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Certain non-fiction genres thrive on authors who can discuss their own firsthand experience. Our desire to know what life is like for others keeps books interesting, and is why publishers love seeing authors who have "been there."
Even in true crime, seeing people who have had close scrapes with serial killers has led to amazing publishing deals. Ann Rule, author of The Stranger Beside Me, is an excellent example of this. Derf Backderf, who created one of the creepiest books about serial killers, My Friend Dahmer, is another.
Of course, there are certain types of writers that you really don't want to hear of firsthand accounts from—such as murderers and rapists. That doesn't stop them from doing it, though.
Throughout the years, there have been several writers who were actually criminals talking about their own notorious doings. Here are some of the most cunning and infamous to hit the publishing industry in recent decades.
In China, there were very few true crime writers who were more popular than Liu Yongbiao. He was the author of hit thrillers like The Guilty Secret and was particularly proud of one of his latest works, The Beautiful Writer Who Killed.
Liu's claim to fame was his ability to write murder novels involving cold cases that seemed just a little too realistic.
The Beautiful Writer Who Killed was particularly gruesome, as it told the story of a good looking writer who killed several people without being caught by police. The manuscript was never published because he was arrested.
Investigator Xu Zhicheng came to his house after DNA evidence linked him to a cold case that baffled police for decades. Liu, upon seeing the police officer at the door, told him that he had been waiting for this moment for years.
Apparently, Yongbiao got his inspiration from his own life. Yongbiao had actually been a writer who killed four people decades earlier. He ended their lives when a robbery he performed went wrong.
Yongbiao was executed for his murders.
Technically, he wasn't a true crime writer, but he was notorious for defacing library books. That counts for those of us trying to sort out our fascination with true crime, right?
Kenneth Halliwell was a troubled man who was mostly known for authoring Lord Cucumber and The Boy Hairdresser, two homoerotic novels that he wrote as a collaboration with Joe Orton.
His past was one that definitely made his life tumultuous. He discovered his dad dead by suicide at 23, and saw his mother die at 11. When he teamed up with Orton, he was happy to have a protégé.
Unfortunately, when Orton's literary success took off, their relationship soured. Feeling jealous after seeing his protege take off without him, he killed Orton in a fit of rage.
Richard Klinkhamer had no qualms about being a member of the cabal of true crime writers who were actually were criminals. In fact, it seems like he almost went out of his way to join it!
A year after his wife went missing, Klinkhamer went over to his publisher's office with a book called Woensdag Gehaktdag [translating from Dutch to Wednesday, Mince Day]. This deeply unsettling book practically explained a bunch of different ways he could kill his wife.
Police immediately suspected him of killing his wife, and when her body was found buried under his house, their suspicions were confirmed. He was arrested and quickly confessed to the murder.
Though O.J. Simpson was technically acquitted of the murder of his wife and her close friend, most people would agree that there's reason to believe he was still guilty. I'll count him in.
"The Juice," as he was once called, was known for having a problem with domestic violence. Multiple phone calls to the police were made from his frantic and terrified wife. It wouldn't be a stretch to assume he killed her.
O.J. Simpson seems to be pretty unabashed about his crime, too. He teamed up with a ghostwriter to write a true crime book called If I Did It.
As the name suggests, this crime book is all about discussing how he would have killed his wife, if he had "actually done it." It was a New York Times bestseller. Ugh.
Nancy Crampton Brophy
Nancy Crampton Brophy was mostly known for being a romance novelist, but it seems like she had a penchant for dipping her toes in the true crime genre, too. This became particularly apparent after she published the essay, How to Murder Your Husband.
It seems she had some real-life inspiration and some hands-on experience when it came to the advice that was offered up in that essay. Brophy was arrested for killing her man after its publication.
Krystian Bala was an up-and-coming murder mystery writer in his homeland of Poland. His novels had that unsettling aura of being just a little too real, and just a bit too gruesome.
His most famous work, Amok, became scandalized due to its beastiality scenes, sexual torture scenes, and the writeup for a grisly depiction of the murder of a woman. The woman was tied up in a way that would harm her if she tried to escape, beaten, and thrown in a river.
About a year prior to Amok's publication, a man's body was discovered with the exact same rope tie as the one Bala described in his book. It washed up on the shore of a river close to where Bala lived.
Police never mentioned the rope detail to the public, and eyes quickly turned on Bala. After, investigators found out that Bala sold the victim's cellphone shortly after he went missing. More damningly, he discovered that the murder victim dated Bala's ex-wife!
The author ended up getting sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Jack Unterweger is a little bit different than other writers who were actually criminals discussing their exploits. Unterweger was already known for his violent tendencies, and went to jail for the murder of Margaret Schafer in 1974.
While being locked up, he wrote a best-selling autobiography called Purgatory about his exploits. The book was so well-received, people began to advocate for his early release—a very, very deadly mistake.
After being released from prison, Unterweger went on to become, probably, a serial killer you've never heard of. He targeted prostitutes and killed nine of them before police linked him to the disappearance of the working girls.
The moral of the story? Just because a guy can write really well doesn't mean you should ever release him from prison.
Anne Perry is a name you might recognize, especially if you are a fan of crime novels. Her novels grabbed millions of readers' imaginations with tales of murder and mayhem in Victorian England.
What most people don't realize is that Perry herself was a murderer before she put pen to paper. Back when she was a teenager, she spent time in prison for murdering her best friend's mother. Police reported that she bludgeoned her to death.
The murder happened after her parents announced their divorce to her and said they'd be leaving the country. Anne, who was known as Juliet Hulme, felt that it only made sense that her best friend's mother would let her bestie accompany her at the time.
The victim said no, which made Hulme fly into a rage and kill her. After spending time behind bars, Hulme fled to Scotland and re-invented herself as Anne Perry.
Crazy enough, she's really open about her life as a killer. Perry claims she's paid her debt to society, but whether her former best friend would agree remains to be seen.
Blake Leibel was a graphic novel writer who was known for his gruesome depictions of torture—especially when it came to the novel Syndrome. The comic opens up with the scene of a woman who was drained of all her blood and scalped.
Investigators immediately turned their attention to Leibel after his girlfriend, who just had a child by him, was found drained of all her blood and scalped. The murder was immediately traced to him.
When he was sent to Los Angeles' criminal court, the judge pointed out that the sheer cruelty of the murder was unusual. He was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.
Louis Althusser was an esteemed Marxist philosopher who taught at a Parisian university at the end of World War II. For decades, he lived the quiet life of an intellectual alongside his wife.
During his time as a professor, he worked on a number of books discussing the benefits of Communism, the most famous being Pour Marx [translated from French to For Marx]. Though he had his scrapes with authorities over his stance on Communism, nothing would have prepared anyone for what happened in 1980.
That year, Louis Althusser seemed to have a bipolar meltdown that involved him strangling his wife to death. He claimed that he couldn't remember it happening, and begged the police to believe him. Eventually, he got off the hook.
The story doesn't end there. Eventually, it became clear that this wasn't a case of mental illness. He was actually one of the most sociopathic writers who were actually criminals hiding in plain sight.
In his posthumously published memoirs, Althusser confessed to a number of terrible things. He confessed that he plagiarized most of his works and that he really didn't understand politics at all. That wasn't the terrible part, though.
He also confessed to remembering the murder of his wife. And enjoying it.