Facing fear with fear

True crime podcasts to turn to in the era of COVID-19

Halle Rose, Staff Reporter

Fear is a universal and powerful human emotion. It renders us wary of things like small spaces and spiders; it gives jumping out of airplanes and swimming with sharks their thrill. Fear is the sixth sense that sends shivers up our spines when something goes bump in the night, it’s the little voice that urges us to cross the street when the shadow of the person behind us catches up with our own and we hear the steady beat of footfall. Evolutionarily speaking, fear is what keeps us alive.

The coronavirus pandemic has ignited a worldwide climate of fear unlike any other in recent memory. In today’s world, death isn’t just a consequence of a tragic accident or a malicious act; it can overcome someone who simply touched the wrong doorknob, or unknowingly spoke to an infected person. Today, we live in apprehension of the people who pass us on the street, of those we used to carelessly interact with on a daily basis, even of those who live alongside us in our own homes. The pandemic has sparked a unique, ubiquitous form of fear that contradicts every instinctive inclination we have to trust our fellow humans. 

Social Distancing, in the Company of Podcasts

So how do you engage with others, how do you fulfill your inherent human need for socialization and connection, when doing so is strictly discouraged? Many people find comfort in stories, whether that be through watching fictional shows and escaping from reality for an hour or two, or by talking to friends and family via video call and enjoying the illusion of proximity in a world that has become unsettlingly separate. 

One particularly isolation-friendly medium is that of the podcast, the increasingly popular, episodic storytelling technique that allows patrons to easily consume content on just about anything from news and politics to comedy and self-help. The rising appeal of podcasts likely comes from the fact that they are multitasker-friendly in a world that only seems to be speeding up. You might not have time to sit down and watch an hour of news, but you can listen to a daily report from your local station on your 20-minute commute to work. Podcasts have proved to be more intimate than TV shows and are surely more accessible than books; finding a good one is like sitting in on a conversation among friends, all while complying with social distancing restrictions. 

Talking About True Crime

In the podcasting world, one genre that has found its niche among more orthodox subject matter is true crime. In the tradition of TV shows like “48 Hours” and “Forensic Files,” true crime podcasts include a broad range of material, from the gory and gruesome to the mysterious and conspiratorial. The shows are produced by a wide array of hosts, including retired investigators, internet sleuths and regular people who have created careers out of morbid fascination. 

Though certainly not for everyone, the true crime genre counterintuitively provides solace for many in times of panic and hardship. Perhaps it’s because the struggles of others put our own in perspective, or maybe we feel better prepared to survive life’s uncertainty by familiarizing ourselves with the very worst humanity has to offer. For some, tales of murder and kidnapping may confirm their long-held cynicism, while others are simply addicted to the sensational, high-drama storytelling the genre typically demands. Right now, the appeal of stories that are terrible but true may ease our collective fear amidst a highly tumultuous day-to-day experience, because, at least in the stories, we know who and where the bad guy is. 

Regardless of why we are drawn to true crime, our demand has been readily met by authors, TV and movie producers and now podcast hosts, almost to the point of indiscernible saturation. Where do you start when there’s hundreds of shows to sift through? How do you even begin to delve into a series that’s already dozens of episodes in the making? The following list is designed to point you in the right direction.

Top 3 Essential True Crime Podcasts

If You’re Completely New to True Crime

Crime Junkie

Hosted by: Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat via AudioChuck Productions

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher 

When to listen: New episodes weekly on Mondays

What’s available: 100+ episodes and additional Fan Club content with membership 

Childhood friends Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat tell weekly stories they categorize as Murdered, Infamous, Captured, Conspiracy, Missing, Serial Killer or Mysterious Death, with occasional updates on those they’ve discussed before. The pair has covered everything from notorious serial killers, like the Hillside Stranglers, to cases that are relatively unknown, like those of missing and murdered indigenous women. Flowers is a competent and professional host who provides efficient and engaging storytelling while maintaining a sense of brand and mission through her work with the Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana. Her delivery generally makes for easy listening, though occasionally the conversational tone between she and Prawat stagnates as they navigate more difficult and personal topics, which can come across as slightly impersonal and a bit detached. Generally, however, “Crime Junkie” is an excellent starting point for those who have never delved into true crime before due to the variety it provides and the accessibility to the genre the hosts promote.

If You Love True Crime But Also Need Comedic Relief

My Favorite Murder

Hosted by: Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark via Exactly Right Media

Where to listen: Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Player.fm

When to listen: New ‘minisodes’ every Monday and full-length episodes every Thursday

What’s available: 200+ main and recorded live episodes, 150+ ‘minisodes’ and bonus content for members of the Fan Cult

Arguably one of the most successful True Crime shows of the recent pocasting boom, Karen Kilgarrif and Georgia Hardstark are self-described “murderinos” who turned their shared lifelong interest into a community and a career path. “My Favorite Murder” (MFM) started out as a recorded conversation between the two friends who would meet once a week to recount their favorite crime stories while sipping on coffee and canned wine. True to its origins, the show maintains this simple format as it headlines new podcast network, Exactly Right, and is performed live at sold-out shows across North America and Europe. Unlike most other podcasts in the genre, the stories told on MFM (everything from the Blackout Murders to the Tulsa Massacre to the Winnetka School Shooter) are accompanied by witty banter, commentary on current events and conversations about the hosts’ personal lives and experiences. Often, they will divulge anecdotes on mental health and addiction, like Kilgariff’s former alcoholism and Hardstark’s experience in rehab as a teenager. Kilgariff and Hardstark often acknowledge that they don’t intend to poke fun at tragedy, but rather, they use humor as a mechanism to cope with fear. Each episode is something of a commitment, given that they often exceed two hours in length (Kilgariff and Hardstark affectionately refer to those who skip straight to the crime stories as “skippers”), but listening truly feels as though you’re having a conversation with friends. If two hours is too much, they also produce half-hour ‘minisodes,’ where they read ‘hometown murders’ submitted by listeners. There’s definitely nothing scripted or stagnant when it comes to MFM’s content and delivery, which is especially refreshing in a genre so often confined by grimness and morbidity. 

If You’re Into the Legal Side of Things

Court Junkie

Hosted by: Jillian Pandav via PodcastOne Productions

Where to listen: Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Player.fm

When to listen: New episodes every Monday.

What’s available: 100+ main episodes plus several shorter “Briefs”

“Court Junkie” is relatively unique in the sense that its primary focus is on the legal proceedings that follow crimes, as opposed to the stories of the crimes themselves. However, Jillian Pandav still manages to tell a comprehensive narrative that takes listeners along for the ride from beginning to end. Using (and often interpreting) recordings of trial dialogue, the show is ideal for those who revel in courtroom drama or are interested in learning more about how the criminal justice system works in practice. Pandav tends to cover cases that are relatively recent and relevant—in early March, she covered the Harvey Weinstein case in a three-episode series. Pandav’s tone and delivery is strictly professional—she rarely deviates from the story she intends on telling, which makes for concise (if occasionally dry) episodes that are sharp and to the point. Those with little interest in legal matters will find “Court Junkie” less engaging than most of its counterparts, but for those who are specifically interested, the show fills a unique niche within the True Crime genre that is difficult to find elsewhere.

More Recommendations

If You Want to Check Out a Classic


Hosted by: Sarah Koenig from This American Life via Serial Productions

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 3 seasons and related project S-Town

  • Season 1: Murder of Hae Min Lee//Trial of Adnan Syed
  • Season 2: Escape, Capture and Release of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl 
  • Season 3: A Year Inside the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland, Ohio

High-level investigative journalism that covers a single case over the course of a season (with the exception of Season 3, which follows a collection of cases over the course of a year at one courthouse). “Serial” takes listeners on an intense journey through interviews, trial transcripts and both current and retrospective research conveyed in narrative form.

If You Like a Slow Burn

Someone Knows Something

Hosted by: David Ridgen via CBC Radio

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 4 seasons

  • Season 1: Disappearance of Adrien McNaughton
  • Season 2: Missing Person’s Case of Sheryl Sheppard
  • Season 3: Murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee
  • Season 4: Mail-Bombing of Wayne Greavette
  • Season 5: Murder of Kerrie Brown

Host David Ridgen focuses on unsolved cases and engages listeners by urging contact from those who might know something. His show centers on the stories of surviving loved ones, providing an intimate and gut-wrenching look into the extent and aftermath of unresolved crime.

In the Dark

Hosted by: Madeleine Baran via APM Reports

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spotify, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, RadioPublic, NPR One

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 2 seasons, case updates andand source notes

  • Season 1: Disappearance of Jacob Wetterling
  • Season 2: The Curtis Flowers Case

“In the Dark” covers single cases over the course of individual seasons, typically ones that are well-known and infamous in the true crime community and the American public, alike. Host Madeleine Baran delves deeper into these cases than most other platforms have before, offering a fresh take on old stories. 


Hosted by: Amber Hunt via Wondery

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Wondery+

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 3 seasons

  • Season 1: Murder of Elizabeth Andes
  • Season 2: Murder of Retha Welch
  • Season 3: Disappearance and Death of David Bocks

Produced in conjunction with the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Accused” investigates individual cases from southern Ohio over the course of each season.

If You Want Something Short and Sweet

Today In True Crime

Hosted by: Vanessa Richardson via Parcast

Where to listen: Spotify, Megaphone

When to listen: Episodes released daily 

What’s available: Daily episodes from August 19th, 2019 onward

Daily episodes cover a historical incidence of crime from a corresponding day in history; episodes are brief, usually between 10-15 minutes each.

If You’re a Fan of Crime TV

48 Hours

Hosted by: CBS News

Where to listen: Radio.com, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Player.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts

When to listen: New episodes released weekly on Sundays

What’s available: Weekly episodes since February 2014

Each episode is essentially a TV episode adapted for listening; like the original show, the podcast integrates news clips, trial transcripts and interviews.

If You Want White-Collar Crime


Hosted by: Anonymous host aka “A Concerned Citizen;” independently produced

Where to listen: Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify

When to listen: New episodes released biweekly on Sundays; currently on break but streaming

What’s available: 3 seasons,15 episodes each, plus bonus episodes

Each episode covers a different story of “white collar criminals, con artists and corporate evil.”

The Dropout

Hosted by: Rebecca Jarvis via ABC News

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 7-episode series

“The Dropout” tells the true story of Elizabeth Holmes, Stanford dropout and founder of Theranos; it takes listeners through her promising rise to success and ultimate downfall for developing and promoting bogus blood-testing technology.

If You Like a Little Bit of Everything


Hosted by: Phoebe Judge; independently produced

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher

When to listen: New episodes released biweekly on Fridays

What’s available: 137 regular episodes, occasional bonus material

In this classic show, Phoebe Judge covers a different element of crime in each episode, from individual cases and stories to broader topics like identity-theft and baby-snatching.

Casefile: True Crime Podcast

Hosted by: Anonymous host via Casefile Presents 

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Castbox, Stitcher

When to listen: New episodes released weekly on Saturdays

What’s available: 144 regular episodes

Winner of Best of Apple Podcasts 2016-2019, “Casefile” produces extremely comprehensive episodes on individual cases that range from 1-2.5  hours in length.

If You’re Looking for an Untold Story

Missing and Murdered

Hosted by: Connie Walker from CBC News

Where to listen: Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcasts

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 2 seasons

  • Season 1: Who Killed Alberta Williams?
  • Season 2: Finding Cleo

Both seasons of “Missing and Murdered” tell the stories of indigenous women which had previously been forgotten or overlooked by their communities and the general public; each season covers a single story.

For Fans of True Medical Drama 

Dr. Death

Hosted by: Laura Beil via Wondery

Where to listen: Apple Podcasts, Spotify

When to listen: Currently streaming

What’s available: 10-episode series

Not for the squeamish or doctor-phobic, “Dr. Death” tells the true story of Christopher Duntsch, a rogue Texas neurosurgeon who disabled and (even killed) dozens of patients, spending years evading the consequences of his mistakes. 

For Fans of Love + Crime

Dirty John

Hosted by: Christopher Goffard from the L.A. Times via Wondery

Where to Listen: Apple Podcasts, Spotify

When to Listen: Currently streaming

What’s Available: 7-episode series, 1 live show, 3 bonus episodes

“Dirty John” tells the story of Debra Newell, who meets John Meehan, a seemingly-perfect man who ultimately pulls her into a web of deception and denial; a Netflix adaptation has also been made of this series.