My new top 8 favorite podcasts

Earlier this year, I wrote a post with my top 8 favorite podcasts. I stand by every one of those and still enjoy listening to the ones that continue on. But since writing that blog, I've received dozens of recommendations and now I rarely do anything without headphones on. Seriously -- walking, cooking, biking, sitting on the train -- you name it, I do it with a podcast in my ears.

I remember once hearing that the most highly effective people regularly listened to educational audiobooks. Podcasts weren't around when that study was done, but I'm willing to bet that they count as well. Listening to podcasts, at least the ones I like, stimulates and engages your brain. It exposes you to new ways of thinking and inspiring ideas, as well as information that previously may have only been in a more "boring" format.

If you haven't yet made it into the podcast game, I strongly suggest you give it a try. Download one to put on in the car while you're driving, or try listening to that instead of music when you're working out or making dinner. And if you're wondering where to start, may I recommend some true crime?

There's a reason shows like Making a Murderer and the podcast Serial are so addicting. Hearing how the lives of normal people can be turned upside down by a traumatic event is fascinating, and you don't need the gory details to understand what happened and the impact it has on a community when someone is murdered or goes missing.

The podcasts that I'm into mostly have to do with that: crimes, communities, and justice -- or the lack thereof. What's happening in the criminal justice world? What's being done in our name -- the name of "The State"? The answers continue to surprise me, so I'm sure they'll shock you too.

In no particular order, here's the list of what I'm addicted to right now:

1. In the Dark

One of the most notorious missing persons cases in the USA was recently resolved -- and the whole case just so happens to have taken place just a few hours from my hometown in Minnesota. More than 27 years ago, a boy named Jacob Wetterling disappeared. Until just a couple of months ago, nobody but the man who took him knew what happened to him. Reported by APM Reports, this podcast explores the disappearance of Jacob, the resulting investigation and the reaction of the community. But host Madeleine Baran does more than just cover the Wetterling case -- she also goes into the legislation that his family was instrumental to putting in place to theoretically protect the community against sex criminals, and the similar crimes in the area which, if solved, might have meant Jacob would never have been taken in the first place.

2. Accused

Many of the podcasts I listen to deal with a prisoner who continues to claim his innocence, and the hosts trying to prove it with the hope of winning him a new trial or getting his conviction thrown out. That's not the case with Accused. When Elizabeth Andes was found dead in the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, he was immediately charged for the murder. But even when both a criminal and a civil court determined he was not guilty, the police refused to reopen the case, convinced that the juries got it wrong. Amanda Rossmann and Amber Hunt from the Cincinnati Enquirer take a closer look at the case, following up old leads and asking new questions, trying to find justice for Elizabeth and release her boyfriend from decades of unwarranted suspicion.

3. Undisclosed: The State v. Joey Watkins

I reviewed Undisclosed the last time I covered my favorite podcasts, but they are back and better than ever with their second season. Not only has the quality of production gone from strength to strength, but the case they're covering in this season is even more complex and exciting than Adnan's -- something I would have said was impossible to achieve a year ago. Lawyers Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson, and Colin Miller keep up their commitment to bringing you the cold, hard legal facts of the case. However, this year they're weaving together literary references and everyday examples to help listeners understand even the most complex legal topics. Not only that, but they have a second episode each week, an addendum hosted by actor Jon Cryer, where they answer listener questions and delve deeper into the previous week's episode to make sure everyone understood what was being discussed. Honestly, this is one of the best podcasts out there right now. When there's a new episode up, I drop every other download I've got and listen to it first.

4. Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People

Need a break from the seriousness of true crime? I've got just the ticket. This is one of the most unusual concepts for a podcast that I've ever heard of. Comedian Chris Gethard sits next to a phone in his studio, and strangers call in. They don't give their names. They aren't given a topic. They have one hour, and they can talk to Chris about whatever they want. He isn't allowed to hang up until the hour is done. I would have thought this would get old after a while, and of course not all of the conversations he has are aired, but each episode I listen to is almost like a completely new show. Chris has talked to struggling artists, a middle-aged Trump supporter, a former sex line worker, an ex-Orthodox Jew, and many more. Each conversation is completely unique, ranging from hilarious to heart-wrenching -- sometimes in the same episode. I hope to someday call in myself.

5. Breakdown

Doing an investigative podcast seems to be becoming the "it" thing for local newspapers, and this is no different. In the first season, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Bill Rankin covered the story of Justin Chapman, who was convicted of the murder of his neighbor in rural Georgia. His case has recently come to a resolution, which I won't give away if you want to listen without looking it up. In the current season, Rankin follows the sensational, tragic story of Justin Ross Harris, who is currently on trial, accused of murdering his one-year-old son by leaving him in a hot car to die. Harris has always maintained it was a mistake, but for various reasons the police and prosecutors are convinced he did it intentionally to live a "child-free life". I'm hooked on this in a BIG way. The ongoing trial gives it a sense of urgency, and each new episode brings to light how fascinating and often insane our trial system is.

6. Missing Maura Murray

Documentary film-makers Tim Pilleri and Lance Reenstierna began recording this podcast and their documentary concurrently more than a year ago, and their investigation is continuing to this day. I haven't caught up on the most recent episodes, but last I checked they were still in active investigation. The disappearance of Maura Murray from the side of a road where she wrecked her car in 2004 has baffled and frustrated police, family, friends, and armchair detectives for more than 12 years. There has never been a confirmed sighting of her since, and the search for her over the years has turned up conspiracy theorists, trolls, and a host of other unlikely characters who are completely obsessed with this case and what happened to Maura. This podcast goes pretty in-depth, but Tim and Lance do seem to uncover a lot of information, including tidbits that were never made public and could have lasting implications on whether the case ever truly gets solved.

7. Task & Purpose Radio

One thing about the podcast community is that it's just that -- a community. Many of the podcasts I subscribe to were recommended by other podcasts, and Task & Purpose Radio is one of those. Hosted by Lauren Katzenberg, this podcast features discussion with former Marine Corps judge advocate James Weirick, and Nate Bethea, an officer who was in Bowe Bergdahl’s battalion. The three analyze the second season of Serial and its coverage of the controversial case of Bowe Bergdahl, a private who walked off his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years. I wanted a military perspective on this case, particularly as it was so easy for me to get caught up in Bowe's story that I often forgot the impact it had on the rest of the military. There's a good mix between the three hosts: Bethea was directly and negatively affected by Bowe's actions as their resources and time went to searching for him, and thus has little patience for what he did; Katzenberg has strong feelings as well, but seems to try harder to keep them in check; and Weirick does what he does -- plays the advocate, acknowledging Bowe's wrongdoing while also trying to look at his side of the story. If you're interested in this case, or military justice and how it differs from the normal US judicial system, I highly recommend you listen.

8. Crime Writers On...

Like so many others, this podcast started as a "podcast about a podcast", featuring four writers of true crime and/or crime fiction as they discussed episodes of Serial from the story-telling perspective. They've continued on long after Serial, however, covering many of the most popular crime documentaries, podcasts, movies, and more. As a writer, I of course love their perspective and the unique angle they have on tackling these stories. But the rapport and witty banter between the four of them is what makes this podcast really special. Even when they're covering serious topics, they manage to find a way to bring lightness to otherwise incredibly heavy topics. I'm way behind on these because I've gotten sucked into a few other stories, but hopefully I can start catching up over the next few weeks.

So there you have it! Those are the podcasts that are filling up my subscription feed right now, not to mention the ongoing ones that I've previously recommended, including Truth & Justice with Bob RuffReal Crime ProfileThis American Life, and So You Want to Be a Writer.

Got any recommendations for me? Drop them in the comments and I'll check them out. Happy listening!