Sleep With the Light On After Reading These Books About Serial Killers
Dive into your next favorite true crime book!
True Crime Books About Serial Killers
From Netflix documentaries to podcasts galore, true crime is everywhere nowadays. There's also plenty of incredible true crime books and books about serial killers written by some truly talented writers published if reading is more your jam (if not, there's always the audiobook verison).
Serial killers are the among the scourge of society, though because they're so out of the norm for the everyday person, there's something both disgusting and fascinating about them. People have always been attracted to the grotesque, to the unimaginable, in a way that confuses even themselves.
The books on serial killers we selected cover a variety of topics. There are books that cover those who prey on vulnerable women, analyzing why society would let these crimes to continue for so long, along with a books more focused on the psychology and history of serial killers. It's a mixed bag that will hopefully provide you with plenty of future reading material.
The material talked about in this article is incredibly sensitive and includes mentions of rape, murder, and torture. If this will trigger you, please reconsider reading this article.
1. I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
With the capture of the Golden State Killer last year, a rapist an killer that terrorized California for decades, Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark is more relevant than ever. A true crime journalist and creator of TrueCrimeDiary.com, McNamara delved into the into the case with fervor, determined to uncover the name of the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer as she read through police reports, talked with victims, and scoured online true crime communities.
Sadly, Michelle McNamara passed away before her dream of seeing the Golden Street Killer captured could be fulfilled. Yet her legacy lives on in this book, a testament to the time and dedication she devoted to uncovering the truth, a truth that ultimately resulted in the capture of one of the most notorious rapists and killers in the United States.
2. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
You may have seen the seen the Netflix show of the same name, loosely based on this book, but reading it is an entirely different experience. John Douglas chronicles his twenty-five-year in the FBI's Investigative Support Unit when criminal profiling was in its infancy. It one day evolved into the Behavioral Analysis Unit people are more familiar with today.
To gain knowledge in criminal behavior, Douglas and colleagues, interviewed some of the most notorious serial killers, assassins, and rapists, those people consider the worst of the worst. A few of the interviews he discusses in the book include those with Ed Kemper, the Green River Killer, the Son of Sam, and John Wayne Gacy. If you're interested in psychology behind why people become criminals, this is a book not to be missed.
3. House of Horrors: The Shocking True Story of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Strangler by Robert Sberna
On October 29, 2009, the Cleveland Police SWAT team went to Anthony Sowell's house to arrest him for rape allegations against him. They weren't prepared for what they found inside - two decomposing bodies in his living room, eight more within his house and backyard, and a human skull in his basement.
Robert Sberna's House of Horrors tells the story of the Cleveland Strangler, a former marine with prior rape and torture convictions who preyed upon some of the most vulnerable women in his neighborhood, . The book covers his capture, conviction, and includes interviews with his surviving victims, his neighbors and relatives, and Sowell.
4. Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present by Peter Vronsky
The words "serial killer" weren't introduced into cannon until 1981. Prior to that, they were called any number of names, but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. Peter Vronsky's Sons of Cain takes a look at serial killers throughout the history of humanity, detailing how they've evolved along the way. He bridges the gap between "dry academic studies and sensationalized true crime," shedding light on the evolution of the serial killer from pre-civilization to the modern killers we know today.
Unlike his 2004 book, Serial Killers, Sons of Cain examines the sexual serial killer, those who kill to engage in rape, necrophilia, torture, and cannibalism. These serial killers take lives for very different reasons compared to other serial killers, and while Vronsky's book is a dark take on humanity, it is nevertheless a fascinating read.
5. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
Historian Hallie Rubenhold presents a new theory to the Jack the Ripper narrative we all know in her book, The Five. We've always heard that the five women Jack the Ripper killed - Polly, Annie, Mary-Jane, Elizabeth, and Catherine - were sex workers, women who, unfortunately, were often considered "less than" both in 1888 and even today.
Through her research, Rubenhold has found evidence that that may not be the case, not to "exonerate" the women from being sex workers, but to tell their real stories. Instead, Rubenhold found they "wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers." Simply told, these five women died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time during a time when misogyny ruled.
6. The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central by Christine Peliske
Similar to Anthony Sowell, the Grim Sleeper is a serial killer who got away with killing vulnerable women. Unlike Sowell, the Grim Sleeper operated for decades in Los Angeles while society wrote off Black women's deaths as the consequences of sex work, drugs, and poverty. Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times Book Review says Christine Pelisek's book, The Grime Sleeper, "blurts out a hard truth that no one wants to acknowledge."
For ten years, Pelisek cover the case of the Grim Sleeper, even giving him his nickname due to his long break between murders. The book is an eye-opening look into the way homicides are investigated in areas with a high crime and poverty rate. She includes interviews with the victims' families who refused to give up on their loved ones, along with information never before released to the public.
7. Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter
Unless you're knowledgeable about true crime, you may not be familiar with Belle Gunness. She was a rare serial, not because she was a woman, but because of the reasons she killed - greed and the joy she got from it. Hell's Princess by Harold Schechter recounts the way Gunness lured an unverified number of victims to her farm between 1902 to 1908 to killed them. They weren't poisoned the way many women kill, but butchered.
Between hired hands, well-to-do bachelors, and her lovers, Gunness didn't have a type. Schechter delves into the untold story of the woman who became known as Lady Bluebeard, uncovering information previously unknown information about her that will chill you.
8. Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer―America's Deadliest Serial Murderer by Ann Rule
Ann Rule is probably most known for her book The Stranger Beside Me in which she chronicles the Ted Bundy case, a man she knew in person. However, Green River, Running Red may be her best book. Rule spend more than twenty years researching one of the United States' most prolific serial killers, the Green River Killer, a man who killed at least forty-nine women.
The Green River Killer was active for twenty-one years, taking the lives of sex workers because he considered them "evil." From the time the first victim's body was found, Rule followed the case, comping through 95,000 pages of police records, photographs, transcripts, and maps. Rule details the mind of among the darkest of humanity and, in a chilling turn of events, Rule only lived a mile away from where the killer left his victims. He also attended many of her book signings before he was eventually caught.
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Which true crime book about serial killers are you most excited to read first?