Stranger Than Fiction: Chilling True Crime Reads for the Halloween Season

Ok, it's confession time. I'm Laura, and I'm a true crime addict. I often joke that if I'm ever a suspect, and the police look at my bookshelf and see all the Ann Rule paperbacks, I'm in big trouble. But with the popularity of podcasts like Serial, and tv shows like American Crime Story true crime is becoming more and more popular. I've always thought these stories are way scarier than anything Stephen King could ever dream up. So if you're looking for a good read for Halloween, here are some of my favorites.

American Fire: Love, Arson and Loss in a Vanishing Land -Monica Hesse 

This is the newest book on this list, and one of the best books I've read recently. It tells the story of a string of arsons in rural Virginia, and the tender and twisted love story that started them.

American Heiress : the Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst-Jeffrey Toobin

Everybody knows the basics of the Patty Hearst kidnapping, but Toobin's book tells the whole story, with all it's crazy twists and turns and strange, sometimes downright bizarre details. He tackles the central question-was she a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, or did she willingly go along?-with such balance that I still can't make up my mind.  I also recommend Toobin's The Run of His Life : the People v. O.J. Simpson, the basis for the excellent first season of American Crime Story.

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders-Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

No list of true crime recs would be complete with this one. It was the first in the genre I ever read, and it still creeps me out. If you're interested in a fictional take on the case, I also recommend The Girls. 

Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery-Robert Kolker

I usually don't like books about unsolved crimes, but this one is the exception. Kolker first reported on the story of the Long Island Serial Killer for New York Magazine. He does an excellent job of delving into the history of the victims and their families. In cases like this, there's often a feeling that because the victims were sex workers, nobody cares. Kolker does, and it shows through in the sensitive way he tells their story.

Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of a American Suburb-Bernard Lefkowitz

The friend who recommended this book to me told me that it was great but "It made me so mad, I wanted to throw it across the room." I understand why. The story of the rape of a developmentally disabled teenage girl by a group of popular high school athletes in 1992 is even more relevant today than when it first came out. Lefkowitz is an excellent reporter and balances both the tale of the victim who desperately wanted to belong, and the perpetrators who had avoided trouble for years because "boys will be boys."

The Skeleton Crew : How Amateur Sleuths are Solving America's Coldest Cases-Deborah Halber

The Skeleton Crew is probably the only book on this list that I actually laughed out loud reading. It examines the world of online sleuths, people who hang out in forums like Websleuths and attempt to solve cold cases. It features an eccentric cast of characters and shows the way these amateur detectives both help and hinder investigations.

Small Sacrifices: a True Story of Passion and Murder-Ann Rule 

Ann Rule is my favorite true crime writer and I had a hard time picking just one book. Small Sacrifices covers the case of Diane Downs, the Oregon mother who killed her daughter and attempted to kill her other two children in 1983. Rule is great at getting into the heads of everyone-Diane herself, the doctors who helped the surviving children, and the cops and prosecutors who worked the case.

Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan & Betty Broderick –Bella Stumbo

The Betty Broderick case was everywhere in the early 1990s.  (I can remember watching the tv movie about it.) Though this is an older book, I didn't read it until I had already started working as a Law Librarian, and I'm glad. I don't know that I would have have understood some of the legal aspects if I'd read it before then. Stumbo's account of Broderick's murder of her ex-husband Dan Broderick and his wife Linda, focuses not just on the murder, but the divorce itself and how it led to the crime. At the time they parted, Dan Broderick was a well known medical malpractice attorney, and eventually became the president of the San Diego Bar Association. By the time they divorce finally made it to court, almost five years after their split, Betty was acting as her own attorney, and you can imagine how that went. This is a book I would definitely recommend to anyone working in the Family Law field.

While the City Slept: a Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man's Descent Into Madness-Eli Sanders

This book is simply heartbreaking.  It's the riveting account of the the brutal rape and murder of Teresa Butz, and the rape and attempted murder of her partner, Jennifer Hopper by Isaiah Kalebu in Seattle in 2009. Sanders dives in the background of all three people, and by the end I felt for everyone involved, even Kalebu himself and his family. It is also an indictment of the state of the mental health care and criminal justice systems that someone as ill as he clearly is, was out roaming the streets and committed this crime. I read a lot of true crime, but I actually teared up when the book recounted Jennifer's testimony. How she could survive all of this, and then face Isaiah in court and still say, "I don't want anything bad to happen to you in prison, nothing. I wish you peace every last day of your life." is something I cannot imagine. Her grace and courage is truly inspirational.

The Woman Who Wasn't There : the True Story of an Incredible Deception-Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo

It may be a stretch to call this true crime, but the story is so fascinating I had to include it. Tania Head was the president of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network, a support group for people who had survived the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. She was an outspoken advocate for survivors, and even led Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Guiliani on a tour of the WTC Visitor Site. The only problem was, it wasn't true. Head was not even in the United States on September 11, 2001. The unraveling of her story is so bizarre it reads like a novel, and the pain she caused the other survivors was devastating, even it it wasn't technically a crime.