5 Locked-Door Mysteries that Happened in Real Life

Whodunnit? And how did they dun it?
5 Locked-Door Mysteries that Happened in Real Life

A victim is found dead in a room, with the only door bolted from the inside. Someone shot him, but there is no sign of who. What happened here? Answer: He was stabbed with an icicle, while standing on a giant melting ice cube. 

That answer may not sound like it makes any sense, but that’s because riddles are weird. And if you're looking for some real-life riddles, just consider the case of…

The Hotel Room Gunshot

On June 3, 1995, staff at an Oslo hotel figured it was time to check on Jennifer Fairgate. The guest had arrived three days before but hadn’t paid them anything yet. And now that a guard knocked on her door, a gunshot rang out from inside the room. The guard left the area for 15 minutes — perhaps to confirm with superiors exactly what to do when a gun goes off in a guest’s room. On return, he broke into the room, which had been locked from the inside.

The guest was dead, with a gun in her hand. This was a case of suicide, of course. To suggest anything else would be pure madness. Still, this was a whodunnit because no one knew just who this guest was. Her name was evidently not really Jennifer Fairgate. She had no identification on her. Even the tags on her clothing were all gone, a move that’s traditional from people hiding their identity (though normal people can’t actually be tracked using clothing tags). 

Unsolved Mysteries Death in Oslo


These were cut by someone very paranoid — or very itchy.

If she had specifically planned to die without being identified, a hotel room was a strange venue to pick. Hotels normally ask for I.D., as well as a credit card that they validate, and this hotel’s failure to do so had been a strange oversight. She had packed 25 spare rounds for the gun, an unusual choice for someone planning to shoot themselves in the head. That process rarely requires more than one bullet (and when it does, you’re in no state to reload). 

And now that investigators looked closely, she had shot herself in the head without getting any blood on her hands. Not only did this symbolically suggest she was guiltless, it forensically suggested the blood-spattered gun had not been in her hand when it fired. Her hand was on the gun when they found her, but her thumb was on the trigger, which is not the most common way to fire a gun. 

Unsolved Mysteries Death in Oslo


People also don’t usually shoot themselves in the forehead.  

Many questions would be answered once police identified just who the guest was. They were bound to, sooner or later, if only because someone would report her missing and detectives would connect the dots. Well, it’s been almost 30 years, and we’ve had no luck identifying her whatsoever. Even exhuming the body in 2006 and taking a DNA sample revealed nothing, other than that she had European ancestry. 

Here’s the theory about Jennifer Fairgate: She was murdered because she was a spy. She checked in under a false name and was killed by someone skilled enough to slip out and make the door look like it had been locked from inside. As evidence that she was a spy, this happened in Oslo. Let’s put it this way — how many people reading this are currently in Oslo? And how many in that last group are spies? All of you? Exactly. 

The Spy in a Bag

“She was a spy” is not necessarily a fanciful explanation. Some people really are spies. For example, Gareth Williams, who was an analyst for MI6 until August 2010. That was the month when, after days of no communication from him, police were dispatched to his flat to check in. They found his naked body dead in the bathtub. They found his naked body in a big duffle bag in the bathtub. The duffel bag had been padlocked shut — and the key to the lock was in the bag, beneath his body. 

Gareth Williams bag

Metropolitan Police

Here’s a recreation of the scene, possibly altered to look extra Saw-like.

Mystery number one was how the key could be inside a suitcase that was locked via the key itself. We can solve this mystery easily enough: The padlock could snap shut without using the key, or the killer used a duplicate key. Maybe the killer left a key in the bag with the body just to troll us. The Metropolitan police, however, who investigated the case for three years, came up with a different answer. They concluded that the death offered no signs of foul play, and Williams had locked himself in the bag — by accident

To support their theory, police pointed to Williams’ search history, which showed bondage-themed pornography. Plus, a previous landlady testified about once having to free him from being tied to bedposts, something he’d set up for sexual reasons. Also, the guy had a history of buying women’s clothing, and that sort of person tends to have some odd predilections, noted the police.

Gareth Williams' grave in Ynys Wen Cemetery, Valley, Anglesey.

Nabokov/Wiki Commons

Yes, after you die, the whole world will analyze your porn history and kinks. 

Other people, however, don’t buy that explanation at all. While getting locked in a bag is somewhat similar to getting cuffed, in that Houdini tried both, only the latter is something people do for sexual satisfaction. Cross-dressing has nothing to do with any of this, so there was no need to bring that up. And even if Williams wanted to climb into a bag for some reason, how could he possibly have padlocked it from inside the closed bag? Various people have tried reenacting the supposed stunt, to no success. 

Here’s the other theory about Gareth Williams: He was murdered because he was a spy. This should be the obvious explanation, and the very fact that official explanation says otherwise should stand as proof that the Crown wants to cover up the truth. Plus, a Russian defector in 2015 claimed that Moscow assassinated Williams — but still, “accident” remains the official answer. 

Gareth Williams padlock

Nicholas Razzell

Case closed.

The Metro Phantom

Paris has one of the world’s oldest metro systems. In 1937, their subway was already almost 40 years old, and it now got to hit a new milestone: its first murder. One passenger was found in a car, stabbed in the neck. Her name was Laetitia Toureaux, and her death was not a simple case of a Frenchman in a crowd lashing out. 

Bastille station at the beginning of the 20th century

via Wiki Commons

This wasn’t your everyday normal subway stabbing. 

Toureaux boarded a first-class carriage as the only passenger, and she was stabbed between this stop and the next one. Other passengers then came on and spotted her with a dagger sticking out of her. The train took just 45 seconds to go from one station to the next. During this brief window, her attacker entered the car (presumably from a different car, though no one in adjacent cars saw anything), drove the nine-inch dagger into her and vanished (again, presumably to another car, but no one spotted them). 

Here’s the theory about Laetitia Toureaux: She was murdered because she was a spy. Police looked into her and found she used multiple aliases, and though she was posing as a factory worker, she was secretly reporting to the Italian embassy. They’d employed her to spy on a terrorist group called The Cowl, which was planning that year to overthrow the French government. Six months after the metro murder, French police would arrest scores of group members, catching them with an arsenal of explosives and guns, including anti-aircraft guns. 

One of the buildings bombed by la Cagoule on 11 September 1937

Gallica Digital Library

They blew up two buildings that year, on September 11th.

Once you know Toureaux had been ratting on The Cowl, it seems obvious that someone from there had murdered her. The group murdered a bunch of people, and they’ve been linked to another assassination that year carried out using a knife. That answer raises further questions, however. If Toureaux wasn’t targeted randomly, why would anyone ever choose to kill her on a public train, during that tiny window? They couldn’t have known for certain they’d have the car to themselves. They surely could have planned out various other opportunities with a far smaller chance of detection.

Just when the probe into Toureaux’s death was really heating up, though, it was cut short — by World War II. Suddenly, France had so many deaths that they couldn’t investigate any of them. 

Lost in the Asylum

Last year, Tom Holland starred in the miniseries The Crowded Room, playing a character loosely based on the 1970s criminal Billy Milligan. Milligan, after being diagnosed with several conditions, was treated in Ohio’s Athens State Hospital, a place otherwise known as Athens Lunatic Asylum. He was one of their more famous inmates. 

The Crowded Room

Apple TV

Spoiler alert: The show isn’t very good.

While he was there, they lost a patient. We don’t mean a patient died — patients died all the time. We mean they mislaid her. Her name was Margaret Schilling, and on December 1, 1978, they discovered she was gone. We don’t have any records of why exactly she’d been confined to this institution, but for women, the three most common reasons were “menstrual derangements,” “puerperal condition” (that refers to the weeks following childbirth) and “change of life.” 

For 42 days, no one had any idea where she was. All searches failed. Then someone on staff opened up a locked, abandoned ward. There she was, having died weeks earlier of heart failure. She was naked, and her clothes were neatly folded beside her. The official explanation is she took off her clothes to keep warm, because she must have thought she’d better be able to absorb sunlight while naked. No one investigated the matter further. 

There is now a permanent stain on the floor where her body lay. The way people tell it, she left this stain when she died. That does not appear to be true, or possible. Instead, the stain came from when the staff used acid-based cleaning fluid to clean the concrete floor after she died. The real explanation is less supernatural but is not really less spooky at all. 

Here’s the theory about Margaret Schilling: She was murdered because she was a spy. We have no evidence for this, but it’s more palatable than whatever really happened. 

The Mystery Safe

So many locked-door mysteries are about bodies popping up somewhere they shouldn’t be. A locked door offers a couple more fundamental mysteries, though. Such as: How do I open this door? Also: What is behind it? 

These were the questions facing the Civic Museum of Regina in Saskatchewan, which in 2000 received a donation of a locked safe. The safe had been manufactured in the 1930s, and it had previously belonged to a company that had gone out of business two decades prior. For two decades more, the museum kept the safe on display, then they put out an open call for help. Was there anyone who could help them crack the safe open?

The call for help may have been just a joke, an ad for the museum. It was a nice way of getting people’s attention, but surely no safecracker would come forward, as this would raise serious questions about the source of their talent. Nevertheless, the museum did receive replies. A man from Ottawa, who wisely chose to remain anonymous, came by and tried his hand at the combination lock. He turned the dial and listened to the gears turning, and he managed to crack half the numbers. Then he was exhausted and had to head back to Ottawa, as all Ottawans must. 

Don’t worry, though — that’s not the end of the story. Mr. Ottawa returned and completed the task. He now opened the door, revealing a second door, locked with a key. This, too, was not the end of the story. Key locks were quite simple in the 1930s, and if you happen to have a bunch of keys from around then, one of them may well fit. The Civic Museum of Regina did have a bunch of such keys, because The Civic Museum of Regina is a museum. 

old keys

Silas Köhler/Unsplash

Museums curators are all basically treasure hunters.

The team tried their keys, and they managed to open the inner door. Now, they had truly cracked it. Now, they could at last see what had been kept so securely in this safe all those years ago. Inside this safe built by Winnipeg Safe Works, secreted behind two locked doors, these intrepid archeologists found... a paperclip. That’s all — just one single paperclip. It had to be a fairly old paperclip, but it was hard to tell, because it looked exactly like any modern paperclip.

Sometimes, we’re better off not knowing what’s in the mystery box. Sometimes, the mystery is better than the answer. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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