There’s just something about serial killers that people find fascinating—present company included. Whether the draw is in their psychotic tendencies or their motives for murder, we’re always itching to know more. And what better way to curb your curiosity about these crazy killers than to dive into their life stories? These 25 in-depth books detail the crimes of some of the world’s most famous serial killers.
The Devil in the White City
- Killer: Herman Webster Mudgett (Dr. H.H. Holmes)
- Span of killings: 1888 (suspected)-1894
- Victims: 9 (confirmed), 27 (confessed), 200 (suspected)
During the 1983 World’s Fair in Chicago, Holmes murdered many people inside his hotel, including his employees (whom he made take out life insurance policies with himself as the beneficiary), his mistresses, and other hotel guests. Erik Larson’s vivid book tells Holmes’ story as it intertwines with Daniel H. Burnham’s—the architect behind the 1892 World’s Fair.
The Unspeakable Crimes of Dr. Petiot
- Killer: Dr. Marcel Petiot
- Span of killings: 1942-1944; Additional killings possibly in 1926
- Victims: 26 (confirmed), 63 (suspected)
Though beloved by his patients, Dr. Petiot murdered people after promising to help them seek refuge from Nazi-occupied France during World War II. The doctor said he only killed criminals, but the evidence tells a different story. The true crime account goes through the investigation as the “good doctor’s” tale began to unravel.
- Killer: Ed Gein
- Span of killings: 1954; 1957
- Victims: 2 (confirmed)
Known as the inspiration for Psycho, Ed Gein was a murderer and body snatcher. While Gein claimed two lives, thus falling short of the standard, three-victim definition of a serial killer, his creepy crimes earn him a spot on this list. In addition to killing two women, Gein exhumed dead bodies from a nearby cemetery and fashioned ghoulish mementoes out of the remains. He even sewed together a woman suit so he could ‘crawl into her skin.’ Deviant is the definitive account of “the original Psycho.”
- Killer: Unknown
- Span of killings: 1960s-1970s
- Victims: 5 (confirmed), 37 (claimed)
Author Robert Graysmith was on staff at the San Francisco Chronicle when the first Zodiac murders took place, and he’s been obsessed ever since. The serial murderer terrorized northern California, sending notes to local papers about the killings where he or she left a trademark, cross-circle symbol. The book contains unreleased facts and the complete letters from the killer.
The Boston Strangler
- Killer: Albert DeSalvo
- Span of killings: 1962-1964
- Victims: About 13 (figure is disputed)
Winner of the Edgar Award, Gerold Frank provides a gripping account of a man that terrorized a city. While it’s still disputed whether or not DeSalvo is the Boston Strangler, he was convicted of killing women in the Boston area in the 1960s. Ranging from teens to elderly women, most of his victims were strangled with nylon stockings.
Brady and Hindley
- Killers: Ian Brady and Myra Hindley
- Span of killings: 1963-1965
- Victims: 5
The deadly duo carried out the Moors murders, which took place in Greater Manchester, England. At least four of the five victims were sexually assaulted, and some were buried in graves on Saddleworth Moor—which is from where the killings got their name. Fred Harrison’s true crime book is partly based on in-person interviews with the killers and dives into their deeply personal histories.
Edmund Kemper: The True Story of The Co-ed Killer
- Killer: Edmund Kemper
- Span of killings: 1964-1973
- Victims: 10
Known as the Co-ed Butcher, Rosewood not only killed young college students, but also murdered his paternal grandparents and his mother. Kemper targeted female students who were hitchhiking, and would take them to isolated places to kill them. His detailed biography exposes his troubled childhood, necrophilia, and cannibalism.
The Michigan Murders
- Killer: John Norman Collins
- Span of killings: 1967-1969
- Victims: 1 (convicted), 7 (suspected)
The Ypsilanti Ripper is another murderer who targeted co-eds. He targeted women at colleges in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area and would abduct, rape, and murder them. While he was only convicted of the final murder, investigators believe he was responsible for a serial killing rampage of seven murders in total. The Edgar Award Finalist tells the true story of a man who, on the surface, was an all-American boy, but in reality—a deeply troubled killer.
Fred & Rose
- Killers: Fred and Rose West
- Span of killings: 1967-1987 (Fred); 1971-1987 (Rose)
- Victims: 12-13+ (Fred – suspected, but committed suicide before trial); 10 (Rose)
Fred West and his second wife Rose were English serial killers who targeted young females. Fred began his killings before marrying Rose, who also killed her 8-year-old stepdaughter. The frightening pair sexually assaulted and killed the young girls before burying them in their home—the address is still referred to as the House of Horrors. Author Howard Sounes broke the original story as a journalist and covered the trial of Rosemary West.
Colombian Killers: The True Stories of the Three Most Prolific Serial Killers on Earth
- Killers: Luis Garavito, Pedro Alonso Lopez, and Daniel Camargo Barbosa
- Span of killings:
- Luis Garavito: Unknown
- Pedro Alonso Lopez: 1969-1980; 2002-Present
- Daniel Camargo Barbosa: 1974-1986
- Luis Garavito: 138 (confirmed), 300+ (suspected)
- Pedro Alonso Lopez: 120-300+
- Daniel Camargo Barbosa: 72-150
Like many places, Colombia has its fair share of crime. But what it also has is three of the worst serial killers on the planet. This true crime account introduces readers to these three monsters, and details the horrific crimes they committed for years.
- Killer: John Wayne Gacy
- Span of killings: 1972-1978
- Victims: 33-34
John Wayne Gacy, also known as the “Killer Clown,” was a businessman in suburban Chicago who led a second, sinister life. While he often dressed up as “Pogo the Clown” to entertain children at charitable events, at the same time he was targeting young boys and teens—killing them and burying their bodies in the crevasses of his home. Cahill’s book contains exclusive interviews and takes readers through the disturbing life of Gacy.
The Misbegotten Son: A Serial Killer and His Victims
- Killer: Arthur Shawcross
- Span of killings: 1972-1989
- Victims: 11
Known as the Genesee River Killer, Arthur Shawcross killed most of his victims after serving time for killing two children. Though prison psychiatrists all agreed that Shawcross was a schizoid psychopath, he was released in 1987 after serving only 12 years. During his killing spree, he primarily murdered prostitutes in upstate New York. Olsen’s true crime book examines Shawcross’ deeply troubled childhood and how his M.O. changed so drastically from children to women.
The Casanova Killer: The Life of Serial Killer Paul John Knowles
- Killer: Paul Knowles
- Span of killings: 1974
- Victims: 18 (suspected), 35 (claimed)
Jack Smith’s account of the incredibly disturbing “Casanova Killer” will leave you wondering: “Why did he do it?” Knowles started off committing petty crime, which escalated to murder once he was rejected by his fiancée. He began a cross-country murder spree in 1974, starting in Jacksonville, Florida, with no motive, preference for victims, or killing method consistent. After being apprehended, Knowles was killed during an attempt to take a gun from an officer—thus, he was never tried nor convicted.
The Stranger Beside Me
- Killer: Ted Bundy
- Span of killings: 1974-1978; 1961 (disputed)
- Victims: 30+
In 1971, Ann Rule met Ted Bundy while volunteering at a suicide crisis hotline in Seattle. For years, she sat beside him, thinking he was a pleasant and kind person. But Bundy had a secret—he was a serial killer who used his charm and good looks to win the trust of women who he then killed. Rule uses her correspondence with Bundy up until his death to reveal the true picture of a man she thought she knew.
Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door
- Killer: Dennis Raider
- Span of killings: 1974-1991
- Victims: 10
The BTK Killer, which stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill”—which was his signature, sent letters containing the details of his killings to local news outlets and the police during the time they took place. He took a hiatus from both killing and sending the letters post 1991, but then he resumed sending letters in 2004, leading to his 2005 arrest. Four award-winning crime reporters who helped Wichita police capture Raider collaborated on this true crime account.
Harold Shipman: The True Story of Britain’s Most Notorious Serial Killer
- Killer: Harold Shipman
- Span of killings: 1975-1998
- Victims: 250+
You may not be familiar with Dr. Harold Shipman, but he’s one of Britain’s more prolific serial killers. The doctor murdered his patients—over 250 of them. The case was so large that investigators compiled The Shipman Inquiry that took into account witness statements and evidence. Ryan Green’s book examines the case and looks at Shipman’s motives for murdering the elderly.
The Hillside Stranglers
- Killers: Kenny Bianchi and Angelo Buono
- Span of Killings: 1977-1978
- Victims: 10
Cousins Kenny Bianchi and Angelo Buono terrorized Los Angeles in the 1970s—killing young women, many of them prostitutes, and discarding their bodies in the L.A. hills. O’Brien hones in on their relationship, in which Buono was clearly the mastermind behind the crime spree that ended with the longest trial in American history—spanning two full years.
The Red Ripper
- Killer: Andrei Chikatilo
- Span of killings: 1978-1990
- Victims: 52 (convicted), 56+ (claimed)
Also known as The Butcher of Rostov, Andrei Chikatilo is the worst serial killer in Russian history. In an interesting twist, Chikatilo belongs to a rare group of men whose blood type differs from semen and saliva type. Due to this confusion, the Red Ripper was originally released from custody in 1984 and went on to kill 20 more people before being finally apprehended in 1990.
My Friend Dahmer
- Killer: Jeffrey Dahmer
- Span of killings: 1978-1991
- Victims: 17
The chilling story of Jeffrey Dahmer is told by his high school friend. The original graphic novel chronicles a deeply disturbed young man who was just trying to fit in. Dahmer is known for killing men and boys, and in some cases committing crimes that included necrophilia and cannibalism.
Through the Window: The Terrifying Story of the Cross-Country Killer Tommy Lynn Sells
- Killer: Tommy Lynn Sells
- Span of killings: 1980-1999
- Victims: 1 (convicted), 22+ (suspected)
Sells had no apparent motive nor established pattern when it came to killing. He was a drifter who committed many crimes along the way. While he was convicted of one murder—that of 13-year-old Kaylene ‘Katy’ Harris—authorities believe Sells committed at least another 21 murders. Fanning’s books gets into Sells’ mind and examines the witness that finally brought him to justice.
Green River Killer
- Killer: Gary Ridgway
- Span of killings: 1982-1998 (possibly until 2001, but disputed)
- Victims: 49 (convicted), 71 (confessed), 91+ (suspected)
Detective Tom Jansen spent 180 days interviewing Gary Ridgway in hopes of learning more about his closely held secrets. In the 1980s, Ridgway began murdering women and young girls—specifically targeting prostitutes and underage runaways. The book, written by Jansen’s son, Jeff, is an engaging, true crime graphic novel.
Die for Me
- Killers: Charles Ng and Leonard Lake
- Span of killings: 1983-1985
- Victims: 11 (convicted – Ng), 25 (suspected)
Leonard Lake’s shoplifting arrest led police to discover a grisly scene at his home, which contained evidence of orgy sex crimes and murder. Charles Ng, with the help of Lake, kept people in their dungeon before sexually assaulting and killing them. While Lake swallowed cyanide pills upon being discovered, Ng stood trial for 12 murders. Author Don Lasseter recounts the longest criminal prosecution in California.
The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez
- Killer: Richard Ramirez
- Span of killings: 1984-1985
- Victims: 14
Richard Ramirez terrorized the entire state of California in the 1980s—breaking into unsuspecting victims’ homes in the middle of the night, robbing and killing them. A Satan-worshipper, Ramirez is truly one of the most frightening serial killers ever. Although he was meticulous about completely erasing himself from crime scenes, he was finally apprehended due to a single missed fingerprint.
- Killer: Aileen Wuornos
- Span of killings: 1989-1990
- Victims: 7
Aileen Wuornos, the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning film Monster, targeted men on highways in Florida—posing as a hitchhiker and then killing them. She claimed that all her crimes were committed self-defense. Wuornos was the first woman ever to fit the profile of a serial killer, and the author of Dead Ends is the Reuters reporter who initially broke the story.
Nobody’s Woman: The Crimes and Victims of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Serial Killer
- Killer: Anthony Sowell
- Span of killings: 2007-2009
- Victims: 11
In October 2009, police discovered the corpses of 11 women in Anthony Sowell’s home. Sowell targeted women on the fringes of society, who he didn’t think would be missed if they disappeared. The cold-blooded murderer’s story is chronicled by Steve Miller, and includes Sowell’s Jekyll and Hyde-like personality that caused women to trust him before he murdered them.
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Featured photo: Dr. H.H. Holmes via Wikipedia.