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Who We Are
Isaac Meyer is a historian, high school teacher, and podcaster. He started The History of Japan Podcast in 2013. Isaac believes that history should be accessible for everyone, both because it is important for us to know our common past and because really, who doesn’t love a good story?
Demetria Spinrad is an author and digital marketing professional. As a storyteller and a true crime fanatic, Demetria likes to use criminal records to help show you the humanity behind the history.
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Show Notes Find out more about these historic figures
Did an ancient Greek party girl get off on a capital charge because she flashed the judge? Or was this…
We’re heading back to the wild west to meet one of America’s smoothest criminals. Let Charles “Doc” Baggs teach you the art of stealing from the rich, giving great speeches, and staying one step ahead of the law. What do we learn when we listen to a criminal telling his side of the story? Who shaped our understanding of the moral landscape of the American west? How cool is this dude, seriously?
You’ve heard of Rosa Parks—but do you actually know the full story? This week, we dig into the brutal history of segregation in the United States, the difficult work of activism, and the way black civil rights leaders’ stories are taught as part of a whitewashed narrative that minimizes their agency and fails to engage with their actual political views.
It’s Pride month, and you know what that means: It’s time for a deep dive into the structural oppression of queer people in America, the exploitative underbelly of New York’s mob-owned gay bars, and the night those tensions boiled over in 1969. What exactly was banned by sodomy laws and other laws used to target queer New Yorkers? Why was the mafia paying the police to keep gay bars open? And why was the movement that came out of Stonewall so different than what came before?
This week, we cover one of the most shameful war crimes in American history–and the shockingly light sentence of the only man successfully convicted for it. What happens when business tactics are applied to warfare? Why did it take so long for William Calley’s crimes to come to light? And why did so many Americans, including the president, believe he was justified in murdering hundreds of civilians?
This week, we bring you a story about a suspicious suicide, a vengeful spirit, and the wrath of the emperor. Why was a ghostly accountant out for revenge? How good was the Qing dynasty CSI team? And how did one of the most regimented legal systems in history end up with such a weird, orientalist misrepresentation in the English-speaking world?
In our first court case from the Islamic world, we meet one of history’s greatest bureaucrats. Midhat Pasha was fantastic at taking control of troubled territories and coming up with grand new legal ideas, but he wasn’t so great at playing politics. Meet the scholar who rose to be the Grand Vizier of an empire before he became the defendant in an unwinnable show trial.
Meet the woman who claimed to be a German princess, scammed a handful of husbands, palled around with pirates, and played her scandalous self on the stage. Why were so many English men so easy to dupe when a stranger showed up claiming noble heritage? How did a con artist become a celebrity? How much do we really know about Mary as a person, and how much did this self-made woman construct herself as a character?
This week, we’re covering the strange, sad case of Mary Mallon, one of America’s most notorious killers—who never technically committed a crime. When is it illegal to spread a disease? Why did the Health Department have the power to detain people indefinitely? Does Mary deserve her infamy, or was she a victim of a system that was stacked against her from the start?
This week, Isaac and Demetria go back to the Wild West for our very first outlaw of the American frontier. There’s rootin’, there’s tootin’, there’s plenty of shootin’, and also a truly astonishing amount of…soap?
The peasants are revolting! Bad times for England, but good times for Demetria and Isaac as they talk about boy kings, bad tax plans, and what to do when a bunch of rebels politely ask you to kill your own uncle.
In this week’s episode, we cover an unfortunately common type of crime, a workplace mass homicide, in an unusual location: a college campus. Did Dr. Bishop really “snap” because she was denied tenure, or were commenters using a sensational story to draw attention to one of America’s strangest employment practices?
This week (and somewhat late), Isaac and Demetria talk about the trials (literally) and tribulations of the great American comedian Lenny Bruce, whose boundary-pushing comedy landed him in hot water on charges of obscenity around the United States.
Is this the oldest case ever covered on a true crime podcast? PROBABLY! In this episode, we discuss the oldest known recorded murder trial, and try to read between the lines of cuneiform to get the real story of one victim, three killers, and a wife who didn’t snitch.
It’s time for our first case on the history of American slavery, featuring the bizarre legal and moral mess that allowed black Africans fighting for their freedom to be accused of kidnapping themselves.
Come celebrate the big 3-0 with a con for the ages as Jeanne de Valois will try to get her hands on a 2 million livre necklace, and end up implicating — and slandering — one of the world’s most famous and powerful monarchies.
Did Elizabeth Bathory really bathe in virgins’ blood? This Halloween season, let Isaac and Demetria ruin your fun as we explain why the sexy, bloody story you’ve heard about the Bloody Countess is sadder, weirder, and more dependant on 16th-century Hungarian laws about serfs than you thought.
Isaac and Demetria go back in time to answer the age-old question: if Socrates was such a great philosopher, why couldn’t he figure out not to drink all that poison? That plus long digressions about the nature of democracy and medieval theology (of course)!
Grab your tommy guns and fedoras as we make our way to Chicago to cover the meteoric rise (and equally meteoric fall) of one of America’s most famous gangsters, Al Capone!
It’s time for a fun case of ancient Roman slander as we talk about the corrupt politician Gaius Verres. What was he accused of? Are the charges real, or were they embellished to help the career of an upjumped lawyer named Cicero? And what’s up with everyone always making analogies between Rome and America?
This week, Isaac and Demetria discuss the gruesome series of child murders that took place in Kobe in 1997, and the circumstances surrounding the eventual capture and trial of the killer — a 14-year-old high school boy.
This week, Isaac and Demetria unpack the career of the firebrand revolutionary playwright Olympe de Gouges. Along the way, we tackle such important questions as: what was the French Revolution about? What even is feminism? And why is Isaac’s French accent so bad?
This week, we’re talking about Fred Korematsu, whose great crime was… being in the place where he was born. How did America get to the point of incarcerating its own citizens in the 1940s? And what does that story have to tell us about today?
Nannie Doss told police interrogators she was just looking for love–but the string of dead husbands she left in her wake didn’t meet her standards. This is the sad, strange story of the “Giggling Grandma,” a serial killer who captured America’s attention in the 1950s but faded from the public’s memory after her sensational trial.
This week, Isaac and Demetria discuss an infamous blood libel trial: the story of St. Simon of Trent, and the Jews who were tortured and executed after the city authorities blamed them for the boy’s murder.
Was Robin Hood a real guy? Almost certainly not! But his ever-changing story is a fascinating reflection of the time periods he passed through. Let Demetria and Isaac take you on a journey through time, from the far past… to the distant future.
This week: what do painted clothing, fake coins, and dildoes have in common? All of them factor into the career of one of England’s most fascinating conmen, the forger William Chaloner!
Amanda Jean of the Red Pen Podcast joins Demetria for the story of France’s most notorious criminal turned cop. If you enjoy fiction about crime today, you’re probably reading something inspired by Vidocq’s legacy.
This week, Isaac tortures Demetria by forcing her to listen to him talk about baseball. But really, baseball is fun so we should all take joy in her learning about it.
This week, Isaac and Demetria make use of a tale of revenge from 1820s Japan to discuss one of the most interesting legal practices we’ve ever seen: kataki-uchi, the system of legally permitted revenge of Japan’s samurai era. Why turn revenge into something akin to getting your license renewed at the DMV? What are the rules? And what can we learn about the nature of justice from thinking about this?
This week, Isaac and Demetria investigate the case that grabbed headlines across 1920s America. We’ll talk about the intersection of xenophobia, violent anarchism, and the American legal system, and how all of them manifested in a bungled case that remains divisive to this day.
This episode has it all: Pope-on-pope legal drama! Corpse desecration! 3 separate French kings named Charles! Come for an explanation of the Corpse Synod, stay to find out how why it’s not easy being pope.
This week, Demetria and Isaac tackle America’s great traitor! Who was Arnold, and what did his trial for a series of ridiculous charges have to do with his decision to betray his country?
This week, Isaac and Demetria discuss the story of Margaret Clap, proprietor of a coffee house with a big secret. What was a molly house, why was the government prosecuting men for buggery, and why are trial records some of our best surviving documents about gay culture in 1720s England?
This week, Isaac and Demetria tackle the case of Govinda Mainali, a Nepalese man accused in Japan of a murder he obviously didn’t commit. But obviously he didn’t do it, so there’s no way he could end up serving 12 years in prison just to make the Japanese government look more efficient at solving crimes than it really is, right?
This week, we cover the fall from grace of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai. From rising stars of the communist party to convicted murderers, what does their story tell us about the workings of the modern Chinese Communist Party?
This week, we cover the Dutch resistance fighter Willem Arondeus and his sabotage of government archives being used by the Nazis to hunt down the Jews of the Netherlands. How does a hero get written out of his own story, and why was the Dutch resistance so much different than the resistance movements we’re familiar with?
This week we cover one of the architects of the infamous Soviet GULAG system, who started his career as an inmate of the very system he would reshape forever!
This week, we tackle Iceland’s most famous (and only) serial killer, Axlar-Björn. Who was he? Why is his case difficult to reconstruct? Why did all these dead bodies keep mysteriously showing up on his farm in a totally inexplicable way?
This week, we cover a fratricide from China’s Qing dynasty. Who were the Li family? Why did one of the brothers of the family kill another? And how was the case handled by one of the world’s most complex justice systems?
This week, we cover one of the most scandalous criminal cases in Japanese history. In 1936, Abe Sada commits a grizzly murder that captures the attention of all of Japan. Why did she do it? How was the crime investigated? And why do we care so much? All of that, plus some tasteless genital jokes (far fewer than we could have made!)
This week, we cover one of history’s most famous imposture cases. Eight years after leaving his home town of Artigat, Martin Guerre comes home. But of course, all of us change after a long time away — sometimes into different people altogether!
In this episode, we talk a bit about why we’re doing the podcast, how legal codes aren’t universal, and the difference between calling a historical figure a criminal and calling them a bad or morally wrong person.
Come listen to us!