4 Terrifying Historical Crimes No One Can Explain

Psst. Hey. Come quick, step on this alley before they see you. Who, you ask? Murderers, man, murderers. They're everywhere, didn't you know? And what's worse, we don't know who they are. History is teeming with mysterious crime cases that left behind corpses but never managed to find out who exactly made them corpses in the first place.

But don't worry. We'll catch the culprits. We'll catch them all. Quick, friend, grab your trusty magnifying glass and put on your best research pants. Let's analyze the available evidence from a bunch of famous, unsolved historical murder cases once more, and see if we can't get to the bottom of heinous crimes.

#4. Villisca Ax Murders

Gilmanshin/iStock/Getty Images

The Villisca ax murder case is the kind of sordid tale that stains the crime scene itself forever. These days, the house has a creepy website and ghost tours where dumbasses occasionally lay a couple of extra bricks to the house's reputation by stabbing themselves during a tour.

That's not to say the reputation is undeserved, because the events that took place there in the summer of 1912 are, to put it mildly, creepy as balls. Josiah and Sarah Moore, the doomed occupants of said house, were a popular and prosperous couple without any known enemies. They spent the evening of June 9 with their four children and two house guests before retiring for the night.

At some point before the morning of June 10, someone grabbed Josiah's ax, systematically went through the bedrooms, and hit all 8 occupants in the head, repeatedly and with some determination. Most of them died in their sleep. One of the guests woke up. Briefly.

wgmbh/iStock/Getty Images
And you thought stepping on a LEGO is the worst thing that can happen on a midnight bathroom visit.

To make things even more unnecessarily creepy, the killer had covered all mirrors and windows -- along with the victims' faces -- with curtains and cloth. There was also a bowl of bloody water and a plate of uneaten food on a table, which I generously choose to assume was the killer's haphazard attempt to clean himself and find out that he's not into post-homicidal snacks, instead of some dumbfuck "fear me" ritual. Dude, you just mauled eight people to death, a plate of untouched casserole isn't going to add any extra oomph to that.

Investigators soon found out that Iowa was carrying potential crazed ax killers by the dozen. A vagrant builder with an unhealthy interest for the case, a penchant for muttering to himself and, oh yeah, lugging around a large ax was understandably detained but had a rock-solid alibi. A strangely behaving traveling minister called George Kelly gave a good, old-fashioned "the voices in my head made me do it" confession and was tried two separate times before being ultimately acquitted. The fact that he had been interrogated (feel free to add liberal air quotes at this point) for hours before giving the confession and recanted it the second he had a chance may have had something to do with this. Moore's son-in-law had hurled death threats at him, but also had an alibi.

Even Iowa state senator Frank Jones was drawn in the action, thanks to being an old business acquaintance turned rival to the victims. Jones was rumored to have hired a ruthless killer called William Mansfield (who just so happened to ax-murder his own family a couple of years later) to do the dirty work. And while we're on the subject of serial killers, there's also Henry Lee Moore (no relation), who was not initially connected to the case, but would later go on to murder his family in an extremely similar fashion.

God dammit, Iowa. What is it with you and axes?

Voyagerix/iStock/Getty Images
"Oh, like you don't own one for every weekday."

Pauli's Favorite Theory:

Nothing in this case makes sense, really. Show me a person who can sneak around a house with eight people in it in the middle of the night, cover all windows and reflective surfaces and murder them in the most violent manner this side of actual chainsaws, and I'll show you . . . well, the Villisca ax murderer. Or a ninja. Either way, it was nice to know you, because in the time it took you to tell me that person has already covered all your mirrors and oh God he's standing behind you right now.

But assuming pre-WWI ax shinobi weren't a thing, all the peculiarities of the case can be explained with a single theory: there was more than just one killer.

The parents were sleeping in the same bed. I don't care if you can sleep through the sinking of the Titanic, I refuse to believe anyone can calmly slumber their way to oblivion when someone is actively clobbering their partner to death with an axe right next to them. That's why all those individuals confessing the murders can be ruled right out -- I don't buy for a second that there was just a single murderer, let alone murder weapon. (Pro tip, investigators: just because you find a bloody axe on a mass murder scene doesn't mean that it's the only axe in the world.)

So, here's what I propose: either the Moores and their guests were drugged somehow (a possibility no source seems to bring up) before the crime, or it was at least a two-man job. With that in mind, let's crank up the official Cracked Speculation Machine: Maybe both of those guys who later pulled a Villisca on their own families were involved in the murders - - on Senator Jones' dime, because why the hell not - - and later tried to relive the thrill because fuck it, they were ax murderers already.

#3. The Hall-Mills Murder Case

Richard Goerg/iStock/Getty Images

On the surface, the Hall-Mills murder case of 1922 was a gruesome, but relatively straightforward affair that never should have become the pinnacle of unsolved homicides that it did. The two victims, reverend Edward Hall and choir singer Eleanor Mills, were found lying in a field outside New Brunswick, NJ. Hall had been shot once, while Mills had received the brunt of the attack: three gunshots and a slashed throat. They had been carefully positioned side by side under a crabapple tree, with torn love letters between them and a single calling card of Hall's placed at his feet for handy identification.

Both of them had been married, but not to each other.

On paper, this was the clearest cut case of "uh-oh, the spouse found out" in recorded history, and judging by the wounds the culprit came from Reverend Hall's side of things. In practice, shit immediately hit the fan, as cops of two jurisdictions struggled to clear the scene and find out a proper pecking order (the crime had conveniently happened on the border of their jurisdictions), and countless curious oglers freely wandered the area, grabbing souvenirs, inspecting evidence and trampling the crime scene well beyond the point of saving. What's more, journalists turned up and went absolutely apeshit over the case.

The case turned into the kind of clusterfuck that would make OJ Simpson raise an appreciative eyebrow. Witnesses were questioned again and again, to the point where some of them got jailed because investigations got so intimate, their unsavory secrets started turning up. The victims' bodies were buried, then exhumed for further examination, while their former friends and relatives were busy scrounging up saucy material they could sell to the tabloids.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"This, uh, was the murder weapon."

And all along, the papers just. Would not. Stop. The headlines.

In 1926, when Hall's rich widow Frances and her two brothers -- one a genius eccentric, the other a skilled gunman, because supervillainy -- were arrested and brought to court, the case was already solidly entrenched in popular culture and even had an "inspired by true events" style silent movie called The Goose Woman. Predictably, the ensuing trials were a complete clusterfuck of disinformation, bribery accusations and media barrage. A whopping 157 witnesses were called to the stand, each confusing the situation more and more, until the prosecution's star (and only decent) witness was a bed-ridden hog farmer called Jane "Pig Lady" Gibson, who claimed to have witnessed a lethal argument between the victims and a trio that looked an awful lot like the defendants. Her testimony was only slightly hurt by the numerous inconsistencies in her story, and the fact that her own mother kept calling her a liar as she spoke.

NY Mag
Not kidding about the nickname, by the way. Or the "bedridden" part.

In the end, all of the accused walked away scot-free. The case remains unsolved.

Pauli's Favorite Theory:

Oh, there are theories. Some say the widow and her brothers were actually innocent, and the murders were in fact the work of Ku Klux Klan, whose famously impeccable moral code Hall and Mills had broken with their affair. Others suspect that the Pig Lady herself was behind the killings, because why not?

However, to keep with the case's theme of copious horseshit, I'm going to say they were all innocent. It was an elaborately staged double suicide, designed solely to annoy the maximum number of people and accomplishing it with gusto.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

Pauli Poisuo

  • Rss

More by Pauli Poisuo:

See More
To turn on reply notifications, click here

269 Comments

The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!