true crime podcasts

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Let’s Talk About Britney

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.

Toxic: The Britney Spears Story, “Circus”

What is really happening to Britney Spears? What’s a conservatorship, and how do you know when the conserved person is being abused by those tasked with taking care of them? Comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray (of Lady to Lady podcast) are tackling the basics of Britney’s situation, explaining what it all means as well as where and when the legal system goes sour. In the latest episode, Barker and Gray talk to Mary Thornton House, a retired L.A. County probate judge, to get a glimpse of what goes on in a conservatorship hearing, as well as Rick Black, an advocate for folks in abusive conservatorships. The truth is that there isn’t a lot of oversight in terms of who can become a professional conservator, the abuse of those under conservatorship is more widespread than we think it is, and there’s no formal prosecution of it. There are some red flags to watch out for (Jamie Spears’s derision of the #FreeBritney movement as a conspiracy theory is actually one of them), so listen in as Babs and Tess go deep into some grim, yet essential, territory. —Chanel Dubofsky

The Prosecutors, “Darlie Routier Part 3”

Hosts Alice and Brett lend their prosecutorial expertise to the case against Darlie Routier, who has been on death row in Texas since 1997 for the murder of her 6-year-old son Devon. On the night of June 6, 1996, Devon and his 5-year-old brother Damon were stabbed to death, and Routier herself suffered a throat wound that barely missed her carotid artery — the results, Routier claimed, of an unknown attacker who left her newborn son and husband sleeping safely upstairs and who allegedly dropped a bloody sock in an alley near their house in Rowlett, a suburb of Dallas. Although the trial and conviction were swift, there’s been a growing movement in favor of Routier’s innocence. In 2002, Texas treasure Skip Hollandsworth wrote “Maybe Darlie Didn’t Do It” for a special true-crime issue of Texas Monthly. I wasn’t familiar with the facts of the case despite its proximity to my hometown, so I especially appreciated Alice and Brett’s clinical and thorough approach to storytelling in this particular instance. I found it interesting that they compared the case and trial to that of Jeffrey MacDonald, with the implication being that Routier is as guilty as MacDonald, in their opinion. Call me Switzerland, ’cause I’m neutral on both — although maybe ask me again after the fourth episode. — Jenni Miller

Unraveled, Season Two: The Stalker’s Web, “Hiding Out”

In season one of Unraveled, Billy Jensen and Alexis Linkletter examined the case of the Long Island serial killer, and now they’re back to crack open the story of Jason Christopher Hughes, the Staten Island–based cyberstalker who has terrorized more than 50 people beginning as far back as 1995. Hughes was able to avoid getting caught for decades while at the same time threatening his targets with all kinds of violence (warning for graphic material). In this final episode in a six-part series, Hughes is finally caught, but it’s hardly resolved. Jensen and Linkletter follow the case as Hughes “trolls” (in the words of Rachel K, one of Hughes’s targets) the legal system by, among other things, pleading guilty and then withdrawing the plea. Under house arrest in his home on Staten Island, Hughes’s response when Jensen and Linkletter seek to interview him is jaw-dropping. And while cyberstalking laws have become more robust in recent years, making sure one’s case is taken seriously is another ordeal in itself. —Chanel Dubofsky

Deathbed Confessions, “Margaret Gibson Pt. 1-3”

For over 40 years, the murder of powerful filmmaker William Desmond Taylor was a mystery. When he was found fatally shot in his Los Angeles home in 1922, the list of suspects was rich with scandalous possibilities. Might it have been his best friend, a comedienne with a known problem with cocaine? Perhaps it was his flamboyant assistant, who was already in trouble with the law. Or could it have something to do with a lovestruck ingénue and her fiercely protective stage mom? Over its first season, this Spotify series narrated by Estefania Hageman promises several winding tales of murder and last-breath admissions. It starts off strong and with some serious You Must Remember This vibes with the deathbed confession of forgotten silent actress Margaret Gibson, who, as she clutched at her failing heart, proclaimed, I killed William Desmond Taylor! With a conspiratorial whisper and a wealth of research, Hageman leads us through the false leads and final strange twist of the case that haunted Hollywood for decades. –Kristy Puchko

This Week in True-Crime Podcasts: Let’s Talk About Britney