These Unsolved Murders Will Make You Scared Of The Dark
It's 2:30 in the morning. You know that you should get some sleep, yet you choose to evade the impending new day with just one more interesting-looking internet article that you found ... W-wait, you're going to read this one? The column about creepy unsolved murders and surreal carnage that'll put you off sleeping for good? Seriously?
Oh, who am I kidding? We've been down this road before. I know there's no stopping you. So go call Sister Charlene and tell her that you're not going to be able to participate in the dodgeball tournament to save the orphanage tomorrow. Because we'll be up all night trying to figure out the terrifying truth behind mysterious crimes like ...
Jonathan Luna's Final Journey
Jonathan Luna had his life in order. A 38-year-old family man and successful prosecutor, he was a rags-to-riches success story who was by all accounts at the height of his professional and personal powers. This is why it came as a surprise when, on December 3, 2003, he left a Baltimore courthouse and, instead of heading home, embarked on a strange multi-state trip in the middle of the night. Luna left the courthouse at 11:30 p.m. and drove over four hours to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The next morning, he was found drowned in a shallow creek, with his court ID still around his neck.
While on the surface, this may seem like your regular "dude has a bad day at work, drives four hours to another state in the middle of the night, and somehow manages to drown in a tiny river" case, there are a number of peculiarities to Mr. Luna's demise. He announced his trip to no one. He didn't drive straight to Lancaster Country, but instead first headed north and zig-zagged around. He made random-seeming small cash withdrawals. He paid road tolls in multiple ways, despite having his E-ZPass with him. He even appeared to have injured himself at some point along the way, because his final toll ticket had blood on it. His car was found by the riverbank, still running. And although the cause of death was drowning, he had also been stabbed 36 times with his own penknife, along with a hefty helping of head trauma. There was that.
"OK, so I'm not particularly good at road trips."
At first, the police thought precisely what you probably do right now. Dude was a lawyer. He was bound to have enemies among the criminal element. Shit, he was supposed to finish a plea bargain against two violent drug dealers the very next day! Of course someone with a grudge grabbed him when he exited the courthouse late at night, forced him to drive around and mix-and-match his toll-paying methods in order to confuse the potential followers, and finally found a quiet place to torture-murder him. We've seen movies. That's how these things work.
On the other hand, the investigation uncovered that Luna was, partly unbeknownst to his family, pretty heavily in debt, and that he had profiles on multiple internet dating sites. Also, he was totally seen during the trip. The gas station attendant he bought gas and beverages from didn't see anyone else in his car, and attested that he behaved completely normally. Whatever the dude was doing, he was likely doing it voluntarily. So ... maybe the guilt of his apparent secret life got to him and he went on a midnight drive to clear his head, only to have the dreaded 2 a.m. thoughts eventually take him over and, as it were, under? Or maybe he was trying to stage a suicide or a kidnapping and went too far?
"Juuuust a quick 36 stabs to convince people I'm not playing aroun-"
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
At first, my gut instinct was to go with the "ridiculously elaborate suicide" theory, but ... no, man. This dude was totally murdered. Sure, some say that his penknife wounds could have been largely "hesitation wounds" common to blade-related suicides. However, this has been debunked by the mortician who took care of Luna's body for the funeral, who said that his wounds were the worst she had ever seen. We're talking "shredded hands, slashed scrotum, slit throat, and stab wounds in the back" stuff here. Even without back-stabbery and the fact that Luna's corpse was the worst thing a freaking mortician had seen, I refuse to believe that a dude trying to commit a quiet desperation suicide would incorporate scrotum-slashing into the act.
Besides, Luna had left his cell phone and glasses, which he needed to drive, on his desk before he left. Also, there was a pool of blood on the back seat of his car, which would seemingly indicate that he was lying in the back ... and someone else was driving the car. Which means the gas station attendant never saw Luna, but his murderer. Specifically, someone else that they could still later identify as him. This leaves us but one choice: He was murdered by his evil twin from an alternate dimension. I bet the FBI has also arrived at that theory, which is why they keep giving contradictory statements about the case.
"I'm sorry, sir. It's just that Agent Mulder keeps hijacking the microphone."
The Mysterious Death Of A Tour De France Winner
Imagine if the finest athlete in was found on the side of a remote village road, their skull bashed in and zero clues as to what happened. Imagine the media feeding frenzy, the rampant armchair detective theories flying around, the inevitable lone, disgruntled policeman struggling to solve the case in time while simultaneously wrestling with his personal demons. This summer, Steven Seagal is in The End Zone.
And then imagine the cops just shrugging and walking away. No one ever mentions the case again.
If you lived in Italy circa 1924, there was no need to imagine. Because that's the year Ottavio Bottecchia, Tour de France winner and world-famous cyclist, was found dead near his hometown of Peonis. (Hee hee, it's fun 'cause it sounds like a dong!) He was crumpled on the side of the road, his skull caved in and many of his bones broken. He never regained consciousness, and he died of his injuries 12 days later.
Based on this picture alone, the "crime of passion" theory is not exactly off the table.
The case came pre-spiced with the easily-recognizable tang of horseshit. Bottecchia's bicycle lay nearby without a scratch on it, so he hadn't crashed. There were no skid marks onsite, so a car hadn't hit him. Oh shit, son! Media feeding frenzy time! Since, on top of his other accomplishments, Bottecchia was a bona fide World War I hero, the papers immediately went into full tabloid mode, and the entire country's law enforcement sprung up to solve the case.
Ha, no! The literally-fascist-at-the-time police didn't give a festering rat's ass about the case, nor did they even attempt to set up one of their undoubtedly abundant usual suspects as a culprit to appease the general public. Instead, the officials promptly said "screw it" and decided that the cause of death was ... sunstroke.
Because hardass Tour de France winners are known to drop dead at the slightest provocation from outside elements.
Oh, and it just so happened that, despite his fame and assorted heroics, Bottecchia was a lifelong socialist and a vocal critic of Mussolini's regime. Come on. Case closed, right?
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
As much as my comedic sensibilities scream for the idea that real-life supervillain Mussolini clubbed Bottecchia to death because of his antifascist beliefs (or at least sent some stereotypical mob hitmen to whack the guy), not even bloodthirsty dictators have time to perform every ridiculous crime in their country. Also speaking against his involvement is the fact that there were literally no traces left by the murderer. Have you seen Mussolini's headquarters?
Well, now you have.
That is not the crib of a dude who quietly assassinates an enemy. He'd have run Bottecchia repeatedly over with a tank, cackling maniacally and waving his peonis in the wind as he went into reverse for the 15th time. So yeah, let's say the whole "fascist swine killed the heroic dissenter" theory is little more than a romantic fabrication. Especially since there's precisely zero evidence pointing to the fascists beyond shoddy police work, which isn't exactly a rare commodity in dictatorships.
Life is often random and stupid. Who's to say death is any different? What if something completely dumb and accidental happened? Say, Bottecchia stopped to pick some grapes for a snack, and a disgruntled wine farmer caught him in the act, threw a rock that accidentally brained him, and panickedly dragged the body to the side of the road, breaking a few bones in his haste? But of course, something like that is way too far-fetched to even be considered ...
... wait, a farmer (whom no one really believes because of the more alluring fascist theory) actually confessed to doing that exact thing on his deathbed? Huh.
The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders
In late April of 1977, someone broke into the counselors' tent at Camp Scott for girl scouts in Oklahoma and stole all the donuts from their donut box. He replaced them with a creepy handwritten note which made an ominous promise: Soon, three girls there would be murdered. The counselors brought the note to the director of the camp, who dismissed it as a morbid joke. Two guesses as to what happened next.
Two months later, a new camp kicked off with a massive thunderstorm. The new arrivals huddled in their tents to escape the wrath of nature. One of the tents, the so-called Kiowa unit, was a bit further from the counselors' tent and other central locations than the others. Its three eight-to-10-year-old occupants would never be seen alive again.
All kittens and puppies in the stock photo trade refuse to do these articles anymore, so here's a hamster to take your mind off things.
A camp counselor found one of the victims in the forest, near the camp showers. The two others were found still in their tent with electrical tape over their mouths. All three had been bludgeoned, strangled, and abused. Shit, I think I used that hamster picture too early.
One inevitable screeching panic, the closing down of the camp, and frantic manhunt later, a suspect emerged: Gene Leroy Hart, a disgraced local sports hero and escaped convict with a history of burglary and violence against women. He had already evaded justice for four years, but the police attention from the case eventually proved too much for him. A little under a year after the murders, Hart was finally captured at the house of a local medicine man ... and promptly acquitted because, among other things, it turns out his foot was a whole lot larger than that of the tennis shoe prints found on the scene. Luckily for justice, Hart had already been pinned with a 308-year-sentence's worth of other assorted crimes. To cap things off, he soon dropped dead from a heart attack in a prison courtyard at the tender age of 36, leaving behind nothing but unanswered questions -- and a letter which in no uncertain terms said that he was innocent of the girl scout murders.
The case remains open but inactive, which is the law enforcement's way of saying: "Fuck if we know."
To this day, the camp is surrounded by police tape that just reads *Shrug*.
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
Hart seems like a really obvious culprit ... if you're a small-time county sheriff pressured to get results. He was a guy with a Temper and a Reputation, and had clashed with the local police force multiple times. If even a small slice of the various shenanigans that landed him over three centuries of jail time was justified (and I have no reason to think it wasn't), he was the exact kind of dickbag the law would descend on with all its might, and deservedly so. It's just that I don't think he killed these girls. The cops never even had a real case against him, apart from a knee-jerk "It must've been that guy. Get him!" reaction. They claimed they had a murder weapon they could connect to Hart. They didn't have one, at all. They said they had a perfect fingerprint. It belonged to a cop.
Literally everything about the case went about in those general lines. Besides, as evidenced by his four-year escape trail, Hart was an experienced outdoorsman. The very idea that he'd been out and about in the woods wearing slippery tennis shoes, especially while sneaking around to murder three people in the aftermath of torrential rain, didn't really fit in the picture. So it seems to me (and approximately half of the locals) that there was some completely different, unknown psychopath roaring at the outskirts of Camp Scott.
Or shit, maybe Hart actually did it, and attempted to fake evidence by ... I don't know, slapping a tennis shoe he was keeping as a memento from his previous victim on the ground? Still, if you ask me, an inhuman murder spree at a desolate youth camp can only have been done by one famous villain:
That's right, Bruce. I'm on to you.
The Impossible Wallace Case
It's Liverpool, England. Our hero/villain (don't worry, it'll make sense in a minute) is William Herbert Wallace, a scrawny 50-something insurance collections agent. On January 19, 1931, he heads out to a nearby cafe for a scheduled chess club meeting, only to receive a mysterious message: A strange person identifying himself only as "R.M. Qualtrough" wants to meet him the next day at Menlove Gardens. It's all very creepy and (much worse from a British standpoint) bordering on rude. But Wallace senses a potential commission and decides to bite. The next day, he jumps on the tram, only to make his way to the specified address and discover it's completely fake. After searching the area for 45 minutes, he heads back home. Only something's amiss. All doors are locked. His wife won't answer. Once he finally gets the door open -- gasp! -- his dearest Julia has been brutally slain!
"Wait, why are you arresting me?"
That's Wallace's story. Here's an alternate take: The message from "Qualtrough" did definitely arrive. In fact, Wallace seemed curiously interested in it, and the meeting time it specified. Once he was in Menlove Gardens, he made a point of being visible and asking directions from reliable folks, including a police officer. It's almost as if he wanted every potential eyewitness to remember his exact whereabouts at an exact hour. Later, his neighbors find him in his backyard, agitated and claiming he had just returned home to find all the doors locked. However, trying again, he mysteriously finds the door now unlocked, ventures inside, and finds Julia Wallace brutally and bloodily beaten to death in their sitting room.
Which story is true? Seriously, which one? Because everyone, from roughly 10 billion legal professionals to crime fiction luminaries such as Raymond Chandler and P.D. James, have been unable to solve that shit.
"Dude totally did it, and someone just happened to provide him a perfect alibi with a prank call." -- P.D. James (seriously)
The long arm of the law immediately hogtied itself. Wallace initially received a death sentence after just an hour in court, but the Court of Criminal Appeal soon overturned it and freed the man after pointing out that literally every piece of evidence was circumstantial, and also that the cops had "proved" that Wallace could murder his wife and make his trip to Menlove Gardens by ignoring the whole "feeble middle-aged guy with failing kidneys" factor and having a young, fit officer run through the route. Still, freedom brought Mr. Wallace little consolation. Although he was able to keep his job, his health was a wreck and he died only two years later, his remaining days filled with threats, hate, and suspicion from of the general public. No other suspect was ever identified, let alone charged.
They didn't even find the weapon Mrs. Wallace was murdered with. It was that kind of case.
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
The main problem here is that every single piece of evidence could be used to prove both Mr. Wallace's guilt and his innocence. For starters, both of those stories make perfect sense, depending on which one you choose to believe. Then there's the method of murder -- literally beating Mrs. Wallace to a pulp with a blunt instrument. Could a sickly 52-year-old have done it? "Of course not!" say the pro-Wallace folks. "Sure, if he was determined enough!" says the guilty-as-charged party. How come he didn't have a speck of blood on his clothes, when he should have been completely drenched in blood? (To a pulp, remember.) "Because he was innocent!" / "Because he stripped naked and wore the bloody mackintosh inexplicably found at the scene!" Assuming he wore the mackintosh, how the fuck did he do that, ambush and subdue his wife, beat her to death, and somehow avoid copious blood spatter on his face and hands? "Fucked if we know." / "Same here, old chap, consider us clueless."
Sure, some of this can probably be chalked up to police bumblefuckery. They were extremely short-staffed at the time, full of inexperienced people filling positions they had no training for, and were forced to cut corners to the point where the superintendent in charge of the case staggered onto the site after an afternoon in a pub. But that doesn't explain everything away. Let's Occam's razor this shit. If a guy must have committed a murder, but can't possibly have done it the way it happened, then the murder was committed by a different guy. Namely, a fellow called Richard Gordon Parry. A former worker at Wallace's insurance agency, Parry was a high-roller who lived well beyond his means. Wallace had known for some time that Parry dipped in the company funds, and the younger man had abruptly switched jobs some time before the incident. Parry took his car for a wash at a local garage on the night of the murder, and one of his gloves was caked with what looked an awful lot like blood.
This guy? Murder someone in cold blood? Noooooo.
So put on your best speculation hat. If we assume that Wallace was complicit in smoking Parry out of the insurance company, then Parry definitely had a motive to hurt the guy. What's more, Wallace often temporarily stored the insurance payments he collected in a cash box at the house, which would have offered another monetary motive (though the box happened to be relatively empty during the night of the murder, so crime didn't exactly pay here). Parry knew Mrs. Wallace, so he could have easily visited the house after luring her husband away to chase the mysterious Mr. Qualtrough. His girlfriend gave him an alibi for the murder night, but later withdrew it with a vengeance. Hell, there's even talk that the cops deliberately buried some evidence pointing at Parry, or maybe an unknown accomplice of his. Then again, if the crime was motivated by money, why were only four pounds missing from the cash box? Why had it been neatly replaced? Why was Mrs. Wallace's handbag, loaded with money and valuables, untouched?
Hey, wait a minute. What about the weird way Wallace couldn't gain access to the house at first? Maybe, just maybe, someone was still in the house until the neighbors arrived, and surreptitiously unlocked the back door and fled from the front in hopes that the cops would pin it all on Wallace.
The Texarkana Phantom
For ten weeks in 1946, the Texarkana area was haunted by something straight out of a teen slasher movie. A mysterious maniac attacked three young couples who had parked their cars in local lover's lanes, and a middle-aged married couple in their own home. Five of the victims were killed and three barely escaped with their lives, presumably so he'd have someone to fight in the sequels.
The first attack came on February 22, when the killer ambushed Jimmy Hollis, 25, and Mary Jeanne Larey, 19, in their car. Pointing a flashlight at the couple's faces, he ordered Hollis out of the car, told him to remove his pants, and proceeded to beat and stomp him so badly that he would spend days in a coma. In a way, Larey was even less fortunate: The attacker ordered her to run, and soon chased her down, beat her, and assaulted her with the barrel of a gun. She managed to escape this deadly game of cat and mouse, and in true horror movie style, ended up pleading for help at the door of a house half a mile away, sure to the last second that she was being followed.
Early police sketch of the suspect.
A few weeks after the first attack, another young couple was attacked in their car. This time, after an unknown sequence of events, the Phantom shot both victims execution-style. Another couple of weeks later, yet another two kids were found dead. They had made it out of the car (or had been forced to leave it), attempted to struggle and perhaps escape the murderer, but were shot several times nevertheless. The final victims were farmer couple Virgil and Katie Starks, and for them, the killer significantly changed his modus operandi, straight-up gunning them down through their window. Despite taking two shots in the head, Mrs. Starks didn't die in the attack. After a terrifying chase with the killer inside the farmhouse, she managed to escape to the neighbors' house before collapsing. A trail of blood and pieces of teeth marked her trail.
Upon hearing the story, the cops immediately made her sheriff and ran the hell away.
All along, the entire population of Texarkana was flipping its collective shit in various ways, each of them worthy of its own movie. 47 police officers worked round-the-clock on the case, with little to go by but a flimsy theory of the culprit being some sort of sex maniac. Mobs roamed the area in search of the killer. Plucky gangs of teenagers attempted to set up traps to catch the Phantom in the act, using themselves as bait. People Home Alone'd their houses with makeshift booby traps. Curfews were set, lock salesmen made a fortune. You could almost say that Texarkana had become a town that dreaded sundown.
The obligatory horror movie about the case certainly did.
Yeah, didn't I mention? Some survivors described the killer as a large man wearing a white horror movie mask, because apparently Texarkana was hellbent on inventing every single serial killer trope in existence.
Pauli's Favorite Theory:
With the mass panic and the horror movie aspects of the case, pretty much everyone in the area and their dog has been suspected by at least someone. Strange cars in odd locations, mysterious coma patients, escaped Nazi prisoners, and fucking Chad from next door were all implied to have something to do with the murders. Eventually, the rumor mill focused on Youell Swinney, a local petty criminal who went to prison for grand theft auto around the time the killings stopped. Personally, I refuse to believe it was him. The crime that singlehandedly created 97 percent of B-horror imagery deserves a better culprit than some fucking yokel gunning down kids for kicks and petty cash.
Let's talk about "Doodie" Tennison. On November 5, 1948, the 18-year-old freshman was found dead in his bed. In his room was a poisoned ballpoint pen, inside of which was found a note:
"The opening to my box will be found in the following few lines. In a tube of paper is found, rolls on colors and it is dry and sound. The head removes, the tail will turn, and inside is the sheet you yearn. Two bees mean a lot when they are together. These clues should lead you to it."
Poison: It's a hell of a drug.
The cops found the box in question, took a look at Tennison's fucking supervillain quest, decided they didn't want any of that shit, and forced the container open. Inside, they found a disturbingly detailed confession of the second and third Phantom attack, down to how Doodie had dismantled the guns he used and hidden the parts.
Although Tennison was never a suspect before his death, and other notes that contradicted his confession later emerged, I'm putting my money on him. This is the kind of supervillain proactiveness I expect from mysterious shadow assassins. Besides, the fact that he only confessed to two of the attacks means that there may have been more than one "Phantom" running around -- which would make sense, considering how the last attack was very different from the others. So yeah, I'm calling it: The Texarkana Phantom Killer was a joint effort between Doodie Tennison and a mysterious, huge, masked guy who was never caught and roams free to this day and OH SHIT HE'S BEHIND US RIGHT NO-
Pauli Poisuo was a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
For more unexplainable mysteries, check out how a blimp crashed with seemingly no one inside in 5 Creepy Unsolved Disapperances That Nobody Can Explain and see why Pauli is our resident unsolved crimes expert in 4 Terrifying Crimes (That We'll Never Solve).
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