5 Books By People Who Knew Infamous Killers Personally

More than just the facts
More than just the facts

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

There’s no shortage of documentaries, podcasts and books available for the true crime fan. If you want to do a deep dive into a particular case, you can start with Wikipedia and go from there. But there’s one thing that reading the facts can’t give you and that’s a real sense of who the killers were. What it was like to talk to them face to face. Luckily, there are plenty of people out there who did know some of the most infamous criminals personally, and they’ve been kind enough to share their experiences with the rest of us. Here are a few must-read books written by people who got up close and personal with some of the worst killers in history.

The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule
When it comes to true crime books, there is no writer more popular than the one and only Ann Rule. Her first published novel, The Stranger Beside Me, chronicles her friendship with serial killer Ted Bundy from her time volunteering with him at a suicide prevention hotline to letters they wrote back in forth once he had been arrested for murdering numerous women in three different states. Rule discusses Bundy’s crimes and victims in detail but she also explains how blind she was to who he really was. Despite calling the police with her suspicions that he might be the “Ted with a tan VW Bug” they were looking for, she still had doubts he was guilty. The book and her personal connection to one of the most infamous serial killers in history launched her career and she went on to write over 30 more books including Small Sacrifices and Green River, Running Red.

Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi
The name Charles Manson is probably one of the most well-known when it comes to serial killers. He may not have been the one who actually murdered five people, including Sharon Tate who was eight and half months pregnant at the time, on August 8th, 1969 but it became clear that he was the mastermind behind it. Helter Skelter, which is the best selling true crime book in history, is written be Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor for Mason’s murder trial. It presents his firsthand account of the cases and trials of Manson and his “family”—the people who were brainwashed into committing murder for him.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
The quadruple homicide of the Clutter family in 1959 shocked the small rural community of Holcomb, Kansas. Truman Capote spent six years writing In Cold Blood, one of the earliest examples of a non-fiction novel, about not only the crime, but also the how it affected the community. He also did in-person interviews with the men who committed the murders, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. He was particularly fascinated with Smith, who he portrayed as the more sensitive of the two. Although there is a lot of controversy over whether Capote fabricated some of the details in the book, it is still the second best-selling true crime book in history behind only Helter Skelter.

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit – John E. Douglas
Mindhunter is known as a Netflix Original show, but it is based on a book written by real-life FBI profiler John E. Douglas. In a landmark study to start to understand the motives of cold-blooded killers, Douglas interviewed some of the worst criminals out there. He spoke in person with criminals like Charles Manson, Richard Speck, and John Wayne Gacy to gather information on the motivations behind their actions. Douglas helped start the practice of criminal profiling and he did it by getting to know the people who did terrible things. It doesn’t get much more up close and personal than that.

My Friend Dahmer – Derf Backderf
There’s a lot of information available on Jeffrey Dahmer, or the Milwaukee Cannibal. He killed seventeen young men before he was finally caught and sentenced to life in prison, where he was eventually murdered by a fellow inmate. Its hard to imagine what would drive someone to commit murder and Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer provides a little insight into what Dahmer was like when he was a teenager. Backderf was friends with Dahmer for a short time in high school so he has a unique perspective that he portrays in an unexpected way. Graphic novels aren’t a typical medium for true crime, but it’s definitely an interesting change.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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