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

Sarah Wise Author Of The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London
By Sarah Wise

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Carol Ann Lee

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

Why 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.


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The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper

By Robin Jarossi

The Hunt for the 60s’ Ripper

Why 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.


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The Maul and the Pear Tree

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

The Maul and the Pear Tree

Why 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.


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Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

By Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

Why 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.


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Ten Rillington Place

By Ludovic Henry Coverley Kennedy

Ten Rillington Place

Why 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.


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