true crime podcasts

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Spies From Russia

Photo-Illustration: by 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.

Spy Affair, “I Just Met a Girl Named Maria”

You might remember Maria Butina as the red-headed Russian spy accused of seducing Republican politicians to improve relations between the U.S. and Putin. In 2018, it seemed a juicy tale out of a James Bond film, but with the FBI swooping in instead of 007. Now the case on Butina is closed. Yet questions linger, like who was she working for? What were her true goals? And who exactly was the woman behind the flashy headlines? From Wondery, the network that’s brought us such fascinating true-crime podcasts as Dr. Death, Over My Dead Body, and The Apology Line, comes a six-part series that explores these queries and more. With an open mind and a tenacious curiosity, documentarian Celia Aniskovich investigates, interviewing Butina’s friends, lovers, alleged marks, and the notorious femme fatale herself. To kick things off, this episode offers anecdotes about gun advocacy, steamy hotel nights, and a joyful day at Disney World. –Kristy Puchko

Killer Role, “It Just Went Off”

Keith Morrison’s latest podcast project, Killer Role, begins with the birth of an independent film called From the Dark and proceeds to tell the truly wild story of life imitating art. When the film — a psychological horror movie written by father-and-daughter team Matthew and Trinity Spickard, released in 2020 — was being cast, filmmakers believed they had found the perfect actor, Wynn Reed, to play the leading role of Valerie Faust, unaware that Reed, whose real name was Aisling Tucker Moore-Reed, would later plead guilty to charges of manslaughter in the shooting death of her uncle. There is much irony throughout this story, including the fact that Reed’s character in From the Dark actually shoots a gun, an action that gave the filmmakers pause during filming and, of course, shocked them after learning about the charges against her. In the second episode of Killer Role, Dateline’s Morrison probes Reed’s interviews with police, in which she details her uncle’s abusive actions against her family in their home in rural Oregon, and the moments in which things got “hazy” for her on the night of the murder. —Chanel Dubofsky

Criminal, “I Fought the Law”

It’s one of the music industry’s enduring mysteries: On the afternoon of July 18, 1966, 23-year-old rocker Bobby Fuller was found dead inside his mother’s Oldsmobile, parked in front of the Hollywood apartment building where he lived. A gas can discovered inside the car — kept there because the gas gauge was broken — led authorities to believe Fuller may have died by suicide. Although, confusingly, the medical examiner apparently checked both the suicide and accident boxes on the report, adding question marks next to each. Without a definitive explanation for the death (many believe it may have been murder), speculation has run wild — with everyone from the Mafia to Charles Manson name-checked. What is clear is that Fuller, a Texas native who had just months earlier scored a top-ten hit with his band’s cover of “I Fought the Law,” was a rising star whose ascent was cut tragically short. And we’ll never know just how much of a sonic force he could have been. —Amy Wilkinson

Cold, “Nightmare on Top of a Nightmare”

Season one of Cold delved into the case of Susan Powell, a Utah woman who disappeared in 2009. In its second season, it examines the 1985 disappearance of another Utah woman, Joyce Yost, who vanished from her South Ogden home in August, two months after she gave police an account of her kidnapping and rape by a man she’d never met. At the time of her disappearance, she was scheduled to testify in ten days against Douglas Anderson Lovell, who had been arrested for her rape, threatened to kill her, and was later sentenced to death for her murder. (While her car was found abandoned, Yost’s body has never been recovered.)

In episode three, investigative journalist and host of Cold, Dave Crawley, assesses Lowell’s plan to hire someone to kill Yost, as well as the many times Lowell’s violence could have been stopped by police, including the lack of communication between counties that enabled Lowell, out of jail on bond while awaiting trial for rape, to get out of jail in another county after being held on a DUI charge. That same day, he had failed to show up in court, and at the time of his DUI arrest, he was heading to Joyce Yost’s house. —Chanel Dubofsky

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This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Spies From Russia