I’m a chicken when it comes to scary fiction, so naturally most true crime scares the shirt off of me. You’d think I’d avoid it altogether, but something about growing up with a friend who read every true crime book to then summarize the worst parts to me led me to be a grownup whose writing is focused on the crime genre. While my current obsession is nonviolent true crime, one doesn’t forget the scariest true crime they’ve read. Here are the ones that, depending on your fears, are scarier than fiction.
If you read political thrillers and think they’re just slightly too unbelievable to really get scared, here’s a nonfiction look into Putin’s Kremlin’s assassination campaign that was behind a bunch of mysterious deaths. I mean, when MI6 looks on in horror, waiting for something to be done, that’s something to be petrified about, if you ask me. The scary feeling might also get wrenched up during these here political times...
If you’re afraid of hospitals and Annie Wilkes left you frightened of nurses, here’s a heartbreaking story of at least 300 patients who lost their lives to Charlie Cullen, dubbed "The Angel of Death" by the media–though I’d like to argue ‘angel’ should not have been used. These weren’t mercy killings. Cullen had no control over his compulsion to kill, and he had access to a lot of people. His killing took place over sixteen years and nine hospitals and only came to an end thanks to two homicide detectives and one nurse's bravery.
175 years' worth of crimes—pictures included—is a lot of crime. Even religious viewers of Dateline-type shows are certain to find cases that leave you checking the alarm, putting a bat under your bed or a knife under your pillow, and side-eyeing your fellow humans. From serial killers to bombers and crimes committed before the police force was first established in New York, this works for true crime case file-type viewers and history fans.
Richard Lloyd Parry
Two things about this book really scared me: 1. The actual violent crimes 2. The question of how many more victims there may have been if a white British woman's disappearance hadn’t garnered the attention it did. This is a deeply sad case that would now get shelved with the #MeToo books, and it also examines a subset of Japanese culture and the British justice system vs the Japanese system, among other interesting things, while always taking care to remember that there are real victims at the heart of this story.
A friend (different from my intro, I know a lot of true crime readers apparently) who reads an absurd amount of true crime texted me petrified while reading this book, so I’m currently working on building up the guts to read this in pieces during the day. Possibly while holding my dog’s paw—Just kidding, she’d bite me. Why is this so scary? He killed all over the U.S. He killed without any kind of detection for over a decade. He had "kill kits" stashed all over the country. The story will leave you questioning how much law enforcement can do when a truly evil predator decides to hunt. And that is terrifying.
Okay, I’ve now sufficiently scared myself so I’m going to go stand in the very shiny and bright sun for a bit.
What to Read Next
Jamie Canavés is a Book Riot contributing editor and Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator who always has a book in one hand. She writes the Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter, never says no to chocolate or ‘80s nostalgia, and spends way too much time asking her goat-dog “What’s in your mouth?!” Tweets: @Oh_Dinky.