trolls for her death. As Ronson interviews Moore, it becomes increasingly clear that this manipulative and narcissistic man is concealing some important details about August’s life and his own shocking past relationships that have ended in similar tragedy. Being an expert on cancel-culture after writing his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson is an excellent person to be delving into Ames’ story: and what he uncovers is extremely unexpected. It’s heart-breaking and respectful, and an important listen.
This is perhaps the most shocking and gripping podcast on this list, and at times a difficult listen. It tells the true story of David Bain, a then-22-year-old man from Dunedin, New Zealand, who returned home from his paper round one morning in 1994 to find his entire family – both parents, two sisters and one brother – dead. A message had been left for David to find on the family computer that read: “sorry, you are the only one who deserved to stay.” The podcast, led by investigative journalist Martin van Beynen, tries to discern: did Robin Bain, the family patriarch, kill his family and then himself, leaving eldest son David as the sole survivor? Or was it in fact David himself who committed the murders, before arranging the crime scene to make it look like his father’s work? You hear playback of David’s distressing phone call to the police immediately after discovering his family – but you also hear witness testimony from officers first on the scene, who felt David was “faking” having a fit. Each episode only grows more and more confusing, exposing the Bain family’s completely bizarre interpersonal dynamics and hideous truths about their lives.
Words by Steph Green