11 true crime books that'll give you goosebumps and keep you up all night
Give me all of the true crime content. I want more true crime documentaries, true crime podcasts, and true crime series based on real events. And I especially want more true crime books.
After the successes of the Serial podcast and Making a Murderer on Netflix, there’s been a huge swell in true crime stories. True crime fans have devoured docu-series like Wild Wild Country, Evil Genius, and The Staircase. They’ve heavily debated them as well. Is Adnan Syed guilty? Did Steven Avery murder Teresa Halbach? How did Kathleen Peterson fall down the stairs? (And does the Owl Theory have any merit?) We want answers. And we want more true crime stories.
It’s clear that people are fascinated by the shocking true stories of murderers, serial killers, cult leaders, and court cases gone completely wrong. As strange as it feels to say, I totally get the obsession; I’m right there with them. If you’ve binged every true crime documentary and are looking for more, these true crime books will definitely satisfy your inner Marcia Clark.
1The Manson Women and Me: Monsters, Morality, and Murder by Nikki Meredith
In 1969, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel committed horrible acts under the orders of Charles Manson. After they were convicted, Nikki Meredith visited them in prison for decades. In The Manson Women and Me, she seeks to understand what could lead such “normal” young women to commit such violent acts.
2The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington
How chilling is that book title? The word “cadaver” is creepy on its own (and conjures terrifying images of Robert Durst in The Jinx). The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist tells the story of medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne and dentist Dr. Michael West. For years, prosecutors in Mississippi considered them go-to experts; they helped put many people behind bars. But one day, their convictions stopped holding up. In the book, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington blame institutional racism, crooked officials, bad forensics, and ignorance for the false imprisonment of many.
3Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family’s Secret by Pamela Everett
In 1937, three innocent girls were murdered in a shocking California crime. Decades later, after her father made an offhand comment about losing his sisters, Pamela Everett learned that her father was their brother — making her their niece. Everett did some digging on the case and without giving anything away, she stumbled upon some deep family secrets she never expected to find.
4Sex Money Murder: A Story of Crack, Blood, and Betrayal by Jonathan Green
People often say that New York City in the ‘80s was dirty and dangerous. But have you ever wondered what it was really like? Sex Money Murder paints a picture of the rise and fall of a violent gang in the Bronx of the same name. True crime lovers will appreciate Jonathan Green’s years of research and his access to gang leaders, police, and prosecutors.
5You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession by Piper Weiss
Piper Weiss is leading the charge on a new trend in true crime books: the true crime memoir. In You All Grow Up and Leave Me, she details the story of child predator and stalker Gary Wilensky. But in addition to digging up police records, Weiss also examines the life and death of Wilensky — who was her tennis coach when she was a teenager — from her own adolescent perspective. The result is a deeply felt true crime memoir, and it’s going to be your new favorite genre.
6Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter
There’s something fascinating about female serial killers. If you agree, you’ll want to check out Hell’s Princess. It tells the story of Belle Gunness, a.k.a. Helle’s Belle, a.k.a. the Black Widow, a.k.a. Lady Bluebeard, who lured men to her “murder farm,” butchered them, and buried them. Gulp.
7Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin
Have you ever wondered why our society is obsessed with abused, disenfranchised, and dead women? In Dead Girls, Alice Bolin examines how literature, pop culture, and the media perpetuate an environment where these types of stories live and thrive. Further, she explains how stories of dead girls help develop male narratives.
8A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong
In 2008, a teenager named Marie reported that a man broke into her apartment and raped her. She was charged with lying about it, but a few years later, detectives Stacy Galbraith and Edna Hendershot uncovered what really happened.
9In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders by Kathryn Casey
While many true crime books, podcasts, and documentaries explore cases from the past, In Plain Sight tells a more recent story. In 2013, with the help of his wife Kim, Eric Williams sought revenge on those who had wronged him. One by one, he murdered people in his small Texas town. Kathryn Casey investigates who Williams’ victims were and seeks to understand why he did what he did.
10The Trigger: Narratives of the American Shooter by Daniel J. Patinkin
We need stronger conversations around gun violence, and The Trigger is an interesting place to start. Daniel J. Patinkin profiled six people who have shot and killed someone, describing the unique circumstances that led each of them to pulling the trigger.
11I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
If you haven’t read Michelle McNamara’s posthumously published I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, read it. In fact, start with it. Her dedication to searching for the Golden State Killer helped put him behind bars. It’s one of the best true crime books of the year, if not ever.