It goes without saying, the best true crime podcasts are cold cases; those journalists who dig up years-old unsolved murder mysteries, speak to and record lots of different characters and witnesses and develop a new line of suspects and suspicion (think Trace, Phoebe’s Fall). Then there’s the ones who tell a story brilliantly; the narrator’s voice is articulate and soothing, the music interludes and sound effects seamless (think Dirty John, Serial, S-Town). Atlanta Monster – the number one podcast in America for 63 consecutive days (and number nine in Australia) – combines both these elements in a live case about race, crime and justice.
Between 1979 and 1981, at least twenty-eight young African American boys – all from impoverished neighbourhoods across the city of Atlanta – disappeared or were found murdered. Episode one begins with a resident who lived in the area at the time, a man who recounts the moment his father called him to tell him his 11-year-old brother had been found dead, a detective, a historian. Even without a narrator at this point, the plot-line is firmly contextualised, both emotionally and culturally. This is helped along by audio clips of news bulletins asking parents “It’s 10 O’clock. Do you know where your children are?”
Atlanta Monster, the podcast, is the brain child of 30-year-old Payne Lindsey who isn’t a journalist. No, he’s a freelance filmmaker who has released two podcasts in the past but both not as gripping as his third. By the second episode, we get an insight into the Atlanta Police Department and the differing views of the FBI and while segregation schools were a thing of the past (we’re 15 years removed from civil rights legislation), black versus white ideologies still existed.
One man, Wayne Williams, was convicted of the murder of two adults and is now serving prison time – the child murders were also attributed to him and, despite desperate mothers of victims pleading at City Hall believing the killer was still out there, the police, the media – and Atlanta – moved on. After all, the national press was bad for tourism.
So who is really responsible for these murders? 40 years on, Lindsey (who goes to prison to interview Williams) is seemingly asking all the right questions and while he isn’t a professional investigative reporter, he’s investigating the original investigations and offering several alternative plausible theories – a sex trafficking ring was explored in episode six, released just last Friday. Was Williams really the killer? Was there only one killer?
The first episode went live on December 25 2017 and a new episode is released every Friday. Download here.