Thought Catalog
May 20, 2014

8 True Crime Books You Should Read If You Loved ‘Serial’

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Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter

Wanna get creeped out tonight?

Oh, you’re a normal person and you don’t spend your nights looking up serial killers on Wikipedia and watching old episodes of 20/20 and 48 Hours? Well, aren’t you a cool person. Me? I will happily spend hours watching any “murder show” I can find on cable, and my collection of true crime nonfiction is getting bigger with each thrift store stop. I wrote my senior paper on true crime novels, dude.

So if you want a healthy dose of “freak the fuck out” before you go to bed tonight, look no further.

1. “Helter Skelter” by Vince Bugliosi. This is the penultimate crime book, written by the Manson family prosecutor himself. It is so creepy you might not be able to sleep for a week, imagining the Family creepy-crawling through YOUR house. It is also my favorite book. I read it about once a year and freak out every time. Bugliosi went on to write many more true crime novels, including the excellent “And the Sea Will Tell,” but this one is the touchstone. Even though Bugliosi wasn’t there for the murders, he manages to convey the sheer brutality and terror the Manson Family unleashed upon their victims in a way that shakes you to your core. This one stays with you long after you’ve finished it.

2. “The Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule. Ted Bundy made Ann Rule a household name. He didn’t try to kill her, no, but instead sat next to her at work. Little did she know, Ted was busy killing over 30 women. She turned her experience sitting next to the notorious serial killer into a true crime novel and then a career. To date, Ann has written over 20 true crime novels.

3. “The Cheerleaders” by E. Jean Carroll. My favorite “ELLE” advice columnist is also a prolific writer and this piece, which appeared in print in 2001, was included in the “Best American Crime Writing” the following year. I cannot believe that this insane story of murder and fate in a small New York town is real, but it is. It’s completely terrifying for me as both a former cheerleader and a small-town girl.

4. “Columbine” by Dave Cullen. The Columbine massacre, and every subsequent school shooting since, was chilling enough. However, it’s the in-depth reporting done by Cullen that sheds a completely new light on what we thought we knew about the killers, the motive and the aftermath that really shook me.

5. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS, WHAT THE HELL KINDA CRIME JUNKIE ARE YOU? It’s incredible.

6. “The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers.” This might not be the best book to have laying out by your bed when you bring a new love interest home, but it’s a concise, sliiiiiightly morbid encyclopedia of the most well-known serial killers, from the Zodiac to Ed Gein.

7. “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town” by Lawrence Schiller. Do you remember where you were when JonBenet Ramsey hysteria swept the nation? I do. The case is fascinating … the false confession of John Mark Karr years after the murder, the suspicion surrounding John and Patsy Ramsey, Patsy’s tragic death … it seems we’ll never know what happened to JonBenet. Not only is “Perfect Murder” scary because a small child was killed in the safety of her own home, but it’s scary because the system failed us and the crime was never solved.

8. TruTV Crime Library. Wanna waste an extraordinary amount of time? Click on that link. I have unearthed some seriously disturbing stories via this website. They’ve got tons of categories, from “Women Who Kill” to “Timeless Classics.” It’s addicting. In fact, I’m going to stop writing this and delve into some new stories now. And then never fall asleep. TC mark

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