Recently, an episode on Unsolved Mysteries aired on BBC2. The story was not compelling in the way Jekyll and Hyde (or David Copperfield), or Inspector Morse, or Timewatch might be, but I listened to it for the scenery. It might just have been the nostalgia of listening to, say, The In the Cut – where shots could be heard as fuses exploded off the building in the early 90s – but I found it pretty impressive that, at this late stage in life, a show like Unsolved Mysteries still exists. In fact, it’s still around. Hosted by Adam Williams, who is best known for his shows on the History Channel, the show runs in two parts. This week I was reminded just why it is still doing well – for the thrill of something genuinely chilling, something unexplained.
And it wasn’t the first time a show about bizarre phenomena has become a “must-listen”. Here are the others:
1. Manson’s Family by David Cay Johnston
Johnston is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who has written several bestselling books about John McCluskey, the man who escaped from jail and who has since murdered women in Arizona and Colorado. This podcast detailed John McCluskey’s true story, replete with the details of the escape from prison, the subsequent murders of several women, and the law enforcement’s inept attempts to catch him. All those details were made more compelling by the fact that Johnston’s journalism background made it more realistic, and less unbelievable than other so-called true crime podcasts. This is the kind of podcast that would make me want to read a book about murder when I had a spare hour.
2. True Detective: The Red Room by Laura Miller
“Despite its often ethereal connotations,” warned the LA Times, “the show is prone to grotesque flashes of violence.” True Detective: The Red Room (a promo for which shows its creator, Nic Pizzolatto, with facial hair and a red shirt), is a podcast that delves into a gruesome crime. Set in the middle of Louisiana bayou, it’s a tale of a serial killer who preyed on women wearing red shirts, and then shot them dead in peculiar ways. This was the kind of podcast that made me feel sick at the thought of real people eating mud, or going naked around necked men – and, judging by the outcry, a good bit of the audience agreed.
3. 10/4 Yard Where They Found Paul and Heather’s Body by Andrew Van Necke
The death of two teenagers who went missing in Los Angeles, and who were found murdered almost a year later in a warehouse close to Lake La Brea, shocked the country in 2011. A documentary, and now a podcast, covered the case which, according to the LA Times, contained “one of the most ludicrous and disturbing true-crime scenarios that a television news team has ever seen.” If you are ready to wade through internet myths (“What are those monsters’ eyes?”), are sick of watching shows about serial killers (The Killing), or would like to know more about a case that has been called one of the most bizarre murder investigations of all time, then this podcast is for you. But beware: even if you’re not the kind of person who has the attention span to spend an hour a day trawling through Reddit, the case is pretty gruesome.
4. Bite Me – Biography of a Serial Killer by Darren Holland
The lead up to the Serial podcast saw a hungry nation respond in part by biting, eating and even filming the podcast – whether intentionally or not. Of course, none of that was the question in Darren Holland’s Bite Me, but his podcast did try to answer the question. Three years after the death of Dale Grimble, an American, Hannibal Buress, was found guilty of killing his girlfriend in 2012. The podcast was often referred to as a sort of guilty pleasure, though this is a bit more misleading than it sounds. It examines the case from a completely new angle, with examples of behaviour that isn’t previously known by people close to the murder.
5. The Dead Girls Detective Agency by Ron Galella, Jr
Ron Galella Jr is a New York crime journalist who knows all the key players, and solved some of the world’s most notorious cases – witness Robert Durst’s dismemberment, for example. His podcasts, especially these copious ones, share with each other the thrill of the chase. But the podcast I listen to on a regular basis is maybe the weakest of the group.