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The 25 All-Time Best True-Crime Stories to Listen to, Read and Stream

From ‘In Cold Blood’ to ‘Tiger King' and ‘Serial,’ scratch that itch with this all-star list of tales ripped from the headlines

spinner image A collage of images ranging from Joe Exotic in Tiger King, a fingerprint, a book cover for The Devil in the White City, Amanda Seyfried as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout and Michael Peterson and an evidence bag
Photo Collage: AARP; (Source: Netflix (2); Knopf Doubleday; Beth Dubber/Hulu; Getty Images (4))

Few genres have as strong a chokehold on the American consciousness as true crime. How often do you find yourself chatting casually with friends about the latest murder docuseries or wrapped up in a podcast about scammers or cults? The psychology behind our fandom is complicated. We want to feel superior, that we would never find ourselves in similar dark circumstances, while also expressing a bit of morbid curiosity and, perhaps, even learning some tips and tricks for staying safe ourselves. From whodunnit documentaries to podcasts about systemic societal failings, these are the 25 crime stories that get our adrenaline pumping and our inner detectives working overtime.

​​True-crime books

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (1966)

This 1966 “nonfiction novel” just may be the book that launched America’s true-crime obsession. Capote and childhood friend Harper Lee compiled 8,000-plus pages of research while investigating the 1959 murders of four members of a farming family in small-town Kansas. The story went on to inspire a film and a miniseries and formed the basis of dueling Capote biopics, starring Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones, 57.

Read it: In Cold Blood

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spinner image Book cover for The Devil in the White City
Knopf Doubleday

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson (2003)

The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition was a time of infinite hope and promise for Chicago, best exemplified by the beaux arts architecture of Daniel Burnham. Not enjoying that hope and promise? The victims of H.H. Holmes, who committed his dastardly deeds during the fair and is widely considered America’s first serial killer.

Read it: The Devil in the White City

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara (2018)

McNamara spent years investigating a series of murders, rapes and burglaries committed across California between 1974 and 1986, though she sadly died in 2016 before completing this project. Her widower, actor Patton Oswalt, 55, crime writer Paul Haynes and investigative journalist Bill Jensen took on the task of finishing her work and published it in February 2018, at which point it topped the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Soon after the book was released, Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested for the crimes; he was later sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms.

Read it: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

spinner image Book cover for ​Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story by John Berendt (1994)

Long before Clint Eastwood directed the film version, this Savannah-set story began as a Pulitzer-finalist nonfiction novel that stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for a record-breaking 216 weeks. The story of the 1981 murder of a male prostitute by respected antiques dealer and historical preservationist Jim Williams proved so juicy, with a sprawling cast of compelling characters, that Savannah became a hot spot for literary tourists almost overnight.

Read it: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (2017)

Before it was an Oscar-nominated Martin Scorsese film, Killers of the Flower Moon was an enthralling finalist for the National Book Award by journalist David Grann. After oil deposits were discovered on tribal land in Oklahoma, members of the Osage Nation started showing up dead because of a devious plot to secure their headrights. The newly formed FBI stepped in to investigate a case that burst the bubble of many of our great Western myths, revealing an underworld marked by racism and greed.

Read it: Killers of the Flower Moon

Party Monster: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland by James St. James (1999)

Set in the drug-fueled world of New York City’s late ’80s and early ’90s club scene, this memoir by flamboyant celebutante James St. James, 57, charts the rise and fall of his friend Michael Alig, a founding member of the Club Kids who later killed his roommate, Andre “Angel” Melendez. Originally titled Disco Bloodbath before being renamed to match the title of the film adaptation, the story is tawdry and gossipy and won’t be every reader’s cup of cheap booze. But if you spent any time in a club during that era, you’ll enjoy going along for the ride.

Read it: Party Monster

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991)

Before he became one of the most respected creative forces in prestige television, David Simon was a Baltimore Sun reporter who spent a year embedded with the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Unit. He shadowed a shift of detectives as they investigated crimes both tragic and stranger than fiction, and the results were so compelling — if decidedly un-sugarcoated — that he adapted the book into the Emmy-winning crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street and later used it as inspiration for The Wire. Last year, French graphic novelist Philippe Squarzoni adapted it once again, this time into a noirish, two-part graphic novel.

Read it: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets

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​​True-crime podcasts

Serial (2014-)

Hosted by former This American Life producer Sarah Koenig, 54, this investigative audio series broke records with its download numbers and became the first podcast to win a Peabody Award. The first season covered the 1999 murder of an 18-year-old Maryland high school student named Hae Min Lee, and it had real-world consequences: In 2022, a judge overturned Adnan Syed’s murder conviction, after he’d spent 23 years in prison.

Listen: Serial on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

The Dropout (2019)

Known for her deep voice and black turtleneck, tech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University to found Theranos, a company that claimed it could diagnose a slew of diseases with just one drop of blood. She became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire in the process. The only problem? None of it was true. Host Rebecca Jarvis reveals how Holmes was able to pull off her deception, and she was such a Hollywood-friendly villain that Amanda Seyfried later won an Emmy for playing her in the miniseries adaptation.

Listen: The Dropout on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

spinner image Cover art for the Doctor Death podcast
Courtesy Amazon

Dr. Death (2018-21)

This anthology series by the Wondery podcast network pulls back the curtain on shocking cases of medical malpractice, including Texas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch (the titular doc), who was convicted of seriously injuring or killing nearly three dozen patients. Later seasons covered Farid Fata, an oncologist who prescribed chemotherapy to patients who didn’t need it, and Paolo Macchiarini, a thoracic surgeon accused of research fraud and unethical experimentation. Like many buzzy podcasts, this one also made its way to a TV adaptation, with Joshua Jackson playing Duntsch and Édgar Ramírez playing Macchiarini. If you’re already skittish around doctors, maybe skip this one.

Listen: Dr. Death on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

spinner image Los Angeles Times staff writer Christopher Goffard standing in front of a microphone during the recording of the Dirty John podcast at Wondery's studios and the cover art for the Dirty John podcast
Christopher Goffard at Wondery's studios.
LA Times

Dirty John (2017)

Los Angeles Times reporter Christopher Goffard tells the sordid tale of John Meehan, a handsome anesthesiologist who has just returned from a year working in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders (or so he says). When he meets interior designer Debra Newell on an over-50 dating site, he seems like the perfect catch — but things quickly start to unravel. It’s a con artist story with plenty of dark twists and turns that might have you looking askance at a new partner or friend.

Listen: Dirty John on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

spinner image Cover art for the Stolen podcast
Courtesy Spotify

Stolen (2021-)

One of Canada’s most celebrated investigative reporters, Connie Walker — a Cree woman from Saskatchewan — hosted the CBC’s celebrated Missing and Murdered podcast, about the underreported rash of disappearances among Indigenous people in Canada. After moving on to the Gimlet Media network, she debuted this new series, which kicked off with a dark tale of sex trafficking and has continued with stories about the horrifically abusive residential school system and crime within the Navajo Nation. The show went on to win a Peabody Award and the Pulitzer Prize in audio reporting.

Listen: Stolen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

My Favorite Murder (2016-)

Who says crime can’t be funny? In this comedy podcast, hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark recount bizarre murders, true-crime tales and survivor stories, with listeners often writing in about their “hometown murders.” Over more than 400 episodes, they’ve invited on special guests like Conan O’Brien, 60, Tig Notaro, 53, and Patton Oswalt, 55, and they’ve become such a cult hit that they even have their own rabid fan base (the Murderinos) and catchphrase (“Stay sexy and don’t get murdered”).

Listen: My Favorite Murder on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

Buried Truths (2018-)

WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station, produces this podcast about race and injustice in the American South with seasons that focus on still-relevant stories from the past (Isaiah Nixon, who was shot in his home in 1948 for voting) and today (the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery). The show is hosted by Pulitzer-winning reporter Hank Kilbanoff, 75, and it’s proven to be an awards magnet in its own right, winning a Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award and a Robert F. Kennedy Award.

Listen: Buried Truths on Apple Podcasts, Spotify

​​True-crime movies

Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)

This HBO documentary introduced the world to Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who murdered her mother, Dee Dee, after suffering years of abuse at her hands. In what has been called a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Dee Dee had invented a series of fake illnesses, shaving her daughter’s head because of cancer she didn’t have and making her use a wheelchair. The younger Blanchard has been back in the news this year, but if you somehow haven’t heard of this case — or seen the Emmy-winning miniseries adaptation, The Act — we won’t spoil it for you!

Watch it: Mommy Dead and Dearest on Max, Prime Video

​​The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Suspecting a miscarriage of justice, Errol Morris, 76, took on the case of Randall Dale Adams, a drifter who had been sent to death row for the killing of a Dallas police officer. Morris uncovered scores of lies and inconsistencies in the case, ultimately arguing for Adams’ innocence. Morris’ early masterwork employed a number of innovative approaches, including an original score by Philip Glass, 87, and while many critics consider it among the finest documentaries ever made, it was snubbed by the Academy for its controversial use of reenactments.

Watch it: The Thin Blue Line on Apple TV, Prime Video

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Andrew Jarecki, 61, directed this Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner about a seemingly normal, upper-middle-class family from Long Island that’s torn apart when the father and his youngest son are accused of molesting students during a computer class taught in his basement. Jarecki stumbled upon the subject while he was making a totally different kind of movie about New York City children’s birthday party clowns, and the movie is surprisingly effective at keeping you guessing: Did they actually commit the heinous crimes they were accused of?

Watch it: Capturing the Friedmans on Max, Prime Video

spinner image A scene from The Act of Killing
Drafthouse Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

​​The Act of Killing (2012)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s experimental documentary completely reinvented the form. In this harrowing recounting of mass killings in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, filmmakers asked executioner Anwar Congo and his fellow murderers — many of whom are still in power — to reenact and talk about the acts of genocide they committed. It was an utterly complex (and difficult-to-watch) window into the psychology of mass murder, earning an Oscar nomination and a 2014 companion piece called The Look of Silence, in which a middle-aged Indonesian optometrist whose family members had been killed decides to confront and interview the perpetrators while giving them eye exams.

Watch it: The Act of Killing on Apple TV, Peacock

I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter (2019)

You may remember the tragic case of Conrad Roy, a teenager who died by carbon-monoxide poisoning after his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, sent him texts convincing him to commit suicide. Erin Lee Carr, who previously made a name for herself with Mommy Dead and Dearest, directed this two-part documentary, which earned raves from critics for its empathy and its open-mindedness; Carr asks questions about what might cause someone to commit such acts and whether Carter’s actions are illegal or simply immoral.

Watch it: I Love You, Now Die on Apple TV

​​True-crime TV shows

spinner image Michael Peterson and David Rudolf talking to each other in a courtroom in The Staircase
(Left to right) Michael Peterson and David Rudolf in "The Staircase."

The Staircase (2004-18)

This French-produced docuseries offers a deep dive into the trial of Michael Peterson, an American novelist who had been accused of murdering his second wife, Kathleen, who was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their Durham, North Carolina, home. The series — which returned with new episodes in 2013 and 2018 — is perhaps best remembered for its wild “owl theory,” which suggested that a barred owl may have been responsible for the killing. The case was later fictionalized in an Emmy-nominated HBO Max miniseries starring Colin Firth, 63, and Toni Collette, 51, which detailed not only the death and the trial but also the filming of the original documentary.

Watch it: The Staircase on Netflix

The Vow (2020-22)

We Americans love a good cult story — it’s easy to feel smug as if we could never be so dumb as to get wrapped up in such a scheme. That’s what made the case of Keith Raniere, 63, and his self-improvement group NXIVM so compelling: Its victims were, by all accounts, smart and successful, with many of them enjoying robust Hollywood careers. You’ll be shocked by all the gasp-worthy twists, which involve sex trafficking, branding, a supposed cure for Tourette’s syndrome and a surprising amount of volleyball.

Watch it: The Vow on Hulu, Max

spinner image Joe Exotic feeding a tiger in Tiger King
Joe Exotic in "Tiger King."

​​Tiger King (2020-21)

Forever associated with the early days of pandemic-era binge-watching (its first season hit Netflix on March 20, 2020), this salacious docuseries introduced Americans to the world of big-cat breeding and private zoos, with a larger-than-life cast of characters that included Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin. He has a multicolored mullet, films his own music videos and is a polygamist who ran for governor of Oklahoma; she may or may not have killed her missing husband. It’s a Jerry Springer–style spin on the docuseries formula — if you’re into that sort of thing.

Watch it: Tiger King on Netflix

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015-24)

After breaking out with Capturing the Friedmans, director Andrew Jarecki became obsessed with New York real estate heir Robert Durst, who was suspected of being involved in the disappearance of his first wife and two murders. When Jarecki made a fictional film version of the story called All Good Things, Durst reached out and offered to be interviewed. The resulting 20-plus hours of conversations form the basis of this gripping docuseries, which has one of the most shocking finales you’re ever likely to witness.

Watch it: The Jinx on Hulu, Max

Making a Murderer (2015-18)

A spiritual successor to The Thin Blue Line, this docuseries sheds a light on the case of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was released from prison after 18 years for a crime he didn’t commit — only to find himself charged with murder two years later. The investigators started uncovering a complicated web of attorney ineptitude, coerced confessions and planted evidence that led to enormous public outcry and four Emmys.

Watch it: Making a Murderer on Netflix

The Keepers (2017)

This humane and haunting seven-episode Netflix series revisits the unsolved 1969 murder of a Baltimore nun, Sister Cathy Cesnik. She was a beloved teacher at an all-girls school, and decades later, some of her former students have teamed up to uncover what happened to her. A working theory is that she had been murdered after learning about sexual abuse at the hands of the school’s chaplain and guidance counselor, which was part of a wider-spread culture of fear and silence: There was possible collusion between the archdiocese, the police department and the state’s attorney’s office.

Watch it: The Keepers on Netflix

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