A killer was stalking the streets of Atlanta. He was snatching young boys off the streets and depositing their bodies in empty lots and quiet places in the city. From 1979 to 1981, at least 28 children, almost all black boys from poor neighborhoods, went missing or were found dead, many from asphyxiation.
As the murders continued and the police had no leads, the crime thrust Atlanta into the national spotlight. James Baldwin flew in from Paris to cover the gruesome crimes for Playboy. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. played at a fundraiser and Muhammad Ali donated $400,000 to the reward fund. But for years, the deaths continued and the police made no arrests. The dark corners of that very true crime are explored over the episodes of the podcast Atlanta Monster, from Tenderfoot TV and HowStuffWorks.
The host is Payne Lindsey, the creator behind Up and Vanished, which dug into the 2005 disappearance of Tara Grinstead, a high-school teacher in rural Ocilla, Georgia. Six months into Lindsey’s investigation, a woman called in a tip to the authorities and two men were arrested in connection with the murder. While the podcast may not have directly lead to the arrest—the suspects weren’t on Lindsey’s radar at all—his work certainly dragged the long cold case back into the public eye. On a tip from Donald Albright, the cofounder of Tenderfoot TV , Lindsey decided to next turn his attention to the person who murdered Atlanta’s children.
However, Lindsey is young and white, and he knows just enough to step back from the driver’s seat and let those in the affected community tell their own story. A series of journalists, historians, and locals helps lay out the bones of the crime. What unfolds is a dark tale with a lot to offer true crime fans, but also a story about race, crime, justice, and old prejudices held tight. When a suspect is finally arrested and convicted of the murders of two adults, there are enough questions to keep the community—and listeners—guessing as to whether the right man was convicted of the crimes or if the Atlanta child murders were even the work of one man.
Whether or not Atlanta Monster will refresh memories and shake loose new tips, like with Up and Vanished, or simply open old wounds while repeating the same facts and theories that have circulated around the case for years, is yet to be seen. One thing is certain, though: The show has been a runaway smash hit. We can report that:
- From January 5 to April 4, Atlanta Monster‘s 12 episodes reached over 20 million downloads total (source: Podtrac).
- Listeners spent nearly 3 million total hours listening to Atlanta Monster on Apple devices since its launch (source: Apple Analytics, Jan-Mar 2018).
- Every episode has an 80% or more average completion rate (source: Apple Analytics, January 25 to March 26, 2018).
- 77% of listeners are dedicated Atlanta Monster podcast subscribers (source: Apple Analytics, March 2018).
To date, Atlanta Monster has claimed the No. 1 spot on Apple Podcast Charts for 45 days in a three-month period. That includes a consecutive 30-day run at the No. 1 spot.
While those aren’t quite Serial stats (episodes of the first two seasons of Serial have been downloaded more than 250 million times) and the spin-off series S-Town has been downloaded more than 40 million times, the numbers are impressive and speak to the seemingly insatiable love of true crime among podcast listeners.