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Best True Crime Books

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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

#1 - In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

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

Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

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 Night Stalker

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

#5 - A Rip In Heaven by Jeanine Cummins

A Rip In Heaven

A Rip In Heaven

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

I: The Creation of a Serial Killer

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!

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

Lethal Intent

Lethal Intent

Lethal Intent

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

Blind Eye

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

John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster

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.

Gacy Trailer

Do You Have Any Other Favorites That I Haven't Mentioned Above?

Privateinvestigationhuston on June 16, 2013:

Real criminal activity guides are all true experiences of real criminal offenses. Some of the criminal offenses are either extremely promoted as in the situation of Caysee Anthony and some of the criminal offenses are only promoted via guides. These authors are a unique reproduce of people who use their skills to carry the experiences to their visitors with intense details usually on the background scenes and early years of the primary figures in the tale,details of the criminal activity itself,the research and how the criminal was captured,the real lawsuit and other appropriate details associated with each true tale.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on May 20, 2013:

I've read several of these true crime books. I love this genre! I find it fascinating to read about how someone can do the horrible things they do.

kulla on April 01, 2013:

I have always liked to read true crime stories. One of the reasons is perhaps that fact is stranger than fiction. Here we read what actually happened and how it was uncovered and solved. You have given me a great list of books to explore. Thanks

anonymous on November 01, 2012:

I had forgotten about In Cold Blood, which I think is one of the best true crime books and even the film measures up. Super work on this lens!

anonymous on August 16, 2012:

Marcia, nice job with this lens! I've read several of the books you've listed here, but most of them I haven't. I really like Ann Rule and think she's one of the best true crime authors. But Capote's In Cold Blood is my all-time favorite true crime book (which made Elf's comments fascinating to me). Thanks for sharing this lens with us.

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on August 15, 2012:

The Clutter Family killings which were the basis for 'In Cold Blood' occurred just down the road from my husband's hometown. In fact, his brother & sister went to school with the two Clutter kids who were killed. The whole area in western Kansas were shocked by this crime.

Truman Kapote and Nell Harper Lee were guests in my father-in-law's home when they came to research the story, and hubby got to meet them.

anonymous on May 04, 2012:

Everybody loves "TOP 10 Lists". We must remember to thank David Letterman for inventing the "TOP 10 List". :) Excellent lens. "In Cold Blood" would have been my Number One choice too. I PINNED this to my board for Books Worth Reading.

PoeticChristian on April 15, 2012:

Great Lens! It is just interesting, not what the killer did but how we caught them. I love Kathy Reichs's books. I have them all except the new one and I always have a hard time putting them down when I start. They just sucks me in!

anonymous on March 31, 2012:

Awesome lens! I love that Helter Skelter is number two. It is my favorite true crime book. Awesome genre to delve into. A lot of people don't get much into this genre, but they should! Good job!

fullofshoes on March 27, 2012:

I was on a few-year-long true crime binge... and had to stop. I thought I was a real detective after a while :) My all time favorite... is Helter Skelter.

Great lens. Haven't read a TC novel in a while; might have to try a new one.

tinamahan on March 26, 2012:

I love true crime novels. A great list you have here. I have read quite a few of those you have listed. Thank you for sharing that information, very interesting!

WriterJanis2 on March 24, 2012:

You've really hit on some good choices here.

jolou on March 23, 2012:

I agree In Cold Blood is the best true crime book of all time. The story haunted me for a long time. I also saw Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote, he was brilliant. I've read most, but not all of the books you have listed here.

flycatcherrr on March 23, 2012:

I'm astonished at how many of these I've read... especially since I had to vote "too scared to read them" in your poll. Ah, well... Great choices, and very well presented!

iWriteaLot on March 23, 2012:

Excellent lens and it surprised me to see that I've read most of these books... and now I want to go back and read them again. To me, Albert Fish's story is the most disturbing of all. I didn't realize there was a movie about him. Just looked at the Amazon reviews and they sound pretty creepy. Great lens. I like all the reviews!

anonymous on March 23, 2012:

It will be a crime not to read these books! Criminals will be murdered in cold blood! :))

Excellent reviews as always! Enjoyed da visit!

jballs6 on March 23, 2012:

Yes a great genre, I also love fictional crime thrillers, I just can't seem to put them down! I have been reading historical crime stories from my region as I was bought these as gifts. They make such interesting reading, it is often difficult to comprehend anyone committing such crimes. Great lens

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