Why are serial killers so fascinating? The idea of a person killing other human beings just for the hell of it is repulsive, but it’s also an incredibly alluring topic, the mere mention of which glues us to our screens and to the pages of hundreds, if not thousands of serial killer books. Case in point: Decades after Ted Bundy became known for the murders of dozens of women, the public fascination with him is still going strong. From Ann Rule's iconic accounting of Bundy to Robert Graysmith's obsessive investigation of the Zodiac Killer, these books are the best of the best.
Can't get enough of trying to get inside the killer's mind? We’ve compiled a definitive list of the most horrifying serial killer books to satisfy your macabre curiosity. Instead of surfing Wikipedia for hours reading about crime scenes and hoping the FBI doesn’t flag you as a potential threat to society, choose one of the books on this list to keep that search history just a little less suspicious.
Four years of investigative reporting yielded this “surprisingly graceful” book on John Wayne Gacy’s life and crimes (New York Times). From Gacy’s abusive upbringing to the day the bodies of over 30 young men were discovered hidden in the crawlspace of his house, Tim Cahill takes us into the mind of the killer and his many demons, compulsions, and the bizarre justifications for his heinous deeds. We promise you’ll never look at clowns the same way again after learning what this man who once dressed up to entertain local children was truly capable of.
When the culprit behind the shooting deaths of six Florida men was finally discovered, shock swept the nation. Aileen Wuornos was one of America’s first known female serial killers, a compelling detail which sensationalized her case. Written by the first reporter to break Wuornos’s story, Dead Ends explores the murderer’s past as a drifter and sex worker and attempts to get to the heart of what motivated her to gun down her clients. If your fascination with Wuornos isn’t quenched by this book, check out Monster, an Academy Award-winning film starring an utterly transformed Charlize Theron as the killer.
John Christie of Rillington Place
London’s 10 Rillington Place is an address that has gone down in infamy. Between 1949 and 1953, the bodies of eight people were discovered scattered around the property of John Christie’s Notting Hill flat—three behind the kitchen wallpaper, two in an outdoor wash-house, two in the garden, and one beneath the floorboards. This well-researched account examines the horrors that took place within Christie’s walls and exposes the police negligence that led to the execution of one-time tenant Timothy Evans for two of the murders.
Serial Killers: The World's Most Evil
This harrowing compendium of the sickest serial killers belongs on every true crime aficionado’s shelf. Spanning the entire globe, Nigel Blundell gives a detailed overview of the most heinous crimes that have been committed over the last century. While there are many familiar names in here—think the Son of Sam, the Hillside Strangler, and Fred and Rose West—you’re sure to unearth new facts about their sadistic acts, as well as discover some obscure killers that will satisfy your macabre curiosity.
The Bayou Strangler
In 1997, young African American men began quietly disappearing from the suburbs of New Orleans, terrifying the gay community. While the general public turned a blind eye, Detectives Dennis Thornton and Dawn Bergeron were determined to find justice for the victims. It would take a decade for the investigators to link the deaths to pizza deliveryman Ronald Joseph Dominique. Part true crime tale, part scathing social commentary, this is the story of Louisiana’s most well-known serial killer.
The First Celebrity Serial Killer in Southwest Ohio
Long before women were fawning over Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez, there was Alfred Knapp, the “Hamilton Strangler.” A so-called celebrity serial killer, Knapp’s confession to five murders didn’t stop him from becoming a media darling, and he gained quite the following before he was executed for his crimes in 1904. This historical serial killer book recounts his strange pathway to fame.
The Red Ripper
Andrei Chikatilo’s misdeeds will shock even the most hardened true crime fan. In 1992, Chikatilo was convicted of an astonishing 52 murders committed in Soviet Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan over a span of 12 years. The former teacher was a sadist who sexually abused and mutilated women and children before taking their lives. Peter Conradi of London’s Sunday Times explores the massive manhunt that eventually brought Chikatilo to justice, and provides insight into the cultural norms of the Soviet Union to explain how he was able to evade capture for so long.
The Shadow of Death
The Shadow of Death may leave you with more questions than answers, but you won’t find a better account of the Connecticut River Valley Killer. Still at large today, this murderer stabbed six women to death around the border of New Hampshire and Vermont in the mid-1980s. Author Philip E. Ginsburg takes us into the mind of psychologist John Philpin, who assembled clues to construct a profile of the killer, and shares the harrowing experience of the one woman who survived her brutal attack, putting an end (for now) to the slayings.
In the Mind of a Female Serial Killer
Focusing on the crimes of four lesser-known female serial killers, Stephen Jakobi’s book is rare in the annals of true crime. From a 15-year-old London servant girl whose young charges died under mysterious circumstances to a sex worker who recollected her slayings in a diary as she awaited execution, these twisted turn-of-the-century crimes defy explanation. Delve into this book for a glimpse at the serial killers who scandalized and fascinated 19th century society.
New York Times bestselling author Robert Scott unravels the disturbing case of Bobby Fry, the man responsible for a four-year homicidal rampage in the deserts of New Mexico. From 1996 to 2000, the residents of Shiprock lived in fear, knowing that someone among their rank was killing their neighbors indiscriminately. It took a round-the-clock manhunt for the police, aided by Navajo trackers, to trace the bludgeoning and stabbing death of Betty Lee back to Fry. Sentenced to death, Fry remains in prison to this day serving out a commutated life sentence. Explore the destruction he left in his wake and the efforts to bring him to a stop in Monster Slayer.
Murder & Mayhem in Seattle
Native American massacres, mass shootings, the Green River Killer, Ted Bundy—this book’s got all that and more. Who knew how many of America’s most brutal and well-known crimes took place in Seattle? This book covers over 150 years of bloodshed to give the reader an account of the dark side of Seattle’s history.
Why We Love Serial Killers
In this engrossing analysis, criminology professor Dr. Scott Bonn offers insights on why humanity is so fascinated by our most depraved members. In addition to a reflection on the appeal of serial killers both real and fictional (John Wayne Gacy and Hannibal Lecter alike), Dr. Bonn debunks myths, discusses criminal profiling, and shares an inside view of a serial killer’s mind, based on his correspondence with notorious killers David Berkowitz and .
This book starts off in the thick of the action, as a would-be victim escapes the grasp of serial killer Robert Hansen. Her testimony proved pivotal in catching Hansen, a quiet baker and family man who also forced upwards of 30 women out to the Alaska wilderness and then gunned them down with his hunting rifle. Writer Leland E. Hale and retired Alaska State Trooper Walter Gilmour tell of the remarkable efforts of Anchorage police to track down the killer. They draw from court transcripts, police transcripts, and interviews to give a chilling and accurate account of the true story.
Fred & Rose
Journalist Howard Sounes delivers the definitive account of British killer couple Fred and Rose West. The long arm of the law caught up to the couple in 1994, whereupon their house was excavated and the remains of 9 mutilated women were discovered—and that was just the first burial ground. In addition to unlucky strangers, their victims included their own teenage daughter, Fred’s first wife, and his eight-year-old stepdaughter. From this incomprehensibly brutal string of crimes emerges this story by Sounes, who pieces together forensic evidence and explains how the couple’s depravity went undetected for decades.
Related: 6 Twisted British Serial Killers
A Thirst for Blood
Truth is stranger than fiction: This book recounts the crimes of serial killer Richard Chase, who killed indiscriminately and drank his victims’ blood in 1970s Sacramento, California. Lt. Ray Biondi, the lead homicide detective on the case, wrote this detailed report of the manhunt for the so-called Vampire of Sacramento, a paranoid schizophrenic with delusional beliefs. This bloodthirsty read gives the inside scoop on the man who inspired episodes of CSI and Criminal Minds with his brutality.
Brady and Hindley
In the 1960s, Great Britain was shocked by the vicious murders of five children at the hands of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Aspiring to commit the perfect murder, the lovers raped and tortured their young victims before burying their remains on the desolate moor. The public outrage against their crimes was so great that when Hindley attempted to lead investigators to the last burial site, the moor was patrolled by 200 police officers to prevent an attempt on her life. Author Fred Harrison interviewed the killers themselves to gain an intimate understanding of their personal histories and the context of their crimes.
Die for Me
Charles Ng and Leonard Lake were sadistic murderers who might have gone on killing for years had they not eventually been arrested for shoplifting, of all things. Ng evaded arrest and Lake committed suicide in jail after four days of custody, but the damage was done: Police realized something was amiss and traced their bloody trail back to a veritable torture chamber, where the men had videotaped themselves killing at least 11, and as many as 25, victims. This true crime book spills the details of the crimes and recounts Ng’s extradition from Canada to the U.S., where he was brought to justice and remains on death row to this day.
The Hillside Stranglers
Los Angeles was terrorized in the 1970s by a string of rape-murders, committed by the so-called Hillside Strangler. Later, the LAPD discovered that the gruesome killings were committed by two men, not one. Cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono conspired in their hatred of women before being arrested for 10 murders. This true crime book goes into detail about the twisted relationship between the men and the killing spree that resulted in their murder trials, where Bianchi tried and failed to convince the court that he had dissociative identity disorder.
Related: 9 Books About California Murders
How do you catch a killer whose crimes span three continents and seem to have nothing in common, other than senseless killing? Serpentine recounts the life and crimes of Charles Sobhraj, who targeted tourists from Europe to South Asia and baffled authorities. Widely considered a thrill-seeking psychopath, he returned to Nepal after his release from jail and was promptly served a life sentence. This true-crime book reads like well-crafted fiction, though the events within its pages are true.
The Truth about Belle Gunness
was at first believed to be dead when her house burnt down, killing her three children and revealing the headless remains of a woman in the smoking ruins. But investigators uncovered the gruesome truth: The headless woman was just another of Gunness’ victims, along with the 14 or so bodies discovered on her property. This book will take you back to the early 20th century and the manhunt to track down Gunness, a cold-hearted Norwegian immigrant who killed to cash in on her victims and eliminate witnesses. To this day, it’s unclear what happened to Gunness, who may have disappeared on that day, been one of the bodies discovered, or gone on to live a second life, free to do so in the years of limited communication between states or even towns.
The Search for the Green River Killer
The Green River Killer, now identified as Gary Ridgway, is America’s most confirmed prolific serial killer, with 49 convictions to his name. Ridgway terrorized the women of Seattle for decades before DNA evidence brought him to justice in 2001. This book traces the hunt for Ridgway, including details of Ted Bundy’s collaboration with law enforcement to construct a criminal profile of the killer.
Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters
Most true crime authors convey information about serial killers, with the mutual understanding that you’ll probably never meet one. Peter Vronsky isn’t counting on your luck—he wants to teach you how to avoid them, too. This book has everything a true crime aficionado could want to hear on the topic of serial killers: warning signs and how to fight back, an examination of serial killers through the ages, going all the way back to ancient Rome, the psychopathology of murderers, the efficacy of criminal profiling, and more. No matter how much media you’ve consumed about serial killers, we guarantee you’ll learn something new here.
The Stranger Beside Me
Not many people in the true crime line of work happen to discover that they’re friends with a serial killer, but Ann Rule and Ted Bundy go way back. Rule had already started dabbling in law enforcement and true crime writing when she met Bundy while working at a suicide crisis hotline. Rule initially refused to believe the allegations that the kind, friendly man who she witnessed comfort victims of rape and abuse was capable of the same heinous crimes and more. The Stranger Beside Me is the definitive biography on Ted Bundy, written with Rule’s insight and clarity on the man she trusted and considered her friend.
The Michigan Murders
College campuses tend to feel safe: What could go wrong in the places designed to nurture the nation’s best and brightest? However, the Co-ed Killer who prowled 1960s southeastern Michigan shattered any sense of safety, as the body count of mutilated university students began to pile up. Pick up this book to learn more about John Norman Collins, a handsome fraternity member who seemed harmless at first glance but would eventually be exposed as a sadistic killer.
Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Hunt for the Nation's Most Elusive Serial Killer
A murderer who has yet to be apprehended, the Zodiac Killer claimed at least five lives but boasted of murdering as many as 37 people. Author Robert Graysmith was working at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 when the Zodiac Killer was active. This gripping book is a result of his deep research into the case, and his unwavering resolve to see the maniac brought to justice someday.
Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters
You may have noticed that the majority of killers on this list are men. Peter Vronsky is here to dispel the myth that only males can become serial killers with this fascinating analysis of gender and homicide. This comprehensive account discusses everything, from the history of female killers throughout the ages to modern-day media sensations like Aileen Wuornos to the classic tropes of the femme fatale and the black widow. The result is an unflinching book that challenges our stereotypical notions of gender.
Related: 11 Notorious Female Serial Killers
My Friend Dahmer
High school pals Derf Backderf and Jeffrey Dahmer went down different paths after graduation, as people often do. In this case, Backderf became a cartoonist, and Dahmer became an infamous serial killer. In the wake of Dahmer’s conviction and untimely death in prison, Backderf created this chilling graphic novel. The result is an intimate and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of what Dahmer was like in high school, before his descent into murdering young men. For those interested in the psychology of a serial killer, this unconventional book shows you Dahmer’s earliest signs of mental health issues as he dealt with alcoholism, emotionally distant parents, and his struggle to come to terms with his sexuality.
Nobody’s Women: The Crimes and Victims of Anthony Sowell, the Cleveland Serial Killer
In addition to documenting the sickening crimes of Anthony Sowell and the events leading to his arrest, this true crime book has a welcome, surprisingly unusual twist—it brings into focus the victims of his rampage. The women Sowell targeted frequently had rap sheets themselves, including charges of prostitution, drug involvement, theft, etc. In short, they weren’t considered valuable members of society, and Cleveland police were accused of failing to seriously investigate their disappearance because of their unrelated transgressions. Writer Steve Miller attempts to correct this injustice by presenting the victims’ stories and the lives they left behind.
The Night Stalker
This is the most detailed book about Richard Ramirez that you can get your hands on. Philip Carlo crafted a true-crime masterpiece with this accurate account of Ramirez’s disturbing childhood, early crimes, and subsequent murder spree. Carlo framed much of the book around extensive behind-bars interviews he conducted with the sadistic Satanist. The writer even theorizes about why so many women were obsessed with Ramirez during and after his murder trial. The Night Stalker is a truly bizarre and compelling account of a remorseless serial killer.
The Monster of Florence
What happens when a true crime writer and a journalist become suspects in the very murder case they’re investigating? In this case, they collaborate to write a stunning book about their ordeal. Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi were intrigued by the murders of couples occurring in Florence, but the Italian police weren’t so thrilled that the pair was poking around their case. This is the strange true story of the authors’ experiences with corruption and injustice as they sought to zero in on the real killer.
Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders
Who better to tell the story of the John Wayne Gacy case than one of the leading prosecutors in his murder trial? Terry Sullivan delivers the nitty-gritty details of the investigative work that led to the killer’s capture and conviction. You’ll have the opportunity to hear from psychiatrists and Gacy himself, as the book recalls his court testimony wherein Gacy described his gruesome acts in his own words.
In this spellbinding true crime book, retired Special Agent John Douglas gives us a glimpse into his 25-year career as one of the FBI’s first criminal profilers. This in-depth account is a result of Douglas’s face-to-face encounters with some of America’s most sadistic and notorious serial killers. Mindhunter offers a fresh perspective from someone who had to think like a murderer in order to catch one. Can’t get enough? It’s also the inspiration for Netflix’s .
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