The Best Books On The History of Murder

Greg Marquis Author Of Truth & Honour: The Oland Family Murder Case That Shocked Canada
By Greg Marquis

The Books I Picked & Why

By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter

By George Jonas

By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter

Why this book?

This book was written not as a work of history, but contemporary non-fiction by two reporters covering one of Canada’s highest-profile murder cases of the 1970s, the killing of Christine Demeter, a former model married to flamboyant Toronto businessman and Hungarian immigrant Peter Demeter. By Canadian standards, the authors had unprecedented access to lawyers and others involved in the 1974 trial of Demeter for the murder of his wife and benefited from evidence and a cast of characters straight out of a best-selling crime novel. Demeter was found guilty and while serving his sentence he was convicted of instigating two separate plots to have people kidnapped and murdered. By Persons Unknown broke new ground in Canadian true crime writing.   


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The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

By Judith Flanders

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

Why this book?

This is an amazing book that serves as a template for academic writers seeking to reach a wider readership. Flanders delves into not only Victorian Britain’s obsessive fascination with homicide and its detection, but also how newspaper editors and reporters, playwrights, and novelists benefited from and were influenced by particularly gruesome crimes with compelling victims and perpetrators. The book incorporates academic scholarship and recalls some of the most famous crimes of the era and explores their impact on Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, and other cultural producers.   


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The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder

By Daniel Stashower

The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder

Why this book?

Similar to my second choice, this American study explores the impact of a sensational unsolved death on early Victorian New York and America in general. In 1841 Marie Rogers, an attractive young woman who worked in a tobacco shop, was found dead in the Hudson River, suspected to be a victim of murder. The case was well covered in the press and exposed weaknesses in the city’s system of policing.  The author details how Edgar Allen Poe furthered early detective fiction in his story The Mystery Marie Roger, which although set in Paris borrowed heavily from the New York events. An example of how the public can make a celebrity out of a murder victim who is not from the elite.     


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The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

By John Grisham

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

Why this book?

We all know that Grisham writes best-selling fiction that has been turned into several Hollywood blockbusters. But the most frightening book by this former small-town defence lawyer is his only work of non-fiction, an account of the wrongful conviction of Ronald Keith Williamson of the 1982 sex murder of Debra Sue Carter. Williamson, who was low-hanging fruit for police and prosecutors in Ada, Oklahoma, languished in prison for 11 years before being exonerated by DNA evidence. This book should be mandatory reading for police, prosecutors, and judges and is a useful reminder that public opinion and justice are often mutually exclusive.


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Charlotte Gray, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Nation

By Charlotte Gray

Charlotte Gray, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Nation

Why this book?

This is a compelling Canadian true-crime tale that captures the atmosphere of early 20th-century Toronto and explores the intersection of class, ethnicity, and societal expectations of proper moral conduct by men and women during wartime. The Masseys were a wealthy Ontario family that amassed a fortune manufacturing agricultural equipment. In 1915 Carrie Davies was an 18-year old English maid working in the home of C.A. “Bert” Massey. She killed her married employer with a revolver in front of a witness and freely admitted carrying out the crime, explaining that he had been making sexual advances towards her. I enjoyed this book as it reminds us of how legal rules and arguments in the past could be overwhelmed by public pressure and cultural expectations. Davies, who many viewed as a heroine, was acquitted of murder by an all-male jury in less than 1 hour.       


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