If there’s anything this Florida girl loves more than the silken sands of Siesta Key Beach, it’s the changing of the seasons—more specifically, the changing of the leaves. For better or worse, my knowledge of the photosynthesis-induced light show our arboreal friends treat us to every autumn extends no further than what I learned in elementary school (something about the sun…becoming food?), but what I can tell you is a close second to my excitement over the ~foliage~ is the brand-new crop (see what I did there?) of true-crime podcasts coming our way this fall.
Grab your PSL and your coziest #fallfeels sweater and settle in for some downright chilling ear treats.
Fed Up (Wondery) – Premiered July 25th
As I sit here writing this, I’m using my grandma’s circa-2005 laptop, a chunky white Vaio that looks like it was snatched off the set of Zoey 101.
A word on this geriatric machine’s provenance: during the pandemic, my partner and I moved into my grandma’s former NYC digs (don’t worry—grandma’s not dead; she’s just in Connecticut), where I unearthed such treasures as a salmon-pink suit set (complete with shoulder pads!) and this very laptop, whose loud-as-hell keys make quite satisfying sounds.
With every keystroke, I’m transported back to 2005, when a thirteen-year-old me spent most of her time reading O.C. fanfiction and impersonating Jamie Lynn Spears on the Internet (don’t worry JLS: I wasn’t catfishing anyone—there’s another term that didn’t exist back in 2005—I was just playing a forum-based RPG.)
2005 was a much simpler time, wasn’t it? Back then, we didn’t have powder-peddling influencers to contend with, ones whose “diet” solutions left our bowels locked up tighter than Fort Knox.
Such is the topic at hand in Fed Up, a convoluted (but oh-so-entertaining) tale of influencer-on-influencer misdoing. The words “true crime” and “fiber” might not seem like they belong in the same sentence, but just you wait: in this Real Housewives meets Self-Care mash up, two Instagram-faced influencers square off in an ultimate battle of wills, one that lands one in court—and the other potentially on the hook for a ‘lotta dough.
In addition to our two dueling divas, Fed Up features a whole supporting cast (and no, this is definitely not a fiction pod—the lips might be artificially plumped, but the drama is 100% real) of ripped-from-the-doomscroll players, including one French demoiselle who did time in federal prison for—you guessed it—Internet fraud. Even if Bravo isn’t your thing, I urge you to give Fed Up a listen, if only for a fascinating look at what kinds of crimes Instagram enables.
Le Monstre (Tenderfoot TV) – Premiered August 18th
Speaking of French, did I mention that I majored in la langue d’amour in college? Living in the good ‘ol US of A, my French doesn’t usually have good reason to rouse itself from its deep Gallic slumber, but every so often, Dominique (that’s my French alter ego) awakens, leaving a trail of Gauloises Bleues smoke in her wake.
Dominique came in handy recently when listening to Le Monstre, a bone-chilling pod documenting the most notorious murder case in Belgian history.
In 1995, two eight-year-old Belgian girls disappeared after spending the afternoon waving at passing cars on the highway. Before you get all, Well, of course they disappeared! What the hell were they doing waving at passing cars? Hello? Comment dit-on “stranger danger” en français?, consider this. Back in 1995, Belgium was a country of 10 million that averaged about one homicide per 100,000 people (the US, by comparison, had a murder rate of 8.2 per 100,000 in ’95). The twisted tale this deeply researched podcast unravels is not for the faint of heart: think deeply entrenched police corruption and long-buried secrets.
Chameleon Season 4: Scam Likely (Campside Media/Sony Music Entertainment) – Premiered August 1st
If you own a phone, you’ve probably found yourself in the following situation before: a sort of familiar looking phone number calls you. When you pick up, the voice on the other end says you owe back taxes to the IRS/are late on your student loan payments/insert-other-reasonably-plausible-situation here.
This is no ordinary collections call, however. The caller insists that if you don’t fork over the cash now, some sort of drastic legal action is going to be taken against you—think cops-showing-up-at-your-door, spending-the-night-in-jail drastic.
While it might be tempting to write off this sort of occurrence as nothing more than an obvious scam, an unavoidable side effect of our information-saturated, privacy-deficient age, have you ever wondered who’s on the other end of the line? And what happens to those who actually fall for the scam? What kind of life-altering consequences are they in for?
In Chameleon Season 4: Scam Likely, journalist Yudhijit Bhattacharjee (along with a team of intrepid government investigators) dives into the complex world of scam calls, a journey that will take him from Washington, DC to parking lots in Middle America to a call center in India, revealing a massive web of deception that is as devious as it is fascinating.
Hillside: The Investigation and Trial of the Hillside Strangler (Last Five Percent Media) – Premiered June 6
I know what you’re thinking. Everyone and their grandmother knows about the Hillside Strangler case. What could yet another podcast possibly add to the crush of information already available on this well-trodden case?
As my man Tony Soprano says, “Ask yourself a question.” How well do you really know the notorious killer (or should I say killers) that terrorized Tinseltown between 1977 and 1978?
After watching Hulu’s City of Angels: City of Death, which documents this and a number of other Angeleno crimes, I found myself craving a deeper dive into the Hillside Stranger case, one that went beyond the broad strokes When it comes to reporting on this case, host Joseph Rodota is a perfect candidate. In his past career as a political opposition researcher, Rodota dug deep into the case. Rodota has spent the last three years building this podcast, interviewing more than 50 people with links to the case, a number of whom had never spoken publicly about the case before. What’s more, Rodota dives into one perspective in particular: that of one of the victim’s daughters, trying to make sense of the case decades after the fact.
Crooked City: Youngstown, OH (truth.media) – Premiered July 25
Speaking of la cosa nostra, one of my pandemic pastimes, apart from baking far too many chocolate desserts and adding images of fall leaves to my autumn-themed Pinterest board (I did the latter in the dead middle of spring, while the birds were chirping away and the Easter Bunny was embroiled in his ovular preparations) was watching The Sopranos. I know, who am I, right? Waiting until the pandemic to binge the GOAT of prestige television dramas? Come on. Well, better late than never. And now, to fill the Tony Soprano-sized hole that lives in my heart after finishing the final episode, I’ve found Crooked City: Youngstown, OH.
No offense to the Buckeye State, but I’ve always found the state five generations of my paternal ancestors called home to be, well, kind of boring. My forebears, German-speaking farmers of Swiss extraction, lived just two hours north of Youngstown, a former steel-mill town that, back in its mid-20th century heyday, was a hotbed of illegal activity. Think underground gambling operations, brothels, and…car bombs? Case in point: over a period of ten years, Youngstown reported 82 car bombings, earning the town the nickname (and a Saturday Evening Post cover story) “Crime Town USA.”
All of these nefarious doings were the work of the mob. Youngstown sits at the crossroads of Cleveland and Pittsburgh, two towns with large mafia presences back in the day. Youngstown, with its flush of steel money, was prime moolah-making territory for the mob. It was also a battleground between the two dueling outfits, with civilians sometimes ending up in the crosshairs.
As I make my way through the episodes, I can’t help but wonder if my ancestors, God-fearing, salt-of-the-Earth types, even went down to Youngstown to try their luck…
Listening to Crooked City is like sitting down with a Midwestern version of The Sopranos’s Uncle Junior, complete with wild tales of bank robberies and high-stakes heists.
The Kill List (CBC Podcasts) – Premiered July 11th
I love anything that CBC puts out, but I’ve been especially taken with The Kill List lately, the tale of Karima Baloch, a fearless human rights activist whose mysterious 2020 death (not to mention the deaths and disappearances of countless other dissidents who criticized the Pakistani government) may have been at the hands of the Pakistani government.
Karima hailed from Balochistan, a region in the western part of Pakistan that also encompasses portions of southern Afghanistan and southeast Iran. (To avoid any possible confusion, Balochistan is also the name of one of Pakistan’s four provinces, the largest province land-wise but the smallest in terms of population.) Karima’s human rights career began in 2005, when she attended a protest against forced disappearances of Balochi people (like many in Balochistan, Karima had lost relatives to such incidents.) As the years passed, Karima’s involvement in human-rights activism grew, and she even changed her original last name—Mehrab—to Baloch, to show her commitment to furthering the rights of the Baloch people.
As a result of being targeted by the Pakistani government for her activism, Karima sought refuge in Canada. Five years into her self-imposed exile, Karima was found drowned in the Toronto Waterfront section of Lake Ontario. Toronto police insisted that the circumstances of Karima’s death did not involve foul play, but is that really the case? On The Kill List, seasoned journalist Mary Lynk explores this very question.
Cheat! (Somethin’ Else/Sony Music Entertainment) — New season premiered August 16th
Another one for my longtime (or short-time—I’m here for all of it) readers: if you’ve been here before, it may not have escaped your attention that in addition to 1) loving good grift stories and 2) being a native Floridian, I was also raised Catholic. Although I’d qualify as a lapsed Catholic (I haven’t been a regular Mass-goer since the Dubya administration), I’ve kept up with the Church’s criminal element.
Why do I bring this up now? Well, of all the delicious grift stories on the newest season of Cheat!, might I suggest starting with that of Sister Mary Margaret, a nun with a taste for lavish European vacations and gambling jaunts in Vegas. Vow of poverty? I think not.
The longtime headmistress of St. James, a small Catholic K-8 school in the L.A.-area enclave of Torrance, CA, Sister Mary Margaret was admired (if not also somewhat feared—sister had some pretty interesting ideas about punishment) by the members of her community. Money was tight at St. James—the school struggled financially, and students lacked supplies like updated textbooks and an awning-covered lunch area—but Sister Mary Margaret was, shall we say, a very committed fundraiser. Fast forward a few years to the eve of Sister MM’s retirement, and something’s not looking quite right with the school’s financials. I’ll spare you the spoilers, but the power of true crime compels you to listen to this (and all of Cheat!’s other excellent episodes) wild tale of religious misbehavior.
Crime Scene Queens (QCODE Media) – Premiered August 15th
If you’re reading this article, chances are you have at least a passing familiarity with the following terms: rigor mortis, blood spatter (by the way, the term “blood splatter,” as I recently learned from this pod, isn’t a thing), touch DNA.
But how much do you really know about science behind these concepts? Like, how it all even works?
Even if you have a PhD in all five CSI shows and have seen every single episode of Forensic Files, my prescription remains the same: listen to Crime Scene Queens. In addition to being absolutely, side-splittingly hilarious, your co-hosts are literal experts: “legal cougar” Shelly Haight and “field mouse” Laura Zinn bring a combined 37 years of forensics experience to the pod.
Even if science isn’t your thing, fear not: in no way, shape, or form does Crime Scene Queens resemble your high-school health class. Did you know that, under certain circumstances, human bodies turn into soap after death? That’s right: soap. Or that death-by-Skechers (the same early-aughts shoe brand that’s currently making a comeback—be careful!) is a thing? Neither did I! Get ready for maceration, marbling, and so much more on Crime Scene Queens.