Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halloween Festival Of Lists: October 6: SIX Chilling Unsolved Cold Cases

 I'm utterly fascinated by true crime.  Forensic and cold case television shows jam up my DVR like the main gate at Heinz Field on a Steeler Sunday.  I have loads of books on the subject, and though it may make me seem like a morbid person, I've already got that distinction from all the horror movies I watch. 
But what really tickles my fancy are the cold cases.  Sure, it's great when a case is all tied up with a nice neat bow, but I find it so intriguing when the law enforcement on the case just has no friggin' clue and no idea where to even start.

I could have pulled about a hundred cold cases out of books and off the internet, so it was difficult to just pick six to highlight.  Half of my picks are wildly famous, each having at least two movies (in some cases several) films made of the events. The other three are notable, but maybe not as notorious.  But damn if they aren't all interesting as hell.  Because it's pretty much a given that we will never know who committed these crimes.  And that's as horrifying as any movie.

Jack the Ripper
The ultimate, and truly the coldest of cases.
Doubtful that there's anyone reading this who hasn't heard of this case.  If so, I tend to believe you must have been hit on the head with something extremely heavy as a child. 
In the poverty stricken and depressed Whitechapel district of Victorian London back in 1888, a series of murders so ghastly occurred that to this day, no crime has ever been as infamous.  Deemed Jack the Ripper due to the gruesome way he tore his victims up, he favored (or perhaps didn't favor, if we're being precise) drunken prostitutes, conceivably luring them into dark alleyways to plunge his scalpel into their soft skin and leave them mutilated on the cold, dirty streets. 

Crime scene photo of Mary Kelly, final victim
Scotland Yard was under severe pressure to discover who this disturbed killer was, but as the violence escalated, the more trouble they had pinning down a valid suspect.  To taunt law enforcement, Jack would send letters to them, the most famous of which was signed From Hell. 
He would mention dining on the women's body parts, discuss filleting them, and indeed sent a partial kidney to police as well. 
After 5 murders, each more horrific than the last, the killings stopped.  It is assumed that the Ripper was either jailed on a lesser charge or he himself died.  Most  detectives and forensic specialists would agree that someone who was so fond of killing and had gotten sadly, so skilled at it, would never (or could never) just stop.  In later years it has also been discussed that he fled the country, and it has even been suggested that he started a crime spree here in the states. There have been numerous suspects suggested and disputed over the last century - many people who claim to have fingered the correct person and "solved" the most notorious cold case in history. 
I've watched so many documentaries and read so many books on this subject that it's hard to even formulate an analytical opinion at this point.  It's impossible to verify facts at this point, and with no one who would have worked the case or even been in the area alive anymore, I think it is safe to say this is the most frigid cold case of them all. 

*Read the in-depth analysis of the Ripper case by Supervisory Special Agent John Douglas of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, circa 1988.

Cherrie Mahan
This was a local case back in February of 1985.  I remember it well because it was the year before I graduated high school and it was all over the news. 
Cherrie was an eight year old who disappeared in Butler county, Pa. after getting off the school bus. Her parents weren't there to pick her up, allowing her to walk down the 150 yard lane to their home each day after school, which really wasn't unusual back then.
Schoolmates supposedly recall seeing her walk up to a blue van with a mural of a mountain/skiing motif on the side.  (This tidbit was something teens my age would talk about, teasingly warning each other about the "Cherrie Mahan Van" when we'd see a blue van.  Yeah, teenagers (including myself) are dumb shits.) 

Various television shows have focused on the abduction case since it erupted back in the mid-80's.  Computer age-enhancing photos of what Cherrie would look like today still circulate in newspapers and occasionally my local news will have updates, even 26 years after the crime.  Leads are still called in to Butler Co. police, with folks "seeing" someone who looked like they think Cherrie would look like today.  Even as recently as January 2011 a lead was uncovered but the victim's family knows better than to get their hopes up.  There are seven full boxes of exhausted leads sitting in the evidence room at the State Police barracks.
Mahan has been declared legally dead since 1998.

*Cherrie Mahan at The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

The "Glasgow Smile"
Elizabeth Short a.k.a.The Black Dahlia
One of the most infamous murders in Hollywood, The Black Dahlia case has been dissected and analyzed to death, no pun intended.  On January 15th, 1947, Elizabeth Short was found murdered in a empty lot in Los Angeles, her face cut ear to ear in what is known as the Glasgow Smile (also seen on The Joker in The Dark Knight) which caused her to bleed out.  She was found nude and cut in half, also apparently washed off by the murderer, perhaps to conceal evidence. The autopsy also concluded she'd been bound and beaten about the head. 

So why would someone kill Elizabeth Short?  That has been the ongoing question.  Some reporters ran with the case, making up stories that sounded better for the prying public.  Short was called a prostitute, a drunk, a promiscuous wanna-be actress with a penchant for sexual risks, and so claim she "deserved" the death she received, or at least that is was not surprising that her demise was so brutal and gruesome.
Due to the ridiculous slander and sensationalism by reporters, the case grew to astounding proportions and people were confessing left and right just to gain notoriety.  It is for this reason that detectives were never able to secure any solid leads, even though they did have several random suspects.  They never panned out and the case remains unsolved. 

For a random murder, especially in a place like L.A., it's perplexing why on earth this crime has received so much publicity. Tons of people are senselessly murdered every year in this entertainment mecca.  For someone who never got her acting career off the ground, it's surprising that she still holds the public's interest, even to this day.  Maybe it's just the grim circumstances - the abominable condition the body was in when found - that draws inquiring minds to the case.  But after this many years, it's doubtful if not impossible to assume the mystery of her death will ever be solved.

*A comprehensive essay on the life of Elizabeth Short is a click away.

The Severed Feet Mystery
One of the more bizarre cases in recent history, this mystery surrounds eleven detached feet that have washed up on the shores of British Columbia and Washington state.  Starting in August of 2007, severed feet have been found - eight in B.C. and the other three in the US.  The feet are the only part of the body found, and all but one foot have been in running shoes (the other was in a hiking boot) and most had socks on as well. 
One of the feet has been identified as a man who was thought to have committed suicide, but all the others are part of an ongoing puzzle.  A few of the feet have been shown to be from the same person, but it is befuddling indeed that no other body parts have shown up for any of the feet.

Several theories abound.  Plane crash?  Boating accident?  Foul play?  I mean, it does sound like the ol' cement shoes mafia method could be valid, but how many folks are wearing brand name running shoes when coldcocked by the mob, shoved in a car and dumped in the ocean?  Sure, a few...but all?  Equally bewildering is the fact that the footless victims are both male and female, young and old, right feet and left.

Scientists speculate that no matter how the feet became detached from the body, it is most likely that any natural deterioration or feasting by sea creatures was slowed due to the foot still being inside shoes, and in most cases socks as well. In other words, feet will last longer in the water than most other parts of the body.  It's also impossible to determine exactly how far the feet have traveled. 
So is it just random coincidence that washed all these feet ashore?  Seems entirely unlikely.  While this case can't exactly be called a cold case, because a foot was most recently found on August 30th of this year, it certainly is a nerve-rattling mystery - one that most likely will never be solved.

The Zodiac Killer
One of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history is the identity of the Zodiac killer.  Between December 1968 and October 1969 in Northern California, the Zodiac was responsible for seven murders, though it is said he could have committed at least 37.
The killer himself coined the name Zodiac, and like Jack the Ripper, sent taunting letters - but this time the letters were encrypted in confusing ciphers, and sent to journalists in the area instead of police. Only one of his four letters sent was ever deciphered.  The Chronicle (San Francisco) printed all the cryptograms in the paper just as the infamy-seeking killer asked - he claimed he would go on a weekend killing spree unless his ciphers went front page.

  The Zodiac killer's modus operandi was shooting or stabbing his victims, sometimes as a couple, other times alone as in the case of cab driver. A couple picnicking in a park were stabbed multiple times and left for dead, but the male victim lived to tell the tale and describe the killer, resulting in the sketch below that has been circulating ever since.  Several people over the last forty + years have tried to take the blame for the killings, but all have been disproved and were obviously just seeking fame. The only suspect the police ever had was Arthur Leigh Allen, an alcoholic pedophile whose fingerprints (and later DNA) ended up not matching those of the evidence on file.  He died in 1992.

In a strange twist, the author of the book The Black Dahlia Avenger, Steve Hodel, claims that his father George Hill Hodel was not only the murderer of The Black Dahlia back in the 40's, but also the Zodiac killer. That would be some feat, to be responsible for two of the biggest unsolved cases in recent history.  Kind of hard to imagine, I think.

The interest in the Zodiac case has really never wavered over the years, with scores of people still trying to solve those ciphers and even more people calling in tips to a hot line that still exists at the Vallejo Police Department in California.  It remains one of the most puzzling (pun intended) mysteries in criminal history.

*Ridiculously comprehensive site regarding the Zodiac case:

The infamous 'Cabin 28'
The Keddie Murders
Supposedly the basis for the movie The Strangers, The Keddie murders are a violent example of a crime that occurred for absolutely no discernible reason whatsoever.  Perhaps just because they were home, as is frighteningly indicated in the last reel of The Strangers.  (It should be known that The Strangers is not even close to a play by play of the murders committed at the Keddie resort.  In fact, I would have never really put those two things together if I hadn't read it several places online.  So take from it what you will, you can't make this shit up.)

In the spring of 1981 in the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, four people were brutally killed by unknown assailants in the small resort town of Keddie, Ca. 
Glenna "Sue" Sharp and her children had been renting Cabin 28 at the resort since the previous fall, and the night of the murder her eldest daughter Sheila was sleeping over at the cabin next door.  When Sheila returned home the next morning she was horrified to discover the blood soaked crime scene. Three of the four victims were present, bound with electrical wire and duct tape.  One of the victims was strangled, but all of them were pummeled with a claw hammer and stabbed countless times, in one case bending the blade of the knife drastically from impact.  The walls and all the furnishings in the cabin had been destroyed and everything was covered in blood splatter.  The victims were nearly unrecognizable. Sue's daughter Tina wasn't accounted for, but three years later her head was found some fifty miles away.  Strangely, Sheila's two sons and a friend (all toddlers) were in the next room sleeping and were unharmed.

The Keddie Resort never recovered from the crime, falling into a state of disrepair.  The owner tried to renovate it, intent on selling it, but it was a no-go after all the reports of 'strange activity' going on.  Apparently the place has been deemed by locals to be haunted, with your typical unexplained noises and strange shadows about.  Psychics have declared the location a hotbed of paranormal activity, and because he was unable to escape from the cabin's malignant past, the owner had Cabin 28 (and several others in the general location) torn down. 
There has been no new information on the case in quite some time, but there was a two-part movie made about the killings which claim to have uncovered a confession to this reprehensible, bloody crime. Never proven, the Keddie killings still remain one of the most heinous cold cases ever.

*You can read about the movie and all things Keddie here.


Anonymous said...

Those are actually pretty fascinating. Horrifying, but fascinating.

Budd said...

I think it was all the same person in a time machine.

James Gracey said...

I'm actually not familiar with several of these – the severed feet mystery, Cherrie Mahan or the Keddie Murders. Chilling stuff indeed!

Scared said...

It's all the more terrifying because in all the movies and stories we tell ourselves about murders like these, some one or some thing is responsible, though not always punished. It's creepy to think that horrendous murders could take place and the murderer not only gets away, but is completely unknown to anyone but the victims.

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Ah, I love true crime stuff. I've never heard of that severed feet thing before, that is completely whacked.

For me, it's not so much the unsolved crimes that are fascinating but the solved ones, because the pathology of these killers is what (morbidly) interests me. Guys like Albert Fish, Ed Gein... fugeddaboutit.

Christine Hadden said...

Catherine: There were so many I wanted to write about, some really weird stuff. Perhaps on down the road...

Budd: Sounds almost reasonable..almost.

James: The Keddie murders creeped me out the most, I hadn't heard much about the case and for some reason it was just so frightening.

Scared: Yeah, that's what gets me the most too, the fact that nobody knows the identities of the killers. It could be a neighbor or distant relative. I've often thought that about the Cherrie Mahan case, because it was so close to me.

Michele: I also love the solved cases as well and am equally fascinated by the likes of Bundy, Gein, Gacy, Dahmer, etc.
Now THAT'S whacked!

Becky said...

Given your love of the Sookie Stackhouse series and interest in true crime, I wonder if you've ever read Charlaine Harris' Real Murders series. It centers around a club which delves into true crime and other mysteries. You should give it a try. The heroine, Aurora Teagarden not only has a more ridiculous name than Sookie, she's a bit more engaging, too.

Christine Hadden said...

Hi Becky,
I have indeed, read the Real Murder series - I love mysteries and read tons of them. I also love her Harper Connelly books... At least that's a somewhat normal name!