The true-crime-podcast universe is ever expanding. We’re here to make it a bit smaller and a bit more manageable. There are a lot of great shows, and each has a lot of great episodes, so we want to highlight the noteworthy and the exceptional. Each week, our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists will pick their favorites.
The Missing Cryptoqueen, “Dr. Ruja”
In June 2016, an impeccably dressed businesswoman took the stage in front of a massive audience at Wembley Arena in London. Wearing diamonds and her trademark bright-red lipstick, Dr. Ruja Ignatova oozed success as she spoke of a financial revolution that would make them all rich via her brand of cryptocurrency: OneCoin. The crowd ate it up. “She looked like a queen,” one attendee recalls in the first episode of the new BBC podcast, The Missing Cryptoqueen. Dr. Ruja had millions of followers, host Jamie Bartlett reports, and was one of the richest women in Europe — a cross between Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Apple founder Steve Jobs. When bitcoin first appeared on an obscure internet forum in 2008, reception was lukewarm. But as big banks behaved badly, cryptocurrency gained momentum and digital currency entrepreneurs like Dr. Ruja entered the scene, promising to take the new digital currency to the next level. In late 2017, Dr. Ruja vanished. Did she meet with foul play or did she play her followers by carrying out what could be the largest cryptocurrency scam of all time? Bartlett sets out to tell the story that, he confides, shocked even him. —Lara Bricker
Let’s Go to Court!, “The Durable Michael Malloy & a Mother Who Took Justice Into Her Own Hands”
Hosted by Brandi Egan and Kristin Caruso — one went to law school for a year and the other has a single semester of criminal-justice classes, Let’s Go to Court! recorded 87 episodes before getting a mention on a recent episode of My Favorite Murder. LGTC is a comedy podcast about court cases, and not just the murder-y kind (Brandi and Kristen admit to being obsessed with lawsuits in general). In this episode, we learn about some dudes so intent on collecting an insurance policy that they repeatedly try to kill another dude who seems to be truly indestructible (did you know it’s possible to get hit by a car twice and live? Don’t try it). In a much less hilarious case, Kristen and Brandi discuss dumb questions asked on To Catch a Predator, and the case of Ellie and Will Nessler, who, for the worst reasons, got to be on Oprah. If you believe that true crime and comedy can (and must) coexist, and you’re into funny humans and obscure court cases, download the crap out of this one.
Motive, “Shooting From a Mercedes”
A lawyer explains that it’s like a horrible sociological experiment: Take a 13-year-old boy from the streets of Chicago, convict him as an adult for a murder that he claims he didn’t commit, release him from prison in his 30s … and give him $25 million. What happens next? This is the setup described in “A Shooting From a Mercedes,” the opening episode of Motive, a new podcast from WBEZ in Chicago. We are introduced to T.J. Jimenez, the aforementioned 30-year-old, through a viral video of him driving through a West Chicago neighborhood in a Mercedes convertible, “Ave Maria” playing on the sound system, and, without provocation, shooting a man twice, once in each leg. With this as the spine of the episode, we get an overview of Jimenez’s post-release life. He spends his $25 million, earned in a settlement with the city, to recruit gang members with expensive cars, road trips, and the like. Flipping allegiances is a taboo in the Chicago scene, and Jimenez’s flagrant poaching leads to an uptick in violence in the blocks that he’s trying to make his territory. The show’s host, Frank Main, is a reporter with the Chicago Sun-Times and knows both Jimenez and the world that he lives in. He teases a complex story to come after this impressive start. —Toby Ball
My Life of Crime With Erin Moriarty, “The Family Business”
On a scale of one to ten, how mad would you be if your mother gave your home address to a serial killer? (This is not a theoretical scenario.) In this new six-episode podcast, 48 Hours’ Erin Moriarty takes listeners inside cases like the Lizzie Borden murders (she spends the night inside the house) and explains how her true-crime career has informed her personal life. In “The Family Business,” Moriarty, along with colleague Richard Schlessinger and her son, Nick Musurca, a Hollywood horror-movie writer, examine the question of why we love true crime and what happens when a person’s job is talking to people like Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. Maybe all the terrible information the person has accumulated over 30 years will lead to always expecting the worst-case scenario, like what happened to Moriarty when Nick briefly disappeared while riding his bike in Central Park as a child. This is a different look at true crime than we’re used to, from someone who’s spent her career closer to it than most of us would want to be, if we’re being honest. (Again, pretend a serial killer knows where you live.) A podcast like this doesn’t come along every day, so listen well. —Chanel Dubofsky