It's the curious details of a murder case that transfix true crime obsessives. Some have elements that are particularly violent, bloody, gruesome, and unsettling. Worse, some slaying remain unsolved, meaning that the perpetrator disappeared into the night after the deed was finished.
From the infamous Black Dahlia murder case to America's Jack the Ripper, from "the Lady of the Dunes" and Bella in the Wych Elm to the brutal yogurt shop slayings in Austin, Texas, here’s a collection of mysterious, unsolved murders we can't stop talking about.
1. The Mystifying Case of the Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short, more famously known as the Black Dahlia, was found murdered in Los Angeles, California. Because of the grisly nature of her case, which included her corpse being mutilated and severed from the waist, it gained rapid national attention. The details surrounding Short’s life are largely unknown. It’s believed she was an aspiring actress. The case is one commonly cited as being one of Los Angeles County’s most famous unsolved murders, and had been the source of countless books and films. READ MORE
2. The Smiley Face Killer: If He Exists, He’s One of the World’s Most Prolific Murderers
Is there a serial killer stalking college-aged men across the country? The FBI insists no one is drowning inebriated college males and leaving behind a painted smiley face nearby. But no matter how many times officials try to squelch the theory, the rumor of the Smiley Face Killer will not die. And the bodies keep cropping up. READ MORE
3. A Killer Calls: The Unsolved Murder of Dorothy Jane Scott
Dorothy Jane Scott disappeared from a parking lot in the middle of the night in 1980. Soon after the disappearance, her family began receiving menacing calls from a mysterious caller. READ MORE
4. Cruelly Slain: The Brutal Austin Yogurt Shop Murders of 1991 Remain Unsolved Decades Later
On December 6, 1991, Austin, Texas was shell-shocked by a vicious crime. Firefighters responded to reports of smoke rising from a yogurt shop on West Anderson Lane. Once inside, the responders found the brutalized bodies of four teenage girls–Amy Ayers, Jennifer Harbison, Sarah Harbison and Eliza Thomas. READ MORE
5. The Chilling, Unsolved Dardeen Family Murders
The Dardeen family met a chilling end in their small town of Ina, Illinois in 1987. More than a decade later, a serial killer sitting on death row in Texas claimed he committed the crimes. Yet the truth of the Dardeens’ final moments remain as uncertain today as it was on the evening of November 18, 1987, when police first discovered their brutalized bodies. READ MORE
6. Lady of the Dunes: Was the Unidentified Cape Cod Murder Victim an Extra in Jaws?
She was found on July 26, 1974, lying face down on a beach towel in the dunes near Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her hands were missing AND her head had been crushed, possibly with some sort of military entrenching tool. With no clear way to identify her, the victim soon became known as “the Lady of the Dunes.” Who she is, why she was slain, and who ended her life are all mysteries that remain unsolved to this day. READ MORE
7. In Cold Blood: The Brutal 1959 Murder of the Walker Family
On December 19, 1959, the entire Walker family was brutally murdered in their home in Osprey, Florida. The case remained unsolved for decades, until the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office took another crack at the Walker family murders case. What they uncovered led back to an infamous family murder in Kansas and one very famous true crime book. READ MORE
8. Edgar Allan Poe and the Mysterious Murder of New York Beauty Mary Rogers
Edgar Allan Poe's 1842 murder mystery novella captivated audiences during its day—perhaps, because, save for the victim's name and the location of her death, the story was true. Poe explicitly borrowed details from the real-life unsolved slaying of Mary Cecilia Rogers, a young New Yorker known to many as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl” who worked in a downtown tobacco shop. READ MORE
9. 9 Murder Victims Whose Names Are Unknown
In the unsolved cases featured here, a killer walked free and a murdered victim went into the ground without a name. Despite the murders occurring years or even decades, many still hold out hope that the victims will be identified and their killers found. READ MORE
10. The Grimes Sisters
On the night of December 27, 1956, Barbara and Patricia Grimes attended a showing of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender. The young teens were due home at midnight but never arrived. At 2:15am, their mother reported them missing. The case of these girls would become the largest missing persons investigation Chicago had ever seen. Their bodies were found on January 22, though there were numerous reported sightings of the two. Despite the fact that the investigation quickly centered around one suspect, there was never enough evidence to convict him. READ MORE
11. Caroline Luard: The Seal Chart Murder
On the morning of August 24, 1908, Caroline Mary Luard said goodbye to her husband as he left for a hunting trip. When Major-General Charles Luard returned home, he found his wife shot and killed. Their home was an isolated summerhouse in a heavily wooded area of England. Authorities were never able to hammer down who the killer was, but it was rumored that John Dickman, who was later hung for murdering a passenger on a train in 1910, could have been involved in her death. Caroline’s desolate husband later committed suicide. READ MORE
12. William Desmond Taylor, Hollywood's Favorite Director
Taylor was a popular director whose fame grew immensely in the Hollywood scene of the 1910s and early 1920s. Between 1914 and 1922, he directed 59 silent films, and acted in 27 between 1913 and 1915. This is why his murder on February 1, 1922 led to a frenzy of fabricated newspaper reports. The initial doctor on the scene called his death one of natural causes, a stomach hemorrhage. This doctor was never seen again: perhaps due to his embarrassment when forensic investigators examined the body and found a bullet hole in Taylor’s back
All his valuables were in place, implying the motive for the murder was something other than theft. More than a dozen individuals were named as suspects, but none officially convicted. Nearly 30 years later, Margaret Gibson, an actress of Taylor’s time, came forward and confessed to the crime with a flimsy story that didn’t convince prosecutors. She wasn’t charged. READ MORE
13. The Infamous Hinterkaifeck Murders
Just north of Munich lay the Hinterkaifeck farm, located between Ingolstadt and Schrobenheusen. The inhabitants were the farmer Andreas Gruber, 63; his wife Cazilia, 72; their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel, 35; Viktoria’s children, Cäzilia, 7, and Josef, 2; and the maid, Maria Baumgartner, 44. On March 31, 1922, all six were found dead. They had been murdered with a mattock, a hand tool similar to a pickaxe. A few days before the murder, Andreas spoke to neighbors about footprints in the snow leading into the farm, but none leading back. He also claimed to have heard footsteps in the attic, found an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm and house keys went missing several days before the murders. None of this was reported to the police until long after the murders had been committed, preventing the solving of the brutal murders. READ MORE
14. 9 Unidentified Victims of Cold Cases
These nine unidentified murder victims pose an especially tough question for both amateur and professional sleuths. Some of the murders have technically been solved—meaning that someone is behind bars for the murder. But even when the murderer has been identified, these victims have remained nameless. From “Little Lord Fauntleroy” to the “Lady of the Dunes”, this tragic stories will swallow you up. READ MORE
15. The Villisca Axe Murders
Even today, police know very little about these 8 gruesome deaths, despite the movie and immense amount of gossip that their murders inspired. During the evening of June 9, 1912 in Villisca, Iowa, six members of the Moore family and two house guests were found murdered in the Moore home. All eight victims, including six children, had suffered from severe head wounds from an axe. The axe had belonged to the family and was left in the guest bedroom after the deed was done. The investigation for this case got further than most on this list. Several suspects were processed and many went to trial: One even went twice. The first trial ended in a split jury while the second netted the suspect an acquittal. The Moores were well-known and well-liked in their community. The motive and the case remain a mystery. READ MORE
16. The Unsolved Killing of Georgette Bauerdorf
Georgette Bauerdorf was the daughter of an oil tycoon and lived a life of privilege. Her future looked bright. But darkness descended on the night October 11, 1944. By the following morning, the young woman was dead, the victim of a murder. To this day, Georgette's case remains unsolved. READ MORE
17. 8 Terrifying Serial Killers Who Haven’t Been Caught
Regardless of the immense pressure on law enforcement to solve murders that clearly point to a serial killer’s pattern, there are a number of serial killers who have never been caught. There are probably even more than anyone knows of, but these eight killers certainly existed. Who is responsible for their claims? Less certain.
From the possibility of multiple killers using one modus operandi to the failure of bureaucracy in actually examining the cases, these eight unsolved cases haunt their communities and their victims’ families. Some of these killers are familiar; some may be new to you. READ MORE
18. Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?
Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? On April 18, 1943, four local boys went poaching in Hagley Wood when they came across the large wych elm. One climbed to the top, looked into the hollow trunk and discovered a skull. He quickly realized he had discovered a human skull. Because they were on the land illegally, the boys decided not to report it. Out of guilt, the youngest of the boys eventually caved, and told his parents what they found.
When the police checked the tree, they discovered an almost complete skeleton with a shoe, gold wedding ring and fragmented clothing. The remains of a hand were found a distance from the tree. The remains were deemed to have been of a 35-year-old woman, dead for 18 months, placing the time of death in October 1941. The forensic examiner found taffeta in her mouth which suggested she died of suffocation. Because the country was in the midst of World War II, identifying the body proved difficult. Somewhere along the way, the autopsy report and the remains of “Bella” disappeared, adding yet another dimension of mystery to the case. READ MORE
19. The Phantom Killer and the Texarkana Murders
Also known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, these eight attacks took place over the course of ten weeks. The attacker soon earned the name of the “Phantom Killer.” Five of the eight attacked by the Phantom Killer were murdered, the others seriously injured.
These murders sent the town of Texarkana into panic during the Spring of 1946. Locals heavily armed themselves, business sold out of guns, locks, ammunition and other protective devices, in a matter of days. Most people hid in their homes or hotels, some even left town. The Texas Rangers were called in to investigate. Some even took matters into their own hands and tried to bait the Phantom (unsuccessfully). Police patrolled streets and neighborhoods 24/7, but after three months passed and no attacks were reported, the Texas Rangers quietly left town. The identity of the Phantom Killer still haunts Texarkana. READ MORE
20. Gunter Stoll and the Mysterious YOGTZE Note
The case of Günther Stoll is perhaps one of the most mysterious in German history. On October 26, 1984, two lorry drivers found Stoll’s crashed vehicle in a ditch off the side of the road. Both drivers testified to witnessing an injured person in a white jacket walking near the car, before calling the police. When an ambulance arrived, the workers found Stoll naked in his car. He was barely conscious and mumbling about another four men who had been with him. As far as the lorry drivers could tell, these other men were nowhere to be seen. Stoll was asked if the men were his friends and he said ‘no.’ He died on the way to the hospital. The most intriguing part of this case? A note left behind by Stoll, which read “YOGTZE”. Its meaning has never been deciphered. READ MORE
21. The Axeman of New Orleans
In 1919, an axe-wielding killer stalked New Orleans, murdering six and attacking 12 more. Many of those murdered were Italian or Italian-American, causing many to believe the attacks were racially motivated. In one of his most notorious acts, on March 13, 1919, a letter said to have been written by the Axeman was published in newspapers citywide. The letter claimed he would kill at 15 minutes past midnight on March 19, but would not disturb the occupants of any place where jazz was playing.
As you may have guessed, that night, New Orleans’ dance halls were overflowing, as both professional and amateur bands played jazz at hundreds of parties across the city. Not a single person died that night. He killed regularly until October 1919 when the attacks suddenly stopped and the Axeman vanished from the streets. READ MORE
22. The Benny Evangelist Family Massacre
This unsolved case remains one of Detroit’s most infamous murders. On July 3, 1929, Benny Evangelist, his wife, and their four children were were found brutally hacked to death in their home. Benny was a strange figure who had attracted both supporters and enemies over the years. He was a “mystic” or “healer” who charged $10 per session, using methods ranging from black magic to herbal medicine. Many former customers believed they were being ripped off, some of them quite vocal about their disappointment.
Evangelist’s head was found completely severed from his body on a chair, leading police to believe that he was the true target of the attack. One forensic analyst said it seemed the work of a single killer, but thought it strange no one heard any screams or commotion. No weapon was found, nor were fingerprints of anyone besides the family found at the crime scene. So who really killed the family? READ MORE
23. Bella Wright and the Man with a Green Bicycle
What would later become known as the Green Bicycle Case, is the murder of a young woman named Bella Wright on July 5, 1919. She was killed by a single bullet to the face. On the night of her death, Bella was seen riding her bike with an unknown man on a green bike.
That man, later identified as Ronald Light, was considered a prime suspect. Though he did not come forward, it was known that he attempted to dump his bike and a revolver holster. He was eventually arrested and admitted to being the mysterious man riding bikes with Wright but consistently denied killing her. He was tried and acquitted, based on the lack of a motive. Despite many other theories, Bella’s killer remains unidentified to this day. READ MORE
24. The Servant Girl Annihilator
The perpetrator of these eight axe murders came to be known as the Servant Girl Annihilator for his choice in target and the terrifying method in which he killed. Seven women and one man were all attacked in their homes while asleep in their beds. The bodies were found in the same positions and with sharp objects poking out of their ears. The murders persisted for a full year before suddenly stopping when additional police officers were hired and citizens formed vigilance committees to patrol the streets at night.
After a few quiet weeks, newspapers reported that the killer fled the area from fear of being caught. Because of this, authorities never caught the killer. Outlandish theories about the killer persist to this day, even that the killer was Jack the Ripper himself, on a trip across the Atlantic. READ MORE
25. The Brutal Killing of Young Margaret Martin
On December 17, 1938, young Margaret Martin went missing and was found dead a few days later. On the day she went missing, Martin met a man who offered her a secretary position. It was reported that on the day she went missing, she met an unknown man who claimed to be offering her a secretarial job. After this, she was never seen from again until a hunter discovered her body in the wilderness. A massive manhunt ensued. Countless suspects were called in and questioned, but no one was ever convicted.
Several witnesses reported seeing Martin climbing into a brown Plymouth or black sedan and driving off with a man. An article published in 1999 claimed that Martin was tortured and murdered in a sawmill about 15 miles from where her body was found. The killer reportedly tried to dismember her body and destroy it in the mill’s firebox, but was scared off by the mill’s owner who believed the killer to be a simple trespasser. The killer then abandoned Martin’s body on the creekside. She was only 19 years old at the time of her death. READ MORE
26. The Unsolved Slaying of a Town Bully
Through the course of his life in small town Missouri, McElroy was convicted of assault, child molestation, statutory rape, arson, hog and cattle rustling and burglary. When he was gunned down in front of a crowd of people, his death garnered international attention. He was struck by bullets from at least two different firearms as he sat in his truck with his wife.
Likely because of McElroy’s reputation as a bully, no one called an ambulance. No one came forward with information and the 46 witnesses interviewed offered little incriminating evidence. So, the district attorney refused to press any kind of charges. McElroy’s wife, Trena, later sued for $6 million as part of a wrongful death lawsuit. All parties involved wanted to avoid hefty legal fees, so Trina settled for $17,600. It was commonly believed McElroy’s murder was related to the large number of people in town he had harassed and violated over the years. There are others who say the lack of investigation carried out may also have something to do with his track record. With so many potential killers, police have struggled to narrow down the search. READ MORE
27. The Unsolved Murders of Cabin 28
This quadruple homicide took place in Keddie, California on the evening of April 11, 1981. The bodies of Glenna Sue Sharp, 36; her son John, 15; and his friend Dana ,17, were all found on the scene. Sue’s older daughter, Sheila, was the one to discover her family’s murder. Along with the three murders, the younger Keddie daughter, Tina (12) was reported missing. Her body was found three years later, miles away from Cabin 28. The murders are remembered for their particular viciousness and the lack of motive behind them. The two prime suspects in the case have since died, and the cabin in which the families were found was demolished in 2008. READ MORE
28. Murder in Wisconsin: What Happened to Little Buddy Schumacher Jr.?
In the summer of 1925, the peaceful town of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin was rocked by the murder of young Arthur “Buddy” Schumacher, Jr. Tragically, the murderer of the eight year old was never found. READ MORE
29. Who Killed Hazel Drew? The Little-Known 1908 Murder Case That Inspired Twin Peaks
is David Lynch and Mark Frost's bizarre and brilliant ‘whodunit’ from the early 1990s. The show centers on the small-town murder of high school prom queen Laura Palmer, and the many secrets that surface in the wake of her death. Did you know that Laura Palmer's demise was inspired by a real-life murder case? READ MORE