The best books of Canadian historical true crime

Who am I?

True crime stories offer a window into the past, transporting readers to another time and place. They reveal human behaviour at its worst and people striving to do the right thing. And the narrative is always dramatic and compelling, with mysteries to be solved, suspects to be captured, justice to be done. My books profile a Jazz Age con artist, a Victorian Era serial killer, and a gentleman jewel thief of the 1920s. I write a column of true crime stories and book reviews for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and I teach in the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


I wrote...

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

By Dean Jobb,

Book cover of The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

What is my book about?

Before Jack the Ripper, before The Devil in the White City’s H.H. Holmes, the world's deadliest serial killer was the Canadian doctor Thomas Neill Cream. He murdered at least nine women and one man in Canada, the United States, and England before he was finally brought to justice in 1892. This is the first complete account of his crimes, his victims, and how Scotland Yard’s best detectives struggled to identify and capture the ruthless “Lambeth Poisoner.” It exposes the flawed police investigations and primitive forensic tests that enabled him to evade suspicion and detection, how he was convicted and imprisoned in the midst of his poisoning spree, and why he was freed to kill again.

The books I picked & why

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Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise

By Charlotte Gray,

Book cover of Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise

Why this book?

“I shall die violently,” Sir Harry Oakes once predicted. He was right. In 1943, the sixty-eight-year-old’s battered, burned corpse was found in his villa in the Bahamas. No one was ever convicted of murdering the prospector who struck it rich in Northern Ontario and hobnobbed with the likes of Duke of Windsor, the governor of the Bahamas, and the former King Edward VIII. Gray, Canada’s most acclaimed popular historian, recreates the case and identifies the likely culprit in this deeply researched, vividly told account of a crime so sensational it upstaged news from the battlefields of the Second World War. 


The Whisky King: The Remarkable True Story of Canada's Most Infamous Bootlegger and the Undercover Mountie on His Trail

By Trevor Cole,

Book cover of The Whisky King: The Remarkable True Story of Canada's Most Infamous Bootlegger and the Undercover Mountie on His Trail

Why this book?

Rocco Perri, Canada’s most notorious gangster of the Jazz Age, built an Ontario-based bootlegging and vice empire with his wife, Bessie. Cole, an award-winning novelist, tells the story of this Al Capone wannabe who grabbed headlines, eliminated rivals, and evaded the law for years as he smuggled booze into the Prohibition-parched United States. And to add a twist, the story of Perri’s rise to underworld power is told in tandem with the efforts of Frank Zaneth, an undercover Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, to bring the kingpin to justice.


The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him

By Katie Daubs,

Book cover of The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him

Why this book?

What became of Ambrose Small? That’s the mystery at the heart of this riveting story of wealth, lies, and betrayal. The Toronto theatre magnate disappeared in 1919, on the day he made a fortune from the sale of his chain of vaudeville and movie houses. Was he kidnapped and murdered before he could cash in, or did he want to disappear? Daubs explores this century-old cold case and immerses readers in 1920s Toronto, a city with a straitlaced reputation—dubbed “Toronto the Good”—but no shortage of sinners and shady characters. This richly detailed account is as absorbing as any fictional whodunit.


Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

By Jessica McDiarmid,

Book cover of Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Why this book?

The title refers to a remote, 450-mile stretch of highway in British Columbia where at least thirty Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing since the 1970s. “Those who disappear in this place are not easily found,” writes McDiarmid, who grew up in the area and remembers some of the desperate searches for those reported missing. Indigenous women are six times more likely to be murdered in Canada, and racism within police forces and the justice system make it less likely their killers will be identified or punished. This book is a searing indictment of systemic prejudice, official indifference, and unequal justice. 


Murders and Mysteries: A Canadian Series

By William Stewart Wallace,

Book cover of Murders and Mysteries: A Canadian Series

Why this book?

Wallace—a history professor, librarian, and bookseller—was one of Canada’s first true crime writers. This collection of sixteen stories of murder and mayhem, first published in 1931, is a trove of long-forgotten tales. Some of the crimes he chronicles made international headlines. Harry and Dallas Hyams, identical twin brothers from New Orleans, were accused of killing an employee in Toronto in 1893 to collect on insurance policies. Adelard Delorme, a Catholic priest in Montreal, stood trial four times for the 1922 murder of his brother and was ultimately set free. Wallace apologized for straying from mainstream history into the realm of the gruesome and sensational to record, as he put it, “what God in His wisdom saw fit to permit to happen.”


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