The best books on unsolved murders

The Books I Picked & Why

My Dark Places: An L.A. Crime Memoir

By James Ellroy

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. 


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

By Michelle McNamara

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. 


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

By Hallie Rubenhold

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.


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

By Bill James, Rachel McCarthy James

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.


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

By Lawrence Schiller

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.


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