MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Many of us are intrigued by history and true crime. Combine the two, and you are bound to peak someone’s interest.

That is what Erik Rivenes did as part of his “Most Notorious!” podcast. It is now one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world.

In a room of one in Hastings, Rivenes is busy reaching out to millions.

“Often times I will spend a Friday night just digging through old newspapers, looking for really interesting crimes,” Rivenes said.

His love for true crime began while he was growing up in Bloomington. Family vacations centered around famous shootouts or bank robberies.

“I would pick places like Dodge City, Kansas or I wanted to go see Boot Hill, or Tombstone, Arizona,” he said.

His pursed his passion into adulthood. In 1995, Rivenes started the original gangster tours in St. Paul. He dressed up as Babyface Nelson while highlighting famous criminals such as Machine Gun Kelly and John Dillinger.

“I gave sight-seeing tours of the hideouts and hot spots and hangouts and the sites of gun fights,” Rivenes said.

Erik Rivenes (credit: CBS)

But a few years ago, he traded in the tour bus for a microphone. After listening to other true crime podcasts, Erik decided to start his own. He launched his “Most Notorious!” podcast in 2015 — interviewing authors around the world who wrote books about well-known criminals.

“Nineteen-twenties and 30s gangsters, Wild West outlaw, 17th century pirates,” he said. “You get your first 10 listens and you’re like, ‘I wonder who found my podcast? Who are these 10 people? This is amazing.’”

But that number grew. From 10 to 100, to a 1,000 to 100,000. Today, Rivenes’s hour-long episodes have been downloaded more than eight million times.

“It is a big number, yeah. One of the top 10 true crime podcasts in the world,” he said.

Rolling Stone magazine even recognized “Most Notorious!” as exactly that. But while Lizzy Borden, Billy the Kid and other famous criminals have been featured, Rivenes’s latest work focuses on crime history in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. It is a tribute to Minnesota’s most notorious crimes.

“People love mystery. They love true crime. They love especially hearing about things that have happened in their own backyard,” Rivenes said.

In a special Halloween episode, he is featuring the ghost of Charlie Pitts, a criminal who ran with Jesse James — and many believe he still haunts Como Lake in St. Paul.

“People have reported seeing his figure, feeling his presence,” Rivenes said.

Through his endless hours of research and work, one thing Rivenes has learned as that while time passes and the names and faces are different, people are generally the same.

“Even though 100 to 150 years have passed, the motives are all the same. Jealousy, greed. There is just something we can connect to,” he said. “I’ve got this connection with my listeners and they trust me to take them to really interesting places.”

Rivenes plans on having one or two new podcasts a week dedicated solely to historical Minnesota crimes. He hopes in the future to have a true crime podcast for every state in the country.

You can find his podcasts on sites like Apple iTunes and Spotify.

John Lauritsen