Cold-Blooded Crimes: Nine Nonfiction Crime Books to Read This Season

True Crime Christmas

This collection of cold-blooded crimes stories will go perfectly with the long, dark winter nights that come along with winter.

 

Randy Kraft was highly intelligent, politically active, loyal to his friends, committed to his work–and the killer of 67 people–more than any other serial killer known. This book offers a glimpse into the dark mind of a living monster.

In a secret meeting in 1981, a low-level Boston thief gave career gangster Ralph Rossetti the tip of a lifetime: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was a big score waiting to happen. Though its collections included priceless artworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, and others, its security was cheap, mismanaged, and out of date. And now, it seemed, the whole Boston criminal underworld knew it.

Nearly a decade passed before the Museum was finally hit. But when it finally happened, the theft quickly became one of the most infamous art heists in history: thirteen works of art valued at up to 500 million, by some of the most famous artists in the world, were taken. The Boston FBI took control of the investigation, but twenty-five years later the case is still unsolved and the artwork is still missing.

Stephen Kurkjian, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, has been working this case for over nearly twenty years. In Master Thieves, he sheds new light on some of the Gardner’s most abiding mysteries. Why would someone steal these paintings, only to leave them hidden for twenty-five years? And why, if one of the top crime bosses in the city knew about this score in 1981, did the theft happen in 1990? What happened in those intervening years? And what might all this have to do with Boston’s notorious gang wars of the 1980s?

Kurkjian’s reporting is already responsible for some of the biggest breaks in this story, including a meticulous reconstruction of what happened at the Museum that fateful night. Now Master Thieves will reveal the identities of those he believes plotted the heist, the motive for the crime, and the details that the FBI has refused to discuss. Taking you on a journey deep into the gangs of Boston, Kurkjian emerges with the most complete and compelling version of this story ever told.

During the 1990s, while playing for the biggest hockey team in Budapest, Attila Ambrus took up bank robbery to make ends meet. Arrayed against him was perhaps the most incompetent team of crime investigators the Eastern Bloc had ever seen: a robbery chief who had learned how to be a detective by watching dubbed Columbo episodes; a forensics man who wore top hat and tails on the job; and a driver so inept he was known only by a Hungarian word that translates to Mound of Ass-Head.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is the completely bizarre and hysterical story of the crime spree that made a nobody into a somebody, and told a forlorn nation that sometimes the brightest stars come from the blackest holes. Like The Professor and the Madman and The Orchid Thief, Julian Rubinstein’s bizarre crime story is so odd and so wicked that it is completely irresistible.

When Bryan Christy began to investigate the world of reptile smuggling, he had no idea what he would be in for. In the course of his research, he was bitten between the eyes by a blood python, chased by a mother alligator, and sprayed by a bird-eating tarantula. But perhaps more dangerous was coming face to face with Michael J. Van Nostrand, owner of Strictly Reptiles, a thriving family business in Hollywood, Florida. Van Nostrand imports as many as 300,000 iguanas each year (over half the total of America’s most popular imported reptile), as well as hundreds of thousands of snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, and scorpions.

Van Nostrand was suspected of being a reptile smuggler by Special Agent Chip Bepler of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who devoted years of his life in an obsessive quest to expose The Lizard King’s cold-blooded crimes. How this cat-and-mouse game ended is engrossing and surprising.

Turn-of-the-century Paris was the beating heart of a rapidly changing world. Painters, scientists, revolutionaries, poets—all were there. But so, too, were the shadows: Paris was a violent, criminal place, its sinister alleyways the haunts of Apache gangsters and its cafes the gathering places of murderous anarchists.

In 1911, it fell victim to perhaps the greatest theft of all time—the taking of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Immediately, Alphonse Bertillon, a detective world-renowned for pioneering crime-scene investigation techniques, was called upon to solve the crime. And quickly the Paris police had a suspect: a young Spanish artist named Pablo Picasso . . .

In 1901 Evelyn Nesbit, a chorus girl in the musical Florodora, dined alone with the architect Stanford White in his townhouse on 24th Street in New York. Nesbit, just sixteen years old, had recently moved to the city. White was forty-seven and a principal in the prominent architectural firm McKim, Mead & White. As the foremost architect of his day, he was a celebrity, responsible for designing countless landmark buildings in Manhattan. That evening, after drinking champagne, Nesbit lost consciousness and awoke to find herself naked in bed with White. Telltale spots of blood on the bed sheets told her that White had raped her.

She told no one about the rape until, several years later, she confided in Harry Thaw, the millionaire playboy who would later become her husband. Thaw, thirsting for revenge, shot and killed White in 1906 before hundreds of theatergoers during a performance in Madison Square Garden, a building that White had designed.

The trial was a sensation that gripped the nation. Most Americans agreed with Thaw that he had been justified in killing White, but the district attorney expected to send him to the electric chair. Evelyn Nesbit’s testimony was so explicit and shocking that Theodore Roosevelt himself called on the newspapers not to print it verbatim. The murder of White cast a long shadow: Harry Thaw later attempted suicide, and Evelyn Nesbit struggled for many years to escape an addiction to cocaine.

History remembers Arnold Rothstein as the man who fixed the 1919 World Series, an underworld genius. The real-life model for The Great Gatsby’s Meyer Wolfsheim and Nathan Detroit from Guys and Dolls, Rothstein was much more—and less—than a fixer of baseball games. He was everything that made 1920s Manhattan roar. Featuring Jazz Age Broadway with its thugs, speakeasies, showgirls, political movers and shakers, and stars of the Golden Age of Sports, this is a biography of the man who dominated an age. Arnold Rothstein was a loan shark, pool shark, bookmaker, thief, fence of stolen property, political fixer, Wall Street swindler, labor racketeer, rumrunner, and mastermind of the modern drug trade. Among his monikers were “The Big Bankroll,” “The Brain,” and “The Man Uptown.” This vivid account of Rothstein’s life is also the story of con artists, crooked cops, politicians, gang lords, newsmen, speakeasy owners, gamblers and the like. Finally unraveling the mystery of Rothstein’s November 1928 murder in a Times Square hotel room, David Pietrusza has cemented The Big Bankroll’s place among the most influential and fascinating legendary American criminals. 16 pages of black-and-white photographs are featured.

Jack Riley, grandson of a Chicago cop known for using his fists, was born to be a drug warrior. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who farmed marijuana and opium poppies as a teenager in Mexico, was born to be a drug lord. Their worlds collided when Riley, a career special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, was promoted to lead the fight against Chapo on the border at El Paso.

Drug Warrior is the story of Riley’s decades-long hunt for the world’s most wanted drug lord, set against the rise of modern international drug trafficking, and America’s spiraling opioid epidemic. Jack Riley started his career as an undercover street agent in Chicago busting small-time dealers. By the time he worked his way up to second in command of the DEA-a post few field agents ever reach-he had overseen every major mission to capture foreign drug kingpins since the 1990s, and had witnessed first-hand how El Chapo changed the game. As brilliant as he was lethal, Chapo not only decimated his competition, he foresaw Americans’ dependence on opioids and heroin, and manipulated supply to increase demand. Riley’s story culminates as he and the DEA win their greatest victory-the capture and extradition of his long-time nemesis-and Chapo faces his darkest fear: U.S. justice.

Ed Sanders gave readers their clearest insight yet into the disturbing world of Charles Manson and his followers when he published The Family in 1971. Continuing that journalistic tradition, Sanders presents the most thorough look ever into the heartbreaking story of Sharon Tate, the iconic actress who found love, fame, and ultimately tragedy during her all-too-brief life.

Sharon Tate: A Life traces Sharon’s path from beauty queen to budding young actress: her early love affairs, her romance with and marriage to director Roman Polanski, and the excitement of the glamorous life she had always sought—all set against the background of the turbulent 1960s. This sympathetic account tells the powerful story of her determined rise through the ranks of Hollywood and to the brink of stardom before her name became forever linked with the shocking murder spree that took her life.

In 1969, the Polanski house was targeted by the followers of cultist Charles Manson. Why the Manson clan focused its gaze on Sharon remains unclear, but the world was soon shocked to its core as it learned of the brutal murders of a pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends at her idyllic home in Los Angeles. Sanders once again examines this horrific crime and its aftermath, expounding on what may have led the killers to that particular house on that particular evening.

Sharon Tate takes readers on a sometimes joyous yet inevitably heart-wrenching tour of the ’60s as seen through the eyes of someone who lived it, survived it, and remembers it all too well. Brilliant illustrations by noted artist Rick Veitch lend character to this riveting narrative of the life and times of a beloved actress whose image and whose fate still haunt us to this day.