When a crime is never solved, it can become both maddening and tantalizing. The victims never get justice, their loved ones never get closure, and law enforcement officers can turn into haunted, True Detective-style obsessives. Here are eight fascinating cases that remain unsolved to this day.
This list of unsolved crimes deliberately leaves out the most-publicized cases: Who was DB Cooper/Jack the Ripper/the Zodiac Killer? Where is Madeleine McCann/Jimmy Hoffa/Natalee Holloway? Who killed the Black Dahlia/JonBenét Ramsey/Biggie and Tupac/Bob Crane? And did the acquitted Lizzie Borden actually deliver those 40 whacks of legend?
Instead, we've tried to dig deeper, highlighting crimes that may have grabbed fewer headlines than those high-profile puzzles, but remain just as fascinating.
It was 1966, a gorgeous Australia Day in the suburbs of Adelaide, when nine-year-old Jane Beaumont and her siblings, seven-year-old Arnna and four-year-old Grant vanished seemingly into thin air. The kids hopped a bus for what should have been a five-minute ride to Glenelg Beach, a popular spot they visited often. Hours later, they failed to return home, setting into motion one of Australia's most sensational mysteries — and even today, one of its most prominent cold cases.
Witnesses claimed to have seen the siblings on the beach playing with a tall, thin, blonde man. Jane Beaumont was spotted buying snacks (including a meat pie, which the children had never purchased before) with money she did not have when she left the house that day. A mail carrier who knew the family saw the kids walking in the direction of their home a few hours later ... but they never made it. Where did the children go? Who was the tall man? Though the case has continued to generate leads and wild theories (religious cults, a madman who may have turned the kids into a human centipede of sorts via "experimental surgery"), it remains unsolved. Needless to say, parents in Australia became a lot more protective and paranoid in the wake of this case.
Image above via Fanpop
Carl Hoffman's outstanding 2014 book,Savage Harvest, offers a compelling answer to the question that's haunted the Rockefeller legacy since 1961: What happened to eager young Michael Rockefeller, who vanished while collecting indigenous art among the Asmat tribe of what was then Netherlands New Guinea? Though his father, New York State governor and future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, had the means and clout to launch a formidable search, no trace of the 23-year-old recent Harvard grad was ever found.
Hoffman's well-researched exploration suggests that Michael, long rumored to have met his demise at the hands of locals (gifted woodcarvers who were also documented to be cannibals and headhunters), may have unknowingly upset a delicate peace between warring villages in the region, and been targeted simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (If that were true, it would make Michael's disappearance more tragic cultural misunderstanding than "crime.") For followers of the case, this theory is the most satisfying one we'll probably ever encounter.
Image via the Sunday Times
Another must-read for aficionados of unsolved cases: Harry N. MacLean's Edgar-winning true crime tale In Broad Daylight: A Murder in Skidmore. It weaves the incredible tale of a Missouri town rising up to take down the man who was regarded as the local bully, a violent man who committed crime after crime (including child molestation) but always escaping serious jail time. Ken Rex McElroy's murder took place (as the MacLean book's title suggests) in the middle of the day, in the middle of town. Like Wild West vigilantes, MacLean suggests that those who were involved have upheld a code of secrecy that's been kept for over 30 years.
image via Crime Library
Hollywood enters this list with a scandal that rocked the movie biz in 1922: The untimely death of successful silent-film directorWilliam Desmond Taylor. He perished in his own home of at least one gunshot wound to his back; since he was carrying cash and wearing a diamond ring, robbery didn't seem to be a motive. The case grabbed headlines as a voluminous list of suspects entered the fray. Was it his newly-hired valet, a man with a sketchy past? Was it his former valet, who'd stolen from Taylor just months before? Was it Taylor's girlfriend, movie star Mabel Normand? Or, most juicily, did it have something to do with the young starlet whose career Taylor was shepherding along, at the urging of the girl's zealous stage mother? A screenwriter couldn't have come up with a better mystery than this.
All serial killers are creepy. But have you heard the one about the still-unidentified chap who roamed New Orleans circa 1918-1919, chopping up unfortunate parties (eight in total) with an axe ... usually an axe plucked from the victim's own home? There were suggested motives galore, but none so peerless as the one suggested by the Axeman himself, or someone claiming to be him, who sent a taunting letter to the local papers that read, in part:
Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
"Jazz it" ... or get the axe. Dig?
The more alarming nickname for this never-caught killer is "the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run," who gruesomely beheaded and dismembered at least 12 people in the 1930s. That would be enough to elevate the case into the annals of "most intriguing unsolved crimes," but the fact that future "Untouchable" Eliot Ness was working in Cleveland law enforcement at the time adds a little extra true-crime varnish to the story.
Images via Cleveland Memory and JTR Forums
This brutal mass murder took place in a seemingly bucolic cabin community in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California. Its details are so haunting there's a highly thoroughwebsite dedicated to every aspect of the case; you'll want to explore it yourself after hearing the bare-bones details. The victims (a 36-year-old mother, her 15-year-old son, and his 17-year-old friend) were beaten with a claw hammer. In the room next door, unharmed: two younger sons and their friend. In the cabin next door, unharmed: the woman's older daughter. Missing: a 12-year-old daughter whose skull was recovered in 1984, three years after the brutal crime.
Cabin 28, where the murders took place, was torn down in 2004 (image via Documenting Reality)
In keeping with the axe/hammer theme that's emerging ... on June 10, 1912, in a small town in Iowa, two adults and six children were killed in their sleep by someone or someones unknown (suspects included an Iowa state senator, a "cocaine fiend and serial killer," and a traveling preacher). The house is (of course) now rumored to be haunted, and like Lizzie Borden's house in Massachusetts, is available for overnight stays for those who are not easily spooked.