True-crime series represent one of the most popular and profitable genres in the world of podcasts. Cold cases, unsolved mysteries and ongoing investigations have all the elements needed for good storytelling—intrigue, emotion, mystery, suspense—while having the added element of being real.
Listeners love knowing that what they’re hearing is true. Grounding the story in authenticity heightens the stakes while proving that life is stranger than fiction. As a culture, we are fascinated with the darker, more taboo, aspects of humanity. The tension created by good-vs.-evil drama is embodied in some of the genre’s more popular offerings like Serial, Someone Knows Something, Criminal and Dirty John.
Behind every true-crime podcast are people who are sharing some of the most vulnerable parts of themselves with the world—sometimes as a last-ditch effort to locate a missing loved one, sometimes as a cautionary tale, and sometimes in the search for justice.
The ethics of true-crime podcasting can be murky. Often, productions ask subjects to retell traumatic events and, once a series is released, the people at the centre of the story are often subjected to speculation and criticism. Yet, despite the elements of emotional exploitation and voyeurism, these podcasts continue to excite listeners from all walks of life.
So, which true-crime podcasts should be on your “must-hear” list? Here’s a rundown of true-crime podcasts from Canada and beyond that should be heard.
Serial is the American investigative journalism podcast that launched a thousand podcasts. Its first season explored the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an eighteen-year-old student in Baltimore. Koenig followed Adnan Syed, Lee’s former boyfriend and the main suspect in the case, as she parses old evidence to piece together what actually happened the day Lee went missing.
Someone Knows Something (SKS) is a Canadian investigative podcast from the CBC. It’s hosted by award-winning filmmaker and writer David Ridgen. Each season, Ridgen and his team open up a Canadian cold case in hopes of figuring out new information about the crime. The first season of SKS focuses on the disappearance of five-year-old Adrien McNaughton, a boy who vanished during a family trip in Ontario in the summer of 1972.
My Favorite Murder is an American true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. In each episode, Kilgariff and Hardstark review two separate murders. The show Host Ryan McMahon untangles the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous youth in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This five-part series paints a vivid picture of current-day Thunder Bay and Canada’s colonial impact on the Indigenous people. The podcast is currently being adapted for television.
Canadian True Crime is an independent podcast based in the Greater Toronto Area. Host Kristi Lee spends each episode telling “stories of some of the most heinous, controversial, heartbreaking and thought-provoking true crime cases in Canada.” Unlike SKS, Thunder Bay and Serial, Canadian True Crime usually focuses on one solved case per episode. They’ve covered Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, Robert Pickton and the École Polytechnique massacre.
Criminal is an independently produced podcast hosted by Phoebe Judge. The show describes itself as telling “stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” In each episode, Judge investigates a different story and covers a wide range of topics from interviewing a mother-daughter coroner team to visiting a body farm. Criminal has topped countless best podcast lists.
True crime has cemented itself as a staple in the podcasting world and there seems to be no sign of stopping its ascent. Only time will tell how the genre will change as it gains popularity within mainstream circles. But one thing is sure: there’s already a wealth of stories just waiting to be listened to.