5 True-Crime Books Scarier than Any Horror Film

From classic thrillers to newly published memoirs, here are the most terrifying books you need to read RN. *Bonus*: they’re all from female writers

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The cover of Lady Killers

Lady Killers by Tori Telfer

What do you think about when you hear the term “serial killer”? Do you picture a tall, creepy man lingering in the shadows? Well, author Tori Telfer is here to tell us that we. are. so. WRONG. Inspired by her Jezebel column about female murderers, Telfer’s Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History (HarperCollins, $20), follows the crimes of 14 twisted serial killers through the ages. From women who have poison their partners to ladies who find pleasure in torturing and killing, these vills will make you see serial killers in an entirely new (and totally messed up) way.

PSA: If you have a weak stomach for gory and inhumanly cruel storylines, you might want to give this one a pass. It’s highly descriptive, and at times, can literally make you sick. But, if you can handle it, Lady Killers is a fascinating read that doubles as a history lesson.

Scariest time to read: Anytime you’re in public; it makes you second-guess the motives of literally every single person you see. —Sarah Trumbley

Member of the Family cover

Member of the Family by Dianne Lake

The story of Dianne Lake’s early life is fascinating—and it gets even wilder when she meets Charles Manson at just 14 years old. In her just-released memoir, Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties (HarperCollins, $35), Lake shares the horrifying ways the serial killer manipulated and abused his followers, and how she ultimately helped put him behind bars. Lake’s account is terrifying given that she actually spent her formative teen years with Manson—and knew “Charlie” before the entire world did.

Scariest time to read: Saturday night before bed, so you can stay up late, terrified, but not be exhausted the next day at work. —Laura Hensley

The cover of the Spider and the Fly

The Spider and the Fly by Claudia Rowe

The Spider and the Fly (HarperCollins, $34) tells the true story of a journalist who became pen pals with an imprisoned serial killer named Kendall Francois. In 1998, Francois confessed to murdering eight women in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and hiding their bodies all over the home he shared with his parents and sister. Claudia Rowe, who lived in the same American town at the time of the murders, started a correspondence with Francois after his arrest, and exchanged countless letters and visited him in prison several times over a period of four years. The Spider and the Fly shares their encounters and letters—some of which are utterly bone-chilling.

Scariest time to read: If you’re easily spooked, literally anytime. It’s just as easy to jump out of your skin while reading it on the subway in the morning surrounded by people, or in bed alone at night. —Jenn Berry

The cover of the Stranger Beside Me

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me (Simon & Schuster, $13) is a classic thriller written by the late Ann Rule, who met infamous serial killer Ted Bundy when they both worked at a suicide crisis hotline. The pair grew close before Rule knew about Bundy’s many (many, many) crimes, but even once she did know what he did, she remained Bundy’s confidant until the day of his execution. Rule’s book recounts Bundy’s every move: from all his name and identity changes (she even uses side-by-side photo comparisons to illustrate all of his different looks) to every murder—and it’s creepy as f-ck. The Stranger Beside Me messes with your head because it makes you think that someone in your own life could turn out to be a completely different person than who you think they are. 

Scariest time to read: Right before you need to go anywhere alone. —Meghan Collie

The cover of book Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning by Carys Cragg

For those looking to get into the true crime genre, but not ready for full-on sleepless nights and paranoia, Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father (Arsenal Pulp Press, $20) may be the perfect read. Carys Cragg’s memoir details her correspondence with Sheldon Klatt, the man who killed her father. Cragg was only 11 when her father, a well-known doctor, went downstairs to investigate noises in their home. Encountering Klatt, the home invasion turned into a deadly stabbing, which shook Calgary’s community in 1992. In this book, Cragg details the events before, during and after her father’s murder, as well as why, now as an adult, she felt a need to reach out to Klatt. Dead Reckoning may not be hide-under-your-covers scary, but the back-and-forth between Cragg and Klatt is chilling at times—as are the details of her father’s murder and Klatt’s violent upbringing. Those moments are coupled with an almost philosophical discussion about what drives us to do the things we do, and if we can ever adequately make amends for the wrongs we commit. The result is a true-crime book that won’t give you goosebumps, but will make you think—long after you’ve read the final page.

Scariest time to read: 10 p.m., when the house starts to creak and you wonder if that noise is just the floorboards—or something else. —Ishani Nath

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