My favorite murder and crime podcasts may be inspired by the pandemic. Pandemics and podcasts go together like “pencil and paper.” You know, like “viruses and vaccines,” like “peanut butter and…”
Enough with the pandemic punny pairs already!
It’s true however. The pandemic has completely untethered me from my previous life of massive meetings, social engagements, travel, going to events and seeing friends. In place, I’ve started a serious practice of podcasting and walking. Some of my favorite podcasts have the soul purpose of enlightenment, others provide me historical context and then some are simply deep dives into the dark underbelly of human character. It’s hard to put some of these favorite podcasts in one list over another, but I’ve done my best. My only real advice? Get earbuds, a good pair of walking shoes and choose your podcast pleasure. And enjoy my list…
Podcasts that Explore the Dark Underbelly of Human Behavior
You’ll find this on Wondery, a virtual goldmine for the dark underbelly genre. Joe Nocera, a serious New York Times reporter, tells a true story about his Hamptons next door neighbor that is flabbergastingly unreal. If you’ve ever feared your psychiatrist has some Svengali-like grip on you, listen to this podcast and keep your bank account numbers to yourself. Apple TV is turning this podcast into a dark comedy series starring Will Ferrell and Paul Judd.
A Killing on the Cape tells the true story of writer Christa Worthington, who moves into her family’s cape bungalow to escape New York and get her head on straight. Instead, she ends up getting murdered and thus you meet the cast of characters in this small New England town. Basically, you’ll spend much of the podcast musing if the killer is the shellfish constable, a man with six children who is also her baby daddy? Or was it her sorta slimy Harvard-educated poppa who’s latest flame is a 29-year-old sex worker? I did not know Christa Worthington, however she and I traveled in parallel circles when I lived in New York. Christa was an accomplished fashion reporter and when she was mysteriously murdered, her gruesome murder the topic of numerous hushed conversations at cocktail parties. The story was extensively covered in the New York Times, ABC and the Boston Globe and subject of a made-for-TV movie, Murder on the Cape. Whodunit’s your genre? This one’s for you.
Another wonderful Wondery podcast that’s been around almost since the dawn of podcasting (slight exaggeration) is Dirty John. Dirty John should be at the top of the list in the “dark underbelly of human character category,” but honestly, everybody’s already heard of it. Right? If you haven’t heard of the podcast, surely you heard of the Netflix series, featuring my new fave ingenue actress Julia Garner? Okay, how to explain Dirty John. Try this: ever have a dynamic girlfriend who is attractive, successful and ALWAYS chooses the schmuck in every crowd? Such is the case with sweet Debra Newell. She starts dating John Meehan, a doctor who’s credentials, hygiene and behaviors would indicate he’s anything but a physician. When faced with the reality that John may indeed be a scam artist, drug addict, and a dirty thief, Debra chooses to stay with him until… The until moment is the stuff of horror movies.
You’ll basically want to go straight from Dirty John to Doctor Death. You’ll also want to get a second opinion if ANY doctor suggests operating anywhere on your spine. Evil or incompetent? Brilliant or narcotically induced brain dead? Christopher Duntsch, affectionately called Dr. D is truly, madly, deeply, the motherfucker of malpractice neurosurgeons. Much like Dirty John, charming and seriously sick. Put this at the top of the dark underbelly podcasts. Still waiting for the movie. Oh hello Christian Bale! Calling Christian Bale as Doctor Duntsch.
I’m a sucker for slimy men stories. Harvey Weinstein? I literally fall asleep fantasizing about his fat ass lying in a jail cell. Bernie Madoff? Read the very good book, “The Wizard of Lies,” by New York Times business writer Diana Henriques and watched the subsequent series on Hulu featuring Robert de Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer. Think my fascination is any indication I’ve run into a few slime balls in my life? None as wretched as Jeffrey Epstein. Truth? I’m as fascinated by Ghyslaine Maxwell, his accomplice, as I am by Mr. Epstein. I’m actually REALLY waiting for the podcast on her. (To whet your appetite on that one, google the story of how her father, media mogul Robert Maxwell mysteriously “fell” off his yacht back in the early nineties.) Back to the “Mysterious Mr. Epstein.” Be careful if stories of gross old men taking advantage of teenage girls is triggering. Really. This entire Podcast is triggering and leaves one staggeringly bewildered how he got away with it for so long.
Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered
My Favorite Murder was my introduction to the podcast game and even though it’s like the most popular podcast of all times, it’s an acquired taste. This true crime podcast is hosted by two seemingly valley-ish girls, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff and if you don’t find any humor in digesting the stories of gruesome deaths and serial killers, I would definitely not tune in.
If you do listen, you really need to get past the first fifteen minutes. While Georgia and Karen’s banter seems like banal “bestie girlfriend” chatter, these two are keen discerners of the human condition. They also have a lot to say about the soul-battering attempt to lead a good life. Each episode lasts from one hour to two, and both Karen and Georgia describe and discuss a different murder. Some are famous, some little known. They took their podcast show on the road and performed at sold-out venues across the country. Fun fact, I’m a member of the “Murderino” fan club and when Georgia and Karen took said show on the road, I was right there in the front row of the Fox Theater screaming at the top of my lungs, “STAY SEXY AND DON’T GET MURDERED!!!” (Sorry folks, you have to be a murderino to understand that last line).
Small towns in Connecticut, a seven-year span, and four young girls go missing. This podcast by iHeart Radio is another journalistic romp into a curious set of disappearances with a cast of characters straight out of “The Royal Tenenbaums.” (Well, the Royal Tenenbaums who live in shacks and have no money.) Told, very intriguingly, by journalist M. William Phelps. Okay, can we stop right there? When your name is “M. William,” do we call you “Em” as in Auntie? Whatever. It’s a pretentious name for a non-pretentious podcast that delves into families and characters and the Connecticut landscape and darkness.
I can hear you already. Why would I listen to a podcast about Richard Simmons? Ewwww. Wasn’t he that bouffant hairdo wearing fitness instructor who did “Sweatin’ with the Oldies” videos? Well, yes, that Richard Simmons. But hold on, this is real investigative journalism, trust me. And whether you were ever a fan of Richard Simmons or not, this podcast explores the whole nature of exploitationism (as if that word existed).
Richard basically up and vanished from public life in 2014. Did he fall under the spell of an over-aggressive housekeeper? Is he trapped in the attic room of his Hollywood mansion? Is it our business to know or care? I’ll just leave you with my favorite Richard Simmons quotes which basically sums up my philosophy of life. “Number one, like yourself. Number two, you have to eat healthy. And number three, you’ve got to squeeze your buns.”
“Number one, like yourself. Number two, you have to eat healthy. And number three, you’ve got to squeeze your buns.”
This podcast could easily go into the “Historical Context” category because it features a great place (Alaska) and historically significant characters (two congressmen). I’ve kept it in Dark Under Belly category because of the strange cast of characters who emerge in this exploration of what happened to the two congressmen after their plane took off. Was the plane bombed? Did the conniving, nefarious wife of Alaska Congressman Belgich have something to do with it? Was this a mob hit? Or just one of the many planes in Alaska that go missing every year. Cokie Roberts even factors into this tale because Louisiana Congressman, Hale Boggs was in the plane that disappeared without a trace.
So I’ve given you nine podcasts to explore the dark underbelly of human character and hours of podcast walking. Should you prefer a more productive and somewhat less gruesome way to spend your walking hours, you’ll want to check out my best picks of historically significant podcasts.