Top 10 Unsolved Murders in American History

Although there are many unsolved crimes and mysteries in America and throughout the world, we have chosen this list as the Top 10 Unsolved Murders in America. You will not find crimes like the death of Lizzie Borden’s parents or Nichole Smith and Ronald Goldman because, whether you agree or not, our justice system has officially either closed those type cases or found the suspects not-guilty of those crimes. None of the murders on this list have been solved and chances are that they never will be, yet they are still some of America’s most notorious unsolved murders.

So, let’s get on with our list…

1. The Murder Mystery of Elizabeth Short – AKA The Black Dahlia

Photo of Elizabeth Short - The Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short – AKA The Black Dahlia

On the morning of January 15, Short’s nude and mutilated body was found posed in a provocative manner on a vacant lot in what was then Leimert Park. Elizbeth’s remains were found by passerby Betty Bersinger at around 10:00am that morning.  Betty first thought she was looking at a mannequin because Short’s bisected, yet abnormally clean body, had no blood in it, which left her skin a ghostly pale color. Almost as bizarre, her face was cut from the corners of her mouth to her ears and she had been disemboweled.

Photo of Black Dahlia Crime Scene Leimert Park
Black Dahlia Crime Scene – Leimert Park

There have been many theories and books written regarding Elizabeth Short, including Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder by John Gilmore and Black Dahlia Avenger: A Genius for Murder: The True Story Updated Edition by Hodel, Steve (2015) Paperback. Personally, the Steve Hodel books are extremely interesting and informative as he believes that his father, George Hill Hodel, was the murderer. If you’d like to learn more or even speak directly with Steve Hodel, you can reach him at

Black Dahlia news on the cover of Daily Times newspaper – January 1947.
Newspaper Clipping of First Word from Black Dahlia Killer
CRAZY QUILT ENVELOPE contained snapshots of Beth Short with an unidentified civilian, Army flyers and girl friends of the dead beauty. Also enclosed were her birth certificate, an address book containing scores of leads, and a membership card in the “Hollywood Wolves Club.” Police technicians found what they said were “excellent” fingerprints on contents of the envelope.

2. JonBenet Ramsey’s Mysterious Death

The death of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey on Christmas Night of 1996 in Boulder, Colorado has captivated America for 20+ years and will possibly remain unsolved indefinitely.

Photo of Jonbenet-Ramsey
JonBenet Ramsey

It was a normal night for the Ramsey family (including John Ramsey, her father, Patsy Ramsey, her mother, and Burke Ramsey, her brother) having gone to a Christmas Party, returning home, and going to bed. However, the next morning was anything but normal in the usually quiet upscale neighborhood of Boulder, Colorado.

The happenings of that night are unclear due to a lack of participation by JonBenet’s family and the incompetence of the Boulder Police Department. John Ramsey reported awakening to Patsy screaming after finding a ransom note which asked for the obscure amount of $118,000 – the exact amount of John Ramsey’s bonus that year.

Patsy, JonBenet’s mother, called Boulder Police at 5:52am in the morning. She then called friends and family who rushed to be with the Ramsey’s. The Ramsey’s made arrangements to pay the ransom, but the kidnappers never called and during the wait many people went through the house, potentially damaging, or at the very least compromising, evidence.

Around 1 p.m. on December 26th, one of the Boulder Police personnel asked John Ramsey and one of his close friends, Fleet White, to search the house. The two men began the search in the basement, where they promptly found the body of JonBenet in one of the home’s rarely used rooms. John Ramsey grabbed his daughter’s body and went upstairs, further compromising any physical evidence that may have been on her body.

JonBenet Ramsey Family Photo
Ramsey Family Photo- JonBenet, John, Patsy, Burke

Initially the Ramsey family cooperated with police by giving blood and handwriting samples, yet the police failed to question them fully on that fateful day on the 26th of December. By the 31st of December, as the finger began pointing at them, particularly Patsy Ramsey, the family hired attorneys, publicists, and investigators. It wasn’t until April 30th of 1997, four months after JonBenet’s death, after the DA remarked that the Ramsey’s were “under an umbrella of suspicion” that the Ramsey’s had a formal interview by the police. In June, there was another interview which included nine-year-old Burke, who sat through six hours of questions.

The autopsy of JonBenet found that her death was a result of asphyxiation by means of a garrote. There was no evidence of rape or semen, yet there was a vaginal injury. DNA evidence found on JonBenet’s underwear did not match any person in the FBI’s database, although it did come from a male and later DNA studies found genetic information from two other people besides JonBenet.
In 2006, Patsy Ramsey died from ovarian cancer at the age of 49.

Although it remains an open / unsolved murder, there is little hope of a conclusion. There is growing speculation that Burke Ramsey, now 30 years old, accidentally killed his sister. However, his DNA did not match any DNA on JonBenet’s body.

3. Amber Hagerman Abduction and Murder

Amber Hagerman in 1994.

Although this is not one of the most well known or famous unsolved murders in American history, it has certainly changed our society. Amber Hagerman is the reason that we have “Amber Alerts” when a child goes missing.

It was January 13, 1996 when nine-year-old Amber Hagerman went for a bike ride in Arlington, Texas from which she did not return. A neighbor, Jimmie Kevil, heard her screaming and saw her kicking her abductor before being yanked from her bicycle and pulled into a dark blue or black truck. Amber’s brother, Ricky, went home to tell his mother and grandparents.

Her parents, Richard and Donna Hagerman, called the media and the authorities. The FBI, neighbors, friends, and family began searching the nearby area immediately. Unfortunately, her body was found four days later, with her throat slashed, in a creek that is less than five miles from where she was abducted.

It has been 21 years since Amber’s abduction and murder, and although tips still come in and are followed up, there has not been any further information or an arrest made in the case. As stated previously, however, the tragedy did result in our nationwide alert system. Although AMBER officially stands for “America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response”, the system is a direct result of Amber Hagerman’s abduction and murder.

As of 2015, AMBER Alerts have saved more than 800 children and within recent years the “Silver Alert” has garnered nationwide acceptance for older people with a history of dementia.

4. The Unusual Murder Case of Ken McElroy

The murder of Ken McElroy is one of the most unusual unsolved murders in America because the killer, or killers, are known to many of the residents of the town of Skidmore in Nodaway County, Missouri. Witnesses refuse, however, to publicly name the killer(s).

Photo of Ken McElroy
Ken McElroy

McElroy was the town bully of Skidmore, Missouri and had been accused of many crimes, even felonies, such as assault, child molestation, burglary, and cattle rustling. In fact, he was indicted 21 different times, but he beat the system every time except the last time when he shot and injured 70-year-old Ernest “Bo” Bowenkamp in 1980. Although convicted, McElroy paid bond and left jail to await the trial. During the time between his release and his death, McElroy’s main goal was revenge. Bowenkamp, the minister of the local Church of Christ, and Bo’s allies were his target. In fact, after his release, McElroy went straight to the local bar, D&G Tavern, armed with a rifle and began telling other patrons what he planned to do to Bowenkamp.

On July 10, 1981 the hearing was delayed again and those involved went to the D&G Tavern to discuss ideas of how to protect Bowenkamp and others in town. As fate would have it, McElroy and his wife, Trena, went into the same bar to have a drink. The sheriff told the crowd not to confront McElroy, and to instead consider starting a neighborhood watch. Soon after the sheriff left the tavern, all, or most, of the townspeople showed up. McElroy and his wife Trena decided it best to leave and got into their pickup truck. As McElroy sat in his truck, he was shot at least twice, by two different guns, killing him on the spot.

At least 46 people witnessed the crime, including Trena who was in the truck with McElroy. However, not one person called the police or an ambulance. Additionally, no one would give any information to authorities about the shooter(s), claiming they didn’t see the shots fired or blatantly refusing to speak at all. Only Trena McElroy identified the killer, Del Clement (whom was never charged for the crime), but it was her word against the entire town. The District Attorney did not press charges and investigations by federal agencies led nowhere.

McElroy is buried in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Ken McElroy Truck After Shooting.

Trena later filed a $6 million lawsuit against the town, county, sheriff, mayor, and the person whom Trena identified as the shooter. The parties settled out of court for less than $18,000 with no one admitting guilt or wrongdoing.

Author Harry MacLean wrote about the death of Ken Rex McElroy in the book “In Broad Daylight,” which won an Edgar Award and was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 12 weeks. There is also a movie of the same name available. In 1982, the show “60 Minutes” ran a segment about the case but no leads came from that airing. It has been 35 years and the town of Skidmore remains silent about the death of Ken Rex McElroy.

5. Unsolved Murders of The Axeman of New Orleans

This serial killer is known for murdering at least 12 people in and around New Orleans, Louisiana between May 1918 and October 1919. Appropriately for the nickname, The Axeman of New Orleans used an axe, often one owned by the victims, or a straight razor. The killer would typically use a chisel to remove a panel from the rear of his victim’s homes, brutally murder one or more persons in the home, and then leave the tools, oddly almost politely, near the door when he left. Nothing was taken from the homes of the victims.

Victims were usually either Italians or descendants of Italians which led some to believe that the Mafia was somehow involved. This is a common theory, although there is no evidence to suggest any ties to organized crime. Today some criminologists believe that the perpetrator was a sadist preying on female victims and only killed men when they were in the way or were hampering his attempts to kill the woman. This theory is supported by the cases where both men and women were present, yet only the woman was killed. Another theory, although far less likely and seemingly more entertaining than an actual theory, is that the murders were an attempt to promote jazz music and that the killer didn’t strike homes where jazz music was playing.

The Axeman was never caught or identified and the murders ended as abruptly as they began. There were suspects, however. The list of suspects includes:
Joseph Momfre – Joseph was killed in Los Angeles by one of the Axeman’s victim’s widow. Momfre was a common name in New Orleans at the time and a Joseph Mumfre lived in New Orleans and had an extensive criminal history. There is not much evidence to support the Momfre shot in Los Angeles being involved in the Axeman’s killings, however.

Frank “Doc” Mumphrey – Scholar Richard Warner later stated that Mumphrey, who went by the alias Leon Joseph Monfre/Manfre, was the chief suspect in the crimes. However, neither Momfre or Mumphrey were ever officially charged with the crimes.

Axeman Drawing

Much like the infamous Jack the Ripper case in London, the technology we have today was not available in the early 1900s and any potential evidence has likely been destroyed purposely or lost because of the amount of time involved.

6. The Cleveland Torso Murderer – AKA The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run - Unsolved Murders

The string of unsolved murders which made Eliot Ness a household name and the leader of The Untouchables became known as the Cleveland Torso Murders. Officially, there are 12 victims of the Butcher of Kingsbury Run, although some estimate the victim count to be higher as they believe the killer may have relocated to other parts of the state or the country. The 12 known victims were killed between 1935 and 1938 and took place in an area known for housing drifters and the working poor, Kingsbury Run. Also called the Cleveland Flats, these shanty town areas were common throughout Cleveland, Ohio along the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

Photo of Elliot Ness
Elliott Ness became famous because of the Cleveland Torso Murders.

It is commonly believed that the victims of these brutal murders were chosen, at least in part, because people living in Kingsbury Run would not be well known and thus, hard to identify when the bodies were discovered. However, the killer made identification even more complicated by his habit – or perhaps his “calling card” – of beheading and dismembering the victims. Male victims were castrated, and some of the victims had chemicals poured on their bodies. Bodies often stayed hidden for a year or more and the heads of the victims were not found with the bodies. Only two of the twelve “official” victims were identified, Edward Andrassy and Florence Genevieve Polillo (aka Martin).

Another popular theory is that the killer chose both the time and the area due to the proximity to Elliot Ness himself, who was the Public Safety Director of Cleveland at the time. Ness did personally interrogate one suspect, Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, and ordered the shanty towns in Kingsbury Run to be destroyed and even burned to the ground. The killer became very bold, even displaying two of the victims in front of City Hall, where Ness’s office was located.

Later Murders

The Cleveland Torso Murderer was thought by some to have been behind some later murders as well. The “Lady of the Lake” was found in 1944 and Robert Robertson was found in 1950. Both murders were eerily similar to the earlier Cleveland murders and some investigators believe that the killer may have been active in a larger area (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown) and a time frame from the 1920s to the 1950s. There are also speculations that the killing of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, in Los Angeles, California was the work of the Cleveland Torso Murderer.

Possible suspects include:
Frank Dolezal – Aged 52, Frank Dolezal was arrested in connection to the murder of Florence Polillo, but died in the Cuyahoga County Jail under mysterious circumstances. His autopsy showed that he had six broken ribs which friends say he did not have prior to entering the jail. Dolezal did admit to the killing of Florence Polilo, claiming self-defense. Dolezal recanted his confession and two others, reporting that the confession was a result of beatings he endured.

Dr. Francis E. Sweeney – A veteran of WWI who was in a medical unit which performed amputations and medicine in the field. Interviewed by Ness personally, Sweeney reportedly failed two polygraph tests. However, Sweeney had political connections and an alibi. He was the first cousin of Congressman Martin L. Sweeney who was one of Ness’s top political opponents.

David Cowles, a Lieutenant of the Cleveland Police Department heard about an incident in Sandusky, Ohio where a dog had found the severed leg of a man. Cowles went to Sandusky to see if there was a connection between the leg and the Mad Butcher. Cowles remembered that Sweeney was a suspect until he committed himself to a veteran’s hospital in Sandusky and that the Cleveland surgeon closely resembled the profile of the killer. However, when the murders happened in Cleveland, Sweeney’s alibi had consistently been that he was at the veteran’s hospital in Sandusky. Sweeney had voluntarily committed himself to the veteran’s home for alcoholism treatment and some of the commitments did overlap with the time of the murders occurring in Cleveland.

Photo Showing Cleveland Torso Murder Masks
Death masks created in the hopes that members of the public could identify the victims.
Photo showing Cleveland Torso Murder Victims Display

Cowles felt uncertain and following his hunch he went to the Sandusky Soldiers and Studies Home to speak to some of the staff and residents. He found that many of the patients were not watched carefully, particularly on weekends and holidays. In fact, those that were able often left the facility and it was considered normal for those who were alcoholics to leave the campus, get some alcohol and be missing for a few days/nights when they were on a drinking binge. This left the door open for Dr. Sweeney to leave the facility, drive to Cleveland and commit the murders – all while being institutionalized “on paper” in Sandusy, Ohio. Cowles was never ever to prove his theory, however.

LEFT – Investigation in Shantyville Kingsbury Run.
RIGHT – Finding Torso Murder Victim.

From the time that Sweeney committed himself to the hospital, until the late 1950s, Sweeney continually mailed threatening postcards to Ness and Ness’s family and friends. These postcards were all in a mocking tone that Ness had not caught his man. Sweeney died in a veteran’s hospital in 1964 in Dayton, Ohio and the murders remain unsolved to this day.

7. The Keddie Murders

Photo of the Sharp Family
The Sharp Family

The Keddie Murders are a 1981 unsolved quadruple murder case in the town of Keddie, California. The victims had been renting Cabin 28 since November of 1980. The horrific event took place on either the evening of April 11, 1981 or early the next morning. Glenna “Sue” Sharp, aged 36, lived at the residence with her five children.

Sue was at home in Cabin 28 that fateful April evening with her two youngest sons and one of their friends. Her daughter, Tina (12) came home from a neighbor’s house around 10:00 pm. Sue’s son John (15), and John’s friend Dana Wingate (17) had been in the nearby town of Quincy and returned to Cabin 28 sometime the night of April 11th. Investigators wonder if John and Dana possibly entered the house during the murders or if they were in the basement already when the murders were occurring and made their way upstairs to check out the noise.

Around 8:00am on the morning of April 12, 1981, Sue’s oldest daughter, Sheila, came home to find the bodies of her mother, brother, and friend Dana Wingate on the floor of Cabin 28 – while the three other boys were playing in another room, alive and unharmed. The three younger boys then left the vicious crime scene with their sister, Sheila, and help from neighbors.

Photo of Keddie Murders - Cabin 28 - Early 2000s
Keddie Murders – Cabin 28 – Early 2000s

Sue Sharp, John, and Dana had been bound with both medical tape and surgical wire, stabbed, beaten, and strangled. Investigators concluded that two different hammers of differing sizes had been used on all three victims. Sue and John were stabbed, the markings on Sue’s body indicated that she had been bludgeoned with a Daisy Powerline 880 rifle, and John’s friend, Dana Wingate, had been strangled to death. Tina Sharp (12) was not at the scene and was reported missing.

While some of the weapons were left at the scene, a table knife, a butcher knife, and a hammer; there were other items not found at the scene, including the Daisy rifle and, most importantly, 12-year-old Tina.

Photo of evidence from the Keddie Murders
Keddie Murders – Evidence.

In April 1984, part of a human skull was found almost 30 miles from Keddie near Camp Eighteen in Butte County. An investigation revealed other bones, bone fragments, and a jawbone and all were eventually determined to be from the missing Tina Sharp.

In 2004, Cabin 28 and another condemned building were demolished. The Keddie Murders remain unsolved although they are open cases and many questions still surround the tragic event. The loose ends have made many people speculate that the Keddie murders were part of a police cover-up. Specifically, how and why were Tina’s remains so far away? With so much physical evidence, why has there not been an arrest or at least an official person of interest? Martin Shorrt and “Bo” Boudede have been declared suspects, but are now dead and unable to be questioned or brought to trial for the murders.

Photo of Keddie Murders - Marty Smartt Letter
Keddie Murders – Marty Smartt Letter.

The case was in fact reopened in 2013, and the evidence appears to suggest that Marty Smarrt was angry with Sue Sharp and felt that she was interfering with his marriage. Letters that Smarrt wrote to his wife, Marilyn, were found and sparked reopening of the case.  In part, one of the letters read: “I’ve paid the price of your love & now that I’ve bought it with four peoples lives, you tell me we are through… Great! What else do you want?” Marilyn claims she did not receive the letters but has confirmed that the letter was in Smarrt’s handwriting.

A therapist from Reno, Nevada has come forward saying that Smarrt confessed to the killing of the Sharp Family, yet this confession was not available when they were trying to bring a case against Smarrt. A hammer found in 2016 in a pond close to the cabins matches the description of a hammer that Smarrt stated he had lost before the murders. Regarding the hammer, the Sheriff has said “the location it was found… It would have been intentionally put there. It would not have been accidentally misplaced.”

Finally, the oddest of all at literally the bottom of the Keddie Murder Case box, was a copy of a 911 recording from 1984. The anonymous caller identified the bones that had been discovered in Butte County as those of Tina Sharp’s. The call, however, was made before the dental records had confirmed her identity.

An article from the Sacramento Bee sums up the case pretty well… “thought the original inquiry into the Keddie murders was – suspiciously – shoddy, there is new hope that the authorities of today may be able to grant the Sharps justice once and for all.”

8. The Unsolved Villisca Axe Murders of 1912

The Villisca Axe Murders occurred in the southwestern part of Iowa in the small town of Villisca. The murders took place sometime during the evening of June 9, 1912, and the early morning of June 10, 1912. Six members of the Moore family and two guests were found dead in the Moore residence. All eight victims, six of whom were children, had wounds to the head from an axe.

Villisca Axe Murder Victims.

The Moore family victims were: Josiah B. (43), Sarah (39), Herman Montgomery (11), Mary Katherine (10), Arthur Boyd (7), and Paul Vernon (5). A well-liked and affluent family, on that night Mary Katherine Moore had invited Ina Mae Stillinger (8) and Lena Gertrude Stillinger (12) to spend the night. The children had participated in a Children’s Day Program at the local Presbyterian Church and then walked to the Moore’s house, getting home around 10 pm.

Early on the morning of June 10, 1912, the next-door neighbor, Mary Peckham, realized that the Moore family had not yet done their chores around the home, which was out of the ordinary. Peckham knocked on the Moore family’s door, but no one answered. She then called Josiah Moore’s brother, Ross Moore. Ross arrived and knocked as well. When there was no answer, he used his spare key to open the door to the home. Ross had unknowingly entered a crime scene, where he found Ina and Lena Stillinger dead on the bed in the guest bedroom. Josiah asked Mary Peckham to call Villisca’s peace offer, Hank Horton, before proceeding further into the house.

Photo of Villisca Axe Murders House
House where the Villisca Axe Murders took place.

Upon his arrival, peace officer Horton searched the Moore house only to find that all six members of the Moore Family as well as the Stillinger girls were all dead, having been bludgeoned to death with an axe. The axe, which belonged to Josiah and was presumably the murder weapon, was left in the guest room where the two Stillinger sisters lay dead.

Forensics experts at the time concluded that the murders had occurred between midnight and 5:00am on June 10. Two cigarette butts were found in the attic, suggesting that the killer or killers had waited in the attic until the victims were asleep. It was concluded that the murders began in the master bedroom where Sarah and Josiah were found. It is not known if Josiah was awake or not, but he received the most axe blows as well as being the only victim that the blade of the axe was used upon. The killer or killers then methodically went from room to room, first to the children’s room where Herman, Katherine, Boyd and Paul were found – then back to the master bedroom where Josiah and Sarah were attacked again, and finally to the downstairs bedroom where Ina and Lena were murdered.

It is believed that Lena Stillinger was the only person not asleep when murdered. The position of Lena’s body on the bed, defensive wounds on her arm, and the fact that her nightgown was pushed up to her waist and she was not wearing any underwear led law enforcement to believe that she had been sexually molested.

Unlike others on this list, there were quite a few suspects in the Villisca murders. One man, Henry Sawyer was tried twice for the murders with the first trial ending in a hung jury and the second ending with his acquittal.

The suspects in this murder case included:
Andrew Sawyer – Considered to be a transient or someone who had no permanent connections to Villisca, Andy Sawyer was a man whose name came up over and over. Sawyer arrived at the railroad crew in Creston, Iowa at 6:00am the morning after the murders. He was clean and wearing a brown suit, yet his shoes and pants were covered in mud; however, men were needed for railroad work and Sawyer was hired immediately.

Later that day when the train reached Fontanelle, Iowa, Sawyer purchased a copy of the local newspaper and went to read it alone and was reportedly very interested in the article about the Villisca murders. The crew that Sawyer worked with was uncomfortable with the fact that Sawyer always slept fully clothed and, far more dangerous, slept with an axe next to him.

When questioned by his boss, Thomas Dyer, Sawyer stated that he was in Villisca the night of the murders, but he left the town because he was afraid of being named as a suspect. Dyer felt uneasy with this information and turned Sawyer over to the police on June 18, 1912. Dyer and his son, J.R., both testified against Sawyer. J.R. testified that one day, while driving through Villisca, Sawyer told him how the man who killed the Moore family escaped from the town.

Photo of The Day Book Chicago Illinois 1912 Villisca Axe Murders
The Day Book – Chicago, Illinois – 1912 – Villisca Axe Murders

According to J.R., Sawyer said that the man had jumped over a manure box and then crossed the railroad track. J.R. testified that he had seen the footprints in the soggy ground described by Sawyer as well as the tree that Sawyer had identified as the spot the killer used to get into the creek.

Ultimately, however, Sawyer was removed as a suspect as it was found that he had been is Osceola, Iowa on the night of the killings.

Reverend George Kelly – Born in England, Kelly was a traveling minister who was in town the night of the murders. It was rumored that Kelly had suffered a mental breakdown when he was younger, and he was known as an odd man. During his adult years he was accused of being a Peeping Tom and asking young women to pose nude for him. He came to Villisca on June 8, 1912 to teach at the Children’s Day services, and then left town early the next morning, only four hours before the bodies had been found.

After Kelly learned of the murders, he became obsessed with the case, going as far as writing letters to the police and the family of the victims. A private investigator responded to Kelly’s letters in which he asked for details of the crimes that Kelly knew. Kelly responded by describing the murders in detail, even claiming that he had heard sounds from the Moore House and suggesting that he had witnessed the murders. However, the police were aware of his mental illness and that made them question whether he was remembering events that occurred or was making up the stories.

In 1914, Kelly was arrested for using the Postal Service to send obscene material to a woman who had applied to be his secretary. He went to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. In 1917, Kelley was arrested again, this time for the Villisca murders. Local police had gotten a confession from him, but Kelly recanted his admission of guilt. The first trial ended in a hung jury and he was acquitted after the second trial.

Frank Fernando Jones – A State Senator from Villisca who had once been Josiah Moore’s boss. Moore left to start his own business which was quite profitable and took business away from Jones. There were rumors that Moore was having an affair with Jones’ daughter-in-law but no credible evidence was found support this allegation.

Photo of 1912 Villisca Axe Murder Suspects
Several of the 1912 Villisca Axe Murder Suspects – Frank Jones, William Mansfield, Rev Kelly, Henry Moore.

Henry Lee Moore – Having the same last name, but not related to the Moore family in Villisca, Iowa. Henry Lee Moore was a suspected serial killer who had killed his mother and grandmother with an axe similar to the Villisca case.

William “Blackie” Mansfield – Mansfield murdered his family, including his wife, father, mother-in-law, and infant child, two years after the murders in Villisca. He is believed to have committed axe murders in Paola, Kansas only four days before the Villisca crimes, and is a suspect in a double homicide in Illinois as well. The weapon was an axe and the crimes took place in areas that were accessible by trains.

Some have theorized that Senator Jones hired Mansfield to kill the Moore family in Villisca.
Nine months before the Moore family was killed, there was a case extremely similar in Colorado Springs, Colorado, then murders in Ellsworth, Kansas and Paola, Kansas. The similarity of the crimes led investigators to believe they were committed by the same person and this list also included the Axeman of New Orleans case.

Photo of Detective James Wilkerson - Villisca Axe Murders
Detective James Wilkerson

Detective James Wilkerson believed that Mansfield was responsible for all these murders because of the coincidence in the crimes: An axe was the murder weapon, the mirrors were covered, a lamp was left at the end of the bed, and there was a basin in the kitchen. No fingerprints were found at any of the locations, as the killer must have been wearing gloves. Mansfield had fingerprints on file at the Leavenworth Prison.

Wilkerson convinced a grand jury to investigate in 1916 and Mansfield was brought to Montgomery County. However, there were records which proved that Mansfield was in Illinois during the Villisca murders. Mansfield was released from prison and then sued Wilkerson, winning $2,225.

Wilkerson believed that it was pressure from Jones which helped provide possibly false evidence releasing Mansfield, and also the arrest and trial of Reverend Kelly. It has been over 100 years and looks like we will never know who committed the murders in Villisca, Iowa. However, you can always drop in and visit the home where the murders occurred. And, for $428 plus a $200 deposit, you and 5 friends can stay overnight.

9. The Murder of Bob Crane

Bob Crane was an American actor, radio host and disc jockey who is best known for his role as Colonel Robert E. Hogan in the popular television series Hogan’s Heroes. When Hogan’s Heroes was cancelled in 1965, he appeared in TV movies and two Disney films. After that, his career was not going so well and he began doing dinner theater plays. In 1978, he landed the lead in the play “Beginner’s Luck” in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Photo of Bob Crane as his most famous character, Colonel Hogan. 1969
Bob Crane as his most famous character, Colonel Hogan. 1969.

In June of 1978, Bob moved to an apartment in the Winfield Place Apartments in Scottsdale, Arizona. On June 29, 1978, his co-star, Victoria Ann Berry, entered his apartment when he failed to show up for a lunch meeting and found Crane’s bloody body. He had been beaten to death with an unidentified weapon and there was an electrical cord wrapped around his neck.

According to John Hook, a man who has been researching the death of Bob Crane and runs the website, Bob Crane was a devoted family man who was also a sex addict. Bob loved and adored his three children, but he was also heavily addicted to pornography. Crane had very few, or any, male friends until he met John Carpenter who was a salesman for Sony Electronics. Carpenter, with his job at Sony, introduced Crane to home video in a time when it was not available to the mainstream public.

The two men, Carpenter and Crane, were picking up women and then taping them having sex. When asked about these actions, Crane is on record saying “I don’t drink or smoke… two out of three ain’t bad.” Crane’s obsession with pornography ended up ruining his family, relationships, and career. Carpenter was more of an accomplice than a friend to Bob Crane. Bob’s son, Robert Crane Jr. once said “Carpenter was slimy. I kept thinking, ‘Dad, certainly you can do better than this? This is your best friend? Really? This is the best you can do?’”

Photo of Bob Crane Living Room Recording Equipment Before His Death
Bob Crane's living room and recording equipment as found after his death.

In an article with the, Robert Crane talks openly about his father’s sex addiction, pornography obsession, and double life. In his new book, “Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved Murder” Robert tells us that the dressing room on the set of Hogan’s Heroes was porn central, where his father frequently engaged in threesomes and autoerotic behavior and that the “red light was always on in my dad’s makeshift film processing lab.”

Photos of Authorities Removing Bob Crane Body - Victoria Berry
LEFT: Authorities removing Bob Crane’s dead body.
RIGHT: Victoria Berry being escorted from the crime scene at Winfield Apartments

When Crane’s body was found in 1978 in the Winfield Apartments of Scottsdale, Arizona Robert suspected that the killer may have been a jealous boyfriend or husband. However, those weren’t the kind of women that Bob chose for sex, preferring single women he picked up in bars or met on an acting set. His body was on a queen-sized bed, lying on its right side, wearing only boxer shorts and a wrist watch. There was an electrical cord wrapped around his neck and there were two parallel gashes on the left side of his head. There was blood across the ceiling, behind the top of the bed, and on the nightstand lamp. Human tissue was on the wall, and the bed sheets and pillowcases were soaked in blood. Additionally, there was semen, lube, or sexual-aid gel on his left thigh.

Bob Crane Body Being Removed - Investigators
LEFT: Bob Crane’s body being wheeled out of his apartment.
RIGHT: Investigators and police discussing the crime scene.

The number one suspect both to the police and those who knew about Crane’s secret sex life was obviously John Carpenter. Robert Crane has said that “My dad had told me that Carpenter was becoming ‘a pain in the ass,’ and as part of his changes he was going to end his relationship with him. The police thought Carpenter, who was bisexual, was perhaps in love with my dad and reacted to this information like a spurned lover.” The crime scene had a tripod set up in the living room with a camera. However, missing from the scene were Polaroids of naked women as well as a second tripod.

“The police investigation maintained that my dad had two tripods set up in the apartment’s living room… only one tripod was found at the murder scene, and it was not the weapon used in the crime. After inspecting the bed sheet, the Phoenix Police Department criminologist determined that the bloody mark was made by the weapon and that the weapon was probably a camera tripod.

The main suspect from day one was John Carpenter and when the police searched Carpenter’s Chrysler Cordoba rental car they found blood on the passenger door which matched the blood type of Bob Crane but not the type of John Carpenter. There was also a small matter of body tissue on the door panel.

John Carpenter on trial for Bob Crane murder.

However, the police did not really have a motive. They believed that Carpenter was gay and was hurt and feeling abandoned by Crane’s decision to end their relationship. There were also video tapes found with Carpenter and Crane involved in threesomes with women.

In 1993, the state of Arizona pressed charges against John Carpenter, nearly 16 years after the murder of Bob Crane. In those 16 years, the Scottsdale Police Department had lost the brain tissue that was found in Carpenter’s rented car. Carpenter was arrested but was free on a $98,000 bond and the trial was scheduled to begin on March 21, 1994. However, with no evidence and such a long time between the murder and the trial, Carpenter was acquitted and died on September 28, 1998.

Willem Dafoe made a biopic in 2002 called “Auto Focus” which is based on Carpenter’s life and the murder of Bob Crane. There have been no further developments in the case of Bob Crane and it remains unsolved.

10. Unsolved Murders of the Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer is one of the most elusive killers we have seen in American history. He was active in Northern California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Currently, there are four men and three women who are confirmed as victims of the Zodiac Killer. However, it is speculated there may be many more and the killer himself has claimed that the number is actually 37 murders.

The Zodiac Killer - Wanted Poster - 1969
The Zodiac Killer - Wanted Poster - 1969

The name “Zodiac” came from the killer himself, as he sent four letters to press outlets in the Bay Area which included four cryptograms, or puzzles, of which only one has been deciphered.

The San Francisco Police Department marked the case inactive in April 2004, but then re-opened it around March of 2007. Cases are also open in the city of Vallejo, Napa County, and Solano County. Additionally, the California Department of Justice has kept an open case file on the Zodiac Killer since 1969.

Killings that are credited, although not confirmed, as the work of the Zodiac Killer include:
David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen – David and Betty Lou were shot and killed on December 20, 1968 in Benicia, California.

Michael Renault Mageau and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin – Both Michael and Darlene were shot on July 4, 1969 in Vallejo, California. Mageau survived while Ferrin was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.

Bryan Calvin Hartnell and Ceceila Ann Shephard – Both were stabbed on September 27, 1969 at Lake Berryessa in Napa County, California. Hartnell survived with eight stab wounds to his back and Shepard died on September 29, 1969 from her injuries.

Paul Lee Stine – Paul was shot and killed on October 11, 1969 in the neighborhood of Presidio Heights in San Francisco, California.

Photo of the Zodiac Killer Victims
Victims of the Zodiac Killer.

Suspected victims of the Zodiac Killer include:
Roberto Domingos and Linda Edwards – Roberto and Linda were shot and killed on June 4, 1963 near Gaviota, California.

Cheri Jo Bates – Stabbed and nearly decapitated on October 30, 1966 in Riverside, California.

Photo of Cheri Jo Bates - Suspected Victim of Zodiac Killer
Cheri Jo Bates – Suspected victim of Zodiac Killer, found stabbed to death and nearly decapitated.

Donna Lass – Last seen on September 6, 1970 in Stateline, Nevada.

A suspected third escapee of the Zodiac Killer:
Kathleen Johns – Kathleen was abducted on March 22, 1970 on Highway 132 near Modesto, California. Johns managed to escape from the car with her infant daughter as a man drove her around the area between Stockton and Patterson for about 90 minutes.

On August 1, 1969, three separate letters arrived at three different Bay Area newspapers: the San Francisco Chronicle, the Vallejo Times Herald, and the San Francisco Examiner. The writer took credit for two of the shootings and each letter had 1/3 of a 408 cryptogram – a code – which revealed the killer’s identity. The letters instructed the papers to print the letter on the front page or he would “cruse around all weekend killing lone people in the night then move to kill again, until I end up with a dozen people over the weekend.”

The Letters Ended with a Simple Symbol

The San Francisco Chronicle published its portion of the cryptogram and the code along with a statement from the Vallejo Chief of Police Jack E. Stiltz which read “We’re not satisfied that the letter was written by the murderer” and requested a follow up letter providing more facts to prove the killer’s identity. The threatened murders did not occur, but all parts of the cryptogram were eventually published.

On August 7, 1969 a letter was received at the San Francisco Examiner which began “Dear Editor This is the Zodiac Speaking” and went on to provide the proof that Chief Stilitz had requested. The killer identified details that had not been released to the public and a taunting message to the police that when his code was cracked “they will have me.”

The following day, the code was indeed cracked by Donald and Bettye Harden, citizens of Salinas, California. The code stated that the Zodiac was collecting slaves for the afterlife, but no name was provided, and the killer specifically stated that he was unable to reveal his identity as it would hinder his plan of collecting slaves.

Throughout the year 1970, the Zodiac continued his unusual communication with both letters and greeting cards that he would send to the press. The final communication from the Zodiac Killer and not a copycat was received by the San Francisco Chronicle postmarked January 29, 1974 and it praised the movie “The Exorcist” as “the best satirical comidy [sic] that I have ever seen.” The letter ended with a score of sorts: “Me = 37, SFPD = 0.”

A 2002 article by Matt Weiss, Chronicle Staff Writer at, reported that DNA testing from the 1960s letters have cleared the school teacher and child molester that the Vallejo Police Department once considered to be the prime suspect for the Zodiac Killer. “Arthur Leigh Allen does not match the partial DNA fingerprint developed from bona fide letters” said Carroll.

The DNA was not from the envelopes but from a piece of hair that was found under the stamp of one of the letters. In April of 2002, three other Zodiac letters were found which had been unknown to the San Francisco Police Department. The letters will be tested, but the current backlog at the SFPD laboratory as well as the lack of resources, both human and financial, could take far longer than anyone had hoped. An thus, the saga continues with no resolution to the infamous Zodiac Killer unsolved murders.

Photo of Zodiac Killer - Proof Letter - July 1969
Zodiac Killer – Proof Letter – July 1969

Brian Douglas

Brian Douglas is a digital marketing professional and entrepreneur located in Louisville, Kentucky and the founder of

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