When my personal life or the outside world starts feeling overwhelming, true crime is what I turn to in order to self-soothe. There is something oddly comforting about the way crime stories let us ponder questions about ethics, the law, family dynamics, and trauma, all in a mystery package. Whether the stories are ultimately resolved or remain troublingly open-ended, it’s really the journey that’s the point. Nothing else can really compare. (Maybe Real Housewives.)
Since the breakout success of Serial in 2014, podcasts have become one of the biggest forms of true crime consumption, and there’s a lot to choose from. Personally, I stay away from creepy serial killer stories or the lighthearted chattiness of murderinos-style content. And you’ve probably gone through all the usual suspects by now, like Dirty John or S-Town. Here are some lesser-known stories — some older, but all deeply bingeable — you might have overlooked to immerse yourself in while you’re self-isolating at home:
Sleuth (iHeart Radio)
When it premiered in the summer of 2018, this podcast didn’t get the splashy headlines lavished on, say, Serial, perhaps because it has more of a tabloid tone (and that’s a compliment). Over the course of 21 hourlong episodes, the show investigates a 2010 Southern California murder case described as a real-life phantom of the opera, involving Daniel Wozniak, a local theater actor who murdered two friends, one in the theater attic before going onstage that night.
Host Linda Sawyer, a former producer with Geraldo Rivera, 20/20, and 48 Hours who has since died, became fascinated with Wozniak’s girlfriend — fellow actor and former Disneyland princess Rachel Buffett. Buffett was charged as an accessory after the fact in the killings, and Sawyer covers that trial, but raises questions about her actual role in the murders. Through her own research and interviews, she ponders why prosecutors hadn’t sought to charge her as an accomplice.
Sawyer was polarizing as a host, and some redditors were turned off by the tone of a chummy, multi-episode interview she conducted with a former Medieval Times actor who dated Buffett after the murder. But there’s something riveting about listening to Sawyer’s methodical deconstruction of Buffett’s veneer of sugary faux innocence.
The Vanished (Wondery)
In these short, usually stand-alone 40-minute episodes, host Marissa Jones explores the stories of people who suddenly disappeared. She especially focuses on the voices of family members left to pick up the pieces after their loved ones go missing. While most stories in the Vanished podcast genre feature missing white women, some of the most mysterious cases in this series involve young men. In one two-parter, a Colombian father disappears in the midst of a custody dispute with his wife. Years later, his niece starts looking for answers once she has her own children. In another episode, a mother grapples with rumors about her son’s demise after he fails to come back home following a night out with friends. These are haunting, mini melodramas of loss.
Over My Dead Body (Wondery)
Florida State University professor Dan Markel and his wife, Wendi Adelson, were two wealthy, attractive attorneys whose 2006 wedding was featured in the New York Times. Then Markel was shot to death in his car in 2014 amid an acrimonious divorce and custody dispute. The podcast raises questions about Adelson’s family’s potential involvement in the murder, especially her successful dentist brother. It offers a voyeuristic glimpse into the couple’s marriage and the family dynamics, with perhaps the worst-case scenario of bad in-laws. While the FBI tried to solve the case with a sting operation — which resulted in some convictions — prosecutors still consider the murder unsolved, and this podcast takes you right up to the latest developments in 2019.
Accused (Cincinnati Enquirer)
The first — strongest — season of Accused, which premiered in 2016, focuses on the 1978 murder of 23-year-old Ohio college student Elizabeth Andes. The police zeroed in on her football player boyfriend, Bob Young, who was twice exonerated of her murder in criminal and civil trials. Throughout nine episodes, Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Amber Hunt goes back to retrace the case and all the police missteps, in what turns out to be a riveting whodunit with some unexpected twists and suspicious characters, including one potential suspect who insinuates himself into the boyfriend’s life after the murder.
Someone Knows Something (CBC)
This CBC show hosted by filmmaker and writer David Ridgen focuses on some of the usual mysteries like missing children and women. Season 4 is the most unusual, chronicling the aftermath of the 1996 murder of mechanic and aspiring bottled water entrepreneur Wayne Greavette. He received a flashlight in the mail with a typewritten letter with the postscript: "Have a very Merry Christmas and may you never have to buy another flashlight." When he turned the flashlight on, it exploded, killing him instantly. Along with Greavette’s family, Ridgen investigates who might have wanted him dead, including a former business partner, biker gangs, or members of an organized crime group.
The Teacher’s Pet (The Australian)
A sensation in Australia, this podcast chronicles the 1982 disappearance of Lynette Dawson, the wife of famous rugby player and high school coach Chris Dawson. Throughout 16 episodes, the story evocatively captures the atmosphere of Gold Coast Australia and the culture of unchecked misogyny that proliferated, including the practice of teachers dating teen students. There are interviews with a then–16-year-old student whom Chris moved into his home right after his wife’s disappearance, later marrying her and making her the stepmother to his young children. As the interviewees — ranging from family members to law enforcement — look back at the time, it becomes not just a fascinating portrait of a charismatic sociopath (and his twin brother) who probably murdered his wife, but a reckoning with an entire place and time.
This seven-episode podcast focuses on an infamous case involving two privileged and brainy University of Virginia undergrads — Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom — who orchestrated the 1985 murder of Hayson’s parents. Both were tried and convicted, and the whole saga was the subject of a documentary and a comprehensive article in the New Yorker as it remains unclear who — in their fatal romance — was the manipulator or the manipulated. This podcast, by local CBS news journalists in Virginia, is a great introduction to the case. ●