Whether they operated within the hustle and bustle of a big city or snuck under the radar of their small towns, these murderers are stuff of nightmares. Read all about these depraved men and women with our list of the best serial killer books.
1. Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, by Jeff Guinn
Any true crime aficionado has read Vincent Bugliosi’s true crime classic about the Manson Murders, Helter Skelter. But if you’d like to get to know Charles Manson on a more intimate level, pick up Jeff Guinn’s bestselling 2013 biography. To paint a complete portrait of one of the 20th century’s most infamous monsters, Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and cousin, who had never before cooperated with journalists. By focusing on his musical ambitions and obsession with the idea of a race war, Guinn explains how Manson’s charisma helped him pray on the anxieties of the era.
2. The Hillside Stranglers, by Darcy O’Brien
In 1970s, Los Angeles was held at the mercy at the Hillside Strangler, responsible for the deaths of 10 young women. The first five victims were prostitutes. But when young, middle-class women started disappearing, the mystery gained national attention. Novelist turned true-crime writer Darcy O’Brien weaves a chilling narrative, identifying the Hillside Strangler as the work of two men, and reconstructing the lengthy criminal trial that gripped a nation.
3. The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule
One can only imagine what Ann Rule must have felt as her friend Ted Bundy confessed to the murder of 36 women, making him one of the prolific serial killers of all time. Rule simply knew him as a friendly, handsome man she had gotten to know while they both volunteered at a suicide hotline. In this thrilling book, Rule describes how disbelief eventually morphed into horrifying acceptance as she reported on Bundy’s trial and realizeed how he had deceived her all along.
4. Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders, by Terri Sullivan with Peter T. Maiken
The horrifying crimes of John Wayne Gacy are on full display in this book by prosecutor Terry Sullivan. From criminal activity dating back to his childhood, to the discovery of 29 bodies in Gacy’s crawlspace as well as four other victims in the nearby river, Sullivan investigates the roots of one of America’s most sadistic serial killers. This revised edition includes new DNA evidence that confirmed the identities of more victims and chilling photos of John Wayne Gacy in his favorite getup for his work as a hospital volunteer: Pogo the Clown.
5. Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original Psycho, by Harold Schechter
Though not technically a serial killer, as he was convicted of just one murder and confessed to one more, Ed Gein’s bizarre and horrific crimes earn him a spot on this list. Gein seemed like an unassuming farmhand, but when the police linked him to several disappearances in his small town of Planfield, Wisconsin, they searched his property, and were overwhelmed by what they found. True crime author Harold Schechter paints a portrait of the now infamous killer, whose crimes went on to inspire the movies Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs.
6. The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez, by Philip Carlo
The slew of home invasion murders that gripped Los Angeles in the 1980s were the work of Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. The Night Stalker. After one of his victims escaped and identified him, Ramirez was subsequently brought to justice by citizen’s arrest, and was convicted of 13 counts of murder. In this true crime classic, Philip Carlo describes Ramirez’s violent beginnings and his obsession with Satanism. He also examines Ramirez as object of affection: during his unusual trial, one juror fell in love with him, and a fan eventually became his wife in 1996.
7. Zodiac, by Robert Graysmith
The basis of the 2007 film, Robert Graysmith’s account of the Zodiac murders is as terrifying as true crime books come … mostly because, to this day, the Zodiac murders remain unsolved. With five confirmed victims, the Zodiac Killer, who communicated through a series of coded messages sent to the San Francisco press, claimed to have murdered as many as 36 people in the San Francisco Bay area from 1960-1970. Graysmith, who was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, became obsessed with identifying the killer. This book contains the Zodiac’s complete cryptograms. Can you solve the case?
8. The Jeffrey Dahmer Story: An American Nightmare, by Donald A. Davis
Like many a true crime nightmare, Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbors had no idea that this friendly young man was harboring a horrible secret until one of the victims, a pair of handcuffs still hanging from his wrist, ran screaming from Dahmer’s apartment one July night in 1991. Police were horrified to discover the remains of 15 men, including four severed heads in the refrigerator. In this account by Donald A. Davis, Dahmer’s capture and subsequent trial reveal even more graphic details, including the fact that in addition to being a murderer, Dahmer was also engaged in necrophilia and cannibalism.
9. Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of the Serial Killer Next Door, by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, L. Kelly, and Hurst Lavinia
For 30 years, a serial killer known as BTK—Bind, Torture, Kill—attacked the community of Wichita, Kansas, claiming the lives of 10 people, including two children. Residents were shocked when the murderer was finally brought to justice. Dennis Rader was married with two kids: a friendly neighbor, active in his community. After a long hiatus, Rader just couldn’t let his murderous rampage go unnoticed, and his bragging to the media eventually led to his conviction. Written by the four reporters who worked on the BTK story for 20 years, this devastating account of one of America’s most notorious killers is destined to be a true crime classic.