The best books on unsolved murders

Who am I?

I trace my interest in true crime back to the early 1970s when I worked as a staff cartoonist for a weekly newspaper in Wichita, Kansas. A former cop lent me his vast collection of mugshots. Looking into the literal face of crime awakened in me a lasting interest. He also gave me a copy of the complete police file of an unsolved murder from years earlier. Scrutinizing it gave birth to my passion for real-life mysteries like Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Mary Rogers, and the Black Dahlia. To my mind, questions are always more fascinating than answers.  


I wrote...

A Treasury Of Victorian Murder Compendium: Including: Jack The Ripper, The Beast Of Chicago, Fatal Bullet

By Rick Geary,

Book cover of A Treasury Of Victorian Murder Compendium: Including: Jack The Ripper, The Beast Of Chicago, Fatal Bullet

What is my book about?

I have written and illustrated eighteen graphic novels that recount famous murder cases of the 19th and 20th centuries. This volume collects four of them from the Victorian era. Included are: Jack the Ripper, The Beast of Chicago (about the serial killer H.H. Holmes), and The Fatal Bullet (the assassination of President James A. Garfield). In each thoroughly researched case, my goals have been, above all, clarity and accuracy.

The books I picked & why

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My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

Why this book?

This 1996 memoir reads like much of Ellroy’s fiction: hard-boiled and from-the-gut. The author’s mother was raped and murdered in 1958, the perpetrator never found. He recalls his troubled childhood and adolescence and a nascent writing career spurred by his obsession with LA’s notorious Black Dahlia case. Between these episodes, Ellroy recounts his efforts, 38 years on, and with the aid of a private investigator, to find an answer to the mystery of his mother’s death. 

My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked My Dark Places as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 22 June 1958, Geneva "Jean" Hilliker Ellroy was found strangled. Her murderer was never found, but her death had a lasting effect on her ten-year-old son who wasted his early adulthood as a wino, petty burglar and derelict. In this book he tells of his determination to solve his mother's murder.


I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

By Michelle McNamara,

Book cover of I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

Why this book?

Like the Ellroy book, this one recounts a very personal journey for the author, who chronicles her years-long immersion in the case of the serial rapist and murderer known as the Golden State Killer, who, for ten years, terrorized California, from the Sacramento area all the way south to Orange County. A sad coda to the story was McNamara’s untimely death before the killer was finally apprehended, through DNA testing, in 2018. 

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

By Michelle McNamara,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked I'll Be Gone in the Dark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE BASIS FOR THE MAJOR 6-PART HBO® DOCUMENTARY SERIES

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR:

Washington Post | Maureen Corrigan, NPR | Paste | Seattle Times | Entertainment Weekly | Esquire | Slate | Buzzfeed | Jezebel | Philadelphia Inquirer | Publishers Weekly | Kirkus Reviews | Library Journal | Bustle 

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards for Nonfiction | Anthony Award Winner | SCIBA Book Award Winner | Finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime | Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence

The haunting true story of the elusive serial rapist…


The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Why this book?

In a unique take on the Jack the Ripper crimes, this book tells the stories of the killer’s five victims. Contrary to accepted history, only one was a working prostitute, most came from middle-class backgrounds, had husbands and families, before beginning the sad descent into alcoholic destitution. All were homeless, and most likely were killed while they slept. A heart-wrenching chronicle of lives wasted and tragically ended.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE #1 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NONFICTION 2019
'An angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth. Powerful and shaming' GUARDIAN

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but…


The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

By Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James,

Book cover of The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

Why this book?

The baseball writer and analyst Bill James sets out to trace the path of a serial ax murderer who left a bloody trail across the US in the early 20th century. Starting with the well-chronicled deaths of eight people in Villisca, Iowa, in 1912, he reveals the signature connections between this crime and dozens of others committed over a period of 15 years from Washington State to Florida, crimes for which innocent people were put to death. A mind-boggling feat of research.

The Man from the Train: The Solving of a Century-Old Serial Killer Mystery

By Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Man from the Train as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime, this "impressive...open-eyed investigative inquiry wrapped within a cultural history of rural America" (The Wall Street Journal) shows legendary statistician and baseball writer Bill James applying his analytical acumen to crack an unsolved century-old mystery surrounding one of the deadliest serial killers in American history.

Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Jewelry and valuables were left in plain sight, bodies were piled together, faces covered with cloth. Some of these cases, like the infamous Villasca, Iowa, murders, received national…


Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury's Search for the Truth

By Lawrence Schiller,

Book cover of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury's Search for the Truth

Why this book?

This is the most detailed account we’re likely to get of what remains an enduring mystery: the 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in her home in the affluent town of Boulder, Colorado. From the beginning, police and all other observers were baffled, although the victim’s parents remained under a cloud of suspicion. An added bizarre element was the mother’s grooming of her daughter to compete in child beauty pageants.

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncensored Story of the JonBenet Murder and the Grand Jury's Search for the Truth

By Lawrence Schiller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Perfect Murder, Perfect Town as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, Lawrence Schiller thoroughly recreates every aspect of the complex case of the death of JonBenét Ramsey. A brilliant portrait of an inscrutable family thrust under the spotlight of public suspicion and an affluent, tranquil city torn apart by a crime it couldn't handle, Perfect Murder, Perfect Town uncovers the mysteries that have bewildered the nation.

Why were the Ramseys, the targets of the investigation, able to control the direction of the police inquiry?

Can the key to the murder be found in the pen and writing pad used for the ransom note?

Was it possible…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, Colorado, and Iowa?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, Colorado, and Iowa.

Murder Explore 497 books about murder
Colorado Explore 52 books about Colorado
Iowa Explore 27 books about Iowa

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Devil in the White City, In Cold Blood, and The Perfect Father if you like this list.