The best books about North Carolina murders, mysteries, ghosts, and legends

Why am I passionate about this?

Jennifer Bean Bower is an award-winning writer and native Tar Heel. A passionate student of North Carolina history, Bower seeks to document the lesser-known people, places, and events of her state's past. She is the author of four books: North Carolina Aviatrix Viola Gentry: The Flying Cashier; Animal Adventures in North Carolina; Winston & Salem: Tales of Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem; and Moravians in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Winston & Salem: Tales of Murder, Mystery and Mayhem

By Jennifer Bean Bower,

Book cover of Winston & Salem: Tales of Murder, Mystery and Mayhem

What is my book about?

A young man charged with murder is marched through the streets of Winston and Salem and hanged on the outskirts of town...

A tragic event carries several citizens into a raging river and to their deaths... An eccentric with a fascination for chemicals blows himself up at the Salem Hotel... Through the use of primary documents, these and other fascinating stories of Winston and Salem's past are vividly brought to life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina

Jennifer Bean Bower Why did I love this book?

Dead and Gone was the first book I purchased with my own “earned” money. I was ten years old when I saw the book on display in a North Carolina bookshop. The book’s cover was orange and featured an illustration of the grim reaper in a top hat and coat. Needless to say, it grabbed my attention. Inside, Wellman’s words did not disappoint as he brought ten (pre-1914) North Carolina murders vividly to life. In fact, his words were so vivid, that I could not put the book down and finished reading it in a day. Wellman’s book sparked my interest in North Carolina’s not-so-happy past and I am sure it will spark your interest too.

By Manly Wade Wellman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dead and Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Violent dealth is amazingly apt to remind us of vigorous life; these ten stories of classic North Carolina murders which occurred between 1808 and 1914 represent a much neglected part of the exciting history of the state. Victims include a Confederate general, a lovely orphan girl, a pathetic little boy, and a highly offensive political boss. The motives are the usual ones -- gain, revenge, ""elimination,"" and jealousy. The plaintive history and untimely death of Naomi Wise -- ""poor 'Omi"" they called her in Randolph County over five generations ago -- strikingly counterparts Dreiser's An American Tragedy ; Ida Bell…


Book cover of North Carolina Ghosts and Legends

Jennifer Bean Bower Why did I love this book?

Nancy Roberts, also known as the “First Lady of American Folklore,” inspired many children—including me—to read. North Carolina Ghosts & Legends recounts stories of “true” ghostly encounters and has sent many readers on ghost hunts of their own. I became fascinated with Roberts’ story of the Little Red Man—a ghost who is said to haunt a historic site in Winston-Salem—and while visiting the site (on a second-grade field trip), I interrupted a tour guide to inquire about his whereabouts. My classmates erupted in giggles and I was reprimanded for the disruption. Nevertheless, many years later, I had the pleasure of working at that historic site; but, I never had the pleasure of meeting the infamous ghost.

By Nancy Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked North Carolina Ghosts and Legends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nancy Roberts's Southern Ghost Lore Revival--Exhumed and Improved for Fearless Reader.

Nancy Roberts has often been described to as the "First Lady of American Folklore" and the Title is well deserved. Throughout her decades-long career, Roberts documented supernatural experiences and interviewed hundreds of people about their recollections of encounters with the supernatural.

This nationally renowned writer began her undertaking in this ghostly realm as a freelance writer for the Charlotte Observer. Encouraged by Carl Sandburg, who enjoyed her stories and articles, Roberts wrote her first book in 1958. Aptly called a "custodian of the twilight zone" by Southern Living magazine,…


Book cover of The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke and Other Tales of the Outer Banks

Jennifer Bean Bower Why did I love this book?

Once the first page has been turned, Judge Whedbee’s book (much like Roberts’ and Wellman’s) cannot be put down. His lively tales of shipwrecks, pirates, murders, and ghostly occurrences, are a must-read when visiting a North Carolina beach. In his book you will learn about ships like the Crissie Wright that sank near Beaufort, North Carolina, and a ghost ship that sails the waters of Ocracoke. After my first read of the book, I visited the common grave of the Crissie Wright victims inside Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground and it was there that Whedbee’s words—and my imagination—truly brought the story to life. I can’t imagine going to a North Carolina beach and not being aware of these intriguing tales.

By Charles Harry Whedbee, Virginia Ingram (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke and Other Tales of the Outer Banks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every September, on the first night of the new moon, there are those who vow they see a flaming ship sail three times past the coast of Ocracoke. No matter the direction or velocity of the wind, this fiery vessel moves swiftly toward the northeast, they say, always accompanied by an eerie wailing sound. The story of this ship is but one of the colorful legends intrinsic to the charm of North Carolina's historic coastland. From the northern tip of the Outer Banks to the lower end of the sweeping shoreline, there are stories to be found . . .…


Book cover of North Carolina Legends

Jennifer Bean Bower Why did I love this book?

Richard Walser, in his book North Carolina Legends, covers forty-eight of the state’s legends in this easy-to-read and enjoyable book. From the mountains to the coast, Walser describes how Joe Baldwin lost his head while trying to save two trains from crashing into one another at Maco Station and why a particular spot in Chatham County is thought to be the devil’s tramping ground. Walser’s short tales are the perfect read at a sleepover or during a night around the campfire. They are without a doubt tales that will be enjoyed time and time again.

By Richard Walser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked North Carolina Legends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

North Carolina is a place where history has been enriched by legends and folklore. The 48 colorful Tar Heel tales in this volume include such well-known stories as "Virginia Dare and the White Doe" and "Old Dan Tucker" and such lesser known yarns as "The Portrait of Theodosia Burr" and "Bladenboro's Vamire Beast." Striking drawings by Bill Ballard, one for each tale, bring North Carolina's mythical past to life.


Book cover of Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina

Jennifer Bean Bower Why did I love this book?

If you are going to visit the North Carolina mountains, Russell and Barnett’s book Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina is a must-read. In it, you will learn about the mysterious lights that appear and disappear over Brown Mountain and the phantom voices that seem to sing atop Roan Mountain. The book, like my other recommendations, is not only a fun read, but it effectively preserves the state’s oral legends; legends that will hopefully continue to be passed from one generation to the next. I have spent many hours trying to catch a glimpse of the Brown Mountain Lights and have hiked Roan Mountain in a quest to hear the ethereal voices. Although I did not hear or see anything, maybe you will. Be sure to read the book and set out on your own adventure. 

By Randy Russell, Janet Barnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For centuries, the mountains of western North Carolina have inspired wonder and awe. It was only natural that man, after gazing at such scenic wonders, would turn some of the mystery he felt into legend. Sometimes these legends attempted to explain natural phenomena, sometimes they attempted to explain an occurrence that appeared to be supernatural, and sometimes they grew up around the eccentric characters that were drawn to the isolation of these mysterious hills. This collection of eighteen stories presents some of the mystery and awe that the mountains convey, and it may alter your perception of the Blue Ridge…


You might also like...

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

Book cover of Lightning Strike Blues

Gayleen Froese Author Of Lightning Strike Blues

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Communications officer Singer-songwriter Fan of all animals Role-playing geek Nature photographer

Gayleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

One summer night in a small prairie city, 18-year-old Gabriel Reece accidentally outs himself to his redneck brother Colin, flees on his motorcycle, and gets struck by lightning on his way out of town.

He’s strangely fine, walking away from his melted pile of bike without a scratch. There’s no time to consider his new inhuman durability before his brother disappears and his childhood home burns down. He’s become popular, too—local cops and a weird private eye are after him, wanting to know if his brother is behind a recent murder.

Answers might be in the ashes of the house where Gabe and Colin grew up, if Gabe and his friends can stay alive and out of jail long enough to find them.

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

What is this book about?

On Friday, Gabriel Reece gets struck by lightning while riding his motorcycle.

It's not the worst thing that happens to him that week.

Gabe walks away from a smoldering pile of metal without a scratch-or any clothes, which seem to have been vaporized. And that's weird, but he's more worried about the sudden disappearance of his brother, Colin, who ditched town the second Gabe accidentally outed himself as gay.

Gabe tries to sift through fragmented memories of his crummy childhood for clues to his sudden invincibility, but he barely has time to think before people around town start turning up…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in North Carolina, witchcraft, and ghosts?

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