Category: True Crime Classics

The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj

 

Sobhraj pictured with Canadian girlfriend Marie Andree.

Meet Charles Sobhraj – conman, escape artist, expert manipulator and serial killer.

His story is unbelievable. Except it happened and authors Richard Neville and Julie Clarke documented the extraordinary and frightening life and crimes of Sobhraj. in 1977 Neville and Clarke were invited to interview Sobhraj to tell his life story. They did this and more, investigating the murders by Sobhraj of the western tourists in Bangkok and Kathmandu. The result is The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj.

Sobhraj was able to expertly seduce women, con tourists (some of whom had very lucky escapes with their lives), and escape jails.For instance one young man, a French tourist in Bangkok, found himself seriously ill with what he thought was dysentery, and unable to care for himself. he was virtually help captive in Sohraj’s apartment, and though he thought Sobhraj and his girlfriend Marie were taking care of him, they were actually poisoning him. The apartment attracted many travellers and this is where Sobhraj lured some of his victims.

This book is investigative journalism with the pace of a novel. I was gripped and quietly terrified reading it. Married couple Neville and Clarke (Neville passed away in 2016) chart the odyssey of Sobhraj’s crimes and the people caught up in his web – the victims, girlfriends, wives and the people who started to piece it all together (your heart will be in your throat when you read about the married couple, neighbours of Sobhraj and the diplomat went with their suspicions).

This is absolutely one of my top crime reads. An extraordinary book that deserves to be a true crime classic.

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

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I re-read The Stranger Beside Me by true crime queen Ann Rule, last week. I hadn’t read it for almost 20 years and it was like I was reading it for the first time.

The Stranger Beside Me is about serial killer Ted Bundy. What makes this book stand out from the rest is that Ann Rule actually knew Bundy. She worked with him on a suicide prevention line in the 1970s and she got to know him quite well. Rule injects the story of Bundy’s life and crimes with the fascinating insights and experiences she shared with the psychology graduate and aspiring lawyer. Little did she know Bundy was a mass murderer.

Bundy is infamous for his intelligence, good looks and charm. This is how he lured so many young, smart, beautiful young women to their deaths.

Re-reading about Bundy’s crimes has left me thinking so much about personal safety and how a criminally intelligent and sexually psychopathic Bundy was able to kill women so easily. So many of his victims went missing literally hundreds of metres from their destinations. One victim, who was vacationing at an Aspen lodge with her boyfriend and his children, simply walked from the lodge’s communal lounge to her room to fetch a magazine and she was never seen again.

Bundy lured many of his victims with the ruse of being a police officer or wearing a fake leg cast or arm sling. He asked women to help him carry things to his car. Bundy seemed “normal” and polite and he picked his victims carefully.

Bundy was put to death in 1989. In his last interview, the day before his execution, Bundy told interviewer Dr James Dobson (Dobson a psychologist and founder of the Christian ministry Focus on the Family) that he blamed his crimes on exposure to hardcore pornography. The interview is available to watch on YouTube and well worth a look.

In my mind he is one of the most chilling serial killers ever (I mean all serial killers are disturbing in the extreme) because he was able to fit into society so easily. I constantly asked myself whether I would have gone to help Bundy had he asked me? The women and girls he murdered were smart, caring women who had the world at their feet. It also made me ponder how I will balance teaching my daughters to be safe and wary of potentially dangerous situations but also letting them enjoy life.

I love Ann Rule’s work. She is one of my true crime favourites and deserves her reputation as a queen of true crime writing.

This is a true crime classic. An absolute must-read if you are into true crime. It has sold more than two million copies.

Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule

Small Sacrifices by Ann Rule is in my top 10 true crime books.

I first read this when I was a teenager and have re-read a few times since. In Small Sacrifices, Rule tells the unbelievable and shocking story of Diane Downs who in 1983 claimed a “shaggy-haired stranger” shot her three kids.

Without ruining the book for those who are unaware of the case or want to read it (hint: the shaggy-haired stranger doesn’t exist), Rule takes readers right through the crime, the trial and Diane Downs’s background – “…incest, psychological damage, desperate affairs and surrogate motherhood” proclaims the back cover blurb. This story is stranger and more disturbing than fiction.

Small Sacrifices was made into a 1989 mini-series starring Farrah Fawcett as Downs. It was a gripping mini-series, just like the book and the first “true crime” television I had ever watched. I’ve been hooked ever since.

This book is Rule at her best.

Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of Peter Sutcliffe

Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of Peter Sutcliffe was one of the first true crime books I read and it remains one of the best I have read.

 

Written by the late Gordon Burn in 1984, this book is a study of the serial killer known as the The Yorkshire Ripper who killed 13 women in the late 1970s and 1980 and was sentenced to life in 1981.

Gordon Burn spent three years living in Sutcliffe’s home town of Bingley, researching his life and absorbing the environment that led to his telling of the life of the man who had the North of England in fear during the 1970s (which wasn’t the most positive decade anyway in Britain).

Burn’s writing transplants the reader right into the life of Peter Sutcliffe and quite successfully into what Burn imagines is his mind. This book is a modern true crime classic, written long before the “true crime” genre became so popular. It is oft likened to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Peter Sutcliffe is jailed at the infamous Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital for the criminally insane.

 

Walsh Street by Tom Noble

Mention the words “Walsh Street” and most Melburnians, if not Australians, will know what it means.

Journalist Tom Noble gives an exhaustive account of the cold-blooded 1988 executions of young Victoria Police Constables Steven Tynan  and Damian Eyre in Walsh Street, South Yarra, an exclusive Melbourne suburb. The book also details the life and crimes of one of Australia’s most notorious criminal families headed by Kath Pettingill  (the film Animal Kingdom is based on the events of Walsh Street and the crime clan).

The events leading up to the murders of Constables Tynan and Eyre are as important as what came after. The death by police shooting of armed robbery suspect Graeme Jensen is believed to have been the reason for the “payback” death of the young police officers who were lured to Walsh Street and gunned down.

Police worked for over two years to bring the men they thought were responsible to justice – Victor Peirce and Trevor Pettingill (sons of  Kath) and their friends Peter McEvoy and Anthony Farrell.  Integral to the police case was Jason Ryan, Kath Pettingill’s grandson and Peirce’s de facto Wendy, who gave evidence to police that implicated him in the murders but she retracted it before trial. Ryan, 16 at the time of the murders, was the key witness in the trial and under witness protection.

Noble gives a gripping account of how the police case against the accused fell apart and the men were acquitted.

Walsh Street is one of Victoria Police’s darkest days and this book gives a the reader a thorough view of Melbourne’s crime world and one of the country’s most notorious, and unsolved, crimes.

For background into the crimes detailed in Walsh Street by Tom Noble check out:

Why I lied to protect the Walsh Street killers (The Age, October 1, 2005)

The bloody trail of violence that led to Walsh Street (The Age, May 3, 2002)

Victor Peirce dies the way his mother predicted (The Age , May 3, 2002)

 

 

 

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler

 

The Late Robert K. Ressler.
The Late Robert K. Ressler.

I first read Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI when it was released in 1992. I was 15 and entranced by the book by FBI profiler Robert K. Ressler, who was the father of what is now known as “criminal profiling”.  Ressler also coined the term “serial killer”.  I have a clear and very happy memory of reading this book under the covers on a rainy Saturday morning with the sounds of my parents getting food ready for a dinner party that evening. It was an odd situation because here I was safe and comfortable while reading about the worst of human behaviour.

The book, co-authored by Tom Scachtman, details Ressler’s FBI career and his personal dealings with some of America’s serial killers including John Wayne Gacy, Edmund Kemper, Ted Bundy  and Jeffrey Dahmer. Ressler was “profiling” as far back as the early 1970s – long before films like Silence of the Lambs and shows like Criminal Minds made the public aware of what The Behavioral Analysis Unit based at Quantico, Virginia was all about. In fact, Ressler is the inspiration for charachers like Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs) and Jason Gideon (Criminal Minds). Ressler was the program manager of the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP).

ViCAP maintains the largest investigative database of major violent crime cases in the United States.The web-based data centre was designed to collect and analyse information about homicides, sexual assaults, missing persons, and other violent crimes involving unidentified human remains. The database compares information in an attempt to identify similar cases and help move investigations forward.

For a true crime reader, Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI is a must. Each chapter details a different case and Ressler’s insights into the criminal mind make this a book you will find hard to put down.

Update: Robert K. Ressler died in 2013.