There's no genre of book more morbidly fascinating than true crime nonfiction books. They've got all the scare factor of a psychological thriller or horror story, but with the added factor that everything in the book actually happened. Reading a true crime novel is like slowing down in traffic to look at a car accident; you know you shouldn't be doing it, but you just can't look away. True crime novels are full of the most terrible things human beings are capable of doing — and that's what makes them so captivating. That's why we all listened to every episode of Serial, and binge-watched the whole of Making a Murderer. When it comes to real-life stories that read like fiction, we just can't help ourselves.
We've all heard of Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood and The Stranger Beside Me. These are the books that kick-started the true crime genre, and terrified the population with stories of cults and mass-murders and serial killers. But there are even more true crime novels that you probably don't have on your bookshelf yet, and these are even creepier than anything you've read before. These 13 books might not go down well with your book club, but if you've got a passion for the dark and disturbing rabbit hole of true crime writing, then you're going to love them.
1'A Death in California' by Joan Barthel
Over the course of one long, nightmarish weekend, Hope Masters was held captive and tormented by the man who had just murdered her fiancé. In an attempt to save her own life, Hope decided to talk calmly and even jokily to her tormenter, hoping that this would dissuade him from murdering her. But what happened next was unimaginable: Hope began to fall in love with him.
2'Night Games' by Anna Krien
In Night Games, Anna Krien exposes the abuse of women by team sportsmen, focusing in particular on the rape trial of a professional soccer player in 2001.
3'Truevine' by Beth Macy
George and Willie Muse were African-American albino twins who were kidnapped by a white man and forced into the circus, where they were made to perform, unpaid, for audiences that included the British royal family. Meanwhile, their mother continued to search for them for 28 long years.
4'Beyond Obsession' by Richard Hammer
Beyond Obsession chronicles the events that led to the murder of social worker Joyce Aparo, seemingly at the hands of her own teenaged daughter Karin. For a year, Karin had conspired with her boyfriend Dennis Coleman to plan the murder; was Dennis so completely infatuated with Karin that he couldn't say no?
5'The Unspeakable Crimes of Dr. Petiot' by Thomas Maeder
Dr Marcel Petiot was, from the outside, a hero of German-occupied Paris, offering those wanted by the Germans a safe escape route to South America. But the truth is much more gory: Dr Petiot was a serial killer, murdering the people that he lured to his house under this pretense. The remains of 23 people were found in his house, but the true number of his victims is still unknown.
6'Under the Banner of Heaven' by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer is more famous for his other true crime novel Into Thin Air, but the underrated Under the Banner of Heaven is every bit as sinister. It's about the double murders committed by Mormon fundamentalists Ron and Dan Lafferty, of their sister-in-law Debra and her infant daughter Erica — a murder they believed they had been commanded to carry out by God.
7'The Darkest Night' by Ron Franscell
One night in 1973, 11-year-old Amy Burridge and her 18-year-old sister Becky returned to their car after grocery shopping to find their tire slashed. Unbeknownst to Amy and Becky, the men who kindly offered them a lift home were in fact the culprits — and only Becky would survive the night after both sisters were attacked and thrown from a bridge.
8'Who Killed These Girls?: The Yogurt Shop Murders' by Beverly Lowry
Almost 26 years after four teenage girls were found naked, bound, gagged, and shot in the head in a yogurt shop in Austin, Texas, the mystery of who killed them is still unsolved — but Beverly Lowry brings the story right back to life.
9'The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer' by Kate Summerscale
One morning, 13-year-old Robert Coombes and his 12-year-old brother Nattie told the neighbors that their father had gone to sea, and set out to watch a cricket match at Lord's. The boys went on to spend ten days living luxuriously, pawning their parents' valuables to pay for trips to the seaside and the theater, before the neighbors started to notice a strange smell emanating from the house. When police were called to investigate, they discovered that the boys had been sharing the house with the decomposing body of their mother, whom they had stabbed to death ten days before.
10'A Daughter's Deadly Deception' by Jeremy Grimaldi
Jennifer Pan seemed like the model daughter: studying to become a pharmacist, and volunteering at a hospital for sick children. But when her father discovered that she had been lying about everything from her high school grades to her fictitious apartment, and was instead spending her days with her high school boyfriend, Jennifer's parents restricted her to the house to study for university. But neither of them could have suspected what Jennifer would do next — a plot which left her mother dead and her father gravely injured.
11'Whoever Fights Monsters' by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Schactman
In his 20 years working for the FBI, Robert K. Ressler has come face-to-face with many of America's most terrifying killers. His work tracking serial killers by pyscho-analysing evidence left at the crime scene might sound like something straight out of The Silence of the Lambs — and in fact, Robert K. Ressler advised Thomas Harris on writing that very novel. In this book, Ressler takes his readers on the hunt for today's most dangerous psychopaths.
12'Cries Unheard' by Gitta Sereny
At the age of 10, Mary Bell strangled two younger boys to death in her hometown in Newcastle. In Cries Unheard, Gitta Sereny delves into the troubled past that led Mary to such a violent crime.
13'Lost Girls' by Robert Kolker
There's a serial killer at large on Long Island: the Craiglist Ripper is believed to have murdered 10 to 17 people over a period of 20 years. In Lost Girls, reporter Robert Kolker explores the dangers of being an online escort, and a critique of the many ways society and the police let the victims down.