Some of the most horrific true crime stories come from serial criminals—killers, rapists, arsonists. But there are some crimes with behavior so bizarre, so unsettling, that they could prevent you from sleeping ever again. While many of these legendary tales get overshadowed by more infamous cases, these 11 terrible true crime cases of years past will remind you that horror comes in all different, terrible shapes and sizes.
1. The Boy in the Box
In February 1957, a college student stumbled upon the remains of a young boy in the woods of Philadelphia and reported his gruesome discovery to the police. The boy was found badly beaten and laid to rest inside an old bassinet box. His identity was unknown.
Several people came forward with information relating to the case, but the police were not able to verify anyone’s testimony. One woman, Martha, claimed that her abusive mother bought the boy. Under their roof, he was subjected to physical and sexual abuse. What made the police take interest in Martha’s story was her knowledge of details that had not been released to the public. She claimed that shortly before the boy was beaten to death, he ate baked beans, which corroborated the autopsy. She also claimed that he was bathed before his death, which matched the coroner’s finding of water-pruned fingers. Though Martha’s testimony seemed to match the evidence, her substantial history of mental illness made her an unreliable witness.
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Another lead came from a psychic who accurately described a foster home near where the boy had been found, without ever having seen it. Remington Bristow, an employee at the examiner’s office, followed the psychic’s directions to the foster house. Inside, he discovered a bassinet matching the description of the bassinet box the boy was found in. He also found blankets similar to the one that was wrapped around the boy’s body. Because there was no real incriminating evidence against the foster parents, Bristow’s findings were dismissed as well.
62 years later, the case of the Boy in the Box has gone cold. Facial reconstruction technology has provided mock images of what the boy might have looked like alive, but no one has ever come forward to claim him. DNA and dental testing have also been attempted, with no success thus far. The identity of the Boy in the Box remains unknown to this day.
2. The Ice Box Murders
In 1965, Fred and Edwina Rogers were living in Houston along with their grown son, Charles. The family mostly kept to themselves in their quiet neighborhood, especially given Charles’s reclusive and antisocial behavior. In fact, many neighbors were not even aware that Charles lived at home with his parents, because he left the house each day before dawn and didn’t return until well after nightfall.
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When a family member hadn’t heard from the Rogers in several days, he called the Houston police for a welfare check on his elderly aunt and uncle. The patrolmen were unable to locate Fred and Edwina, but they noticed food sitting on the dining room table. They opened the fridge and noticed numerous packages of meat, neatly stacked atop one another. Then they noticed two human heads in the vegetable bin. Additional officers arrived on the stomach-turning scene and slowly removed the packages full of dismembered body parts from the fridge. The remains were that of Fred and Edwina Rogers. The police deduced that Edwina had been brutally beaten and shot, while Fred suffered forceful trauma to the head. His eyes had been gouged out and his genitalia removed. The couples’ innards had been flushed down the toilet. Charles was nowhere to be found.
Naturally, Charles was the prime suspect in this heinous crime. However, he seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth. Though the police were able to collect circumstantial pieces of evidence against him, Charles Rogers was never found.
3. Dorothy Jane Scott
Early in 1980, Dorothy Jane Scott began receiving threatening phone calls at work. She was the single mother of a toddler who didn’t think much of the calls at first, until one night when the sinister voice over the phone told her to look outside. A single dead rose was lying on the windshield of her car. The stalker who had gotten ahold of her number would oscillate between professing his love for her and threatening bodily harm. Dorothy mentioned to several family members and friends that the voice over the phone sounded familiar, but she couldn’t quite place who he was. She never got a chance to find out.
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One night, at a staff meeting, Dorothy noticed one of her co-workers looked ill. She and another colleague drove the man to a nearby hospital. The doctors said he had a nasty spider bite and needed a prescription. While the two co-workers were waiting for the prescription to be filled, Dorothy went out to the parking lot to get her car. It was the last time she was seen alive.
Her co-workers testified that after she did not return, they went out to meet her in the parking lot. At that moment, they saw her car speeding away, so they assumed there was an emergency with her son.
Dorothy never returned home to her son nor did anyone hear from her again. Four years later, her charred bones were found at a construction site. Adding another layer of mystery to the case is the fact that a set of dog bones was found right next to her remains. Though people on the internet are still discussing the case today, no one was ever convicted or held in suspicion, and the mysterious caller was never found.
4. The Chicago Tylenol Murders
In September of 1982, a 12-year-old girl in Chicago passed away shortly after ingesting an Extra Strength Tylenol. That same day, a man died in a hospital after taking the same pill. Two of his family members followed. Over the course of the next few weeks, more seemingly healthy people in Chicago dropped dead, and the only thing they had in common was taking Extra Strength Tylenol shortly before their untimely death.
As bottles were recalled by Johnson & Johnson, it was discovered that many of the Extra Strength Tylenol pills had been laced with potassium cyanide. Once this was made public, Johnson & Johnson issued numerous ads and warnings to customers to avoid the product. The company began working fervently on a triple-sealed package that would prevent tampering.
James William Lewis of New York City contacted Johnson & Johnson claiming that he was responsible for tampering with the bottles and filling the capsules with cyanide. He demanded $1 million in exchange for him to stop. He was arrested for the crime and although he wasn’t found guilty, he was still imprisoned for extortion.
Even after Johnson & Johnson fortified their Tylenol bottles against tampering, the widespread news of what had happened in Chicago prompted crimes of a similar nature all around the country. Several more people died from cyanide poison found in other over-the-counter medication.
The Chicago Tylenol Murders is one of the few true crime stories to spark real change in the country. The quality control of pharmaceuticals increased tenfold, as did the security of their packaging. Although the FBI didn’t have enough evidence to convict anyone of the crime, it is widely believed that James William Lewis and his wife were indeed responsible.
5. The Girl Scout Murders
In the summer of 1977, three young Girl Scouts staying at an Oklahoma campsite were raped and murdered. The girls—Lori, Michelle, and Doris—were between the ages of eight and ten. About two months before the murders, a camp counselor found a disturbing note in her belongings. The culprit promised to murder three children at the camp. Knowing that young campers enjoy telling scary stories around the campfire, the camp counselor dismissed the threatening note as nothing more than a prank—a decision she would come to regret.
Early in the morning of June 13, the girls’ bodies were found in their sleeping bags out on the trail leading to the camp showers. The only evidence that their killer left behind was a red flashlight and a bloody footprint.
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The prime suspect in the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders was Gene Leroy Hart, an escaped convict. Hart had been raised about a mile from Camp Scott and at the time of the murders he was at large after escaping from prison, where he had been serving time for burglary, kidnapping, and rape. A local jury acquitted Hart of the crime, citing a lack of evidence. However, Oklahoma police consider the case solved.
To this day, no one knows if Gene Leroy Hart got away with murder, or if the true killer was someone else entirely. Either way, the girls’ killer never saw justice.
6. The Unicorn Killer
As an adolescent, Ira Einhorn gave himself the nickname of “The Unicorn”: the English translation of his German surname. The killer was an environmental activist and part of the anti-war movement when he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Holly Maddux.
Maddux disappeared in early September 1977 after stopping by Einhorn’s Philadelphia apartment to collect her things following their break-up. Several weeks after Maddux’s death, police questioned her ex-boyfriend about her whereabouts, to which he stated she had disappeared on her way to the neighborhood co-op. Eighteen months later, after neighbors began reporting a rancid smell, police found Maddux’s body stuffed in a trunk in Einhorn’s closet. Several days before Einhorn was supposed to stand trial, he fled to Europe.
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As Einhorn had already been arraigned, the court was able to try, convict, and sentence him in absentia. Despite this fact, Einhorn managed to remain in France for 23 years, even getting married while craftily evading extradition. The U.S. government was finally able to bring him back to the states and re-convict him in 2002. Einhorn is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
7. Issei Sagawa
This cannibal became a local celebrity after signing himself out of a Japanese mental institution in 1986. Issei Sagawa came from a wealthy family and had exhibited cannibalistic urges from an early age, even engaging in bestiality. At 23, he made his first attempt at eating human flesh, breaking into a woman’s house to cut off some of her flesh. He was caught and charged with attempted rape.
Later, he would move to France to earn his Ph.D in literature. It would be then, at the age of 32, that Sagawa would kill and eat his classmate Renée Hartevelt. He admitted to luring the 25-year-old Dutch woman to his apartment under the guise of working on poetry. He said he chose her for her beauty and health—two things he believed he lacked. After shooting her in the neck, he ate various parts of her body over the course of two days. He then attempted to dump her body (including two suitcases of her dismembered body parts) into a lake in the Bois de Boulogne, but was caught in the act.
After being held for two years in police custody, Sagawa was deemed legally insane in French court and was ordered to be held indefinitely in a mental health institution. After being deported to Japan, he was declared sane by Japanese psychologists and so was able to sign himself out of care.
8. The Granny Killer
An English-born Australian serial killer, John Wayne Glover was known for praying on elderly women, including the widow of artist Will Ashton. Over the span of 14 months, between 1989 and 1990, Glover murdered six elderly women after brutally attacking them. At times, he used simply his fists to attack his victims; with others, he used objects like hammers, his victims’ pantyhose, and other instruments.
Many of his victims were simply women he saw walking past him on the street with whom he struck up casual conversation. In addition to attacking and murdering those six women, Glover was also accused of molesting and sexually assaulting several other elderly women.
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At his trial, a psychologist noted that while Glover was sane, he had a severe personality disorder, which may or may not have been connected to his turbulent relationships with his mother and mother-in-law. After being found guilty and sentenced to prison, Glover killed himself in 2005. Days before he died, he handed his last visitor a picture he had drawn featuring two trees and the number 9. Supposedly, nine is the true number of murders Glover was responsible for, not merely the six for which he was convicted.
9. New Orleans' Axeman
This American serial killer was active in the greater New Orleans area between 1918 and 1919. The majority of the murderer’s victims were from the Italian immigrant community and were killed with an axe that belonged to them. The killer would access his victims’ homes by removing a panel on their backdoor, then enter and murder them with either a straight razor or an axe. The brutal serial killer attacked at least 12 people total, most of whom were women.
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In March 1919, the unidentified killer sent a deranged letter from “Hell,” where he described himself as “invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell.” In the letter, the Axeman stated the date and time of his next planned murder and suggested that the only way to stop him was to play jazz music. In response, the entire city filled its buildings and streets with the music’s sound that night, and no one was murdered. The axe murderer would strike three more times before his activity eventually ceased. Today, the story of the Axeman has been repopularized thanks to a similar character in American Horror Story: Coven.
10. The Girl in the Box
Twenty-year-old Colleen Stan was on her way to a friend’s birthday in northern California when her soon-to-be captor Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice picked up the hitchhiker. Stan would spend much of the next seven years trapped in a box that let in no light, sound, or fresh air, convinced by the Hookers that a mysterious and dangerous organization would kill her and her family if she didn’t comply.
Under an agreement between Janice and Cameron, and eventually, through a forcibly signed contract with Stan, the young woman was to be a sex slave for Cameron, though no penetration initially occurred. When Stan was let out of her box—where she spent up to 23 hours a day, eating cold food scraps and using a bedpan—she was tortured and raped using various objects. Several years into captivity, a brainwashed Stan was allowed to visit her family once and even got a job. But when Cameron said he wanted Stan to be his second wife, the entire horrifying situation fell apart. Stan eventually got on a bus and fled to her family, while Janice turned her husband in, receiving immunity for her full cooperation.
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11. The Eyeball Killer
This Texas murderer and diagnosed psychopath killed at least one woman, with two more suspected murders to his name. Adopted from an orphanage, Charles Albright was cared for by his very protective adoptive parents. His mother was a school teacher and helped accelerate his learning so far that he entered college in his teens.
Despite being so bright, he was also known for partaking in criminal behavior, arrested first for aggravated assault at the age of 13. His murderous roots, however, lied in a childhood interest. After Albright received a shotgun at a young age, he used it to kill small animals. He would then stuff them with the help of his mother, appeasing his interest in taxidermy.
After failing to complete pre-med training at both North Texas University and Arkansas State Teachers College, he would be sent to jail for theft, molestation, and eventually the murder of a sex worker, although police suspected him of at least three more slayings. His victims' bodies were left nearly or completely nude out on a city street. They had been shot in the head and their eyes had been removed with surgical-like precision.
Featured photo: Nathan Wright / Unsplash