Film & TV
The first few bars of that terrifying theme song, echoing through our childhood living rooms, sent us screaming into our babysitter’s arms. Unsolved Mysteries was on. Boy, you had better hope that it was one of the episodes with an update and that serial killer who escaped from jail IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD isn’t still at large.
Even today the mere glimpse of a trench-coated man standing near a dilapidated telephone booth in the rain is enough to send us into full panic mode. And while the program first aired over 30 years ago, here are the Unsolved Mysteries episodes that still give us nightmares.
Who Killed Kaitlyn?
Season 5, Episode 15
Lois Duncan made a career out of writing teen thrillers like I Know What You Did Last Summer. But she never imagined her own daughter would become the victim of a heinous crime. While driving home from her boyfriend’s house, a car pulled up alongside Kait Arquette and shot her to death. Lois Duncan long maintained that Kait’s boyfriend was involved in drugs and gang activity, and that someone connected with him had killed Kait to silence her. As this episode digs into the strange circumstances of Kait’s death, your skin will crawl.
Update: Tragically, Kait’s murder remains unsolved. Lois Duncan died in 2016. She never gave up on her daughter's case and wrote a book about her search, Who Killed My Daughter?.
The Mysterious Disappearance of Gail DeLano
Season 1, Episode 4
The episode containing the tragic story of Gail DeLano first aired in 1988, but has stuck with us ever since. DeLano was a single mother of two looking for companionship in the personal ads when she disappeared on June 21, 1986. Her family believed that she had perhaps been abducted by her date for the afternoon or another man she had been seeing. A trucker did identify Gail as the woman to whom he’d given a ride, but after that tip, the case went cold.
Update: After her episode aired, a coroner from Alabama recognized DeLano as the Jane Doe who had committed suicide in a hotel two years earlier.
The Brutal Murder of Brooke Baker
Season 10, Episode 2
When 19-year-old journalism student Brook Baker was discovered brutally murdered in her apartment, with the bathtub faucet left running, authorities theorized that the story she was working on for her college paper had enraged her killer. At the time of her death, Baker had been writing about an alleged date rape at one of her college’s fraternities.
Update: Another student, Erika Elaine Norman, went missing three months after the episode aired. Though her body wasn’t found in her apartment, the crime scene was identical to Brook’s, down to the faucet left running. When authorities brought in the last man Erika had been seen with, he agreed to give them a DNA sample, which matched blood found at both crime scenes.
The Circleville Letters
Season 7, Episode 6
After Mary Gillespie of Circleville, Ohio, started receiving threatening letters accusing her of an extramarital affair, her husband Ron went to confront the person he believed to be the writer of the letters, gun in hand. On his way there, he crashed his truck and was killed. Police confirmed that he had fired one shot before the crash. Then, threatening messages in the form of signs appeared in the road near Mary’s home. When she went to rip them down, it turned out they were booby-trapped, a pistol primed to go off when the sign was removed. The gun belonged to Mary’s brother-in-law Paul, who had recently separated from Ron’s sister. Paul was convicted and sent to prison, but while there, continued to receive letters from the “Circleville writer,” as did Mary and other members of the community.
Update: Paul has since been released from jail and maintains his innocence. Shortly after the episode aired, Unsolved Mysteries received a postcard supposedly from the Circleville Writer, but they did not reveal their identity.
The Epes Bandits
Season 8, Episode 6
Opal Johnson was working in the post office in Epes, Alabama when two masked men, one white and one black, robbed the office of $700, and kidnapped Opal, stealing her ring and credit cards and eventually forcing her into the trunk of their car. While inside, she overheard the two arguing over whether or not to kill her. But Opal didn’t waste any time. Using a tire iron, she jimmied the lock and escaped.
Update: Though the black suspect was later spotted and Opal’s credit cards were used to make purchases in Franklin and Toledo, the two were never apprehended. Opal Johnson died in 2010.
Kari Lynn Nixon, the Teen Who Vanished While on a Grocery Store Run
Season 1, Episode 24
Sixteen-year-old Kari Lynn Nixon ran to the grocery store on the evening of June 22, 1987, just 700 feet from her front door. She never made it back home. Two long years passed, then Kari’s parents thought they spotted her in a New Kids on the Block concert video. But the girl in question turned out not to be Kari.
Update: In 1994, seven years after her disappearance, Kari’s remains were found not far from her home. A man named Robert Anthony Jones confessed to her rape and murder. His guilty plea was an attempt to get a lighter sentence for his wife, who had been driving the getaway car during a series of robberies the two had committed. Jones was sentenced to 18 years to life and has been denied parole as recently as 2017. He remains incarcerated.
The Grisly Ends of Don Henry and Kevin Ives
Season 1, Episodes 5 + 10
In the early morning hours of August 24, 1987, a train conductor noticed two bodies covered by a green tarp on the tracks. It was too late to stop the train from running the bodies over, but judging from their lack of movement, he told police he thought they were already dead. The two bodies were identified as teenagers Don Henry and Kevin Ives. The police claimed the boys were passed out from smoking too much marijuana. Their families cried foul and the case was reopened and another autopsy was performed, revealing injuries consistent with homicide.
Update: The police theorize that the boys may have been killed by drug dealers, but the case remains unsolved.
Kathy Hobbs, Who Believed She Would Die Before She was 16
Season 1, Episode 16
Like Kari Lynn Nixon, Kathy Hobbs disappeared into thin air after a trip to the grocery store. But terrifyingly, Kathy had long held superstitions that she would die before she was 16. She disappeared just three months after her 16th birthday. Investigators later found letters she had written to her family in the event of her death. Nine days later, Kathy’s body was discovered. She had been bludgeoned to death.
Update: Three months after her disappearance, an anonymous caller left a message with police that he had witnessed Kathy’s abduction. Though the caller never came forward, police later linked Kathy’s murder to serial killer Michael Lee Lockhart. Lockhart was executed in 1997.
The Butcher of Kingsbury Run
Season 5, Episode 13
Also known as the Cleveland Torso Murderer, this horrifying, historic case remains unsolved. This serial killer is believed to be responsible for upwards of 12 murders in Cleveland, Ohio, beginning in 1935. The killer’s M.O. was to always behead and dismember his victims, sometimes cutting the body in half. Eliot Ness of the FBI spearheaded the investigation, but the case went cold.
Update: Two men were suspected of being the Butcher. One died in prison under mysterious circumstances (possibly beaten to death by the police) and the other, who used to send Ness harassing postcards, died in a Veteran’s Hospital. Ness himself died in 1957. The identity of the Butcher of Kingsbury Run remains unknown today, though some theorize the same person may be responsible for the murder of Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia.
Featured still of Robert Stack via Cosgrove / Meurer Productions