In the Shadows

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In the Shadows

Books about lesser-known serial killers

Especially with the advent of true crime podcasts and blogs, we’ve all heard of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the recently positively-identified “Golden State Killer,” Joseph DeAngelo. Many interested in true crime can name a handful of serial killers off the top of their head. But what about lesser-known serial killers? This list brings together some of the more obscure examples of repeat murderers, ranging from the Victorian era to modern times. 

The Babysitter: My Summers with a Serial Killer by Liza Rodman and Jennifer Jordan
The 1960s may seem like a simpler time from the perspective of the 2020s, but the truth is much more complicated. Liza Rodman can attest to that, as she shares her experience of being babysat along with her sister on Cape Cod by Tony Costa, a man she would later learn committed horrific murders in the late 1960s. Now with conflicting images of the man she knew and the man whose face appeared across newspapers for his atrocities, Rodman revisits her innocent coastal summers in a new light.

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green
A nondescript man is hardly one of note in one New York bar, but he ought to be. With a scotch and water in hand, the Last Call Killer marked his next victim: another bar patron, with gray hair. Like his appearance, the crimes of the Last Call Killer have been largely forgettable, in part due to surrounding circumstances of high murder rates, the AIDS epidemic, and the fact that his victims were gay. Elon Green takes Richard Rogers from the shadows of history into the light, along with those he murdered. Also available as an ebook.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer by Dean Jobb
Trusted as a doctor of medicine and active just after Jack the Ripper in England, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream committed murders in at least three different countries. With a propensity for strychnine poisoning and favoring sex workers as victims, Cream appears to have begun his spree in Chicago, where he was sentenced to prison and released, coincidentally, around the time serial killer H. H. Holmes (whose own crimes are explored in Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City) began murdering people in his “Murder Castle.” Jobb examines the faulty methods of Victorian investigative approaches within the context of Cream’s case while bringing Cream and his victims to the light in contemporary times. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook.

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz
Looking back to the 1930s in Cleveland, Collins and Schwartz investigate American Prohibition agent Eliot Ness’s pursuit of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. Hot off of putting Al Capone away, Ness moved on to this unidentified serial killer terrorizing an area known for its vices. As Ness got closer to solving the case and the number of victims increased, he met more adversaries. Was he nearing the solution of the case?

My Mother, a Serial Killer by Hazel Baron and Janet Fife-Yeomans
Dulcie Bodsworth was, by all accounts, sweet and unassuming. In public, her charming persona hid another darker one only her daughter knew. Hazel Baron knew her mother as a murderer who had killed three men, including one who fathered her children. No one else had a clue what Dulcie had done, and were it not for her daughter, she likely would have gotten away with it. With Janet Fife-Yeomans, Baron tells her story which, consequently, is also the story of her mother, a serial killer.

The Killer’s Shadow: The FBI’s Hunt for a White Supremacist Serial Killer by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
In 1977, Joseph Paul Franklin committed a horrific act of antisemitism at a Midwestern synagogue, setting into motion an investigation by famed FBI profiler, John E. Douglas. All the while, Franklin’s reign of terror continued as he targeted people of color and others unlike himself. Douglas returns with Olshaker to share the details of the case, including the level of threat Franklin posed and how psychology won in the end. Also available as an ebook.

The Horrors of Fox Hollow Farm: Unraveling the History & Hauntings of a Serial Killer’s Home by Richard Estep and Robert Graves
Estep and Grave take an unusual perspective on the serial killer. With a focus on the property where eleven murders take place, The Horrors of Fox Hollow Farm details the alleged crimes of Herb Baumeister. Noting how the house is suspected, by some, to be haunted decades later, Estep and Graves include information from the investigation as well as content from interviews with a man who survived Baumeister’s murderous activities.

Tantamount: The Pursuit of the Freeway Phantom Serial Killer by Blaine Lee Pardoe and Victoria R. Hester
With a local case on hand, Pardoe and Hester examine Washington, D.C.’s Freeway Phantom, who kidnapped, assaulted, and killed seven girls between 1971 and 1972. With an apparent desire for notoriety, the killer was so bold as to leave a note on one victim’s remains teasing police and owning up to his ghostly moniker. Still unsolved, the mystery at the center of this book is presented with rich research.

The Peninsula Serial Killer: The True Story of Scott Dunkle by C. L. Swinney
In a small community south of San Francisco, community members could hardly believe it when a killer began targeting teenage boys. Jon Scott Dunkle managed to evade police with moves such as joining search parties for the boys to avoid suspicion for some time. But ultimately, his bizarre behavior would be uncovered and Dunkle captured. Later diagnosed with a mental illness, Dunkle would still be charged with the murders that unsettled one quiet town and baffled its residents for years.

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan
Although the name Israel Keyes may not mean much to many, it represents some of the most horrifying and calculating crimes to the FBI. With unprecedented planning, Keyes murdered across the country before returning to his quiet life in Alaska. After kidnapping coffee booth barista Samantha Koenig, Keyes was facing his end as law enforcement caught on. An unbelievable story with an unsuspected ending, American Predator brings this lesser-known killer to light with detailed research. Also available as an ebook and eaudiobook.