There is something eerily fascinating about serial killer stories. People love playing detectives, and these true crime tales provide the perfect avenues to test their sleuthing skills.
Get a chillingly detailed look into the minds of serial killers and learn a bit of history with the following top-rated criminal psychology books.
At A Glance: The 3 Best Books about Serial Killers Psychology
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The Stranger Beside Me
This exceptional classic account of one of America’s notorious serial killers tops this list. Check Price on Amazon
Written by Ann Rule, “The Stranger Beside Me: The Shocking Inside Story of Serial Killer Ted Bundy” tells about the horrific murders in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s by none other than American serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy.
The book is a firsthand story of Rule’s friendship with Bundy and her subsequent shock when she discovered that her longtime mate was a prolific criminal who kidnapped, raped, and killed numerous young girls.
Ted Bundy slaughtered at least 30 women in four years between 1974 and 1978. In 1989, he was executed via electric chair in Florida.
Rule spoke about the time she met the serial killer in 1971 at a Seattle crisis clinic and how they corresponded for years until his crimes were revealed.
Aside from the intimate look into their relationship, the book also reveals details about Bundy’s complicated childhood, up until the media spectacle of his trials.
Rule wrote compelling prose that drives you to feel her mounting horror after discovering that her friend was not only a suspect but a convicted serial killer.
“The Stranger Beside Me” masterfully combines Rule’s personal recollections, research, and journalism to deliver a chilling take unlike no other.
“Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker chronicles the exploits of a true-to-life veteran agent. Check Price on Amazon
The book tells the story of Douglas and his twenty-five-year career in the FBI Investigative Support Unit, where he profiled countless serial killers and criminals.
Now a Netflix original series, the gripping account reveals the events behind the scenes as the group tackled some of the most gruesome and challenging cases.
Douglas is a legendary figure in the FBI and one of the first criminal profilers in America. He and his team pursued the country’s most sadistic murderers, including Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Ed Gein.
The special agent’s profile was instrumental in the arrest and conviction of Robert Hansen, the serial killer who hunted prostitutes for sport in the Alaska woods, and Wayne Williams, the Atlanta child murderer.
“Mindhunter” also details the case of Gary Ridgway, Seattle’s Green River Killer, and Douglas’ close call with death while working on the assignment.
You will witness how a mindhunter like Douglas uses forensic psychology to examine crime scenes, create killers’ profiles, uncover their habits, and ultimately predict their next moves.
The perfect blend of fantastic storytelling and gruesome stories, this book is a definite must-have for anyone interested in criminal profiling.
The Devil in the White City
Erik Larson penned this horrifying true story of a serial killer who lured his targets to death in the cruelest way. Check Price on Amazon
“The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America” is about H.H. Holmes, considered one of the first well-known serial killers in America.
Holmes operated between 1888 to 1894 and was most active during the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. He preyed on young men who arrived at the city for job opportunities.
Larson revealed how the serial killer constructed a hotel that would be known as “Murder Castle.”
This house contained trapdoors, secret passages, and soundproof rooms where he trapped and killed employees and guests.
Holmes used strange and efficient methods to murder his victims. It is believed that he was responsible for more than 200 killings.
Many of the bodies discovered in the “Murder Castle” were already decomposed and badly dismembered that identification was almost impossible.
The serial killer was hanged in 1896.
“The Devil in the White City” alternates between telling the murders of Holmes and the construction of the World’s Fair.
You will learn a fair bit of history when architect Daniel Hudson Burnham and his talented team turned Jackson Park into the fabled White City.
This is an easy-read novel you need in your crime psych collection.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
Michelle McNamara’s award-winning true crime book details the haunt of the elusive serial killer who tormented California in the 1970s. Check Price on Amazon
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” is a genre-buster by a remarkable journalist who died while investigating the case.
It tells McNamara’s resolute mission to find the man responsible for 13 murders and about 50 rapes in several California towns spanning a decade, from the 1970s to 1980s.
She gave the criminal the moniker the “Golden State Killer.”
The book describes how the killer committed his crimes, moving from northern California to the south and eluding capture by the police.
Then, the “Golden State Killer” disappeared.
McNamara’s obsessive investigation of the case helped crack open the case. She pored over countless police reports and interviewed victims.
By 2016, using genetic genealogy techniques, the police arrested Joseph James DeAngelo.
By then, McNamara was already dead by two years, accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs she took for her heart condition.
The journalist was halfway to writing “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” when she passed away. Her work was finished with the help of investigative reporter Billy Jensen and researcher Paul Haynes.
McNamara’s husband, Patton Oswalt, wrote an afterword.
Hailed as a modern true crime classic, the book is a masterpiece that you will not be able to put down until the end.
“Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders” by Terry Sullivan and Peter T. Maiken is a chilling account of a sadistic serial killer and sex offender in the 1970s. Check Price on Amazon
The book reveals the gruesome murders of John Wayne Gacy, dubbed as the Killer Clown, murderer of 33 boys and men in Chicago.
Sullivan was the leading prosecutor who fronted the massive manhunt for the criminal, who then wrote the entire saga in this bestselling book.
Depicted as a model citizen and hospital volunteer, Gacy frequently dressed up as a clown for charity events and parties to entertain children.
Behind his flawless veneer was a brutal monster who raped and murdered over two dozens of boys and young men.
The crawlspace under his home in suburban Chicago was where he buried most of his victims. The others tossed in a nearby river.
Gacy’s killing spree remained undetected until a teenage boy disappeared before Christmas in 1978.
The search led to the killer’s doorsteps.
“Killer Clown” reconstructs the shocking investigation, starting from the unearthing of Gacy’s past violence records up to the day leading to his capture.
Sullivan’s eyewitness account will give you chills. You will never look at clowns the same way ever again.
This book will creep out even the most neurotic true crime novel readers.
Reporter Robert Graysmith wrote this disturbing real-life detective story about the unsolved Zodiac murders in 1960s California. Check Price on Amazon
“Zodiac: The Shocking True Story of the Hunt for the Nation’s Most Elusive Serial Killer” describes the desperate search for the elusive serial killer that terrorized California 60 years ago.
When the criminal who called himself Zodiac first struck in 1969, Graysmith was part of the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle.
His obsession with finding the killer, whose identity was never revealed due to the hood he always wore when murdering victims, remained steadfast years after the killings stopped.
The book reveals Graysmith’s compilation of previously unreleased facts about the case, including the complete texts of Zodiac’s letters sent to the authorities.
Zodiac targeted young couples, the first victims shot to death near their car in a secluded area north of San Francisco. A year later, the same modus was observed in the attack on another couple, though the male victim lived in this case.
Zodiac started phoning the police and dropping taunting letters to newspapers between 1969 to 1974. All these messages were signed with a symbol depicting the crosshairs of a gunsight.
Up to this day, the identity of the Zodiac killer remains unknown. His last victim was a taxi driver, shot in late 1969.
You will find “Zodiac” impossible to put down.
The Night Stalker
“The Night Stalker: The Disturbing Life and Chilling Crimes of Richard Ramirez” by Philip Carlo is a definitive account of one of America’s vicious serial killers. Check Price on Amazon
The book painstakingly details the crimes of Richard Ramirez, who murdered at least 13 women in the city of Los Angeles in the 1980s.
It will take you deep into the mindset of a killer, his terrible transgressions, and the cult following he garnered during his sensational trial.
Carlo’s meticulous research contained exclusive interviews with Ramirez, where the killer described witnessing a cousin kill at the age of 11 and his reaction to his nineteen death sentences.
Ramirez’s story was bizarre. During the trial, a juror fell in love with him.
When “The Night Stalker” was first published, women worldwide contacted Carlo and begged to be connected with the serial killer.
This updated version of the book contained the author’s interviews with the “Ramirez Groupies” and their disturbing stories.
It also features a death row interview with Ramirez. In 1985, he was sentenced to death but died due to cancer while in prison in 2013.
If you are looking for an excellent criminal psychology book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, this is a must-read.