The Scariest Books (That Are Totally True)

The only thing scarier than great ghost stories retold in spooky voices on Halloween is reading true stories of murder and madness in the middle of the night as the wind rattles your window and makes the stairs creak. Oh sure, Stephen King may have created the creepiest clown ever in It, but Pennywise posers don’t have anything on these tales about the lives of cold-blooded killers. In preparation for the devilish delights of Halloween, we’ve assembled our favorite true crime stories. And don’t worry—we promise curling up under the covers will be enough to protect you. Sweet dreams.

The Devil in the White City

Erik Larson brings crusty old historical figures back from the dead in a gripping tale about a mass murderer in the late 1800s. With a novelist’s flair, Larson intertwines the stories of the 1893 World’s Fair’s lead architect with the story of a serial killer who took advantage of the Fair’s festivities to lure victims into his “Murder Castle.”

In the Still of the Night

Legendary true-crime writer Ann Rule started as a law enforcement officer and befriended Ted Bundy before realizing that he was a serial killer. While her book about Bundy kickstarted her true-crime career, she wrote many groundbreaking, influential (and, of course, frightening) books until her death in 2015. In the Still of the Night is one of her later works and chronicles how Rule successfully helped a mother prove her daughter hadn’t committed suicide, but had instead been murdered.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

John Berendt’s book combines the novelistic style of Larson with the self-insertion realism of Rule. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is partly a travelogue of Berendt’s time in the lovely Savannah, Georgia, in the 1980s, while also delving into whether antiques dealer Jim Williams murdered his lover in cold blood or self-defense. The killing reveals the dark underbelly of a beautiful city, with an endearing cast of characters oozing decadence and Southern charm.

Gomorrah

An up close and personal account of the havoc the Camorra, an organized crime ring, has wreaked on the city of Naples. Author Roberto Saviano witnessed his first murder at the age of 13, and then started going from crime scene to crime scene, documenting all the violent horror wrought by the Italian mob. The mobsters have a hand in all aspects of Italian life, and that can sometimes end in very bloody death.

Also available in audio.

In Cold Blood

A list of scariest true stories wouldn’t be complete without Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Psychologically rich and emotionally gripping, Capote's deeply researched account of the brutal slaying of a Kansas family defined the true crime genre and established Capote as one of the greatest writers of his time.

Can’t get enough true crime? Find more chilling books like these in our Scariest True Stories collection.


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