Must-Read True Crime Books

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The best true crime books

Like a lot of people, I’m into true crime. I listen to the podcasts, I watch Forensic Files marathons, and I read a lot. So here are five must-read true crime books with a historic twist. In no particular order…

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi
This is the best-selling true crime book of all time and probably my favorite book from any genre. Bugliosi was the prosecutor in the Tate/LaBianca murder trials and the deputy DA in Los Angeles. Because of his position and involvement with the case, he goes deep into the murders, the investigation, and the trial. The investigation and trial are just as, if not more, interesting than the murders themselves.

The Family by Ed Sanders
After you finish Helter Skelter, order a copy of The Family. It covers the late-60s, southern California scene more than Helter Skelter. Sanders’ voice is more in line with the counterculture than Bugliosi’s was, making it a totally different read. There is a lot of unsubstantiated stuff in The Family (which Sanders is forthright about) but there is a lot to chew on in regards to the Family itself. It’s a really fascinating look into late 60s southern California and Manson’s circle.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt
This book doesn’t necessarily cover a historic case but it is historic as far as true crime books go. Along with In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter, many consider this the grandfather of true crime books. It takes place in Savannah, GA, a town rich in history. Berendt lived in Savannah and got to know some of the residents, most of which are such characters you’ll forget what you’re reading is true. The true crime aspect comes in when Danny Hansford is killed in May of 1981. His killer, socialite and antiques dealer (my dream life, to be honest) Jim Williams, claimed self-defense. But was it really? Or did he plan the murder?

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
Ok, if you’re into true crime or history, I’m sure you’ve read this book. If you haven’t read it, get on it. The hype is real. The Devil in the White City is about H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who lured victims into his murder castle at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Larson takes you into the planning and construction of the fair itself as well as Holmes’ murderous escapades. Holmes is a fascinating character on his own but Larson’s writing and the weaving of narratives make this book incredible.

Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O. J. Simpson Got Away with Murder by Vincent Bugliosi
I think it’s fair to say that OJ Simpson is having a moment, which, I admit, is one of the reasons I bought this book a few months ago. As I mentioned above, Bugliosi spent time as the deputy DA in Los Angeles, was a skilled attorney, and prosecutor in the Manson case. In other words, a man that knew the law and how to take a case to trial. Outrage was written shortly after the trial concluded and his voice is very blunt and very passionate, as many were at the time (and still are). He lays out five reasons why Simpson was found not guilty and the factors that led to that verdict. It’s more complex than it seems but somehow much simpler than it’s been made out to be.

Old Sparky: The Electric Chair and the History of the Death Penalty by Anthony Galvin
I came across this book on Book Bub (not an affiliate link, just a service I really love!) and snagged the ebook for something like $1.99. I had my reservations (the cover art left a lot to be desired but don’t judge a book by its cover and all that). I ended up loving it! It discusses the rise and fall of the use of the electric chair, other methods of execution, and the debate/controversy surrounding capital punishment.

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The best true crime books

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