20 Famously Unsolved Mysteries That Investigators Finally Unraveled

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Murders, disappearances and unidentified human remains – the world abounds with cold cases and unsolved mysteries. In fact, some crimes can take years or even decades to solve. Sometimes, like finally locating a missing puzzle piece, unexpected new evidence arises. Alternatively, new technology (especially DNA analysis) can shed new light on old evidence. The following 20 mysteries are examples of cases that initially puzzled investigators, but were all solved in time.

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20. Bella in the Wych Elm

On April 18, 1943, four boys discovered a female skull in the hollow trunk of a Wych Elm tree in Hagley Woods, United Kingdom. She was dubbed “Bella” by local graffitists, but her identity and the reasons behind her death were a mystery. One theory suggested she had been murdered in a frightening occult ritual called “Hand of Glory”. In fact, later-declassified wartime MI5 files suggest Bella was probably a German actress and Nazi spy called Clara Bauerle. But who killed her, and why, is still not known.

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19. The Unabomber

The Unabomber killed three people and injured 23 others in one of the most infamous bombing campaigns in American history. Defying capture for 17 years, he targeted universities and airlines with mail bombs, driven by the credo that technology destroys human freedom. He was caught in 1996 after his manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future, was put in the public domain. Two of his relatives recognized its style of prose and its content and contacted the FBI. The Unabomber is in fact a mathematical prodigy called Theodore Kaczynski, now serving a life sentence.

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18. BTK

BTK was the sadistic self-selected pseudonym of Dennis Rader, a serial killer who slaughtered ten people in Kansas between 1974 and 1991. The letters denote “Bind, Torture, Kill”, and Rader used the grisly acronym to sign off his correspondence to the media and the police. Eventually, however, his attention-seeking behavior was his downfall. In 2005, he sent a floppy disk to a news station containing a Word document he had edited.  Hidden data in that document contained vital clues that ultimately led investigators to Rader.

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17. The murder of Krystal Beslanowitch


On December 15, 1995, 17-year-old Krystal Beslanowitch was found battered to death on the banks of the Provo River in Utah. But police investigators were unable to solve the crime until 18 years later. In 2013, a new DNA collection device called the M-Vac was used on the rock that had been used to murder the teenager. It recovered 21 nanograms of genetic material which belonged to one Joseph Simpson. He was subsequently convicted of aggravated murder.

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16. The disappearance of the McStay family

Joseph and Summer McStay were living in Fallbrook, California, with their two sons, 4-year-old Gianni and 3-year-old Joseph Jr, when they inexplicably vanished from their home on February 4, 2010. For years, investigators believed that the family had gone missing in Mexico. But on November 11, 2013, a motorcyclist located their remains in two shallow graves in a desert near Victorville, CA. A year later, Chase Merritt, Joseph’s business partner, was arrested after his DNA was recovered from the family car. His murder trial is currently scheduled for February 2018.

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15. The murder of Mary Klinsky


It took more than 50 years to identify the probable killer of Mary Klinsky, an 18-year-old high school student who was found raped and beaten to death close to Telegraph Hill Park in Holmdel, New Jersey in 1965. Thanks to cutting-edge DNA technology, investigators linked her death to Robert Zarinsky, a New Jersey serial killer jailed in 1975 who died in custody in 2008. In fact, Zarinsky may have killed as many as ten women.

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14. The abduction of Kamiyah Mobley

Kamiyah Mobley was snatched from her 16-year-old mother, Shanara, just hours after her birth. On July 10, 1998, a woman dressed in a nurse’s smock entered Shanara’s hospital room, chatted with Shanara and then slyly abducted the newborn. Astonishingly, Kamiyah was located 18 years later thanks to DNA tests. Brought up as Alexis Manigo, she had allegedly been kidnapped by a woman called Gloria Williams, who had lost her own child in a miscarriage. Kamiyah was reunited with her biological parents in January 2017. Williams’ trial is scheduled for February 2018.

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13. The murder of Chandra Levy


Employed as an intern at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington D.C., Chandra Levy vanished in May 2001. Her remains were discovered in Rock Creek Park a year later, leading to a controversial murder investigation. The glare of media attention fell on Gary Condit, a Democrat Congressman who had an affair with Levy, and the publicity destroyed his career. But Levy’s killer was later identified as a Salvadorian called Ingmar Guandique. He was finally convicted for Levy’s murder in 2010 and later sentenced to 60 years in prison.

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12. El Segundo cop killings

On July 21, 1957, a drifter robbed four teenagers necking in a quiet lane in Hawthorne, east of El Segundo, California. He raped one of the girls and stole a car. Later that night, he killed two officers from El Segundo Police Department after they stopped him for running a red light. He evaded capture for 45 years. Then in 2003, national digitization of fingerprint records led police to Gerald Mason, a well-to-do retiree living in suburbia in South Carolina. He confessed to the crimes and died in prison in 2017.

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11. The murder of Colette Aram


On October 30, 1983, Colette Aram, a 16-year-old hair stylist from Nottinghamshire in the United Kingdom, was raped and murdered while walking to her boyfriend’s house. Police were unable to locate the culprit for 25 years, despite a high-profile public appeal. In 2008, however, police arrested a 20-year-old man on a motoring charge and discovered that his DNA very closely matched the profile of Aram’s killer. The man’s father, Paul Hutchison, eventually admitted to the murder. He died from an apparent overdose in 2010.

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10. The murder of Joan Harrison

When a 26-year-old prostitute Joan Harrison was found dead in an abandoned garage in 1975, she was presumed to have been a victim of the Yorkshire Ripper – a prolific English serial killer called Peter Sutcliffe. A man later uncovered as a hoaxer had linked the infamous killer to Harrison’s death and Sutcliffe was notorious for targeting sex workers. However, in 2011, Lancashire police announced that the killer had probably been a man called Christopher Smith. Smith died of a terminal illness in 2008, just six days after his DNA was taken after he had been stopped on suspicion of drink-driving.

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9. The murder of Susan Schwarz


Susan Schwarz of Alderwood Manor, Washington, was shot dead in 1979. More than 20 years later, a tip-off from a prison inmate led to the killer. Sets of cold-case playing cards had been distributed to correctional facilities and one prisoner recognized Schwarz on one of the cards. According to the inmate, former convict Gregory Johnson of Seattle had murdered her. An unidentified acquaintance of killer and victim present at the crime admitted she knew that Johnson had killed Schwarz for trying to help her. She had kept quiet out of fear for her own safety.

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8. The murder of Jessica Keen

Jessica Keen, a 15-year-old student from Columbus, Ohio, apparently went off the rails after meeting 18-year old Shawn Thompson. In 1991, her parents placed her in a home for troubled teens and she subsequently disappeared. Forty-eight hours later, her body was discovered in a cemetery 20 miles away. Thompson was initially in the frame, but police later cleared him of any involvement. Instead, the real killer was found in 2008. DNA evidence pointed the finger at Marvin Lee Smith Jr, who confessed in court to bludgeoning Keen to death with part of a tombstone.

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7. The murder of Amy Weidner


On November 13, 1989, Amy Weidner, a 16-year-old mom from Indianapolis, was raped and murdered in her bedroom in the presence of her daughter, two. A local officer who had become obsessed by the cold case, Sgt. Bill Carter, solved the riddle in 2012 by matching a palm print left in blood to Rodney Denk, a friend of Weidner’s brother. Denk had visited the house many times, both before and after Weidner’s slaying. In court, Denk pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years for rape and 50 years for murder, to run consecutively.

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6. The disappearance of Martha Lambert

Martha Lambert was 12 when she disappeared from her hometown of St Augustine, Florida, in November 1985. Her fate remained a mystery for 24 years until her brother, David, confessed to “accidentally” killing her. He claimed they were playing in an abandoned building when they got into an argument over a $20 dollar bill. In a scuffle she fell and become impaled on a spike, dying almost instantly. He then panicked and buried her in nearby woods.

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5. The murder of Diane Jackson


On December 14, 1969, single mother and phone operator Diane Jackson was raped and murdered on her way to work at Southwestern Bell in Houston, Texas. The case went cold until her brother, who was employed as a Texas Ranger, reopened her file in 1989. A breakthrough came in 2003 when a technician at the Texas Department of Public Safety matched a print taken the scene. It belonged to James Ray Davis, who was ultimately sentenced to life for the 25-year-old’s murder.

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4. The murders of Robert Peterson, Anton Schuessler and John Schuessler

On Sunday, October 16, 1955, three young boys – Robert Peterson, 14, John Schuessler, 13, and Anton Schuessler, 11 – went to watch a movie in downtown Chicago. They never made it home and their naked,bruised bodies were later discovered in a woodland ditch. The killer was identified in the 1990s during an arson investigation at stables. Many people claimed that a worker called Kenneth Hansen had bragged about his involvement in the murders. Hansen was arrested, tried and found guilty. He was sentenced to 200 years in prison and died in 2007.

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3. The disappearance of Lucy Johnson


Lucy Johnson, a wife and mom-of-two, mysteriously vanished in September 1961. Born in Alaska, she had been living in British Columbia at the time. Police suspected that her husband, Marvin had murdered her, but never found any proof. In June 2013, however, Lucy’s daughter, Linda, discovered that her mother was actually alive and well in Yukon, and now 77 years old. Apparently Lucy had fled the family to escape Marvin, who she said had abused her.

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2. The identity and murder of Baby Hope

Baby Hope was the name given to a four-year-old girl from New York City. Murdered in 1991, her badly decomposed body was discovered inside a portable cool box in Manhattan. She remained unidentified for more than 20 years, though forensic examiners believed she was probably Hispanic. In fact, in 2013, DNA tests helped to finally identify the baby as Anjelica Castillo. Her cousin, Conrado Juarez, aged 30 years old when Anjelica died, subsequently confessed to torturing and killing her.

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1. The disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg


Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg ought to have lived out his days as a hero – after all, he saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War. However, he was arrested after the Soviet liberation of Hungary and disappeared thereafter. In 1957, the Soviets claimed that he had died of heart problems while in prison. However, the recently discovered of the journals of Ivan Serov, the first chairman of the KGB, suggest the Soviet leader Stalin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Molotov had ordered his murder. The question of why remains.