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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

October 8 2021
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I’ve been a reader of true crime since I was an adolescent, and I must admit, a huge reason for my fascination with the genre was Dominick Dunne’s columns in Vanity Fair. Each month I devoured his essays on the dastardly deeds and notorious trials of some of the wealthiest and most powerful members of the upper echelon. I still have a weakness for true crime featuring the rich and famous, and below are several of the most fascinating and thrilling examples of this niche subgenre. From infamous trials of the century to white-collar crime on a global level, these unputdownable titles will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

My Friend Anna
by Rachel DeLoache Williams

Who wouldn’t want to have an heiress as a friend—someone who graciously gets you into the best restaurants and the most exclusive hotels? But if MY FRIEND ANNA teaches us anything, it’s that if something seems too good to be true . . . it is. In a story told directly by one of her victims, the life and crimes of Anna Sorokin are revealed, demonstrating just how far some of us will go to obtain wealth and power.

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My Friend Anna
Rachel DeLoache Williams

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The Woman Who Stole Vermeer
by Anthony M. Amore

It isn’t every day that an heiress walks away from her privileged background, and it’s even rarer when she joins a militant organization and begins perpetrating art theft and bomb attacks. But that’s exactly what Rose Dugdale did, and her journey from British debutante to member of the IRA is a fascinating and complicated story of activism, terrorism, and art.

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The Woman Who Stole Vermeer
Anthony M. Amore

The extraordinary life and crimes of heiress-turned-revolutionary Rose Dugdale, who in 1974 became the only woman to pull off a major art heist.

In the world of crime, there exists an unusual commonality between those who steal art and those who repeatedly kill: they are almost exclusively male. But, as with all things, there is always an outlier—someone who bucks the trend, defying the reliable profiles and leaving investigators and researchers scratching their heads. In the history of major art heists, that outlier is Rose Dugdale.

Dugdale’s life is singularly notorious. Born into extreme wealth, she abandoned her life as an Oxford-trained PhD and heiress to join the cause of Irish Republicanism. While on the surface she appears to be the British version of Patricia Hearst, she is anything but.

Dugdale ran head-first towards the action, spearheading the first aerial terrorist attack in British history and pulling off the biggest art theft of her time. In 1974, she led a gang into the opulent Russborough House in Ireland and made off with millions in prized paintings, including works by Goya, Gainsborough, and Rubens, as well as Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by the mysterious master Johannes Vermeer. Dugdale thus became—to this day—the only woman to pull off a major art heist. And as Anthony Amore explores in The Woman Who Stole Vermeer, it’s likely that this was not her only such heist.

The Woman Who Stole Vermeer is Rose Dugdale’s story, from her idyllic upbringing in Devonshire and her presentation to Elizabeth II as a debutante to her university years and her eventual radical lifestyle. Her life of crime and activism is at turns unbelievable and awe-inspiring, and sure to engross readers.

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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Mad Travelers
by Dave Seminara

Once the world’s richest people have visited all the typical vacation spots, where do they go to sate their wanderlust? According to MAD TRAVELERS, some of them hired a billionaire guide to take them to forbidden destinations. Too bad this guide wasn’t really a billionaire and, worse, had no intention of actually guiding them anywhere. In this book, the strange-but-true story of a young con artist is revealed in a twisty adventure story unlike any other.

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Mad Travelers
Dave Seminara

A brilliant, young con artist offered to help the world’s most traveled people reach the planet’s last untouched frontiers; instead, they were taken for a wild ride that turned into a costly lesson on the perils of wanderlust.

At twenty-three, William Simon Baekeland was well on his way to becoming the world’s best traveled person. The “billionaire” heir to a great plastics fortune had already visited 163 countries, but his real passion was finding ways to visit the world’s most challenging destinations—war torn cities, disputed territories, and remote or officially off-limits islands at the margins of the map. He earned rock-star status in the world of extreme travel by finding ingenious ways to bring the world’s most widely traveled people to difficult-to-reach and forbidden places. But when his story began to unravel, an eccentric group of hyper-well-traveled country collectors were left wondering how they had allowed their obsession to blind them to the warning signs that William Baekeland wasn’t who they thought he was.

Mad Travelers: A Tale of Wanderlust, Greed and the Quest to Reach the Ends of the Earth delves deep inside the subculture of country collecting, taking readers to danger zones like Mogadishu and geographical oddities like Norway’s nearly impossible-to-reach Bouvet Island. Along the way, this raucous tale of adventure and international intrigue illuminates the perils and pleasures of wanderlust while examining a fundamental question: why are some people compelled to travel, while others are content to stay home? Mad Travelers is a perceptive and at times hilarious account of how the pursuit of everywhere put the world’s greatest travelers at the mercy of a brilliant young con man.

Featured in an HBO docuseries.

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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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The House of Gucci
by Sara Gay Forden

The inspiration behind the forthcoming major motion picture starring Adam Driver and Lady Gaga, this story of glamour, power, and violence is like something out of a tragic opera. Following Gucci’s humble beginnings in Tuscany through its ups and downs as a symbol of affluence, this book also reveals the company’s connection to one of Italy’s most scandalous murders and sensational trials.

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The House of Gucci
Sara Gay Forden

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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Savage Grace
by Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson

We’ve all heard tales of dysfunctional, ultra-rich families, but few are as shocking and thoroughly creepy as the saga of Barbara Baekeland and her son, Tony. An oral history featuring exclusive interviews, diary entries, prison documents, and more, this nightmarish story of decadence, incest, suicide, and murder reveals how deeply some families will hide their darkest secrets.

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Savage Grace
Natalie Robins and Steven M. L. Aronson

A spellbinding tale of money and madness, incest and matricide, Savage Grace is the saga of Brooks and Barbara Baekeland -- beautiful, rich, worldly -- and their handsome, gentle son, Tony. Alternately neglected and smothered by his parents, he was finally driven to destroy the whole family in a violent chain of events.

Savage Grace unfolds against a glamorous international background (New York, London, Paris, Italy, Spain); features a nonpareil cast of characters (including Salvador Dalí, James Jones, the Astors, the Vanderbilts, and European nobility); and tells the doomed Baekelands' story through remarkably candid interviews, private letters, and diaries, not to mention confidential hospital, State Department, and prison documents. A true-crime classic, it exposes the envied lives of the rich and beautiful, and brilliantly illuminates the darkest corners of the American Dream.

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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Relentless Pursuit
by Bradley J. Edwards

The victims’ rights attorney who spent a decade trying to bring Jeffrey Epstein to justice shines a light on how one of the most powerful monsters in modern times attempted to evade the authorities. A breathless and devastating page-turner, RELENTLESS PURSUIT is full of shocking details, previously unknown facts, and moving calls to action.

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Relentless Pursuit
Bradley J. Edwards

A thrilling page-turner about the pursuit of justice” (New York Post), this is the definitive story of the case against Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, and the corrupt system that supported them, told in thrilling detail by the lawyer who has represented their victims for more than a decade.

In June 2008, Florida-based victims’ rights attorney Bradley J. Edwards was thirty-two years old and had just started his own law firm when a young woman named Courtney Wild came to see him. She told a shocking story of having been sexually coerced at the age of fourteen by a wealthy man in Palm Beach named Jeffrey Epstein. Edwards, who had never heard of Epstein, had no idea that this moment would change the course of his life.

Over the next ten years, Edwards devoted himself to bringing Epstein to justice, and came close to losing everything in the process. Edwards tracked down and represented more than twenty of Epstein’s victims, shined a light on his shadowy network of accomplices, including Ghislaine Maxwell, and uncovered the scope of his sexually exploitative organization, which reached into the highest levels of American society.

In this “revelatory exploration of the long fight to bring a monstrous man to justice” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), Edwards gives his riveting, blow-by-blow account of battling Epstein on behalf of his clients, and provides stunning details never shared before. Epstein and his cadre of high-priced lawyers were able to manipulate the FBI and the Justice Department, but despite making threats and attempting schemes straight out of a spy movie, Epstein couldn’t stop Edwards, his small team of committed lawyers, and, most of all, the victims, who were dead-set on seeing their abuser finally put behind bars.

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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Empire of Pain
by Patrick Radden Keefe

This is a harrowing, explosive investigation into the wealthy and philanthropic Sackler family and their connection to the American opioid crisis. Following three generations of Sacklers through the beginnings of this country’s love affair with pharmaceutical marketing to the rise of OxyContin and the family’s attempts to avoid legal action, EMPIRE OF PAIN is a sad tale of avarice and overwhelming suffering.

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Empire of Pain
Patrick Radden Keefe

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11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Red Card
by Ken Bensinger

An in-depth and spellbinding investigation into the scandal that nearly took down the world’s most popular sport: rampant corruption in FIFA. Detailing greed of astronomical proportions and money laundering committed by some of the most powerful men in the sport, RED CARD is a true-crime read that’s perfect for anyone, whether you’re a fan of journalism, true crime, or sports.

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Red Card
Ken Bensinger

The definitive, shocking account of the FIFA scandal—the biggest corruption case of recent years—involving dozens of countries and implicating nearly every aspect of the world’s most popular sport, soccer, including the World Cup is “an engrossing and jaw-dropping tale of international intrigue…A riveting book” (The New York Times).

The FIFA case began small, boosted by an IRS agent’s review of an American soccer official’s tax returns. But that humble investigation eventually led to a huge worldwide corruption scandal that crossed continents and reached the highest levels of the soccer’s world governing body in Switzerland.

“The meeting of American investigative reporting and real-life cop show” (The Financial Times), Ken Bensinger’s Red Card explores the case, and the personalities behind it, in vivid detail. There’s Chuck Blazer, a high-living soccer dad who ascended to the highest ranks of the sport while creaming millions from its coffers; Jack Warner, a Trinidadian soccer official whose lust for power was matched only by his boundless greed; and the sport’s most powerful man, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who held on to his position at any cost even as soccer rotted from the inside out.

Remarkably, this corruption existed for decades before American law enforcement officials began to secretly dig, finally revealing that nearly every aspect of the planet’s favorite sport was corrupted by bribes, kickbacks, fraud, and money laundering. Not even the World Cup, the most-watched sporting event in history, was safe from the thick web of corruption, as powerful FIFA officials extracted their bribes at every turn. “A gripping white-collar crime thriller that, in its scope and human drama, ranks with some of the best investigative business books of the past thirty years” (The Wall Street Journal), Red Card goes beyond the headlines to bring the real story to light.

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MENTIONED IN:

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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American Heiress
by Jeffrey Toobin

This is the definitive account of one of the strangest stories to come out of the 1970s, the kidnapping and eventual trial of heiress Patty Hearst. From armed robberies to brainwashing, AMERICAN HEIRESS leaves no stone unturned and brings the wild episode to vivid and astonishing life.

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American Heiress
Jeffrey Toobin

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Lying for Money
by Dan Davies

While white-collar and financial crime are often in the news, they still seem complicated to the average person. Now, LYING FOR MONEY provides a clear-eyed and accessible—and sometimes infuriating—exploration of fraud and its direct effects on today’s global economy. From a nineteenth-century con artist who swindled investors to today’s Theranos saga, you won’t be able to put down this anthology of infamous frauds.

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Lying for Money
Dan Davies

An entertaining, deeply informative explanation of how high-level financial crimes work, written “with verve and wit” (The Sunday Times, London) by an industry insider who’s an expert in the field.

The way most white-collar crime works is by manipulating institutional psychology. That means creating something that looks as much as possible like a normal set of transactions. The drama comes later, when it all unwinds.

Financial crime seems horribly complicated, but there are only so many ways you can con someone out of what’s theirs. In Lying for Money, veteran regulatory economist and market analyst Dan Davies tells the story of fraud through a genealogy of financial malfeasance, including: the Great Salad Oil swindle, the Pigeon King International fraud, the fictional British colony of Poyais in South America, the Boston Ladies’ Deposit Company, the Portuguese Banknote Affair, Theranos, and the Bre-X scam. Davies brings new insights into these schemes and shows how all frauds, current and historical, belong to one of four categories (“long firm,” counterfeiting, control fraud, and market crimes) and operate on the same basic principles. The only elements that change are the victims, the scammers, and the terminology.

Revealing some of the most famous frauds of the modern age, Davies explains how fraud has shaped the entire development of the modern world economy. For those “who like their true-crime stories laced with economics will enjoy these forays into the dark side” (Kirkus Reviews) this is a gripping and vivid look at modern market societies.

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MENTIONED IN:

11 True Crime Tales of the Rich and Famous

By Kerry Fiallo | October 8, 2021

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Justice
by Dominick Dunne

Dominick Dunne is the master of true crime and name-dropping, and this compelling collection features his best essays from his time at Vanity Fair. From the shocking patricide committed by the privileged Menendez brothers to the circus of the O. J. Simpson trial and from the glitter of Hollywood to the grandeur of Monaco, Dunne brings his mesmerizing insider knowledge and effortless wit to some of the world’s most unforgettable scandals.

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Justice
Dominick Dunne

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MENTIONED IN:

New in Paperback: 9 October Reads More Exhilarating Than a Haunted House

By Alice Martin | October 18, 2021

Authors as Magicians: 8 Books That’ll Cast a Spell on You

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

Staff Picks: 10 Classic Novels We Truly Enjoyed Reading for School

By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

10 Immersive Series to Hunker Down with This Fall

By Alice Martin | October 13, 2021

10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / jacoblund

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