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.
Hollywood Crime Scene: “The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Texarkana Moonlight Murders”
Sure, it’s November 1, but Hollywood Crime Scene’s Halloween series “Movie vs. Reality” has a much longer shelf life than those fun-size Snicker bars. Throughout the month of October, hosts Desi Jedeikin and Rachel Fisher have been examining real-life murder cases and the classic cinema they inspired, and they’re concluding their series with a chilling (and still unsolved) string of murders that took place in the town of Texarkana in 1946. Dubbed the “Phantom Killer,” an unidentified man murdered five people and wounded another three over the course of about three months before abruptly disappearing. Several of the victims were set upon while parked at a local lovers’ lane — one of a few chilling similarities to the Zodiac Killer case a few decades later. In 1976, the film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, loosely based on the events in Texarkana, hit theaters, drawing some ire from survivors and family members. But the town seems to have since embraced it, as it hosts a screening of the slasher flick every year around Halloween. Apparently few things are quite as perennial as murder. —Amy Wilkinson
A Perfect Storm: The True Story of the Chamberlains: “Person or Persons Unknown”
In August 1980, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, along with their daughter, Azaria, 2 months old, went camping in Australia’s Northern Territory. In the middle of the night, after growling was heard coming from Azaria’s tent, Lindy discovered that her daughter was gone, and claimed that a dingo had taken the child and eaten it (FYI, there will be approximately zero “Dingo ate my baby” jokes in this blurb), since her body was never found, although her clothing was. But was it a dingo? Or did Lindy kill her daughter?
A Perfect Storm takes us right into the media circus that ensued after Azaria’s disappearance, including how the Chamberlains reacted to their missing daughter, whether or not Lindy acted as we’d expect a grieving mother “should,” and what the case meant for wildlife conservation in the Australian outback. In this latest episode, we hear the coroner’s pronouncement that it was actually a dingo who took Azaria, but in a paragraph delivered moments later, it wasn’t a dingo that killed her — it was “a person or persons unknown.” (Eek.) Each episode of A Perfect Storm is relatively short, and packed with details, so listen carefully, especially since its narration is unfailingly calm. It’s honestly kind of like the Great British Bake Show, but about something truly horrible. —Chanel Dubofsky
Gangster House: “Going Legit”
Since Gangster House launched last week, the podcast about “the Sultan of Smut” has covered the rise of Mike Thevis from small-time newsstand owner in Atlanta to a porn entrepreneur with a sprawling estate in Atlanta. (Most notably, Bobby Brown claimed he had sex with a ghost at the mansion when he and Whitney Houston were living there in the ’90s.) The third episode focuses on Thevis’s desire to get into the music and (non-pornographic) movie industries, which only resulted in terribad now-cult movies like Poor Pretty Eddie and one almost-success story with the band L.A.W. Thevis might have been a porn mastermind — after all, he landed on the bright idea to project adult movies using the automated peep-show machines originally used to show children’s cartoons — but he had comically bad luck in the straight world. As detailed in Gangster House, it seems like even his henchmen weren’t the best or brightest; their attempts to burn down a rival’s warehouse of peep-show machines sounded more like a Benny Hill sketch than racketeering. However, this is serious business that resulted in murder and major jail charges, not to mention a daring jail escape, so I’ll definitely be tuning in to future episodes to see how this all shakes out. —Jenni Miller
Amy Should Be Forty: “Loose Ends”
Look, at this point, Vault Studios could make a podcast about a person making scrambled eggs, and I would listen. Everything it makes (Bardstown, True Crime Chronicles) is excellent, and that includes this latest series, “Amy Should Be Forty,” about the 1989 unsolved kidnapping and murder of 10-year-old Amy Mihaljevic from Bay Village, a suburb of Cleveland.
The details of Amy’s case are absolutely sinister and frustrating. Among them the fact that the day she disappeared, a police officer came to her school to talk about stranger danger. There are the phone calls other girls got from a man attempting to use a similar ruse to lure them away. There are the people who saw Amy with her kidnapper. There are suspects and suspects and suspects, and nothing. So now what? Was Amy her killer’s only victim? Is her killer still alive? Can DNA solve the case? With insight from writer James Renner, who as a child had a run in with a man who may well have been Amy’s killer, as well as WKYC in Cleveland, Amy Should Be Forty is swift, hard-hitting, and the sort of disturbing that will make even the most seasoned true-crime aficionados wonder if they really have heard everything. —Chanel Dubofsky