There is something about true crimes stories that captivate people. Never has that been more true than today, with the 24-hour news media enthusiastically covering the latest gripping crime story, profiling suspects, and following every second of the trial. If you hear the names “OJ Simpson” or “Laci Peterson”, you’ll know exactly what the speaker is referring to and what happened in the case.
But even more enthralling than the cases with outcomes we know about are those that remain unsolved. These permeate the public consciousness, thrill amateur sleuths, and refuse to let us go, no matter how much people puzzle over the details. Jack the Ripper may be the most notorious unsolved murder, but a shadowy killer stalking prostitutes over 100 years ago in Victorian England isn’t nearly as scary as the thought of murderers able to elude modern forensics, who could still be walking the streets today.
These are five of the creepiest unsolved murders, crimes that not only seemingly have no explanation, but crimes whose perpetrators will likely never be brought to justice.
5. The Black Dahlia
The unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short has captured the public imagination for decades. Short was an aspiring actress from Boston, Massachusetts with dreams of making it big. While she waited for her big break to come, she worked as a waitress. Tragically, all of her dreams would be shattered in January of 1947.
On January 15th, a woman was out walking with her daughter when they came across what she initially thought was a department store dummy left in an abandoned lot. Upon closer inspection, though, the woman realized that it was the decapitated body of a young woman. When police arrived, the scene was utterly shocking. Short’s nude body was completely severed at the waist, with the two halves of her body positioned about a foot apart. The remains had obviously been posed, with her hands above her head and her legs spread apart. There were abrasions on her wrists, ankles, and neck. Her nipples had been cut off, with foreign objects stuffed into her genitals. Portions of her flesh had been cut away, and her face had been sliced in a macabre grin from ear-to-ear, known as the “Glasgow smile”. Investigators believe that she had been held captive for several days before the actual murder, and had been brutally tortured. She was covered in bruises and small lacerations, with the official cause of death being both hemorrhaging from the cuts to her face and shock from the blows to her head.
Before abandoning her corpse, the killer didn’t just decapitate her, but drained her body almost completely of blood, and then thoroughly cleaned her remains.
It’s not clear why Short fell victim to such a horrific murder. Contrary to popular belief, she had not worked as a prostitute, and had, in fact, been engaged to a pilot in the military until he died in an airplane crash several years before her murder. Friends said that she was polite, shy, and soft-spoken. She did not drink, smoke, swear, or do drugs. Yet she still became the victim of a brutal madman.
Over 50 people confessed to Short’s murder, but none of the confessions were deemed credible. 22 people were named official suspects, but there was not enough evidence to officially convict anyone. One man, Steve Hodel, came forward decades later claiming that his father was the Black Dahlia killer. George Hodel had been a physician, and police had indeed strongly considered him to be a suspect. But again, a lack of evidence linking Hodel to the murder kept the investigation from moving forward. And it seems that Elizabeth Short will never get the justice which she so richly deserves.
4. The Houston Ice Box Murders
In 1965, Fred and Edwina Rogers were an elderly reclusive couple living in Houston, Texas. Their son, Charles, lived with them, but even he rarely saw his parents. Charles was gone so often that even neighbors had no idea he lived there. But when Edwina stopped answering phone calls from her nephew, Marvin, alarm bells were raised. Marvin contacted police, who went to the couple’s house on June 23rd to investigate.
After forcing their way inside the home, officers found food sitting on a table, and meat stacked inside the refrigerator. But it turns out that it wasn’t food that the officers found – it was the decapitated remains of Fred and Edwina Rogers. Their severed heads were left in the vegetable drawers of the refrigerator. The “meat” the officers found was actually the Rogers’ dismembered limbs and torsos. Some of their organs were found in a sewer, having been cut up and flushed down a toilet. Other remains were still missing.
Further investigation found that the Rogers had been killed on June 20th — Father’s Day. Fred had been beaten, had his genitalia removed and his eyes gouged out, and was killed by being beaten in the head with a claw hammer. Edwina had been beaten and shot, execution-style, in the head. Their bodies had been dismembered in the bathroom, and the crime scene had been thoroughly cleaned, although a faint blood trail led to Charles Rogers’ room. As for Charles himself? He was gone.
Charles, understandably, became the number one suspect in the case. But he was never found. Ten years later, in 1975, he was declared dead in absentia. To this day, no one knows who killed Fred and Edwina Rogers, or what happened to Charles. Was he another victim of the same monster who killed his parents, or was he the one responsible? We may never know.
3. The Death of Elisa Lam
Elisa Lam was a Canadian college student who was visiting California for a tour of the west coast, with planned stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. Lam traveled alone, and used Amtrak buses to reach her destinations. Her first stop was San Diego, and from there, she went to Los Angeles, which would tragically be her final stop.
On January 26th, Lam checked in to the Cecil Hotel. Originally, she was placed into a shared room, but after her roommates complained of “odd” behavior, she was moved to her own, private, room. Lam had kept in regular contact with her parents throughout her trip, but on January 31st, the day she was expected to check out of the hotel and head to Santa Cruz, they didn’t hear from her. So they called the police. But no one could find her. She seemingly had vanished.
Police released the last-known footage of Lam on February 14th, and it made the mystery even stranger. The footage was taken on February 1st, from one of the hotel’s surveillance cameras in an elevator. In it, Lam can be seen pressing multiple buttons, hiding in the corner of the elevator, stepping out into the hall and then back into the elevator again, putting her hands over her ears, and even possibly gesturing to someone out of sight.
Meanwhile, as the search for Lam continued, hotel guests began to complain. The water in the hotel had turned black. They claimed that it both smelled and tasted horrible, so employees went to investigate the four water tanks located on the roof of the hotel. And it was in one of the tanks that Elisa Lam’s body was finally found, floating about a foot beneath the surface. It’s believed that she had been there for approximately two weeks.
Many immediately thought that Lam must have been on some kind of drugs, due largely to her erratic behavior in the elevator footage. But the autopsy report disproved that notion – the toxicology report found no drugs in her system. Suicide seemed unlikely, as the doors and stairs that led to the roof – and the water tanks – are locked and require passcodes and keys to get through. Forcing them open would have triggered an alarm. Employees also can only access the water tanks by using a ladder, yet no ladder was found. An autopsy found no evidence of suicide, rape, or physical trauma. Her death was listed as “accidental drowning”, but for obvious reasons, there is a lot of skepticism surrounding that explanation.
To make the story even creepier, the Cecil Hotel has its own sordid history. Elizabeth Short, the victim of the Black Dahlia murder, stayed at the Cecil Hotel before she was killed. Multiple serial killers are also known to have stayed there. Murders and suicides litter the hotel’s history. In all, it’s estimated that there have been at least 15 deaths at the hotel, all from unnatural causes. Some believe that Lam may have been possessed by one of the spirits who died in the hotel; others think she was murdered. What really happened to Elisa Lam, though, it seems will forever remain a mystery.
2. The Pennsylvania Severed Head
On December 12th, 2014, a teenager got off the bus from school and was walking through some woods in Economy, Pennsylvania to get home. He stumbled across something no one would ever want to find: a severed head. But the details made this discovery even stranger, and more horrifying, than usual.
The head seemed to belong to an elderly woman. Her hair had been perfectly curled. Her eyelids had been held closed, but beneath them, her eyes had been removed. Instead, they had been replaced by red toy rubber balls, the kind that children play with. Even more shockingly, the head had been embalmed, making it impossible to figure out how long she had been dead. Officials were able to deduce that the head had been removed with some level of precision, indicating that whoever committed this crime must have had some knowledge of human anatomy.
At first, there was suspicion that the head was removed from a local mortuary or funeral home, perhaps to steal body parts. But after consulting with cemeteries and funeral homes in the area, that was ruled out as a possibility. A 3D bust, as well as an artistic rendering of what Jane Doe looked like, was also no hope. No one came forward to claim her. To this day, her true identity is unknown.
And as to what happened to her? That’s the real question, and no one really knows. Was her body donated to medical research or was she a victim of black market body part traffickers? Was she killed at the hands of a psychotic murderer? No answers are forthcoming, and it seems that this is a mystery that will never be solved.
1. The Keddie Murders
Decades ago, a mass murder so horrifying took place that it became the inspiration for a blockbuster Hollywood film. “The Strangers”, starring Liv Tyler, was based on a true story: the Keddie Murders.
Glenna “Sue” Sharp and her five children had been renting Cabin 28 in Keddie, California since late 1980. On April 11th, 1981, one of her daughters, Sheila, had a sleepover with a friend in another cabin. The two youngest Sharp children had a friend staying with them in their room. The oldest Sharp son, John, also had a friend over: Dana Wingate. Finally, there was 12-year-old Tina, who had been watching television with a friend in Cabin 27, but returned home for the evening. When Sheila came home on the morning of April 12th, she was greeted by an awful sight.
Three bodies were sprawled across the living room. Sue, John, and Dana had been viciously murdered. All three were bound with tape and wire, and they had been stabbed, bludgeoned, and strangled to death. Autopsy reports showed that the victims had been beaten with two different hammers. Sue and John had been stabbed multiple times, with Sue also being beaten with a Daisy rifle. Dana had been strangled. Some weapons had been found left behind, including two knives and a hammer. But others, like the second hammer and the Daisy rifle, were missing. Another knife was eventually found, but the hammer and rifle were never recovered.
Strangely, the three younger boys were found sleeping safely in their bedroom. But 12-year-old Tina was nowhere to be found. It would take three years for her remains to be found, and all that was recovered was part of her skull, a jawbone, and a few of her bones. And adding more mystery to the chilling case, Tina’s remains were found 29 miles away.
Two men, Marty Smartt and Bo Boubede, were considered to be the primary suspects in the murders. But both have since passed away. New evidence has renewed interest in the case, especially with a letter written from Marty to his wife Marilyn stating, “I’ve paid the price of your love & now that I’ve bought it with four peoples lives, you tell me we are through … Great! What else do you want?”. A 911 call also resurfaced from 1984, with an anonymous caller phoning authorities after the skull fragments were found to tell them that the remains belonged to Tina… before the remains were confirmed to be hers through dental records. Police have since reopened the investigation, but are having little luck getting people to talk. Investigators say that locals know what happened in Cabin 28, but are refusing to talk, and the original investigation was suspiciously flawed, so much so that some wonder if police were trying to cover for someone. But as to what really happened in Cabin 28, and who was responsible? Unless someone starts talking, we’ll likely never know.