Like all good Americans, I love a murder podcast, but sometimes the ever-increasing bodycount can be a bit much even for me. Sometimes I just want to listen to stories about people who steal from, terrorize, and psychologically destroy other people without sending them to the boneyard. I guess I’m getting soft in my dotage.
These 15 crime-casts detail a diverse collection of misdeeds, from skyjacking, to robbing a Brinks truck, to forming a cult so you can force your followers to play volleyball with you, but they contain as little murder as possible. OK, there is a little murder in some of them, so I’ve given each a rating for how murder-y they are.
Cult podcasts are almost as good as murder podcasts, and the NXIVM story is head-shakingly weird. Cult leader Keith Raniere is such a dork, it’s hard to understand how he was able to convince so many intelligent people to join his new age S&M-and-volleyball cult, but he did it somehow. Raniere drew in sorta-famous actor Alison Mack, Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India, and the subject of Escaping NXIVM, Sarah Edmondson, who allowed herself to be branded to show her loyalty to the group.
Murder content: None
American Skyjacker: The Final Flight of Martin McNally
The story of Martin McNally’s hijacking of a 727 in 1972 is bat-crap crazy. Dude wanted to emulate DB Cooper, but unlike Cooper (who probably died), McNally actually got away with half a million dollars. At least, for a few minutes. This brazen crime alone would have been enough content for a podcast, but McNally then went to prison where he befriended another skyjacker. The pair planned a brazen prison escape involving, what else, hijacking an aircraft. Capers don’t get much weirder than the one outlines in American Skyjacker.
Murder content: One person is killed during a hijacking, but it’s not the focus of the podcast.
The Shrink Next Door
Why would a grown man allow another man to steal his entire life? This podcast explores that question through the story of psychiatrist Isaac Herschkopf’s twisted relationship with patient Martin Markowitz. According to The Shrink Next Door, over the course of 30 years, Herschkopf stole Markowitz’s sizable fortune, his relationship with his family, and essential parts of his personhood. A psychiatrist talking a patient out of their house and bank account might be technically legal, but it’s unethical enough to be considered a crime to me.
Murder content: None
Hunting Warhead tells the story of journalist Håkon Høydal and white hat hacker Einar Stangvik’s efforts to uncover the child predators who lurk on the darkest corners of the internet. Their investigation leads them to “Warhead” and “CrazyMonk,” a monstrous pair who run a dark web child abuse site with millions of registered users from all over the world, drawing the attention of international law enforcement agents who are also on the case. Partly a high-tech detective story and partly a clear-eyed examination of the darkest aspects of the human psyche, Hunting Warhead is proof there are worse crimes than murder.
Murder content: Low, although at least one extremely disturbing murder is ancillary to the story, and you’ll want to murder the podcast’s subjects.
Conviction: An American Panic
In the 1980s, a widespread panic over allegations of child sexual abuse swept America, resulting in broken families, expensive court cases, and innocent people serving long prison sentences for crimes that never happened. Season two of Conviction dives headfirst into the “Satanic Panic” witch-hunt via the story of John Quinney, whose testimony as a 9-year-old led to an eight-year prison sentence for his innocent father Melvin Quinney, who has never been exonerated and remains on the sex offender registry to this day.
Murder content: None.
Season one of this podcast about the intersection of sports and crime is an absolute classic. It tells the story of Anthony Curcio, a college football star who turns to robbery after a knee injury. Curcio’s heist of the contents of a Brinks truck may have been the most elaborate (and hilarious) robbery in history — he hired dozens of actors from Craigslist to dress like him as a distraction, then escaped by paddling away in an inflatable raft! No one was seriously injured in the process, and Curcio himself is so likable, you won’t even feel bad for rooting for him.
Murder content: There are no murders in season one of The Sneak, but season two tells the much darker (but just as fascinating) story of professional-surfer-turned-glamorous-jewel-thief Jack Roland Murphy, who may have been responsible for several murders.
I have a podcast-crush on Criminal host Phoebe Judge. She has the perfect voice and delivery for Vox’s “elevated” take on the true-crime genre. Rather than wallowing in the depravity of human nature, Criminal aims for a nuanced view of what it means to live outside the law. Subjects covered include fake-spiritualists, Quaaludes, the intricacies of “tree-law,” and countless other wondrous crimes and colourful criminals.
Murder content: Minimal. There are nearly 200 episodes of Criminal, and a few are about murder, but never from a salacious angle — think Agatha Christie, not Texas Chainsaw.
Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen
For years, a mysterious con artist preyed on young people who hoped to get into film production. Impersonating various entertainment industry players, the con artist promised screenwriters, stuntmen, producers, and others work on major movies, then had them fly to Indonesia on their own dime. When they arrived in Jarkata, they were instructed to take cabs all over city, until they eventually wised up and flew home. Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen explains the who, what, where, and how of this strange, one-man operation, but the “why” will probably always elude us… unless it was just a way of scamming people out of the cab fare.
Murder content: None
Radio Rental (“mental” in Cockney rhyming slang) is one of the most innovative podcasts ever. This strange stew sets true stories in a fictional universe and combines comedy with real-life horror. Rainn “Dwight Shrute” Wilson hosts in the guise of Terry Carnation, the owner of a video store that offers customers very strange tape rentals. The meat of the show comes from listeners who tell true stories of the strangest, scariest things that ever happened to them. These paranormal encounters, close calls with killers, creepy dudes galore, and stories too weird to classify are made extra creepy by the sincerity in the voices of the people telling the tales.
Murder content: I don’t think there have been any murder stories on Radio Rental, but there is at least one story of a run-in with an actual serial killer that doesn’t end in death.
“Dirty” John Meehan was a walking crime spree. He was a domestic abuser, drug addict, thief, con artist, and arsonist, but he was not a murderer (as far as anyone knows). With a resumé like that, Meehan is a fascinating subject for a true-crime podcast. Told through interviews with one of his main victims and her family, Dirty John takes you deep into the mind of a dangerous psychopath.
Murder content: There is a violent death at the centre of this podcast, but it wasn’t s murder; it was the most justifiable homicide in true crime history.
The Dream isn’t about murder and doesn’t feature true crimes. Instead, the podcast examines things that should be crimes: Multi-level marketing schemes in season one and the “wellness” industry in season two. The Dream’s creators, Jane Marie and Dann Gallucci, avoid taking a judgmental or cynical tone, but they don’t gloss over the real harm these parasitic industries do to their victims.
Murder content: None
Headlong: Missing Richard Simmons
In the 1980s and ‘90s, you couldn’t avoid seeing weight-loss guru Richard Simmons. He was everywhere, from TV talk shows, to The Howard Stern Show, to countless airings of his many infomercials. But one day in 2014, Richard Simmons disappeared from public view and ceased all communication with his loyal fanbase. Podcast host Dan Taberski set out to find him, and to examine the rumour that he was being held captive by his housekeeper. Whether any crime has been committed against Simmons is an open question, but many feel that the host of Missing Richard Simmons is guilty of stalking a man who doesn’t want to be found.
Murder content: None
I freakin’ love Disgraceland. Jake Brennan’s examination of the juncture of rock n’ roll and crime exposes the dark side of musical icons as diverse as Johnny Cash, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Van Morrison. It’s a juicy subject for a podcast, but Brennan’s insightful writing and hipster patois as host make it a must-listen for weirdos and counter-culture types of all stripes.
Murder content: There’s a fair amount of murder in this podcast, OK. But it depends on the musician. Tip: If you don’t like murder, don’t listen to the one about Jerry Lee Lewis.
Murder is arguably the most interesting crime, but Swindled proves that con-artistry is a close second. There’s something about the effort and expertise it takes to pull off a successful scam that never fails to fascinate. Swindled uses archival audio and well-written narration to expose a panoply of boondoggles, from Ponzi schemes, to embezzlement, to political corruption and corporate malfeasance.
Murder content: Low, although it depends on the episode; some scams do end in murder.
Something was Wrong
Something was Wrong does not cover flashy, headline-grabbing felonies. Instead, it takes listeners deep into the kind of crimes that don’t get noticed because they happen so often — stories of average, everyday psychopaths stalking, abusing, and destroying lives. If you’re into true crime for that feeling of “my god, that could happen to me,” this podcast and its compassionate, non-exploitative interviews with everyday victims will be chilling.
Murder content: Low, although a few episodes do feature murders.