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10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

Reality is stranger and more horrifying than fiction.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)
Image credit - Midjourney

Why do we read true crime?

Maybe it’s the thrill of coming face to face with the dangers that lurk all around us.

Maybe we want evil in the world to be caught and punished. Maybe we want to make sure that victims are never forgotten. Maybe we are fascinated by the fact that a human like us can enjoy inflicting pain.

Whatever your motivation, if you are a true crime buff, this booklist is for you.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

She died before her book was published.

Michelle McNamara’s true crime obsession started in her youth when a girl was murdered a few blocks from McNamara’s home. That girl was Katheleen Lombardo. Lombardo’s case is still unsolved.

The case covered in this book is that of a serial rapist and murderer.

“He loses his power when we know his face.”

The then-unknown killer terrorized different areas of California during the 1970s and 1980s. It took a long time for different strings of crimes to be connected to one person.

This killer had many names. One of them is ‘Golden State Killer’, which was coined by the author.

McNamara covers the facts of this case and the subsequent investigation in her book. She also shares her investigation of trying to uncover the culprit.

“Inside everyone lurks a Sherlock Holmes that believes given the right amount of clues they could solve a mystery.”

Sadly, McNamara died in 2016 before her book was completed.

Her husband and 2 colleagues, Paul Haynes, and Billy Jensen worked on completing and organizing her work. The book was finally published in 2018. Two months after the book was published, the Golden State killer was caught through genealogical DNA.

The author’s passion for solving this case jumps out from the pages of this book. This is a must-read because of the quality of the research.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

The sweet co-worker who gets you coffee every morning might be a serial killer.

You must be living under a rock if you haven’t ever heard the name ‘Ted Bundy’. He is one of the most infamous serial killers in American history, who confessed to murdering 30 women.

Anne Rule, the author of this book, was a Seattle policewoman who volunteered at a crisis shelter. There she met kind-hearted Ted.

They were in contact for almost 3 years.

After Bundy’s victims started to surface, Anne realized that the details of the suspect matched her friend. She informed her colleagues about it.

“The only clue I had was that my dog (who liked everyone) didn’t like Ted at all.”

Despite this, Anne had trouble accepting the fact that this charismatic man might be a criminal. Only after a bite mark on the victim was matched to Ted Bundy in 1979, she finally accepted the truth.

The realization made her throw up in the restroom.

“If, as many people believe today, Ted Bundy took lives, he also saved lives. I know he did, because I was there when he did it.”

What makes this book truly unique is the connection of the author with the perpetrator. It makes the account up close and personal.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

This killer learned skills from the FBI.

From growing up in a fundamentalist house to becoming a prolific serial killer, this book details the biography of Israel Keyes.

“Studies of twins have shown that psychopathy may be a trait more heritable than environmental, yet good children can thrive despite bad parents, and vice versa.”

As a child, Keyes was different from his peers but not in a good way. He enjoyed killing small animals. This made his mates afraid of him.

Keyes was active from 2001 to 2012. By reading books such as Mindhunter, he kept eluding law enforcement.

He was caught in March 2012 when he struck too close to home. After the victim’s credit card was used, police found and captured him.

“Torturing and killing small animals, pets especially, is experimentation in controlling and killing another living thing for pure pleasure.”

After his capture, he confessed to 11 murders, although there may be many more. A few months after he was caught, he died by suicide, taking answers to his grave.

What makes Israel more psychopathic than many killers is that he killed for the fun and thrill of it. He enjoyed seeing the life drain out of his victims’ eyes.

The writer is a journalist, which explains the high quality of writing.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

They wanted money but didn’t get any.

Published in 1966, this book is often referred to as a nonfiction novel.

Just after the Clutter family murders in 1959, the author traveled to Kansas. He started interviewing family, friends, and neighbors even before the perpetrators were caught.

The Clutter family had husband and wife Herbert and Bonnie, and their two younger children, Nancy and Kenyon. Older two daughters had moved out.

“In school we only learn to recognize the words and to spell but the application of these words to real life is another thing that only life and living can give us.”

The attackers aimed to rob the family of the money in an alleged safe. Instead, the killers gained nothing of particular value from burglary and subsequent murders.

That’s why this crime is even more chilling.

“I despise people who can’t control themselves.”

This book tells us the life stories of both the victims and the perpetrators.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

Killing for oil.

In 1897, oil was discovered beneath the Osage Indian reservation, which is modern-day Osage County Oklahoma.

This led to the issue of mineral rights. Many eyed the riches buried underneath.

The Osage were granted headrights (property rights for land) and were given royalties for the leases by oil companies. The area became rich.

However, as in the case of wealth, things became complicated. Many took advantage of the situation through the controversial Osage Guardian Program.

“The archive reflects the human need to document every deed and directive, to place a veil of administrative tidiness over the disorder of famines and plagues and natural disasters and crimes and wars.”

In 1920, a string of 60 or so murders happened. BOI (Bureau of Investigation), now known as the FBI, investigated the murders. The actual number of murders might be in the 100s.

Some of the people responsible were caught. A few died while in custody under mysterious circumstances.

This book covers the political issues, racial issues, and the actions of various stakeholders involved.

“The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder — or merely cruelty to animals.”

Reading this book will help you scale the realities of this incident to a global scale. How oil makes nations go to war?

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

One man’s obsession to find the Zodiac Killer.

In the 1960s, Robert Graysmith was working for The San Francisco Chronicle as a cartoonist.

At that time, the Zodiac killer sent letters to The Chronicle. He wanted them published. To make his identity clear, he also attached a bloody cloth from a victim to one of the letters.

Graysmith was intrigued and kept investigating the case independently. He kept his scrapbook of evidence.

“Just because you can’t prove it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

Later on, Graysmith started working on this book. He spent 10 years doing the research.

This book also has the full text of Zodiac Killer’s letters.

The author goes into minute details which is sometimes annoying. This can be attributed to his lack of writing or journalism background.

Nevertheless, the book is jam-packed with information and that’s why I’d definitely suggest reading it.

Unfortunately, the identity of the Zodiac Killer is unknown to this day.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

Can a mother kill her children for a man?

Provided my memory and the amount of true crime I read, watch, and listen to, I often mix up different cases. Usually, a quick Google search clears things up.

This case, however, is not one of those. I will remember the story whenever the name ‘Diane Downs’ is mentioned.

I even remember her video footage, which is often used to show the smirk of a liar. The phenomenon is called ‘duping delight’.

“Crazy gets better; consciences don’t grow back, and narcissists and histrionics never learn to give up center stage or their beloved mirrors.”

This book dives into the infamous case of Diane Downes who attempted to kill her 3 kids. She drove them to the hospital and blamed an unknown man for the crime. One of the kids died and the rest survived.

The book goes into Diane’s childhood, history, and reasons for her psychopathic behavior.

“Recent research into the problem shows that three percent of all American males are considered antisocial, while only one percent of women are.”

Even if you know the case, I’d still recommend this book. It goes into deep detail and covers many different aspects.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

Wrongful conviction or wrongful exoneration?

In 1993, three eight-year-old boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Their bodies were badly mutilated.

The first few chapters of this book are graphic as they detail the crime.

“Children don’t write their own tragedies. That is the work of adults.”

In the subsequent chapters, Leveritt covers the investigation and conviction of three misfit teenagers for the murders. The investigation was dodgy. No hard evidence tied the teenagers to the crime.

Police said that three teenagers, referred to as the ‘West Memphis Three’ killed the kids for a Satanic Ritual.

“Everybody’s got things in their life that they don’t necessarily want to be going through or don’t enjoy or don’t like.”

Leveritt’s book was published in 2002.

In 2011, the West Memphis Three were freed after entering the Alford plea. Alford plea means they acknowledged the evidence against them but asserted their innocence.

The questions about the case are many but this book might answer some of them.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

This book will make you vomit.

I am going to admit, this is a very hard read.

Ryan Green’s book, ‘Torture Mom’ details the horrible murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens.

She and her younger sister, Jenny Likens, were sent to stay at Gertrude Baniszewski’s house in July of 1965. Gertrude had 7 children of her own.

Apparently because of her jealousy of Sylvia, she directed her abuse towards the girl.

Gertrude didn’t stop only at being cruel. She involved her own children and neighborhood youth in the unwarranted torture and abuse.

Likens was tortured to death.

“She accused the girls of stealing the candy, and when Sylvia tried to explain how they had earned the money to buy it, she was dragged back through to her bedroom and thrown down for another beating.”

The details of the case are absolutely horrifying and not for the faint of heart.

Why should you read this book?

There were multiple instances where Sylvia could’ve been saved. All were lost.

After reading this account, the next time you see any child in distress, you won’t ignore them.

10 True Crime Books that Will Make You Sleep with the Lights On(But You Can’t Stop Reading)

Two in one, a doting father and a ruthless killer.

Richard Kuklinski was a Mafia assassin in New York and New Jersey. He is also called the ‘Ice Man’ because he froze his victims to disguise their time of death.

To write this book, Carlo spent 240 hours interviewing Richard.

Carlo tells Richard’s story from multiple perspectives. His own, the law enforcement’s, and his family’s.

“Richard had grown into a psychotic sadist who had discovered a way to hurt and kill people, and get paid for it.”

Richard’s wife Barbara admits that he was like two different persons. He was a loving partner and dad at times. Other times he would be violent and heartless.

Despite Richard’s issues, no one in his family knew of his career as an assassin. That is until he was arrested in 1986.

Alongside the contract killings, he also killed people out of anger.

“In the circles Richard was moving in, everyone drank and everyone gambled, everyone hustled, everyone lied and cheat[ed] and stole. He trusted no one; at the drop of a hat he’d kill”

The author argues that Richard was made into a killer by his circumstances. He grew up in poverty and his dad was extremely violent.

This book will give you a peep inside the brain of an assassin.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

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