7 real-life moments when true-crime podcasts exposed the truth

By Gen Terblanche7 August 2023

7 real-life moments when true-crime podcasts exposed the truth

When true-crime podcasts go too far, they become the story. And now in the comedy thriller series Based on a True Story S1, Kaley Cuoco and Chris Messina have a lot of explaining to do! 

Podcast and kill 

Despite all those TV detectives who’re hard at work solving one crime a week in cop shows, statistically, worldwide, a killer is more likely to get away with murder than go to jail. It’s not even 50-50, and in some countries, you have a 90% chance of getting away with it. That’s a good-news-bad-news scenario if you’re addicted to true crime … like Yellowjackets’ Citizen Detectives, Misty (Christina Ricci) and Walter (Elijah Wood).  

But with all those unsolved cases up in the air, sometimes a true crime show gets caught up in the story. The results can range from unearthing new evidence that convicts a killer or frees the innocent, to utterly botching the case and causing a mistrial. Husband and wife Ava (Kaley Cuoco, Cassie in The Flight Attendant) and Nathan Bartlett (Chris Messina, Detective Willis in Sharp Objects) are about to do something much, much worse in the comedy thriller series Based On A True Story S1. They decide to get the inside scoop directly from active serial killer The Westside Ripper himself (Tom Bateman), with a little blackmail. They should get at least eight strong episodes out of that, plus the adoration of the crowd at the upcoming Crime Con 2023 fan gathering in LA. 

Read on for more about Based On A True Story S1, and seven real-life moments when true crime podcasts got caught up in the case.  

Based On A True Story 

While other pregnant moms play Baby Mozart recordings to their bumps, LA-based estate agent Ava is hooked on true-crime shows, much to her husband Nathan’s despair. But it grows on you, so when Ava suggests to Nathan that Matt, the new plumber he’s hired and become tennis besties with, might be a serial killer known as The Westside Ripper, he also leaps into detective mode. They uncover patterns that seem to turn Ava’s suspicion into a certainty, and Ava urges Nathan to make millions with her by recording their own true-crime podcast instead of calling 911. If they can get The Westside Ripper himself on their show, surely not even Ava’s favourite podcast, Sisters in Crime, could top that?  

“Everything, straight from the mouth of a serial killer who’s still out there,” Ava imagines with glee. Since their careers have just turned up dead in a field and they’re too broke to buy a nice toilet, it seems tempting. Now if they can just get The Ripper onboard … and keep his ego in check as he discovers the glory of performing for the public, demands more creative control, and starts becoming offended by what he feels is misrepresentation of his career in the true crime community. 

Watch Based on a True Story Season 1 now »

While the title of the show and of Ava and Nathan’s podcast is Based On A True Story, there hasn’t yet been a true-crime podcast or series that has collaborated with a serial killer … depending how you look at it. The documentary makers behind Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst came so close that they nearly wrecked a court case.  

What is based in reality, though, is how utterly obsessed true-crime fans are. So yes, Crime Con does exist, and will be held in Orlando, Florida between 22 and 24 September in 2023. Guests include To Catch a Predator’s Chris Hansen, the team behind the Small Town Dicks podcast, Ted Bundy survivor Kathy Kleiner, and child kidnapping survivor S Monique Smith, along with many more. And yes, they do sell novelties. This year you can buy all sorts of swag, including an Evidence tote bag, or a shirt that declares “I’m only here for an alibi”. So far, no official Ted Bundy bottle openers, but in 2017 you could buy serial killer greeting cards like one on which BTK stood for “Birthday, Torture, Kill” (referencing Blind Torture Kill killer, Dennis Rader). 

7 true-crime collisions 

These true-crime podcasts really have helped to expose new evidence and witnesses, point a finger at police corruption, and even free the innocent.  

1. A Bear Brook podcast listener helped to ID the bodies of an unknown woman and three children found buried in barrels in Bear Brook State Park in 1985, when they contacted police about a connection they’d found to the case on Ancestry.com. Once ID was established, police were able to narrow down who did it. True-crime series I’ll Be Gone In The Dark details this investigation. 

2. In 2018, Hedley Thomas’s Australian podcast Teacher’s Pet exposed a horde of incriminating evidence, along with exposing shockingly apathetic police work, in connection with the disappearance of Lynette Dawson in 1982. Lynette’s husband Chris was finally sentenced to 24 years in prison for her murder in August 2022, and in June 2023, Chris, a teacher, was found guilty of grooming and sexually abusing a 16-year-old student at his school. The podcast had to stop broadcasting in Australia between April 2019 and September 2022 to avoid prejudicing Chris’s ongoing trial. 

3. Student Kristin Smart vanished in 1996, and from when he was just eight years old, musician Chris Lambert would pass by a billboard about her disappearance. In 2019, Chris started interviewing local people for his podcast on Kristin, titled In Your Own Backyard. His interest and encouragement convinced new witnesses to come forward, leading to the conviction of Kristin’s killer, serial rapist Paul Flores. 

4. Journalist Áine Cain and attorney Kevin Greenlee met and fell in love while investigating a cold case! In 2021, the couple’s podcast, The Murder Sheet, uncovered key evidence in the Libby German and Abby Williams murders, including the fact that one suspect had contacted Libby via a catfishing account that he used for entrapping girls into making child sexual abuse material. They also got case documents unsealed when the judge agreed that undue secrecy was hampering the investigation. Their work has helped police to motivate the arrest of a suspect whose trial is ongoing. 

5. Payne Lindsay’s Up and Vanished podcast specialises in missing persons cases. In 2016-2017, Payne highlighted the 2005 disappearance of 30-year-old former beauty queen Tara Grinstead. The police’s investigation was plagued by hoaxers, including 26-year-old Andrew Scott Haley, who spent three years in prison in connection with a YouTube “prank” in which he claimed to be the Catch Me Killer. But Payne’s podcast seemed to shake something loose, and in 2017 the police arrested Ryan Alexander Duke and Bo Dukes, who were convicted and sentenced in 2019. 

6. In 2021, Jacinda Davis and Susan Simpson’s podcast, Proof, exposed shocking police misconduct when they interviewed two key prosecution witnesses in the trial of Darrell Lee Clark and Cain Joshua Storey, who were convicted of shooting their 15-year-old friend Brian Bowling back in 1996. One witness told them that the police had threatened to take her children away unless she testified that she’d overheard Darrell and Cain plotting to murder Brian! In December 2022, the podcast, attorneys, and The Georgia Innocence Project helped to clear Darrell and Cain’s names, and secured their release from prison after 25 years behind bars. 

7. In February 2018, just days after aspiring actress Adea Shabani vanished, her family hired private investigator Jayden Brant to investigate and raise publicity. Jayden roped in journalist Neill Strauss and the two centred the first season of their To Live and Die in LA podcast on her case and their investigation. The chief suspect in the case, Adea’s boyfriend Chris Spotz, committed suicide following a police car chase in March 2018. But Jayden and Neil convinced family members to give them access to Chris’s digital footprint. His data trail led them straight to the place where Adea’s body had been found in May 2018, buried in a shallow grave. 

Podcast and chill in SA 

True-crime obsessed? These Showmax Original series have their own official companion podcasts that both comment on the show and try to answer some nagging questions. 

Rosemary’s Hitlist 

This true crime doccie centres on the jaws-on-the-floor investigation that exposed South Africa’s killer cop, Rosemary Ndlovu, who sent assassins to kill her own family members so that she could cash in on their funeral insurance. 

Watch Rosemary’s Hitlist on Showmax now »

Official Rosemary’s Hitlist companion podcast 


See inside the cult behind Krugersdorp’s 2012-2016 Appointment Murders, in a series that spent 18 months untangling the personalities and motives behind 11 killings. The series is narrated by investigative journalist Jana Marx who wrote The Krugersdorp Cult Killings: Inside Cecilia Steyn’s Reign of Terror. Devilsdorp won the 2022 Best Made-for-TV Documentary SAFTA.  

Watch Devilsdorp on Showmax now »

Official Devilsdorp companion podcast 

The Stella Murders 

The Devilsdorp team turn their attention to gender-based violence and the 2018 murders of Sharnelle Hough (17) and Marna Engelbrecht (16). The teens’ family members sit down for interviews, along with police and a lead journalist covering the case.  

Watch The Stella Murders on Showmax now »

Official Stella Murders companion podcast