The best true crime podcasts to kill your free time

(Image credit: dirty John/Serial/Hello Hamish)

The best true crime podcasts are the ones that you can't stop listening to; the ones that are so dark, so disturbing and so immersive that you must immediately force them into other people's ears just so you can finally purge your spoilery emotions onto them. Just like the best documentaries on Netflix, true crime podcasts are the ultimate in watercooler chat fuel, with you and your colleagues being able to endlessly speculate over whether someone is guilty or innocent. There are also hundreds of true crime podcasts out there, so if you’re looking for a new one, it can be a bit like hunting down a serial killer. 

This then is our picks for the best true crime podcasts to fill your hours of commuting time. Here lie nefarious doctors, awful cults, untrustworthy therapists and, of course, a handful of comedy true crime podcasts just to put some laughter into the slaughter. It’s time to stay sexy and not get murdered with the best true crime podcasts to listen to right now.  

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 19. Dirty John 

(Image credit: Dirty John)

How dirty is the eponymous John, you might ask? Well, so dirty is the nefarious John Meehan that he has inspired this Los Angeles Times podcast, a documentary series, and a Netflix show starring Eric Bana and Nashville’s Connie Britton. Here is definitely the best place to start though as journalist Christopher Goffard deftly takes us through the whole disturbing story in six bingeable episodes. 

After a whirlwind romance of only a couple of months, a 59-year-old Debra Newell marries who she sees as the love of her life. Sure, none of her grown up children trust him, but really, how bad can John be if he’s so helpful and loving all the time? Spoiler: Bad. Really, really bad. Debra and her family spill their souls to Goffard. What’s truly remarkable, though, is not just their honesty, but the truly scary idea that we really don’t know other people the way we think we do.

18. To Live and Die in LA

(Image credit: To Live and Die in LA)

From the outside, Los Angeles is so alluring. The palm trees, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the promise of super stardom only being one audition away. It’s this that draws aspiring actress and model Adea Shabani to the city like a moth to the flame, and it’s there that she vanishes from her apartment complex without a trace. In To Live and Die in LA, Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss attempts to find out exactly what happened to Adea, and what he uncovers is truly extraordinary. 

While there’s a central mystery at its heart, this podcast feels very different from the others on this list. Strauss’ investigation feels immediate and constantly like he’s flying by the seat of his pants, falling down a rabbit hole of clues and lies. Equally intriguing and utterly heartbreaking, this is essential, raw journalism that will sneak under your skin.   

17. Who the Hell is Hamish?

(Image credit: Who the Hell is Hamish)

Finished with the Teacher’s Pet? It’s time to say hello to Hamish, a podcast that also comes from The Australian newspaper. Listen to this and Dirty John back to back and chances are you’ll never trust anyone you meet online ever again. Thanks, internet. From the outside, Hamish Watson is a suave businessman and charming individual, with his expensive cars and dashing smile. 

However, delve below the perma-tanned surface and this is a man who has swindled more than $7 million from innocent individuals around the world and left broken hearts wherever he went. Journalist Greg Bearup makes a perfect narrator here, giving Hamish’s many victims a platform to tell their story, with the time and space they need. Terrifying on so many levels, if nothing else, Who the Hell is Hamish is a great reason to Google your Tinder match ups. Twice.

16. The Dream

(Image credit: The Dream)

Are multi-level marketing companies - MLMs for short - truly a crime? Can it really be a bad thing to have parties where everyone sells products to each other? Well, it turns out that if your friend who is constantly posting links to their Arbonne products on your Facebook wall sounds like they are in a cult, they kind of are. Emmy award winning journalist and ex-This American Life producer Jane Marie dives into the seedy world of MLMs in this compelling eleven part podcast.

While companies like Amway swear that they aren’t a pyramid scheme - “because that would be illegal” - the laws around the structure of MLMs are incredibly vague. Interviewing those involved at every level of MLMs, Jane Marie uncovers the fascinating truth behind these elaborate exercises in psychology, manipulation, and, of course, cold hard cash. X-Files-style, it turns out that the nefariousness here goes all the way to the top. 

15. Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad

(Image credit: Jensen and Holes)

If you’re a Murderino, chances are you’ll already have this moody-looking pair connected with some red string on your true crime corkboard of clues. For everyone else though, you might like an introduction. Paul Holes is a now retired cold case investigator who played a major role in uncovering the true identity of California’s Golden State Killer after 24 years, while Billy Jensen is an investigative journalist, specialising in true crime. 

Like the Avengers of armchair policework, this pair have been brought together by My Favourite Murder’s Exactly Right network to solve cold cases. Each episode takes on a different crime and whether they’re asking for help on finding more victims of known serial killers or investigating missing persons cases, Holes and Jensen are constantly engaging and thoughtful hosts, only ever concentrating on the victims of these crimes.

14. S-Town

(Image credit: S-Town)

Is S-Town a true crime podcast? Well, This American Life journalist Brian Reed is certainly drawn to S-Town, AKA Shit-town, Alabama with the promise of a crime. It all just… unravels from there. Without giving too much away, S-Town centres around horologist (clock maker) John B. McLemore, an eccentric figure infamous in his hometown of Woodstock. He calls Brian Reed in to investigate an apparent murder that has been covered up by the police after hearing This American Life solve other similar cases.  

S-Town isn’t like other cases, though. S-Town is one of those podcasts that your friends will just nod silently about and will you with their eyes to listen to. It’s what I’m doing now but I only have words. Evocative and exceptionally controversial, this is a podcast quite unlike any other. 

13. Man in the Window

(Image credit: Man in the Window)

If you’re already a follower of true crime then you will be no stranger to the story of the Golden State Killer, a burglar, murderer and rapist who moved around towns in California through the 1970s to 1980s. His identity as Joseph James DeAngelo was only revealed last year thanks to DNA evidence and, while it’s obviously an astonishing investigative feat, those who DeAngelo left behind as victims still have stories to tell.

Man in the Window comes from renowned journalist Paige St John and as such is thankfully far more than just a hastily built podcast to cash in on DeAngelos court case. Interviews with the Golden State Killer’s victims and investigators paint a rich, if horrifically disturbing, picture of the serial killer and his actions. The story of a true criminal Boogeyman, this makes for hard but essential listening.

12. Crimetown

(Image credit: Crimetown)

It’s mob time. While so many podcasts centre around individual killers and cases, Crimetown is a welcome breath of illegal air as it covers the criminal underbellies of US cities. While the first season peers beneath the surface of Providence in Rhode Island, the second is all about the seedy history and crimes of Detroit. 

The scope and scale of Crimetown is what makes it stand out from the crowd. One minute we’ll be learning about political corruption, the next it’s all about drug trafficking and coke addiction. Like a reverse Trip Advisor search, Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier’s well-researched stories are fresh glimpses of cities that’ll make you happy you’re safely on the commute to work. 

11. The Shrink Next Door

(Image credit: Bloomberg)

Your relationship with your therapist is meant to be healthy; the one safe space where you can spill all of your innermost thoughts and feelings and not be judged. You’re paying for it, aren’t you? Well, it’s not ruining anything to say that, given that this Bloomberg podcast is from Wondery, the network behind Doctor Death and Dirty John, of course this titular shrink isn’t the good kind. 

Again, the less I say the better, but The Shrink Next Door from journalist Joe Nocera is a fascinating glimpse into what happens when therapy goes so, so wrong that right is basically a dot. It’s not an easy listen and you’ll be afraid to ever go to therapy again but this is even more brilliant podcasting.