Hot girl/boy/person summer? More like cold case summer! For the next three months, take your ears on a virtual crime-themed vacation (though if you can swing the real thing, might I recommend CrimeCruise?) From France to Indonesia, from the rocky cliffs of Ireland to a former pirate haven in Southern Mexico, and to the not-so-sleepy suburbs of NYC, prepare for chilling, bingeable adventures.
Chameleon (Campside Media) – Season 2 premiered June 15
I’ll be the first to admit it. I was a little late to the Chameleon party. Season 1 (Hollywood Con Queen) premiered in October 2020. I didn’t start listening to this offering from Campside Media until after Season 2 (High Rollers) premiered, but boy was I hooked. I’m talking binge-level, fall-asleep-with-your-headphones in hooked.
Chameleon isn’t your usual true crime podcast. For one, there’s no yellow tape or dead bodies (that we know of). Instead, these criminals’ terrain is a bit more nebulous: that squishy space where the psyche and cyberspace meet.
I tried to explain the premise of Hollywood Con Queen to my partner, and, needless to say, he was a little confused. So here goes:
You’re an aspiring actor/make-up artist/personal trainer/insert-freelance-creative-professional here. Maybe you’ve had some successes—a movie credit here, a celebrity client there—but you’ve yet to land your Big Break. Then, the phone call (or email) comes. A big-name female producer wants you to work on her new movie. The catch? Production is in Indonesia, and you need to hop on a plane right away.
Once you arrive in Indonesia, however, it becomes clear that there is no movie, that the “producer” you’ve been talking to isn’t who she says she is.
If this sounds like a stretch (I mean, a fake movie), it’s not: this scam has been running for years, and people who’ve fallen victim to it number in the thousands.
Get ready to fall down a long, winding rabbit hole that takes us across the globe from Jakarta to New Jersey to London to Los Angeles.
If you’ve already listened to Season 1 (or you’re more of a Vegas enthusiast than a Tinseltown pro), slide into Season 2. “High Rollers” lands us in Sin City, where a diet clinic owner involved in a love triangle finds himself in the middle of a two-year undercover FBI sting operation.
It’s a wild tale of strippers, threesomes, and gunrunners—and one chock full of secret recordings from the FBI’s investigation.
Murder in Illinois (iHeartRadio Podcasts) – Premiered July 8
From writer and veteran true crime pod host/producer Lauren Bright (Happy Face, Murder in Oregon, and The Murders at White House Farm) comes a twisted, heartwrenching tale of family, potential wrongful conviction, and cold-blooded murder.
In 2007, while attending the funeral for his recently slain wife and three children, Chris Vaughn was arrested for those very same murders.
But did the 32 year-old really trick his family into thinking he was taking them on a surprise trip to a water park, only to shoot them one-by-one and abandon their bodies in an SUV on the interstate?
The supposed motive (that Vaughn wanted to trade in his suburban dad life for that of a solo survivalist in Canada’s Yukon territory) plus certain elements of the case (thousands of dollars spent on strippers; Vaughn’s interest in druidism) certainly made for a juicy tabloid tale, but was the one-time family man really guilty?
Fourteen years after the murders, Vaughn insists that he does not remember the events that led to his serving four consecutive life terms in an Illinois prison. Could forensic evidence prove his innocence? And, more importantly, if Vaughn didn’t kill his family, who did? Featuring never-before-heard firsthand interviews with Vaughn, his parents, his siblings, and extended family, Murder in Illinois dives deep into a case that is anything but open-and-shut.
International Infamy with Ashley Flowers – Parcast / Spotify Original – Premiered June 15
Covid-19 travel restrictions may still be in effect in a number of places, but that doesn’t mean you can’t scratch your summer wanderlust itch. Better yet, why not throw a little true crime into the mix?
In International Infamy, true crime OG Ashley Flowers (I could list the Crime Junkie co-host’s bonafides, but I’ll take it as a given that if you’re this far into the round-up, you probably already know who she is) criss-crosses the globe in search of the most compelling, high-profile cases. Have your (virtual) passport at the ready, because the audiochuck maven is about to take you to France, Mexico, Iceland, and so many more. Over the course of fifteen episodes, each set in a different location, Flowers digs into cases from all corners of the planet, exploring the particular cultural circumstances unique to each crime.
The Devil Within (Cavalry Audio/Wondery) – Premiered May 24
It’s details of this case—especially the perpetrator’s age—that grabbed me. First, let me set the scene. It’s a Saturday in early January, 1988. Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” is the number-one song in the country. Three Men and a Baby is about to break box-office records. In a sleepy New Jersey suburb about 50 miles west of New York City, a 14 year-old boy murders his mother, sets fire to the family home, then commits suicide with the same knife he used to kill his mother. What happened? Could Thomas Sullivan, Jr.’s burgeoning interest in the occult—as evidenced by the note he left behind—have been the motivation? The Devil Within seeks new answers within this disturbing 33 year-old case.
To Live and Die in LA: Season 2 (Tenderfoot TV) – Premiered May 29
Tenderfoot TV and Neil Strauss’s award-winning podcast To Live and Die in LA is back with an all-new case. This season examines—and, perhaps most importantly, seeks to humanize—20 year-old Elaine Park, who disappeared from Kardashian hometown Calabasas, CA in 2017. Strauss’s interest in the case emerged from its connections to his own backyard (not his literal backyard, of course, in case you’re thinking about the recent developments in the Kristin Smart case): Elaine’s abandoned car was found in Strauss’s own neighborhood: Malibu. In a way, this case was the one that “started it all” for Strauss, a case that consumed him and got him started down the part of real-time true crime investigation. This season of To Live and Die in LA is a group effort: Strauss teams up with his wife, neighbors, Incubus guitarist Mike Einzinger, and concert violinist Ann Marie Simpson to find out who Elaine was and what happened to her.
West Cork (Audible) – Premiered on Apple Podcasts March 29
Another confession: West Cork isn’t exactly a “new” podcast. In fact, it came out in 2018, as an Audible Original.
Back then, my French-major-slash-true-crime-fanatic self jumped at the premise (and forked over the necessary cash: back then you had to pay to experience the podcast The New Yorker called “a masterpiece.” Today, West Cork is available for free on Apple Podcasts.)
On December 23, 1996, stylish French TV producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier was found beaten to death outside her holiday home in West Cork. To the residents of Schull (pop. 700), Sophie was a “blow-in,” a local term for outsiders drawn to this remote corner of southwest Ireland for its isolation and the rugged beauty of its terrain.
Police have long suspected Ian Bailey, a local freelance journalist with a history of domestic abuse charges, to be guilty of the murder. French authorities tried and convicted Bailey of the murder in 2019, but as the trial was conducted in abstentia (not to mention the fact that Bailey has successfully fought all extradition charges), it’s unlikely the now-64 year-old will ever serve a day in jail.
Even if you’ve already had the pleasure of immersing yourself in this Serial-like thriller, stick around: co-hosts Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde released an all-new episode of West Cork on May 14. What’s more, their production company Yarn has two new projects in the works (and their website seems to suggest that additional new episodes of West Cork might be around the corner.)
You also might want to re-listen (or listen for the first time) to West Cork before bingeing Sophie: A Murder in West Cork, Netflix’s new three-part series about the murder.
LISK Podcast — Season 2: The Search for Answers (Mopac Audio) – Premieres July 14
If you’ve had enough of the Long Island Serial Killer case (which, if you’re like me, is impossible, given the intrigue and police corruption inherent in this case, not to mention that mysterious belt evidence Suffolk County authorities released in December 2020), you have my full permission to skip to the next podcast in the round-up.
If you’re ready for more LISK, then prepare yourself for round two of this Mopac Audio original.
In Season 1, host Chris Mass revisited the decade-old Gilgo case, re-examining old evidence and tracking down new leads. In Season 2: The Season for Answers, Mass and his team are back with boots on the ground in Long Island. Over the course of seven episodes, you’ll hear first-hand interviews with victims’ families and friends, law enforcement, DNA experts, criminologists, and more. Mass and his team aim to separate fact from fiction in a case that has remained unsolved for over a decade.
Why is the highest-paid police department in the country unable—or, perhaps more chillingly, unwilling—to crack this case? Could some of the victims’ high-profile clients (the season 2 trailer lists judges, lawyers, police officers, and councilmen among Amber Costello’s escorting clients) have something to do with it? Does the fact that former police chief James Burke (who did federal time for an incident that may or may not be connected to the LISK murders) no longer wields power mean people with information about the LISK case will finally come forward? What’s with the sudden departure of Geraldine Hart, whose 2018 appointment to the role of Suffolk County Police Commissioner seemed like a welcome addition to a department mired in scandal and corruption? When it comes to the LISK case, is there a cover up? If so, who is covering for whom? Hopefully LISK: The Search for Answers will deliver on its title’s promise.
Transportista (iHeartMedia’s My Cultura Network) – Premieres July 2021
In this new limited-series weekly podcast, Transportista pulls back the curtain on the underground world of drug trafficking and cartels.
This is a story told from the inside—of a North Carolina federal prison that is. Using a smuggled-in cell phone, the man who once helmed transportation for some of Latin America’s most dangerous drug kingpins tells us his story firsthand. The women. The wealth. The connections to powerful political players. The man they call “El Transportista” had everything—until it all came crashing down. A dual language podcast, Transportista will be available in both English and Spanish.