Wine moms, forensic scientists, comics, journalists—everyone seems to have a true crime podcast these days. And plenty of them have focused on DC area crimes both well-known (the Robert Wone murder) and overlooked (the 1970s serial killer known as the Freeway Phantom). Want to dive into one? Here’s the best of the often terrifying, always tragic lot:
Through the Cracks
WAMU producer Jonquilyn Hill’s terrific series focuses on the 2014 disappearance of DC second grader Relisha Rudd. The eight year-old, who had been living with her mother at a city-run homeless shelter, was reported missing after not being seen for 18 days. She was last spotted on a hotel security camera in the company of the shelter’s janitor, who had been posing as a doctor and spending time with Rudd. But how could that—any of that—happen? Hill endeavors to find out, exploring whether anything could have been done to prevent the child’s disappearance. In the process, she portrays the picky-eating, dance-loving, bike-racing Rudd—who remains missing—as a kid, not a character.
Listen on: WAMU; NPR; Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Stitcher; Audible.
In 1997, journalist Richard Foster started a job at Richmond alt-weekly Style Magazine—and discovered that a decade earlier, staffer Debbie Dudley Davis had been tortured, raped, and strangled to death inside her apartment. In 2017, Foster decided it was time to tell the tale of the so-called Southside Strangler, whose killings in Richmond and Arlington were so hideously cruel they served as the basis of Patricia Cornwell thriller Post Mortem. But also, this is the story of that serial killer’s victims and their families—it’s as much a piercing portrait of grief as it is an investigative drama.
Listen on: Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Stitcher.
The horrific 2015 killings of three members of Woodley Park’s Savopoulos family and housekeeper Vera Figueroa (aka the “mansion murders”) took place, as the title suggests, over a 22 hour period. WTOP reporters Jack Moore and Megan Cloherty, who covered the 2018 trial of accused murderer Daron Wint, revisit the case that stunned high-society Washington. The details of the story—the $40,000 money drop, the half-eaten Domino’s pizza crust that nailed Wint—have been endlessly parsed on the page, in parlor-game conversations, and in court. But Cloherty and Moore bring in fresh perspectives, such as a neighbor who was likely the last person outside the house to see Amy Savopoulos alive, a housekeeper who had long worked for the family and was close to Figueroa, and the jurors who convicted Wint.
Listen on: WTOP; Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Audible.
The Murder of Robert Wone
When it comes to local crime lore, the murder of young lawyer Robert Wone at his friends’ Dupont Circle townhouse is one of our most captivating mysteries. In terms of scandals, this one has it all: a labyrinth of odd clues, wealthy players, BDSM overtones, a throuple. Just how did Wone wind up stabbed to death in a bloodless bedroom on Swann Street? Maybe we’ll never know. But LA-based producer Aliza Rosen and narrator H. Alan Scott do a good job of looking in every corner, and making listeners rethink some of the more lurid, out-there details.
Listen on: Audible.
Murder on the Towpath
Mary Pinchot Meyer was tied to several powerful men: most famously, she was JFK’s* mistress, but she was also sister-in-law to Ben Bradlee, and ex-wife to former CIA operative Cord Meyer. So when she was shot, execution-style, one autumn afternoon in Georgetown, the crime became both a never-ending headline and a springboard for conspiracy theories. Here, TV journalist Soledad O’Brien focuses on the women in the story. She fills out the portrait of Meyer, a highly educated artist, and also spotlights Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the female civil rights lawyer who defended the man accused—and acquitted—of the crime.
Listen on: Luminary.
The Investigation Continues: Lyon Sisters
Nearly every community seems to have a case that changes the way people live—the one that causes hardware stores to sell out of double-bolt locks, and parents to rethink the freedoms they’ve given their kids. The 1975 disappearance of 10 year-old Kate Lyons and her 12 year-old sister Sheila, was just that sort of crime in Montgomery County. Here, WTOP crime reporter Neil Augenstein tells the story of the girls in six 10 (ish) minute episodes, from the last time they walked out the door of their parents’ Kensington home, to the 2017 conviction of the man who pled guilty to their abduction and murder.
Listen on: WTOP; Spotify; Stitcher; Apple Podcasts.
“Not a lot of fathers haul their daughters to crime scenes as a bonding activity,” admits writer Blaine Pardoe. In 2019, he and that now-grown daughter Victoria Hester delved into the unsolved murders of six DC area Black children and teens in the early 1970s. The taunting killer was dubbed the “Freeway Phantom,” because he left his victims’ bodies along various roads, including the Suitland and Baltimore/Washington parkways. Pardoe and Hester examine the circumstances that shaped the way the still-cold case was handled—such as, the Watergate scandal, which diverted both FBI resources and media attention from the crimes.
Listen on: Apple Podcasts; Spotify.
Each episode of Jenny Poore’s podcast tells a different story of a Commonwealth-related crime. Some—Lorena and John Bobbitt, the disappearance of Lyon sisters—are cases that you’ve probably heard of. But Poore, both wry and respectful, uncovers plenty that are more obscure. Take the “vampire rapist,” who drained and drank his victims’ blood during his assaults. Or Ed Chen, the UVA student who murdered his family and left their corpses in his Great Falls house for years, returning now and then to mow the lawn.
Listen on: Apple Podcasts; Spotify.
Monster: DC Sniper
Washington has always been a target city—and if you live here, you probably push that to the back of your mind most of the time. But that luxury was shattered in the aftermath of 9/11, and a year later by the random, sniper-style killings that happened around the suburbs. Baltimore journalist Tony Harris covered the case back then, and he’s put together a fascinating oral history of the 23-day spree. He talks to witnesses to the killings, homicide detectives, victims’ relatives, and most chillingly, Mildred Muhammad, the ex-wife of John Allen Muhammad, who was later executed for his role in the murders.
Listen on: Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Stitcher; Audible.
True Crime All the Time on Jean Harris (Episode 186)
The two hosts behind this crime recap podcast come across like nice-guy dads hanging at a cookout. But if you don’t know the story of Jean Harris—the former headmistress of McLean’s private Madeira school—the pair’s straightforward retelling is a good place to start. Harris became the center of one of the city’s most dramatic legal sagas when, in 1980, she shot her sometimes-boyfriend Herman Tarnower, the cardiologist who created the popular Scarsdale Diet. Tarnower died, Harris claimed it was an accident (though she shot him four times), and a media goldmine was created.
Also see: Episode 253 on the post-9/11 anthrax murders; Episode 177 on Bradford Bishop, the Bethesda foreign service officer who murdered his family; Episode 171 on Samuel Sheinbein, the Aspen Hill teenager who was convicted of murdering his classmate at Wheaton’s Kennedy High School.
My Favorite Murder on the murder of Jayna Murray at Bethesda’s Lululemon (Episode 31)
LA’s Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are the OGs of the crime-meets-comedy genre. These days, they’re legit celebrities, traveling the world and selling out live shows. But this, one of their earliest productions, is a good reminder of what exactly makes them so much better than much of the competition. The story of Jayna Murray and Brittany Norwood, coworkers at the downtown Bethesda Lululemon store, is as twisty as a Law and Order episode, and it’s tempting to retell it as a whodunit. Instead, Kilgariff reveals the killer from the get-go and looks at the story through the lens of the high-end yoga brand’s toxic, perfection-chasing culture.
Also see: Episode 151 on the disappearance of intern Chandra Levy; Episode 267 on Fairfax’s Bunny Man legend.
Convicted Conversations on Rayful Edmond (Episode 80)
Some cheesy sound effects are a small price to pay for this portrait of Edmond, who in the ‘80s was DC’s biggest crack and cocaine dealer. Edmond was arrested in 1989 and has been incarcerated ever since, but this podcast, with the help of vintage newscast audio, sheds light on his early life. The former Dunbar high school student—reportedly voted best dressed and most popular—actually began his drug-dealing career around age 10. The open air drug market he ruled in Northeast DC, which sits a few blocks from Union Market, brought Edmond millions of dollars every month, which he used to shower friends and associates with cash, Georgetown shopping sprees, and meals at Houston’s.
See also: Episode 25 on DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo.
The Murder Squad: Jensen & Holes on the murders of Virginia students Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham (Episodes 29 and 30)
Fans of Michelle McNamara’s true crime insta-classic I’ll Be Gone in the Dark will recognize the names Paul Holes and Billy Jensen. The former is a California investigator who was instrumental in cracking the long-cold Golden State Killer case, the book’s subject. Jensen is the crime writer who helped finish the late McNamara’s manuscript after her death. Here, they examine the series of murders committed by Jesse Matthew, the hospital orderly behind the murders of Graham, Harrington, and as Jensen and Holes surmise, possibly others.
See also: Episode 36 on the Freeway Phantom.
You’re Wrong About on Chandra Levy (Episode 82)
Do we really need another podcast about the 2001 murder of Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy? Turns out, the answer is yes. Huffington Post reporter Michael Hobbs and writer Sarah Marshall bring a funny, sharp, and empathetic perspective to Levy’s disappearance and her affair with California congressman Gary Condit (“If you were casting a movie about a meteor hitting the earth,” says Marshall, “[Condit] would be like, ‘politician from Nebraska'”). They pack their look-back with telling details—such as the significance of Condit’s placement in Levy’s cell phone speed-dial list—and can-you-believe-this-is-real facts. Take the tip from a psychic that Levy was in a body bag in the basement at a Smithsonian storage building. Which police actually followed up on and searched.
*An earlier version of this post stated that Mary Pinchot Meyer had an affair with JFK Jr., a copy-editing error on the author’s part. Meyer’s relationship was with President Kennedy.