There’s something so darkly infatuating about the nature of serial killers. We may rationalize our interest in the subject as an act of being well-informed on the nature of the criminal activity or pretend as though we’re studying up for criminal psychology. But there’s just something so darkly taboo that has led to a compelling interest in the subject which has made true crime an addicting subgenre of literature. Not only has it spawned so many books on the topic but true-crime would spill into the realm of movie adaptation and TV reenactments series, where there’s practically an entire channel devoted to true crimes. That’s a bit troubling when viewed in a grander sense but for a more personal appeal, true crime serves as a reminder about the evils of the world and how it can come about in the most unexpected of people, places, and events. If you find yourself eager to learn something dark and mysterious, considering these true crime books that are the best of the best.
The Stranger Beside Me
written by Ann Rule
Published in 1980
Considered one of the most important books on the subject of serial killers, Ann Rule digs deep into the darker corners of the mind that led to the prolific killer of Ted Bundy becoming violent. Page by page, Ann simmers the story of how she came to know such a figure and how he confessed to his murders of women throughout the United States. Ann spoke with Bundy prior to his death and documents his revealing nature in this book that details just as much of Bundy’s warped perspective as it does the hunt for such a killer. It’s an absolutely essential read on the person of Bundy and one of the defining books for the format of intriguing true-crime stories.
A Serial Killer’s Daughter
written by Kerri Rawson
Published in 2019
Kerri Rawson was shocked to find the FBI at her door to deliver the unfortunate news that her dad had been arrested for ten murders. She soon found out that her father was indeed the serial killer known as BTK, capable of such inhuman tortures and killings. His capture marked the end of a dark chapter in Wichita but it was only the start of Kerri’s investigation. She couldn’t believe it was true but had to power through her disbelief to peel back the facade that was her father. Kerri opens up as she digs into the history behind the man she thought she knew which led to the creation of a serial killer, seeking sanity once the terrible secrets rise to the surface.
The Monster of Florence
written by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
Published in 2006
Bestselling author Douglas Preston moved to Italy with his family in 2000. He soon found out that the farmhouse on his property was the sight of one of the most gruesome murders in Italian history. It was the killing grounds of the serial killer known as the Monster of Florence. Intrigued by this bit of history, Preston sought out more information with the assistance of investigative journalist Mario Spezi. What follows is a true-crime story of horrifying discoveries and interesting twists, as Preston and Spezi find themselves going from tracking down the killer to being tracked themselves by local police.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
written by Michelle McNamara
Published in 2018
The Golden State Killer became the terror of California for his many rapes and murders across the state. Journalist Michelle McNamara investigated this case with such dedication that she, unfortunately, lost her life during the process. Before her death, she conducted a slew of interviews, reviewed police reports, and probed the internet for all the info she could find relating to the killer. Her writings live on as she fully documented the history of the killer and his effect on California because of his crimes. The novel came together thanks to an introduction from Gillian Flynn, an afterword by her husband Patton Oswalt, and her lead researcher filling in the rest of the investigated information.
The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central
written by Christine Pelisek
Published in 2016
Christine Pelisek was the first to unearth the story of a serial killer roaming the Los Angeles street with her story in 2006. Her story on the killings of the women of the South Central neighborhood would later make bigger headlines when it was picked up by L.A. Weekly with Pelisek labeling the killer as The Grim Sleeper based on his rest between each murder. The killer world targets the poor areas filled with women of color and murdered in a pattern of dumping their bodies in alleys. Having followed this case for a decade, Pelisek gives quite the reveal in this darkly intriguing page-turner.
The Man with the Candy
written by Jack Olsen
Published in 1974
Houston was home to the crime of the century where thirty boys were killed in one of the state’s worst cases of mass murder. Yet for nearly three years, this incident went largely undetected. How could that have happened? Jack Olsen investigates just why this tragic event occurred and why it was hidden for so long. Olsen’s writing is exceptionally detailed as he digs deep for answers, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for those familiar with other novels of Son: A Psychopath and His Victims.
written by James B. Stewart
Published in 1999
Pulitzer Prize-winning author James B. Stewart penned this enticing true-crime thriller of a doctor turned serial killer. Michael Swango was a handsome doctor who nobody would suspect of being a murderer. His work in Ohio, Illinois, New York, and South Dakota had made him seem like one of the top medical professionals in his field. But his patients seem to mysteriously be perishing. He could be a serial killer. And if he is, how would he be stopped? Stewart’s writing is exceptionally biting in that he isn’t afraid to go after the corrupt hierarchy of the medical industry that could lead to such a killer getting away with such vile acts of a psychopathic doctor.
On the Farm
written by Stevie Cameron
Published in 2009
Stevie Cameron started following the case of missing women in Vancouver in 1998 but would later find himself tracking the case of serial killer Robert William Pickton. Pickton was arrested in 2002 and later found guilty in 2008 for six counts of second-degree murder. Cameron follows this case closely by documenting the courtroom drama that unfolded but also comes into important info that even the cops had yet to process. One of these bombshells was that of Lisa Yelds, a friend of Pickton who managed to make it out of a dangerous encounter with the killer. Shocking evidence is revealed in this tell-all book which further explains why authorities kept this case strictly under wraps.
The Devil in the White City
written by Erik Larson
Published in 2002
Erik Larson takes readers back in time all the way to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair for a true-crime story that seems too wild to be true. And yet it is! The case concerns the fair’s architect Daniel H. Burnham and the serial killer H.H. Holmes who pretends to be a pleasant medical professional. While Burnham contended with the monumental task of completing the format for the fair, Holmes developed his own hotel to take advantage of the fair and lure in unsuspecting victims to his place that conveniently had a crematorium and gas chamber. 19th-century Chicago becomes an exceptionally dangerous place to be when hearing of the parallels between these two men.
Happy Like Murders
written by Gordon Burn
Published in 1998
It was 25 Cromwell Street, Gloucester where the bodies of seven women were found in February of 1994. The culprits appear to be Fred and Rose West, a couple who lied about their private activities which were nowhere near acceptable as social services may have believed. It was perhaps one of the most infamous British murders that Gordon Burn just had to pursue this confounding case. Burn’s writing is remarkably detailed to outline every bit of evidence to figure out just how this horrific incident proceeded. It’s a long but exceptionally deep read that digs far and wide into nearly every layer that led to the shocking conclusion.
The Man from the Train
written by Bill James
Published in 2017
In the late 19th century/early 20th century, several Americans found themselves going to sleep and not waking up because of fatal ax-inflicted wounds. The attacks seemed random until you put the pieces together of how all of these families were fairly close to a train station. True crime expert Bill James started digging into this century-old case and found some startling patterns as he began to connect the dots. Having dug through countless newspapers, court transcripts, and public records, he peels back the layers to reveal one of the most mysterious serial killers in American history.
The Night Stalker
written by Philip Carlo
Published in 1996
Philip Carlo worked for three long years compiling over 100 hours of interviewing the imprisoned serial killer Richard Ramirez to deliver this infatuating true crime book. Regarded as one of the most feared serial killers in California history, every aspect of Ramirez’s life is revealed in this disturbingly open account. This includes his earliest run-ins with the law as well as his sinister stalking exploits. It’s a shockingly twisted contemplation on the nature of evil and details what led up to one of the most talked-about California courtroom cases.
written by Robert Graysmith
Published in 1986
In this national best-seller, Robert Graysmith takes aim at the elusive Zodiac serial killer. The most mysterious killer of the 20th century managed to not only evade the authorities but taunt them as he went on a rampage of killing 37 people in his sexual sadist methods of taking pleasure in pain. And the most chilling part of this true crime story is that the killer was never caught. This vile killer had managed to get away with his murders but how exactly did this happen. Graysmith amounts just about all the evidence known about this endlessly confounding case that has become a long-running and maddening case. The case itself was dramatized in the 2007 movie Zodiac, directed by David Fincher and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, and Brian Cox.
written by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
Published in 1974
Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney during the deeply troubling trial of the Manson family murder. Charles Manson was at the center of the murders where he led his four followers into murdering Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, and Sharon Tate, along with her unborn child. They additionally killed Leno LaBianca and Rosemary LaBianca. Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry attempt to unearth the cause behind such a monstrous act and what led to one of the most tragic murders in the 1960s. The book covers quite a lot of ground in addition to containing numerous photographs.
Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit
written by John Douglas
Published in 1995
Special Agent John Douglas was such a prolific investigator of evil criminals and serial killers that he became an inspiration for Jack Crawford in the thrillers Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. His work changed how we view criminal research by probing into the personalities of those who commit such disturbing acts of inhumanity. He finally divulges the truth behind his work after 25 years of retirement, in this first entry of the Mindhunter book series. The book would eventually spawn the crime-thriller TV series Mindhunter, created by Joe Penhall and starring Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, and Cotter Smith.