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.
DIE-ALOGUE: A True Crime Conversation, “Amanda Montell | Cultish”
In season three of DIE-ALOGUE, host Rebekah Sebastian is diving into stories she refers to as “cult-adjacent.” (The season opener was an interview with LulaRich directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby-Nason.) Sebastian’s latest conversation is a smart and funny exchange with linguist and podcast host Amanda Montell, author of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism. Montell, whose father spent his teen years in Synanon, a Southern California–based cult, examines how the language and strategies used by cult leaders have permeated our mainstream vernacular and behavior — in spite of the fact that we also generally believe that cult members are people who have nothing to do with us and that we could easily avoid falling in with them. There’s so much to listen for: the victim blaming that we project onto people when they won’t “just leave” a cult, the use of religious language in targeting of wives and mothers in pyramid schemes, and the question of what’s perhaps the most toxic MLM of them all: Amway. —Chanel Dubofsky
Morbid, “The New England Vampire Panic”
It’s been a big week for true-crime news — from the discovery of Gabby Petito’s remains to the arrest in connection with Faith Hedgepeth’s murder — and if you’re feeling as burnt out on true crime right now as I am, I recommend this week’s slightly off-topic Morbid episode for your podcasting pleasure. Co-host Alaina spends the hour diving into the truly fascinating history of vampire panics throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in New England, and it’s pretty wild stuff. As it turns out, most of these panics can be traced to outbreaks of consumption (known to us 21st-century folk as tuberculosis), which typically rendered sufferers pale and oozing blood. And because patient zero in any given family would spread it to the rest of their household (often killing everyone in one fell swoop), people performed many odd and unfounded rituals to try to avoid such fates. (Eating the ashes of your dearly departed? Sure, why not!?) It’s all a very interesting history lesson — and a welcome reminder that at least we have science on our side nowadays. —Amy Wilkinson
Impostors: The Commander, “The Special Agent”
In the second season of this hypnotizing podcast series about scammers, journalist Abby Ellin turns her eye toward a con man she nicknames the Commander. He claimed to be a former Navy SEAL and hinted that he treated Bin Laden at Guantanamo Bay, among other whoppers. More pertinently, he was a bit of a womanizer who left a trail of broken hearts — or at least really gaslit and pissed-off women — in his wake.
As we learn in the second episode, Ellin’s interest in the Commander’s scammed women is more than purely academic; she was engaged to him for a period of time, though not before she learned about the depths of his deception. (This season is based on her book Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married.) Ellin began to suspect her ex was a liar but couldn’t quite prove it — not until an agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (yes, the real NCIS!) called her as part of an ongoing investigation about the Commander writing and filling scads of prescriptions under other people’s names, including hers.
In this episode, Ellin talks with the agent in charge of the investigator, as well as retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley, who has made it a mission to ferret out folks lying about their military experience. Apparently, claiming to be a Navy SEAL is a popular scam with guys who want to use their alleged trauma as an excuse for crappy behavior toward their female partners — yet another thing we gotta worry about when swiping left or right, I suppose. —Jenni Miller
Armored, “Houston Heists”
A massive armored truck barrels down the street. Within its metal belly lies not only an untold fortune in cold hard cash but also a pair of armed guards specially trained to secure its transport. This is a massive moving target with great risks, great rewards, and wild stories that involve master plans, mayhem, murder, and million-dollar heists. Host Jake Brennan previously led listeners through the criminal lives of famous musicians with Disgraceland. Here, he brings his anchorman-like solemnity and a thrumming score to a new ten-part series. In its second episode, Armored focuses on Houston, Texas, a highway-rich metropolis that boasts the troubling title of the “Armored Truck Robbery Capital of the United States.” Brennan first explores why that is, then digs into a string of such heists that really stood out. Through case details curious and shocking, a gritty but riveting portrait of high-octane crime develops. —Kristy Puchko