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36 Gripping True Crime Books from the Last 55 Years

By Sarah Mangiola April 20, 2017

true crime books

True crime books have been fascinating readers since Truman Capote gave us his non-fiction novel in 1966: In Cold Blood. And since then, author’s have been churning out books that recount the most chilling real-life cases. From Helter Skelter to Devil in the White City, true crime books have proven to be as gripping and engaging as novels, but with the added component of the truth. These true crime books from the last 55 years are guaranteed to hook you.


 

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (1966)

true crime books

The true crime book that started it all tells the terrifying story of the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote’s masterpiece is also known as the first non-fiction novel.

Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry (1974)

best true crime

The prosecuting attorney in Charles Manson’s murder case recounts the summer of 1969 and examines the power and influence Manson had over his followers.

Blood and Money, Thomas Thompson (1976)

blood and money ann rule

The Edgar Award-winning book tells the story of Joan Robinson Hill, the beautiful socialite who mysteriously fell ill and died, and how her death was really a murder.

The Michigan Murders, by Edward Keyes (1976)

best true crime

John Norman Collins, an all-American fraternity boy at Eastern Michigan University, terrorized the college town of Ypsilanti in 1967—slaying young women. Edward Keyes recounts the tale of the serial killer next door.

Closing Time, by Lacey Fosburgh (1977)

best true crime books
The true story of the “Goodbar” murder, which inspired the novel and 1977 movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar, examines the death of Roseann Quinn—the Catholic schoolteacher who was killed in her Manhattan apartment after picking up a stranger at her neighborhood bar.

A Death in Canaan, by Joan Barthel (1978)

true crime books

This book takes readers back to the trial of Peter Reilly, the 18-year-old accused of killing his mother Barbara Gibbons in 1973, and the community of Canaan, Connecticut that defended him.

The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer (1979)

best true crime

Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book follows the life of Gary Gilmore, who robbed and killed two men in 1976. After he was convicted of the murders and sentenced to execution, he demanded an immediate death by firing squad in a system that is slow to carry out execution sentences—a “fight for death” that made him famous.

The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule (1980)

stranger beside me

True crime author Ann Rule writes about her friendship with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, before and after his arrest, in her first book.

Fatal Vision, by Joe McGinniss (1983)

best true crime

The 1983 bestselling true crime book about Jeffrey McDonald, who was convicted of killing his wife and children in 1970, evoked controversy after the book supported McDonald’s conviction. McDonald had hired McGinniss prior to the criminal trial.

Evidence of Love, by John Bloom & Jim Atkinson (1984)

best true crime

Evidence of Love tells the story of Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore—two desperate housewives in northern Dallas—and how their secrets and jealousies led to cold-blooded murder.

The Hillside Stranglers, by Darcy O’Brien (1985)

los angeles killers

Darcy O’Brien explores the relationship between the Hillside Stranglers, cousins Angelo Buono and Kenny Bianchi, who terrorized Los Angeles with a killing spree in the 1970s.

Zodiac, by Robert Graysmith (1986)

best true crime

A first-hand account of the Zodiac killer’s 11-month reign of terror in San Francisco, by a 1969 reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle who was obsessed with bringing the killer to justice.

Buried Dreams, by Tim Cahill (1986)

buried dreams

With the help of exclusive interviews, Cahill details the crimes of John Wayne Gacy—the “Killer Clown” who murdered 33 young men in suburban Chicago.

Bitter Blood, by Jerry Bledsoe (1988)

bitter blood true crime books

Bledsoe’s true crime book recounts the events that ensued between 1984-85 in rural North Carolina, when nine people connected by love and jealousy ended up dead.

Beyond Obsession, by Richard Hammer (1992)

best true crime beyond obsession

These teenagers took their unquestionable love for one another to a new level when Karin Aparo convinced her boyfriend Dennis to kill her mother, Joyce.

Blood Echoes, by Thomas H. Cook (1992)

best true crime blood echoes

Cook’s chilling book details the tragic murders of Jerry Alday and his family, who in 1973 were killed by three escaped convicts and the brother of one of the convicts.

Innocent Victims, by Scott Whisnant (1993)

best true crime

Innocent Victims tells the story of how solider Tim Braggs was tried three times and finally convicted of the murders of a mother and two of her daughters on Mother’s Day 1985.

The Crime of the Century, by Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin (1993)

best true crime

One of the most horrific crimes of the century occurred in 1966 when Richard Speck murdered eight young nurses in a Chicago townhouse, only leaving one nurse alive. Breo recounts the crimes and trial of Speck, during which the surviving nurse confronted the killer.

Above Suspicion, by Joe Sharkey (1994)

best true crime

When rookie FBI agent Mark Putnam got involved with his informant, he never thought it would end in murder. Soon to be a movie, Joe Sharkey details this tragic crime.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt (1994)

best true crime midnight in garden of good and evil

Berendt’s non-fiction novel, which is based on real-life events that occurred in the 1980s, follows the murder of Danny Hansford and the eccentric people found in the town of Savannah, Georgia.

Fred & Rose, by Howard Sounes (1995)

fred and rose best true crime

This chilling tale centers on one of Britain’s most notorious killer couples, Fred and Rose West, who tortured and killed people in their boarding house—including their own children.

Mother’s Day, by Dennis McDougal (1995)

mothers day best true crime

McDougal recounts the story of mother Theresa Knorr, who tortured and killed her own daughters in Northern California with the help of her sons.

The Night Stalker, by Philip Carlo (1996)

night stalker true crime books

Richard Ramirez was a Satanist who terrorized California in the mid-1980s, killing 13 people and evading police for over a year before finally being brought to justice. Philip Carlo uses exclusive interviews with Ramirez to write a detailed account of his horrifying crimes.

The Wrong Man, by James Neff (2001)

wrong man true crime books

Neff’s book follows the case of Dr. Sam Sheppard—the man who was accused of killing his wife in their home in 1954—and the conviction that put him in prison for nearly ten years before a second trial ended in an acquittal.

Devil’s Knot, by Mara Leveritt (2002)

devils knot true crime books

The story of the West Memphis Three follows the murder of three eight-year-old boys in Arkansas and the three teenagers who were accused and convicted of their murders, before being released from prison in 2011.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson (2003)

true crime books devil in the white city

Erik Larson’s incredibly popular non-fiction novel follows the true story of serial killer H.H. Holmes who killed people in his “murder house” during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer (2003)

best true crime under the banner of heaven

Krakauer takes readers into the isolated Mormon Fundamentalist communities where brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty insisted they were called on by God to kill a woman and her baby girl.

The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi (2006)

true crime books

After moving to Italy, Preston teamed up with investigative journalist Spezi to find the serial killer who was never caught: The Monster of Florence. But as their investigation progressed, and they found the man they thought was responsible, they became targets of a police investigation themselves.

For the Thrill of It, by Simon Baatz (2008)

best true crime for the thrill of it

Baatz writes about the 1924 Chicago murder of a child by two wealthy college students. Their motive? Merely for the thrill of it.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale (2008)

best true crime

Summerscale’s book follows the 1860 murder of three-year-old Saville Kent and the investigator called in to crack the case—who believed a family member was responsible.

Columbine, by Dave Cullen (2009)

best true crime

One of the first reporters on the scene after the tragic events of Colmbine took place in 1999, Cullen investigates what really happened that day and how it’s become an unfortunate template for two decades of school shooters.

People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry (2010)

best true crime

Award-winning foreign correspondent Richard Lloyd Parry covered the disappearance of Lucie Blackman in Tokyo in 2000. The mysterious case led to the capture of the man accused, whom a judge described as “extremely evil.”

Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker (2013)

best true crime lost girls

Investigative reporter Kolker details the search for a Long Island serial killer, a still-at-large killer who began targeting escorts in 2010.

The Good Nurse, by Charles Graeber (2013)

best true crime Good Nurse

Graeber’s book details the man dubbed “The Angel of Death”—Charlie Cullen, the killer nurse who was connected to the deaths of 300 of his patients.

Mystery on the Isles of Shoals, by J. Dennis Robinson (2014)

best true crime

In 1873, Louis Wagner was tried and convicted of the murders of two women on the isolated island of Smuttynose. But was he really responsible for their deaths?

Getting Life, by Michael Morton (2014)

best true crime getting life

Michael Morton recounts his own time in prison—when he was put away for the murder of his wife in 1986. Morton triumphantly proved his own innocence while inside prison, battling to become a free man again.

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