These are some of the world’s most famous cold cases that authorities simply can’t solve.
Often, the world is captivated by a tragic or mysterious crime, drinking in every grisly detail. Sometimes, in the face of immense public pressure, authorities fail to identify the culprit and the case goes cold for decades.
Below, read about five famous cold cases that remain a mystery to this day.
5. The Boy in the Box
The Boy in the Box, also sometimes known as “America’s Unknown Child,” is likely the most well-known murder case to come out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a city that ranks above average in violent crime. However, the gruesome details of this case have captivated our collective imagination, making it one of the most famous cold cases in history.
In February of 1957, a young man was checking animal traps that he had placed illegally on public land. He came across a large box that had once held a bassinet. Inside, he discovered the body of a young boy. Because he was illegally trapping, he kept his discovery to himself until a few days later when a college student also came across the body and reported it to police.
Police estimate that the boy found dead inside the box was between 3 and 7 years old. His body was wrapped in a plaid blanket. He was severely malnourished at the time of his death and had several strange scars on his body, including what appeared to be surgical scars on his groin and ankle. It also seemed that his hair had been cut after he died. Police found clues in the surrounding land: a child’s scarf, a man’s cap, and a handkerchief embroidered with the letter G.
The case went nowhere for years. Then, in 1960, a medical examiner was instructed by a psychic to look into a local foster home, where he found a bassinet similar to the one that would have come in the box that contained the boy’s body. There were also clothes similar to the ones the boy was found wearing. However, authorities could not find enough evidence to arrest the owner of the home.
Some theorized that the boy had previously been raised as a girl based on his hasty postmortem haircut. A forensic artist also stated that it appeared that his eyebrows had been styled in a feminine way. This theory also led nowhere. The case is still unsolved over 60 years later.
4. The Tylenol Murders
Chicago, Illinois, another American city known for violent crime, is also known as the home of one of history’s most famous cold cases. The city was sent into a panic in 1982 when a total of seven people died after taking Tylenol that had been contaminated with potassium cyanide. Later, several other people died as a result of copycat crimes.
Residents of Chicago, and the United States as a whole, panicked. Police quickly began working to determine the source of the poisonings. Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer, was praised for being honest with the public about the problem, promptly issuing a recall, and working closely with the police. Because the contaminated medications came from numerous sources, they ruled out the manufacturer as the culprit. After a quick investigation, they determined that someone had been purchasing the Tylenol, contaminating it with cyanide, and then returning the medication to stores for others to buy. Police found other bottles still on the shelves that had clearly been tampered with.
The police had several suspects, including James William Lewis. Lewis sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson claiming responsibility for the murders and demanding $1 million to stop. Police were unable to prove that he was the culprit, but he was eventually convicted of extortion and spent 13 years in prison.
In 1983, police intentionally leaked the address of one the murder victims, hoping that the perpetrator might visit her home or gravesite. Both places were monitored for months, but the perpetrator was never found.
The grim deaths resulted in major changes to the pharmaceutical industry. The case prompted companies to develop tamper-resistant packaging. The United States government also made product tampering a federal crime as a result of the murders. However, authorities still have no idea who was actually responsible for the grim deaths.
3. The Bennington Triangle Disappearances
You’ve probably heard of the Bermuda Triangle, but did you know that the United States has its own spot infamous for making people disappear? This spot in southwestern Vermont is called the Bennington Triangle.
The area that comprises the Bennington Triangle once thrived as the site of several logging towns. Business eventually waned, leaving behind ghost towns that are the perfect setting for one of the country’s most famous cold cases.
Between 1945 and 1950, a total of five people went missing in the mysterious Bennington Triangle. 74-year old Middie Rivers, an experienced hunter and fisherman, disappeared while guiding a group through the mountains. 18-year-old Paula Welden went for a hike there and never returned. 68-year-old James Tedford was on a bus heading through the Triangle when he inexplicably disappeared between stops; his luggage was still on board. 8-year-old Paul Jephson was next; he disappeared when his mother left him alone in her truck for about an hour in the Triangle. Finally, 53-year-old Frieda Langer fell into a stream while hiking there; she intended to return to her campsite to change clothes and was never seen again.
Some believed that a serial killer was at work in the Bennington Triangle. However, experts are skeptical. There was no evidence to suggest foul play and the victims varied widely in gender and age, defying the usual patterns of serial killers. Others suspected wild animals. However, there are few animals indigenous to the area that could have done such a thing, and those that could have killed a person (such as a bobcat or lynx) are typically not aggressive toward humans.
Still others point to the fact that UFOs and Bigfoots have been sighted in the area. Many paranormal investigators believe that extraterrestrials or elusive cryptids could be responsible for the missing people.
Was a serial killer or animal the culprit? Or was it an alien or Bigfoot? We may never know the truth about this mysterious cold case.
2. The Somerton Man
The case of the Somerton Man, also called the Tamam Shud case, is one of the most unusual mysteries still plaguing Australia, and one of the most famous cold cases in the world.
On December 1, 1948, police received a report that there was a dead man on Somerton Beach, near Adelaide in South Australia. The man was well-dressed and in good physical condition, but the tags from his clothing had been removed. Investigators were unable to find dental records to match the man. Unable to find a specific cause of death, coroners believed that he died of natural causes.
Police later noted that his shoes seemed to be in too good of shape and believed that he’d likely been carried to the beach after his death. They later found a rolled up piece of paper in his clothing bearing the words “Tamam Shud,” meaning “ended” or “finished.” The paper had been torn from a poetry book called Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. When police found the book, they found evidence of other cryptic writing on the pages.
Because of the bizarre, possibly coded writing and the manner of the man’s death, many speculate that he was a spy. Police have been unable to turn up clues to the dead man’s identity and have no leads about who may have been responsible for his death.
1. The Death of Günther Stoll
Some of the most famous cold cases from around the world become famous simply because the clues left behind are so baffling. One such case is the death of Günther Stoll.
At 3 am on October 26, 1984, two truckers driving along Bundesautobahn 45 in Germany, near the Hagen-Süd exit, noticed a crashed vehicle alongside the road. The truckers called the police to report the crash, also stating that they saw a man dressed in white walking nearby. When police arrived, they discovered Stoll, naked and badly injured, inside the car. He said that four men who were not his friends had been in the car with him, but had run away. He died en route to the hospital.
When his body was examined, it was determined that Stoll had been injured before the crash. Most likely, he had been hit by another car. Medical examiners believe he was already naked at the time of those injuries.
Stoll had been paranoid preceding his death. He would tell his wife about mysterious people he referred to as “them” who he believed were trying to hurt him. According to Stoll’s wife, at 11 pm, around 4 hours before the truckers spotted his car, he was talking about “them.” Suddenly, he yelled, “Now I’ve got it!” He scribbled “YOG’TZE” on a sheet of paper, then immediately crossed it out. He left the house, went to a bar, and ordered a drink before collapsing, injuring his face. Witnesses believed he was sober.
He eventually awoke and drove away. At around 1 am, he was reportedly in his hometown of Haigerseelbach speaking to a woman he knew growing up about a “horrible incident.” She advised him to go to his parents. That was the last anyone heard from him before his car crash was reported 60 miles (97 kilometers) away.
The letters “YOG’TZE” are the most baffling part of the case, and what makes it one of the world’s most famous cold cases. There have been several theories: that it was a license plate number; that it actually said YO6TZE, the call sign of a Romanian radio station; that Stoll was referring to TZE, a yogurt flavoring; that it was an anagram for “zygote” and Stoll had stumbled upon some sort of secret about genetically-modified organisms while working as a food scientist. None of the many theories have been proven to be true.
There are so many other questions about this case. Who was the man in white? Was Stoll really paranoid, or was someone out to get him? What happened to the other four people who were apparently in the car? Authorities are no closer to answering these questions over 30 years later.
So there’s our look at some truly puzzling cold cases. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on any of our socials.