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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 you want to immediately tell your friends about. They're the ones you can't internalise too long without going quietly insane and endlessly falling down Reddit rabbit holes on a quest for justice. And one is never enough, is it? Once you've been bitten by the true crime podcast bug, you need more and more audio to sate that desire for solved cold cases. And, not that we need to justify our love of the medium, it's important to say that an interest in the macabre doesn't make you a monster. If anything it makes you that little bit better prepared for the monsters if they do come knocking. 

Given the thousands of hours available on your podcast service of choice, it's vital to know which slices of darkness are superior. That's where we come in. This list of the best true crime podcasts has been crafted to make the most of your commute. Whether you want to be afraid, cry, laugh, or just find out what happens when someone dives into the La Brea Tar Pits (Criminal), these are the right listenables for you. Plus, in terms of fresh new true crime podcasts in September 2019, Unheard: The Fred and Rose West Tapes reveals even more secrets from 25 Cromwell Street, and Audible has released Body of Proof, a new West Cork-style investigation into the murder of Edinburgh woman Suzanne Pilley and the conviction of her ex-lover.

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20. The Last Days of August

(Image credit: Amazon)

An Audible Original and a brilliant excuse to use up that free trial, Jon Ronson’s The Last Days of August is a disturbing dive into the porn industry. Ronson’s previous podcast The Butterfly Effect talked about the industry as a whole - and take this as a free recommendation to get that in your ears too - but this series focuses on 23 year old actress August Ames who took her own life in 2017. 

It’s a disturbing and tragic story but Ronson steers through the tale with compassion and empathy as he uncovers a new and unnerving side of events. While August’s husband had first connected with Ronson to make a story out of how Twitter cyber-bullying had forced her to take her own life, the truth, it turns out, is very different.

 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. The Clearing 

(Image credit: Gimlet Media)

There are plenty of sayings about family. You can even buy them etched on wood and scatter them around the house. ‘You don’t have to be mad to live here but it helps…’ or just ‘family is everything.’ April Balascio would probably like to make a giant bonfire of these signs. She had always been afraid that her father was up to no good but at 40, when she pieced together her childhood of endlessly moving home, she called a detective with her suspicions. Edward Wayne Edwards, it turns out, was a serial killer and April had supplied the missing piece for a swathe of cold cases. 

The Clearing feels like far more than just solving the unsolved though. April’s honesty about her father and genuine quest for the truth as she and host Josh Dean delve into Edwards’ past, makes this an emotional journey. Supplemented by tapes from Edwards himself, who obsessively documented everything, the podcast is a terrifying glimpse into a depraved psyche. One that was hidden until his daughter finally went looking.

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.