Spooky season is getting closer. (I’m writing this while wearing my Halloween pajamas and drinking a pumpkin spice coffee.) And while I enjoy a good ghost story, Stephen King, or Grady Hendrix, I have fallen down the rabbit hole of true crime. With so many podcasts and YouTube channels out there (I’m looking at you Bailey Sarian and And That’s Why We Drink) it’s hard to stay away when the storytellers are so good. Sometimes, you need something a little longer than an hour. You need more detail, more facts about the crime, the victims, the killer, and the motive. So, lock your doors, get cozy, and check out this list of true crime to read this season.
We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper
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From the Amazon description –
A Recommended Book from: New York Times * Publishers Weekly * Kirkus * BookRiot * Booklist * Boston Globe * Goodreads * Town & Country * Refinery29 * CrimeReads * Glamour
Dive into a “tour de force of investigative reporting” (Ron Chernow): a “searching, atmospheric and ultimately entrancing” (Patrick Radden Keefe) true crime narrative of an unsolved 1969 murder at Harvard and an “exhilarating and seductive” (Ariel Levy) narrative of obsession and love for a girl who dreamt of rising among men.
You have to remember, he reminded me, that Harvard is older than the US government. You have to remember because Harvard doesn’t let you forget.
1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious 23-year-old graduate student in Harvard’s Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.
Forty years later, Becky Cooper a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she’d threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a “cowboy culture” among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims. We Keep the Dead Close is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman’s past onto another’s present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.
*Special audiobook bonus PDF includes photos and source notes*
Notes on a Silencing: A Memoir by Lacy Crawford
From the Amazon description –
A “powerful and scary and important and true” memoir of a young woman’s struggle to regain her sense of self after trauma, and the efforts by a powerful New England boarding school to silence her — at any cost (Sally Mann, author of Hold Still).
When Notes on a Silencing hit bookstores in the summer of 2020, even amidst a global pandemic, it sent shockwaves through the country. Not only did this intimate investigative memoir usher in a media storm of coverage, but it also prompted the elite St. Paul’s School to issue a formal apology to the author, Lacy Crawford, for its handling of her report of sexual assault by two fellow students nearly 30 years ago.
In this searing book, Crawford tells the story of coming forward during the state investigation of the elite New England prep school decades after her assault, only to find for the first time evidence that corroborated her memories. Here were depictions of the naïve, hardworking girl she’d been, as well as astonishing proof of an institutional silencing. The slander, innuendo, and lack of adult concern that Crawford had experienced as a student hadn’t been imagined; they were the actions of a school that prized its reputation above anything, even a child.
This revelation launched Crawford on an extraordinary inquiry deep into gender, privilege, and power, and the ways shame and guilt are used to silence victims. Insightful, arresting, and beautifully written, Notes on a Silencing wrestles with an essential question for our time: what telling of a survivor’s story will finally force a remedy?
“Erudite and devastating…. Crawford’s writing is astonishing…. Notes on a Silencing is a purposefully named, brutal and brilliant retort to the asinine question of ‘Why now?’…. The story is crafted with the precision of a thriller, with revelations that sent me reeling….” (Jessica Knoll, New York Times)
A Best Book of the Year: Time, NPR, People, Real Simple, Marie Claire, The Lineup, LitHub, Library Journal, BookPage, and Shelf Awareness
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
One of People Magazine’s 10 Best Books of the Year
Semifinalist for a Goodreads Choice Award
The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg
From the Amazon description –
A stunning, complex narrative about the fractured legacy of a decades-old double murder in rural West Virginia – and the writer determined to put the pieces back together.
In the early evening of June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, two middle-class outsiders named Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were murdered in an isolated clearing. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived. For 13 years, no one was prosecuted for the “Rainbow Murders”, though deep suspicion was cast on a succession of local residents in the community, depicted as poor, dangerous, and backward.
In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. As time passed, the truth seemed to slip away, and the investigation itself inflicted its own traumas – turning neighbor against neighbor and confirming the fears of violence outsiders have done to this region for centuries.
In The Third Rainbow Girl, Emma Copley Eisenberg uses the Rainbow Murders case as a starting point for a thought-provoking tale of an Appalachian community bound by the false stories that have been told about it. Weaving in experiences from her own years spent living in Pocahontas County, she follows the threads of this crime through the complex history of Appalachia, revealing how this mysterious murder has loomed over all those affected for generations, shaping their fears, fates, and desires.
Beautifully written and brutally honest, The Third Rainbow Girl presents a searing and wide-ranging portrait of America – divided by gender and class and haunted by its own violence.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Tretheway
From the Amazon description –
An Instant New York Times Best Seller
A New York Times Notable Book
One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2020
Named One of the Best Books of the Year by: Washington Post, NPR, Shelf Awareness, Esquire, Electric Literature, Slate, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and InStyle
A chillingly personal and exquisitely wrought memoir of a daughter reckoning with the brutal murder of her mother at the hands of her former stepfather, and the moving, intimate story of a poet coming into her own in the wake of a tragedy.
At age 19, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.
With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.
Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet’s attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.
American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI by Kate Winkler Dawson
From the acclaimed author of Death in the Air comes the riveting story of the birth of criminal investigation in the 20th century.
Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities – beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books – sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least 2,000 cases in his 40-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes”, Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest – and first – forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.
Heinrich was one of the nation’s first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However, with his brilliance and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious – some would say fatal – flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.
Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon – as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.
Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession by Sara Weinman
From the Amazon description –
A brilliant anthology of modern true-crime writing that illustrates the appeal of this powerful and popular genre, edited and curated by Sarah Weinman, the award-winning author of The Real Lolita.
The appeal of true-crime stories has never been higher. With podcasts like My Favorite Murder and In the Dark, best sellers like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Furious Hours, and TV hits like American Crime Story and Wild Wild Country, the cultural appetite for stories of real people doing terrible things is insatiable.
Acclaimed author of The Real Lolita and editor of Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Library of America) and Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives (Penguin), Sarah Weinman brings together an exemplary collection of recent true-crime tales. She culls together some of the most refreshing and exciting contemporary journalists and chroniclers of crime working today.
Michelle Dean’s “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to Be Sick” went viral when it was first published and is the basis for the TV show The Act, and Pamela Colloff’s “The Reckoning” is the gold standard for forensic journalism.
There are 13 pieces in all, and as a collection, they showcase writing about true crime across the broadest possible spectrum, while also reflecting what makes crime stories so transfixing and irresistible to modern audiences.
Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.
The Woman Who Stole Vermeer: The True Story of Rose Dugdale and the Russborough House Art Heist by Anthony M. Amore
From the Amazon description –
The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist.
In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier – someone who bucks the trend, defying the reliable profiles and leaving investigators and researchers scratching their heads. In the history of major art heists, that outlier is Rose Dugdale.
Dugdale’s life is singularly notorious. Born into extreme wealth, she abandoned her life as an Oxford-trained PhD and heiress to join the cause of Irish Republicanism. While on the surface she appears to be the British version of Patricia Hearst, she is anything but.
Dugdale ran head-first towards the action, spearheading the first aerial terrorist attack in British history and pulling off the biggest art theft of her time. In 1974, she led a gang into the opulent Russborough House in Ireland and made off with millions in prized paintings, including works by Goya, Gainsborough, and Rubens, as well as Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by the mysterious master Johannes Vermeer. Dugdale thus became – to this day—the only woman to pull off a major art heist. And as Anthony Amore explores in The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, it’s likely that this was not her only such heist.
The Woman Who Stole Vermeer is Rose Dugdale’s story, from her idyllic upbringing in Devonshire and her presentation to Elizabeth II as a debutante to her university years and her eventual radical lifestyle. Her life of crime and activism is at turns unbelievable and awe-inspiring, and sure to engross readers.
The Killer’s Shadow: The FBI’s Hunt for a White Supremacist Serial Killer by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
The legendary FBI criminal profiler and international best-selling author of Mindhunter and The Killer Across the Table returns with this timely, relevant book that goes to the heart of extremism and domestic terrorism, examining in-depth his chilling pursuit of, and eventual prison confrontation with Joseph Paul Franklin, a White Nationalist serial killer and one of the most disturbing psychopaths he has ever encountered.
Worshippers stream out of an Midwestern synagogue after sabbath services, unaware that only a hundred yards away, an expert marksman and avowed racist, antisemite and member of the Ku Klux Klan, patiently awaits, his hunting rifle at the ready.
The October 8, 1977 shooting was a forerunner to the tragedies and divisiveness that plague us today. John Douglas, the FBI’s pioneering, first full-time criminal profiler, hunted the shooter – a white supremacist named Joseph Paul Franklin, whose Nazi-inspired beliefs propelled a three-year reign of terror across the United States, targeting African Americans, Jews, and interracial couples. In addition, Franklin bombed the home of Jewish leader Morris Amitay, shot and paralyzed Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, and seriously wounded civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. The fugitive supported his murderous spree robbing banks in five states, from Georgia to Ohio. Douglas and his writing partner Mark Olshaker return to this disturbing case that reached the highest levels of the Bureau, which was fearful Franklin would become a presidential assassin – and haunted him for years to come as the threat of copycat domestic terrorist killers increasingly became a reality.
Detailing the dogged pursuit of Franklin that employed profiling, psychology and meticulous detective work, Douglas and Olshaker relate how the case was a make-or-break test for the still-experimental behavioral science unit and revealed a new type of, determined, mission-driven serial killer whose only motivation was hate. A riveting, cautionary tale rooted in history that continues to echo today, The Killer’s Shadow is a terrifying and essential exploration of the criminal personality in the vile grip of extremism and what happens when rage-filled speech evolves into deadly action and hatred of the “other” is allowed full reign.
America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster by Mary Kay McBrayer
From the Amazon description –
This is Capote’s In Cold Blood for serial killer enthusiasts: meticulously researched, superbly written, and incredibly vivid. Don’t miss it.” —Gabino Iglesias, author of Coyote Songs
America’s First Female Serial Killer novelizes the true story of first-generation Irish-American nurse Jane Toppan, born as Honora Kelley. Although all the facts are intact, books about her life and her crimes are all facts and no story. Jane Toppan was absolutely a monster, but she did not start out that way.
When Jane was a young child, her father abandoned her and her sister to the Boston Female Asylum. From there, Jane was indentured to a wealthy family who changed her name, never adopted her, wrote her out of the will, and essentially taught her how to hate herself. Jilted at the altar, Jane became a nurse and took control of her life—and the lives of her victims.
“A thoughtful and inspired take on one of the greatest poisoners in history. America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster seethes with rage, compulsion, and a righteous condemnation of the servitude of the underclass. A chilling and sobering read.” —Robert Levy, author of The Glittering World
“McBrayer offers us a complex—and terrifying—portrait of a killer who seemed almost doomed from birth.” —Kate Winkler Dawson, author of American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI
“Brings the horrifying true story of Jane Toppan to lurid, novelistic life, and forces the reader face-to-face with the thoughtlessness and cruelty that helped turn a gifted, damaged child into one of America’s most legendary killers.” —Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters
Magnetized: Conversations with a Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued
Over the course of one ghostly week in September 1982, the bodies of four taxi drivers were found in Buenos Aires, each murder carried out with the same cold precision. The assailant was a 19-year-old boy, odd and taciturn, who gave the impression of being completely sane. But the crimes themselves were not: four murders, as exact as they were senseless.
More than 30 years later, Argentine author Carlos Busqued began visiting Ricardo Melogno, the serial killer, in prison. Their conversations return to the nebulous era of the crimes and a story full of missing pieces. The result is a book at once hypnotic and unnerving, constructed from forensic documents, newspaper clippings, and interviews with Melogno himself. Without imposing judgment, Busqued allows for the killer to describe his way of retreating from the world and to explain his crimes as best he can.
In his own words, Melogno recalls a visit from Pope Francis, grim depictions of daily life in prison, and childhood remembrances of an unloving mother who drove her son to Brazil to study witchcraft. As these conversations progress, the focus slowly shifts from the crimes themselves to Melogno’s mistreatment and misdiagnosis while in prison to his current fate: incarcerated in perpetuity despite having served his full sentence.
Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime and Obsession by Rachel Monroe
A “necessary and brilliant” (NPR) exploration of our cultural fascination with true crime told through four “enthralling” (The New York Times Book Review) narratives of obsession.
In Savage Appetites, Rachel Monroe links four criminal roles – detective, victim, defender, and killer – to four true stories about women driven by obsession. From a frustrated and brilliant heiress crafting crime-scene dollhouses to a young woman who became part of a Manson victim’s family, from a landscape architect in love with a convicted murderer to a Columbine fangirl who planned her own mass shooting, these women are alternately mesmerizing, horrifying, and sympathetic.
A revealing study of women’s complicated relationship with true crime and the fear and desire it can inspire, together these stories provide a window into why many women are drawn to crime narratives – even as they also recoil from them. Monroe uses these four cases to trace the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. Combining personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the 20th and 21st centuries, Savage Appetites is a “corrective to the genre it interrogates” (The New Statesman), scrupulously exploring empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of crime.
From art heists to serial killers, this true crime list is sure to give you chills even under your comfy blanket on the couch. Double check that top lock and let me know if you read any of these. Tell us what you think.
That’s all I have for today train wrecks. All aboard.
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