Welcome, true crime nerds!
We’re back with another nine fantastic true crime book recommendations to both captivate and unsettle you. This time around, we’ve got books covering everything from cases that have recently made headlines to unsolved cases that still perplex investigators and spectators to this day.
If you missed it, make sure to check out our previous article on nonfiction true crime reads to check out if you’re new to this genre and don’t know where to start. While this isn’t a series, you could say this list acts as a “part two” of our previous list.
TW & CW: These books address topics relating to murder, abuse & child abuse, sexual assault, self-harm and suicide, blood, violence, kidnapping and abduction, mental illness, torture, and other disturbing content related to homicide cases.
With that said, let’s put on our detective hats and dive in.
1. Bone Deep, Charles Bosworth, Jr. & Joel J. Schwartz
Dateline fans know the Betsy Faria case without question. It’s been covered in six different episodes, a podcast series, and recently was adapted into a miniseries starring Renée Zellweger as Pamela Hupp.
In December 2011, Betsy Faria was found stabbed to death in her home by her husband, Russell. Despite having a solid alibi and no hard evidence implicating him, Russell Faria was convicted of his wife’s murder. Bone Deep delves into the flimsy case against Russell and the numerous missteps in the Betsy Faria murder investigation that led police, prosecutors, judge, and jury to fail to recognize the real killer who had been right under everyone’s noses: Pam Hupp.
2. The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream, Dean Jobb
Fans of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City will love this book about a Victorian-era serial killer who “murdered simply for the sake of murder,” preying on vulnerable women who turned to him for medical help.
The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream exposes the corrupted officials and flawed investigations that allowed Dr. Thomas Neill Cream to murder as many as 10 people in the US, Canada, and Britain over the span of 15 years. Though his method of killing wasn’t as bloody and high-profile as that of Jack the Ripper, Dr. Cream was just as brazen, villainous, and despicable.
3. Devil’s Knot, Mara Leveritt
If you’ve read my previous article about the real-life inspiration behind Stranger Things‘ Eddie Munson, you’ll be very familiar with the West Memphis Three.
In May 1993, in West Memphis, three young boys were found dead in the woods. The scene was so gruesome and unsettling that police immediately suspected the slaying to be connected to Satan worship. As a result of terrible police work mixed with the Satanic Panic, 18-year-old Damien Echols, a self-proclaimed Wiccan who was considered a “troublemaker,” and two of his friends were convicted of the murders.
This is a case everyone should know. It’s a prime example of police and investigators completely wrecking an investigation. They mishandled the crime scene, improperly stored evidence, coerced false confessions and statements from witnesses, and let personal bias drive their motivations for falsely convicting three young men.
If you want to learn more about Damien Echols’ experience of spending 18 years on Death Row for his wrongful murder conviction, I highly recommend you check out his memoir, Life After Death. You can also learn more about the story of the West Memphis Three in the documentary, West of Memphis.
4. Lost Girls, Robert Kolker
In the spring of 2010, Shannan Gilbert disappeared from Oak Beach, New York. She was last seen running through the beach community, screaming for her life, fleeing the scene of what, we still don’t know. She was never seen alive again after that night.
Being a Craigslist escort, the community and Suffolk County Police seemed to pay little attention to the disappearance. Months later, the bodies of four young women were found wrapped in burlap, discarded on the side of the road. None of them were Gilbert.
Lost Girls details the lives of five young women who were murdered by the still unidentified suspect dubbed the “Long Island Serial Killer.” As of today, no suspects have ever been named. It’s believed the victim count of the Long Island Serial Killer numbers 10-16 people.
5. The Man from the Train, Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James
The Villisca Axe Murders have confounded investigators and true crime fans for over 100 years. On the evening of June 9th, 1912, eight people at the Moore home in Villisca, Iowa, were bludgeoned to death while they slept in their beds by an unknown, axe-wielding assailant. Among the victims were six children.
The Man from the Train analyzes the cultural factors that allowed the infamous Villisca murders (and other possibly connected axe murders) to occur during that time period, and who just might be the suspect. Author Bill James uses his analytical skills to crack an unsolved mystery and paint a terrifying picture of the murders in Villisca, which still captivate true crime junkies to this day.
6. The Good Nurse, Charles Graeber
Charlie Cullen’s nursing career spanned 16 years. Within those 16 years, he worked in six different hospitals and murdered as many as 400 patients.
The Good Nurse looks at how Cullen exploited the medical care system to commit these murders for as long as he did and highlights the courage of a confidential informant who risked her life (and career) to stop him. Complete with jailhouse conversations from the killer himself and never-before-seen evidence, readers get an in-depth look at perhaps one of the most prolific serial killers in American history.
7. Death on Ocean Boulevard, Caitlin Rother
“SHE SAVED HIM CAN YOU SAVE HER“
Those were the words found painted on a bedroom door near the body of Rebecca Zahau, who was found dead in the California mansion of her multimillionaire boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, on July 13, 2011. Zahau was found hanging from a second-floor balcony days after Shacknai’s six-year-old son took a devastating fall while in Zahau’s care. Because of this, investigators labeled Zahau’s death as a suicide resulting from guilt.
But a lot didn’t add up— Zahau was found naked, gagged, and her hands and feet bound behind her. Is this really a suicide, or a bizarrely staged murder? And if so, why? Death on Ocean Boulevard examines the many layers of this troubling and complicated case from a personal yet objective lens.
8. Six Women of Salem, Marilynne K. Roach
It’s a dark part of American history that still captivates people today: the Salem witch trials. Now, we know there were no real witches present during the witch trials in colonial Massachusetts. But back then, the wrongful executions of 20 people resulted from the combination of church politics, extreme Puritan beliefs, family feuding, persecution of minorities, and mass hysteria, all veiled as “evidence” of wrongdoing by the victims.
In Six Women of Salem, author Marilynne K. Roach examines the lives of six women— Mary Warren, Mary English, Rebecca Nurse, Ann Putnam Jr., Tituba, and Bridget Bishop— who were prominent figures during the Salem witch trials of 1692-1693.
9. The Pale-Faced Lie, David Crow
In this gripping memoir, David Crow tells readers of how his father, Thurston Crow, intimidated him through beatings to coerce him into helping his father commit crimes. Despite all this, David still manages to find professional success. Eventually, he has the courage to refuse his father’s criminal demands. But as he does so, he incurs the wrath of his father, a man who said his three years spent in San Quentin was the easiest time of his life.
The Pale-Faced Lie is an amazing memoir about strength, forgiveness, courage, and survival.
These descriptions are just the tip of the iceberg for what’s in store when you dive into these cases. I highly recommend you try any of these books to learn the powerful stories of people like Damien Echols and David Crow. Most importantly, it’s imperative the names and stories of the victims of these horrendous crimes are never forgotten.
Make sure to check out our previous list of true crime books, and keep an eye on Bookstr for more true crime book recommendations!