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8 Unsolved Mystery Reads for True Crime Fans to Untangle

January 28 2021
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I love history. I love a good mystery. Luckily, these two genres often collide, providing us with countless scintillating and unputdownable books, which are often even more suspenseful when the mysteries are still unsolved. Below are several of my favorite nonfiction looks at some of history’s most fascinating and confounding unsolved mysteries, perfect for amateur sleuths of all backgrounds. From the infamous, the overlooked, and to the just plain thrilling, these books effortlessly take us across the world and through time and will leave us searching for more answers.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden
by Cara Robertson

The ultimate read on one of the most notorious unsolved murders in American lore, THE TRIAL OF LIZZIE BORDEN features fresh research, unpublished contemporary accounts, and even letters from the alleged murderer herself. Much more than a true crime book, it is also an in-depth exploration of the turn of the century’s justice system and complex view of women.

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The Trial of Lizzie Borden
Cara Robertson

WINNER OF THE NEW ENGLAND SOCIETY BOOK AWARD

In Cara Robertson’s “enthralling new book,” The Trial of Lizzie Borden, “the reader is to serve as judge and jury” (The New York Times). Based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence, this true crime and legal history is the “definitive account to date of one of America’s most notorious and enduring murder mysteries” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her murder trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars, and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

An essential piece of American mythology, the popular fascination with the Borden murders has endured for more than one hundred years. Told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror. In contrast, “Cara Robertson presents the story with the thoroughness one expects from an attorney…Fans of crime novels will love it” (Kirkus Reviews). Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden is “a fast-paced, page-turning read” (Booklist, starred review) that offers a window into America in the Gilded Age. This “remarkable” (Bustle) book “should be at the top of your reading list” (PopSugar).

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The Princes in the Tower
by Alison Weir

As one of Britain’s most enduring mysteries, the disappearances of King Edward V and his brother Richard, the Duke of York, after being sent to the Tower of London have haunted historians since the Middle Ages. The bestselling novelist and historian Alison Weir vividly cuts through centuries of propaganda and intrigue to uncover the fates of the young royals in this gripping tale of rivalry, conspiracy, and murder.

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The Princes in the Tower
Alison Weir

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Butch Cassidy
by Charles Leerhsen

America has an enormous soft spot for outlaws, particularly when they hail from the Wild West, but few are as iconic as Butch Cassidy. This vivid biography attempts to clear the blurred lines between fact and legend, exploring the highs and lows of the charismatic thief and his alleged death in South America. Get transported to the waning days of the Wild West and try to unravel the mystery of what happened to this notorious cowboy.

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Butch Cassidy
Charles Leerhsen

Charles Leerhsen brings the notorious Butch Cassidy to vivid life in this surprising and entertaining biography that goes beyond the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to reveal a more fascinating and complicated man than legend provides.

For more than a century the life and death of Butch Cassidy have been the subject of legend, spawning a small industry of mythmakers and a major Hollywood film. But who was Butch Cassidy, really? Charles Leerhsen, bestselling author of Ty Cobb, sorts out facts from folklore and paints a brilliant portrait of the celebrated outlaw of the American West.

Born into a Mormon family in Utah, Robert Leroy Parker grew up dirt poor and soon discovered that stealing horses and cattle was a fact of life in a world where small ranchers were being squeezed by banks, railroads, and cattle barons. Sometimes you got caught, sometimes you got lucky. A charismatic and more than capable cowboy—even ranch owners who knew he was a rustler said they would hire him again—he adopted the alias “Butch Cassidy,” and moved on to a new moneymaking endeavor: bank robbery. By all accounts, Butch was a smart and considerate thief, refusing to take anything from customers and insisting that no one be injured during his heists. His “Wild Bunch” gang specialized in clever getaways, stationing horses at various points along their escape route so they could outrun any posse. Eventually Butch and his gang graduated to train robberies, which were more lucrative. But the railroad owners hired the Pinkerton Agency, whose detectives pursued Butch and his gang relentlessly, until he and his then partner Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid) fled to South America, where they replicated the cycle of ranching, rustling, and robbery until they met their end in Bolivia.

In Butch Cassidy, Charles Leerhsen shares his fascination with how criminals such as Butch deftly maneuvered between honest work and thievery, battling the corporate interests that were exploiting the settlers, and showing us in vibrant prose the Old West as it really was, in all its promise and heartbreak.

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The Golden Thread
by Ravi Somaiya

A murder mystery of profound global and political implications, the 1961 death of diplomat and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld has long been a dark specter of the Cold War. Now, this groundbreaking investigation takes us through the decades of theories, cover-ups, and conspiracies and reveals a remarkable man whose tragic death still haunts the international community.

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The Golden Thread
Ravi Somaiya

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The First Signs
by Genevieve von Petzinger

Uncover the secrets left behind by our ancestors with this stirring look at one archeologist’s quest to decipher strange 30,000-year-old cave symbols. With in-depth research and thrilling popular science, this is an eye-opening investigation of the evolution of language and what makes us truly human.

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The First Signs
Genevieve von Petzinger

“If you love mysteries, you’ll love this book. Genevieve von Petzinger acts as guide and sleuth in this fascinating, accessible, and fast-paced exploration of Ice Age artists and the evocative cave paintings they left behind” (Virginia Morell, author of Animal Wise and Ancestral Passions).

In an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones, archeologist von Petzinger explores the little-known geometric cave art of our ancient ancestors—perhaps the first form of human written communication and a key to unlocking some of the mysteries of our ancient past. These “remarkable” (Jean Auel, author of the bestselling Earth’s Children series) findings “may represent one of the most extraordinary scientific insights of our time” (Wade Davis, author of The Serpent and the Rainbow).

Join von Petzinger as she travels throughout Europe and attempts to crack the code of these strange symbols, which persisted virtually unchanged for some 30,000 years. Clearly meaningful to their creators, these geometric signs are one of the first indicators of our human ancestors’ intelligence and capacity for symbolic meaning and language—glimpses across millennia of an ancient consciousness linked to our own.

Part travel journal, part popular science, and part personal narrative, this groundbreaking investigation explores what makes us human, how we evolved as a species, and how this cave art laid the foundation for so much of the technology that we enjoy today.

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Contested Will
by James Shapiro

The question of whether William Shakespeare actually authored all of his plays and sonnets has been argued about for centuries. Now, in this in-depth and accessible book, James Shapiro fully investigates the rumors and conspiracy theories, bringing the Elizabethan age and the enigmatic man behind some of the most important works of the Western canon to vibrant life.

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Contested Will
James Shapiro

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The Rope
by Alex Tresniowski

When a child is murdered in a beachfront town, the ensuing investigation and panic unveil the darkest aspects of American society at the turn of the twentieth century—issues that we are still grappling with today. An unputdownable exploration of a long-forgotten crime, THE ROPE illustrates how racism, classism, and violence are still sadly affecting us all, particularly our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

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The Rope
Alex Tresniowski

From New York Times bestselling author Alex Tresniowski comes a page-turning, remarkable true-crime thriller recounting the 1910 murder of ten-year-old Marie Smith, the dawn of modern criminal detection and the launch of the NAACP.

In the tranquil seaside town of Asbury Park, New Jersey, ten-year-old schoolgirl Marie Smith is brutally murdered. Small town officials, unable to find the culprit, call upon the young manager of a New York detective agency for help. It is the detective’s first murder case, and now, the specifics of the investigation and daring sting operation that caught the killer is captured in all its rich detail for the first time.

Occurring exactly halfway between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the formal beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in 1954, the brutal murder and its highly-covered investigation sits at the historic intersection of sweeping national forces—religious extremism, class struggle, the infancy of criminal forensics, and America’s Jim Crow racial violence.

History and true crime collide in this sensational murder mystery featuring characters as complex and colorful as those found in the best psychological thrillers—the unconventional truth-seeking detective Ray Schindler; the sinister pedophile Frank Heidemann; the ambitious Asbury Park Sheriff Clarence Hetrick; the mysterious “sting artist,” Carl Neumeister; the indomitable crusader Ida Wells; and the victim, Marie Smith, who represented all the innocent and vulnerable children living in turn-of-the-century America.

Gripping and powerful, The Rope is an important piece of history that gives a voice to the voiceless and resurrects a long-forgotten true crime story that speaks to the very divisions tearing at the nation’s fabric today.

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The Lost City of Z
by David Grann

A mythical city. The deep jungle. An unsolved disappearance. All these and more are in this captivating book that feels like a tall tale, but it’s all true. When explorer Percy Fawcett went searching for his city of Z in the Amazon, little did he expect that he would never return. What happened to him and where these rumors of the fabled city came from are revealed in this spellbinding and suspenseful adventure.

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The Lost City of Z
David Grann

In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett set off into the Amazon rainforest in search of a fabled civilization, only to never return. In this piece of narrative nonfiction, David Grann begins his own quest into the Amazon, interweaving Fawcett’s story with his own. Both stories will combine to create an epic adventure for moviegoers. RELEASE DATE: 2016

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Courtroom Stories with Complicated Outcomes

By Sarah Woodruff | November 24, 2021

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Close

Image credit: iStock / bee32

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