Every horror aficionado knows the best stories are rooted in reality. It goes a long way toward explaining why we delight in shivering at the psychological manipulations of writers like Shirley Jackson, not to mention the enduring appeal of the old-fashioned home invasion movie. If the popularity of creepy podcasts about real life is any indication, the same principle applies to radio-style narratives. Nothing is quite so unsettling as realizing that the outside world can be scarier than your imagination.
The true crime genre has been around for quite some time, but these stories are often told in books or documentaries. Remember when Netflix's Making a Murderer was all anyone could talk about? And let's not forget a little podcast called Serial — and by "little," of course, I mean "explosively popular." In 2014, that murder mystery became the fastest podcast ever to reach five million downloads, and it was such a sensation that other podcasts saw a boost in ratings just by virtue of their chosen medium. Whether you're a true crime rookie or you've been listening since before Sarah Koenig set foot in a recording studio, here are eight creepy podcasts about real life to keep you awake for hours.
1. "Sword and Scale"
Sword and Scale makes no secret that it's here to terrify you, billing itself as a look into the "demented minds that perform the most despicable and unthinkable actions." Episodes have covered everything from serial killer trophies to the UK's "most evil foster mother," who tortured three children for years. If the bizarre and/or horrifying is up your alley, so is this podcast.
From the producers of Serial and This American Life comes a podcast which begins as an investigation into the death of a young man in small-town Alabama. The result is a series that's half mystery, half Southern Gothic, and entirely unpredictable. Then again, you've probably heard of it — earlier this month, S-Town exceeded 40 million downloads. Unlike the other podcasts on this list, the chills in S-Town come from existential dread rather than gruesome violence, but trust me, you'll be digesting the podcast long after the last few words fade away.
3. "Someone Knows Something"
Produced by CBC Radio, Someone Knows Something follows host David Ridgen as he investigates a disappearance. The first season focused on a five-year-old boy in Ontario, Canada who wandered into the woods one day and was never seen again. Currently, the podcast is following a woman's search for her daughter, Sheryl Sheppard, who vanished in 1997. Download it for the suspense, stick around for the Canadian accents.
If you're reading this article, you probably already know and love Aaron Mankhe's Lore. Just in case, though, it's worth a place on the list. A dream come true for anyone with an interest in folklore, the podcast looks into the historical basis for urban legends across the world. Whether he's investigating Elizabeth Bathory or the Spiritualist movement of the 18th century, the results are nothing short of enthralling.
5. "Finding Tammy Jo"
In 1979, the body of a girl was found in a cornfield in upstate New York. It took three decades to identify her as Tammy Jo Alexander, and her murder remains an unsolved mystery. Given that each episode is about ten minutes long, Finding Tammy Jo is perfect for a quick true crime fix.
6. "The Mind of a Murderer"
Who hasn't wondered what goes on in a killer's head? The Mind of a Murderer follows psychologist Dr. Michelle Ward as she interviews six violent murderers. Say what you will about the production value or Dr. Ward's narration, but this podcast perfectly fits the definition of "creepy."
Criminal manages to do what most entries in the true crime genre can't: telling stories of violence and crime without sensationalizing them. The podcast takes a nuanced approach to storytelling, narrating the "stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, and/or gotten caught somewhere in the middle." (Basically, it's the opposite of The Mind of a Murderer, which is admittedly pretty sensational.) It's not the kind of podcast you listen to for tales of bloody mayhem, but Criminal will certainly make you think about good, evil, and whether you left your apartment door unlocked.