Just over 14,300 murders were committed in the U.S. in 2015 (the latest year for which full figures are available), and almost 9,000 of those cases were solved, but that leaves over 5,000 homicides languishing on the unsolved heap with roughly the same number added every year.
Sadly, many of these deaths are not considered ‘newsworthy,' but there are a handful of unsolved and ‘cold case’ murders that are either so intriguing or so bizarre they remain in the public consciousness long after others have been forgotten.
This list highlights some famous and some not so famous cases that have people around the world scratching their head over the number of unanswered, or unanswerable questions that are thrown up.
Be careful though. Once you start digging into some of these murder cases, you might never be able to forget them.
15 Another Mystery At The Cecil
The Cecil Hotel stands in downtown Los Angeles and has been involved in many deaths before, but possibly none so strange as the case of Elisa Lam.
In mid-February 2013 a member of the Cecils staff went to check the hotels four rooftop water tanks after numerous guest complaints about funny tasting brown tap water and low water pressure. Inside, the staff member found the decomposing body of Elisa Lim, a guest in the hotel who had been missing for over two weeks.
Nobody knows how she ended up in the tanks which have heavy metal covers, are at the top of a platform with a ladder to climb on the roof which can only be accessed through a locked, alarmed door.
14 Unidentified Victim Of Unidentified Murderer
Few murders tug at the heart strings like those of children, and that tug is twice as strong when the murdered child is never identified and never claimed by their family. One such case is ‘The Boy In The Box.'
On a freezing afternoon in February 1957 a box was found at the roadside in Philadelphia. Inside was the corpse of the boy, aged between 3 and six years old, wrapped in a Navajo blanket. The boy had several surgical scars and bruises indicated he had been beaten and his death was caused by blows to the head.
The box was traced to a local J.C. Penney, but the customer had paid in cash and an extensive poster and flyer campaign failed to turn up any leads on his identity.
In 2002 a psychiatrist contacted the police to say one of his patients claimed her parents had purchased the boy with the intent of sexually abusing him. During a bath, her mother had hit him around the head and killed him. The woman knew some details, but there was no proof that anything she said was true.
The boy's case remains open, and his identity remains unknown.
13 Not All Victims Evoke Sympathy
Ken McElroy of Skidmore Missouri was 47 when he was murdered and had escaped 21 convictions by intimidating witnesses, so they retracted their statements, leaving prosecutors little choice but to drop charges. He stole, destroyed property, killed animals and raped townswomen, and he forced the parents of a 14 year-old-girl he had made pregnant to allow him to marry her by burning down their house and killing their dog.
When a town store owner accused one of McElroy's ten children of stealing, McElroy shot him in the neck. The store owner survived, and McElroy was convicted of assault but was out on bail pending an appeal when he boasted he was going to finish what he started.
After leaving the local tavern, McElroy got into his truck and was shot twice. Between 30 and 40 townsfolk witnessed the shooting but nobody called an ambulance, and nobody saw who did the shooting.
Over 35 years later the townsfolk of Skidmore are tight lipped, and nobody has been charged with McElroy’s murder.
12 Infamous Farm Multiple Murder
On March 31, 1922, the Hinterkaifeck farm in Bavaria was the site of a savage multiple murder that continues to fascinate professional and amateur sleuths alike. It is not just the brutality of the killings that makes people want to solve the case, but it is also the range of bizarre happenings both before and after the murders that continue to fascinate.
In the months before the family's maid had left sighting mysterious footsteps in the attic and strange happenings around the farm as proof that the place was haunted. Footprints were found in the snow leading from the adjacent forest, up to the farmhouse door and around the farm but not leading away again. Key went missing, an unfamiliar newspaper appeared on the kitchen table, and the locks were scratched as if someone had tried to pick them.
Farmer Andreas Gruber, his wife Cäzilia, daughter Viktoria and granddaughter, Cäzilia aged seven were found stacked in the barn and covered with straw. They had all been killed by one blow to the head from an ax.Viktoria’s son, Josef (2); and the maid, Maria Baumgartner were found murdered in the same way, in their beds.
Whoever killed them stayed on the farm for several days, eating their food, feeding the cattle and taking care of the other animals before leaving when locals came to investigate.
11 Deaths And Disappearances
When police arrived at the scene of a mobile home on fire their found Kathy and Danny Freeman dead, not from the fire but from gunshot wounds. Just as worrying as the bodies they found was the fact the police were unable to locate Ashley Freeman and her friend Lauria Bible who had been sleeping over.
Lauria’s purse was discovered in the mobile home, and it still had around $250 in it. Also present was Lauria’s car which still had the keys in the ignition, and the combination of these two items appears to preclude the two 16-year-olds running away. It also seems unlikely that Ashley killed her parents and the teens fled and managed to evade police all of this time.
Despite the fact that many convicted murderers have been questioned but interviews have proved fruitless, and neither the girl's bodies nor the murders of the Freemans have been identified.
10 The Coldest Of Cold Cases
Fred C. and Edwina Rogers had not been answering their telephone for a few days, and worried relatives called the police in Houston, Texas. Two patrol men attended the couple's home and at first found nothing, apart from the food sitting on the dining room table.
One patrolman, C.M. Bullock, for some reason, opened up the fridge and finding nothing wrong there was turning around and closing the fridge door when he saw eyes staring at him from the vegetable crisper.
All of the packages in the fridge were parts of the couple's bodies. They had been drained of blood, chopped into pieces, wrapped, and placed in the refrigerator.
The couple's son was suspected, but he had disappeared and is the focus of multiple conspiracy theories, including one that he was a CIA hitman involved in the Kennedy assassination.
Why a CIA hitman would kill his parents, hide them in the fridge and disappear is not addressed by any of these theories.
9 Australia's Strangest Multiple Murder
Micheal Murphy was taking his two younger sisters, Ellen and Norah, to a dance on December 26, 1898, when he received word the dance had been canceled and turned the carriage around to drive back to the family farm in Gatton, Queensland.
The trio never made it back. Instead, they were discovered in a field, oddly arranged with great precision.
Micheal and Ellen were back to back, not quite touching and Ellen had her hands tied behind her. Micheal had been beaten about the head and shot while Ellen had received two blows to the head. Norah was 28 feet to the East laying on a carefully spread out rug, in the same East/West direction as her siblings. She had been beaten around the head and strangled, and her hands had also been tied behind her back. All three had their feet pointing West.
8 Camp Scott Girl Scout Murders
The bodies of three girl scouts, Lori Lee Farmer, eight, Michele Guse nine, and Doris Denise Miller, ten, were discovered by a camp counselor at 6:00 am on the morning of June 14, 1977. The girls had been dragged from their tent the night before, sexually assaulted, strangled and bludgeoned before being hastily buried in their sleeping bags on a trail.
Lori Lee and Michele had been killed in the tent. The murderer had attempted to clean the blood from the floor with mattress covers and towels which were then stuffed into their sleeping bags with their bodies. Doris was killed in the woods
A size nine military boot print was found in the tent, and a flashlight, tape and plastic bags were also found at the scene.
An escaped prisoner, Gene Leroy Hart was suspected of the crimes but was acquitted and died in prison shortly afterward.
7 A Sister Disappeared
Rebekah Gould was staying with her friend Casey McCullough in the town of Guion on the second to last weekend in September in 2004. When the two young women did not turn up, as expected in Fayetteville on Monday, the police were called, and they went to McCullough’s house. Gould’s car, purse, cell phone, and other personal items were found along with blood, and the house was declared a crime scene. Only the piano leg used to kill Gould was missing.
A mattress was soaked with blood, and blood stained sheets were in the washer. An uneaten breakfast sandwich lay on the table. Gould was wearing a nightshirt when she was killed, and as there was CCTV footage of her at a store that morning, the theory was she was taking a nap when she was awoken by intruders in the house.
Gould's body was found on September 20, 2004, in a heavily wooded area and despite a number of theories no motive or killer has been identified.
6 Federal Prosecutor Mystery
Jonathan Luna grew up in the projects of the South Bronx, obtained his law degree at University of North Carolina and at 38 was a popular and charismatic US Attorney in Baltimore. Luna was found with 36 stab wounds and a slit throat, wounds inflicted with his own penknife, and he drowned in shallow water in a stream in Pennsylvania.
At 11:38 pm Luns left his office, leaving his glasses and cellphone on his desk. At around 1:00 am he withdrew $200 from an ATM in Delaware then he drove to New Jersey, finally crossing into Pennsylvania at 4:04 am
It was 5:30 when someone found Luna's car, still running and hanging over a stream. There was blood on the driver's side door, the front fender and on the rear passenger side floor while Luna’s body lay under the car.
The autopsy, which has never been made public, claimed it was homicide but ‘law enforcement sources’ suggested Luna had killed himself. The Pennsylvania State Police refuse to comment on the case claiming they are unable to comment on an active investigation.
5 A Scottish Serial Killer With Religion
On February 23, 1968, A man on his way to work discovered the naked body of Patricia Docker. Both Dockers purse and clothes were missing although the contents of her purse were scattered around her.
On August 15, 1969, Jemima McDonald was murdered and although she was fully clothed the two deaths were connected because they had both been seen with a similar young man. The same young man was seen with Helen Puttock before she was murdered and because Helen and her sister had shared a cab with the man, where he spoke about his religion, the killer was nicknamed ‘Bible John.'
All three women were strangled with their own stockings, all three had the contents of their purses scattered around their bodies, and all three purses were missing. Also, all three victims were menstruating at the time of their murders, and sanitary towels or tampons were left on their bodies. Puttock also hands grass on her feet and a deep bite mark on her leg.
After the third victim, the killings stopped.
4 Four Teenage Girls Cut Down At Once
On December 6, 1991, Jennifer Harbison 17, her sister Sarah 15, Eliza Thomas 17 and Sarah’s friend Amy Ayers, 13 were shot in the head, killed execution style, at a yogurt shop in Austin Texas. The older two girls were cleaning up after the end of their shift, and the two younger girls were waiting for them.
Firefighters responded to a fire call at the yogurt shop at about midnight, and one of the firefighters saw a foot in the rubble. Upon investigation, he found the three oldest girls, naked and stacked upon each other by the back door they were soaked in blood, lighter fluid, smoke and chocolate syrup. Amy was found, still alive, near the bathrooms but died shortly afterward.
The majority of the evidence was burned or ruined by the firefighters tackling the blaze.
Four teens were arrested, and two confessed and were convicted but were later released when DNA found at the scene was proven not to belong to them.
Detectives maintain the teens were guilty, and the defense maintains the boys were railroaded to confess.
3 A Cover-Up At Cabin 28?
The oldest daughter of the Sharp family, Sheila, came home from a night spent with friends on the morning of April 12, 1981. There, in cabin 28 in Keddie, California she found the bodies of her mother Glenna, her brother John and John's friend Dana. Sheila's sister, Tina was missing and their two other siblings Greg and Rick, ages 5 and 10, and a friend Justin Sharpe, were asleep and unharmed in a bedroom when the bodies were found.
All three bodies had been bound with medical tape and wire, and all three had been strangled, stabbed and beaten. Two different hammers and a Daisy Powerline 880 rifle were used for the beatings.
Some of Tina’s bones were discovered 29 miles away, three years after the murders and there was so much physical evidence that rumors began to swirl that the police deliberately botched the investigation to let the murderer, who was known to them go free.
2 Mystery In Georgetown
Mary Pinchot Meyer was the ex-wife of Cord Meyer who was identified as an author but who actually managed the clandestine services of the CIA. She was also a close friend of Jackie Kennedy although she was much closer to John Kennedy with whom she had conducted an affair for some years. None of this was known about Meyer at the time of her death in October 1964.
When she was found, on a footpath beside the river where she regularly took lunchtime walks, Meyer was known only as an artist. Her studio was close to the spot where she died in Georgetown, Washington DC and she had been shot once, in the head.
Conspiracy theories abound around her murder, but despite close examination, it has never been solved.
1 A Case Not Yet Cold
Three babies, one six months, one three years and one just four days old were the only survivors of a brutal series of murders on the night of April 21 & 22, 2016. The four-day old baby was found crying next to her dead mother who was one of seven adults and a 16-year-old boy shot and killed that night.
All victims were members of the Rhoden family, and the investigation is the largest in the history of Ohio. The victims were:
Kenneth Rhoden, 44
Christopher Rhoden, 40 – Kenneth’s brother
• Dana Rhoden, 37 – Christopher’s ex-wife
• Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20 – Christopher and Dana’s son
• Hanna May Rhoden, 19 – Christopher and Dana’s daughter
• Christopher Rhoden, Jr., 16 – Christopher and Dana’s other son
• Gary Rhoden, 38 – a cousin
• Hannah Gilley, 20 – engaged to Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader told the press, “This was very methodical. This was well planned. This was not something that just happened.”
While police have acknowledged evidence of a ‘cockfighting ring’ and a ‘marijuana grow op’ the rumors of a gang murder involving Mexican cartels has been dismissed by both the police and DEA.
Sources: NYDailynews.com, TheSun.co.uk, Smithsonianmag.com, telegraph.co.uk, reddirtreport.com, houstonpress.com, TheSun.co.uk