When people think of true crime podcasts, they inevitably think of “Serial.” But the genre is vast, and the podcasts listed here represent that diversity: a mother who investigates the death of her own son, a journalist recovering the lost history of a nearly forgotten race massacre, two friends telling each other stories about their favorite serial killers of color. They all have one thing in common: These stories are also about how racism and inequality intersect with the deeply flawed systems of criminal justice.
Produced by the digital news outfit The Intercept, “Somebody” is an investigation into the 2016 death of 22-year old Courtney Copeland in Chicago. What makes the show stand out is its host, Shapearl Wells, who is Copeland’s mother. After the police refused to release any information or look into the night Copeland was found outside a police station with a fatal bullet wound, Wells decided to get to the bottom of what happened herself. The result is a deeply personal story of a mother’s pursuit of justice, enhanced by the musicand testimony of one of Copeland’s friends from high school, Chance the Rapper.
The recent HBO series “Watchmen” renewed America’s attention to what is thought to be one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history: the race massacre that destroyed Greenwood, an affluent district in Tulsa, Okla., known as “Black Wall Street.” In this meticulously narrated podcast, the reporter Nia Clark uses new and archival interviews to paint the fullest picture of the intertwined economic and racial conditions that exploded into two days of mass death and property destruction at the hands of white terrorists, and of what happened in the aftermath.
There is an epidemic of violence against Native women in North America. The U.S. Department of Justice found that Native American women are murdered at a rate of more than 10 times the national average, and one in three Native women will experience sexual violence at some point in her life. A Canadian national inquiry last year called the country’s crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in recent decades “a Canadian genocide.” The investigative reporter Connie Walker, who is Cree and from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan, tells the stories of some of these women and girls in “Missing and Murdered.” In the first season, Walker hosted an eight-part series on the 1989 unsolved murder of 24-year-old Alberta Williams in British Columbia. The second season centers on the unexplained disappearance of a Saskatchewan girl, Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine, who was, alongwith her five siblings, a victim of the forced separation of Indigenous children from their families by social workers in Canada, known as the “Sixties Scoop.” But Cleo vanished, and her family has spent decades trying to find her, believing she was raped and murdered. Walker’s shoe-leather reporting eventually does answer the question: What happened to Cleo?
In this Peabody Award-winning Minnesota Public Radio series, the title refers to the time elapsed after the police officer Jeronimo Yanez turned on his lights to pull over Philando Castile’s white Oldsmobile in 2016 in a Minneapolis suburb, and the moment Yanez fired seven bullets into the elementary-school cafeteria worker. The hosts Jon Collins, Riham Feshir and Tracy Mumford start their 22-part story with some of the events that led up to that fateful day and follow the case through its verdict.
Murder doesn’t necessarily lend itself to humor, but the 2016 podcast “My Favorite Murder” — in which funny people tell each other the stories of serial killers and horrific crimes — put “comedy murder podcasts” on the map. Still, it is hardly the only pod of its kind. Enter Wendy and Beth Williams (both pseudonyms), two best friends and true-crime lovers who noticed the dearth of diversity in the genre, in terms of those shows’ hosts and the subjects they choose. Their show “Fruit Loops” has many of the same beats as other buddy chat shows; the difference is in their topic of choice. Wendy, a millennial who identifies as Black and Latinx, and Beth, a white Gen X’er, swap stories of serial killers of color and their victims, because, as they say, contrary to popular belief, “not all serial killers are white!” Like all true crime co-hosts, the pair chew on and reacts to the details of each case, but from multiracial, multigenerational perspectives.
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