Few things are scarier than the realization you’ve married a stranger. Even more frightening: when that realization comes too late, or not at all.
While killer spouses—particularly killer husbands—are unfortunately all too common, they never cease to baffle us. What exactly drives a man to pledge "in sickness and in health" and "till death do us part," and then so egregiously go back on his word? The following true crime books try to solve the riddle, as they tell disturbing stories of men who asked for a woman's hand, and then took her life with their own.
A Perfect Husband
When Michael and Kathleen Peterson were wed, it seemed that the couple—both reeling from failed marriages—had gotten their second chance at love. Moreover, they enjoyed successful careers, had a beautiful combined family, and lived in an impressive North Carolina mansion. On the outside, they appeared to be living the American Dream, though a fatal stairway fall would soon reveal a hidden nightmare of past violence and betrayal. At the center of the maelstrom was Michael himself, suspected of not just his wife’s murder, but of a second slaying, and various infidelities. In The Perfect Husband, Aphrodite Jones dives into the case—which was made famous by a 2007 documentary—to bring us closer to answering the prevailing question: Is Peterson guilty or innocent?
Dying for Daddy
In 1992, the Barron household was devastated when Irene, mother of two, mysteriously died in her sleep. What was initially regarded as a random tragedy—one her husband, Jack, attributed to a strange genetic disease—became frighteningly familiar over the next several months. By 1995, Jack’s mother and children had met similar fates, each one meted out by his own hands. Through interviews and insider accounts, author Carlton Smith explores this unusual serial killer—one of the first known sufferers of Munchausen-by-Proxy—and how his need for sympathy drove him to violence.
The Von Bülow Affair
The Von Bülow Affair takes readers into a dark corner of high society, as it recounts the conviction—and eventual acquittal—of Claus Von Bülow. His journey to notoriety began in 1980 when his wife, Sunny, was found unconscious in their bathroom. For the next 27 years, Sunny remained in a hospital bed, lying in a vegetative state. Debate ensued as to the cause of her condition—was low blood sugar to blame, or foul play?—until Claus was eventually brought to court in 1982. After two trials, and one overturned conviction, he was set free. While some insist on his guilt, others are convinced of his innocence—most notably Norman Mailer, who attended Claus’ post-trial “victory” dinner to draw his own conclusion.
Blood and Money
When socialite and equestrian Joan Robinson took her third walk down the aisle, she had no idea she was walking towards a slow, sinister death. The man at the altar was John Hill—a respected Texas surgeon who, a little over ten years later, would watch his wife suffer from a mysterious infection. Delayed medical care—or, rather, John’s negligence—would ultimately kill her.
So began a case of “murder by omission”—a landmark conviction in the state of Texas—that reigns as one of the Lone Star State’s most bizarre. Thomas Thompson relays every twisted detail in his New York Times bestseller Blood and Money, from John’s two accomplices to his own murder prior to his 1972 trial.
The Wrong Man
Okay, so technically Sam Sheppard was acquitted—and The Wrong Man certainly supports this motion—but many still believe he was behind his wife’s murder. It was summer 1954 when Marilyn Sheppard was beaten to death after her assailant knocked Sam unconscious. Without a viable second witness—their son had slept through the entire ordeal—there was little to corroborate Sam’s insistence on an outside killer. As a result, he spent ten years in prison before his release in 1966. But was Sam's freedom a grievous mistake, or an act of delayed justice? Author James Neff argues the latter, but we'll let you reach your own verdict.
Dead by Sunset
To his friends, Brad Cunningham was an all-American athlete. To his mother and three sisters, he was someone else entirely—a boy so ashamed of his Native American heritage that he turned violent. His abusive behaviors escalated throughout his various marriages until his fourth wife, a high-powered attorney, was found bludgeoned in her car. Nine years would pass before the case was finally solved, and a guilty Brad found himself rotting in a prison cell. With Dead by Sunset, Ann Rule has once again weaved a chilling true crime tale of infidelity, deception, and the monsters who walk unnoticed beside us.
Deadly Little Secrets
In Deadly Little Secrets, Texas crime expert Kathryn Casey focus on the case of Matt Baker—husband, father, minister, and cold-blooded wife killer. For years, Baker’s faith protected him from law enforcement, convincing everyone—even his late wife’s family—that a man of God wasn't capable of murder. But as his various deviances and personal history rose to the surface, it became clear that Matt Baker was no saint, but a narcissistic devil with plenty of sins.
The Stranger She Loved
Following his wife’s tragic death, everyone believed Dr. Martin MacNeill was a blindsided, grief-stricken widower. Their opinions began to shift when, just days after his wife’s funeral, a younger woman moved into their Utah home. So began an avalanche of disturbing discoveries—from torrid extramarital affairs to past crimes and grand-scale cons—that shattered Martin’s veneer of innocence and exposed him for the murderer he was.
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