Best True Crime Books
My Top 10 True Crime Books Recommended
Here you will find my selection of best true crime books based on what I have read so far - and trust me, I have read a lot of true crime books in my life. There is just something alluring about engrossing reports of real serial killers that have been caught or not yet. The gorier the details, the more popular the books.
It's no wonder that all these CSI style books, TV shows and movies have popped up the last few years faster than mushroom after rain, as people devour them faster than they can be created.
Taking a peek into the sickest minds of our society who can commit so gruesome crimes that we simply wouldn't be able to even imagine without detailed descriptions of books or visuals from TV shows is (maybe sadly so) a favorite pastime of many Westerners today. And yes, I am also one of them.
So here is my carefully selection of the top true crime books that I've come across over the years since I've become a fan of the genre.
Image credits: collage of my own true crime books
Top 10 List
#1 - In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote
This book has been written back in 1965, so you will find the writing style a bit dated. However as Truman Capote was a real prolific writer of novels, the style is quite intriguing. Once you start the book you won't be able to put it down. I know I couldn't. There have been several movies made based on this book as well.
The story itself is the recount of the murder of a farmer called Herbert Clutter, his wife and two of his 4 kids who were living at the time at home. When hearing about the brutal murder, Truman Capote took his friend author Harper Lee down to Holcomb, Kansas to investigate the murder and then write the book - which took him a total of 6 years to write.
The robbery and murder was committed by 2 ex-convicts who were finally caught. So now that we already know who dunnit that they were already caught, what makes the book so special?
Tom Wolfe put it best when he said: "The book's suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end." And that's exactly what Truman Capote delivers, and that is also why you won't be able to put the book down.
In Cold Blood Trailer
#2 - Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
by Vincent Bugliosi
Here is my second favorite of all times: Helter Skelter. I'm sure you've already heard of the famous Charles Manson and his followers - well these murders were committed by him. The writer of the book, Vincent Bugliosi was in fact Manson's prosecutor, who decided to recount the gruesome details of the murders of Sharon Tate, and Rosemary and Leno LaBianca among others.
This was in fact one of the most prolific cases ever, one that stayed with the people long, long after it was over. The book starts with the by now famous line:
"The Story in Which You Are About to Read Will Scare the Hell Out of You".
Helter Skelter Trailer
#3 - The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo
The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez
Well I have to say that this is quite a gory book. The Night Stalker was a sadistic rapist and a serial killer called Richard Ramirez who is currently on death row waiting execution (although if that will ever happen, it's doubtful).
He left in his wake 13 dead and the book leaves nothing out from its detailed description. It goes into the head of the criminal, describes the crimes as they happened and it leaves you unable to sleep at night. Truly awesome book if you like gore and scare.
The author did quite a lot of research in writing his book and its shows as nothing seems to be left out. If you're wondering what exactly happened during the reign of terror of Richard Ramirez, pick up this book and let yourself be morbidly fascinated for a few hours.
Night Stalker Trailer
#4 - The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
The Stranger Beside Me
The movie made based on Ann Rule's book.
#5 - A Rip In Heaven by Jeanine Cummins
A Rip In Heaven
by Jeanine Cummins
Another book that stayed with me recounting the rape and murder of Robin and Julie Kerry in 1991 is the book A Rip In Heaven. It stayed with me ever since I've read it quite a few years back.
The description of the crimes is quite vivid in a way that you can actually see for yourself what really happened and this is because the author is in fact the cousin of the murdered Robin and Julie and sister to another victim, Tom.
I find her recount emotional yet not losing from the factual element at all especially that she wrote the story in the 3rd person so she could remain objective as much as she could.
Read this book and feel close to the family who lost so much, yet remained so strong despite of it all.
#6 - I: The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen
I: The Creation of a Serial Killer
by Jack Olsen
Another very disturbing to read book. It is the true story of Keith Hunter Jesperson, a long distant trucker and serial killer who raped and murdered 8 women while working in the early 1990s.
What makes this book different is the two parallel story lines: the first is told from the point of view of the killer, and the second an objective recount by the author Jack Olsen. For example this is what the killer has to say in his own words about the killing of one of the girls:
"I killed Tanya Bennett...I beat her to death, raped her and loved it. Yes I'm sick, but I enjoy myself too. People took the blame and I'm free.... . Look over your shoulder. I may be closer than you think."
#7 - Deranged: The Shocking True Story of America's Most Fiendish Killer!
Deranged: The Shocking True Story of America's Most Fiendish Killer!
by Harold Schechter
Deranged is another deeply disturbing read, one that I simply can't shake off. In this book the story is about Albert Fish, a very disturbed guy who abducted and killed Grace Budd, a 12 year old girl who died in a most horrific way. Not only that but here you can truly speak about cannibalism. Also what Albert Fish did to himself as well in terms of inflicting pain is just not real...and in fact it is.
If you are squeamish or lightly upset you might want to give this book a pass. However I guess if you are here and love the genre of true crime then you'll want to get the book and read for yourself.
While originally Fish was tried for one case only, he might in fact well be a serial killer who simply hasn't been found at such officially.
Albert Fish Trailer
#8 - Lethal Intent by Sue Russell
by Sue Russell
Lethal Intent is the true story of a female murderer who in fact lead quite a sad life. The book not only describes the crimes of Aileen Wornuos, but also goes deep into her life, making us feel that we're right there suffering along with her.
In a way it's almost understandable the way she ended up, although there are so many cases of abused people who have despite all harshness that life threw at them ended up differently than Aileen did.
Still it is an interesting glimpse into her life from the start going into prostitution to the very end when she was executed via lethal injection.
Also it is interesting purely from the point of view that there are fewer female criminals capable of murder than men.
#9 - Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story Of A Doctor Who Got Away With Murder by James B. Stewart
Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer Trailer
Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story Of A Doctor Who Got Away With Murder
by James B. Stewart
Here is yet another very disturbing book about a doctor who was in secret a serial killer. Now that is indeed a disturbing thought. Afterall doctors are almost considered sacred, they are supposed to save lives and we are supposed to trust them 100%. This is why the book is so unnerving because it shakes our own core of beliefs.
Michael Swango is seemingly an exemplar doctor, one that patients adore. The very same patients who start to die quite inexplicably and mysteriously.
The book also takes a close look at the medical establishment of today where doctors protect other doctors even when there are clear wrongdoings at hand. This is why I find the book disturbing on multiple levels, not only due to the killings through poisoning that Swango did.
#10 - John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster by Sam L. Amirante
John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster
by Sam L. Amirante
Not everyone might include this book in their top 10, but I found it very interesting, and moreover, the book stayed with me long after I've read it. And this is really one of my criteria for choosing a book as preferred: if I read a book and has a lasting impression on me, it means the author must have done something right.
The book starts light enough, John Wayne Gacy asking his friend and newbie lawyer Sam Amirante for help, as he is harassed by the police about his possible involvement in a crime. Gacy is seen as an upstanding pillar of the society, yet this book proves that we really don't know our peers.
Sam Amirante becomes famous for being the defense attorney of one of the worst serial killers in the US. Gacy killed over 30 people yet Sam had to leave his true feelings for his ex-friend aside and defend him to his best of abilities, even when he knew that he is defending somebody who'd he rather kill himself. I think it is very noble what Sam Amirante did, something that not many people could have done given the same circumstances.