In The Mood For True Crime?

Posted on July 7, 2016

by Katie M

Every summer, you can find me lying on the beach, basking in the sun, enjoying a glass of lemonade, completely engrossed in a book about…a serial killer!? I’m always met with shock when I say that my favorite genre is true crime. People wonder, “How can a children’s librarian be interested in something so dark?” I’m here to tell you… I’m not alone! Thanks to recent shows like Making a Murderer, The Jinx, and The People vs. O.J. Simpson, the true crime genre has exploded in popularity across all media platforms.

From Jack the Ripper to Charles Manson, society has long been fascinated by its criminals. People have always wanted to know what makes these real life monsters tick. Well, you’re about to find out! Explore these materials to get a closer look into the mind of a sociopath. If you don’t usually read non-fiction, don’t be discouraged! These books are fast paced, engrossing, and read like a good novel.

Below are lists of some of the best books, documentaries, and podcasts in the true crime genre. So kick back, lock your door, draw the shades, and dive in …

10 Must Read True Crime Books

Helter skelter : the true story of the Manson murders / Vincent Bugliosi ; with Curt Gentry

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry

Formats Available: Print | eBook | eAudiobook

Prosecuting Attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi held a unique insider’s position in one of the most baffling and horrifying cases of the twentieth century: the cold-blooded Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers. What motivated Manson in his seemingly mindless selection of victims, and what was his hold over the young women who obeyed his orders? Here is the gripping story of this famous and haunting crime.

The good nurse : a true story of medicine, madness, and murder / Charles Graeber

The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber

Formats Available: Print | Large Print | eBook | eAudiobook

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

The Run of his life : the People v. O.J. Simpson / Jeffrey Toobin

The Run of His Life: The People V. O.J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin

Formats Available: Print | eBook

The Run of His Life will be the definitive history of the most famous criminal proceeding of the century. Here is the whole story of the events of June 12, 1994, and their aftermath, as it has never been told – rich in character, driven by the nonstop plot of a legal thriller, and nuanced by the foibles, vanities, and idiosyncracies of its participants.

While the city slept : a love lost to violence and a young man's descent into madness / Eli Sanders

While The City Slept: A Love Lost To Violence And A Young Man’s Descent Into Madness by Eli Sanders

Formats Available: Print | eAudiobook

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter’s gripping account of one young man’s path to murder–and a wake-up call for mental health care in America. On a summer night in 2009, three lives intersected in one American neighborhood. Two people newly in love–Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, who spent many years trying to find themselves and who eventually found each other–and a young man on a dangerous psychological descent: Isaiah Kalebu, age twenty-three, the son of a distant, authoritarian father and a mother with a family history of mental illness. All three paths forever altered by a violent crime, all three stories a wake-up call to the system that failed to see the signs.

Isadore's secret : sin, murder, and confession in a northern Michigan town / Mardi Link

Isadore’s Secret: Sin, Murder, and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town by Mardi Link

Formats Available: Print

A gripping account of the mysterious disappearance of a young nun in a northern Michigan town and the national controversy that followed when she turned up dead and buried in the basement of the church.

People who eat darkness : the true story of a young woman who vanished from the streets of Tokyo and the evil that swallowed her up / Richard Lloyd Parry

People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

Formats Available: Print | Audiobook | eAudiobook

Richard Lloyd Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, chronicles the 2000 disappearance, massive search, long investigation, and the even longer murder trial behind the gruesome murder case of Lucie Blackman in Japan.

The Stranger beside me - ted bundy the classic case of serial murder by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

Formats Available: Print | eAudiobook

Ted Bundy was everyone’s picture of a natural “winner”–handsome, charming, brilliant in law school, successful with women, on the verge of a dazzling career. On January 24, 1989, Ted Bundy was executed for the murders of three young women; he had also confessed to taking the lives of at least 35 more from coast to coast.

The Man in the monster : an intimate portrait of a serial killer / Martha Elliott

The Man in the Monster: An Intimate Portrait of a Serial Killer by Martha Elliott

Formats Available: Print

Michael Ross was a serial killer responsible for horrific crimes, who paid the ultimate price for them. When journalist Martha Elliott first heard of Ross, she learned what the world knew of him– that he had been a master at hiding in plain sight.

Columbine / Dave Cullen

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Formats Available: Print | Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook

Ten years in the making and a masterpiece of reportage, Columbine is an award-winning journalist’s definitive account of one of the most shocking massacres in American history.

Under the banner of heaven : a story of violent faith / Jon Krakauer

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

Formats Available: Print | Large Print | eBook | eAudiobook

Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In Under the Banner of Heaven, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders. At the core of his book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims.

10 Must See True Crime Documentaries

The Staircase - directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

The Staircase directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

Formats Available: DVD

With all the trappings of a classic murder mystery, The Staircase chronicles the sensational story of North Carolina author Michael Peterson, who stood trial in 2003 for the murder of his wife, Kathleen Peterson.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst directed by Andrew Jarecki (HBO)The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst directed by Andrew Jarecki

Formats Available: DVD

A groundbreaking documentary series sheds new light on real-estate icon, Robert Durst, while unraveling one of the most notorious unsolved crimes in New York history.

If you like this documentary, then you may also like the book … He Killed Them All: Robert Durst and My Quest For Justice by Jeanine Pirro available in Print and eBook.

Murder on a Sunday Morning directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

Murder on a Sunday Morning directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

Formats Available: DVD | Digital (watch online via hoopla)

When a 15-year-old black male is arrested for the murder of Mary Ann Stephens, everyone involved in the case–from investigators to journalists–is ready to condemn him, except for his public defense lawyer, Patrick McGuiness. A true tale of murder and injustice.

The Central Park Five - documentary directed by Ken Burns

The Central Park Five written and directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon

Formats Available: DVD | Digital (watch online via hoopla)

Chronicles America’s complicated perceptions of race and crime through the story of the Central Park 5, a group of minority teenagers wrongfully convicted of brutally raping a white woman in New York. For telling a harrowing, instructive story of fear, racism and mob mentality, and for exposing the media madness that fueled the investigation, The Central Park Five received a Peabody Award in 2013.

If you like this documentary, then you may also like the book … Central Park Five by Sarah Burns available in Print and eBook.

Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father - documentary directed Kurt Kuenne

Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father written and directed by Kurt Kuenne

Formats Available: Digital (watch online via hoopla)

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s poignant tribute to his murdered childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, tells the story of a child custody battle between the baby’s grieving grandparents and Shirley Turner, Bagby’s pregnant ex-girlfriend and suspected killer. Initially, Kuenne made this documentary as a memorial for Andrew’s loved ones, but it morphs into an emotional legal odyssey when Turner goes free on bail and is allowed to raise her son.

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life written and directed by Werner HerzogInto the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life written and directed by Werner Herzog

Formats Available: DVD | Blu-ray

In his fascinating exploration of a triple homicide case in Conroe, Texas, master filmmaker Werner Herzog probes the human psyche to explore why people kill, and why a state kills. As he’s so often done before, Herzog’s investigation unveils layers of humanity, making an enlightening trip out of ominous territory.

Crime after Crime - directed by Yoav Potash

Crime After Crime directed by Yoav Potash

Formats Available: DVD | Digital (watch online via hoopla)

In 1983, Deborah Peagler, a woman brutally abused by her boyfriend, was sentenced to 25 years-to-life for her connection to his murder. Twenty years later, California passed a law allowing incarcerated domestic violence survivors to reopen their cases. This documentary follows two attorneys who take Debbie’s case and strive to attain testimonies of long lost witnesses, proof of perjured evidence, and new testimonies from the men who committed the murder.

Capturing the Friedmans [DVD] / Magnolia Pictures presents a film by Andrew Jarecki ; producers, Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling ; directed by Andrew Jarecki

Capturing the Friedmans directed by Andrew Jarecki

Formats Available: DVD

The Friedman’s seem to be a typical family from affluent Great Neck, Long Island. One Thanksgiving, as the family gathers for a quiet holiday dinner, a police battering ram splinters the front door and officers rush inside. The police charge Arnold and his son Jesse with hundreds of shocking crimes. As police investigate and the community reacts, the fabric of the family begins to disintegrate, revealing questions about justice, family and finally the truth.

Cropsey written and directed by Joshua Zeman

Formats Available: DVD

Growing up in Staten Island, Joshua Zeman, Barbara Brancaccio and other kids had often heard the legend of the escaped mental patient ‘Cropsey’ who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Urban legend was turned upside down in the summer of 1987 when a little girl with Down syndrome disappeared from their neighborhood. Two filmmakers delve into the mystery behind five missing children and the real-life bogeyman linked to their disappearances in their hometown of Staten Island, New York.

The last of the “Top 10 Must See True Crime Documentaries” is the Paradise Lost Trilogy directed by Damien Wayne Echols

The last of the “Top 10 Must See True Crime Documentaries” is the Paradise Lost Trilogy directed by Damien Wayne Echols

Paradise Lost directed by Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills

Formats Available: Digital (watch online via hoopla)

Three teens, who dress in all black and listen to heavy metal, are accused of the murder of three little boys, and are instantly condemned by a retribution-hungry public. Now they try to defend themselves against a dubious lack of proof.

Paradise Lost II: Revelations (digital video – hoopla) Paradise Lost III: Purgatory (digital video – hoopla)

Must Listen True CrimePodcasts

Search for these compelling podcasts online (note: they may not be appropriate for all audiences)


Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle. They’re a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, and the winner of a 2015 Third Coast International Audio Festival “Best Documentary” award for 695-BGK. Criminal was co-created by Lauren Spohrer, Phoebe Judge and Eric Mennel and launched in January of 2014.

Sword and Scale

Sword and Scale is an internet radio show and website covering the dark underworld of crime and the criminal justice system’s response to it. The show and website were launched January 1st, 2014. It’s the purest form of true-crime where nothing is off the table. Everything from 911 calls to court testimony, interviews with victims and sometimes with perpetrators give listeners a 360 degree look at the entire story. Told from the narrator’s point of view, Sword and Scale goes beyond the news clips and the sensationalist headlines to give listeners the whole story and deeper insight into the cases it covers than any other medium.


Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season. Each season, we follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. We won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we bring you the next chapter in the story, so it’s important to listen to the episodes in order.

Real Crime Profile

Join Jim Clemente (former FBI profiler), Laura Richards (formerly of New Scotland Yards, Founder and Director of Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service) and Lisa Zambetti (Casting director for CBS’ Criminal Minds) as they profile behavior from real criminal cases.

Disclaimer: The true crime genre tends to be very graphic in nature and therefore may not appropriate for all audiences.

Did you like this blog post? Keep up to date with all of our posts by subscribing to the Library’s newsletters!

Keep your reading list updated with our book lists. Our staff love to read and they’ll give you the scoop on new tv-series inspired titles, hobbies, educational resources, pop culture, current events, and more!

Looking for more great titles? Get personalized recommendations from our librarians with this simple form.