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From the grizzly to the mysterious, we delve into ten of history’s eeriest unsolved crimes.
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Australia Day, 1966 was when many Australians lost their innocence, as three children went to an Adelaide beach for lunch and a dip, and never came home. The case of the missing Beaumont children flooded television news bulletins and front pages for months, and implemented the idea of stranger danger into the wider community. Kids were no longer presumed safe unsupervised in public, and the country felt the shift. Making this case worse were the numerous sightings of a 30s-something man seen with the kids at various points throughout the day, but he — like the Beaumont children — disappeared without a trace. This case still captures the imagination of the nation, with scholars arguing about the supposed location of their remains in the national press as recently as this February. A one million dollar reward is still on offer by the South Australian Government, but as time trundles on, the odds of this case ever having a satisfactory conclusion grow less and less likely.
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The subject of dozens of books, a number of documentaries, and one quite good Jake Gyllenhaal film, The Zodiac was a serial killer who stalked the San Francisco region during the late ’60s and early ’70s, sending mocking, coded letters to the press almost begging them to discover who he was. They never succeeded, although there are various theories and suspects based on other solved murders in the region, and various interpretations of his ciphers sent to the press. Armchair detectives around the world still turn this case over with forensic precision in various chat rooms, hoping for that break in the case that eluded the press and police alike for decades.
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One of Australia’s eeriest unsolved crime might not be a crime at all. The Somerton Man took a train to Somerton Beach, bought a bus ticket he never used, left his suitcase in baggage, and — dressed in a neatly cut suit and leather shoes — laid on the steps at the beach and died. Nobody knew who the man was; artefacts on his person suggested he had travelled to America at some point, all tags in his clothing were cut out, and a piece of paper found in his pocket read ‘Tamam Shud’ – ‘The End’ in Persian. An autopsy suggests he likely ingested poison, Cold War conspiracies and the involvement of a Sydney nurse who may have also been a Russian spy spiced this story up to the level of a Bond novel, and the mystery of who the Somerton Man was remains frustratingly far from us to this very day.
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This week, Madeleine McCann turned 15. Her parents haven’t seen her since she disappeared a week before her fourth birthday, whisked from her bed in a holiday resort in Portugal. They were dining with friends in a restaurant just over 50 metres from where Madeleine and her twin two-year-old siblings were sleeping; checking in with the children frequently throughout the night. During one check, Madeleine was no longer in bed. A bungled investigation by Portuguese police saw the McCann parents accused of a cover-up, a story that was subsequently dragged through the media as the parents grieved. The case remains unsolved, although Scotland Yard are still actively investigating.
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One of the most fascinating unsolved crimes is the case of DB Cooper, who staged one of the most masterful robberies and disappearance in American history, assuming he didn’t jump to his own doom in the thicks of the wilderness. On November 1971, the unidentified man who became known in media coverage as DB Cooper hijacked a commercial Boeing 747 on route from Portland to Seattle, demanded $200K ransom (worth $1.2 million in today’s prices) and parachuted to freedom. Or death – as of today nobody knows the fate of DB Cooper, despite a massive FBI manhunt, and close to half a century of search efforts. The FBI’s casefile on Cooper has swollen to over sixty volumes, and — even if remains are uncovered — it’s unlikely we will ever learn who this mysterious criminal was. His remains the only ever unsolved case of air piracy.
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A fisherman was on the Hawkesbury River in August ’94 when he snagged his fishing net on something heavy. Fisherman Mark Peterson then lifted the grizzly remains of a person, attached to a metal crucifix. The man was wrapped completely in plastic, and wire – positioned like Jesus. The media dubbed the man ‘The Rack Man’ and although facial reconstruction images were splashed across newspapers and bulletins for months on end, nobody ever identified the victim. It is supposed he was a drug dealer, but this is pure speculation.
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His name still strikes fear into the hearts of those who had children in the late ’80s and early ’90s – Mr. Cruel. The still-unidentified pedophile stalked Melbourne suburbs, breaking into three separate houses over three years, tying up the parents at knifepoint, before kidnapping and holding (on separate occasions) three young girls, subjecting each of them to violent, sexual crimes over a period of days. It was debated whether or not he was responsible for the 1991 abduction and murder of 13-year-old Karmein Chan, and DNA evidence which could have identified Mr. Cruel has been lost or compromised over the years. There is currently a $300,000 reward for information, but the case is currently cold.
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A plane flying over the Andes sends the same distress signal three times before disappearing off the radar. The plane was recovered half a century later by hikers, but the message the plane sent out is yet to be decoded: STENDEC.
Theories suggest the pilot was suffering from hypoxia and was actually trying to type ‘descent’ but this is unlikely, as the same message was tapped out, in the same order, three separate times. Was this a coded message during 1947: the era of international intrigue? A WWII code to mean emergence crash landing? Sabotage? Theories from alien abductions to corporation interference have been trotted out, but the meaning behind these final messages looks to have died with the pilot.
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Gareth Williams’ death is one of the more creepy occurrences of the past decade. He was an otherwise unassuming mathematician who worked for the SIS, helping the NSA trace international money-laundering routes stemming from Russia. It is suspected his work in this field was responsible for his demise, as — after he failed to turn up for work for a few days in August, 2010 — his body was found inside a padlocked gym bag, in a bath, in a Security Service safe house. DNA had been wiped from the scene, suggesting a professional hit, although the alarming means of death — his body simply trapped curled in a gym bag, no evidence of violence — has prompted many to suggest this death was actually a fetish-driven exercise gone wrong. An inquest arrived at his death being “unnatural and likely to have been criminally mediated” but outside of the Russian crime connection, there are no solid leads.
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One of California’s most gruesome crime sprees may have finally been solved, as a 72-year-old former policeman Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. goes to trial for a series of murders and rapes that occurred throughout various parts of California from 1974 to 1986. The Golden State Killer broke into hundreds of houses in the Sacramento and Southern California regions, murdering at least twelve people, and raping over 50. He was also known as the Diamond Knot Killer due a rather distinct knot he used to tie victims, and the East Bay Killer – the name he himself adopted when in 1977, he submitted a poem named ‘Excitement’s Crave’ to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, claiming to be the rapist. The poem reads like a high school effort, but the lines: “Sacramento should make an offer. To make a movie of my life / That will pay for my planned exile. Just now I’d like to add the wife / Of a Mafia lord to my file” are chilling, suggesting he craved infamy. Depending on how this current case goes, perhaps the Golden State Killer will finally achieve just that.
Posted by Nathan Jolly | Main image sourced from abc.net.au
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