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Top 25 Best True Crime Books

The Best Novels Based on Horrifyingly True Crimes

Do you prefer true mysteries to the ones plucked out of the minds of bored authors? Do you long to read the intricate details of crimes so horrible or shocking or sometimes downright brave that they almost can't be believed? If so stick around, we have a host of all the best true crime novels, telling the stories of crimes that have gripped the world and make damn good reading.

The True Crime genre may be a subgenre of Mystery, but it's arguably it's very own genre too. It's also part of the Crime Fiction genre.

Our first tale of true crime comes from Robert Graysmith, who put together the first complete account of the infamous Zodiac killer, a sexually sadistic serial murderer who claimed 37 victims and taunted the police with cryptic anonymous notes. To this day, the Zodiac has still not been identified. Robert Graysmith provides a unique insight as the cartoonist who worked at the newspaper that Zodiac sent his notes to, sparking a decade-long obsession in Graysmith.

In this thorough recounting of the murders and the investigation we are presented with all of the facts and evidence surrounding the case, as well as some of Graysmith's own theories and deductions regarding the Zodiac's identity, even though some of his theories are a bit wild, outlandish and far from convincing. Despite some of the theories being utter baloney, this is crime so twisted and so complex that you just can't make it up, and so Hollywood picked up the idea and made it into a movie! If you enjoyed the film the book is worth your time for even more detail on this curious killer, and if you've been living under a rock and have never even heard of the Zodiac killings, even better! Pick up a copy and educate thyself on one of the greatest and most mysterious unsolved murder cases in modern history.

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On April 5th 1981 two college girls in Albuquerque, New Mexico were kidnapped. The next morning they were found in a desolate mountain arroyo (thats a dry creek to those who, like myself, had no idea what that was) one of them had been raped and murdered, and the other stabbed 33 times and left for dead. Shockingly enough, despite being stabbed so many times and having had her throat slashed, Colene Bush survived the brutal attack, climbing out of the creek and onto the highway where she flagged down some help. This is a powerfully gripping story of Colenes abduction, the criminal trial and her efforts to overcome life after the attack.

Nance stays true to the facts, making the book gritty and believable, yet never over-dramatizing the already horrendous events. Even better, it is great from the perspective of remembering and caring for the victims of crime; too often do we revel in the juicy, gory details of murder to remember that these are terrible things that happened to real people, something that is impossible to forget in Escaping the Arroyo, a truly inspirational story of endurance and will to live.

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Next we have a true crime classic, Truman Capotes In Cold Blood , the documentation of the brutal murder of the 4 members of the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959. The four members of the family were found dead from shotgun blasts to the face, with no apparent motive and hardly any clues. Capote documented the entire case, the crime, the (evidence, the investigation and the trial, and manages to maintain a high level of suspense in a novel in which we already know the outcome that the killers were apprehended and that is a truly master.

It's a relatively tame true crime, though maybe the fact that in modern society four people being shot in the face for $40 lacks shock value is more reflective of how fucked up we all are now; because that, dear readers, is not okay. This is a truly suspenseful, mesmerising and empathetic account of a horrific crime that shocked a small town to it's core, and won Capote the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime in 1966 for his thoughtful, engrossing and detailed documentation of this tragic event.

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In this riveting book John Berendt tells the story behind the case of Jim Williams, the prominent Savannah antiques dealer accused of murdering Danny Hansford (with whom it was rumoured he was having a sexual relationship). Williams went on trial four times for this murder, a;ll of which are richly detailed in this book, but it is much, much more than just the criminal trial, it is also a collection of stories about the people and history of Savannah.

Filled with eccentric yet likeable characters including our main evil-doer who, despite being on trial for murder, is likeable due to his attitude and insistence on continuing to live in Savannah because "it pisses off all the right people. Berendt brings these real life people to the page in a way that is memorable and entertaining (if a little questionable in terms of how much he may or may not have embellished his stories). With wonderful descriptions of people, places and even food that bring the atmosphere to life, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is an enjoyable and fun iteration of an intriguing and complex crime.

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Everyone knows the story of Jack the Ripper, the mysterious murder who stalked the streets of Whitechapel, London in 1888, and savagely slaughtered prostitutes. Jack the Ripper was never caught, and to this day the identity of Jack the Ripper has never been discovered. Or has it?! Patricia Cornwell has the answer to the greatest unsolved murder cases in history, or so she says. In all actuality, this is just Patricia offering her theory on who did it, as well as her thoughts that the Ripper kept on killing long after his infamous reign of terror, all the victims she believes can also be attributed to him, and all the evidence that corroborates her theories.

Despite her clear and gross misuse of the term case closed, Cornwell's theory is an interesting one, and her evidence is all suitably convincing. It's just another theory to add to the pile, because let's be honest, the Ripper's identity will never really be discovered, but it's one that Ripper enthusiasts and true-crime buffs will appreciate. Or argue over. Either way, it's worth the read to provide another talking point for the centuries' old case.

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We now have a trailblazing woman that feminists may not wish to be associated with, Anna Marie Hahn who (if you hadn't guessed from the title!) was the first female serial killer to be executed in the electric chair. Franklin documents the entire story of this devil in disguise who came to be known as the Blonde Borgia. Calling upon elderly people in their homes under the pretence of providing comfort and support for them and then stealing from and poisoning them, Hahn was a clear psychopath.

Entirely remorseless in nature to the very end until she realised she couldn't lie her way out of her situation, she gave a full confession the night before her execution. This confession is included here, along with all of the facts, the accusations made against Hahn, the evidence and interviews the only thing missing is an in-depth psychological insight. If you'd like to read about what makes a killer tick, this is not the book for you, but for those of you interested in the bare facts of the case or even women's studies and female killers then this is definitely worth your time.

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The prosecuting attorney in the trial of the Manson Family, Vincent Bugliosi had a prime and unique insight into to story of the infamous murders of the Tate and LaBianca families, which included the heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of famous director Roman Polanski. Bugliosi used this insider info to write this telling book about the nightmarish story and let outsiders in on the trial, the case itself and the questions surrounding Manson himself.

Why is this scruffy man apparently such an endearing figure to so many, to be able to hold power over his followers and still gain status as something of a popular icon today? Bugliosi writes in an accessible style, the book reads almost like a police report or courtroom news piece, but isn't any more difficult to understand because of it, and you can feel the frustration of the prosecution as they struggle to to make their case against the clearly guilty Manson due to the lack of admissible evidence, a clear illustration that the law and justice are not really the same thing. Overall, this is a fascinating look into the criminal trial process, especially such a fascinating one, and a great insight into one of the most notorious, complex and intriguing murderers of recent history.

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In 1974, writer Ann Rule was working on the biggest story of her life, working to track down the brutal serial killer who was striking fear into the hearts of people across the US. Unbeknownst to her, the one she was tracking down was Ted Bundy, someone she considered a close friend and one of the most notorious serial killers in recent history.

This is the story of the man whose name has become synonymous with murder and psychopathy, told by someone who knew him. Bundy was most known for his charisma, a seemingly kind and normal man on the surface, but capable of terrible sexually sadistic violence, murdering over 30 young girls, and remains a figure of great intrigue even today. Pretty much everyone has heard of him, but if you somehow haven't or you're an enthusiast who is just dying to know more (which perhaps isn't the best turn of phrase...), Rule provides a full account of the murders and the man himself, even though unfortunately Ann's own input regarding what it was like to be friends with an infamous serial killer is not quite as deep as it could be.

Ann was a former police woman who considered Ted to be a co-worker and friend, and yet this book could easily have been written by someone who didn't know him, and her writing leaves a lot to be desired. Rule is not a great writer, but nonetheless her subject, the ever-compelling Bundy is as fascinating as ever. The psychopath hidden behind charm and a smile, an eerie juxtaposition against the brutal murders he carried out and the darkness lurking beneath the surface. Bundy remains a terrifying example of how monsters blend into society, and this book is perfect to gain an insight into his atrocious actions.

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The Columbine High School Massacre in 1999 is an event which has left a lasting impression on our culture today. The ruthless shooting of the students and teachers in Columbine High School changed the way we think about violence in high schools, it's a story everyone knows, 2 boys arming themselves to the teeth and rampaging, apparently against a school that was unfair to them.

However this book brings a whole new story to the table, the story behind the shootings. Cullen has provided a profile of these two teenage killers, drawing on al the evidence, interviews, police files and the tapes and diaries recorded by the boys themselves as well as insight from FBI psychologists.

e story of Eric and Dylan and their original intentions to blow up the school and the use their guns to pick off the survivors is compelling and deeply disturbing, and Dave Cullen explodes many of the myths surrounding the massacre that many people believe even to this day. This riveting and masterfully written account won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime in 2010, and is the best source for the true story behind the Columbine Massacre, ideal for those seeking the truth behind this callous crime.

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We're back with Ann Rule who brings us the disgusting story of Diane Downs, the young mother who shot her three young children, killing one and injuring the other two. For a long time this monstrous mother blamed the crime on a bushy haired stranger, but was found guilty after a lengthy trial. The novel is well balanced between the legal proceedings and the emotional side of the story; Rule lays out all the evidence before the readers as if they are jurors in the trial, delving into the pathology of Diane Downs, her motives and her life history.

She also describes in detail the frustration of the investigators and the DA's office as they went about slowly building a case against her as best they could; establishing the chain of evidence, the process of preparing for trial and psychologically preparing Christie Downs to testify against her mother. It's a detailed report that elicits a visceral response of disgust for Diane Downs, a woman capable of performing such heinous acts against her own children.

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When he realised his dream of moving to Italy Douglas Preston's life changed in ways he never imagined. He soon discovered that his home had once been the scene of a horrific double-murder, attributed to one of the most infamous serial killers in Italian history, known as The Monster of Florence. Preston teams up with investigative journalist Mario Spezi as they aim to identity and track down the man they believe committed the crimes, and their chilling interview with him.

It's a truly disturbing case as the killer stalked, murdered and mutilated young couples in Florence, often inserting foreign objects into the female victims and cutting off parts of their erogenous zones to keep as souvenirs. As the authors follow the trail of their suspect they become targets of the police investigation, and Preston find himself accused of being the killer and arrested. This is true crime that reads like a fictional thriller, tense, suspenseful and almost unbelievable and yet is all remarkably true. The saying truth is stranger than fiction has never been more applicable.

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Ann Rule flexes her investigative muscles once again as she provides an account of a prolific serial killer who raped and strangled over 50 women in Washington state. The infamous Green River Killer evaded capture for over two decades, attended Ann's book signings and lived less than a mile from her home.

The killer, Gary Ridgeway is an intriguing specimen of a killer, working contrary to all expectations; happily married for twenty years, moving from killing 40 women in a two-year period to a handful over a span of decades. This book is less about the man himself though, and more focused on the victims, their families and the police officers involved in the twenty-year long search. Ann Rule stays true to form, recounting the facts well enough, but her psychological insights are, as always, shallow.

It's once again a case of Ann Rule providing a great deal of what happened but very little perspective why, this is not necessarily a bad thing though, it's ideal for anyone who wants to know the ins and outs of the case, and the inclusion of the verbatim transcript of the interview in which the police told Ridgeway's wife about his hobby is particularly interesting. Overall, this is a great insight into the Green River Killer case, his victims and his capture, even if at times it feels like Rule is just boasting how much research she had done.

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Now, at first glance, a story about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary may not sound that interesting, but please, bear with me! Here we have this very story, weaving back and forth between Dickensian London, Civil War battlefields and an academic society that had taken on the daunting task of putting together a dictionary that encompassed the English language in its entirety. An appeal went out to the public for learned volunteers to read books and submit words on scraps of paper along with their origin, context and definitions.

Tens of thousands of entries came from one person--William Chester Minor, our titular "madman". An American surgeon educated at Yale and former Army officer who apparently suffered from schizophrenia or some similar mental illness, and in a moment of insanity shoots an innocent factory worker on his way to work. The subsequent trial became one of the first instances to find someone guilty of the charge, but innocent by reason of insanity.

William Chester Minor spends the rest of his life in an insane asylum, the name of which is the basis for the word "bedlam." It's an interesting story of crime and literary history, and may make some squeamish readers, particularly those of the male gender cringe at the inclusion of the words: penis, penknife and self-inflicted wound in a single sentence. Any book which includes a man cutting off his own penis must be good, right?

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Catch Me If You Can is the story of famous con-artist Frank Abagnale. Frank was a bright and resourceful child who developed cunning ways to further his own personal gain that only became more and more slick as he grew up. This many-sided man faked college degrees, connections and past careers, and successfully convinced people that he was (among other things) a pilot, a doctor and a college professor.

Anyone who has seen the film adaptation may think they know Frank's story, but there are key differences that make the book a must-read for anyone interested in this quick-witted con-man. Unlike the film, the book does not accommodate all of the others in Frank's life it is solely a one-man show. The book also grapples with Frank's multiple stints in prisons in France, Sweden and America, a strong contrast to the bright, fun atmosphere of the movie, these sections are dark and particularly riveting.

Less time is spent focused on Frank's post-criminal life and his rehabilitation period, and more on his crazy capers. Frank Abagnale's life makes for one amazing story, even when you know how it ends it is hard not to be blown away by some of the stunts that he managed to get away with, and all at such a young age. This is a must-read to get the full story on the versatile and lovable villain who led police world-wide on a wild goose chase.

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Our next offering is the memoir of The Lovely Bones author Alice Sebold, as she tells the harrowing story of her own life and how it was transformed when as a college freshman at the age of 18 she was savagely raped and beaten. The event is described in painfully excruciating detail, and can be hard to stomach but what dominates this story is Sebold's strength. Her determination to get justice, get on with her life and become more than just a rape victim is truly inspiring.

She also provides a great insight into the stigma regarding rape and the treatment that women who have been raped receive from people after the fact, and it's quite disgusting to see the treatment she got, the insistence that she remain a victim, pressing her to keep the role she didn't want. Despite low and dark moments, this memoir does not incite pity; it's thrilling, disturbing and inspirational as through persistence and coincidence Sebold secures the arrest and conviction of her attacker, and illuminates the experiences of trauma victims in a poignant and witty manner.

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In a memoir hailed for its searing candor and wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was utterly transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What propels this chronicle of her recovery is Sebold\'s indomitable spirit-as she struggles for understanding (\"After telling the hard facts to anyone, from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes\"); as her dazed family and friends sometimes bungle their efforts to provide comfort and support; and as, ultimately, she triumphs, managing through grit and coincidence to help secure her attacker\'s arrest and conviction. In a narrative by turns disturbing, thrilling, and inspiring, Alice Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims even as she imparts wisdom profoundly hard-won: \"You save yourself or you remain unsaved.\"

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for the creation of legendary consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. However Arthur Conan Doyle's dalliances in the world of crime are not merely fictional, in his lifetime he was also involved in two real-life criminal cases which he documented and those writings are collected here. This book is not an easy read, it is very detailed and in-depth, taking note of every single aspect of both of the cases.

They each involve A.C.D. Trying to help bring justice to defendants who did not receive it from the police or the courts, and he actually paints a great picture of just how inept and incapable the police at this time were! Doyle brought justice to both men, and quite possibly saved one of them from being executed, so it seems obvious that the man who wrote such complex and masterful crime knew just how to put his keen mind to work in a more practical manner. This is the perfect novel for anyone interested in true crime, legal proceedings and the brilliant mind of the man behind everyone's favourite detective.

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At the age of eleven Jaycee Dugard was abducted by Philip and Nancy Garrido. She was kept prisoner for 18 years, abused, repeatedly raped and forced to give birth to two children. In this brave novel, Jaycee tells her own story of her stolen life, and it's very hard to read at times; it's raw and honest, not glossed over by a ghost writer, but told by Jaycee in her own words, and it's all the better for it.

She's not the most talented writer in the world, but she doesn't need to be, the simple language only enhances the presence of the young girl reliving her horrific story. It's an incredible testimony to the fact that things like this do happen, not just in fiction, but in real-life - just be aware that this book may be especially difficult for parents whose children who are still under 18 years of age to read as it touches on one of the greatest fears of a parent, the loss of the child, and it's truly heartbreaking.

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The infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez, also known as The Night Stalker terrorised Los Angeles in the 1980s, raping and murdering 13 women. With a strange allegiance to Satan as well as some inexplicable power over women, he is a figure of much intrigue, and this account of Ramirez's crimes and trial is the definitive book on this sensational Satan-worshipping serial killer, based upon almost a hundred hours of interviews with the man himself while he was on death row.

It's a twisted kind of wonderful to see how the mind of a serial killer works, Carlo interviewed and researched Ramirez thoroughly and it shows, resulting in a very detailed book that covers all of the facts of the case. Furthermore he delves into some of the possible explanations for Richard's behaviours and personality, as well as going into the details of Richard's death-row groupies - the multitude of women who fawned over him while he was on death row, including the woman who for some insane reason decided it would be a good idea to marry the man who was on death row for raping and murdering women... Whilst this book is a lot longer than it should be, it is impossible to argue the fact that this is the most extensively and accurately researched book on the monstrous Richard Ramirez, and one that true crime fans shouldn't miss.

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If that title isn't enough to make you want to read this book, I don't know how much I can help you, but I'm going to try anyway. You truly cannot make up shit like this it's a mesmerising story that reads like fictional satire except for the fact that it's all true. Rubinstein beckons readers in to Hungarian culture in the post-Communist 1990s, taking us into a truly bizarre story in a world that many will never see.

We accompany Attila Ambrus, a nobody who bungles his way around life, onto a professional hockey team, schemes his way through bank heists, evades capture while gambling his proceeds, becoming an underground hero and ending up imprisoned but no less upbeat as a result. It's a fascinating and entertaining story that is equal parts charming and ludicrous, filled with crazy capers involving hockey, whiskey, a wild-yet-fun crime spree and police officers that our main man refers to with some amazingly hilarious nicknames (e.g. Mound of Asshead). For an unbelievably wild true crime that is all inexplicably true, step up for the Ballad of the Whiskey Robber.

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Our next tale of true transgressions won both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger, for it's detailed account of the death of Pamela Werner in 1937. The eighteen-year old Englishwoman was found dead, her body mutilated and dumped at the base of the Fox Tower just outside the Foreign Legation quarters in Old Peking.

In this enjoyable tome, French has reconstructed the entire case, the investigation and the suspects; putting together a highly convincing and plausible chain of events and pointing the finger at one man in particular. There is a great depth to this book, putting the murder into historical and political context that paints a very detailed picture this particular period of time in Peking. The case reads like a very exciting murder mystery, and it's a truly interesting one, set on a backdrop of threats of invasion, war, revolution and fear.

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This book chronicles the unforgettable account of one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. It is the story of Dave Pelzer, who was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played tortuous, unpredictable games--games that left him nearly dead. He had to learn how to play his mother\'s games in order to survive because she no longer considered him a son, but a slave; and no longer a boy, but an \"it.\"

Dave\'s bed was an old army cot in the basement, and his clothes were torn and raunchy. When his mother allowed him the luxury of food, it was nothing more than spoiled scraps that even the dogs refused to eat. The outside world knew nothing of his living nightmare. He had nothing or no one to turn to, but his dreams kept him alive--dreams of someone taking care of him, loving him and calling him their son.

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A Child Called It is the tragic true story of Dave Pelzer, who lived with his unstable, disturbed, alcoholic mother in a town in California during the early 70's. In this heartbreaking novel Dave tells his own story about the torturous unforgettable years of abuse he suffered through as a young boy.

Throughout the story, he does his best to survive his mother and the pain of hunger, bruises and cuts he receives from her. It's an awful story, sad and disturbing and one that opened the eyes of the world to the plight of abused children. Unfortunately the book is often put under a lot of scrutiny regarding its veracity it's been argued that the story is largely fictionalised or rather... lies.

It's hard to say whether or not Mr Pelzer is being entirely honest about his childhood experiences, but nonetheless it can't be denied that the story is a sad one, and that there are children who are abused, even if not quite to this sickening extent. It's a novel that changes lives and perspectives, and offers an insight into the often unseen world of forgotten and mistreated children.

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Novelist John Grisham is best known for his gripping fictional crime thrillers, but here he delves into true crime as he tells a story of small town justice going bad. It's a story of Ron Williamson, a boy in a small Oklahoma town who has dreams of becoming a major league baseball player but instead finds himself on death row after being wrongly convicted for murder. It tells of his growing up, the murder, the trial, the eleven years on death row, the exoneration and the life afterwards.

Grisham meticulously documents the harrowing and deplorable treatment experienced by death row inmates by cruel and sadistic prison guards. Later arguments say that Grisham's version of events wasn't well-researched, and not really what happened, but it's a compelling story nonetheless. His own anger, frustration and biased personal thoughts regarding the American state governments archaic and totally flawed capital punishment laws is evident throughout, but the book highlights the important issue of innocent people wrongly being convicted and executed, and provides a voice for the perspective of wrongly convicted innocents in the capital punishment debate.

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Fatal Vision is the terrifying true story of Jeffrey MacDonald; the handsome, Princeton-educated physician who was convicted of savagely murdering his pregnant young wife and his two small children, murders he ferociously denies committing. In this incredibly well-written book, author Joe McGinniss recounts every facet of this horrifying and intricate crime, delving into the life and mind of the captivating, all-American Jeffrey MacDonald; a golden boy who seemed destined to have it all.

The result is a journey into the concealed darkness behind the smile and one of the most complex criminal cases ever to capture the attention of the American public. McGinniss clearly knows his stuff, he attended MacDonald's trial, and even lived in MacDonald's condo in California. He then masterfully presents this information in a way that is accessible, and makes it so that the reader becomes as familiar with it as he is. What results is a haunting, tense and unforgettable novel about a man who is charismatic and charming on the surface, but hiding a darkness underneath the bright and shiny exterior.

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