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.
Detective Trapp: “All the Missing” and “Circuits”
In 2017, Los Angeles Times staff writer Christopher Goffard introduced the world to con man John Meehan, the wily villain at the center of Dirty John. The podcast would ultimately become a huge hit for Goffard, inspiring a TV adaptation for Bravo starring Eric Bana and Connie Britton. Two years later, and Goffard is back with another compelling personality — but this one’s on the right side of the law. Meet Detective Julissa Trapp, a petite spitfire who, after years of working sex crimes, fights her way onto the homicide division of the Anaheim Police Department. Her background makes her well-suited to launch an investigation into a growing string of local murders involving sex workers — women whose disappearances have frustratingly been deemed “low priority” by police, due to their lifestyles. And while the nuts-and-bolts police work here is intriguing, it’s the window Goffard opens into Trapp’s personal life that gives this podcast its true humanity. It may not be long before TV producers come calling once again. —Amy Wilkinson
Sick: “Why Would We Stop Now?”
Sick is a podcast about what happens when things go very wrong with the people and places that are supposed to keep us safe. This season, investigative journalists Jake Harper and Lauren Bavis examine the case of Indianapolis fertility doctor Donald Cline, who — wait for it — used his own sperm to impregnate women, producing more than 20 children. Episode six looks at the story of Heather Woock, who learned that she was one of Cline’s biological children after she took at 23andMe test. Woock is on her own fertility journey, and Harper and Bavis examine what’s involved in IVF, while also pondering how regulated fertility clinics actually are, how to interpret the success rates of clinics, and if something like what happened with Cline, who’s retired and has surrendered his license, could happen again. While Sick isn’t about murder or other traditional aspects of true crime, it will captivate, astonish, and horrify you, as any quality investigative podcast should. —Chanel Dubfosky
Oversight: Jonestown: “24 Hours”
2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. Oversight, CQ Roll Call’s new podcast, is taking a look at the People’s Temple massacre through the lens of congressional oversight (relevant to current events): Whose responsibility was it to intervene? Could anything have been done to save the 900 people who died? Who had what information when, and how could it have been used?
You would expect a podcast about Jonestown to culminate in the massacre, but that’s what Oversight begins with. In this first episode, host Sheila MacVicar sets us up for the horror to come, complete with interviews with former People’s Temple members, detailing how those seeking to escape Jonestown made their way toward Congressman Leo Ryan, his aide Jackie Speier, and journalists, and how quickly things deteriorated, leading to the murder of Ryan and those attempting to flee, as well as members of the press. The narration is compelling and dreadful, in the true sense of the word. While we know about what followed, hearing how it plays out is absolutely chilling. In addition to the details, there’s much what you might not have heard about, including a Soviet connection. Even if you think you know everything about Jonestown, Oversight is going to surprise you. —Chanel Dubofsky
All Crime No Cattle: “The Murder of Stacey Stites and the Case Against Rodney Reed, Part 1”
This week is the first of a two-parter about the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites in Bastrop, Texas, a little town outside of Austin that’s been in the national news the past week. Rodney Reed has been on death row for the crime for over 20 years, and he was set to be executed November 20 until the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a last-minute stay. The Innocence Project’s attorneys are planning to unveil a ton of new evidence that they hope will exonerate Reed, who is still on death row for the time being. Just to give you an idea of the scope of the investigation, attorney Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project has spent 18 years on the case so far, and it’s now gained attention from the likes Oprah.
This episode from All Crime No Cattle sets up the crime and how Reed was convicted, from the DNA evidence taken from Stites’s body to a thorough examination of Bastrop’s racial breakdown. In short, Stites was white, her fiancé Jimmy Fennell is white and a (now former) cop, Bastrop is pretty darn white, and every member of the jury that convicted Reed was white. Reed claimed that he was in a consensual but secret relationship with Stites — secret because of how interracial relationships were seen in Bastrop. The trial went very badly for Reed, and he’s been on death row ever since. The second part will get deeper into the trial, and given how long this first episode was and how much more there is to go, it should prove to be a most necessary whopper for those of us looking to get up to speed on this important case. After all, if there’s anything my home state likes almost as much as the Cowboys, it’s capital punishment. —Jenni Miller