Notoriously unsolved: the most prolific unsolved murder cases

Jessica Sarrach ‘24, Lyonlife Editor-in-Chief

True crime has become a fad of interest amongst teens in recent years. The growing fascination in the world of crime has left many intrigued in old cases, including cold cases. The following contains a few of the most chilling and horrifying unsolved murders.

Jack the Ripper

The year was 1888, and crime was raging across London. The city of Whitechapel was not a very pleasant place in which to grow up, and its structure left many feeling unsettled. With growing rates of prostitution, poverty, and violence, numerous citizens were becoming depressed from the lifestyle in the community that they felt had failed them. Jack the Ripper offered no relief.

While the climate was not ideal for anyone involved, women had it the worst. Many women had to turn to prostitution in order to maintain a liveable lifestyle, and the system seemed to be working against them. The murders and assaults of “working” girls were hardly ever reported about in the press or discussed amongst high society members because they viewed their lifestyle as inadequate to their own; however, Jack the Ripper’s crimes left a mark across all members of Whitechapel and London alike.

Her name was Mary Ann Nichols and her last day was Aug. 31, 1888. Charles Cross, a resident of Whitechapel, was on his way to work when he discovered her body. In the street, he noticed a dark bundle, assuming it was discarded tarpaulin—a heavy waterproof cloth—Cross investigated further, though to his dismay, he soon found the bundle to be the body of Nichols. While investigating the body, Cross found the woman laying straight out with her skirts over her waist, and her breath shallow and sparse. Deciding that he needed to get to work, Cross pulled the woman’s skirts back down in an attempt to respect her privacy, and left. In no rush to get the woman help, Cross decided he would just tell the first police officers he crossed paths with about the body, but otherwise continue his day as normal.

When police arrived to investigate, they noticed a large gash across the woman’s neck which ran so deep it was near severing her head. Her body was still warm by the time investigators arrived, leading them to believe that the woman could not have been dead for more than 30 minutes. In fact, it was likely that the perpetrator was still on the scene when Cross found the body. With the death of Nichols, the investigation into Jack the Ripper began.

In his lifetime, the Ripper murdered four more women, each kill worse than the last. He was known for a horrific style of murder, including the way he would mutlitate the bodies, which led investigators to believe he had a professional level understanding of anatomy. It was also speculated that the Ripper antagonized the police force by leaving them letters after his murders. In one of the letters, the Ripper allegedly wrote, “Dear boss, I keep on hearing the police caught me but they won’t fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track…Yours truly Jack the Ripper.” In each of the letters, the Ripper would make fun of the police force and their inability to find him, effectively lowering police morale while making the public more antsy for his capture.

The police were never able to pinpoint the true perpetrator of these vicious acts. There are eight largely recognized suspects in the Ripper murders. However, there has been no definite seal of the case often viewed as being the works of the first serial killer. It is highly unlikely that the people of Whitechapel, London, or the rest of the world at large will ever be able to forget the horrific actions of Jack the Ripper, and for the time being, the case remains unsolved.

JonBenét Ramsey

It was early morning of Dec. 26, 1996, John and Patsy Ramsey had just woken up to find their daughter missing. Six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was nowhere to be seen, and in her wake lay a ransom note. The ransom note pleaded for $118,000 in trade for Ramsey’s return. The note was specific in its warning to not alert the authorities, but the family did not heed this warning and soon the home was swarming with investigators.

Some of the biggest mistakes in the case were made in the Ramseys’ house that day. The investigation started going south when officers chose to only tape off JonBenét’s room, leaving the rest of the house—and eventual crime scene—to be tampered with. The inspection continued going awry as investigators continually told the Ramsey’s information about the case, and held off on their internal interviews with the family, which did not occur until August of the next year, eight months later. During the inquiry at the house, Mr. Ramsey and one of his friends found the body of JonBenét in the basement. Mr. Ramsey chose to carry his dead daughter upstairs effectively corrupting the evidence at the direct scene of her murder.

JonBenét’s death was later proven by autopsy to be the work of asphyxiation (a process of being deprived of oxygen)  along with  blunt force trauma to her skull. It was apparent that her wrists and neck had been restrained with a white cord, and her mouth had been duct taped. The pathologist on the case said that young Ramsey had been sexually asulted, though it did not appear that she had been raped. The autopsy led officers to narrow their speculations down to two main theories, though neither have substantial enough evidence to be proven true.

The first theory surrounded the family. Many people thought that the Ramsey family themselves were responsible for the death of their daughter. The ransom note had been written in the house with materials found in the house, giving investigators an off feeling surrounding the note. Countless investigators found it unbelievable that the Ramseys would not have heard someone break into their own house and torture their child in their own basement. These suspicious circumstances convinced a large portion of the mass media that it was an in-home crime, both victim and perpetrator falling under the same roof.

The second main theory was that JonBenét’s death was the work of an outside intruder. The main suspect in this theory was John Karr, a teacher who was later arrested on counts of possessing child pornography. Karr gained traction as a suspect when he himself confessed to the crime, claiming that he sexually assulted her, though her death was an accident. In an interview about Ramsey, Karr said, “It’s very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, that her death was unintentional, that it was an accident.” For a while, it seemed as though Karr was likely the perpetrator of the crime. However, when police ran an investigation on Karr’s claims, it was revealed that no physical evidence could link Karr to the crime, ruling him out as the suspect. 

With both theories running investigators into a dead end, Ramsey’s case remains unsolved.

The Zodiac

San Francisco in the 1960s was a time of prosperity. Fundamentals of culture were changing to follow hippie culture including opinions surrounding love, peace, and racial equality. The Zodiac Killer saw an era of peace approaching, and in his sadistic mind, he chose to retaliate. There would be no harmony amongst men in a time where death was under the Zodiac’s grasp.

High schoolers Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday chose to commence their first date on Dec. 20, 1968. While spending time together in Faraday’s station wagon, the couple was startled by the puncturing noise of gunshots to the car. In an attempt to reach safety, the two desperately fled the car; however, this action only aided the killer’s attempts on their lives. As soon as Faraday escaped the car, he was shot in the head, effectively killing him on the spot. Jensen made it further, though her attempts were futile. While fleeing on foot, Jensen was shot in the back five times, leaving her to die alongside her date. Jensen and Faraday are considered the first two definitive victims in the mystery that shook the country.

In his career, the Zodiac Killer claimed to have murdered 37 individuals; however, police were only ever able to verify seven of these attacks, with two of those victims managing to survive. The feature that made the Zodiac Killer stand apart from other tragedies in the mass media was the letters that the claimed Zodiac sent to numerous media outlets.

The Zodiac Killer is said to have sent dozens of letters out to the media through the span of his murder spree, though only four of these had coded messages. He authenticized these leters by including details about the murders which had not been revealed to the public, details which only a person present at the scene of the crimes would know. The first three letters the killer sent were almost identical, and each had one-third of a cryptogram which was believed to hold the answers to the killer’s identity. The Zodiac demanded these letters be publicized or he would murder again, adding more than enough incentive for media outlets to release the writings.

 Nearly a week after the first three letters were publicized, Donald Harden, a school teacher from North Salinas, and his wife Bettye Harden, offered a description to part of the encrypted message. From then on, the letters began to be decoded, leaving investigators with the writings of the Zodiac. A transcription from one of his letters said, “I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me were everyone else has nothing when they reach paradise so they our afraid of death. I am not afraid because I know they my knew life will be an easy one in paradise death.” The killer reffered to his murders as a collection of souls who would be his slaves in the afterlife. The Zodiac letters are so complex that the last one was not decoded until 2020.

The case had five main suspects. The last of whose identity was not published until 2018. The police where never able to successfully find the culprit of the vicious murders, and as of today, the perpetrator of the Zodiac killings remains unidentified.  

Though sometimes it feels as if these crimes may go unsolved forever, there is always hope for a break in the cases. The world is a dark place and though it may not always seem it, monsters have their place amongst the real world. It is important to learn from the things we have seen in the past, and as society progresses, so does the technology needed to catch these killers.

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