'How to murder your husband': Crime writers who kill

Typing hands of a writer looking for inspiration to start a new novel on his vintage typewriter.
Some successful crime writers have drawn inspiration from the past experiences | Image: Shutterstock

It’s essentially the plot of Basic Instinct: a man is murdered, and the prime suspect is his girlfriend, a crime writer whose latest novel perfectly mirrors the murder. Except instead of a novel, it was an essay titled How to Murder Your Husband; and instead of the suspect being the girlfriend, it’s the man’s wife. And none of this is fictional.

In 2018, 63-year-old chef Daniel Brophy was fatally shot at his work at the Oregon Culinary Institute. Although the gun was never found, Brophy’s wife, Nancy Crampton Brophy had the same make and model gun that was used and was caught on CCTV driving to and from her husband’s work. She claimed she was in the area to work on her writing, but prosecutors argued that the couple had financial problems and Brophy’s life insurance was part of the motive.

Four years later, 71-year-old Crampton Brophy was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Admittedly, the essay was published seven years before the murder actually took place, but still: it’s a strange case. Even stranger? She’s not the only author to have been accused of something similar. Some of them even became best-sellers.

Liu Yongbiao

One case with eerie similarities to Crampton Brophy’s is that of Chinese author Liu Yongbiao. In a preface to his book The Guilty Secret, Liu had written of his plans to write a new novel, The Beautiful Writer Who Killed, about an author who was also a murderer. Fast forward to 2017 and Liu was arrested by police for bludgeoning four people to death in 1995.

With accomplice Wang Mouming, Liu had broken into a guesthouse to rob it, but they were discovered by someone who was staying there. He and Wang then brutally murdered them, as well as the elderly couple who owned the guesthouse and their 13-year-old son. For the following 22 years, Liu wrote novels that had been inspired by the crimes until he was finally caught. In 2018, he was sentenced to death.

Mark ‘Chopper’ Read

Look, anyone who has ever published a book (or tried to) will know it’s no easy task. Even harder is getting people to buy said book. And yet, Mark ‘Chopper’ Read not only managed that, but he also became a best-selling crime author while he was serving a 23-year prison sentence. Read in fact claimed to have only spent 13 months outside of prison between the ages of 20 and 38.

Having become the leader of a street gang by his mid-teens, Read stole from, abducted, and tortured drug dealers and other criminals. He once said he had killed 19 people, but later adjusted it to ‘four or seven’. Starting with autobiographical stories, Read moved on to write crime fiction and children’s books, writing approximately a book a year for over 10 years, before dying at the age of 58.

William S. Burroughs

In 1951, William S. Burroughs was living in Mexico with his common-law wife Joan Vollmer and deep in a heroin addiction. The couple was at a party in Mexico City when Burroughs suggested they show off their ‘William Tell act’. Vollmer balanced a glass of water on her head for Burroughs to shoot, but his aim was off, and he shot her in the face, killing her instantly.

Burroughs fled back to the United States to avoid prosecution but was tried in absence and sentenced to two years in prison—a sentence he never served. He later said he wouldn’t have become a writer if it weren’t for Vollmer’s death.

Blake Leibel

In 2016, graphic novelist Blake Leibel was arrested after police discovered the body of his missing fiancé. She had been tortured, scalped and her body had been drained of blood (her cause of death was described as exsanguination). According to the Independent, the coroner described her death as unheard of ‘outside of, perhaps, wartime’. Her death mirrored the plot of Leibel’s 2015 graphic novel, Syndrome. Leibel was sentenced to life in prison.

Anne Perry

Anne Perry is a prolific and internationally recognised best-selling crime fiction author. She was also, in 1954 at the age of 15, sent to prison after helping her best friend, Pauline Parker, bludgeon Parker’s mother to death.

Days before the murder happened, Perry (then named Juliet Hulme) had caught her mother in bed with a lover. Her parents then decided to divorce and Hulme was being sent to live in South Africa. She and Parker asked Parker’s mother if they could stay together and when they were refused, Parker decided to murder her mother. She threatened suicide if Hulme didn’t help, so on 22nd June, they caught Parker’s mother while she was out on a walk and killed her using a brick wrapped in a stocking. The girls were released from prison in 1959. Hulme changed her name to Perry and started a new life and the case became the basis for the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures.