In Cold Blood
Truman Capote’s masterpiece is essentially the grandfather of the true crime genre. Steeped in meticulous research and told with Capote’s signature storytelling flair, In Cold Blood is like nothing else that came before—it proved to be a harbinger of both narrative nonfiction and true crime. Everything that’s come since, from Helter Skelter to Serial and Making a Murderer, owes a debt to In Cold Blood.
The Devil in the White City
This bestseller from Erik Larson intertwines the story of the 1893 World’s Fair and its famous architect, Daniel Hudson Burnham, with one of the most infamous and prolific serial killers of the nineteenth century, Dr. H. H. Holmes. Within his “World’s Fair Hotel”, Holmes built a gas chamber, dissection table, and various other devices to torture and kill his myriad victims. It is truly fascinating and horrifying account.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
With its once-grand-now-dilapidated mansion setting, peculiar community of larger-than-life characters, and haunting moss-covered streets, Savannah, Georgia-based Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a Southern Gothic come to life. It’s also a perfect example of a classic idiom: truth is indeed sometimes stranger than fiction. This is a beguiling murder mystery with an eccentric cast of characters that just has to be read to be believed.
Under the Banner of Heaven
In this book, Jon Krakauer takes a deep dive into a chilling double murder within one of the most isolated Mormon Fundamentalist communities in the country. Under the Banner of Heaven centers around Ron and Dan Lafferty, brothers who believed God told them to kill a young woman and her innocent child. In great detail, Krakauer peels back the layers of zealotry, mania, and savagery that led to one truly terrifying moment.
The very real story of the Zodiac Killer is almost too surreal to be believed. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the so-called Zodiac Killer terrorized the San Francisco area, killing anywhere from five to thirty-seven victims. The killer, growing more and more infamous, would send a series of taunting letters and puzzles to the local press. The Zodiac Killer’s identity still remains a mystery to this day.
My Dark Places
James Ellroy is a master of hard-boiled crime fiction. For My Dark Places, he turned his eye toward nonfiction and a deeply personal story that haunted much of his life. In 1958, his mother, Jean Ellroy, was murdered and dumped in an L.A. Suburb. Here, James Ellroy confronts that unsolved tragedy head on.
Killers of the Flower Moon
In this haunting true crime thriller, David Grann explores the earliest days of the FBI and one of the most disturbing conspiracies in U. S. history. In the 1920s, the members of the Osage Nation were among the richest people in the world thanks to oil reserves discovered on their land. And then, members began dying under increasingly mysterious circumstances. A young J. Edgar Hoover sent in the newly formed FBI to investigate these deaths and what they discovered would prove a defining case for the nascent organization.
The Poisoner's Handbook
In the early twentieth century, poisoning was the perfect crime—silent, discreet, and virtually undetectable. In 1918, that would all change with the appointment of New York’s chief medical examiner Charles Norris. Along with toxicologist Alexander Gettler, Norris would revolutionize the medical examiner’s role, setting the standard for the rest of the country and proving to be a pioneer in the field of forensic toxicology.
Sons of Cain
True crime aficionados have long had a macabre fascination with serial killers. In Sons of Cain, Peter Vronsky presents a kaleidoscopic examination of these horrifying murderers throughout history. Vronsky delves into human history and the human psyche to explore the root motivations of serial murderers and what it is that makes them both uniquely human and uniquely terrifying.
It was just a typical college town with little to distinguish it from the hundreds of other similar communities across the country. However, between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students in Missoula, Montana reported sexual assaults to authorities who largely failed to properly handle the cases. Journalist Jon Krakauer chose Missoula as a case study for a crime that has become alarmingly prevalent throughout the country and, in the process, created both a disturbing indictment of a deeply flawed system and a necessary call to action.
While the City Slept
Isaiah Kalebu’s descent into mental illness, violent crime, and eventually murder was not a sudden one. He, like so many others, simply slipped through the cracks of a system that all too often fails to recognize key warning signs. On a summer night in 2009, he collided with a young couple and tragedy ensued. Journalist Eli Sanders won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the tragedy and in While the City Slept, he takes a deeper dive into the circumstances that led to so many ruined lives.
Who Killed These Girls?
Four girls—their burned bodies naked, bound-and-gagged, each shot in the head—were discovered in a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas in 1991. It was a horrifying crime that shook the entire city. Years of investigations followed but they were marred by overturned convictions and coerced false confessions. The crime remains unsolved. Who Killed These Girls is a harrowing story of a senseless and shocking tragedy.
The Skies Belong to Us
Brendan I. Koerner
During a five-year period, beginning in 1968, the hijacking of commercial jets became alarmingly commonplace—they occurred nearly once a week. None, however, can top the hijacking of Western Airlines Flight 701. An Army veteran and his girlfriend commandeered the flight and crossed an ocean with a half-million dollars in ransom. It remains the longest-distance hijacking in U.S. history. It captivated a nation and this book details the shocking story.
Shot in the Heart
This award-winning book centers around Gary Gilmore, the murderer made famous in Norman Mailer’s classic The Executioner’s Song. Gilmore actively campaigned for his own death by firing squad in 1977. The author of Shot in the Heart, Mikal Gilmore, is Gary’s younger brother and, as a result, there is a level of haunting intimacy to the book that few true crime books can match.
Echoes in the Darkness
Susan Reinert’s naked corpse was found stuffed in the trunk of a car near Philadelphia’s suburban “Main Line” area. Susan was a schoolteacher and the sprawling investigation eventually landed on two suspects—her principal, who was a closet sadist, and a philandering English teacher with whom she was having an affair. How these two men connected to Susan and one another makes for one of the most bizarre and chilling true crime tales you’re likely to ever read.
The Killer of Little Shepherds
This piece of historical true crime centers around the search for Joseph Vachar, a notorious French murderer in the latter nineteenth century who claimed twice as many victims as Jack the Ripper. Alongside details of Vachar’s reign of terror, Starr weaves the stories of prosecutor Emile Fourquet and criminologist Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne—two men whose quest to bring down Vachar would lead to the creation of modern forensic science.
When Giovanni Versace was murdered on the steps of his Miami mansion by Andrew Cunanan, investigative journalist Maureen Orth was already deep into a major story on Cunanan for Vanity Fair. With Vulgar Favors, she reveals the entire breadth of Cunanan’s deadly crimes, taking readers from the decadence of South Beach to quiet Midwestern towns as she traces Cunanan’s twisted odyssey and the unwitting victims he claimed along the way.
Midnight in Mexico
One part investigative journalism, one part page-turning thriller, Midnight in Mexico is a wild true crime tale. It sounds like the plot of a blockbuster thriller: a crusading journalist who made a career of exposing corruption is targeted by a vicious paramilitary and has only twenty-four hours to save himself. This is the true story of Mexican journalist Alfredo Corchado and it makes for an extraordinary read.
The Innocent Man
While best known for his edge-of-your-seat courtroom thrillers, with The Innocent Man, John Grisham turns toward a real-life case of miscarried justice. In 1982, a cocktail waitress named Debra Sue Carter was brutally raped and murdered. In 1988, Ron Williamson was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death on scant, flimsy evidence. A decade later, DNA evidence proved his innocence. This is his story.
It was a truly horrifying story that made headlines around the world. On May 6th, 2013, a 911 dispatcher received a call from a woman named Amanda Berry. Amanda had gone missing ten years earlier and had been held captive and tortured, along with two other women, by a bus driver named Ariel Castro. Pieced together from recollections by the women, as well as a journal kept by Berry, Hope is a disturbing but ultimately inspiring tale of survival and courage.
Five Days at Memorial
As Hurricane Katrina raged and floodwaters rose, power was lost at Memorial Medical Center. Increasingly isolated in a worsening situation, exhausted caregivers were forced to choose which patients would be rescued first. In the months followed, those caregivers would face claims that they intentionally hastened the deaths of some patients. In Five Days at Memorial, Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink reconstructs these harrowing events in powerful, heart-rending detail.
A Spy Among Friends
Reading like a John le Carré novel brought to life, A Spy Among Friends centers around the brilliant head of British counterintelligence during the Cold War, Kim Philby. What those around him didn’t suspect until it was far too late was that Philby was actually a Soviet spy and his connections to both British and American Intelligence would cripple both agencies and lead to countless deaths. This is perhaps the most remarkable spy story in recent memory and every word of it is true.
A young black man is shot and killed minutes from his home. His killer flees in an SUV, unlikely to ever be caught. It’s a common occurrence in America and one that is too often ignored. With Ghettoside, journalist Jill Leovy follows a dedicated team of detectives assigned to the case and presents a panoramic and deeply unsettling view into a system that has largely disregarded the lives of young black men in American cities.
It would difficult to overstate the captivating and utterly bizarre case of Patty Hearst and the Symbonese Liberation Army. Hearst, a college sophomore and heir to the Hearst Family fortune, was abducted by the group in 1974. She would eventually be spotted armed with a machine gun during one of the group’s robberies. After her rescue/arrest, her resulting trial descended into a circus and made “Stockholm Syndrome” part of the pop culture vernacular. Seriously, just read this. No description can really do it justice.
The Feather Thief
Kirk Wallace Johnson
It may sound hard to believe, but one of the most entertaining and absorbing true crime stories of the last few years centers around fly fishing, specifically the underground world (yes, there is one) of black market fly-tiers. In 2009, Edwin Rist, a twenty-year-old American flautist at London’s Royal Academy of Music, made off with hundreds of rare bird skins housed in British Museum of Natural History. The Feather Thief is the surprisingly entertaining, wholly bizarre account of what happened next.
Empire of Sin
New Orleans in the early twentieth century was waging a war against itself. On one side was the city’s elite “better half,” on the other was the long-entrenched purveyors of all manners of perversion and vice for which the city was known. At the center of it all was a man named Tom Anderson, the czar of New Orleans’ vice-fueled Storyville district. This is a tale of prostitutes, jazzmen, corrupt politicians, and ruthless Mafiosi. In other words, it’s one hell of an entertaining read.
Death in the City of Light
A spate of murders—marked by decapitated heads and dismembered limbs surfacing in the Seine—terrified Nazi-Occupied Paris. The suspect, Dr. Marcel Petiot, was a renowned physician known for his charm and generosity. Standing accused of some twenty-seven murders, Petiot was hemmed in by mountains of evidence and dozens of witnesses. However, a bungling prosecution and Petiot’s own wit and charm threatened to carry the trial in his favor. Death in the City of Light is a truly captivating look into World War II-era Paris and a chronicle of one of the most harrowing murder trials of the twentieth century.
The Serial Killer Files
This meticulously researched tome is survey of the most brutal and infamous serial killers that history has to offer. From Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer to a fifteenth-century clan of cave-dwelling cannibals, The Serial Killer Files holds a macabre fascination and takes readers into the heart of darkness.
While best known for her chronicle of her friendship with Ted Bundy, Ann Rule has since positioned herself as the undisputed queen of true crime. In Small Sacrifices, Rule digs into the tragic case of Diane Downs, a mother of three who claimed a “shaggy-haired stranger” shot her children. But as the hunt for this stranger dragged on, a disturbing suspicion began to take hold of the detectives investigating the case: Did Downs shoot her own children?
The Boston Marathon Bombing and the ensuing manhunt made news around the world. Three people were dead and hundreds more were injured. Police eventually cornered the Tsarnaev brothers for the crime. Tamerlan, the older brother, died in the resulting shootout. Younger brother Dzhokhar escaped but was eventually apprehended. Journalist Masha Gessen traces the brothers’ story and what led them to a startling and brutal act of terrorism.
Patrick Radden Keefe
Say Nothing uses the haunting case of Jean McConville to examine the brutal repercussions and still-open wounds resulting from decades of conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.” In 1972, McConville was dragged from her Belfast home with eight of her children clinging desperately and fruitlessly to her. In 2003, her bones were discovered on a beach. Her tragic episode serves as a microcosm for a larger story of betrayal, vengeance, and bitter conflict.
In April of 1989, Jo Ann Parks survived a house fire. Her three small children did not. What began as a tragedy quickly morphed into something else as investigators at the time found evidence indicating that Parks started the fires and even barricaded her four-year-old in a closet. She is currently serving life in prison. However, advances in forensic science may show that the incontrovertible proof that convicted Parks was nothing more than shoddy guesswork that left an innocent mother condemned for a horrific crime that never took place.
What originally started as a legal online prescription drug network quickly became a sprawling international criminal organization. There was one man at its center, Paul Le Roux. The Mastermind details the hunt to bring down the man who created an extraordinary and deadly internet cartel—a twenty-first-century crime unlike anything that had come before.
The Last Pirate of New York
Equal parts history of nineteenth century New York City and edge-of-your-seat adventure, The Last Pirate of New York tells the story of Albert Hicks, a charismatic Five Points ne’er-do-well who would climb from the gutters of that legendary neighborhood to become the ruthless criminal kingpin of lower Manhattan.
The Wicked Boy
This 2017 Edgar Award winner takes readers into the fog-shrouded streets of East London alongside two adolescent brothers, Robert and Nattie Combes, on a seemingly normal holiday. But when a neighbor discovers the decomposing corpse of the boys’ mother, Robert gave a remorseless confession to the murder. Robert was quickly sentenced to Broadmoor, an infamous criminal asylum. It is here that his unnerving story really begins.
Odds are you have never heard of Israel Keyes. He is a quiet construction worker and devoted father. He is also one of the most calculating and ruthless serial killers in modern history. Keyes buried so-called “kill kits” stashed with cash, weapons, and body disposal tools all around the country. For over a decade, he would fly to a location, rent a car, grab his kit, and abduct and dispose of a victim in a matter of hours. He went undetected for much of that time. This is the story of how the FBI ultimately brought Keyes to justice.
Reverend Willie Maxwell was accused of murdering five of his family members in the 1970s. He was eventually acquitted, but shot dead by a relative at the funeral of one of his alleged victims. That man was also eventually acquitted and defended by the same attorney who had represented Maxwell. Unbeknownst to anyone involved, Harper Lee was in the audience for the trial and spent the next several years working on the story—her own In Cold Blood. Casey Cep now tells us about these events and the way they consumed one of America’s most celebrated and enigmatic writers.
The Man in the Monster
The Man in the Monster is a fascinating chronicle of unexpected friendship and remorse. Michael Ross raped and murdered eight women in the 1980s. His six death sentences were eventually overturned, but he requested execution to save the families of his victims from another trial. Martha Elliott, a journalist and death penalty critic, reached out to Ross and started having a weekly conversation with him until his eventual death. The result of those conversations is among the most intimate portraits of the mind of a killer.
Beneath a Ruthless Sun
When the wife of a wealthy Florida man was raped in her home in 1957, she claimed a “husky negro” was her assailant. However, the sheriff soon set his sights on a mentally impaired white teenager who was later locked away in an asylum. A journalist named Mabel Norris Reese was never comfortable with the outcome and she would eventually uncover a startling conspiracy that held an entire community silent.
Conan Doyle for the Defense
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created perhaps the most famous literary detective of all time in Sherlock Holmes. What’s lesser known is Conan Doyle’s own excursion into private detection. When a Jewish immigrant is convicted of the brutal murder of a wealthy woman with little-to-no evidence, Conan Doyle is compelled to step in and re-investigate the case. He employs the methods that made his literary creation famous and it developed into a page-turning, larger-than-life read.
The true crime genre has long fascinated readers. Currently, it’s seeing something of a renaissance. Driven by an internet’s worth of armchair detectives, a number of podcasts (check out this list of books for fans of Serial and Making a Murderer!), and a seemingly never-ending parade of documentaries and TV mini-series, there is arguably no better time to be a true crime devotee. If you’re in search of a thrilling binge, here are our picks for forty of the best true crime books of all time. From classics to more recent fare, we guarantee that these reads will keep you up and turning pages well into the night. Or, if you’re craving a fictional thrill, check out our list of the Best Thrillers to Give as Gifts!
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