Founded in 1924 by publisher Bernarr Macfadden, True Detective was originally known as True Detective Mysteries, and focused almost exclusively on mystery fiction, with a mix of non-fiction crime stories. During the 1930’s, the publisher realized that non-ficton was becoming increasingly popular and decided to gradually phase out the fiction element of the magazine. True Detecive did retain some of the tone and style of noir fiction and mystery writing, and published early works by respected writers. During the 1930s and ’40s, the magazine proved a big hit, and was selling around 2 million copies per month.
As a result, True Detective Mysteries became the first true crime magazine. By 1941, Macfadden shortened the name to True Detective, emphasizing the magazine’s move away from mystery fiction. Despite the decline of the pulp magazine industry during the 1960’s, due to the emergence of increasingly cheaper paperback books and television, True Detective continued publication, while many other magazines went out of business. By the 1980s, it was one of only 11 true crime magazines still in print, however by this time it began to feature increasingly sensational and sexualized content, as well as suffering from declining quality.
True Detective was bought out by Globe Communications in 1995, and the new publishers shuttered the magazine. After the American publication shut down, British publishers continued True Detective under a new format, with an increased focus on Australian, European, and historical crimes. True Detective is regarded as the first in a long line of true crime magazines and as such was the progenitor of the true crime magazine genre. During its peak, from the 1940’s to the early 1960’s, it sold millions of copies and gave rise to numerous imitators, such as its sister publication Master Detective.