true crime podcasts

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Michael Caine Has a Show About Gangs

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.

Michael Caine: Gangs, “Respect”

What’s it all about? This Audible Original podcast features legendary English actor Sir Michael Caine unfurling stories of the world’s most infamous gangs and gangsters. In the first of a six-episode series, Caine gets personal, returning to the swinging ’60s of East End London. There, he was a rising star who rubbed elbows with notorious nightclub owners the Kray twins. Ronnie and Reggie Kray were dapper, violent, powerful, and deeply beloved by the locals for their undeniable charm and contributions to charity (albeit of stolen goods). Even after these brutal brothers were locked up for murder, East Enders celebrated them by donning T-shirts with their visages. Now, decades after their deaths, the gruesome twosome are remembered frankly and fondly by historians, cohorts, friends, and Caine himself in interviews that are interwoven and incredibly revealing. The theme of this series is loosely, “What makes a gang successful?” But that’s mostly a thin excuse to delve into the underbelly of organized-crime stories. Still, the research is thoughtfully done. Besides, we’d listen to Caine’s signature grumble read the phone book. —Kristy Puchko

Paper Ghosts: Season 2, “Checkmate”

In July 1981, a fire swept through the home of Bethel, Ohio, residents William and Linda Stevenson. When the police arrived, they found four bodies in total — William and Linda, as well as their 5-year-old son, William, and Linda’s brother, Eddie. All four had been shot before the fire, and the house was robbed before the blaze was set. Forty years later, journalist M. William Phelps is examining new details in the case: conflicting information in regard to geography, the location of a very important piece of jewelry, and what Carol, the Stevensons’ daughter, saw, and when she saw it. In “Checkmate,” we take a look at what it can take to get an arrest, including putting a mic on a casket in case anyone feels like confessing at the funeral, and one woman’s decision to become an FBI informant, in spite of her fear that she could end up as the fifth victim. —Chanel Dubofsky

The First Wife: John Meehan’s Reign of Terror, “Filthy John Meehan”

If you were addicted to the Dirty John podcast, you won’t want to miss its unofficial companion piece. Years before charismatic con man John Meehan was manipulating businesswoman Debra Newell and spooking her dubious daughters, he was married to nurse anesthetist Tonia Bales. In this eight-part series, Meehan’s first wife reveals what her marriage to this notorious schemer was like. In the first episode, she shares a series of red flags, like how their first meeting began with a lie and the phone call that first alerted her that he was a cheater. Serving as narrator, Rachel Louise Snyder ties Bales’s vulnerable reflections and shocking realizations to interviews with Meehan’s former colleagues and friends, giving a fuller yet still fearsome picture of the man known as Dirty — or even Filthy — John. —Kristy Puchko

American ISIS, “God’s Plan”

American ISIS is the true story of Russell Dennison, an American from Pennsylvania who, after serving time for marijuana possession and converting to Islam, moved his family to Syria to fight in the civil war. In 2018, Dennison began emailing journalist Trevor Aaronson with audio recordings of his experiences amid the bombings, as well as photos and recollections of his life before he joined the Islamic State. In episode eight, Aaronson is contacted by Dennison’s wife and finds himself in a quandary — can and should he help her? What did Dennison want, and what did he accomplish by leaving the U.S. and becoming a jihadi? While Dennison struggles to evade capture by Kurdish forces, he details how his wife and daughters left ISIS territory, as well as the impossibility of his future in the U.S., the reality of ISIS crumbling, and the unlikelihood that he will live to see the end of the war. —Chanel Dubofsky

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This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Michael Caine Talks Gangs