2018 started off with a bang for true crime fans with the posthumous publication of Michelle McNamara’s long awaited chronicle of her search for the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. And the power of true crime (and its fans) was further proven when thanks to McNamara’s legwork, the Golden State Killer was identified and brought to justice. There is something for every kind of true crime aficionado in the best true crime books of 2018: From contemporary cases like Aaron Hernandez to historical crimes like the case of Evelyn Nesbit and 'The Butcher of Men,' Belle Gunness, these true crime books fortify the genre's stature.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark
Michelle McNamara spent a good part of her adult life researching the unsolved mystery of the identity of the Golden State serial killer, responsible for upwards of 50 rapes and 13 murders. She was hard at work writing a book on her search when she tragically died at the age of 46. Her husband, the comedian Patton Oswalt, with the help of her research assistants, finished the book and published it under the title I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Thanks in part to McNamara’s investigation, the police were able to hone in on a suspect, and in April 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo was finally apprehended.
Hunting el Chapo
El Chapo (aka “Shorty”) is undoubtedly the 21st century’s most infamous criminal. Leader of the Sinaola drug cartel, El Chapo had evaded justice for decades. But DEA special agent Andrew Hogan made it his personal mission to bring El Chapo down. With the help of writer Douglas Century, Hogan tells the incredible story of hunting El Chapo. Unsurprisingly, Hogan finds he has much in common with the career criminal, including a penchant for details.
Love as Always, Mum xxx
One of the most horrific true crime stories is that of Rosemary and Fred West. One of their daughters, Mae West, penned a memoir this year about her experience growing up in that household—and coming to terms with her upbringing as she herself became a mother. Disturbing, moving and raw, Love as Always offers insight into revolting crimes without coming off voyeuristic.
Love and Death in the Sunshine State
Cutter Wood was a guest at a hotel in Florida when the owner, a woman named Sabine Musil-Buehler, went missing. The initial suspects were her estranged husband, her boyfriend, and the man who stole her car, which later turned up abandoned. As the community rallies to discover what happened to Sabine, Wood finds himself embroiled both in the mystery of her disappearance and in his own mysteries, particularly when it comes to the way relationships implode.
Beneath a Ruthless Sun
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Gilbert King revisits the case that rocked a Florida community in 1957. While her husband was out of town, a citrus magnate’s wife claimed she was raped by a “husky negro.” The town’s virulently racist sheriff made the case a priority, presenting several black suspects. But then a mentally challenged, white 19-year-old boy was put up for the crime and sent to a mental institution without a trial. Local journalist Mabel Norris Reese knew something wasn’t right even in the 50s, and now King picks up on her unfinished work.
One of the most infamous female serial killers of all time, Belle Gunness allegedly lured men to her farm by placing ads seeking companionship. Then she would rob them, poison them, and sometimes dismember them, burying their remains under her house. Her crimes were revealed when the farmhouse burned down in 1908, and the remains were discovered alongside the bodies of her three children, as well as a headless female body assumed to be hers. However, most believe the headless body was meant as a trick and that Gunness evaded capture. Harold Schechter revisits this chilling (and unsolved) American mystery.
Aaron Hernandez quickly reached all-star status as a tight-end for the New England Patriots. He was riding high, but simultaneously leading a very dark double life. Tied to several violent incidents, he was brought to trial in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd. Though he was acquitted of some of the charges brought against him, correction officers discovered Hernandez hanging in his jail cell in 2017. Patterson’s exploration of Hernandez’s life, including the effect that his father’s abuse and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) had on his personality, is even-handed and fascinating.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing
The case of Evelyn Nesbit, a chorus girl, rocked New York society in 1901. Just 16, Nesbit went to dine (alone) with Sanford White, a prominent architect who was considerably older than her at 47. Though she never reported it to the police, Nesbit later told her lover and future husband Harry Thaw that White had raped her. In 1906, Thaw shot and killed White during a performance at Madison Square Garden. Simon Baatz revisits this historic murder trial that gripped the city–if you’re left with questions about Nesbit herself, we also recommend Paula Uruburu’s American Eve.
2018 was a good year for true crime books focused on crimes other than rape and murder—John Carreyou’s Bad Blood, for instance, struck gold with its thorough investigation of Elizabeth Holmes’s utterly fraudulent approach to her supposedly groundbreaking company, Theranos. But Dopesick focuses on a widespread crime that is affecting all of America: the spread of opioid addiction. Concerned primarily with the people affected by this crisis, Dopesick is a deeply felt book about how we got where we are today.
The Real Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita scandalized the world, and yet few realize its author was inspired by a real true crime case. In 1948, 11-year-old Sally Horner was kidnapped by 50-year-old Frank La Salle. Her ordeal lasted for 21 months as La Salle carried her across the United States in his car, raping her repeatedly. Weinman entwines Sally’s story with the story of Lolita’s genesis, never losing sight of the very real little girl whose life became fodder for one of the most controversial novels committed to paper.
Featured photo: Atharva Lele / Unsplash