true crime podcasts

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Murder Ballads

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.

Chameleon: High Rollers, “Chapter 3: The Sting”

In the intriguing first season of Chameleon, hosts Josh Dean and Vanessa Grigoriadis investigated the twisty case of the Hollywood Con Queen, the so-called grifter who impersonated some of the most powerful women in the entertainment industry in order to rip off and humiliate some of the least powerful. (Definitely give it a listen if you haven’t yet.) The podcast is now back for a second season with a new host — investigative journalist Trevor Aaronson — and a new story — the FBI investigation known as Operation Botox. (It’s a rather bizarre moniker — if not a misnomer — given that no medi-spas or injectables appear to be involved …) Our entry point is an entrepreneur named Emile, a smooth talker who owns a chain of weight-loss clinics and also happens to have an FBI file full of erroneous information after a bizarre misunderstanding involving 9/11. In a bid to lure investors, Emile finds himself caught up in a money-laundering scheme, and things get even messier from there, with the investigation widening and looping in a handful of his acquaintances. It all appears to be a ham-fisted attempt on the part of FBI agents to create some splashy, high-profile sting, yet no conviction is ultimately made. So what, exactly, went wrong? I can’t wait to find out. —Amy Wilkinson

Songs in the Key of Death, “Henry Clay Beattie”

Courtney E. Smith’s new podcast about murder ballads is a creepy delight for true-crime fans and music lovers alike. Smith packs each bite-sized episode with historical research about the crime behind a famous song, along with facts about the song and its evolution over the years. Each episode ends with a cover of the ballad, which is a nifty way to keep the tradition going.

The first episode gives crucial context for the song “Delia’s Gone,” which was given new life in 1994 when Johnny Cash covered it for his Rick Rubin–produced reboot. Smith delves into the murder of Louise Owen by her husband Henry Clay Beattie, who blamed a mysterious “highwayman” for the death of his young wife and new mother. What I really dig about Smith’s work here is that she gives the subjects of these ballads the chance to be seen and heard for themselves, with a nuance that offers insight into who they were and why their stories still resonate. —Jenni Miller

International Infamy with Ashley Flowers, “MEXICO: The Little Old Lady Killer”

Crime Junkie host Ashley Flowers has kicked off a new venture that will explore 15 high-profile true-crime cases from around the globe. In this premiere episode, she takes listeners south of the border to revisit Mexico’s first recorded serial-killer investigation. When a string of elderly women were found strangled to death in their homes in the late 1990s, the police suspected that only a man could be capable of such brutality. They couldn’t imagine the chilling truth that a masked female wrestler — or luchadora — was targeting these vulnerable victims, not only for easy money but also to work out her rage over a traumatizing past. With an eye for investigatory missteps, Flowers ushers us through the case and shares the full and harrowing story of Juana Barraza, a.k.a. the Lady of Silence, a.k.a. The Old Lady Killer. —Kristy Puchko

Sticky Beak, “The Key That Could Use a Little Turning”

In season 2 of Sticky Beak, Jessica Fritz Aguiar continues her investigation into the disappearance of 12-year-old Doreen Vincent, who vanished from her father’s house in Wallingford, Connecticut, in June 1989. Vincent’s case was reclassified from a missing-person to a homicide investigation, but her body has yet to be found. In the second episode of Sticky Beak, Fritz Aguiar tunnels into some grim questions that demand answers: What do we believe about young girls who disappear? Are they runaways who never want to be found? What about the stories from the men who were the last people to see them (See: Michael Turney, arrested in August of 2020 for the murder of his stepdaughter, Alissa)? And when do you stop looking for a missing person? Can you prosecute a suspected murderer if there’s no body? We may have some answers for that last question, via Fritz Aguiar’s conversation with nationally renowned “no-body” expert and prosecutor Tad DiBiase. Whether or not you’re new to Doreen Vincent’s case, this new season of Sticky Beak is sure to disturb you, obsess you, and make you long for answers. —Chanel Dubofsky

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This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Murder Ballads