5 of the Craziest Cold Cases

The Zodiac Killer (1960s–1970s)

Almost everyone knows who the Zodiac Killer is, or at least his sketch picture. Yet it seems no one knows who the real person behind the murders, cryptic puzzles, and cat and mouse games with police.

The serial killer operated in northern California from the later 60s through the early 70s. His victims ranged in areas from Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco. He got his nickname, “Zodiac,” from a series of taunting letters he sent to the local Bay Area press. These letters included four cryptograms (or ciphers). Of the four cryptograms sent, only one has been definitively solved. The rest are unsolved though people continue to work on them to this day.

The Zodiac Killer claimed to have killed 37 people in his letters to the press however investigators only agree on seven confirmed murders. 2 known victims have survived. His confirmed victims include: David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16: shot and killed on December 20, 1968, Michael Renault Mageau, 19, and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22: shot on July 4, 1969, in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo. While Mageau survived the attack, Ferrin was pronounced dead on arrival at Kaiser Foundation Hospital. Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22: stabbed on September 27, 1969. Hartnell survived eight stab wounds to the back, but Shepard died as a result of her injuries on September 29, 1969. Paul Lee Stine, 29: shot and killed on October 11, 1969.

To this day, his identity remains unknown. The case was reopened in 2007. If anyone has any information they should come forward to the San Francisco Police Department.


Elizabeth Short (Black Dahlia) – Killed 1/15/1947

ELIZABETH Short was given the nickname The Black Dahlia when she was murdered in January 1947.The unfortunately young woman (only 22 years old) was found mutilated, her body sliced in half at the waist in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, California.

The body of Short was completely drained of blood and it was obvious that it had been washed by the killer. Even more striking than the fact she had been cut in half was that her face had been slashed from the corners of her mouth to her ears creating a creepy permanent smile. Short had several cuts on her thigh and breasts, where entire portions of flesh had been sliced away. The lower half of her body was found foot away from the upper, and her intestines had been tucked neatly beneath her.

According to the autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be hemorrhaging from the lacerations to her face and shock from blows on the head and face. The skull was not fractured, but she had bruises on the front and right side of her scalp, with a small amount of bleeding in the subarachnoid space on the right side, consistent with blows to the head. However, there were also ligature marks on her ankles, wrists, and neck.

So far, the case is unsolved despite more than 50 men and women have confessed to the murder, with police receiving large amounts of information from citizens every time the case enters the media once again. Several suspects remain in the eyes of various authors and experts including Walter Bayley, Norman Chandler, Leslie Dillon, Joseph A. Dumais, Mark Hansen, Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, George Hill Hodel, Hodel’s friend Fred Sexton, George Knowlton, Robert M. “Red” Manley, Patrick S. O’Reilly, and Jack Anderson Wilson.


The Torso Killer (1930’s)

This unidentified serial killer is responsible for at least 12 victims in the Cleveland, Ohio area between 1935 and 1938. However, the number of victims is likely as high as twenty.

The victims of the Cleveland Torso Murderer were always beheaded and often dismembered though sometimes he would cut their torsos in half. In many cases the cause of death was the decapitation itself. The male victims were also castrated while others had some kind of chemical treatment applied to their bodies. Most of the bodies would be found many months or years after their murders and often the heads were never found (this led to identification being nearly impossible on several of the victims.)

Most of the victims of the Cleveland Torso Murderer were homeless drifters whose identities were never determined, although there were a few exceptions. Victims 2, 3, and 8 were identified as Edward Andrassy, Florence Polillo, and possibly Rose Wallace, respectively. All the victims, male and female, appeared to be lower class which would have been easy prey in Depression-era Cleveland. They were said to be those who lived in “shanty towns” in an area known as the Cleveland Flats.

One theory has this killer responsible for killing Elizabeth Short though it has never been proven.


Jack the Ripper (1888–1891?)

One of the most famous serial killers in the world yet no one knows who perpetrated these grisly crimes. The Ripper killed five female prostitutes who lived and worked in the slums of the East End of London. Each of the women had their throats cut before they were mutilated. While many people believe there were way more than five victims, there are what is referred to as the “Canonical Five” women that are attributed to the Ripper. They include: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.

Nichols’ body was found on Friday 31 August 1888 with her throat severed by two cuts, and the lower part of the abdomen was partly ripped open by a deep, jagged wound. She also had several other incisions on the abdomen caused by the same knife. Chapman’s body would be discovered on Saturday 8 September 1888 similarly with the throat was severed by two cuts. She also had her abdomen slashed entirely open, and it was later discovered that the uterus had been removed. Both Stride and Eddowes were killed on of Sunday 30 September 1888. Stride was killed by one clear-cut incision which severed the main artery on the left side of the neck. However, the absence of mutilations to the abdomen led to uncertainty about whether her murder was courtesy of the Ripper. Eddowes had her throat severed and abdomen ripped open by a long, deep, jagged wound. The left kidney and the major part of the uterus had been removed. Finally, Kelly was discovered on Friday 9 November 1888. The throat had been severed down to the spine, and the abdomen almost emptied of its organs and her heart was missing.

As for suspects, many suspects butchers or surgeons because of the precision of the slashes and removal of organs. A report from Inspector Swanson to the Home Office confirms that 76 butchers and slaughterers were visited, and that the inquiry encompassed all their employees for the previous six months. Some believe the killer was an educated upper classed individual, perhaps an aristocrat. However, to this day there is no proof or evidence to say definitively who hunted the streets of London.


The Somerton Man – Killed 12/01/1948

Also known as the Taman Shud Case, this unsolved death is one of the weirdest ones out there. This unidentified man was found dead on December 1, 1948 on Somerton beach, Glenelg, just south of Adelaide, South Australia. The phrase “Taman Shud” (which means “ended” or “finished” in Persian) comes from a piece of scrap paper found in the fob pocket of the man’s pants in which the words were printed. The man was lying in the sand on his back with his head resting on the seawall and legs extended and feet crossed. When searching his person, several items were found including: an unused second-class rail ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a bus ticket from the city that could not be proved to have been used, a narrow aluminum American comb, a half-empty packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, an Army Club cigarette packet containing 7 Kensitas cigarettes, and a quarter-full box of Bryant & May matches.

According to the pathologist, the man had broad shoulders and a narrow waist, hands and nails that showed no signs of manual labor, big and little toes that met in a wedge shape, like those of a dancer or someone who wore boots with pointed toes; and pronounced high calf muscles like those of a ballet dancer. All labels on his clothes had been removed, and he had no hat (which was relatively unusual for 1948) and he was carrying no wallet. Also weirdly, his teeth did not match the dental records of any known living person.

The scrap paper found in his pants was later discovered to have been torn from the final page of a particular copy of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which is a collection of poems attributed to 12th century poet Omar Khayyám. The book was turned in by a businessman (who has remained secret) who said his brother found it in the back footwell of his car at about the time the body was found. Imprinted on the back cover of the book was something resembling a secret code as well as a telephone number and another unidentified number.

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