The best true crime books that show fact is FAR odder than fiction

Who am I?

While completing a Master’s degree in Victorian Studies at the University of London, I stumbled across a passing reference to a series of killings in 1831 in East London. I was astonished that I had never heard of these and further research resulted in my first book, The Italian Boy. Three books later I realise now that all my work is an attempt to squeeze out of the archives the less-recorded aspects of the everyday life of ‘marginalised’ people. And I guess that’s why I have selected the true crime books below – they all shine a bright light on previously little-known aspects of our world, and reveal the inter-relationship of victims, criminal, and location of the deed.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London

What is my book about?

How on earth did this series of killings, in Bethnal Green, East London, slip out of public consciousness? Well, for one thing, they were copycat killings in the wake of the far more notorious (and very well documented) Burke and Hare ‘murders for anatomy’ in late-1820s Edinburgh. The ‘Italian Boy Killings’ were very much in the shadow of the Burke and Hare case. With the victims in mind, I decided here was a real-life ‘plot’ via which I could explore the life of the destitute in late-Georgian London, and analyse the way in which the city appeared to connive in the series of events that would lead to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Murders at White House Farm: Jeremy Bamber and the Killing of His Family

Sarah Wise Why did I love this book?

Of all the books written about the massacre of the Bamber/Caffell family in August 1985, none captures the sadness and tragedy of the family dynamic as Lee has here. She delves deep into the troubled lives of June and Neville Bamber and their adopted children Jeremy and Sheila. It’s an extraordinary case – a real puzzle. I don’t actually agree with Lee’s (apparent) assumption of Jeremy Bamber’s guilt – the seven pages of police surmise at the end of her book have a number of holes that undermine the plausibility of their case. In my view, a retrial should have taken place. Nevertheless, Lee has created a truly poignant portrait of a time and a place – rural Essex in the brash 1980s – in which horror does battle with pity.

By Carol Ann Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Murders at White House Farm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times bestseller and the definitive story behind the ITV factual drama White House Farm about the horrific killings that took place in 1985.

On 7 August 1985, Nevill and June Bamber, their daughter Sheila and her two young sons Nicholas and Daniel were discovered shot to death at White House Farm in Essex. The murder weapon was found on Sheila's body, a bible lay at her side. All the windows and doors of the farmhouse were secure, and the Bambers' son, 24-year-old Jeremy, had alerted police after apparently receiving a phone call from his father, who told him…


Book cover of The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper

Sarah Wise Why did I love this book?

Jarossi’s debut features deeply moving vignettes of young women with troubled early lives, who, in the West London of the 1960s, fell into the path of a still-unknown serial killer. He was heartlessly dubbed Jack The Stripper by the national newspapers. Jarossi vividly recreates the tawdry workings of the vice trade – the underbelly of Swinging London. He rightly focuses on the victims – and restores to them the dignity of which their killer (and those who covered the case originally) deprived them.

By Robin Jarossi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and The Who were all performing in the Queensway and Shepherds Bush areas of London in 1964-65.

But in those same areas, during the early hours, a meticulous serial killer was stalking local prostitutes and dumping their naked bodies on the streets.

Seven, possibly eight, women fell victim making this killer more prolific than Jack the Ripper 77 years previously. His grim spree sparked the biggest police manhunt in history.

But why did such a massive hunt fail? And why has such a traumatic case been largely forgotten today?

One detective makes the astonishing new claim…


Book cover of The Maul and the Pear Tree

Sarah Wise Why did I love this book?

There is something very wrong with the official version of the Ratcliff Highway Murders of 1811, in which seven were killed – so much that simply does not add up. Detective fiction writer James and historian Critchley teamed up in 1971 to use their respective talents to sift the contradictory accounts of the killings of the Marr and Williamson households. They brilliantly capture the atmosphere of Regency Wapping and come up with an unusual partial solution, exonerating John Williams, whom tradition has always fingered as the killer.

By P. D. James, T.A. Critchley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Maul and the Pear Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1811 John Williams was buried with a stake in his heart. Was he the notorious East End killer or his eighth victim in the bizarre and shocking Ratcliffe Highway Murders? In this vivid and gripping reconstruction P. D. James and police historian T. A. Critchley draw on forensics, public records, newspaper clippings and hitherto unpublished sources, expertly sifting the evidence to shed new light on this infamous Wapping mystery.

This true crime novel begins amid the horror of a dark, wintry London in the year 1811. Using elegant historical detection P.D. James and police historian T.A. Critchley piece together…


Book cover of Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

Sarah Wise Why did I love this book?

Charles Manson didn’t get his own hands bloody – instead, his extraordinary charisma, brainwashing, and liberal intakes of LSD led his large youthful following (the ‘Manson Family’) to carry out the slaughters on his behalf. Bugliosi had the inside track on the Manson killings, having been prosecuting counsel in the murder trials of 1970. The killers were, for the most part, young women from ‘good’ backgrounds, and the remorseless slayings, ordered by Manson for his own mysterious reasons, are as shocking as they are perverse. Bugliosi slowly builds up a terrifying portrait of the dark side of California’s flower-power movement.

By Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Helter Skelter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his "family" of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the…


Book cover of Ten Rillington Place

Sarah Wise Why did I love this book?

In 1961 campaigning journalist Ludovic Kennedy stirred the hornets’ nest of the Christie killings in north Kensington in the 1940s/early 50s. John Christie’s tenant, Timothy Evans, had been hanged in 1950 for the murder of his wife and child at 10 Rillington Place; but in 1953 it was discovered that Christie himself had turned the small terraced home into a charnel house – with the discovery of six female bodies. Kennedy’s book captures the squalor and madness at number ten, and the tragic chain of events that sent the wrong man to the gallows.

By Ludovic Henry Coverley Kennedy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ten Rillington Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1950 Timothy Evans was hanged for the murder of his wife and baby daughter in a nightmare scenario. This is an account of all that took place in the house in Ladbroke Grove, London, of the lives of those who lived there and the events that were to lead to a miscarriage of justice. Timothy Evans and his wife Beryl moved into lodgings in the home of John Christie, and within a short space of time the lives of the young couple were brutally shattered and destroyed by their landlord - who had murdered before. Events simply overtook Evans,…


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Lethal Legacy

By H R Kemp,

Book cover of Lethal Legacy

H R Kemp

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Buried Secrets. A web of deceit, betrayal, and danger. Can she survive her fight for justice and truth? Laura thought she knew everything about her late husband before he died. Now, her life and the lives of those she loves are in danger. As Laura delves into his previous role in Iraq, she unravels a web of lies and deceit that goes far beyond anything she could have imagined. What was he researching? And why are people willing to kill for it?

Laura turns amateur sleuth. At fifty-nine, she must summon every ounce of strength to expose the truth and navigate a treacherous landscape where the lines between trust and betrayal blur. Every step she takes brings her closer to the truth, but also deeper into the dangerous realm of those who wish to silence her forever.

Can she triumph over the shadows of corruption and finally bring justice to light? Or will she succumb to the deadly grip of those who will stop at nothing to protect their dark legacies?

Lethal Legacy

By H R Kemp,

What is this book about?

Buried Secrets. A web of deceit, betrayal, and danger. Can she survive her fight for justice and truth?

Laura thought she knew everything about her late husband before he died. Now, her life and the lives of those she loves are in danger.

As Laura delves into his previous role in Iraq, she begins to unravel a web of lies and deceit that goes far beyond anything she could have imagined. What was he researching? And why are people willing to kill for it?

Laura turns amateur sleuth. At fifty-nine, she must summon every ounce of strength and relentless determination…


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