If you enjoy history and are addicted to every new true crime documentary that comes out, these are some of the books that explore the history behind true crime covering some of the deadliest and scariest cases. From stories told from journalist aspects, to the detectives who solved the cases, and those who dedicated their entire lives to helping solve these crimes, here are some of the best books that deal with true crime in history.
The Wager by David Grann (4/18)
In January 1742, thirty men washed up on the coast of Brazil, barely alive. They claimed they were survivors of a British vessel that had left England on a secret mission during an imperial war with Spain. The men told their epic tale of surviving months alone on a desolate island and were deemed heroes. Six months later, three castaways landed on the coast of Chile and claimed those thirty sailors were mutineers, not heroes. Accusations of treachery and murder flew back and forth, and the Admiralty summoned a court martial to determine the truth and hang the guilty party.
The Butcher, The Embezzler, and The Fall Guy by Gretchen Cherington (6/6)
George Hormel, Alpha Eberhart, and Ransome Thomson’s paths converged in the early 1900s. Hormel was the founder of what would eventually become the food conglomerate Hormel Foods, and Thomson served as Hormel’s comptroller. Over the span of ten years, Thomson embezzles $1.2 million, almost destroying the company. This book begins in 1992 when George Hormel demands Eberhart’s resignation. Eberhart is seen as the true leader of the company. Is he complicit in the embezzlement? Even worse than losing his job, his young wife is on her deathbed as their three children grieve. However, Eberhart’s story definitely doesn’t end there.
Summons to Berlin: Nazi Theft and a Daughter’s Quest for Justice by Joanne Intrator (8/1)
Joanne is seeking restitution for the property stolen from her German-Jewish family by the Nazis during the Holocaust. For over a decade, she pursues justice, constantly flying between Germany and New York. When she realizes her German lawyers are not advocating enough for her, she leans on her psychiatrist training to understand how World War II shaped German citizens. But when she hires a private investigator, Joanne finally starts to get answers about the past and the present.
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
Five women are strangers to one another, but famous for the same thing. Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane come from various parts of London, Wales, and Sweden. They belong to different societal classes and have different jobs, but they were all murdered in 1888. The killer was never identified, but the persona created by the press has lived in infamy. Now, Hallie Rubenhold is giving these women back their stories.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
In 1972, Jean McConville was abducted from her home in Belfast. This was one of the most notorious episodes of vicious conflict known as The Troubles. While everyone knew the I.R.A was responsible, fear and paranoia kept people quiet. In 2003, McConville’s body was finally discovered. This book explores the aftermath of Northern Ireland’s bitter conflict and a violent guerilla war. It begs the question, do I.R.A. members feel that their actions were justified acts of war or just murders?
Hannah Mary Tabbs And The Disembodied Torso: A Tale Of Race, Sex, And Violence In America by Kali Nicole Gross
When a dismembered torso was discovered in 1887, two suspects were named: Hannah Mary Tabbs, a married, working-class, black woman, and George Wilson, a former neighbor implicated when Tabbs was arrested. The shocking crime and the trial gained national attention, especially as illicit sex, adultery, and domestic violence in the black community started to be discussed in court. Simultaneously, the mixed race of the victim and one of his attackers sparked more anxieties about the purity of whiteness.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
Alex is the only child of two lawyers, and when they begin a summer job working to defend men accused of murder, they are strongly anti-death penalty. But when Alex sees convicted murderer Ricky Langley speak of his crimes, they are shocked by how much they want Ricky to die. Alex digs deeper into the case and realizes that something in both of their stories is eerily familiar. As Alex learns more about Ricky’s complicated childhood, they are forced to reckon with their own story and long-buried family secrets.
Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by Jessica McDiarmid
Since the 1970s, and probably even earlier than that, the Highway of Tears has been a 450-mile dumping ground for murdered Indigenous women and a place where many have gone missing, only to never be found. The case of the Highway of Tears is one of the most if not the most harrowing and lengthy cases in true crime history. With so many missing and murdered unsolved cases and the belief that there have been multiple predators, there’s no real telling how many missing and murdered Indigenous women have fallen prey to this area or how many people have targeted them. Journalist Jessica McDiarmid not only investigates some of these crimes but interviews the families as well, and provides a first look at how these crimes have not only affected these women’s loved ones, but the community as a whole.
Elon Green tells the story of the Last Call Killer, who terrorized the queer community of New York City during the 1980s and 1990s. Providing a look at what this community was truly like during this time, and a harrowing look into the crimes along with portrayals of what the victims were like as actual people instead of just victims, Green gives the reader a terrifying account as to why these murders went unnoticed for too long. From the AIDs epidemic to the high murder rates in the city, none of these murders received any media attention or recognition before it was too late and a heinous killer was targeting the queer community.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
This book tells the story of Henry H. Holmes, a young doctor who built a hotel on death and carnage by luring victims from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. While the public focused on the architecture and the beauty of this hotel as it was being built, inside was much different. Holmes had built a palace of torture including a dissection table, gas chamber, and crematorium.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing by Simon Baatz
In the year 1901, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Nesbit was dining with forty-seven-year-old Stanford White in his townhouse in New York. White was a respected architect and local celebrity in New York. Then, Evelyn found herself waking up in White’s bed realizing she had been raped. Several years later after marrying playboy, Harry Thaw, Evelyn confided in him what happened with White, leading Thaw to shoot and kill White in 1906. Then, the trial begins and while most of the public agreed with Thaw that he had the right to kill White, the judge disagreed resulting in Thaw attempting to commit suicide and Evelyn with an addition to cocaine.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
For over a decade, Northern California watched as a serial rapist turned into a cold-blooded killer responsible for over fifty sexual assaults and ten murders. No one could find him, the police had zero leads, and then one day he just vanished. The murders stopped and would remain unsolved for decades. Three decades after the killer disappeared, true crime journalist, Michelle McNamara, dubbed him the Golden State Killer and began her deep dive into getting to the bottom of who this predator really was. Through reviewing police reports, interviews, and accessing message boards, McNamara was on the right trail until her untimely death during the process of writing this book.
A Rose for Her Grave by Ann Rule
Throughout the 1980s, a man named Randy Roth was a heinous serial killer with an agenda. Roth was responsible for seducing and marrying multiple women, only to convince them to opening up large life insurance policies before he would kill them and make their deaths look like accidents. A Rose for Her Grave is from true crime author Ann Rule and her experience attending the Roth trial.
Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases by Paul Holes
True crime aficionados will immediately recognize the name Paul Holes, but for those of you who may not be familiar, Paul Holes is one of the most important detectives in the history of crime. Paul Holes is the man who has brought some justice into the world by catching some of the most notorious killers of the twenty-first century, including the man behind the mask that haunted California for decades: The Golden State Killer. This collection of stories is Paul’s reflection of his career from beginning to present and how his job effected his personal life and the families he gave answers to.