The best true crime books to keep on your shelf

Who am I?

I am an award-winning true crime author, criminologist, and victims advocate who has written and presented on crime for over 30 years. I know that history teaches us how and why crime occurs and why it will happen again, but crime doesn't happen in a vacuum. History, personality, and human nature all play a part. There is always a "story behind the story." I appreciate true crime books that teach us rather than sensationalize. The faster we share knowledge, the easier it is to catch criminals.

I wrote...

When Nashville Bled: The untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid

By Judith A. Yates,

Book cover of When Nashville Bled: The untold stories of serial killer Paul Dennis Reid

What is my book about?

He was evil personified. In the Spring of 1997, a serial killer held Nashville, Tennessee in an icy grip of terror. Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. was caught and sentenced to seven death sentences, yet a new chapter began in the saga of one of the most heinous serial killers in our time, and the people whose lives he cut short. The victims were reduced to being called "the victims of Paul Reid." Until now. Here, for the first time, and with the approval of the family and friends, are the stories of those innocent, young people whose lives were ended far too soon. It is also the story of how a crime ripped a city apart.

The books I picked & why

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The Female Offender

By Cesare Lombroso,

Book cover of The Female Offender

Why this book?

Why are female criminals "ugly"? Italian criminologist Professor Caesar Lombroso discusses crime causation, justice systems, penology, and the female offender. Lombroso rallied for humane treatment of inmates, advocating programs to reform the penal system, and believed both generated a better society. He argued that criminal behavior is inherited and categorizing offenders as: crimes of passion, aka "lunatics", occasional offenders, and born criminals. He also tried to identify them by physical attributes: the skull, features, and tattooing. 

Lombroso's atavistic theories initially seem outdated - and even laughable - but are still practiced today. "(S)he looks like a criminal" is something you commonly hear. Or, people instantly judge someone's tattoos. Lombroso's approach is still utilized in true crime media. The case becomes more interesting when perpetrators are attractive. Even the monikers for female criminals are modified: femme fatale, black widow, she-devil. Readers will enjoy the contrast/comparison to 1900s criminology. The Female Offender is an excellent resource for research. And it's a fun read!

Chicago's Awful Theatre Horror- by the Survivors and rescuers

By Bishop Fallows,

Book cover of Chicago's Awful Theatre Horror- by the Survivors and rescuers

Why this book?

“POP!” An arc light sets to kill over 600 people in the Iroquois Theatre. In 1903 the lack of safety, faulty and missing equipment, greed, and ego caused the deadliest theater fire in U.S. history. It began with briberies and ended with dismissed charges. There are books on the Iroquois Theatre fire, but this is a journal of eyewitness accounts written immediately after. Actors recount experiences behind the curtain, theater employees discuss their roles, and survivors talk about losing entire families. This book also discusses the aftermath, including the demand for criminal action. Negligence and outright illegal activity created the fire and the public paid in ashes - the final court decisions leave you outraged at a judicial system built for the wealthy.

The Iroquois Theatre fire set a precedent for fire prevention measures in place today. Had those in charge used prudence, higher expenditures, and legal requirements, over 600 people would have walked out of the Iroquois after the show instead of lying dead in a warehouse for identification.

Games Criminals Play: How You Can Profit by Knowing Them

By Bud Allen, Diana Bosta,

Book cover of Games Criminals Play: How You Can Profit by Knowing Them

Why this book?

Manipulation is a simple art.

I require all students and mentees to read this book and keep it on their shelves. It is an easy read and contains information that will keep future law enforcement officers safe from inmate behavior. Civilians can apply these skills to everyday life to protect themselves as well. We call it “the trick bag”, falling for a simple ruse and landing as a pawn in an inmate’s game in prison. The “game” is a series of manipulations over time that might lead to the target’s incarceration, loss of job, and public humiliation. 

This book is an effective tool for offender management and exposing criminal scams. The examples are accurate and anyone can use the tools it discusses. The authors discuss the anatomy of the setup, susceptibility profiles of both inmate and target, survival traits, and more. It can start with a pencil and end with the loss of family, income, and dignity. I’ve observed it first-hand so please read this book to avoid it.

Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

By Melba Pattillo Beals,

Book cover of Warriors Don't Cry: The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

Why this book?

We all know the iconic photograph of the Little Rock Nine; the nine black students who first integrated Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the picture, you see a young black female, walking stoically towards school, clutching books, hidden behind dark glasses as a mob of white people screams at her. What is behind that face?

This is that story. The story of how the American legal system creates fear and loathing. Her truth stares you in the face, her strength resonates in your backbone. Rather than curse her oppressors, she reveals the heroes, the villains, the people, and the law who tried to tear down the Little Rock Nine - and stand them up. Equal time is given to humanity and humiliation. 

This book discusses integration, laws, discrimination, and human kindness all interwoven into an excellent historical account. It doesn’t reduce the 9 to photos, but rather people who could be anyone experiencing the nastiness of discrimination.

Body In Question: Exploring the Cutting Edge of Forensic Science

By Brian Innes,

Book cover of Body In Question: Exploring the Cutting Edge of Forensic Science

Why this book?

This book is forensics for the layman. No mechanical component replaces education and knowledge. Electronics break down and computers are just machines. It is a good "old-fashioned" investigation work that solves crimes. This book explains how. It is easy-to-read, exciting for students, "couch cops," and even investigators. This book appeals to all types of learners with a thorough history of investigative processes filled with photos, charts, sketches, and maps. It also includes case studies of criminals and criminal behavior, manner of death, and profiling.

No, this book doesn't discuss the latest in lasers and it only briefly touches on DNA. It's about the natural investigative process: reasonable doubt, time and cause of death, criminal behavior, and courtroom proceedings. Want to read up on the future of orbiting satellites in investigative technology? Try another book. Want to see human eyelashes magnified by 50x in order to understand skin and hair samples? This is the book for you.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in crime, Arkansas, and criminology?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about crime, Arkansas, and criminology.

Crime Explore 31 books about crime
Arkansas Explore 15 books about Arkansas
Criminology Explore 9 books about criminology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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