From the murders of Jack the Ripper to stories of the Zodiac Killer, unsolved crimes remain a subject of public fascination. A source of both mystery and morbid allure, offenses that circumvent the criminal justice system raise questions about what investigators could have done differently and why the cases turned cold.
Here are five of the most baffling unsolved crimes on American record.
5 Mysterious Unsolved Crimes
The Sodder Family Tragedy
The mysterious disappearance of five children in Fayetteville, West Virginia, has remained perplexing since 1945. When a fire broke out at the home of George and Jennie Sodder the night before Christmas, they assumed they’d lost five of their 10 children in the destruction. However, evidence soon pointed to the contrary.
Many pieces of the puzzle did not fit, Smithsonian reports. Most notably, no remains of the children were ever found. The fire was blamed on faulty wiring. But lights in the Sodder home were on when the fire began. The list of strange clues continued, including eyewitness sightings of the missing children, supposedly planted evidence and the arrival of a photo 20 years after the fire of a man who appeared to be an older version of one of their lost sons. Despite the Sodder family’s lifelong pursuit of the truth, no one ever discovered the fate of their children.
The Axeman of New Orleans
Between 1918 and 1919, New Orleans fell under siege by an enigmatic serial killer dubbed “The Axeman.” He famously murdered seven people with an axe and taunted the police with his actions. In March of 1919, he wrote a letter to the local newspapers. In it, he declared himself a demon from hell and requested that those who did not wish to be his next victims play jazz music on the night of March 19. Jazz could be heard citywide that evening, The Lineup says. No murders were committed that night. However, the Axeman committed several more by October of that year. His identity was never learned.
The Tylenol Poisonings
Beginning in September 1982, a series of deaths in the Chicago area made police suspect foul play. Seven people died that year after ingesting Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide. The capsules were found to have been manufactured in different production plants, leading investigators to believe that the tampering had happened on drugstore shelves, Time explains.
The poisonings inspired action on numerous fronts. Chillingly, more than 270 copycat incidents were reported by the Food and Drug Administration. Tylenol’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, spent millions of dollars recalling the product. Chicago police drove through neighborhoods warning residents of the danger on their loudspeakers. While the incident led to a revolution in tamper-proof technology in pharmaceutical products, the culprit of the original incident was never found.
The Gardner Museum Heist
In 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was victim to the largest property theft in American history. Two men posing as policemen arrived at the museum in the middle of the night and, after being buzzed in by security guards, overpowered them and stole $600 million worth of paintings and artifacts. The loot included paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet and Degas.
The case remains curious, Mental Floss explains. Not only were the paintings crudely cut from their frames (thus reducing their value tremendously), all of the 13 pieces taken have never surfaced on the market. And although the Gardner Museum has embraced the case’s history in its promotional efforts, it remains open to date.
The Case of the Black Dahlia
On Jan. 15, 1947, the body of 22-year-old aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was found brutally murdered and mutilated in a vacant Los Angeles lot. Dubbed “The Black Dahlia” by the press because of her preference for black clothing as well as for a popular movie at the time, the incident quickly became a sensation around the country. It made the front page of local newspapers for two straight months, reports Biography.com. Dozens of people confessed to her murder. None were convicted. Although supposed breaks in the case came as late as 2013, no one has ever been able to explain the murder.
An Education in Criminal Justice
Unsolved crimes are as captivating as they are troublesome. Programs like the online Associate of Science with a concentration in Criminal Justice at Shorter University provide the opportunity for students to train in the fascinating work of criminology. The program offers an accelerated schedule, allowing students to pursue a fast track to a rewarding career.