We all have a guilty pleasure, and for me, that’s reading true crime books. from fiction to best-selling books about real-life serial killers, I like it all. I recently finished a book called It’s Always the Husband, a page-turning novel with, you guessed it, a surprise ending!
You are reading: True crime serial killer books
Needless to say, my husband wasn’t too thrilled to see me reading that page turner.
but really, the question remains, why is anyone fascinated by serial killers? It seems like the mainstream media is inundated with true crime headlines, from podcasts to Netflix originals to the classic proceedings. Is it our escape from the real world? Do we live for a fast heartbeat? maybe we love to play detective. Or are we just glad we didn’t grow up to be a serial killer?
if you grew up binge-watching law & order, criminal minds, or have recently become obsessed with mindhunter on netflix, you’ll definitely want to pick up one of these books. Whether you’re looking for a way to escape reality, learn a bit of history, and read some chilling graphic details about true crime, these picks will tick every box.
And fair warning, the truth can be much scarier than fiction. here are the 33 best serial killer books out there.
1. the stranger by my side by ann rule
if you haven’t read any ann rule books, this is a book you must read! Based on a true story of her relationship with Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers.
The rule goes into detail that no one else could provide. It’s no wonder this is Rule’s best-selling book, with raw emotions and captivating details about Ted, someone I thought I knew very well.
You may be able to flip through this book in a day. And if you’re looking for more Ted Bundy images, the Netflix series Conversations with a Murderer: The Ted Bundy Tapes should also be added to your list.
2. the devil in the white city by erik larson
erik larson transports you to 1893, where the world’s fair was held in chicago. This nonfiction novel tells the story of two men, an architect, Daniel Burnham, and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer whose prey was fairgoers.
This is an easy novel to read, but Larson did a lot of research, so you feel completely immersed in Chicago life during the 1890s. The Devil in the White City will suck you in with his depictions of evil human nature. , the deception, the scandal and the excitement of the times when the people of Chicago were preparing for their first World’s Fair. Erik Larson has a great library of books if you’ve never read his work.
3. helter skelter: the true story of the manson murders by vincent bugliosi
if you live in the united states, you have probably heard the name charles manson several times. he was a california cult leader and criminal mastermind. This suspenseful true story is told from the perspective of Charles Manson’s prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, and how he put together his case against the graphic serial killer.
There’s a reason Helter Skelter is a New York Times bestseller!
From the vivid and terrifying details to the detailed descriptions of the various members of the cult and the Manson Family, this chilling story captivates every move chronologically, from witness statements to documentary evidence to physical evidence.
Paints a true picture of the charismatic wacko that Charles Manson was and strikes close to home for anyone who grew up when Manson was all over prime time television.
Related: Top 10 mystery subscription boxes like hunt a killer for detective masters
4. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. douglas and mark olshaker
you may have already seen mindhunter on netflix, but the book by john e. douglas and mark olshaker is one you’ll definitely want to pick.
This exciting read dives into the gruesome details of Douglas as an FBI agent for 25 years and how he helped contribute to the term criminal profiling used today.
The book tackles several famous cases, including the Green River Killer and other sadistic serial killers over the years. you might want to break this read up with some comedies or rom-coms, so you don’t get too depressed!
5. zodiac: the shocking true story of the hunt for the nation’s most elusive serial killer by robert graysmith
You may also be familiar with this story from the Zodiac movie with Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. Since 2007. But Robert Graysmith was on the front lines, working the San Francisco Chronicle when this serial killer started his killing spree in 1969.
The obsessive reporter shares tons of facts not originally released to the public, including copies of letters the sadist sent to the authorities. Graysmith’s investigative work is second to none and he paints an even more gruesome picture than you can imagine.
The story told by a master detective is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
6. John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster: The True Story of the Lawyer Who Defended One of History’s Most Evil Serial Killers by Sam L. admirer
Known as the killer clown, john wayne gacy was not only a serial killer but also a sex offender, doubly disgusting. His target audience was boys and young men, who preyed on their victims at charity events and children’s hospitals. Needless to say, he was quite a monster.
sam l. amirante, a friend of gacy, goes deeper into the details and updates the information on the case since it was originally published with this new version. This shocking story left the nation in awe of what this gruesome serial killer did to his victims.
7. i’ll go in the dark: one woman’s obsessive search for the golden state killer by michelle mcnamara
michelle mcnamara coined the name golden state killer and her novel proves that she is undeniably an expert on
theme. Although his novel was published a few months before the killer was caught and arrested, his years of research helped develop this gruesome story.
A violent predator was on the loose in California, sexually assaulting his victims for more than a decade before heading south to murder ten more victims. This serial killer and rapist eluded law enforcement despite DNA evidence pointing to the same killer in multiple states.
mcnamara was determined to find this sadistic killer, and her book delves into every detail.
8. my friend dahmer by derf backderf
As Jeffery Dahmer’s high school friend, Derf Backderf, shares a sad and graphic description of this young serial killer in My Friend Dahmer.
This book is different than some of the others on this list in that the story is told from the point of view of a friend who shares a sympathetic portrait of this convicted serial killer. He shares how he was really Dahmer before he started his killing spree and the first signs of his mental health problems.
This raw and offbeat look will have you feeling for Jeffery as Backderf sheds insight into his struggles with alcoholism, sexuality, and his parents’ rocky relationship.
Yes, we all know Jeffery Dahmer as a monster, but the details of this novel share insights you’ll never forget about a sad, lonely boy who never quite fits in and leads him down a dark and graphic path.
9. the serial killer files: who, what, where, how and why of the world’s scariest killers by harold schechter
this is a collection of monsters and their madness, including some already mentioned on this list, ted bundy, john wayne gacy, jeffrey dahmer and more.
Call it a serial killer fan club book if you want, but this one delves into a multitude of killers, violent acts, and the terror of civilians over the years.
Although very graphic, The Serial Killer Files delve into the depths of the psychology behind serial killers and provide facts without drama. This isn’t a book you can sit down and finish in one sitting, but if you’re looking for something to catch up on true true crime stories over the years, it’s highly educational and completely raw.
10. in cold blood by truman capote
Some may argue that In Cold Blood started the true crime genre. Truman Capote’s story delves into the murder of a Kansas family in 1959.
This is a story where the research paid off. Capote gathered 8,000 pages of notes from this crime and narrated this non-fiction novel investigating the residents, victims, and killers. His attention to detail brings all the characters to life and he paints a picture that he will never forget.
The tragedy of four family members savagely murdered and the prosecution of their killers is depicted with raw emotion and the psychology behind the criminal justice system.
11. my dark places by james ellroy
The year was 1958. Author James Ellroy was only 10 years old when his mother, Jean, was murdered and dumped on the side of the road in Los Angeles. If he’s looking for a truly personal crime novel, this is it.
Rather than dive into the psychology of one particular serial killer, this book takes an unflinching look into the dark places of crime fiction writer James Ellroy.
Sadly, her mother’s killer was never found. attributed to a wayward Saturday night on the town, the crime was swept under the rug and forgotten. And though he tried to avoid it for nearly four decades, James Ellroy finally felt the need to come to terms with his past and try to uncover the truth.
My Dark Places reveals what he’s learned about his mother’s murder and about himself when he teams up with a brilliant homicide cop to investigate the now very cold case.
This gripping tale of American loss, redemption, and violence is sure to keep you spellbound.
12. midnight in mexico: a reporter’s journey through a country’s descent into darkness by alfredo corchado
Named one of the best crime novels of all time, Midnight in Mexico: A reporter’s journey through a country’s descent into darkness takes us into the dark heart of Mexico with journalist Alfredo Corchado.
Convinced that drug cartels and corrupt government officials will one day be brought to justice, he refuses to stop reporting on the ruthless drug dealers and politicians who profit from his murderous business.
even when he receives a notice that his life is threatened, he does not flinch. Instead of running for his life, Corchado goes behind the scenes to investigate. If you were addicted to series like narcos, you will surely be fascinated by this story of one man’s brave quest to report the truth as he tries to save his own life.
13. flower moon killers: the osage murders and the birth of the fbi by david grann
This New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist is set in the 1920s on the Osage Nation of Native Americans in Oklahoma. after oil was discovered on their land, members of this tribe became some of the richest people in the world.
Unfortunately, his wealth resulted in anything but happiness. One by one, the Osage were being killed under mysterious circumstances. And what’s worse, anyone who tried to investigate the crimes was also killed.
As the bodies pile up, a young j. Edgar Hoover turns to former Texas Ranger Tom White to get to the bottom of the macabre events. With the help of a covert team, they infiltrate the region and manage to expose a truly chilling conspiracy.
This dark chapter in American history chronicled by killers of the flower moon is not only gripping, it’s a story everyone should know.
14. Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs by John Bloom & jim atkinson
Despite the placid exterior of their outer lives, the friendship of two so-called best friends living in suburban Dallas ends in a grizzly murder.
Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs recounts the stranger-than-fiction story of Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore. They attended the same church. her daughters were best friends, and both of her husbands had great jobs in the tech industry. but the secret jealousy and hidden passions they harbored would result in an unbelievable tragedy.
Based on interviews with both of his families, this book was also made into a TV movie (A Small Town Murder) and two limited series (Hulu Candy and HBO’s Love and Death).
If you’re a true crime buff, you won’t want to miss this ripped-from-the-headlines story about how savagery can arise even in the seemingly perfect lives of two suburban housewives.
15. Black Clansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth
ron stallworth was the colorado springs police department’s first black detective. and he was also destined to carry out one of the most audacious undercover criminal investigations in American history.
After responding to an ad for people interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan, you receive a phone call asking if you’d like to join their cause. Stallworth replies “yes” and launches a daring investigation in which he enlists his partner Chuck to play “white” Ron Stallworth while he conducts all subsequent phone conversations.
Throughout their investigation, they expose prominent white supremacists, prevent cross burnings, and even manage to befriend the great wizard David Duke.
This incredible story of the black clansman was made into an academy award winning film and is sure to surprise and uplift you as you meet the heroes who dare to fight racism in a divided america.
16. the night stalker: the disturbing life and chilling crimes of richard ramirez by philip carlo
Richard Ramirez, a truly sadistic serial killer, spread terror, death, and destruction throughout the 1980s. This deep dive into his twisted psyche is based on extensive research by author Philip Carlo, as well as actual interviews. with the killer himself. What we learn in the process brings an even more chilling perspective to his horrific crimes.
This book chronicles the haunting childhood of Richard Ramirez and his subsequent descent into darkness. Perhaps even stranger is that after the original publication of the night stalker, thousands of women contacted Philip Carlo begging him to put them in touch with the killer.
In this updated version, Carlo reveals the strange stories of these women and even includes a death row interview with Ramírez about his “groupies.” As scary as it is, you won’t be able to put this book down.
17. the monster of florence by douglas preston and mario spezi
After moving his family to Italy, Douglas Preston makes the horrific discovery that the olive grove outside his 14th-century country house was the scene of one of the most notorious double murders in Italian history. yes, true friends of crime, this is what movies are made of.
Preston becomes intrigued and soon teams up with investigative reporter Mario Spezi in an attempt to solve the mystery. Their search for him eventually leads them to a man they believe to be the Florence Monster.
however, in a truly unexpected twist, preston and spenzi ultimately become the target of a police investigation that includes threats, wiretapping, and extensive questioning. spezi is even imprisoned and accused of being the murderer.
A truly exciting read, you’ll keep yourself glued to this harrowing story from start to finish.
18. from the cradle to the grave of joyce egginton
With claims that her babies were victims of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, nine of Marybeth Tinning’s children died over the course of 14 years, one after the other. curiously, neither the police, nor her neighbors, nor even her husband suspected anything.
However, six weeks after the last girl’s death, everyone was forced to face the dark truth when she was finally framed for murder. From the cradle to the grave, this nightmarish tale of a murderous mother conveys the haunting story of Tinning’s children and her eventual arrest and trial.
19. and then there were none by agatha christie
This list wouldn’t be complete without including the first Agatha Christie book I ever read. And then there weren’t any. It’s 100 percent fiction, but it’s one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read.
This is a story about ten strangers who are on an island, and slowly their deepest, darkest secrets begin to unravel, and the body count begins to rise. who is the murderer how will they escape?
You’ll have to dive in to see how the queen of mystery wraps this up.
20. the silence of the lambs by thomas harris
If you’re a fan of horror, then you’ve already seen the movie The Silence of the Lambs. This totally fictional but totally fascinating book about serial killer and cannibal Hannibal Lecter is a must-read for anyone diving into the horror genre. After reading this book, you can move on to the other Harris Hannibal Lecter books in the series.
21. in camilla bruce’s garden of spite
in the garden of grudges is a fiction of the life of the real serial killer belle gunness. As one of America’s first and most prolific serial killers, Gunness was known for luring husbands to her graves, increasing her wealth and her bloodlust with each passing husband. Still, for a book about a serial killer, author Camilla Bruce does an excellent job of making the reader see the human elements and emotions that inspired Gunness’s actions.
22. the alienist by caleb carr
Whether or not you’ve seen the major television series that premiered several years ago based on this book, you’ll want to pick up the alienist if you love a good historical book about serial killers. The novel follows the development of criminal psychology in late 1800s New York City, when an alienist and his team track down a gruesome killer.
23. michael newton’s encyclopedia of serial killers
If you prefer true crime reporting a little less fictionalized and a little more all the facts, all the time, you might prefer this encyclopedia-style book that breaks down some of the world’s most famous serial killers. studies, giving you details on cases, law enforcement techniques, and more.
24. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
starts to enumerate the most famous serial killers in history and surely jack the ripper will appear at some point. While Jack the Ripper has been given a lot of attention and almost idealized, the five take a different approach, focusing on the women who were murdered by the infamous serial killer and shedding light on their stories that were too short.
25. Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky
When you think of a serial killer, you probably think of a male criminal preying on women. this idea is so ingrained in the popular consciousness that when a female serial killer comes to light, it is even more shocking. In this nonfiction book, author Vronsky explores how and why women resort to murder, examining a variety of factors, including political, economic, social, and sexual.
26. Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, London’s Great Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson
kate winkler dawson is a true crime mastermind (and if you need any additional proof before you buy this book, just check out her podcast!). Death in the Air is his first book, and follows an environmental disaster in London after World War II and a wave of serial murders that took place around the same time. if you liked the devil in the white city, you’ll love this one.
27. jane steele by lyndsay faye
if you’re hoping for something a little less disturbing and a little more fun (if any serial killer book can be called that), consider this novel by lyndsay faye. The book combines Jane Eyre with Dexter to create a serial killer-infused historical fictional story that is anything but boring.
28. dexter dreaming darkly by jeff lindsay
Would you rather read about the og dexter instead of a jane eyre inspired remake? Then pick up the first book in the Dexter series, which started the hit Showtime phenomenon. Since this book came out a while ago (2000s), you can find it in affordable audiobook, e-reader, and paperback formats, making it the perfect choice when you want to read something right now.
29. the good nurse : a true story of medicine, madness, and murder by charles graeber
This new york times bestselling book by charles graeber is coming to netflix, but you can read the full story here first. The book tells the story of the career of Charlie Cullen, who worked as a nurse and as such was overlooked even as he caused the deaths of potentially 400 patients at the hospital, making him one of the most prolific serial killers in history. history of the united states.
30. Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of the Serial Killer Next Door by Roy Wenzl, L. kelly, tim potter and laviana hurst
This book follows the story of another notable American serial killer, the Btk Killer (which, as you can probably guess from the book’s title, means “bind, torture, kill”). For decades, the killer hid in plain sight as a respected member of his community, as he brutally tortured and killed men, women, and even children.
31. the galapagos case by john treherne
The Galapagos thing is a wild ride, for sure. While the book (and the story, for that matter) is not widely known, it follows the true story of a strange commune of settlers on a remote island, and the eventual discovery of dead bodies and disappearances of some of the most fascinating members of the the commune to call Galapagos home.
32. deviant: the shocking true story of ed gein, harold schechter’s original psychopath
This book is a true crime classic, as Ed Gein was the original inspiration behind some of our most notable fictional killers in the horror genre. That inspiration can be seen in works ranging from Psycho to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and you’ll soon see those connections as you follow the chronological tracing of Ed Gein’s life in this book.
33. Green River, Running Red: The True Story of the Green River Killer, America’s Deadliest Serial Killer by Ann Rule
ann rule is one of the queens of real crime, and if you’ve picked up her book on ted bundy, the stranger next to me (first on our list with no match), then it’s time to move on to one of her other books. the rule, green river, red current. This follows the story of the Green River Killer, who murdered over 49 women.
should i choose fiction or nonfiction?
As you’ve probably noticed, our list above is a broad mix of historical and modern fiction and non-fiction true stories, and thoroughly researched true crime journalistic accounts. So which is the right option for you?
If you don’t mind reading about the chilling truths of the world’s most horrible people, or maybe even find it a little exciting, our non-fiction options listed above may be more your speed. however, if reading about today’s serial killers gives you pause, you may want to consider some of the historical true crime fiction out there. you get all the excitement of true crime, but the historical setting makes the crime aspect a bit more palatable to some readers.
However, if you’d rather get lost in a fictional universe where anything can happen and the bad guys definitely aren’t real, then opt for one of our fictional picks above. You’ll find options that vary in terms of gore and other similar content, whether you want something moderately tame, like our choice of Agatha Christie, or something a little more edgy.
reading is not your thing?
we got it. It’s not always easy to sit down and read an entire book. you could break your reading into chunks, but then you end up leaving that book on your nightstand or coffee table for so long that you forget what’s going on where you left it.
If you’re not a heavy reader, you can still enjoy many of these books in audiobook format for easy listening on the go. Whether you’re running, driving to work, or cooking dinner, you can enjoy the hands-free reading experience while multitasking.
Of course, if you find that audiobooks aren’t right for you either, you may prefer the more conversational format of podcasts. There are plenty of true crime and murder podcasts available on all of your favorite streaming services.
Popular picks include My Favorite Murder, for two short true crime stories each week with a dark comedy side, and The Last Podcast on the Left, for thoroughly researched crime stories broken down over several weeks, which gives you a deeper look at a crime and the criminal, again with a side of comedy.
However, if you prefer a more interactive experience, rather than just reading or listening to someone else’s words, you might want to try a true crime board game or subscription box. These subscriptions and games usually present a variety of clues and ask you to solve a case, and you can find these games ranging from easy and familiar to as bloody, challenging and realistic as possible.
From true crime stories to serial killer non-fiction books to New York Times bestsellers, there’s something for everyone!
I’m not going to promise that some of the books on this list won’t give you nightmares. but the raw emotions and personal accounts of those involved with the serial killers will grip you.
playing detective is always a wild ride, and immersing yourself in a crime scene or the mind of a psychopath really keeps the pages turning.
You may also be interested in: Why is everyone so obsessed with true crime? [hello, darkness, our old friend]
The 33 best books on serial killers:
- the stranger by my side by ann rule
- the devil in the white city by erik larson
- helter skelter: the true story of the vincent manson murders bugliosi
- mindhunter: inside the fbi’s elite serial crimes unit by john e. douglas and mark olshaker
- zodiac: the shocking true story of the hunt for the nation’s most elusive serial killer by robert graysmith
- john wayne gacy: defending a monster: the true story of the lawyer who defended one of the most evil serial killers in history by sam l. amirante
- i’ll go in the dark: one woman’s obsessive search for the golden state killer by michelle mcnamara
- my friend dahmer by derf backderf
- the archives of serial killers: who, what, where, how and why of the world’s most terrifying killers by harold schechter
- in cold blood by truman capote
- my dark places by james ellroy
- midnight in mexico: a reporter’s journey through a country’s descent into darkness by alfredo corchado
- flower moon killers: the osage murders and the birth of the fbi by david grann
- evidence of love: a true story of passion and death in suburbia
- member of the black clan: race, hate, and a lifetime’s undercover investigation by ron stallworth
- the night stalker: the disturbing life and chilling crimes of richard ramirez by philip carlo
- the monster of florence by douglas preston and mario spezi
- joyce egginton’s cradle to grave
- and then there were none b and agatha christie
- the silence of the lambs by thomas harris
- in the camilla bruce’s garden of spite
- caleb carr’s alienist
- the encyclopedia of serial killers by michael newton
- the five: the untold lives of the women killed by jack the ripper by hallie rubenhold
- serial killers: how and why women become monsters by peter vronsky
- death in the air: the true story of a serial killer, the great smog of london and the strangulation of a city by kate winkler dawson
- jane steele by lyndsay faye
- darkly dreaming dexter by jeff lindsay
- The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Insanity, and Murder by Charles Graeber
- Bound, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of the Serial Killer Next Door by Roy Wenzl, L. kelly, tim potter and hurst laviana
- the galapagos affair of john treherne
- deviant: the shocking true story of ed gein, harold schechter’s original psychopath
- green river, running red: the true story of the green river killer, america’s deadliest serial killer by ann rule