True crime
True crime is a non-fiction
Non-fiction is the form of any narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are understood to be fact...

 literary and film genre in which the author examines an actual crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 and details the actions of real people.

The crimes most commonly include murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

, but true crime works have also touched on other legal cases. Depending on the writer, true crime can adhere strictly to well-established facts in journalistic
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

 fashion, or can be highly speculative. Some true crime works are "instant books" produced quickly to capitalize on popular demand, while others may reflect years of thoughtful research and inquiry and may have considerable literary merit
Literary merit
Literary merit is a quality generally applied to the genre of literary fiction. A work is said to have literary merit if it is a work of quality, that is if it has some aesthetic value....

. Still others revisit historic crimes (or alleged crimes) and propose solutions, such as books examining political assassinations, well-known unsolved murders, or the deaths of celebrities.

Origins of the genre

According to Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over fifty novels, as well as many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction...

Accounts of true crime have always been enormously popular among readers. The subgenre would seem to appeal to the highly educated as well as the barely educated, to women and men equally. The most famous chronicler of true crime trials in English history is the amateur criminologist William Roughead
William Roughead
William Roughead was a well-known Scottish lawyer and amateur criminologist, as well as an editor and essayist on "matters criminous". He was an important early practitioner of the modern "true crime" literary genre.-Career:...

, a Scots lawyer who between 1889 and 1949 attended every murder trial of significance held in the High Court of Justiciary
High Court of Justiciary
The High Court of Justiciary is the supreme criminal court of Scotland.The High Court is both a court of first instance and a court of appeal. As a court of first instance, the High Court sits mainly in Parliament House, or in the former Sheriff Court building, in Edinburgh, but also sits from time...

 in Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

, and wrote of them in essays published first in such journals as The Juridical Review and subsequently collected in best-selling books with such titles as Malice Domestic, The Evil That Men Do, What Is Your Verdict?, In Queer Street, Rogues Walk Here, Knave's Looking Glass, Mainly Murder, Murder and More Murder, Nothing But Murder, and many more…. Roughead's influence was enormous, and since his time "true crime" has become a crowded, flourishing field, though few writers of distinction have been drawn to it.

The works of author Yseult Bridges about British cases; Inspector Dew's I Caught Crippen (1938); and the Notable British Trials series were all works that can be regarded as true crime. Jack Webb
Jack Webb
John Randolph "Jack" Webb , also known by the pseudonym John Randolph, was an American actor, television producer, director and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sergeant Joe Friday in the radio and television series Dragnet...

's 1958 The Badge (recently republished with an introduction by James Ellroy
James Ellroy
Lee Earle "James" Ellroy is an American crime fiction writer and essayist. Ellroy has become known for a so-called "telegraphic" prose style in his most recent work, wherein he frequently omits connecting words and uses only short, staccato sentences, and in particular for the novels The Black...

) embodies elements of the modern true crime story, but Truman Capote
Truman Capote
Truman Streckfus Persons , known as Truman Capote , was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany's and the true crime novel In Cold Blood , which he labeled a "nonfiction novel." At...

's "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood (book)
In Cold Blood is a 1966 book by American author Truman Capote detailing the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife and two of their four children. Two older daughters no longer lived at the farm and were not there at the time of the murders...

(1965) is usually credited with establishing the modern novelistic style of the genre.

The modern genre

Many works in this genre explore (and sometimes exploit) high-profile, sensational crimes such as the JonBenét Ramsey
JonBenét Ramsey
JonBenét Patricia Ramsey was an American child beauty pageant contestant who was murdered in her home in Boulder, Colorado, in 1996. The six-year-old's body was found in the basement of the family home nearly eight hours after she was reported missing. She had been struck on the head and strangled...

 killing, the O. J. Simpson murder case
O. J. Simpson murder case
The O. J. Simpson murder case was a criminal trial held in Los Angeles County, California Superior Court from January 29 to October 3, 1995. Former American football star and actor O. J...

, and the Pamela Smart
Pamela Smart
Pamela Ann Smart is serving a life sentence for accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering in New Hampshire...

 murder, while others are devoted to more obscure slayings. Prominent true crime accounts include Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter (book)
Helter Skelter is a true crime book by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. The subject of the book is the 1969 Manson Family murders and Bugliosi's own prosecution of Charles Manson and his followers....

by lead Manson family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi
Vincent Bugliosi
Vincent Bugliosi is an American attorney and author, best known for prosecuting Charles Manson and other defendants accused of the Tate-LaBianca murders. His most recent books are Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy , The Prosecution of George W...

 and Curt Gentry
Curt Gentry
Curt Gentry is an American writer. He is best known for co-writing the book Helter Skelter with Vincent Bugliosi , which detailed the Charles Manson murders...

; Ann Rule
Ann Rule
Ann Rule is an American true crime writer.-Personal life:Ann Rule was born on October 22, 1935 in Lowell, Michigan to Chester R. "Stack" Stackhouse and Sophie Hansen. Her mother was a school teacher, specializing in developmentally disabled children and her father was a basketball, football and...

's The Stranger Beside Me
The Stranger Beside Me
The Stranger Beside Me is a 1980 autobiographical and biographical true crime book written by Ann Rule about serial killer Ted Bundy, whom she knew personally before and after his arrest for a series of murders...

, about Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy
Theodore Robert "Ted" Bundy was an American serial killer, rapist, kidnapper, and necrophile who assaulted and murdered numerous young women during the 1970s, and possibly earlier...

; and Joe McGinniss
Joe McGinniss
Joe McGinniss is an American author of nonfiction and novels. He first came to prominence with the best-selling The Selling of the President, 1968 which described the marketing of then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and has authored 11 works since that time...

' Fatal Vision
Fatal Vision
Fatal Vision is a best-selling true crime book published in 1983 by journalist and author Joe McGinniss. The following year it was made into an NBC television miniseries under the same name. Fatal Vision is the real-life story of Captain Jeffrey MacDonald, M.D., who in 1979 was convicted of the...


The modern genre, which most often focuses on murders, is frequently marked by biographical
A biography is a detailed description or account of someone's life. More than a list of basic facts , biography also portrays the subject's experience of those events...

 treatment of the criminals and victims, attempts to explain criminal psychology
Criminal psychology
Criminal psychology is the study of the wills, thoughts, intentions and reactions of criminals. It is related to the field of criminal anthropology. The study goes deeply into what makes someone commit crime, but also the reactions after the crime, on the run or in court...

, and descriptions of police investigations and trial procedures. An example of such a modern true crime book is Mark Coakley's Tip and Trade
Tip and Trade
Tip and Trade is a 2011 book by Canadian author Mark Coakley that depicts an insider trading conspiracy involving Wall Street lawyer Gil Corblum and another lawyer, Stan Grmovsek, who were found to have gained over $10 million in illegal profits over a 14-year span. The crime was detected in...

: How Two Lawyers Made Millions from Insider Trading

Although true crime books often center on sensational, shocking, or strange events, a secondary part of their appeal is social realism
Social realism
Social Realism, also known as Socio-Realism, is an artistic movement, expressed in the visual and other realist arts, which depicts social and racial injustice, economic hardship, through unvarnished pictures of life's struggles; often depicting working class activities as heroic...

, which describes events too mundane
In subcultural and fictional uses, a mundane is a person who does not belong to a particular group, according to the members of that group; the implication is that such persons, lacking imagination, are concerned solely with the mundane: the quotidian and ordinary...

, risqué
Risqué is the third studio album by American R&B band Chic, released on Atlantic Records in 1979, the same year that Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers wrote and produced Sister Sledge's massively successful We Are Family....

, or deviant for other non-fiction media, including descriptions of the lifestyles of working-class or socially marginal
In sociology, marginalisation , or marginalization , is the social process of becoming or being made marginal or relegated to the fringe of society e.g.; "the marginalization of the underclass", "marginalisation of intellect", etc.-Individual:Marginalization at the individual level results in an...


After the success of the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, a subgenre of true crime has focused on methods of "profiling" of unidentified criminals, especially serial killers.

In the early 1990s, a boom of true crime films began in Hong Kong. These films ranged from graphic Category III-rated films such as The Untold Story and Dr. Lamb
Dr. Lamb
Dr. Lamb is a 1992 Category III Hong Kong film directed by Danny Lee and Billy Tang.-Cast and roles:* Danny Lee - Inspector Lee* Simon Yam - Lam Gor-Yu* Kent Cheng - Fat Bing* Chung Pik Yu * Hui Si Man * Eric Kei - Eric* Emily Kwan - Bo...

(based on serial killers Wong Chi Hang and Lam Kor-wan
Lam Kor-wan
Lam Kor-wan was one of Hong Kong's two known serial killers. The other was Lam Kwok-wai.-Crimes:Lam, who worked as a taxi driver, would pick up female passengers, strangle them with electrical wire, take them to his family home, and dismember them. His English moniker, "The Jars Murderer", was...

 respectively) to more general audience fare such as the film Crime Story (based on the kidnapping of businessman Teddy Wang Tei-huei
Teddy Wang
Teddy Wang was a prominent Chinese businessman and founder of the Chinachem Group who was kidnapped for ransom in 1990, and later declared legally dead...

) which featured action star Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan
Jackie Chan, SBS, MBE is a Hong Kong actor, action choreographer, comedian, director, producer, martial artist, screenwriter, entrepreneur, singer and stunt performer. In his movies, he is known for his acrobatic fighting style, comic timing, use of improvised weapons, and innovative stunts...


Further reading

  • Capote, Truman, In Cold Blood ; Vintage; ISBN 0-679-74558-0 (paperback reprint, 1994)
  • Casey, Kathryn
    Kathryn Casey
    Kathryn Casey is a true crime writer, novelist and journalist. Author Ann Rule has called Casey "one of the best in the true crime genre."-Early life and education:Born in Wisconsin, Casey settled in Texas with her family in 1980...

    , She Wanted It All ; HarperCollins/Avon; ISBN0-06-056764-3 (paperback reprint, 2005)
  • "Cold Case OKC," Oklahoma unsolved crimes at
  • Crain, Caleb, "In Search of Lost Crime," Legal Affairs 1.2 (July/August 2002), pp.28–33.
  • Fanning, Diane
    Diane Fanning
    -Early life and education:Fanning was born Diane Lynn Butcher in Baltimore, Maryland. She attended Perry Hall High School, then Lynchburg College in Virginia, where she majored in chemistry.-Career:...

    , Written in Blood, St. Martin's Press
    St. Martin's Press
    St. Martin's Press is a book publisher headquartered in the Flatiron Building in New York City. Currently, St. Martin's Press is one of the United States' largest publishers, bringing to the public some 700 titles a year under eight imprints, which include St. Martin's Press , St...

     ISBN: 978-0312994037 (paperback 2005, Edgar Award
    Edgar Award
    The Edgar Allan Poe Awards , named after Edgar Allan Poe, are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America...

     nominee 2006)
  • Geis, Gilbert and Leigh B. Bienen (1998), Crimes of the Century: From Leopold and Loeb to O.J. Simpson, Northeastern University Press.
  • Jackson, Constance, Blitz Attack: The Andrea Hines Story
    Blitz Attack: The Andrea Hines Story
    Blitz Attack: The Andrea Hines Story, Part I and Blitz Attack: The Andrea Hines Story, Part II - Revelations are documentary films from Permanent Productions, Inc., written and directed by Constance L. Jackson...

    (2005), documentary film about the Nicole Brown Simpson copycat murder.
  • Moore, Kelly, Deadly Medicine, St. Martin's Press; (reprint, 1989)
  • Olsen, Gregg, Starvation Heights, Three Rivers Press
    Three Rivers Press
    Three Rivers Press is the trade paperback imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. It publishes original paperback titles as well as paperback reprints of books issued initially in hardcover by the other Crown imprints.- History :...

     ISBN: 978-1400097463 (reprint 2005)
  • Porta, Carles, Tor: tretze cases i tres morts; La Campana; ISBN 978-84-95616-71-5 (paperback reprint, 2005)
  • Russell, Sue, Lethal Intent, Pinnacle ISBN: 978-0786022267 (paperback 2002, Edgar Award nominee)
  • Schechter, Harold (editor), True Crime - An American Anthology, The Library of America (September 2008), ISBN 978-1-59853-031-5.
  • Scott, Cathy
    Cathy Scott
    Cathy Scott is an American true crime writer and investigative journalist, born and raised in San Diego, United States growing up in nearby La Mesa, California...

    , The Killing of Tupac Shakur
    The Killing of Tupac Shakur
    The Killing of Tupac Shakur, a biographical and true-crime account, by journalist and author Cathy Scott, of the 1996 murder of rapper Tupac Shakur. The book made news upon its September 1997 release, on the first anniversary of Shakur's death, because of an autopsy photo included in its pages. It...

    , Huntington Press: ISBN 978-0929712208 (paperback 2nd ed., 2002).
  • True Crime Book Reviews,
  • Wambaugh, Joseph
    Joseph Wambaugh
    Joseph Aloysius Wambaugh, Jr. is a bestselling American writer known for his fictional and non-fictional accounts of police work in the United States...

    , The Onion Field ; Dell Publishing
    Dell Publishing
    Dell Publishing, an American publisher of books, magazines and comic books, was founded in 1921 by George T. Delacorte, Jr.During the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Dell was one of the largest publishers of magazines, including pulp magazines. Their line of humor magazines included 1000 Jokes, launched in...

    ; ISBN 99944-3-768-2 (paperback reprint,1984).
  • Webb, Jack
    Jack Webb
    John Randolph "Jack" Webb , also known by the pseudonym John Randolph, was an American actor, television producer, director and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sergeant Joe Friday in the radio and television series Dragnet...

    , The Badge: The Inside Story of One of America's Great Police Departments ; Prentice-Hall; (hardback, 1958)
  • Whittington-Egan, Richard, Editor (1991), William Roughead's Chronicles of Murder, Moffat, Scotland: Lochar.
  • Janis, Stephen, Why Do We Kill? ; ISBN 978-1463534806 (paperback, 2011)
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