How to Research for True Crime Podcasts

After working for more than seven years as a lifestyle and travel journalist, I put aside the restaurant and hotel world to dive into a completely different challenge: to research true crimes for a podcast series which would feature some of the most macabre crimes in sunny Southern Europe.

The incredible podcast series produced by Meow Productions (I now I am biased, but it is truly amazing) premiered recently on the Podimo app under the name Mord ved Middelhavet (Murders by the Mediterranean), compiling stories from crimes that took place in the 1980s and 1990s in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

As the researcher for the five episodes set in Portugal, this was an opportunity for me to go back in time and investigate some of the most unsettling crimes that dominated the newspapers many years ago. Although I had to navigate the Portuguese law in order to understand some of the criminal cases – the information is often scattered – I managed to find some links that were helpful during the process. You can see them at the end of this blog post).

This is some of the lessons I learned during the research:

  1. Make sure to ‘disconnect’ after reading dark crime stories
    When delving into the research you will get many details. You will know the victim’s complete name, address, family story – and for the perpetrator you will know everything about the crime they committed, how did they did it, and sometimes even why. These aren’t light stories, so at the end of the day I made sure I disconnected for a little while. I kept going and disconnected by seeing a light TV show or reading a fun book.

  2. You will get less impressed with the sordid details from story to story
    At the beginning, I would catch myself holding my breath when going through the most difficult parts of the research: the crime itself and the way victims were murdered. I still remember quite vividly all the macabre details from the story of the Lisbon Ripper, for example. But as I moved from case to case, the crime scene descriptions made less of an impact. This is also the case with a lot of police officers and medical staff and it’s called professional insensitivity.

  3. The internet will have (almost) everything that you are looking for 
    Especially during a pandemic, the internet was my primary source to merge into the criminal cases. Thankfully, a huge part of the national archives in Portugal was already digitalized, as well some verdicts and court cases (see the links at the end of the blog post). It made the process much easier. Academic thesis that are available online can also be great contributors to the research.  

  4. Newspaper archives are the internet of yesterday
    Do you need to know what happened in your country on a specific day of 1985? The national newspaper archives will have it. When a crime is so shocking and unexpected that gets covered by the media, the information will stay documented forever in the newspaper’s private archives. You get to see the case evolve almost like you are reading a really good crime book: the details are revealed as the crime investigation is covered by the media. Definitely, this is a game changer source.

  5. Map the crimes
    When a murderer has killed in multiple locations, it is a great help to create a google map with locations of the person’s home and crimes to get an overview. It may be difficult to obtain accurate information many years later but I will guarantee that it is worth it. It helps you to visualize what happened at the day of the crime and also the region/city where everything happened, which is very useful for the writer (Janne) that will assemble the full story afterwards.     

Useful links