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.
Photo: Imperative Entertainment
You’ve no doubt heard of El Chapo, the Mexican drug lord otherwise known as Joaquín Guzmán Loera (his nickname is a reference to his short stature), but have you ever heard of El Senor? The new podcast Standoff from Imperative charts the events of the 1974 siege of the Huntsville prison in Texas, but at its heart, it’s the story of the mastermind behind it, Fred Gómez Carrasco — perhaps the only kingpin to ever truly rival El Chapo. Born in San Antonio in 1940, Carrasco established a thriving drug business (heroin and cocaine) on the Texas-Mexico border in the late ’60s to early ’70s. He’d already served two years for murder when he landed back in prison on drug charges in 1972. From there, he planned his great prison escape that eventually became an 11-day siege. Journalist Wes Ferguson is our guide through Carrasco’s life, and he weaves a fascinating yarn using new interviews as well as unearthed tapes of Carrasco’s hostage-negotiation calls. What emerges is a big bold look at a little-known crime story. —Amy Wilkinson
Hell and Gone
Photo: Hell and Gone
Private investigator Catherine Townsend is back with another season of her popular true-crime podcast, which launched in 2018 with the then-unsolved death of Rebekah Gould. Townsend returns to her Arkansas roots to investigate the disappearance and mysterious death of Little Rock native Ebby Steppach, who went missing in October 2015. In May 2018, Steppach’s body was found in the park near where she’d abandoned her car years before; her death was ruled a homicide, but it remains a mystery. Townsend picks up the story in Little Rock with Steppach’s mother, Laurie Jernigan, who goes into detail about her estrangement from Steppach during her senior year of high school, her increasingly erratic behavior, and the scary and sad phone calls Steppach made to her brother the day she disappeared. (Steppach’s brother died in 2019 from a heart attack.) Townsend also talks with Steppach’s friend Danielle about their friendship and Steppach’s behavior just before her disappearance.
Steppach’s disappearance and death have been covered on podcasts, in tons of news stories, and even on Dateline, but one thing that Townsend says about midway through the first episode caught my attention: While all of these other reports mention that Steppach told her stepfather over text message that she’d been gang-raped at a party, and that the attack had been recorded, Townsend says that might not exactly have been what happened. There were massive oversights in the initial police investigation of Steppach’s disappearance, but is it possible that Townsend found something more recent investigators overlooked? Given the results produced in Gould’s case due to the pressure and attention of Hell and Gone, it could be a really big deal. —Jenni Miller
The Shadow Girls
Photo: Cavalry Audio and iHeartPodcasts
Gary Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, terrorized Washington State starting in July 1982, murdering as many as 71 sex workers before he was caught. Journalist Carolyn Ossorio grew up in the same area at the same time, and The Shadow Girls is a robust revisit to the literal scenes of the crimes as she looks back at not only the murders and the ensuing investigation but also how the identities and the deaths of the women were dismissed. One thing was made clear to Ossorio during her childhood: If you were a “good girl,” you would be safe, and since sex workers were “bad,” they deserved their fate. This podcast is as much a reckoning with that sentiment as it is a chronicle of how the GRK was apprehended. It’s encyclopedic in its information, including an interview with Ted Bundy, who was brought in as a “serial-killer consultant,” as well as interviews with Sheriff Dave Reichert, a member of the Green River Task Force, and confessions from Ridgway himself. —Chanel Dubofsky
Unraveled: Once a Killer
For the latest season of this Discovery+ podcast, hosts Alexis Linkletter and Billy Jensen leave the serial killers behind to investigate a wholly different phenomenon: the one-off killer. While multiple murderers dominate the headlines and cause widespread panic, these one-and-dones can actually be more difficult for law enforcement to apprehend, as they typically have little to no tie to their victim and simply slip back into polite society after committing their crime. Unraveled’s five-episode season (plus two-hour companion special streaming on April 22 on Discovery+) covers a handful of cases that fit this bill, kicking off with the slaying of a small-town school teacher named Christy Mirack. When Mirack doesn’t show up to teach her class of sixth-graders one morning in 1992, the school principal pays a visit to her apartment and finds a grisly scene: Mirack has been raped and murdered. With everyone close to her eventually cleared, the case goes cold. But emerging technologies (hello, genetic genealogy) eventually help police put a face and name to Mirack’s killer. Upcoming episodes will dive deeper into trends like genetic genealogy — and whether investigators will be able to continue to use (and more widely use) the technology in the future. —A.W.
Very Scary People
The murders of six members of the DeFeo family in Amityville, New York, on November 13, 1974, is perhaps a story you already know. After all, the events following the murders include bleeding walls, possession, levitation, and a different family fleeing in the middle of the night. But who were the DeFeos before the infamous murders? In Very Scary People, host Donnie Wahlberg (New Kids on the Block, Blue Bloods, my childhood) takes us into the town of Amityville to examine the impact the murders had on the community, talking to classmates and friends of the family as well as forensic experts, journalists who were on the scene, local investigators, and other important voices that were squelched in the sensationalism that followed. What’s revealed is deeply disturbing, painful, and, yes, creepy, but not in the way you’re probably expecting. —C.D.
What Happened to Sandy Beal?
Sandy Beal’s dead body was discovered in her car in a Maryland pole yard in 1977, but the explanation police gave never satisfied her family. A note to her married lover was found in the car with her, as was her father’s handgun, but suicide just didn’t make sense to Beal’s mother, Joanne, who was “ripshit” mad at how the police wrote off her daughter so quickly. Beal’s cousin Kim Parmer, whose life trajectory was changed by the loss of her younger cousin, approached journalist and host Melissa Jeltsen at a conference about domestic violence and asked Jeltsen to investigate the death and whether or not it might have been murder.
So far, there have been three episodes, and they’re fascinating in every way. Jeltsen, whose coverage of the execution of Lisa Montgomery is essential true-crime reading, deftly weaves interviews with Beal’s family with details from her life and death, supplemented by relevant data. At one point, Jeltsen even cites studies on the connection, or lack thereof, between suicide and abortion, since one reason Beal’s death was written off as a suicide was because of the recent abortion she alluded to in her note to her married lover.
Oh, and that married lover? A state trooper. And Beal’s dream was to be a cop. If the third episode, “My Life As a Cop Freak,” is any indication, things are about to get really freaking ripshit, as Joanne would say. —J.M.