Esther Ludlow is the creator of the Once Upon a Crime podcast and she does things a little differently than most. While doing extensive research on her crimes she finds that she gets so much information that one episode just won’t do, so she breaks them up into chapters… you know like a storybook. These aren’t fairy tales though, they’re often disturbing looks into some of the most depraved crimes but they are always fascinating. She’s shared a few of her favorite true crime books with us and we can’t wait for you to check them out!
Three of my very favorite true crime books are all, in my opinion, masterpieces of creative nonfiction that each cover a compelling true crime case. I highly recommend these three books for their shocking true crime reporting as well as for the great writing and compelling storytelling.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The first is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The story of the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959 by a couple of ex-con drifters is spun in such a way that it feels like a novel… and then you shudder when you remember that these events actually happened. It shocks us to know that this act of senseless violence took place during a time in America that we think of nostalgically as a simpler, kinder and more innocent era.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
Devil in the White City reaches even further back in our history to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago – also known as the World’s Fair. While an entire World Expo city was being constructed in Jackson Park to display the wonders of modern technology – including the electric light bulb – Henry H. Holmes was blocks away creating his own technologically advanced structure. H.H. Holmes, as he is more commonly known, constructed his “World’s Fair Hotel” to accommodate the scores of people who would come to work for and visit the fair. But, the hotel would later be rebranded “The Murder Castle” after it was discovered that Holmes used it to lure young women to their deaths inside his hidden torture basement that included a dissection table, gas chamber and crematorium. The book weaves the story of the World’s Expo and H.H. Holmes brilliantly and describes the wonders – and horrors – of modern technology at the turn of the century.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
Finally, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer tells the incredible story of a small extremist sect of the Mormon church whose followers splintered off to form their own community after the church renounced polygamy. The book outlines the history of the Mormon faith and then introduces the Lafferty brothers, who believed they were commanded by God to commit a shocking double murder. It is a studied exploration in faith, fanaticism and violence that keeps the reader riveted from beginning to end.