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10 Most Frustrating Unsolved Murder Cases

Updated on August 29, 2016

Everyone knows that brutal, ruthless killers are everywhere; some fade into history once they are caught (or when the case runs cold), and some create a lasting impact on society. You've probably heard of some of these cases, but you may not have realized the effect they have had on the world. Here are 10 cases that still have detectives scratching their heads to this day.

Amber alert in Northern California.
Amber alert in Northern California. | Source

10. Amber Hagerman

January 13 of this year marked the 20-year anniversary of the disappearance of Amber Hagerman, a nine-year-old girl from Arlington, Texas who was snatched off her bicycle in the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store. Jim Kevil, witness to her abduction, remembers the day clearly. He reports watching a black pick-up truck pull up next to Amber before a man jumped out and grabbed her as she screamed. Kevil immediately called the police.

Despite widespread media coverage and the efforts of the detectives working the case, Amber’s body was discovered, throat slit, floating in a creek a few miles away from the grocery store just five days after she had disappeared. Though there have been many similar cases to Amber’s, her name is not one that will be forgotten.

A massage therapist and her client came up with an idea while listening to a talk-show session about Amber’s death one day: What if people could receive alerts to kidnappings in the same way that they receive alerts for tornadoes and hurricanes? Nine months after she passed, radio stations and law enforcement officials launched AMBER alerts to help immediately report kidnappings to the public.

9. The Boy in the Box

Original poster for the Boy in the Box case.
Original poster for the Boy in the Box case. | Source

The “boy in the box” was the name given to an unidentified young boy found dead in a cardboard box in the woods in the Fox Chase area of Philadelphia in February 1957. The boy was suspected to be about five years old and was found nude, wrapped in a blanket and left in a dumping ground off of Susquehanna Road. Several theories surround this case; one involves a foster home located about a mile and a half away from where the boy was found.

Remington Bristow, an employee of the medical examiner’s office who pursued the case until he died, attended an estate sale at the nearby foster home and discovered a bassinet similar to the one advertised on the box in which the boy was found, and several blankets on a clothesline similar to the one in which the boy was wrapped. Despite this circumstantial evidence though, no further information was found to link the family to the boy’s death.

Other theories include tips that a man sold his son, and a thought that the boy may have been raised as a girl, thus causing the difficulty in determining his identity.

Detectives have been going over this case for decades. They still don’t even know who the boy is—his grave reads “America’s Unknown Child” and there is a website dedicated to the case.

Grave of JonBenét Ramsey.
Grave of JonBenét Ramsey. | Source

8. JonBenét Ramsey

JonBenét Ramsey was a six-year-old beauty queen who, in 1996, was found dead in her home in Boulder, Colorado. However, this case is a bit more complicated than just that.

JonBenét’s father, John Ramsey, found his daughter, struck on the head and strangled, in the basement of their home about eight hours after she was reported missing. A ransom note had been left on the kitchen stairs demanding $118,000 for JonBenét’s safe return—almost the exact amount of a bonus John had received earlier that year. Though police searched the home thoroughly, there was no evidence of a break-in; this combined with many other pieces of circumstantial evidence, such as indications that Patricia Ramsey, JonBenét’s mother, had written the ransom note, caused detectives to initially suspect family members of the murder. But, when DNA evidence taken from JonBenét’s clothing suggested someone else may had been involved, the family's guilt was questioned.

Still, detectives cannot seem to come to a conclusion about what happened to the young girl. In 2001, John E. Douglas, former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, suggested that the murder was a kidnapping gone wrong. But, a reopening of the case in 2010 had both John and Patricia Ramsey nearly charged with two counts of child abuse that ended up in JonBenét’s death. These contrasting ideas have made it nearly impossible to solve this case, and the killer remains a mystery to this day.

7. Marilyn Reese Sheppard

Grave of Marilyn Reese Sheppard.
Grave of Marilyn Reese Sheppard. | Source

On the night of July 3, 1954, Sam Sheppard and his wife, Marilyn, were entertaining guests at their home near Lake Erie; Sam fell asleep on the daybed in their living room and Marilyn walked the guests out before heading to bed herself.

In the early hours of July 4, Marilyn was beaten to death with an unknown weapon. Some items from the house, including Sam’s wristwatch and fraternity ring, appeared to be stolen but were later found in a canvas bag in the bushes behind the house.

Sam’s report states that he was woken by his wife’s screams and immediately raced upstairs where he was knocked unconscious by the attacker. When he awoke again, he saw the person downstairs and chased them out of the house and down to the beach where he was once again knocked unconscious. He awoke with half his body in the lake and called a neighbor at 5:40 AM. Sam was found shirtless and with blood on one knee.

During this entire ordeal, the Sheppards’ son, Chip, had been sleeping in the adjacent room, and the family dog was not heard barking to indicate an intruder. So did one even exist?

Strong evidence from the prosecutors says no; they had learned that Sam had been having a three-year affair with a nurse from the hospital he worked at, which could have been a motive for the murder. However, the defense stated that Sam’s wounds could not have been self-inflicted or faked in any way.

Sam was eventually found guilty of his wife’s murder, but after serving 10 years of his life sentence he was granted a retrial, in which he was found not guilty. But if Sam wasn’t responsible, who really killed Marilyn Reese Sheppard?


6. Axeman of New Orleans

Illustrated map of axe murders in New Orleans, 1919.
Illustrated map of axe murders in New Orleans, 1919. | Source

The Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer who committed several murders in New Orleans, Louisiana from May 1918 to October 1919. As the killer’s name implies, most victims were struck with an axe—one that often belonged to the victims themselves. But what was his motive?

Like with many of these cases, there are several theories. One suggests that the crimes may have been racially motivated due to the fact that many of the killer’s victims were Italian-American. Some even thought that the Axeman was involved with the Mafia. Others thought that the crimes may have been related to sex, because in some cases only the female in the home was killed. But the strangest theory out of all of these is probably the one that suggests these murders were committed in order to promote jazz music.

On March 13, 1919, a letter was published in the newspaper claiming to be from the Axeman. It stated that he would kill again 15 minutes past midnight on the night of March 19, but that he would spare anyone who played jazz music in their homes. That night jazz music filled the streets of New Orleans, and no murders were committed. Was that really the reason for the killings?

There was one suspect that stood out among the rest in the case. Joseph Mumfre, a criminal who seemed to be in jail during the Axeman's dormant periods, is thought by many to have been the killer, but no physical evidence exists. Was he the Axeman? If not, who was he, and what was his purpose for killing all of those people? Because this case happened so long ago, we will probably never know. But it is eerie to think that someone may kill over something as trivial as a genre of music.

Police sketch of the Zodiac Killer.
Police sketch of the Zodiac Killer. | Source

5. The Zodiac Killer

With all the films and novels that have been made about the case, nearly everyone has heard of the Zodiac Killer by now, and many have even formed investigative groups in an attempt to uncover his identity. Unfortunately, it is a very complicated case and not much progress has been made.

It started when a seemingly random series of five murders occurred in California's Bay Area in 1968 and 1969, accompanied by cryptic notes that gave the killer his infamous nickname: "Zodiac". These notes were sent to local newspapers, supposedly explaining the motive behind Zodiac's cruel acts; however, not all of these letters were decrypted, and investigators have had to rely on information from amateur codebreakers and civilians to help solve them.

Eventually, the excitement surrounding the case died down and all trails leading to the killer's identity went cold. Now, nearly 50 years later, the killer is still unidentified; but, there have been several accusations made, including one man who believed his father was the killer.

Now that the Zodiac Killer is no longer active, we'll probably never know for sure who he really is. He could be dead. There's a chance he could be alive, but dormant; or, he could be active in another part of the country, committing crimes that we simply haven't linked to the original five in in the Bay Area.


Scrap of paper reading "Tamam Shud".
Scrap of paper reading "Tamam Shud". | Source

4. The Tamam Shud Case

The "Tamam Shud" case refers to the murder of an unidentified man discovered on Somerton beach, Glenelg, just south of Adelaide, South Australia. The body was found on December 1, 1948 at 6:30 AM, but the case was not named until months later when a scrap of paper was found in the man's fob pocket; it read "tamam shud", a phrase meaning "ended" or "finished" in Persian. The scrap had been torn from a collection of poems, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and in a desperate attempt for information, the police asked the public to check their copies of the book to find from which one the piece had been torn. Surprisingly, six months later, a man turned in the correct book, which he claimed he had found in the backseat of his car six months prior.

While items in the man's pockets proved useless in uncovering his identity, there was a clue found in the book of poetry. Police had found a code visible only under ultraviolet light, reading:

WRGOABABD

MLIAOI

WTBIMPANETP

MLIABOAIAQC

ITTMTSAMSTGAB

Some letters were difficult to determine and the second line of the code was crossed out.

Some theories claim that the man had been a Cold War spy, and this code only encourages the idea. Other theories suggest that the man was poisoned, an idea that was backed by the presence of blood in his stomach found during the autopsy, but no known poison was found in his system.

After almost 70 years of investigation surrounding this case, it is unlikely that the man's identity will ever be determined.

The Bordens' daughter, Lizzie.
The Bordens' daughter, Lizzie. | Source

3. Andrew and Abby Borden

It's hard to imagine a person killing their parents, the two people who are supposed to love and support them the most, but that is exactly what may have happened on the morning of August 4, 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts when both Andrew and Abby Borden were found murdered in their home. Both had been struck repeatedly in the skulls with a hatchet between the hours of 9:00 and 11:10 AM.

Their daughter, Lizzie Borden, was arrested for the murders but was subsequently acquitted as the jury, in a time when the presence of a female killer was unfathomable, deemed her innocent. Police also lacked physical evidence to tie her to the crimes; but strong circumstantial clues suggest that Lizzie was, in fact, the killer.

Though forensic science was nowhere near as developed as it is today, police did find the head of a hatchet, presumed to be the murder weapon, in the basement of the family's home. The blade was clean, but the handle had been freshly broken off, probably by Lizzie.

Lizzie's behavior after her parents' deaths was also very incriminating. She became erratic during the trial, often refusing to answer questions or answering them with contradictory or strange responses, and most of the officers who spoke to her during the initial investigation said that they thought she was too calm for the situation. It was also noted that she had been seen burning a dress after the murders, which she claimed had become stained by paint; the police believed she was destroying evidence.

Because of the era in which these murders occurred and the fact that the majority of this evidence was considered circumstantial and not concrete, Lizzie was found not guilty. Though there are some other theories as to who committed the crime, they don't have much evidence behind them and the most likely scenario seems to be that Lizzie killed her parents. Unfortunately, if she did commit this gruesome act, she got away with it and lived the rest of her life happily until she died from pneumonia in 1927. She is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in her hometown of Fall River, and the infamous Borden home is now a bed and breakfast at which you can stay today.


2. Betsy Aardsma

A building on the campus Pennsylvania State University.
A building on the campus Pennsylvania State University. | Source

As if there weren't already too many deaths involving the young people in America, Betsy Aardsma was just a 22-year-old graduate student when she was murdered in the Pattee Library of her school, the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania.

On November 28, 1969, Aardsma was in the library doing research for a school paper when suddenly, between 4:45 and 4:55 PM, she was stabbed once in the chest, a blow that severed her pulmonary artery and pierced the right ventricle of her heart. Police believe that she was stabbed from behind, as she had no defensive wounds on her hands. Bystanders attempted to give Aardsma mouth to mouth resuscitation, and an ambulance arrived at 5:19 PM. However, Aardsma had been wearing a red dress and it was not until after she had arrived at the hospital and was examined that anybody realized she had been stabbed. After a short time spent in the hospital, she was pronounced dead.

Police only had one lead throughout this case; a couple minutes after Aardsma had fallen to the ground, one or two men left the library, telling the desk clerk that "Somebody better help that girl". Unfortunately, 47 years later, the man or men are still unidentified, but Pennsylvania State Police are still working on the case.

Mugshot of Elizabeth Short, arrested for underage drinking.
Mugshot of Elizabeth Short, arrested for underage drinking. | Source

1. The Black Dahlia

Due to how publicized it was and the fact that it remains unsolved, the Black Dahlia murder is probably the most infamous case on this list. Multiple films and novels have been made about it, and an actress playing the victim appears in the first season of the popular TV show American Horror Story.

On the morning of January 15, 1947, a local named Betty Bersinger discovered the body of Elizabeth Short while walking with her three-year-old daughter in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California. At first, she thought it was a discarded store mannequin; upon realizing it was a corpse, she rushed to a nearby house and called the police.

Short's body had been terribly mutilated; she had been sliced in half at the waist and the corners of her mouth were sliced up to her ears, giving her what is called a Glasgow smile. Her body was entirely drained of blood, entire portions of flesh had been sliced away from her thighs and breasts, and her intestines had been tucked neatly underneath her. The only other evidence left behind was a heel print left near some tire tracks on the crime scene and a cement sack nearby containing watery blood, which didn't help investigators much.

Because of how famous the case is, more than 50 people have confessed to the murder over the years, with information spikes whenever the case is mentioned in the media. Though there are many theories regarding the case, it is now nearly 70 years after the murder and it is highly unlikely that the killer will ever be identified. Nevertheless, the case continues to fascinate the American public to this day and new evidence is still coming to light.


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    • Tamara Moore profile image

      Tamara Yancosky 2 months ago from No Idea Where

      Gruesome, but glad you have brought these cases to life. Evil definitely exists in this fallen world.

      Tamara

    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 2 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      Wow, the last one! Almost had me running for the hills... let's just hope none of these "unknown killers" come to the U.S and begin their bloody reign of terror again.

    • Anita Hasch profile image

      Anita Hasch 7 months ago from Port Elizabeth

      They were not so advanced with DNA at the time some of these murders were committed, which can explain why the murders were unsolved. In the case of Betsy Aardsma I would like to know what the subject she was researching for her school paper was about. Might be insightful.