Recommended Books

The links will take you to where you can buy the book on Amazon. If the number of pages in the book you buy is different than mine, probably it's just a different edition. Feel free to recommend your own book ideas for my consideration.

Without a Trace: The Disappearance of Amy Billig—A Mother's Search for Justice by Greg Aunapu

    The story of the unsuccessful search for Amy Billig, who disappeared in 1974. A good, solid and painstakingly detailed (as well as very compassionate) retelling of the story, with cooperation from Amy's mother Susan. The desperate efforts Susan—who has recently died—made to find her only daughter are heartrending. The author himself knew Amy slightly when he was a child. Although the real story has no conclusion, given that Amy is still missing, Aunapu is able to wrap up the book well by giving his own, very plausible theory on what happened to her.
    Copyright 2001. 352 pages.


Twilight Of Innocence: The Disappearance Of Beverly Potts by James Jessen Badal

    A good history of the 1951 disappearance of Beverly Potts, published after the fiftieth anniversary of the day she vanished. This book goes into painstaking, at times almost tedious, detail about Beverly's disappearance and all the raised hopes and false leads afterwards. It has several good photographs of Beverly which I plan to scan. It also presents good personality portraits of the people involved: Beverly, her family, her best friend, and the investigators in her case. The book does a good wrap-up at the end in spite of the enduring mystery, telling what happened to all the characters in the decades after 1951, and then giving the author's own theory on the cause of Beverly's disappearance. I finished reading this book with a profound sense of frustration, given Badal's theory that Beverly was killed by someone she knew, probably someone on her own street, and that she may well still be on that street. A good, solid account and worth buying. It's fairly short (the second-shortest of the books on the list so far) and could be read in a day or two.
    Copyright 2005. 190 pages.


Without Trace: On the Trail of New Zealand Missing Persons by Scott Bainbridge

    Not for sale in the United States, this book covers sixteen cases of mysterious disappearances from New Zealand dating back as far as the 1950s. The chapters are about ten to twenty pages each in length and are usually, but not always, illustrated with black and white photos. I was impressed by the author's ability to pack so much information into these relatively short essays. He interviewed many of the parties involved and some of the information in this book can be found nowhere else. If this selection of cases is anything to judge by, New Zealand disappearances can be quite as weird as those in the United States. In the case of Cynthia Grierson-Jackson for instance, the police found a lone, naked woman's leg that was probably hers. But one leg looks much like any other, they never found the rest of the body, and the leg was never conclusively identified. Any missing persons/true crime buff would find this book intriguing. I only wish the author had included law enforcement contact numbers to submit tips.
    Copyright 2005. 188 pages.


After Etan: the Missing Child Case that Held America Captive by Lisa Cohen

    Reporter Lisa Cohen, who’s been covering the Etan Patz disappearance for years now, has put together a very impressive account of the investigation with all its twists and turns. Though the book covers thirty years, the story never drags, and I stayed up and sacrificed precious sleep to get through it, although I knew already how it ended — or didn’t end, as it were. Etan Patz has never been found and the prime suspect in his disappearance, a thoroughly creepy pedophile named Jose Antonio Ramos, has never been charged in his case. The first half of the book mainly focuses on the pain of Etan’s parents, Stan and Julie, and their struggle to keep their own sanity and provide a normal life for their two remaining children. It’s a very rare and intimate window into how a family copes with having a missing child. The second half of the story focuses more on Jose Antonio Ramos and the quest by a dedicated federal prosecutor, Stuart GraBois, to bring Ramos to justice for the crimes he’s committed against children. GraBois continues to lobby for charges in Etan’s case, and I hope this book will spur that effort along.

    This is a must-read for those interested in the Patz case and the phenomenon of missing children in general. Though it’s 400 pages, it felt like a much shorter book to me. The details and the snappy journalistic writing style moved it along. I don’t think it could have been any better written.

    (In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that the author gave me a copy of this book for free.)

    Copyright 2009. 400 pages.


The Empty Robe: the Story of the Disappearance of Judge Crater by Stella Crater

    Told in the words of his wife, this is the story of the infamous disappearance of Judge Joseph Crater back in 1931. He was never located. Stella Crater wrote a slim but solid account of the circumstances surrounding her husband's disappearance; the facts she gave seem to be accurate, as they match up with other accounts I have read. More importantly in my view, Stella gives an excellent portrait of her husband's personality and her own, and as you read about what happened to her during the search you come to grips with common problems in left-behind families that most people don't think about: for instance, she suffered numerous financial problems after her husband vanished because his income had of course stopped and most of their assets were in his name.

    The primary thing that strikes me about this book, however, is Stella's immense capacity for self-delusion and blind faith. It's really rather sad. She goes out of her way to assure the reader that her husband—whom she obviously adored—was an honest and honorable man in all aspects of his life and that he had never been unfaithful to her. She is absolutely sure of all this, in spite of ample evidence of Judge Crater's extramarital affairs and political corruption and in spite of the fact that, prior to his disappearance, Stella really knew very little about his finances or his business life. She didn't even find out he had been appointed to the state Supreme Court until she read it in the newspapers after the induction ceremony. This book is definitely worth reading for the characterization alone, it you can find it. There is only one other full-length book about Joseph Crater's disappearance, Richard Tofel's Vanishing Point; it is reviewed below.

    Copyright 1961. 159 pages.


Missing: Missing Without Trace in Ireland by Barry Cummins

    As the title indicates, this is a group of case studies of several women and children who have disappeared without a trace in Ireland and Northern Ireland. While the writing is rather dry, the individual cases are very detailed and the author also includes personal information about the missing people and their families, which makes them come to life for the reader.

    My only real objection is that Cummins invariably declares that the people he is writing about have been murdered. The book jacket, for instance, mentions "Annie McCarrick who was murdered in the Dublin-Wicklow mountains." Annie's remains have never been found, no suspects have been arrested, and there are no witnesses and no hard evidence to indicate that she is in fact dead, let alone murdered. Granted, she probably was, but the assumptions about the missing people's fates seriously detract from the author's credibility. Still, in spite of this the book's details making it worth looking at.

    Copyright 2003. 262 pages.


A Rip in Heaven: a Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath by Jeanine Cummins

    Considering that this book is about the brutal gang rape and murder of the author's two cousins, it is an extremely balanced and thoughtful account, much like Ann Rule's work. Julie and Robin Kerry were thrown off a bridge in Missouri in 1991; Robin's body was never found. Their cousin, Jeanine Cummins's brother Tom, was with them and was also shoved off the bridge, but survived and later testified against the killers. There are detailed word portraits of each of the main characters in the story—the book was much more about Robin, Kerry and Tom than it was about the killers, and pictures of the killers were not even included in the photo centerfold. Tom was initially suspected of killing his cousins and was actually charged with their murders, but was quickly released. Cummins is able to convincingly explain how a combination of trauma, sleep deprivation and inappropriate police interrogation tactics caused Tom to fail a lie detector test and make an incriminating statement (I would hardly call it a confession). It is unfortunate that to this day, some people believe he was responsible for the girls' deaths.

    I really have to give Cummins credit for not trying to demonize the murderers. They are/were violent and dangerous men; the sheer brutality of their crimes showed this and needed no further embellishment. The only complaint I have about this book is that it sort of ended in the thick of things, with one of the killers being granted yet another stay of execution, without any explanation as to what eventually happened. This is a very good memoir, well-written and researched and as objective as we have any right to expect it to be.

    Copyright 2004. 302 pages.


Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde by Brad Dimock

    This book is quite exceptional on this list, and in the genre of mystery stories in general, because Dimock actually attempted to recreate the setting of Glen and Bessie's disappearances. Both professional boaters, Dimock and his wife made a sweep scow like the Hydes' boat, as reconstructed from photographs, and rafted down the same rivers they did to get a feeling of what it was like. Dimock's experience on the river no doubt contributed to the conclusions he reached about Bessie and Glen's disappearances.

    Thoroughly researched and packed with photographs of Glen, Bessie, their family members and other people involved in their story, Sunk Without a Sound is a real gem of a book. Dimock provides extensive biographical history on the Hydes, maps of their routes, and quoted reminiscences from those who knew them and from Glen and Bessie's own letters and notes. Most importantly, Dimock is a good myth-destroyer. By sweeping all the extraneous campfire gossip aside, he enables the reader to see as well as is possible what must have happened to Glen and Bessie. The old adage about how the simplest explanation is most likely to be the correct one definitely applies here, and I write this with a certain sadness, for I grew fond of the Hydes as I read about their lives. I highly recommend this book, to mystery buffs, historians and outdoor lovers alike.

    Copyright 2001. 289 pages.


Clueless in New England: The Unsolved Disappearances of Paula Welden, Connie Smith and Katherine Hull by Michael C. Dooling NEW!

    The author attempts to tie the 1946 disappearance of Paula Welden and the 1952 disappearance of Connie Smith with an earlier case, that of Katherine Hull in 1936. Katherine was 22 when she disappeared from Lebanon Springs, New York. Her skeletal remains were found in a nearby wooded area seven years later, and for lack of evidence to the contrary the death was ruled accidental. Dooling believes one serial killer was responsible in all three young women's cases. Although I'm unconvinced — the evidence just isn't there — this is a very thorough and well-researched account of these disappearances. In this book you'll find as much information about these unfortunate girls as you're ever going to find, and other cases are mentioned as well.
    Copyright 2010. 236 pages.


Trail of Blood: a Father, a Son and a Tell-tale Crime Scene Investigation by Wanda Webb Evans, in corroboration with James Dunn

    Although Roger "Scott" Dunn is the missing (presumed murdered) person in Trail of Blood, the book is about his father, Jim Dunn, as much as it is about Scott. Jim Dunn corroborated on this book, which chronicles Scott's case from the day his disappearance was made known to the trial, conviction and sentencing of two individuals for his murder. Without Jim's dedication, without him constantly pestering the police and anyone else whom he thought could help, Scott's murder would probably have never been solved. A good word should also be said for the investigating officers, who were very diligent in working the case and never "wrote it off," even when it seemed hopeless.

    Although the writing is somewhat dry at times, this book presents a good portrait of the principal characters and also shows the difficulty of solving a murder where there is no weapon, no witnesses, no confessions, and worst of all, no body. The time frame covers over six years between Scott's disappearance and the convictions of his killers, but the suspense remains throughout. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was outraged when I discovered at the end that one of the murder defendants was sentenced to probation, and the other is already being considered for parole. Trail of Blood is a good read, particularly those who are interested in forensics, since it goes into so much detail about the physical evidence.

    Copyright 2005. 305 pages.


Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America by Paula S. Fass

    An academic history of child abduction in the United States, beginning in the late 1800s. The book contains the story of Charley Ross, whom this website was named for, as well as Etan Patz, Polly Klaas and other cases. This is not a true-crime book, but a social history written for a scholar's eyes. It addresses the social impact of child abductions, methods police and parents have used to get their children back, and the problem of family abduction.
    Copyright 1997. 324 pages.


The Shallow Grave in Trinity County by Harry Farrell

    Although this page is supposed to be for books about people who are still missing, I couldn't resist including Shallow Grave. It's an incredibly detailed, day-by-day history of the disappearance of fourteen-year-old Stephanie Bryan in 1955, and the subsequent search for her and the trial and execution of her presumed murderer, a young accounting student named Burton Abbott. Methods to find missing children were very primitive back then compared to now; if Stephanie had been kidnapped today, an Amber Alert would probably have been issued and while it might not have saved her, it certainly would have lead police to her killer sooner. It is chilling to think that Burton, a skinny, sickly and deceptively bland man, would certainly have gotten away with his crime and very possibly kept on killing had he not been stupid enough (or arrogant enough) to hide Stephanie's belongings in his own basement. If his wife had not found them there, Stephanie might be profiled on this website.

    The issue of Abbott's guilt or innocence is controversial even to this day, and though Farrell never outright states his opinion, it's pretty obvious from the writing what he believes. And that's fine. This is a compulsively readable story; I've re-read my copy so often that some of the pages have fallen out.

    Copyright 1997. 305 ages.


Among the Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present by Jay Robert Nash

    This is a very absorbing read and I only wish it could be updated to include more recent cases. Nash's writing style is engaging as he covers hundreds of disappearances of all types, including several featured on this website. Photographs and sketches occasionally illustrate the stories. Nash organizes cases by cause of disappearance: chapters are given titles such as "Escape to Love," "Murder Unseen," and, most intriguingly, "No Reason at All." It should be noted that many of the cases he writes about have been solved; the missing person was located months, years and sometimes decades after vanishing. This, it seems, would lend hope to the families of people who have been gone for extensive time periods.
    Copyright 1978. 445 pages.


The Missing by Andrew O'Hagan

    Part memoir, part social commentary, this book is about missing people in Great Britain. It's a bit dated because it was written before the internet came into widespread use, but much of what it says still applies. The book is not about specific cases so much as the phenomenon in general. O'Hagan, a journalist, interviewed runaways and homeless people in addition to law enforcement officials as part of his research. Much of what he says, especially about the people who die and are left undiscovered in their apartments for months, makes for very depressing reading. This book is well worth the time to look at and fostered greater awareness in myself, although I knew a great deal about missing people already.
    Copyright 1995. 208 pages.


Stalemate: A Shocking True Story of Child Abduction and Murder by John Philpin

    Despite the sensational title and cover, this book, written by an FBI profiler, is actually fairly subdued in tone. It covers the famous, unresolved rash of abductions in the San Francisco bay area in the 1980s and 1990s and the prime suspect, a sewage worker named Timothy Bindner. Bindner has never been charged with anything relating to the missing girls, but he has never been ruled out a suspect either. Tantalizing circumstances link him to the girls, and he is definitely a pedophile in the very least, but there is not a single shred of hard evidence implicating him in any kidnappings.

    Philpin interviewed Bindner extensively and presents a good portrait of the man's pathology. I don't know if he's actually mentally ill, but he's certainly a very strange individual. I admired the author's objectivity; Philpin never said whether he believed Bindner to be complicit or not, but simply put the facts down and let the reader decide. Stalemate kind of peters out at the end, but mostly this is not the fault of the author and is simply the result of having no real-life conclusion to make: none of the girls have been found and no arrests have been made.

    Copyright 1997. 364 pages.


Clay by Colby Rodowsky

    Snatched from their custodial father four years ago by their flaky, unstable mother, Linda Clay McGee and her brother Timmy lead a stifled, isolated life. They are forced to use alias names (Linda is Elsie and Timmy is Tommy) and are not allowed to attend school or make friends with anyone in the neighborhood. The family moves frequently so the mother can feel "safe," and the children are left alone for long periods while their mother is at work. In addition, Timmy is autistic and not getting help for his condition, and when he comes down with a serious infection midway through the book, his mother refuses to take him to a doctor or even to admit that anything is wrong with him. Finally, Linda Clay, the protagonist, takes the initiative and convinces a neighbor to call the authorities, but even after the children are returned to their searching father it is clear that things will never be the same again: everyone involved was profoundly changed by the experience.

    Although it is a novel, and one designed for children at that, I think anyone interested in missing children, especially family abductions, should read Clay. There are very few novels on parental abduction, and this is the only one I know of that actually depicts it realistically. It's a wonderful answer to "The kid is with a parent, how bad can it be?"

    Copyright 2001. 176 pages.


Vanishing Point: the Disappearance of Judge Crater and the New York He Left Behind by Richard J. Tofel

    Vanishing Point is one of only two full-length books about the infamous 1930 disappearance of Joseph Force Crater, the other book being Crater's wife's memoir which is reviewed above. Studying both books as a unit will reveal much about Crater's disappearance; Stella's is more personal, but Tofel's has an objectivity the memoir necessarily lacks. One gets the impression that Tofel really wanted to write about Tammany Hall politics and was just using the Crater mystery as an excuse to do so, as much of his book concerns the life and crimes of various other New York politicians who were only tangentially connected to Crater. But you can easily skip over those parts if they don't interest you.

    Tofel's conclusion is that Crater died of natural causes while patronizing a well-known house of prostitution, and his body was disposed of to prevent the scandal that would have resulted. I suppose there is much evidence supporting this theory as there is for any of the many others—that is, none. But no matter what supposition you subscribe to, Crater's disappearance remains an engaging mystery.

    Copyright 2004. 216 pages.


Little Charley Ross: America's First Kidnapping for Ransom by Norman J. Zierold

    I ran into this book entirely by chance in the musty stacks of used bookstore and naturally became very excited. As far as I know it's the only full and detailed account of Charley's abduction. While the historian in me would have liked Zierold to footnote his sources, Little Charley Ross seems to be an accurate and unbiased book, with many details I had not previously known and a centerfold of pictures. My only wish is that Zierold could have, like the above-mentioned Mr. Aunapu, included his own theory as to Charley's fate in the afterword. However, this is a minor quibble and the book is well worth reading without it.
    Copyright 1967. 301 pages.


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