Today’s topic of discussion? Unsolved murders of course. To follow along in theme with things abandoned, unsolved murders seems like the next logical step. For me, unsolved murders are equally fascinating and terrifying. There are a lot of fans in the horror genre, but these cases aren’t simply a movie. They are real life, for real people, who may have never found closure. In essence they are real life nightmares that can turn families and friends’ worlds upside down.
Not to dampen the mood or anything, but the fact that for years and years and years these cases have never been resolved is frightening. I believe one time I heard something along the lines of we (as a human collective) are likely to pass a murderer on the street at some point in our lives. If you google this very topic, Reddit has a thread with numeric breakdowns, and it’s a pretty serious thread. Check it out. If not for nothing, it’s very interesting. I believe the number they came up with was 16, but there are variables and other determining factors, so, just go with it.
Now, I have compiled a list of pretty famous headlines over the years from all across the globe that I’m sure you’ve read about, but are still curious, aren’t you? Read on to see if there are any you hadn’t heard of, and/or comment below with any ones you have that maybe I haven’t heard of!
16. JonBenét Ramsey
Let’s start with one that blew up when I was a young teenager; well before social media. Although well before social media, it gained national attention as quickly as the most recent “Brangelina” nonsense (let people live their lives).
JonBenét was a six-year-old American girl found dead in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado, on December 26, 1996. A lengthy ransom note was found in the house, and her father, John Bennett Ramsey, apparently found the body in the basement of their house about eight hours after she was reported missing. This poor baby had a broken skull from a blow to her head, and apparently had been strangled (how could anyone do that to a harmless child????). The reason this case was also so popular was because her mother, Patsy Ramsey, a former beauty queen, had entered JonBenét in a number of child beauty pageants. In the 90s, there were no “toddlers and tiaras,” so this was a little more on the odd side.
The theory of the Boulder police was that JonBenét’s death was caused accidentally—either by Patsy, or JonBenét’s nine-year-old brother, Burke—believing the ransom note and appearance of the body were staged by the parents to cover it up (which honestly reminds me of a specific Criminal Minds episode; Season 4 Episode 21 – [A Shade of Gray]).
15. The Zodiac Killer
The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The killer’s identity remains unknown. The Zodiac murdered victims in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco between December 1968 and October 1969. Four men and three women between the ages of 16 and 29 were targeted. This ghost originated the name “Zodiac” in a series of taunting letters sent to the local Bay Area press. These letters included four cryptograms (or ciphers), and of the four cryptograms sent, only one has definitively been solved. One such note, on August 1, 1969 sent to San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallejo Times-Herald, read:
“Dear Editor: I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman . . .” the letters contained details from the scenes of the crime that only the killer could have known.
Over the years, suspects have been named by law enforcement and amateur investigators, but no conclusive evidence has surfaced. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) marked the case “inactive” in April 2004; it was reopened at some point prior to March 2007. The case also remains open in the city of Vallejo, as well as in Napa County and Solano County. The California Department of Justice has maintained an open case file on the Zodiac murders since 1969.
14. The Lake Bodom Murders
A multiple homicide that took place in Finland in 1960 became known as “The Lake Bodom Murders”. Lake Bodom is a lake by the city of Espoo, about 22 kilometers west of the country’s capital, Helsinki. On June 5, 1960, four teenagers were camping on the shores of said lake and between the hours of 4AM and 6AM, an unknown person (or persons) murdered three of them with a knife and blunt instrument wounding the fourth. The sole survivor, Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, led an otherwise normal life until 2004. This is the year Gustafsson would become a suspect, thus being subsequently charged. They found that the killer was wearing his shoes, and no outsider DNA was found on the tent. There was also the fact that one of the girls was killed in a more gruesome manner than the rest, which clearly suggested a personal motive. However, the evidence was never strong enough for a conviction. In October 2005, a district court found Gustafsson not guilty of all charges against him.
The murders have proven to be a popular subject in the Finnish media and commonly return to the headlines whenever new information or theories surface, but the case is still unsolved.
Just to throw in my two cents here; if this Gustafsson character did indeed murder three of what I assume to be his friends, how did he overpower all three teenagers? Would they have been asleep and he took them out one by one silently? Would no one have heard the struggle and screamed for help? With that said, I can believe a person would be committed enough to injure themselves to make a crime look real (think Billy and Stu from the original Scream ).
13. Thelma Todd
Born on July 29, 1906, Thelma Alice Todd (also known as “Hot Toddy”) was an American actress appearing in about 120 pictures between 1926 and 1935. She is best remembered for her comedic roles in films such as Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers, a number of Charley Chase’s short comedies, and co-starring with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily. She also had roles in Wheeler and Woolsey farces, several Laurel and Hardy films, the last of which (The Bohemian Girl) featured her in a part that was truncated by her suspicious death at the age of 29.
Thelma Todd was found dead inside her garage, behind the steering wheel of her Packard convertible. At the time, some speculated that she had committed suicide or accidentally killed herself while warming up her car in the garage; however, signs pointing towards foul play came to the surface. There was blood on Thelma’s mouth, traces of blood on the car, as well as a smudged hand print on the car door. Her blood alcohol level was far too high to have allowed her to climb the 300 uphill steps to the garage in her high heel shoes. However, despite these findings, the death of Thelma Todd was ultimately ruled a suicide after the hearing of evidence that she was depressed and occasionally spoke of suicide.
12. The Boy in the Box
The “Boy in the Box” is the name given to an unidentified murder victim, four to six years old, whose naked, battered body was found in a cardboard box in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 25, 1957. He is also commonly known as “America’s Unknown Child”. His identity is still unknown and the case remains open.
Let’s break down facts:
In February 1957, the boy’s body is found in a box, wrapped in a plaid blanket.
The naked body was inside a cardboard box which had once contained a bassinet.
The boy’s hair had been recently cropped, possibly after death, as clumps of hair clung to the body.
There were signs of severe malnourishment, as well as surgical scars on the ankle and groin, and an L-shaped scar under the chin.
This poor little boy was discovered twice by two different men who failed to initially report it. One, a muskrat trapper, and for his own selfish reason of not wanting police to confiscate his traps, left the boy to rot (what a piece of garbage). The second, a college boy who saw an animal run into a bush, knowing traps were around, went to check on the rabbit, saw the boy; did nothing. Until the next day when he reported it.
11. The Grimes Sisters
Barbara and Patricia Grimes were teenage sisters who disappeared from the Brighton Park, Chicago, Illinois area on December 28, 1956 and were found dead on January 22, 1957. Despite an official conclusion that they had been murdered on the night of their disappearance, there were numerous alleged sightings of the girls in the weeks between that night and the discovery of their bodies.
On the night of their disappearance, sisters Barbara, who was 15 years old, and Patricia, who was 13 years old, went to see the Elvis Presley move Love Me Tender (1956).
The theater was about one-and-a-half miles from the girls’ McKinley Park home. It is not known how they travelled to the theater. Moving right along, Patricia’s friend, Dorothy Weinert, sat behind the girls with her own younger sister during the movie. Weinert and her sister left the theatre at the intermission of the double feature showing that night, about 9:30, and saw the Grimes girls in the popcorn line. They seemed in good spirits and neither the Weinerts nor anyone else noticed anything unusual.
The sisters stayed for the second film, and were expected home around 11:45 p.m. By midnight, there was no sign; at 2:15 a.m., their mother reported Barbara and Patricia as missing.
The two girls’ disappearance launched one of the biggest missing-person cases in Chicago history, producing many reports of sightings but nothing concrete. It was initially thought that they might have simply run away, possibly to Nashville, Tennessee to see Elvis Presley in concert. On January 19, 1957, a statement was issued from Presley’s Graceland estate: “If you are good Presley fans, you’ll go home and ease your mother’s worries.”
10. The Axeman of New Orleans
The Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer active in New Orleans, Louisiana, from May 1918 to October 1919.
You know what? Let’s just take a look at the letter sent to the local newspaper by said killer:
Hell, March 13, 1919
They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.
When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.
If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.
Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.
Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.
9. Jack the Stripper
The nickname given to an unidentified serial killer responsible for what came to be known as the London “nude murders” between 1964 and 1965 (also known as the “Hammersmith murders” or “Hammersmith nudes” case).
His victimology and nickname is similar to Jack the Ripper’s. He murdered six — possibly eight —prostitutes, whose nude bodies were discovered around London or dumped in the River Thames. The victim count is ambiguous because two of the murders attributed to him did not fit his modus operandi (or M.O. – you hear that a lot of crime shows).
Victims include: Hannah Tailford: 30; Irene Lockwood: 26; Helen Barthelemy: 22; Mary Flemming: 30; Frances Brown: 21; Bridget O’Hara: 28
Possible victims include: Elizabeth Figg: 21; Gwynneth Rees: 22
Chief Superintendent John Du Rose of Scotland Yard—the detective put in charge of the case—interviewed almost 7,000 suspects. He then held a news conference, falsely announcing that the police had narrowed the suspect pool down to 20 men. Shortly thereafter, he announced that the suspect pool contained only 10 members, and then a mere three. The Stripper did not kill any more after the initial news conference.
8. Bob Crane
Crane, most commonly known for his role as Colonel Robert E. Hogan in the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971), was found murdered in June of 1978. Crane was living in the Winfield Place Apartments in Scottsdale, Arizona and during this time he was acting at the Windmill Dinner Theater in his play Beginner’s Luck. However, on June 29th, his co-star, Victoria Ann Berry discovered his body in his apartment. Berry was supposed to be meeting Crane for lunch, but when he didn’t show for the meeting, she went to his apartment in search of him.
When Crane was found he had an electrical cord tied around his neck and had been bludgeoned to death. Investigators never found the weapon in question, but they suspect that it may have been a camera tripod. A friend of Crane’s, John Henry Carpenter fell under suspicion at the time; however, DNA testing didn’t exist in these times and no sufficient evidence was present, so no charges were filed against him.
In 1990 Maricopa County reopened the murder case and were able to retest the blood samples retrieved from Carpenter’s car. Testing was inconclusive but a detective on the case found a picture of what he believed to be brain tissue in the car. The detectives on the case hoped that this would be enough to indict Carpenter for Crane’s murder. In June of 1992 Carpenter was arrested and charged with murder. An Arizona judge ruled that despite the evidence being lost, there was sufficient evidence to try Carpenter. Eventually found not guilty, Carpenter maintained his innocence until his death in 1998.
7. The Black Dahlia
“The Black Dahlia” was a nickname given to Elizabeth Short (July 29, 1924 – circa January 15, 1947), an American woman who was the victim of a highly-publicized murder in 1947. Short acquired the moniker posthumously from newspapers in the habit of nicknaming crimes they found particularly sensational. The “Black Dahlia” nickname may have been derived from a film noir murder mystery, The Blue Dahlia (1946). Short was found mutilated, her body sliced in half at the waist, on January 15, 1947, in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California.
Short’s unsolved murder has been the source of widespread speculation, leading to many suspects, along with books, television and film adaptations of the story. Short’s murder is one of the oldest unsolved murder cases in Los Angeles history.
In fact, if you watch the show American Horror Story, the first season (titled “Murder house”) has an episode centering around Elizabeth Short (played by Mena Suvari). In any event, what happened to this young lady is extremely disturbing, and it’s an absolute shame it’s never been solved.
6. The Phantom Killer
The Texarkana Moonlight Murders—a term coined by the news media—references the unsolved murders committed in and around Texarkana in the spring of 1946 by an unidentified serial killer known as the “Phantom Killer”, or “Phantom Slayer”. This killer is credited with attacking eight people within ten weeks, five of whom were killed, approximately three weeks apart. The attacks happened on the weekends between February 22, 1946 and May 3, 1946. The first two victims, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larey, survived. The first double murder, which involved Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore, happened four weeks later. The second double-homicide, involving Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker, occurred exactly three weeks from the first murders. The Texas Rangers came in to investigate; this included the famous M. T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. Lastly, precisely three weeks later, Virgil Starks was killed and his wife, Katie, was wounded severely.
The murders sent the town of Texarkana into a state of panic (rightly so) throughout the summer. At dusk, city inhabitants heavily armed themselves and locked themselves indoors while police patrolled streets and neighborhoods. Although many businesses lost customers at night, stores sold out of guns, ammunition, locks, and many other protective devices. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) was also loosely based on these very events.
5. The Alphabet Murders
Three young girls were raped and strangled in the Rochester, New York area in the 1970s. The case derived its name from the fact that each of the girls’ first and last names started with the same letter. Furthermore, each body was found in a town that had a name starting with the same letter as the victim’s name (how spooky is that?):
Carmen Colon in Churchville; 10, disappeared on November 16, 1971. Found: two days later, 12 miles from where she was last seen.
Michelle Maenza in Macedon; 11, disappeared on April 2, 1973. Found: next day at a rest area off State Route 104 in Webster, seven miles from Rochester.
Wanda Walkowicz in Webster; 11, disappeared almost eight months later on November 26, 1973. Found: two days later in Macedon, 15 miles from Rochester.
Although hundreds of people were questioned, the killer was never caught. One man, considered to be a person of interest (who committed suicide six weeks after the last of the murders) was cleared in 2007 by DNA profiling. In the case of Carmen Colon, her uncle was also considered a suspect until his suicide in 1991. Now I have to wonder if these suicides were an admission of guilt…
4. Jack the Ripper
The best known name given to the unidentified serial killer generally believed to have been active in the largely impoverished areas in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888, was “Jack the Ripper.” The name originated in a letter written by someone claiming to be the murderer that was disseminated in the media. The letter is believed to have been a hoax, and may have been written by journalists in an attempt to heighten interest in the story and increase their newspapers’ circulation (the media—keeping it classy since the 1800s).
The killer was called “the Whitechapel Murderer” as well as “Leather Apron” within the crime case files, as well as in contemporary journalistic accounts.
Attacks ascribed to Jack the Ripper typically involved female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London; their throats were cut prior to abdominal mutilations. The removal of internal organs from at least three of the victims led to proposals that their killer had some anatomical or surgical knowledge.
3. Andrew and Abby Borden
Andrew and Abby Borden are perhaps names not as well-known as that of their suspected murderer, daughter, Lizzie Borden. Andrew and Abby were the parents of Lizzie, and on August 4, 1892, both were found brutally murdered in their home. Andrew Borden came home from work early the same morning; he lay on the sofa to take a nap but never woke again. According to their daughter, Lizzie, she came in to the living room and found her father dead on the sofa having suffered severe blunt force trauma to the head. Upstairs, Lizzie also found her stepmother dead and mutilated in a more sever manner. A later examination by the coroner would find that Abby Borden had been killed almost an hour before her husband was.
Lizzie was the initial suspect in the case after it came to light that on August 3rd (the day before the murder) she had tried to purchase poison. Then it was discovered that she tried to burn a dress in the oven. Lizzie was not the only suspect in the murder though; Bridget Sullivan (the maid) and Lizzie’s Uncle John were also under suspicion.
Lizzie eventually was arrested and tried for the murders, however, she was acquitted due to circumstantial evidence in June of 1893. Despite her acquittal, Lizzie would continue to be treated as an outcast for the rest of her life in Fall River, Massachusetts where she lived until her death in 1927. Maybe she did; maybe she didn’t. Then there is the question why didn’t she move? Could she not afford to? Being treated like crap until your dying day doesn’t seem like fun live to live.
2. Elisa Lam
The story of Elisa Lam is a more recent unsolved murder. Born April 30, 1991, the 21-year-old Canadian student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, was recovered from a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles on February 19, 2013. She had been reported missing at the beginning of the month. Maintenance workers at the hotel discovered the body when investigating guest complaints of problems with the water supply.
The circumstances of Lam’s death, when she was found, raised questions; especially in light of the Cecil’s history in relation to other notable deaths and murders. Her body was naked with most of her clothes and personal effects floating in the water near her. It took the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office four months, after repeated delays, to release the autopsy report, which reports no evidence of physical trauma and states that the cause of death was accidental. My question is why did it take four months to release the report?
The investigation had determined how Lam died, but did not offer an explanation as to how she got into the tank in the first place. Doors and stairs that access the hotel’s roof are locked, with only staff having the passcodes and keys, and any attempt to force them would supposedly have triggered an alarm. I have seen the video, and it is definitely haunting.
1. Angela Ewert
Angela Ewert, 21, an employee of Arlington radio station KEGL, left her fiancé’s house to go back to her parents’ house on December 10, 1984.
It was not yet midnight when she left their Wedgwood home and stopped to buy gasoline at a 7-Eleven store a few blocks away. It was then that she vanished. Her 1984 Mercury was found the next day several miles from the Wedgwood area on Loop 820. The doors were locked, and the flat tire that passing motorists later reported to police had been changed. A broken knife was found near the car. On August 11, 1993, the remains of Angela Ewert were found in a rural area south of Fort Worth, Texas. The killer was never found.
Now, I understand this isn’t one of the most famous cases, or widely known for that matter, but this particular case is close to me as Angela Ewert was my best friend’s cousin. I asked her permission before adding it to my list here (out of respect for her family). Angela was beautiful on the inside and out according to my best friend. As you can imagine for any family, this kind of happenstance is a very difficult one to survive emotionally.
To end this article, I would just like to remind everyone to always be aware of your surroundings; and if you see anything suspicious, remove yourself from the situation immediately. All of these unsolved crimes (knowingly there are many, many more) puts things into perspective, and kind of makes you lose faith in humanity. All one can hope is that each of these family members and friends were able to find closure.