After Ted Bundy

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After Ted Bundy

Non-fiction Books about True Crime

True crime has been a pop culture trend lately, with lots of people finding themselves glued to their Netflix account watching Making A Murderer and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, or spending their days listening to podcasts such as Serial and My Favorite Murder.  On May 3, the biopic of Ted Bundy , Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile hit Netflix.  If you want more true crime but have depleted everything that Netflix and podcasts have to offer, fear not: your local library has you covered.  Come into one of our air conditioned branches and check out some of these non-fiction, true crime books. If you’re not ready to leave the house just yet, we’re not here to judge—we have some of these as digital audiobooks and eBooks.  Some of these stories are now a part of history, and they are organized roughly from past to present.

The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science by Douglas P. Starr
Even though many true crime stories that are the topics of television and podcasts are from fairly recent years, serial killers have been around for hundreds of years, or at least since 1894.  The Killer of Little Shepherds, set in France, is the story of criminologist Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne. The murderer in question is considered France’s own Jack the Ripper, Joseph Vacher, who committed at least eleven murders between 1894 and 1897.  Before forensic science, Starr discusses, the practices of gathering evidence and accusing criminals were primitive, with autopsies taking place in kitchens and plenty of false accusations being made in court. The progress that Lacassagne made in the field of forensic science and the work of private investigator Emile Fourquet played a heavy role in the trial of Vacher, who pleaded insanity after admitting that he was guilty.  Lacassagne studied body decomposition and crime scene analysis, but particularly how sociological factors developed criminals, which was particularly relevant as Vacher had been in asylums twice before his killing spree.

Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter
While many of the serial killers featured on this list are men, women can be just as cruel and ruthless. Ray Lamphere may have been the only man to leave the “murder farm” of Belle Gunness alive.  Also called “Lady Bluebeard,” Gunness lived from roughly 1859 to 1908 and was a woman of large stature who immigrated from Norway in 1883. Although no one knows exactly what happened to her, we do know that she killed at least 28 men, and that Lamphere was accused of murdering her by arson.  Gunness would put ads in the paper, alleging that she was looking for a husband. Once the men arrived, they were in for an unfortunate surprise: Gunness would take their money and gruesomely murder them, burying their remains in the hog pen. Some claim to have seen Gunness after her death, but even Lamphere’s trial for murdering her yielded no answers.  

The Man From the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery by Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James
For many people, PBS is a great source of entertainment, and for Bill James, it piqued his interest in a murder that took place in Villisca, Iowa on June 9, 1912. Although no one knows for sure who did it, a family of eight was found murdered by axe in their home.  After James saw the documentary, he began to research what had happened, and he quickly dove down a deep rabbit hole, realizing that between 1909 and 1912, several similar murders had occurred around the country.  Whoever the murderer was, his modus operandi was to find a house near a railroad, murder the family with an axe, and quickly hop a train to find his next victims.


Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Most people who live in America have heard of the FBI, short for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  What many people may not know is how the FBI was born. In Oklahoma in the early 1920s, several members of the Osage Indian nation, including many family members of Osage woman Mollie Burkhart’s family, were murdered.  Before this, the Osage nation had been forced from their homeland, and settled on land no white men would want: a place that was rocky and sterile. However, everything changed for the Osage nation when oil was discovered beneath their land.  Soon their nation was incredibly wealthy, and while some men chose to marry Osage women, the Reign of Terror soon began, wherein Osage people were brutally murdered. For J. Edgar Hoover and for the FBI, this would be one of their first major murder investigations.    

Death In The City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris by David King
It’s amazing how the investigation of a tragedy can unearth even more tragedies.  The chimney fire that took place in 1944 in doctor Marcel Petiot’s mansion took a turn for the worse when investigators found pieces of dead bodies.   Because many of the victims were Jews, Parisian police first suspected the Gestapo, but instead authorities pursued Dr. Petiot, who was evasive at first.  As it turns out, Petiot would offer to smuggle people out of France, only to murder them. By the time Petiot was tried for murder, Paris was no longer Nazi occupied.  King winds down his work by discussing how the new found freedom and various collaborations affected the political climate of Paris. 

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman
We all know that fiction stories are made up, whereas non-fiction books are about facts.  Sometimes the line becomes blurred: what happens when the made up veers too close to the truth? Weinman explores this question in regards to Vladimir Nabokov’s work Lolita, which was published in 1955 and is considered a classic by many.  Nabokov spent the 1940s and 50s moving through the academic ranks, including a lecture tour, serving as one-man Russian department at Wellesley, working at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and eventually teaching at Cornell University from 1948 to 1959.  Coincidentally, in 1948, 11-year-old Sally Warner, a resident of New Jersey, stole a five cent notebook from Woolworth’s and was given a warning by alleged FBI agent Frank La Salle. It wasn’t long after before Sally met La Salle again, but this time he abducted her for 21 months, repeatedly raping her until Sally escaped with the help of a neighbor.  Although Nabokov always claimed Lolita wasn’t based on the story, Weinman provides strong evidence that Nabokov was lying.  

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer

In Under the Banner of Heaven, Krakauer explores one of the darkest sides of the Mormon faith.  Although the Mormon church renounced polygamy in 1890, drawing more and more people into the faith, there are still some Fundamentalists who live in the American West, Canada, and Mexico who  disagree with this choice. Krakauer’s book touches on all of these areas, but he particularly focuses on a double murder that took place in Utah in 1984, where brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered their sister-in-law and niece.  For these men, orders from God must be directly followed, which is the reasoning Dan used when he admitted to murdering his family members, while also displaying no remorse for his actions. Under the Banner of Heaven focuses on the extremist sects of the faith, and includes interviews with child brides and victims of incest.  

The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, A Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder by Claudia Rowe
Few people understand what it’s like to be inside the mind of a serial killer, and only some try to find out.  Claudia Rowe, journalist and non-fiction author, set out to answer this question. In 1998, Rowe’s career of writing about crime in Poughkeepsie, New York took an unexpected turn when local man Kendall Francois confessed to killing eight prostitutes.  For Rowe, reporting wasn’t enough. Over four years the two wrote letters, spoke over the phone and even met in person. Although Rowe was pretending to be writing an exclusive piece, in reality she used their discussions as a way to examine her own flawed childhood as well as her romantic and familial relationships.  Rowe knew she was not entirely unlike Francois’s victims, and in her attempts to talk to him, she ultimately learned very little about his crimes.

Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America by Jill Levoy

People who are involved in shootings in bad neighborhoods, especially black people, are not often characterized in a positive light. In her debut, Levoy focuses on South Central Los Angeles in 2007, an area affected by gun and gang violence, and the shooting of 18-year-old black man named Bryant Tennelle, son of police officer Wally Tennelle.   While white police officer John Skaggs served the area where Bryant was killed, unlike Wally Tenelle, Skaggs lived in the suburbs. In her book, Levoy examines every aspect of the investigation, including discussing the methods which Skaggs uses, but also looks at things from a broader perspective of an entire police and legal system falling short, devaluing black lives.

Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry

Adnan Sayed has been in prison since 1999, and in 2000 was convicted for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Adnan’s case primarily garnered local attention until Sarah Koenig created the podcast Serial for This American Life, which covers the evidence in the case, the negligent and now disbarred lawyer who defended Adnan, and the mistrial and trial that followed.  Chaudry, author of Adnan’s Story, is a Muslim like Sayed, and the older sister of Adnan’s best friend. As a believer that Adnan is innocent, Chaudry presents new evidence, potential new subjects, and critical documents that the state of Maryland withheld. Additionally, Chaudry delves into her belief that Adnan was racially and religiously profiled by law enforcement. Even now, the question remains: will Adnan ever be freed?

I’ll Be Gone In the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Original Night Stalker. East Area Rapist. Diamond Knot Killer.  To most Americans, this man is most commonly referred to as the Golden State Killer, and the subject of Michelle McNamara’s posthumous work I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.  Joseph James DeAngelo, the man accused of committing over 50 sexual assaults and 10 murders, was known for raping women and girls in their homes in the 1970s, later attacking couples before suddenly disappearing in 1986.  Michelle McNamara, who passed unexpectedly in 2016, developed an interest in true crime at the age of 14, when an unsolved murder occurred near her home in Oak Park, Illinois. In 2011, McNamara started investigating the case on her own out of sheer curiosity, eventually writing about her adventures on her website True Crime Diary.  After befriending cold-case enthusiasts and detectives, including getting paperwork regarding the crimes, McNamara developed her own theories. With a manuscript completed by Billy Jensen and Paul Haynes, I’ll Be Gone In the Dark is a great choice for readers who love to see intertwining narratives.