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Criminal Behavior

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

I've put a short hold on my reading to listen to all the episodes of a new-to-me podcast called Crimetown (thanks for the recommendation, Jason!), and I thought, "Well, somebody had to write this content, after all! I think I can talk about it on my blog." So, here are some brief reviews of all my favorite crime-related podcasts:

So far I am about halfway through Season One, which takes an in-depth look at organized crime and corruption Providence, RI, focusing primarily on the 1970's - 90's, but up through today as well. This podcast has several recurring characters, many of whom are connected to one another via their criminal activities, including Buddy Cianci, who was mayor of Providence and also "in bed with" a lot of "made men" in the Patriarca crime family. I'm finding it a little difficult to follow. For one, unlike a lot of "serial" crime-story podcasts, there is no single story/crime. But also (I'll admit it), every single person they interview sounds exactly the same to me: raspy, Rhode Island-accented, Italian-American gangster "wise guys" who say "fuck" a lot. Still, it's well-researched, and informative - I never knew there was such a long history of organized crime in RI. Each season of Crimetown investigates "the culture of crime in a different city," and Season Two is set in Detroit... I'll update you if I listen to that one.

This one is a lot of fun. Between about 15-30 minutes long each, the episodes (and there are many - the podcast launched in 2014) tell different stories of "people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle." To me, listening to an episode feels a bit like watching a Law & Order - I get a full crime story in one sitting. The episodes range from the slightly ridiculous, like "Dropping Like Flies," about flytrap plants going missing, to the gruesome, like "A Bucket, a Mop, and a Sledgehammer," which details the life of a crime scene cleaner. My favorite true crime story from this podcast started with an episode from 2016 called "Money Tree" and continued in a recent follow-up episode, "The Less People Know About Us," about a case of stolen identity with an unexpected twist. It's an easy podcast to listen to in fits and starts, and if you like it there are a ton of episodes to binge on!

The story of the largest unsolved art heist in history: Thirteen works of art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. None of the works have ever been recovered, and no one has ever been arrested for the crime. As unsatisfying as that may sound, the podcast is fascinating, and does an amazing job of reporting the facts and theories, and following up on leads. Some of the episodes are heartbreaking, for instance when the former director of the museum describes some of the works that were stolen (including paintings by Rembrandt, Degas, Vermeer, and Manet), or when they describe one of the frames left behind, the painting having been sliced out of it. You can see the Museum's call for information and view photos of the stolen artworks here.

I mean, everyone knows Serial, right?

Season One: The complicated story of Adnan Syed, jailed for the murder of his girlfriend.

Season Two: The complicated story of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, army deserter/prisoner of war.

Season Three: I dunno, I got bored. Oh ok, fine, I guess it's about the criminal justice system in Cleveland (probably interesting if you live in Cleveland?).

As you can tell, I didn't really get into the third season, but if you love true crime, you'll love the first two seasons for sure. (But then again, if you love true crime, you've definitely already listened to them.)

I read one review that called this story "bananas," and I'd have to agree. The podcast details the life of present-day New York City psychiatrist Isaac "Ike" Herschkopf, who has been accused of manipulating his patients to exploit them for money, power, and status. Journalist Joe Nocera has a personal "in" with this story - one of those patients is his neighbor. The ick-factor is strong in this podcast. I don't mean gore, I mean the creepy level of scheming manipulation. The podcast is technically over, but has been and will continue to be periodically updated as news breaks about the allegations against Herschkopf.

Sad but necessary, this is the story of Rev. James Reeb, who was murdered in 1965 in Selma, AL. Reeb was a Civil Rights activist living in Philadelphia when he traveled south for the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Of note, he was a white man murdered by white segregationists. Though his death remains "unsolved," three people were tried for the murder, but not convicted, and the podcast delves deep into the deceptions that made those acquittals possible. Hosts Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace face racial issues head-on, and don't shy away from pointing out those attitudes of the 1960's that remain today.

If you have suggestions for other true-crime podcasts, please let me know!

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