Truman Capote is guilty! His obsession with the Clutter family murders ignited readers’ interest in true crime stories, and our fascination with this genre continues to grow. At Writer’s Relief, we know that real-life horror stories might seem especially well suited to Halloween, but these ten must-read true crime books are guaranteed to have a spine-chilling effect any time of year.
The Best True Crime Books
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
In August 1969, pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four other people were murdered in the Los Angeles home she shared with Roman Polanski. The following night, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were also brutally murdered. The murders, engineered by cult leader Charles Manson and carried out by his “family” of followers, would essentially end the hippie movement of the 1960s and capture the nation’s imagination for decades afterward. Vincent Bugliosi, the lead prosecutor of Manson’s trial, takes the reader step-by-step through the investigation, capture, and trial of Charles Manson and his “family” in a narrative that manages to chill, disturb, and enthrall.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
Some of the most horrifying crimes, particularly murders, remain unsolved. Robert Kolker’s Lost Girls explores one such crime. In 2010, the bodies of five Craigslist prostitutes who were previously reported missing were found on the same Long Island beach. Kolker’s book explores the socioeconomic circumstances that led these young women to prostitution, as well as the seedy underbelly of the Internet, where online escorts are at risk of encountering dangerous predators.
The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
In 2000, Douglas Preston moved his family to Italy. He would learn that the olive grove in front of their farmhouse was witness to one of the most brutal double murders in Italian history, committed by an entity known only as the “Monster of Florence.” Preston and Italian investigative journalist Mario Spezi set out to uncover the identity of the killer, only to encounter a strange and corrupt justice system that impeded their investigation.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Author Michelle McNamara became fixated on the case of the Golden State Killer, a series of (at the time) unsolved murders and assaults in Northern California from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. McNamara, a true crime journalist who created TrueCrimeDiary.com, examined clues and used a unique forensic approach to pinpoint the murderer. She tragically died before she could complete her book. However, in a satisfying twist of fate, the publication and popularity of this book led to the Golden State Killer’s arrest. Check out our Goodreads review of this book here.
The Road Out of Hell: Sanford Clark and the True Story of the Wineville Murders by Anthony Flacco
The Road Out of Hell explores teenager Sanford Clark’s forced participation in a series of grisly murders of young boys committed by his uncle, Gordon Stewart Northcott, at a chicken ranch outside of Los Angeles. After his uncle was arrested, Clark testified at his trial, leading to his execution. The Road Out of Hell also explores how Clark went on to become a decorated WWII veteran, loving husband and father, and respected citizen. The story would go on to be adapted into the film Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie.
The Hot One: A Memoir of Friendship, Sex, and Murder by Carolyn Murnick
Carolyn Murnick’s memoir examines her relationship with her best friend, Ashley. Growing up in New Jersey in the 1980s, the two were inseparable. However, when they went to different high schools, they began to grow apart. Carolyn attended college in New York while Ashley became a stripper and escort in Los Angeles. At age twenty-two, Ashley was brutally murdered in her apartment. The Hot One explores Murnick’s emotional journey to uncover not only what happened to Ashley, but also what happened to their friendship.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
In the 1920s, members of the Osage tribe, one of the wealthiest tribes in the nation, discovered oil on their land and began to die under strange circumstances, prompting a major FBI investigation. David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon not only explores these mysterious murders and their investigation, but the systematic oppression of the Osage tribe, which is perhaps the most disturbing and angering crime depicted in this book.
The Corpsewood Manor Murders in North Georgia by Amy Petulla
In the woods of North Georgia, Dr. Charles Scudder and his partner Joey Odom built a “Castle in the Woods” where they hosted lavish parties for their friends. Around Christmas of 1982, the couple was brutally murdered in their house by two other men. Rumors of LSD use, wild orgies, and Satanic rituals began to swirl around the community, creating an aura of myth and legend that still clings to the case today.
My Story by Elizabeth Smart
On June 5, 2002, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Chained, frequently raped and brutalized, Elizabeth was told by her captors that she and her family would be killed if she ever tried to escape. Her memoir recounts her abduction, her eventual rescue, and how she worked to put her life back together. Now an advocate helping to prevent crimes against children, Elizabeth Smart offers an inspiring story of how one woman’s faith and intelligence helped her escape from a horrific situation.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Journalist John Carreyrou takes the reader through the history of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up run by the charismatic Elizabeth Holmes. Theranos operated on the principle that vital health information could be taken from one drop of human blood using handheld devices. Major corporations and donors poured in millions of dollars based on the promise of this idea. But secretive business practices, corrupt leadership, and betrayal eventually brought about the company’s downfall.
Question: What is your favorite true crime book?