A charming killer cuts a winding trail of death from Paris to Hong Kong. A dark-souled cult leader turns to ritual murder in Mexico. Two sinister men in Scotland prowl the streets of Edinburgh, claiming multiple lives and selling off their victims’ bodies as subjects for dissection.
Every murder chills the blood. Yet within the pages of true crime, there are some cases covered that are downright bizarre. The eight true crime books below examine bizarre murders that you might not know about, from a heartbreaking incident of a mother turning on her own children to a moonlit murder spree that remains unsolved to this day. Sleep tight.
Born in Florida in 1962, Adolfo Constanzo was introduced to the occult at an early age. Upon relocating to Mexico City in the mid-1980s, Constanzo leveraged his hypnotizing presence and black magic beliefs into a flourishing business: performing dark art rituals for businessmen and drug dealers as an occultist priest. It wasn’t long before Constanzo amassed a sect of followers and entered the drug trade for himself. But his ambition demanded sacrifice—and the blood of animals was no longer enough. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes delivers "one of the best true-crime tales in recent time" (Publishers Weekly) in this nightmarish account of cult leader Adolfo Constanzo and his dark reign of murder, mayhem, and religious delirium in 1980s Mexico.
Former New York Times contributor Dennis McDougal is the author of multiple true crime reads, including Blood Cold, about Robert Blake and the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley, and Angel of Darkness, about 'Scorecard Killer' Randy Kraft. Here, the award-winning author investigates the unspeakable crimes of Theresa Knorr, a mother of six in California who tortured and murdered two of her daughters—including burning one alive—and forced two of her sons to help clean up the crimes. McDougal tracks Knorr’s origins, her disintegrating marriages and descent into violence, and the brutality she inflicted on her family. For years, Knorr escaped punishment for her vile acts. It wasn’t until the mother’s surviving daughter stepped forward to report what she’d witnessed that Knorr’s crimes were finally brought to light.
Edgar Award-winning author Thomas Thompson (Blood and Money, Richie) follows the blood-soaked path of Charles Sobhraj, a charismatic killer known as the Serpent who targeted travelers along the "hippie trail" backpacker routes between Europe and Asia. Sobhraj is suspected of committing at least a dozen murders across three continents in the mid-1970s, often using his charm to befriend his targets before murdering them. Bodies were found from Paris to Hong Kong. The seeming randomness of his attacks, combined with the vast distance between each crime scene, confounded investigators who had no idea they were all searching for the same culprit. Sobhraj, meanwhile, took pride in the twisted game—and his arrogance ultimately led to his downfall. Thompson expertly unravels this "grotesque, baffling, and hypnotic" (San Francisco Chronicle) tale, capturing Sobhraj and the lives of his victims as he documents one of the strangest killing sprees in recent memory.
The Unicorn's Secret
In the heady days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, political protests and antiwar rallies rocked college campuses across America. At the University of Pennsylvania, few activists were as outspoken as Ira Einhorn. Nicknamed the Unicorn, Einhorn was a leading advocate for peace, preaching Age of Aquarius ideals of free love, drugs, and environmental reform. But darkness lurked behind the hippie facade. In 1979, the partially mummified body of Einhorn’s girlfriend, Holly Maddux, was found in a trunk in Einhorn’s apartment. After his arrest, Einhorn claimed a CIA cover-up and leaned on his powerful connections to make bail—whereupon he fled the United States and vanished for years into Europe. It would take over two decades before Einhorn was finally tracked down in southwestern France and extradited to the United States to face justice. Prize-winning journalist Steven Levy draws on years of research, hundreds of interviews, and Einhorn’s and Maddux’s private journal entries to construct this absorbing narrative of murder in the age of peace and love. His book served as the basis for 1999 NBC television miniseries, The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer, starring Naomi Watts and Kevin Anderson.
The Wicked Boy: An Infamous Murder in Victorian London
Internationally bestselling author Kate Summerscale (The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher) won an Edgar Award for this historical murder mystery set in late Victorian England. In the summer of 1895, the restaurateurs and regulars of East London observed a curious sight: Two brothers, ages 13 and 12, were living a carefree lifestyle in the neighborhood’s coffee shops and entertainment venues. They were Robert Coombes and his little brother Nattie. When confronted, the boys claimed their mother was away visiting family in Liverpool. In fact, her remains were still at home; Robert had stabbed her to death in an upstairs bedroom. When the brutal truth was revealed, the boys were arrested. Thirteen-year-old Robert admitted to the seemingly random act of violence, while twelve-year-old Nattie agreed to a plea deal and provided evidence against his brother. The subsequent trial captivated the country—and set young Coombes on a path of institutionalization that led to a surprising end. Summerscale crafts a rich and riveting true crime narrative that doubles as a sociological study of the era as she resurrects this brutal crime and its unexpected aftershocks.
The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders: The Story of a Town in Terror
In the spring of 1946, a series of savage attacks set the town of Texarkana on edge. A phantom slayer struck under cover of moonlight, often targeting couples parked in their cars at secluded lovers’ lanes. Eight people were attacked over a 10-week period; five were shot dead, while three were seriously wounded but survived. As law enforcement scoured the surrounding countryside of the Texas-Arkansas border town, locals stockpiled weapons. Some formed vigilante parties while others refused to leave their homes after sunset. Yet the phantom was never apprehended, and the crime spree remains unsolved to this day. In The Phantom Killer, Pulitzer Prize-nominated historian and Texarkana native James Presley examines this mystifying cold case, sorting through evidence to reveal shocking new insights into the decades-old murders.
The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes
Professor of history Lisa Rosner unearths the ghoulish crimes of Burke and Hare, two killers in nineteenth century Scotland who prowled the back alleys of Edinburgh in search of victims and then sold off their victims’ remains to anatomists for study and dissection. Burke and Hare stood accused of killing sixteen people over the course of about ten months in 1828. News of the so-called Anatomy Murders captured headlines across Britain, exposing harsh realities about the lives of the poor and the high demand for cadavers in medical research. Rosner draws on a wealth of historical documents to create a "fascinating 'CSI' style investigation" (Evening News, Edinburgh) into Burke and Hare’s killings, the lives of their victims, and the social and political conditions that served as the backdrop to such a twisted spree.
Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster
Acclaimed true crime author Harold Schechter—dubbed "America's foremost pop historian of serial murder" by The Boston Book Review—peers into the depraved mind of serial sex murderer and necrophile Earle Leonard Nelson in this gripping read. Leonard was born in San Francisco in 1897 and raised by his strict Pentecostal grandmother. He exhibited aberrant behavior at an early age, unsettling his elders with his obsessions and manic acts. In the winter of 1926, Leonard commenced a 16-month spree of brutality that stretched across the United States and into Canada, claiming at least 22 lives before his capture and execution in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Bestial, Schechter combines thorough research with thrilling storytelling to produce a complete and disturbing portrait of the American fiend.
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Featured photo of Earle Leonard Nelson: Alchetron