Serial — the addictive podcast from the team at This American Life — investigates the tragic story of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime. Each week, a little more of the story is told as host Sarah Koenig unravels the clues, guiding listeners through hours of interviews, cell phone records, and courtroom transcripts, trying to get to the truth — or at least to a better understanding of what happened.
One problem with Serial, though, is that it only comes out once a week and for many fans, gets gobbled up in one 45-minute listening session. That leaves a lot of time without Serial. Here’s what to watch, read or listen to while you’re waiting for a new episode of the podcast — or after the series wraps in December.
1. The Paradise Lost Trilogy
The saga of the West Memphis Three is one of the most haunting true crime stories in American history. The story begins with the brutal killing of three 8 year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Three metal-head teenage boys were tried and convicted for what many considered to be a Satanic ritual. The trilogy of films follows the original trials and subsequent appeals along with widespread public doubt about the guilt of the West Memphis Three, as they came to be known.
2. The Imposter
In 1994, a 13 year-old Texan boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared. Three years later, someone claiming to be him surfaced in Spain. But was it really the missing boy or an imposter? The documentary follows the stranger-than-fiction tale of Frédéric Bourdin and the impressive lies that the charming stranger told to everyone who crossed his path.
3. The Staircase
Michael Peterson’s wife was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s home. Did she fall or was she pushed? French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s compelling, addictive mini-series strives to get to the bottom of what happened in their Durham, N.C., mansion, but creates more questions than answers in his searing, comprehensive documentary.
4. Dear Zachary
After Andrew Bagby was allegedly murdered by his very recent ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner, it was revealed that she was pregnant with Bagby’s child. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne wanted to create a “cinematic scrapbook” of his friend Bagby, intended as a keepsake for Bagby’s son. Instead, Kuenne’s film captured the tragic events surrounding Turner’s arrest and became a compelling true crime documentary along the way.
Each installment of Criminal tells a resolved criminal case — focusing on victims of crime, relationships with criminals, or just otherwise fascinating tales of criminal activity — all within a 15 to 20 minute time frame. It’s the purist’s true crime series with stories from prosecutors, crime reporters and others involved in the cases.
2. This American Life
Serial is the first spin-off from the popular radio show and podcast, and while the show is formatted differently, it’s similarly engaging. Each week (more or less) the radio show follows three or four stories, some real, some fictional, usually all related to a theme, and presents them in an easy-to-digest format. Stand-out episodes include the “The Giant Pool of Money”, which is an explainer of the sub-prime loan crisis and “Harper High School,” a two-part series on a modern urban high school. If those aren’t escapist enough, there’s always the one about the squirrel cop.
3. Love + Radio
Each episode of the podcast revolves around a theme that informs the show’s stories “from the seedy to the sublime.” The show plays like a cross between This American Life and Radiolab (which also has a great podcast) with engaging stories that are real or not, coupled with complex sound design. Highlights include their award-winning portrait of Jay Thunderbolt, a strip club manager.
Filled with over 50,000 stories of real people, StoryCorps has something for everyone. The stories were collected as part of one of the largest oral histories in existence for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, The stories are unveiled each week on NPR and released as a podcast that shares extraordinary stories from the lives of ordinary people.
1. The Affair
The Wire’s Dominic West stars as a married man having the titular affair with a waitress played by the enchanting, sly-eyed Ruth Wilson. The story unfolds from a his-and-hers perspective, with the truth lying somewhere in between their memories of the events. The show’s first season is still unraveling, so it’s hard to know if it will live up to viewers’ expectations — but so far the show has set the bar very high.
David Tennant (yes, the tenth Doctor) stars as a detective trying to resolve the murder of a young child in a small town, where everyone has secrets and no one seems to want to uncover the truth. Poignant performances and a devastating conclusion made the show a hit.
3. True Detective
HBO’s compelling detective show casts Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as an odd couple of detectives trying to crack a string of brutal murders with strange supernatural overtones. It was one of the buzziest shows of the year and if you’re a Serial fan, you should get caught up before the show reboots with Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell for season two.
4. Top of the Lake
Elisabeth Moss plays a Sydney-based detective who returns to her small New Zealand town and gets embroiled in a missing person case. Acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion created the series, which brings a compelling female lead with complicated back story, a tough 12-year old girl who’s nobody’s victim, and a female-driven cult to the typical crime drama.
5. Happy Valley
This Netflix original hasn’t gotten as much publicity as Orange is the New Black, but it’s a compelling British crime story. The tense drama follows a police captain trying to save a young woman kidnapped by the man who raped her own daughter.
1. Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson
The death of socialite and oil heiress Joan Robinson Hill in 1969 made waves in Houston and far beyond as her husband was convicted of her murder and married his mistress. Hill’s death was only the beginning of the story, though, and Thompson covers every twist, turn and dark secret of the sordid tale.
2. People Who Eat Darkness: the Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry
Lucie Blackman was a 21-year-old Brit working at a “hostess bar” in Tokyo when she suddenly disappeared. Her father and sister flew to Japan to try and find out what happened to her. Parry, the Tokyo bureau chief for the Times of London, covered the case as it unfolded over months of investigations — and finally, over the course of the six year trial of the man accused of killing her.
3. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
The adventure writer turns his reporter’s eye on the horrifying double murder of a woman and her baby by two brothers convinced they received a commandment from God to commit the act. The story takes him deep into the heart of Mormon Fundamentalists, who defy the teachings of the Latter Day Saints and break the laws of state and country. It’s a darkly fascinating and ultimately unsettling tale.
4. The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy, the Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule
Ann Rule is now one of the best known American true crime writers, but her fascination with true crime came from an unlikely source — she used to work at a suicide hotline with serial killer Ted Bundy. The book documents her relationship with Bundy, who she knew as a charismatic co-worker, but who was also a sadistic killer.
5. The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer by Gary L. Stewart
Gary L. Stewart set out to find his biological father, but that led him to a horrifying realization that his father may be the elusive Zodiac serial killer. It’s not just a hunch, though: During his hunt, Stewart turns up clues — including forensic evidence — that could conclusively point to his father as the notorious Zodiac Killer. It’s a sensational story that crafts a compelling case and a disconcerting portrait of a murder.