We can all admit that true crime stories are very disturbing, however, they are also quite fascinating as they delve into the human mind, particularly into the minds of those who perpetrate crimes. Authors of such books of the non-fiction genre, examine actual crimes, usually high profile and sensationalized murders, detailing the actions of all the people involved. Here are 25 of the best true crime books according to AbeBooks that you should definitely read.
25 Best True Crime Books of All Time
1. In Cold Blood (1965) – Truman Capote
In Cold Blood tells the story of the murder of the Clutter family; a farmer, his wife and two of their children in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. The writer explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved as he draws the reader into its grisly events.
2. Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (1995) – John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
Following his twenty-five year career with the FBI and its elite Investigative Support Unit, Special Agent John Douglas recounts his experiences in pursuing some of the most sadistic and notorious serial killers the country has ever seen, including the likes of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Ed Gein.
3. Who Killed These Girls?: Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders (2016) – Beverly Lowry
A true crime story about the unsolved Yogurt Shop Murders in Austin, Texas in 1991 where four teenage girls; two employees closing the store, the younger sister and friend of one of the employees, were murdered in cold blood and the store set on fire.
4. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson (2013) – Jeff Guinn
The New York Times bestselling author Jeff Guin explores how a juvenile delinquent named Charles Manson went on to become one of the most notorious killers in American history. He delves into Manson’s early beginnings to reveal a combination of circumstances and events that shaped the mind of the killer.
5. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (2017) – David Grann
American journalist David Grann revisits the early 1920s murders of up to twenty wealthy Osage Indian people in Osage County, Oklahoma following the discovery of oil beneath their land, giving the then newly created F.B.I. its first major homicide investigations.
6. Executioner’s Song (1979) – Norman Mailer
Norman Mailer looks at the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore in 1977; the murders he committed, his trial and convictions and subsequent fight to be executed. He was notably the first person to be judicially executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.
7. The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple (2017) – Jeff Guinn
After having gone through thousands of pages of FBI files on the case, and spoke to people never previously interviewed as well as some survivors who let out new information, the author in this book gives a chilling and comprehensive account of what is still today the largest murder-suicide in American history – the Jonestown Massacre orchestrated by a young Indianapolis minister named Jim Jones.
8. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2002) – Erik Larson
Based on real characters and events, the author tells the story of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the cunning serial killer, H. H. Holmes, who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.
9. Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil (1994) – John Berendt
Based on real-life events that occurred in the 1980s in the steamy, surreal atmosphere of Savannah, Georgia, the writer gives an account of the complicated murder of a local male prostitute named Danny Hansford by respected antique dealer Jim Williams.
10. Shot in the Heart (1994) – Mikal Gilmore
Writer Mikal Gilmore, the younger brother of executed murderer Gary Gilmore whose story was immortalized in The Executioner’s Song, writes this memoir to bring to light he and his brother’s tumultuous childhood in a dysfunctional family that comprised of a mother who was a black sheep daughter of unforgiving Mormon farmers and a father who was a drunk, thief, and con man.
11. Killings (1984) – Calvin Trillin
Journalist Calvin Trillin visits every nook and cranny of America to put together a collection of true crime/homicide/sudden death stories that paint vivid portraits of lives cut short. Some of the stories, which originally appeared in The New Yorker, include that of a little girl who is brutalized to death by her stepfather; a bankrupt farmer who squares off against a SWAT team and blames Mossad for his problems; and an upstanding farmer in Iowa who finds himself drastically changed by a cocktail waitress.
12. Lucky (1999) – Alice Sebold
Author Alice Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims as she writes about her own personal traumatic experience and it shaped the rest of her life. She narrates her ordeal of being raped and beaten at the age of eighteen as a college freshman and her subsequent fight to secure her rapist’s arrest and conviction.
13. The Stranger Beside Me (1980) – Ann Rule
One of many books written about serial killer Ted Bundy. The Stranger Beside Me, however, comes from someone who knew Bundy personally before and after his arrest. It details the writer’s friendship with the killer and her disbelief of him being responsible for the killings.
14. Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Hunt for the Nation’s Most Elusive Serial Killer (1986) – Robert Graysmith
Zodiac is about a series of unsolved serial murders committed in the late ’60s and early ’70s by the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco, California. It describes the investigations of law enforcement and visits other murders that might have been committed by the killer.
15. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (2006) – John Grisham
The only true crime non-fiction book by popular novelist John Grisham, the book tells the story former minor league baseball player Ronald Keith Williamson who was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of Debra Sue Carter in Ada, Oklahoma in 1988. He was subsequently sentenced to death but was however released after serving 11 years on death row thanks to DNA evidence that exonerated him.
16. Portrait of a Killer – Jack the Ripper: Case Closed (2002) – Patricia Cornwell
Crime novelist Patricia Cornwell revisits the crimes of Jack the Ripper and utilizes the now available methods of modern forensic investigation to re-examine evidence, including DNA testing and computer enhancement of watermarks and expert examinations of hand-writing, among other things, to arrive at the conclusion that British painter Walter Sickert was the 19th-century serial killer.
17. Popular Crime: Reflections on the Celebration of Violence (2011) – Bill James
In this book, Bill James examines America’s cultural obsession with murder as he revisits many popular murder cases from the 1600s to the present day and explains how these crimes have been committed, investigated, prosecuted and written about.
18. People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up (2010) – Richard Lloyd Parry
The book tells the story of a 21-year-old British girl named Lucie Blackman who was sexually assaulted, murdered and dismembered in Tokyo in the summer of 2000. It further explores the mind and background of the man accused of the crime and the family of the girl who was torn apart by grief.
19. Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer (2004) – Ann Rule
Ann Rule is said to have spent more than two decades putting together the extraordinary true story of the Green River Killer, America’s deadliest serial murderer who killed more than forty-nine young women
20. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime (2014) – Val McDermid
Author Val McDermid draws on true crime stories, interviews with top-level professionals, ground-breaking research, and personal experiences on the scene to educate readers on how a corpse, crime scene, and human traces can help solve complex murder cases.
21. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery (2013) – Robert Kolker
The author delivers what has been described as a humanizing and haunting account of the murder of five prostitutes and the subsequent but unsuccessful search for the serial killer.
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22. A Long Walk Home: One Woman’s Story of Kidnap, Hostage, Loss and Survival (2013) – Judith Tebbutt
Judith Tebbutt gives an unflinching account of her experience in the hands of Somali pirates who kidnapped her while she was on an adventurous holiday in Kenya and held her for over a period of one hundred and ninety-two days.
23. Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three (2002) – Mara Leveritt
This true crime book offers a comprehensive and inciteful look on the investigation of the murders of three eight-year-old children in 1993, and the subsequent trials and convictions of three teenagers who came to be known as the West Memphis Three.
24. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (2003) – Jon Krakauer
Focusing on the extremes of religious belief in America, Krakauer writes a true crime story about two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers; Ron and Dan Lafferty, who committed double murder and insist they were commanded to do so by God.
25. The Last Victim: A True-Life Journey into the Mind of the Serial Killer (1999) – Jason Moss and Jeffrey Kottler
Author Jason Moss established relationships by correspondence with several notorious serial killers such as Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson where he appeared as a disciple of their work in order to gain their trust. He goes on to detail his experiences with these men in the book that was co-authored with counseling professor Jeffrey Kottler.