I have been a fan of true crime for years. I can vividly remember curling up with Portrait of a Killer or Helter Skelter when I was first introduced to true crime and immediately being sucked in. Eventually, I began to, ever so slowly, explore other cases, stumbling blindly through the mass of cases. I would start up a book and hear allusions to another case I hadn’t read about.

My pitiful expedition in to true crime has been the inspiration for this article. If you are new to the genre and have no idea where to start, much as I was back then, this article is here to help.

Here are ten of, what I consider to be, the most fundamental true crime cases you should read. Hopefully one or two will get you as hooked as I was on true crime.

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1.Ted Bundy

Photo Credit: Boston 25 News

Ted Bundy is one of America’s most prolific serial killers, having killed at least thirty young women and girls across the United States. His victims were usually college students, and he would often pose as injured or in need of help to lure his victims in.

He was also a law student and active in the political world in Washington state.

Bundy always showed signs of trouble as a child. He couldn’t accept the fact that he was illegitimate, nor could he accept his stepfather when his mother re-married. Perhaps one of the most significant warning signs was when, at three, he arranged knives around his sleeping aunt.

Bundy resented women after a painful breakup and, when life’s stressors got too much, began killing young women.

He was arrested in August 1975, for the attempted kidnapping of Carol DaRonch but escaped from the courthouse during his trial.

After being apprehended again and sentenced, he escaped from his cell and went on the run. He ended up in Florida, where he attacked several women in a sorority house and then an apartment in one night.

He was arrested February 15, 1978, and sentenced to death. Bundy was executed January 24, 1989.

I have a list of my top ten Ted Bundy books also on this blog.

Book Cover The Bundy Murders

One of my top recommended Ted Bundy books was by Kevin M. Sullivan, and I wholeheartedly recommend just about any of Sullivan’s books on Bundy as an introduction to the case. From The Encyclopedia of the Ted Bundy Murders to The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History, The Trail of Ted Bundy: Digging Up the Untold Stories, and The Bundy Secrets: Hidden Files on America’s Worst Serial Killer, Sullivan’s works are a must read for anyone interested in the case.

2. Jeffery Dahmer

Photo Credit: NBC

Jeffery Dahmer killed thirteen young men and boys between 1978 and 1991, often saving their body parts and cannibalizing other parts.

Dahmer sought out victims in gay bars or on the streets and brought them to his home under the guise of taking photos of them. There, he drugged, raped, and killed them. Near the end of his rampage, when bodies were stacking up rapidly, he attempted to make mindless, zombie-like slaves by drilling holes in to his victims’ heads and pouring in acid.

Dahmer’s childhood was not a particularly stable one, but it was otherwise normal. However, he always had macabre interests, often collecting roadkill in his teen years. He committed his first murder just after his high school graduation. Shortly after, he went into the Army but got discharged due to his persistent alcoholism.

After blacking out and killing a man he’d brought to a hotel room from a gay bar, his killing spree began full swing in 1987.

Dahmer was arrested for child molestation in 1989, and sentenced to probation.

He was arrested in 1991 after a would-be victim escaped. He was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life terms. He was attacked and killed in prison in 1994.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Story: An American Nightmare (formerly published under the title The Milwaukee Murders) by Don Davis is a great starting point for those new to the genre of true crime. This book does a good job telling the story of a seemingly average American boy and his descent into madness and murder.

3. Richard Ramirez

Photo Credit: LA Times

Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker, raped and murdered at least thirteen people in California between 1984 and 1985. Ramirez was a self-described Satanist, and satanic symbolism appeared at many of the crime scenes.

Ramirez was a troubled child who dropped out of school and turned to a life of crime and drugs. He was influenced towards violence from a young age by his uncle’s graphic recounting of torturing women while stationed in Vietnam.

Ramirez was initially a burglar, but losing control and stabbing a 79-year-old woman during a break-in, he began to actively seek to rape and kill other victims. He would break in to homes and assault the women inside, using a wide variety of weapons during his killing spree.

Ramirez was identified after leaving one of his last victims alive, and his abandoned getaway car turned up a fingerprint.

Ramirez was captured on August 25, 1985, and sentenced to death on November 7, 1989, but ultimately died in prison from cancer June 7, 2013.

For anyone interested in learning more, The Night Stalker: The Life and Crimes of Richard Ramirez, written by the late journalist Philip Carlo, is a definite introductory read.

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4. Charles Manson

Photo Credit: CNN

Charles Manson, aka Helter Skelter, and his band of murderers, he considered as “Family,” are possibly one of the most notorious cases in true crime.

Manson orchestrated the killings of actress Sharon Tate, some of her Hollywood friends, and a couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

Manson was a career criminal, born to an alcoholic child prostitute. He spent most of his early life in either reform schools or prison and had little knowledge of how to make his way in life if not for crime. He tried and failed to become a successful musician, and soon afterward began recruiting his cult following of teenage runaways and young hippies, whom he allegedly brainwashed.

In 1969, his family killed Sharon Tate and her friends, who were staying with her during the later months of her pregnancy. Shortly after, he then commanded his “Family” to kill the LaBiancas.

Manson’s motives are technically unclear, but prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi stated the theory was that Manson intended to incite a race war.

Manson died in prison November 19, 2017.

For a deeper look in to the Manson case, I recommend The Manson Files by Adam Parfrey. Published two decades after the crimes, this book looks at how this prison-educated Svengali held sway over his apostles. Firsthand accounts from Manson family members offer direct insight in to the tragedies that put an end to the era of the flower child.

5. Dennis Rader

Photo Credit: International Business Times

Dennis Rader, who named himself BTK (standing for Bind, Torture, Kill), killed ten people between 1974 and 1991. Rader is infamous for his frequent taunting of both police and press with gruesome letters and his “trophy” collecting from crime scenes.

Rader is a unique serial killer. With the help of reliving his crimes through trophies and taking photos of himself in bondage, he was able to quell his homicidal urges for extended periods. In fact, he went almost ten years between murders at one point.

Rader had a seemingly unremarkable childhood, with the only warning sign being his love for torturing animals. As an adult, Rader managed to successfully balance being a family man and an important member of his community with stalking and killing.

Rader was captured in 2004, after corresponding with police from the computer in his church, allowing law enforcement to find a link to the church and a man named Dennis.

He pled guilty to the murders and gave an emotionless, bone-chilling recounting of the crimes.

He is currently serving ten consecutive life terms.

Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door, written by the Wichita Eagle reporters who covered the case (and dealt with eerie letters from Rader), is a fundamental read for this case. It is captivating and paints a vivid picture of Rader’s crimes, life, and the hunt for and capture of this infamous killer.

6. John Wayne Gacy

Photo Credit: True Crime Magazine

John Wayne Gacy, also known as the Killer Clown, murdered thirty-three young men and boys between 1972 and 1978. I have written an article about Gacy, featured on this blog, that goes into more detail than this list, in case you would like to read more.

Gacy had, like many of these killers, a troubled childhood. His health was fragile, and his father was degrading and abusive.

In Gacy’s adult life, he began to take an interest in business and, after marrying his first wife, was given a management position of one of her family’s KFC restaurants. He began to take an active part in his local community, joining many organizations and projected an image of a successful, wholesome man. However, his marriage soon failed after Gacy got caught sexually assaulting teenage boys in his basement “youth club.”

Once out of jail, Gacy moved but had several more run-ins with the law due to molesting boys. Soon, he started up his own contracting business, and his murder spree began.

He buried most of the young men he killed in the crawlspace of a house he owned.

He was arrested after abducting and killing Robert Piest in 1978. Sentenced to death, Gacy was executed in 1994.

For further reading, I recommend Buried Dreams by Tim Cahill. Based on investigative reporting by Chicago’s inestimable newsman, the late Russ Ewing, Cahill’s book is a must-read on John Wayne Gacy.

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7. David Berkowitz

Photo Credit: WorthPoint

Better known as the Son of Sam or the .44 Caliber Killer, David Berkowitz went on a killing spree in New York City between July 1976 and July 1977.

Initially, Berkowitz claimed demon dogs commanded him to kill but later admitted this was a lie. Years after the fact, he claimed to have been killing for a Satanic cult and alleged he did not commit all of the shootings he was charged with, or at least not alone.

Berkowitz had a normal childhood, outside of having been adopted, but always showed signs of trouble. He liked to set fires and got involved in petty crime.

He later joined the Army and was honorably discharged two years later. However, according to him, he was brought in to a Satanic cult shortly after. His killing spree lasted only a year but left six people dead and seven wounded. Just after the year was up, police closed in on Berkowitz. He was arrested and pled guilty, confessing to the murders

Lawrence D. Klausner’s book Son of Sam is a definitive introductory read, sourcing its material from over three hundred documented conversations Berkowitz has held since being incarcerated.

An excellent source for further background on David Berkowitz and the story he now tells, of being in a Satanic cult, is the riveting The Ultimate Evil by the late award-winning investigative journalist Maury Terry.

8. Edmund Kemper

Photo Credit: Edmund Kemper Stories

Edmund Kemper, known as the Co-ed Killer, also had a troubled childhood and domineering mother. His mother was an alcoholic who berated and blamed her problems on young Kemper. When he turned ten, she made him sleep in the basement, claiming to fear he would rape his sisters. Kemper later stated his mother was what drove him to kill.

Kemper killed his grandparents at fifteen, after an argument with his grandmother. He was sent to a maximum-security facility for mentally ill convicts and released when he was twenty-one.

Against doctors’ advice, Kemper returned to his mother’s house. Within three years, he began killing again. Kemper killed six female college students between August 1972 and February 1973.

His murder spree culminated in what he saw as removing the root cause. In April 1973, he killed his mother in her sleep, then killed her friend later that day. Shortly after, Kemper turned himself in and confessed to each crime.

Edmund Kemper book Cover By Ryan Becker

If you are interested in learning more, I recommend reading Edmund Kemper: The True Story of the Brutal Co-ed Butcher by Ryan Becker.

9. Gary Ridgway

Photo Credit: Seattle PI

Gary Ridgway, AKA, the Green River Killer, is easily one of America’s most prolific serial killers. His confirmed victim count totals in at forty-nine, though he confessed to police that he had murdered as many as eighty women from 1982 to 2001. Ted Bundy himself helped law enforcement develop a criminal profile of Ridgway long before his identification.

Ridgway, a pitiful-looking and seemingly harmless man, had a troubled childhood and low IQ. His ex-wives reported him to have a near-insatiable sex drive, which conflicted with his fanatical religious beliefs.

Most of his victims were prostitutes or runaways, and Ridgway would lure them in to his car, sometimes using his son or a photo of his son to gain their trust. He would strangle them, initially with his hands but later with ligatures, and often dumped their bodies in clusters.

He had sex with the corpses and later took to burying his victims to keep temptation at bay. He was arrested in 2001 after DNA analysis matched him to the semen found on victims.

For a first read, I recommend a book by Seattle’s own Carlton Smith and Tomas Guillen, reporters who covered the Green River Killings firsthand. The Search for the Green River Killer: The True Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer is a fundamental read for anyone interested in learning more.

10. Jack the Ripper

Photo Credit: Imagine Publicity

Jack the Ripper was the first case I ever took an interest in, and it set a precedent for my persisting love for historical crime. Jack the Ripper, was a serial killer who plagued the slums of London’s east end, murdering five women over a few months in 1888.

The Ripper’s victims were impoverished prostitutes, making him one of the original murderers to prey on a high-risk populations. This trend among serial killers has persisted to the present day.

The Ripper’s case reached near-legendary status partly because the killer went unidentified. Supposedly, the Ripper himself sent police taunting letters. However, most modern experts consider these letters to be hoaxes. Despite hundreds of suspects being put forward, even in to the current day and labs performing DNA tests on evidence, it appears we will never know the Ripper’s identity.

For further reading on Jack the Ripper, I recommend. Portrait of a Killer by Patricia Cornwell, which contains her theory of famed 19th century painter, Walter Sickert, being the Ripper. The book is a wonderful read, and I would absolutely recommend it as someone else’s first Jack the Ripper read.

Want more spine-chilling stories? Get our most shocking and horrific stories sent straight to your inbox, sign up for True Crime Seven’s newsletter and you can also receive a FREE copy of “The Briley Brothers” today.

Written by : Kurtis-Giles Veysey

One Comment

  1. Ella December 13, 2022 at 1:08 am - Reply

    Love them!! Can you do more??

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