Top 20 Unsolved Murder Mysteries

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Top 20 Unsolved Murder Mysteries

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
These murders continue to bamboozle police forces around the world to this day. For this list, we're looking at the most high profile and mysterious unsolved murders. Our countdown includes Jack the Ripper, Black Dahlia, The Zodiac Killer, Highway of Tears, and more!
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Top 20 Unsolved Murder Mysteries


These murders have bamboozled police to this day. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 20 unsolved murder mysteries.

For this list, we’re looking at the most high profile and mysterious unsolved murders.

#20: Ken Rex McEllroy


Ken Rex McElroy was by no means the nicest man. In fact, this town bully from Skidmore, Missouri was indicted 21 times in his life, including for arson, assault and statutory rape. In 1980 he shot and injured 70-year old grocer Ernest Bowenkamp, but was able to appeal the conviction. He immediately went back and threatened to kill Bowenkamp, but he never got the chance. On July 10th, 1981, while sitting in his pickup truck with his wife, McElroy was shot twice, from two different guns. A crowd of up to 46 people looked on; no one called an ambulance, and everyone except his wife claimed not to have seen the shooters. In the end, no one was charged.


#19: Lake Bodom Murders

Our next entry is like something out of a horror movie. On June 5, 1960, two teenage couples were camping near Finland’s Lake Bodom. Three of them were stabbed and bludgeoned to death, while the fourth, Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, was injured. There were several suspects, including kiosk keeper Karl Valdemar Gyllström, said to have cut down tents in the past; he drowned himself in the lake in 1969. Another was a man named Hans Assmann, who’d turned up to a hospital the next day with bloody clothes. In 2004, police arrested the survivor, Gustafsson, but he was later acquitted. The case fascinates Fins to this day, and Finnish heavy metal band Children of Bodom named themselves after the mystery.

#18: The Lizzie Borden Axe Murders

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden discovered that both her parents had been murdered. Both her father and stepmother had been repeatedly struck in the head with a sharp instrument. Lizzie became the prime suspect, after providing police with contradictory accounts; a few days after the murders, she was even witnessed burning a dress in the kitchen stove. She was arrested and tried in a sensational, landmark trial, but acquired due to circumstantial evidence. Others suspected of the murder include Lizzie’s siter Emma, and her maternal uncle John Morse, who’d slept in the house the night before.

#17: The Boy in the Box

In 1957, a boy was found naked lying face up inside a cardboard box in the woods near Philadelphia. He’d been wrapped in a blanket and his arms were folded across his stomach. Investigators determined that he was four to five years old and had been killed by several blows to the head; his entire body was covered in bruises. A woman with a history of mental illness came forward and claimed that her mother had bought the boy from his parents and abused him for years; however, police couldn’t confirm her tale, and neither the boy nor the murderer were ever identified.

#16: Cleveland Torso Murderer

Also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, this serial killer murdered at least 12 people in the Cleveland area in the 1930s. There were also other possible victims in the 20s, 40s, and 50s. Almost all were beheaded and dismembered, with several never identified because their heads were never found and because many were drifters or members of the working poor. Although the case was reviewed by Eliot Ness, the man who put Al Capone behind bars, no suspects were ever charged. Some theories have even claimed that there was no single butcher, but rather several different individual murderers.

#15: Bob Crane

When “Hogan's Heroes” star Bob Crane was found bludgeoned to death in his Arizona home in 1978, suspicion immediately turned to his friend John Henry Carpenter, a video equipment salesman. Crane’s extensive home video collection showed that the two were rather close - filming their sexpacades with various women together. Carpenter had been with him the night before, and according to Crane’s son, Crane had planned to end their friendship. There were even stains on Carpenter’s car door that matched Crane’s blood type. However, insufficient evidence meant that Carpenter was let go. The case was reopened in 1990, and Carpenter went to trial four years later, but was acquitted.

#14: The West Mesa Bone Collector

As a woman walked her dog in the West Mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 2, 2009, she stumbled across this awful find: the remains of 11 women and a fetus, which had been buried in the bank of an arroyo. Many of these women were Hispanic, and most were caught up in drugs and prostitution at the time of their disappearances 3-6 years earlier. Police linked these serial murders with the area's yearly state fair, which drew prostitutes to the area in large numbers, but the crimes remain unsolved. They’re suspected to have been the work of a serial killer.

#13: Chicago Tylenol Murders

Chicago was gripped with fear in late-1982 when seven locals died after taking Tylenol capsules that had been laced with cyanide. A man named James William Lewis wrote to Johnson & Johnson, saying that he was behind them and would stop for $1 million dollars. But since he was in New York the whole time, he was only charged with extortion. Johnson & Johnson was applauded for its response, and tamper-proof seals became common practice when copycat crimes occurred afterward. However, even with the support of the government and a huge corporation, the person who really masterminded the poisonings was never found.

#12: Highway of Tears

The Highway of Tears is a 450-mile long stretch of road between Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia, Canada. From 1969-2011, at least 18 women were murdered along this highway, although it’s estimated that the real number may be in the dozens. Many of them were in their teens, a disproportionate number were indigenous – a fact which has led some critics to accuse the investigating police of racism. Although a few victims have been linked to a convicted serial killer named Bobby Jack Fowler, there’s still no explanation for the other murders. Hitting a dead end, the case is seemingly a road to nowhere.

#11: Alphabet Murders

Also known as the Double Initial Murders, the Alphabet Murders transpired in New York State during the early 1970s. There were three victims, aged ten or eleven: Carmen Colon, Wanda Walkowicz, and Michelle Maenza. Each girl was sexually assaulted before being strangled, and was found in a town starting with the same initial as their names: Colon in Churchville, Walkowicz in Webster, and Maenza in Macedon. Strangely, each girl came from similar backgrounds: They all had learning disabilities, were Roman Catholic, and came from single parent homes. This case was later connected to a series of similar murders in California, for which Joseph Naso was convicted and sentenced to death; but his DNA didn’t match the samples found on the victims.

#10: Amber Hagerman

While the AMBER in Amber Alert does stand for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response, it was actually originally named for Amber Hagerman. The 9-year-old was abducted while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas, on January 13, 1996. Just four days later, her body was discovered in a storm drainage ditch. Her killer still hasn’t been found. The outcry and response to this tragedy led to tougher laws for child abductors and sex offenders, with Bill Clinton signing the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act into law - which created the national sex offender registry.

#9: Hinterkaifeck murders

This farmstead in Germany was home to one of the country’s strangest murder mysteries. On March 31, 1922, the family living at Hinterkaifeck were murdered, along with their maid. The crime scene suggested that four of the six had been led to the barn and killed one by one. Among the victims were seven-year-old Cäzilia Gruber and her two-year-old brother Josef. Just days before the massacre, their grandfather Andreas Gruber discovered footprints in the snow leading to the farm, but none leading back away. Although police questioned over 100 suspects, nobody was ever convicted.

#8: Tupac & the Notorious B.I.G.

A fierce rivalry between East Coast and West Coast rappers led to two of their biggest stars being gunned down. On September 7, 1996, Tupac was shot four times at a red light on a Las Vegas street after leaving a Mike Tyson boxing match with Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight. The prime suspect was Orlando Anderson, a member of the Southside Crips. Months later, Biggie was also shot four times at a red light, while traveling in Los Angeles. It’s been theorized that Knight had Biggie killed, in revenge for Tupac’s murder. However, thanks to inconclusive leads and uncooperative witnesses, no one was ever charged for either.

#7: Jimmy Hoffa

A union activist since his teens, Jimmy Hoffa became the President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in 1958. His role with the Teamsters led him to organized crime, however, and he was even sentenced to prison for jury tampering and fraud. This connection may have led to his subsequent disappearance. Hoffa was last seen in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox Restaurant on July 30, 1975. Hoffa had allegedly been there to meet with two members of the Mafia. He was officially declared dead in 1982, and his body has yet to be found, although there is no shortage of rumors as to the circumstances around his death.

#6: Axeman of New Orleans

Between 1918-19, a serial killer, simply known as The Axeman, terrorized New Orleans. The Axeman is believed to have murdered eight people, although it’s speculated there were several more victims. Almost all the confirmed victims were Italian-Americans and killed with an axe. On March 13th, 1919, a person claiming to be The Axeman had a letter published in the newspaper, claiming he or she was not human, but rather “a demon from the hottest hell”. The murders suddenly stopped shortly thereafter and The Axeman’s identity was never discovered. He - or she - was apparently a jazz fan, and promised to spare anyone whose home had a jazz band in full swing.

#5: JonBenét Ramsey

In the late 90s, this murder gripped the nation and gave rise to numerous theories. Six year old beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her Colorado home on the day after Christmas. Her skull was broken and she’d been strangled with a garrote. That morning, her mother Patsy had discovered a ransom note and contacted police. Due to unusual details in the note, Patsy and her husband John immediately came under suspicion. However, forensic cleared them of involvement. Criticism has since focused on shoddy police work at the scene. In 2006, elementary school teacher John Mark Karr claimed to have killed her, but the DNA found on JonBenét’s body wasn’t a match.

#4: Long Island Serial Killer

A present-day Jack the Ripper, this unidentified serial killer is said to have murdered at least ten people and dumped them along Long Island's Ocean Parkway. The victims include eight women, a man, and a toddler, with the earliest killed in 1997; some were wrapped up inside burlap sacks. Three remain unidentified. Their remains were discovered in 2010 and 2011. Often choosing people who advertized themselves as sex workers on Craigslist, the so-called Gilgo Killer has remained nameless since the first victims surfaced. It’s been speculated that the killer may have had some knowledge of law enforcement and how to best evade capture.

#3: Black Dahlia

Perhaps the most striking detail about 22-year-old Elizabeth Short's gruesome murder in 1947 was that her mouth was slashed at either edge, giving the false impression of a wide smile. Her body was found naked and cut in half at the waist in a vacant lot in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Coverage was sensational, and even shamed Short for her relationships with men. She became known as the Black Dahlia, and her unsolved murder sparked theories, books and films in the years after her death. Although police identified more than 150 suspects, the perpetrator was never found.

#2: The Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer began taunting authorities in the late 1960s, when a string of similarly-murdered victims surfaced in Northern California. He sent letters and cryptic puzzles to police and media, naming himself Zodiac and daring them to catch him. While he’s known to have killed at least five people, he claimed to be responsable for the murder of up to 37. His letters included four cryptograms; once solved, one stated that he was collecting slaves for the afterlife; the others remain unsolved. While there were several suspects, and even a Hollywood movie, the Zodiac Killer's identity still remains a mystery.

#1: Jack the Ripper

The murder of five prostitutes in London’s Whitechapel district in 1888 has become one of the most infamous unsolved crime mysteries in history. The victims were found with their throats slashed and their abdomens mangled; three had internal organs removed. This led to the belief that the killer may have been well-educated, or even a surgeon. Several later murders in Whitechapel were also blamed on the same perpetrator. At the time, the media and authorities received a barrage of letters that claimed to be from the killer. The nickname “Jack the Ripper” came from one; another came with half a human kidney. The case received intense media scrutiny, but was never solved - and it continues to spawn new theories even today.
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