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From Church Murder Scandal To Death By Poison, Here Are 2022's Top True Crime Books
Curl up with a murder mystery or peek inside the mind of a cold case investigator with these rousing reads from Oxygen's Book Club.
Fans of true crime books have had some bloody good options to choose from this year.
Some of these titles deal with famous cases that inspired TV shows, like "Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks," while another aims to get to the bottom of the political corruption that led to the gruesome bathroom bludgeoning of a journalist in Mexico.
One book even offers a peek inside the mind of a famous cold case investigator who’s worked on cases from the Golden State Killer to Laci Peterson's disappearance and murder. And if you want a follow-up to the book, Paul Holes, the forensic expert who wrote “Unmasked: My Life Solving America's Cold Cases,” has previously put his expertise to use on his Oxygen show "The DNA of Murder with Paul Holes."
Here are Oxygen’s picks for the best true crime books of 2022.
1. “Blood & Ink: The Scandalous Jazz Age Double Murder That Hooked America on True Crime”
This 1920s set murder mystery has it all — love, sex, scandal and a church connection. “Blood & Ink: The Scandalous Jazz Age Double Murder That Hooked America on True Crime,” by Vanity Fair media correspondent Joe Pompeo, centers on not only the killings, but explains how they helped shape the early days of the country’s tabloid industry.
In September 1922, the bodies of Reverend Edward Hall and his mistress Eleanor Mills, a choir singer from his church, were found under a tree on an abandoned farm in New Jersey, their bodies arranged in a way that suggested they were lovers. Both were married, the clergyman to a heiress with ties to Johnson & Johnson, and Mills to the church sexton.
Adding to the sordid sight, confusion over which police department had jurisdiction led to an unsecure crime scene, where curious visitors were able to snatch evidence as souvenirs.
“Even after the bodies were removed … murder tourists essentially descended on this farm for weeks to come,” Pompeo told Oxygen.com earlier this year.
2. “Trailed: One Woman's Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders”
Journalist and outdoor enthusiast Kathryn Miles takes a close look at who may have killed a young couple in the Virginia wilderness in “Trailed: One Woman's Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders.”
Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, who’d fallen in love when while working at an outdoor program for women, were found dead in their sleeping bags by park rangers during a camping trip to Shenandoah National Park in 1996.
Miles’ dive into the unsolved murders turned up conflicting evidence and timelines. The author's research led her to lay out the theory that the main suspect was actually innocent, while the actual murderer is a known serial killer who died by suicide in 2002.
"Lollie and Julie were two of at least eight women who were murdered in and around Shenandoah Valley of Virginia over the course of 16 months. So from the start some FBI profilers had speculated this was the work of a serial killer," Miles told Oxygen digital in June.
3. “A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them”
Not that there’s any method of murder that isn’t horrific, but death by poison seems like a particularly sinister way to go and as if it involves a lot of planning.
In “A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them,” Dr. Neil Bradbury explores nearly a dozen toxic substances that have been used in real-life crimes and how they affect the body.
The deaths highlighted range from forgotten cases to more famous ones, like Napoleon, the French political leader who may have succumbed to arsenic poisoning from his wallpaper, according to some theories.
"I wanted to give an exposé of murders using poisons to explain how the body reacts to poisons and how different poisons give rise to different symptoms because they attack different parts of the body,” the author, who has degrees in biochemistry and medical biochemistry, told Oxygen.com last spring. “If you've been poisoned, you may be able to tell the medics just what you've been poisoned by giving them the symptoms you've experienced [from reading this book] as you lay there dying!"
4. "In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press"
Journalist Regina Martínez covered corruption and political abuse in Mexico for the magazine Proceso when she was found dead and bludgeoned in her bathroom in 2012.
The fatal attack, which happened not too long after the magazine printed a piece on two politicians in the Gulf Coast area of Veracruz, is the basis of "In the Mouth of the Wolf: A Murder, a Cover-Up, and the True Cost of Silencing the Press."
Written by Katherine Corcoran, a former Mexico bureau chief for the Associated Press, the book aims to uncover who and what led to the murder of Martinez, who didn't even write the article believed to have set off her killers.
Corcoran traveled to Veracruz to try to get to the bottom of the mystery, speaking with friends and those Martinez mentored, and encountering threats and further cover-up attempts along the way.
5. “Unmasked: My Life Solving America's Cold Cases”
As a former cold case investigator who has used his forensic skills to help solve high profile cases like that of the Golden State Killer, Paul Holes has seen a lot.
The forensic expert, who also worked on the cases of Laci Peterson and Jaycee Dugard, reveals the personal sacrifices he made to give these investigations his all, whether it be his relationships or happiness.
His internal struggles, suppressed feelings and motivations are intertwined with tales of the hunt for those behind the horrific cases he's worked on.
Holes told Oxygen that his interest in the field came about by watching the 1970s and '80s mystery TV show "Quincy," about a Los Angeles medical examiner. "I was fascinated as a boy watching that show and thought, 'I want to be a forensic pathologist, I want to be like Quincy,' not really knowing what forensic pathology was at the time," Holes said.
6. “Hell's Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier”
If you think getting together with your family for the holidays can be dysfunctional, just wait until you read about the Benders.
The family of four from Labette County, Kansas gained infamy in 1873 when multiple bodies were found buried under an apple orchard near their cabin. Blood was discovered throughout their cellar, and the Benders were missing, sparking nationwide media interest and a manhunt for the fam.
Their real-life tale is told in “Hell's Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders, a Serial Killer Family on the American Frontier.” Author Susan Jonasus dives in to who the family was and why they may have carried out the horrific acts, using archives to unravel details about the victims’ families as well as those who helped the Benders flee.
"The Benders primarily targeted men traveling alone ... there wasn't a sexual element [to the killings],” Jonasus told Oxygen digital earlier this year. She added that the family killed victims by hitting them in the back of the head with hammers after distracting them at the dinner table while they were feeding them. The clan would then slit their victims' throats and leave them in the basement to bleed out.
7. "When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town"
Fans of the Netflix crime thriller series "Mindhunter" probably already know of FBI criminal profiler John Douglas, who co-wrote the book that inspired the show. Douglas has a new book out this year, one that looks into the mind of serial killer Larry Gene Bell and one brave family's dangerous quest to track him down.
"When a Killer Calls: A Haunting Story of Murder, Criminal Profiling, and Justice in a Small Town" zeroes in on the abduction of high school student Shari Smith from her family's South Carolina house in 1985, just days before she was set to graduate.
Shari’s kidnapping and ultimate murder was made even more horrific by Bell’s calls to her family in which he taunted them, as well as him forcing the 17-year-old to write letter titled “Last Will & Testament” to her loved ones. A nine-year-old girl was also kidnapped from her yard and killed by Bell.
Douglas, who’d been brought on by the FBI to try to find who was responsible, came up with a plan to use Shari’s older sister to help draw the unknown suspect out of hiding.
Douglas talked to Oxygen digital earlier this year about whether Bell may have killed anyone else.
"There were two other cases where a woman was missing, an associate's girlfriend and she was gone, off the map,” he said. “He's a suspect in that. He's also a suspect in another abduction, where he lived very close to another woman ... he was a voyeur, and he had this history of sexual assaults.”
8. "Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks"
This book zooms in on the real-life murder that the hit TV show "Twin Peaks" was partially based on. While the series was set in the fictional town of Twin Peaks, Washington, and revolved around the murder of a high school-aged character named Laura Palmer, the real-life victim was Hazel Drew and lived on the East Coast.
"Murder at Teal's Pond: Hazel Drew and the Mystery That Inspired Twin Peaks" looks at the mystery of the beaten victim found floating in a pond in Sand Lake, New York in 1908 and whether authorities properly tracked down leads.
Co-authors David Bushman and Mark T. Givens previously told Oxygen that Drew's status as a poor domestic servant from the city of Troy may have hampered the investigation into her murder.
"We were following a murder mystery trying to get to the heart of it, but we couldn't ignore the aspects of how things would have been treated then," Givens said. "If the investigation had been going on today, would it have been discarded so easily ... Because she was a woman, because she was poor, because powerful men wanted to discard it."
9. "The Jan Broberg Story: The True Crime Story of a Young Girl Abducted and Brainwashed by a Friend of the Family"
The recent Peacock miniseries "A Friend of the Family" brought the story of kidnap victim Jan Broberg, and the neighbor who was responsible, back into the spotlight this year.
But a new book authored by Broberg and her mother gives the victim a chance to tell the story in her own words. "The Jan Broberg Story: The True Crime Story of a Young Girl Abducted and Brainwashed by a Friend of the Family" details how the Idaho family came to trust their neighbor, Robert Berchtold, who went out of his way to be in the lives of Jan and her two sisters before bizarrely managing to abduct her not once, but twice.
Berchtold first kidnapped Broberg in 1974, when she was 12, by telling her parents he was taking her horseback riding, but instead took her to Mexico. He sexually abused her before she was rescued a little over a month later, but he managed to kidnap her again two years later.
The book focuses on Berchtold's brainwashing and manipulation of his young victim and her family, and how they dealt with it in the years that followed.
10. "The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures: A True Tale of Obsession, Murder, and the Movies"
You may not know Louis Le Prince by name, but the French artist who suddenly vanished in 1890 is believed to be the first person to shoot a moving picture.
In "The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures: A True Tale of Obsession, Murder, and the Movies," author Paul Fischer writes of Le Prince's 1988 testing of his recording device in England, where he filmed his family in a garden. Historians suspect he beat out rivals in the field, who were working on similar technology.
But he never got to show off his invention in the U.S, because in 1890, the same year he scored patents in four countries for his device, he disappeared. Within a few years, Thomas Edison unveiled a similar product to the world that the American inventor said was dreamed up by himself and an employee.
"The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures" examines the still-unsolved mystery Le Prince’s disappearance and all the wild theories it sparked.