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 month, our crack team of podcast enthusiasts and specialists picks its favorites.
Run, Bambi, Run
A former Milwaukee cop turned Playboy Club bunny is convicted of murdering her husband’s ex-wife and sent to prison —only to escape years later with the help of a new fiancé. It’s one hell of a logline, right? Of course, there’s much more to the story of 21-year-old Laurie “Bambi” Bembenek — including alleged police corruption, rampant misogyny, and a tabloid press hungry for headlines. Our guide through all of the twists and turns of this new Apple podcast is producer and host Vanessa Grigoriadis (co-host of one of my favorite podcasts of 2020, Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen), who takes great pains throughout to place the narrative in its proper geopolitical and sociocultural context — it was the ’80s, and a lot of men in power treated women like crap. If Run, Bambi, Run has one shortcoming, it’s that many primary sources are either dead or refuse to talk. But that’s largely made up for with the inclusion of Bembenek’s humorous friend and biographer, Kris Radish, who gamely fills in many blanks. Is Bambi (who always professed her innocence and died in 2010) a cold-blooded killer or simply a woman who stood up to the system and paid the price? Ultimately, that may be a question only Bambi knows the answer to. —Amy Wilkinson
A no-knock warrant allows police officers to enter a suspect’s home without prior warning. (It was this type of warrant that resulted in Breonna Taylor’s death when police forced their way into her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment in March 2020.) In Broken Doors, a new investigative podcast by the Washington Post, Jenn Abelson and Nicole Dungca dissect the consequences of the no-knock warrant. The series first covers Monroe County, Mississippi, where these are the most common type of warrants and it takes very little to enact one. In the latest episode, we go to West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, where 38-year-old Josef Richardson was killed when police opened fire in his motel room — even though the warrant listed neither his name nor even a reason. Technology is making no-knocks much easier to get (a police officer may be able to obtain one via electronic signature in as few as 11 minutes), but does that make it more likely that professional responsibility can be shirked and civil rights violated? Is genuine reform possible? —Chanel Dubofsky
The Mysterious Case of the Gentleman of Heligoland
In 1994, a man’s body was fished out of the North Sea near Heligoland — a German archipelago that consists of two small islands. Dubbed “the gentleman” because of the smart tie and loafers he was wearing when found, the man’s identity remains a mystery to this day —although perhaps not for much longer given renewed attention to his case. In addition to cold-case investigators at Goldsmiths in London, the German police, and assorted experts delving back into the chilly mystery, this independently produced podcast out of the U.K. is trying to solve it in real time.
British podcasters Ken Davies (of the popular indie podcast The Mysterious Case of Fred the Head), Iain Mackay, and assorted friends and collaborators have released six episodes of The Mysterious Case of the Gentleman of Heligoland since launching in February. Their attention to detail and patience are extraordinary. They’ve already covered everything from the rise and fall of Marks & Spencer in Canada to the manufacturing of fine loafers to the mystery of an amateur ornithologist who disappeared from a Dutch research vessel. This podcast has very minimal editing and production (in a good way) — there are true-crime podcasts that are overproduced to the point of being distasteful — and it’s not salacious. It’s interesting to see how an amateur investigation unfolds as Davies et al. follow any and all leads; they’ve managed to help Toronto police identify two missing people so far. While the facts of the cases Davies and his team touch on are sad and grim, the Gentleman podcast lives up to its name and is a good choice for would-be sleuths who prefer their true crime on the serious side. —Jenni Miller
Truthers: Tiffany Dover Is Dead *
On December 17, 2020, a group of doctors and nurses at CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, got the first round of the COVID vaccines. Later that day, while being interviewed, a nurse named Tiffany Dover — who had received the vaccine — fainted, and a conspiracy theory began: Dover had died from the vaccine and the hospital and her family were covering it up. In Truthers: Tiffany Dover Is Dead*, a podcast from NBC News, reporter Brandy Zadrozny seeks to prove what should be easy — that Dover is still alive. Along the way, Zadrozny encounters devil’s advocates, social-media hives, truthers so committed to COVID conspiracies that they’re no longer concerned with the humans they impact, casualties of these truthers who fought back, and consequences of the lies they spread. —Chanel Dubofsky