A strange, unsolved murder case makes us realize that the world is full of cheat codes no one told us about, and there are cold-blooded fuckers out there who know how to use them. That primal dread is why everyone loves a good, old-fashioned whodunit -- except for the victim and their family and friends, and the cops, and a whole bunch of people living in dread in the area because there's a killer on the loose. That's, uh, quite a lot of folks, really. Other than for those guys, though, a good murder mystery is pretty much the most enticing thing you can imagine. Cases in point:
4The Lake Bodom Murders
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I fully admit that this one hits a lot closer to home for me than your average murder mystery. That's because it literally hit close to home -- I grew up just a few miles from where the Lake Bodom murders took place. I actually once visited what I'm told was the exact site, but I bet the whole area is so trampled by curious folks that by now every single spot along the lake's coastline has played the part of the crime scene in someone's tourist photos.
Spoiler: It looked like a fucking lake.
Here's how shit went down: On the night of June 4, 1960, four teenagers were sleeping in a tent by Lake Bodom in Espoo, Finland, when a knife-wielding maniac attacked them. Three of them perished in the ensuing all-you-can-eat stab'n'bludgeon buffet. The only survivor, 18-year-old Nils Gustafsson, could provide little enlightenment on the events, because it's hard to remember things when your face is so thoroughly, bone-breakingly bludgeoned that you could shake your head to make a passable maraca.
As powerless as the police found themselves, fate was clearly determined to keep the Bodom case as creepy as possible as crazier and crazier potential villains kept popping up. In 1972, precisely 12 years after the murders, a local man committed suicide, his final note containing a confession that he was the killer. The police found that the guy used to work in a lakeside kiosk and that there was hostility between him and the victims, whom he sold lemonade to on the day before the attack. The only problem was that the kiosk guy had a solid alibi; he was at home with his wife on the night of the murders. Yet, for some reason, he had killed himself on the anniversary of the attack and left a confession that could not be true ... or could it?
"You fuckers just can't take a hint."
The next potential culprit emerged when a doctor revealed that his hospital had treated an injured German immigrant called Hans Assmann (Hans Assmann!) immediately after the attack. Assmann, who lived near Lake Bodom, was wearing red-stained clothes and acting strangely, yet seemed to slip through the cops' radar. So the doctor started digging around and found that the German had ties to the KGB (or Stasi, depending on whom you ask). Assmann was something of an enigmatic figure, and after entering the Suspect Radar, many books and stories were written about him that liberally painted him as a violently murderous ex-Nazi drug addict that was responsible for pretty much every unsolved death in the whole country, but, they said, he kept slipping through the cracks because of his diplomatic connections.
The fact that he looked like Hannibal Lecter's creepy uncle probably didn't help his case.
Although Assmann had a valid alibi for the murder night and was never officially considered a major suspect by the police, he would not lose his primary suspect limelight until 2004 when, out of the blue, the cops brought in none other than Nils Gustafsson, the lone survivor, based on a new witness that claimed, after mysteriously waiting 45 years, that Gustafsson had been drunk and aggressive just before the murders. Also, new blood-spatter-analysis technology seemed to indicate that he might have murdered his friends in a fit of jealous rage, receiving his facial injuries in a fight with the male victim.
So, case closed, right? Wrong: About 15 months later, Gustafsson was cleared of all charges so hard that it left a dent in the courtroom wall. With him conclusively not guilty and other major suspects dead, it's unlikely that the case will ever be solved.
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
Wait, you're reading an entry featuring an alleged KGB agent/freelance murder-monster called Hans Assmann, and you still need to read the bit where I name my favorite suspect? It's like we don't even know each other anymore.
3The Gatton Case
The Gatton murders are considered among Australia's most famous unsolved crimes, and shockingly they have nothing to do with homicidal spiders (as far as we know). On December 26, 1898, a man called William McNeill set out to search for Michael, Nora, and Ellen Murphy, three relatives of his who had gone to a country dance the night before but hadn't returned home as planned. He managed to locate the tracks of their cart and followed them to a desolate area known as Moran's Paddock. Two guesses as to whether he found them happily lounging around and reading poetry.
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Fun Fact: 10 out of 10 coroners crap their pants when the body suddenly starts reciting Robert Frost.
The badly mutilated, lifeless bodies of Michael, Nora, and Ellen (yes, of course they had been murdered) were arranged neatly on a rug, with their hands tied behind their backs. Today, this would be a horrifying sight that would probably have Nic Pizzolatto taking notes. In a tiny, peaceful Australian town slowly inching toward the 20th century, there was no frame of reference for this kind of brutality at all. After a quick freak-out and an even quicker trip to get some backup, McNeill returned to the scene with a witness, kicking into gear the sloppiest, most botched investigation since the Keystone Cops. Because First Blood had not yet revealed the obvious drawbacks of the "every vagrant is a criminal" approach in law enforcement, the inspector in charge of the case immediately kicked into small-town-sheriff gear and started accusing a random hobo called Richard Burgess. When it turned out he had an ironclad alibi, they turned their attentions to Thomas Day, another out-of-towner, because he had blood on his clothes. Of course, he also happened to be working in a local butcher shop.
Communication breakdowns delayed the investigation and allowed the public to freely roam the crime scene to the point where someone actually looted Michael's corpse. Along with the tampered crime scene and a lack of reliable clues, the fact that the three victims were well-liked, squeaky-clean people with nothing in their background giving cause to such a clearly premeditated attack didn't help, either. Eventually, thousands of admissions, theories, and potential suspects painted the case into a corner. Today, over a century later, we're not one bit closer to uncovering the identity of the killer.
Though some of us have our suspicions.
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
Luckily, a large chunk of Australia's population is composed of elderly amateur sleuths who occupy themselves by tearing through the nation's cold cases. New theories on the Gatton murders pop up almost as often as those about Jack The Ripper, invariably presented by an elderly super-sleuth who should have no business outside an Agatha Christie novel. Most of these new theories come across as rather flimsy ("I don't have any real evidence, but the local priest totally did it!"), but one particular theory by octogenarian amateur detective Stephanie Bennett seems to actually contain some potential. Bennett realized it was unlikely that the three victims, one of which was a powerful and athletic expert bushman, could have been subdued by just one person, so she focused her research on a group attack. Eventually, she reached the conclusion that the murders were most likely a revenge attack orchestrated by a career criminal Michael had identified and sent to prison a few years earlier. Whether this is true or not, a gang of determined criminals sure seems a much more likely culprit than a lone, Mick Taylor-style supervillain.
Hey, wait a minute. Could this mean Jack The Ripper was a teamwork exercise too?