Non-Violent True Crime For Everyone Interested In Theft, Obsession, And Cons

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I love listening to true crime podcasts and YouTubers but I don’t like reading true crime books. It’s weird. Unless it’s a non-violent true crime book, then I’m all over it.

When I first started this blog, I made a post of books like The Feather Thief that mostly features books about heists, theft, things like that, but this list will be a little broader as far as non-violent true crime goes.

It does include a lot of books about crime in the art world though, so if that interests you, great! I haven’t read all of these and there are a couple I’m not super interested in, but I do want to read most of these if I haven’t already.

  • If you’re want to listen to some of these, consider trying Audible! You can get your first month free (one free book) plus tons of others they have for free.  Get that Audible deal here.
  • If you’re on more of a budget, try Scribd!  You can get your first month free there. You can read books and listen to audiobooks. It is unlimited (especially the reading) but if you listen to tons of new audiobooks you may be restricted after a few. I don’t listen to enough to confirm this, but I do use Scribd myself and like it a lot.
  • If you want to read more on your Kindle but don’t want to buy books, Kindle Unlimited is a wonderful option and right now you can get four months for $4.99! It’s usually $9.99 so this is a great deal. Get that deal here!

The Feather Thief

One June evening in 2009, Edwin Rist, a twenty-two-year-old American flutist, boarded a train after performing at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

He was headed to the Tring museum, a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History, which happens to be home to thousands of rare bird specimens with plumes worth staggering amounts of money to people like Edwin: Victorian salmon fly-tyers.

That night he walked out with hundreds of bird skins, some collected 150 years before by Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin’s who risked everything to get them.

This isn’t just one of my favorite non-violent true crime books, but one of my favorite books in general. I love it.

The Orchid Thief

John Laroche is determined to clone an endangered flower: a Ghost Orchid. He’s deeply eccentric, oddly attractive, and most of all, wildly obsessed.

He takes Susan Orlean on a whirlwind tour of the orchid world through Florida’s swamps, orchid shows, and more.

We meet the Seminoles that help him and the feds who fight him after he is caught stealing a Ghost Orchid from the Fakahatchee Strand State Park. 

We also meet other collectors and competitors to really see the seedy underworld of orchid-selling.

This one isn’t as exciting as The Feather Thief, but I still enjoyed it. It probably helps that I’ve been to the Fakahatchee Strand and know what it’s like.

The Dinosaur Artist

In 2012, a New York Auction catalog boasted a ”superb Tyrannosaurus skeleton.” The listing was a nearly complete T. Bataar skeleton, a close cousin to the T. Rex. It was unearthed in Mongolia, 6,000 miles from where it is now on display in Manhattan. The winning bid was over $1 million.

Eric Prokopi, a thirty-eight-year-old Floridian brought the extraordinary skeleton to market, but had he gone too far this time in the face of financial strain?

As it went to market, authorities were notified and an international custody battle ensued and Prokopi watched his world unravel.

I’ve wanted to read this one for like, three years. Maybe this is finally the year.

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road

If you want to learn about the Silk Road (the dark web one, not the real one) but don’t want to read about it, the Casefile episodes (best podcast ever) are very good. I’ve actually listened to them twice. I got this on a Kindle deal and still need to read it.

Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market in 2011: the Silk Road, a clandestine market on the Dark Web where anyone can trade anything free from the government’s watchful eye.

Soon enough, the media caught wind and public outcry caused the government to launch a two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor with no clear plan. All they knew was the person running the site went by Dread Pirate Roberts.

It was a race against the clock as Ross made plans to disappear forever once he found out there was a target on his back.

The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets

FBI Special Agent Steven Carr received a package of coded letters in December 2000 from the New York FBI office. They were from an anonymous sender to the Libyan Consulate offering to sell classified US intelligence.

Finding the traitor wouldn’t be easy but there were clues suggesting it was a government agent with a military background, a family, and a dire need for money. Carr spent years leading a team and hunting down this dangerous spy and his stolen secrets.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos CEO and founder was seen as the next Steve Jobs in 2014 with her startup promising to revolutionize the medical industry with its breakthrough device.

Fundraising had the company valued at more than $9 billion, putting her net worth at around $4.5 billion. The only problem? The technology didn’t work. Incorrect results put patients in danger and led to misdiagnoses. Meanwhile, Holmes and her partner worked to silence anyone who voiced misgivings.

I didn’t think I wanted to read this one before but it actually sounds pretty interesting.

Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married

Abby was caught up with the commander from their first date and within six months, he proposed and they moved in together.

Before she knows it, his exotic stories of international espionage begin to unravel and everything becomes clear. He’s been lying about who he is.

After leaving him and sharing her story, she is shocked to learn her experience was far from unique and that people everywhere are being deceived by their loved ones every day.

Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood, and the World

A fraud of unprecedented levels was set into motion by Jho Low in 2009, a chubby, mild-mannered UPenn student that would symbolize the next great threat to the global financial system.

Over a decade, with the help of Goldman Sachs, he siphoned billions of dollars from an investment fund, right under the watchful eye of the global financial industry.

He used the money to finance elections, buy luxury real estate, and even finance films like The Wolf of Wall Street.

By early 2019, his yacht and private jet were seized by authorities and he faced criminal charges in Malaysia and the US.

The Library Book

A fire alarm sounded at the Los Angeles Public Library the morning of April 29, 1986. This was no ordinary fire. It reached 2,000 degrees, burned for more than seven hours, consumed 400,000 books, and damaged 700,000 more.

Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, it’s still a mystery. Did someone purposefully set the fire? If so, why?

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

Attila Ambrus took up robbery to make ends meet in the 1990s while he played hockey for the biggest team in Budapest. He was up against the most incompetent team of investigators the Eastern Bloc had ever seen.

This is the hilarious and bizarre story of a crime spree that turned a nobody into a somebody.

King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age’s Greatest Imposter

Edgar Laplante was a small-time grifter and unabashed charmer and after years of hard work and thankless gigs, he took o the biggest performance of his life.

In 1917, he reinvented himself as Chief White Elk, a war hero, sports star, civil rights campaigner, Cherokee nation leader, all-around fraud.

Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War

Cyber attacks dominate front-page news and hackers join terrorists on the list of global threats.

In Dark Territory, Kaplan probes the inner corridors of the NSA, the “information squads” in the military, and national security databases in the White House to share the stories of people involved in the new form of warfare that have been planning and fighting it for decades.

The Gardner heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft

Not long after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum n Boston and stole a dozen masterpieces.

Even after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5 million reward, nothing has been recovered. The missing pieces, worth as much as $500 million, have become the holy grail of the art world while remaining one of the most extraordinary unsolved mysteries in the country.

I wasn’t super interested in this one when I added it to the list, but it’s on a Kindle deal as I write this and I had to get it.

If you want a fiction book related to this, check out The Hidden Things. I read that one over the summer which is part of why I want to read this now.

Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion

In the 1700s in Paris, Jeanne de Saint-Remy scammed the royal jewelers out of a necklace with 647 diamonds by pretending she was best friends with Queen Marie Antoinette.

In the 1800s, Cassie Chadwick was forging papers and getting banks to loan her close to $40,000 by pretending she was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter.

In the 1900s, Margaret Lydia Burton embezzled money all over the country and stole upwards of forty prized show dogs.

These are the stories of women swindling and duping victims across time while asking where chutzpah intersects with uniquely female pathology.

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art

John Myatt was a vulnerable single father manipulated into becoming an art forger by John Drewe. Myatt would paint and then the real fraud began. Drewe infiltrated the upper echelons of the British art world to establish fake provenance on Myatt’s forged pieces, hoping to irrevocably legitimize the fakes.

This fraud spans the world and introduced at least 200 forged pieces, some selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and some still out in the world today.

Alligator Blood: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of the High-rolling Whiz-kid who Controlled Online Poker’s Billions

Daniel Tzvetkoff was a normal teenager in Brisbane working at Pizza Hut and spending his free time on the computer.

He worked out a new payment processing method that had online poker companies running to him for help to grow their businesses and soon, he was living the dream, raking in $3 million a week with fast cars, luxury yachts, and VIP nightclubs.

However, after moving to Vegas, he’s stuck facing the abyss, owing millions to the poker companies with the FBI hot on his tail.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession

Rare book theft is even more widespread than art theft, most stealing for profit, but John Charles Gilkey steals for the love of books.

He’s stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books from around the country and Ken Sanders is the one determined to catch him.

Allison Hoover Bartlett befriended both of them and now finds herself caught in the middle.

I would definitely like to read this one.

The Art of the Con: The Most Notorious Fakes, Frauds, and Forgeries in the Art World

The number of art scams and lawsuits around misattribution has scared away a number of experts from the world of authentication and forgery. They are ever more convincing and involve unbelievable sums of money.

These are the stories of history’s most notorious, yet untold, art cons involving art hidden for decades, Nazis and plundered art, online auctions to scam buyers, and so much more.

I would also really like to read this one.

Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking

Rachel Love Nuwer takes us into the dark world of wildlife trafficking for jewelry, pets, medicine, meat, trophies, and fur. Our demand for these products is driving a worldwide poaching epidemic threatening countless endangered species.

The Illegal wildlife trade is now one of the largest contraband industries in the world, yet it has received little attention compared to drugs, arms, or human trafficking.

This takes us around the world to see the forces currently driving demand for animals and their parts, the toll that demand is extracting on species across the planet, and the conservationists, rangers, and activist who believe it isn’t too late to stop the impending extinctions.

The Dragon Behind the Glass

Voigt is taken on a world tour in her search for the world’s most expensive aquarium fish, a wild Asian Arowana, to see the bizarre world of ornamental fish hobbyists to some of the most remote jungles on the planet.

A young man is murdered for his pet fish. An Asian tycoon buys one for $150,000. A pet detective chases smugglers through the streets of New York. This takes us into the outlandish world of obsession, paranoia, and criminality.

The Asian Arowana is the perfect example of a modern paradox: a mass-produced endangered species. Hundreds of thousands are bred in captivity, but a wild Arowana has become a near-mythical creature and Voigt is following its trail to learn its fate in nature.

Have you read any of these non-violent true crime books? Which ones? Any others I should check out?

Author: Megan Johnson

I'm Megan, a Wisconsin native currently working my way around the US. You can probably find me reading on the beach, wandering through the desert, or hanging out in a cute little coffee shop.

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