true crime podcasts

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Dateline’s Mommy Doomsday

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

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.

Unsolved Mysteries, “The Haunting of Ball Cemetery”

Full disclosure: The last (and only) time I watched Unsolved Mysteries was circa 1991, when my babysitter Pam put on an episode about a missing boy that included one of the most chilling age-progression photos I have ever seen — to this day. My 9-year-old self had nightmares for weeks, and now I can’t so much as hear the show’s iconic theme song without getting a shiver down my spine. For fraidy-cats such as myself, I recommend the long-running series’s new podcast, which feels more like story time around a campfire than a scary movie come to life. This debut episode (which is not true crime, per se, though such tales are surely on the way) focuses on the mysterious activity at Ball Cemetery in rural Nebraska. Various visitors recount their harrowing brushes with ghosts and other supernatural occurrences, but with a runtime of just under 30 minutes, the episode left me a bit wanting by the end. Hopefully, future installments will have a bit more heft to their haunts. —Amy Wilkinson

Shootout: The Battle for North Hollywood: “Two Eleven”

February 28 will mark the 24th anniversary of a brutal bank robbery that saw over 2,000 rounds of ammunition fired between armed-to-the-teeth thieves and responding police in a devastating standoff. Back in 1997, the destruction played out live across news channels. Now, the events of this terrible day — for better and worse — are revisited by the people who survived them. Former FBI special agent Maureen O’Connell serves as host on this Audible Plus series. However, for much of it she steps aside to allow officers, hostages, and the bank’s employees to create an oral history of the notorious North Hollywood shootout. A lean sound design bolsters but never overwhelms their voices, allowing these untold stories to be the series’s focus and emotional core. It’s uniquely riveting. And with episodes ranging from 17 to 40 minutes, it’s easy to binge. —Kristy Puchko

Mommy Doomsday, “Start of Something Big”

By now, we know the fate of Lori Vallow’s two children, JJ, 11, and Tylee, 17, who went missing in September 2019. We also know about the other deaths that took place in Lori’s orbit (including that of her former husband) and the connection she had to a doomsday cult. Yet, in a new podcast hosted by Keith Morrison and produced by Dateline and NBC News in partnership with Neon Hum, we get a closer look at how this all played out. The second episode cracks open the specifics of Vallow’s religious beliefs and the person who exposed her to them — Chad Daybell, the leader of a group obsessed with the end times and who believed he’d had 31 previous lives. Daybell and Vallow quickly became close and began to plot out a new reality — a community of fellow believers located in Rexsburg, Idaho. (This scenario did not include accommodations for their spouses, Charles Vallow and Tammy Daybell.) Things get creepy quickly, and we hear about it directly from those who knew Lori and Chad in interviews conducted by Morrison and relayed in mesmerizing, disturbing detail. —Chanel Dubosky

The Poisoners’ Cabinet, “Borgia Vs Medici: Season 1 Finale”

The Poisoners’ Cabinet, which celebrates its one-year anniversary with this season finale, is the kind of podcast that I keep in my back pocket and binge when I want something a bit lighter than usual; it’s more like a British murder mystery you’d find on AcornTV than the latest straight-from-the-headlines special on Oxygen. Hosts Nick and Sinead are two British history buffs who pair fancy cocktails with old-timey-wimey poisoning crimes for a delightfully macabre treat. They go long on this episode about two of the most powerful and infamous dynasties in European history, the Borgias and the Medicis. Both families’ histories are absolutely riddled with royal intrigue, sexy scandals, and poisonous plots, giving our hosts plenty to sink their teeth into as they imbibe colorful cocktails made with blue Curaçao, a nod to the blue-blooded subjects. This episode has everything: an orgy at the Papal Palace where they threw chestnuts all over the place like a horny game of Boar on the Floor; baroque methods of poisoning, including a key covered in tiny spikes, a fancy ring shaped like a lion with fangs that punctured the skin, and poisoned ladies’ gloves; truly hair-raising methods of increasing fertility; and powerful women who may or may not have been as bad as they’ve been portrayed by the history books and media. — Jenni Miller

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Dateline’s Mommy Doomsday