10 Disturbing Books About Unsolved Mysteries

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Netflix recently a reminder tweeted: the show is called Unsolved Mysteries. It’s just in the title. You know what you’re getting into! So I tell you, dear reader of this article, prepare yourself for frustration. None of the books on this list will solve mysteries definitively. However, what they will do is present you the details of a case and possibly offer a possible explanation.

The appeal is in the potential. As evidenced by I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and the subsequent identification of the Golden State Killer, long-unsolved mysteries can be solved. Where mystery novels eventually promise an answer, real life tends to provide scattered information and stories that run away in formlessness. Still, books about unsolved mysteries are for those with a sense of hope. With fresh eyes, new ideas and constant attention to a particular cause, closure is always a possibility.

Books about unsolved mysteries can also reveal a lot about the world, prompting us to work for change. There are glitches in the systems that are meant to keep us safe. There are those who like to take advantage of those who live on the margins. And frankly, there’s a lot about the world that we just don’t understand yet. So if you’re looking for a new topic to keep you up at night, I’m sure you’ll find one in this list. And a substantive warning: many of these books investigate murders and sexual assaults.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

Among the books of unsolved mysteries are countless pages devoted to Jack the Ripper, the unidentified serial killer from Victorian London. This great book gives much-needed dignity to the women who fell victim to the killer. Rather than bombarding readers with cruel details about the legendary murders, the book details the vulnerability of these five women who led precarious lives. Even with this more humane angle, the book is absolutely compelling and memorable to read.

cover of Cold Case North

Cold Case North: The Search for James Brady and Absolom Halkett by Michael Nest, Deanna Reder and Eric Bell

In North America, stories of missing and murdered indigenous peoples are too often brushed aside. The two Indigenous activists central to this story, James Brady and Absolom Halkett, went missing in 1967. They were on a trip to search for minerals in remote Saskatchewan. Since they were both experienced outdoorsmen, some believe that they were not missing but were murdered for their activism. The authors of this book appreciate the complexity of the story and the people involved. It is therefore an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn more about Indigenous history in Canada through a true crime lens.

black dahlia red rose from piu eatwell

Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption and Cover-Up of America’s Biggest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell

The murder of Elizabeth Short, posthumously dubbed the Black Dahlia, is one of the most famous unsolved crimes in American history. Her story has been fictionalized both on page and screen with little regard for the facts of the case. Piu Marie Eatwell’s book, on the other hand, uses unedited FBI files, LAPD files, and interviews to get serious about the case. Using her own legal skills, she even identifies who she thinks is the culprit. Beware if you’re squeamish, because this book takes a deep dive into the creepy case.

cover of the Cold Vanish

The Cold Vanish: Searching for the Missing in the Wilds of North America by Jon Billman

Sometimes the world is so small. However, when humans disappear into the wilderness, we quickly see how vast this planet is. This haunting and thoughtful book describes both the people missing in the wilderness and those determined to find them. It highlights famous cases, search and rescue dogs and theories about the mechanisms of going missing. As a result, you may never want to set foot on a trail again. Or maybe you feel more comfortable knowing there are strangers out there who are committed to your survival.

cover of We Keep the Dead Close

We Keep the Dead Close: A Harvard Murder and Half a Century of Silence by Becky Cooper

Today, colleges are required to be candid about crimes on or near their campuses. The 1986 rape and murder of Jeanne Clery at Lehigh University led to the passage of the Clery Act, requiring colleges to disclose such information. But the 1969 murder of Jane Britton, a Harvard University graduate, remained both secret and unsolved. Becky Cooper, who essentially heard a ghost story version of the murder as a college student, describes her search for the true story and what it reveals about power dynamics at elite institutions like Harvard.

cover of The Unidentified

The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained by Colin Dickey

As someone who grew up in a lake monster city, I always loved the segments Unsolved Mysteries they were a bit outside. You know them. Aliens, Ghosts, Bigfoot. The lake monster from my hometown even made it into one segment. To me, the “unsolved mysteries” umbrella encompasses these unexplained phenomena. And while I have my Time Life Mysteries of the Unexplained books from my childhood, I prefer Colin Dickey’s writing. He knows how fun these subjects can be, but also that fun is not always harmless. He identifies the thin line that separates an open mind about our vast universe from the toxic kind of skepticism and conspiracy thinking that can lead to real harm.

Book cover for The Good Girls

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro

Some mysterious cases have official statements from government agencies that do not satisfy many of the parties involved. Such is the case with the deaths of two teenage girls in 2014 in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India. Evidence that the girls were raped and murdered conflicts with official reports that rule otherwise. This book contextualizes the tragic short lives of these young women within the many complex systems that influenced them: family, religion, politics, caste, economics and more.

cover of dead mountain

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Fans of truly strange unsolved mysteries have their favorite subjects. For example DB Cooper, the Voynich Manuscript, the Taos Hum and the Marfa lamps. Likewise, the Dyatlov Pass incident would be at the top of anyone’s list of books about unsolved mysteries. How did a group of experienced hikers die in the Ural Mountains, some wearing inappropriate clothing and shoes for the weather and others seriously injured? In addition, why did their clothes show high levels of radiation? This author has gathered everything known about this story, and he posits his own compelling account of how events unfolded on that fateful night in 1959.

cover of No Place Safe

No Place Safe: A Family Memoir by Kim Reid

The setting for this vivid memoir is the Atlanta infanticide. Between 1979 and 1981, at least 28 people were murdered, most of them children and adolescents. These crimes have been attributed to one killer, who was convicted of killing two adults. No charges have been filed for the child murders, although the case was reopened in 2019. Kim Reid was 13 in the summer of 1979, and her haunting memoir describes the lost sense of security that resulted from the tense environment.

The Gardner Robbery Book Cover

The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser

It’s not all murder and chaos out there. Sometimes it’s art theft. If you visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston – free entry if your name is Isabella! – you see some empty frames on the wall. Like a back door open to a wayward cat, there is a home for the stolen art to return to. Most importantly, these blank lists are a reminder of the heist. Fortunately, there is also new interest in the unsolved mystery due to a recent Netflix documentary. Those interested in learning more about the theft of priceless art, including one of only 34 known paintings by Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt’s only seascape, can read this book detailing the brutal act.

If you’re looking for more true crime books, plenty have been released this year alone. And if this list of books about unsolved mysteries is too much of a sensational crime for you, then you can move on. Finally, if you find that once you get your nerves on these puzzling books and you need a tidy, cozy mystery, I can’t blame you. We certainly have plenty of recommendations there too. It’s a mysterious world; take good care of.

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