From Agatha Christie to Clue, everybody loves a good "whodunit" mystery with a surprise ending. But sometimes, truth is even stranger than fiction. Many of these true crime stories seemed like open-and-shut cases. Too often, though, the public can jump to conclusions, ignoring all other possibilities. When investigators do the same, they set themselves up for major plot twists and sometimes even wrongful convictions.
True crime junkies may have heard of some of these mind-boggling mysteries in the many rabbit holes of the internet, but others have flown completely under the radar. From the disturbing cases, to the ones with happy endings, to the multiple cases involving bubble gum, all of these unbelievable true crime plot twists will leave your head spinning.
Police Said 10-Day-Old Delimar Vera Perished In A House Fire, But Her Mother Was Convinced She'd Been Abducted
Just before Christmas in 1997, a fire started in the Philadelphia home of Luz Cuevas. Fighting through the smoke and flames, she ran into the room where her 10-day-old daughter, Delimar, was sleeping in her crib, but saw no sign of her. Suffering burns to her face and at risk of passing out from smoke inhalation, she got out of the house with her two other children.
Firefighters quickly put the blaze out, which was primarily contained to the baby's room. After an initial search for the newborn, authorities determined she had perished in the fire, which they said was caused by an overheated extension cord on a space heater. Human remains were never found in the debris, but investigators concluded any remains had been incinerated in the flames. Cuevas, however, insisted that her child had been kidnapped. But, because there was no evidence of a kidnapping aside from her desperate pleas, it was considered a closed case.
For six years, Cuevas mourned the loss of her child and wondered what had truly become of her. In 2003, at a birthday party for an acquaintance, Cuevas saw a little girl who looked strikingly like her other children and was the exact same age as her lost Delimar. She was able to obtain some of the girl's hair that day under the ruse of getting bubblegum out of her hair. With assistance from a state legislator, she had police open an investigation and test the hair for DNA. The test proved that 6-year-old "Aaliyah Hernandez" was actually her daughter, Delimar Vera.
The woman who kidnapped Delimar was Carolyn Correa, a cousin of the child's father, Pedro Vera. Cuevas and Correa had only met the day before the fire, when Correa came by the house. The following day, Correa returned, claiming she had left her purse upstairs. The blaze started as Correa left the house.
Delimar, still going by Aaliyah, was reunited with her parents the next year, who were both given custody. Her abductor was convicted of kidnapping, arson, and other crimes.
Dolly Oesterreich Claimed Her Husband Was Killed By A Burglar, But It Was Actually Her Lover, Whom She Kept Locked Up In The Attic
A petrified wife locked in the closet. Her husband, shot dead, lying on the bedroom floor. That was the scene police officers discovered after responding to reports of shots fired in a Southern California home in 1922. It looked like a robbery gone wrong, and that was the wife's story. But the tale of Dolly Oesterreich was far more complex.
Walburga "Dolly" Oesterreich and Fred William Oesterreich had been married for about 25 years at the time of the shooting. Fred worked long hours and often preferred laying his hands on a bottle of whiskey over his wife. So one day, when Fred sent Otto Sanhuber, a 17-year-old working at his factory, over to the house to repair Dolly's sewing machine, Otto and Dolly began having an affair. But with nosy neighbors and the inconvenience of hotel rooms, the two were perplexed as to how they could see each other often without getting caught. Then, Dolly had the idea to hide Otto in her attic.
During the day, Otto and Dolly would cavort around the house, make bathtub gin, and spend as much time together as they liked. At night, Otto would retreat to his tiny lair to write pulp fiction novels and hide until the following day. When the Oesterreichs moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, Dolly's secret attic lover moved with them.
One night, Otto heard Dolly and Fred arguing loudly. He came to his lover's defense with a pistol. A struggle over the guns ensued, and Fred was shot and killed. Otto set the scene by locking Dolly in the closet and hiding himself away in the attic, along with the guns. For years, police believed Dolly's story of a robbery gone wrong, as there was simply no evidence to the contrary.
That is, until nearly a decade after the murder, when a subsequent boyfriend of Dolly's admitted to police that she'd asked him to ditch a gun in the nearby tar pits, and a neighbor came forward saying she had similarly asked him to bury a gun for her. Though Dolly had both another boyfriend and another husband, Otto had continued to live in the attic for much of the decade. But by the time authorities had enough evidence to arrest Otto, the statute of limitations on manslaughter charges had run out, and a hung jury failed to find Dolly guilty of conspiracy. Both walked free, although they seemingly went their separate ways at last.
Sandra Boss Didn't Discover Her Husband's True Identity For 11 Years
In the mid '90s, Stanford graduate Sandra Boss was getting her MBA at Harvard when her sister introduced her to a man named Clark Rockefeller, descendant of the famous business family. He wore custom-made designer clothing, collected expensive art, and had an upscale New York apartment. Boss was charmed, and the two married shortly thereafter.
Boss and Rockefeller spent the next 11 years together. They enjoyed a stable life, thanks in large part to Boss's job as a consultant and personal wealth. The two had a daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Rockefeller, lovingly referred to as "Snooks," in 2001. But their marriage soon began to crack. Rockefeller was a stay-at-home dad, and didn't hesitate to spend Boss's money to keep up his appearances. His stories, too, became inconsistent. And Boss was often baffled when Rockefeller would suddenly insist, seemingly out of the blue, that they needed to move. Again.
Boss served Rockefeller with divorce papers in 2007. Since her husband was jobless and a complete mystery, Boss was awarded full custody. In 2008, Clark Rockefeller was enjoying one of the three court-approved visitations with his daughter as his ex-wife waited in a Boston hotel room nearby. While walking through Boston Common, Rockefeller disappeared with his daughter.
As investigators attempted to track down Rockefeller, they found more questions than answers. He didn't have a Social Security card, a driver's license, or even a credit card in his own name. When his picture was shown on the news asking for leads, callers gave at least four different identities to go with the man shown on-screen. Investigators were flummoxed.
Then, a friend came forward with what would become crucial evidence: Rockefeller had had a glass of wine at his house the night before, and the glass had not been washed. Police lifted prints off the glass and got a match to one Christian Karl Gerhartstreiter, a German immigrant who had come to the United States almost 30 years earlier.
Gerhartstreiter grew up in a middle-class family in a small town in Germany. He moved to the US as a teenager, where he stayed with a Connecticut family while claiming to be an exchange student at a local high school. He later got married and divorced, landing a green card, and moved to Los Angeles under the name of Christopher Chichester. He made himself at home in an upper-class neighborhood, weaving a tale of royal English ancestry and proclaiming himself a TV producer. He lived in the back house of a woman named Didi Sohus. Her son and daughter-in-law, John and Linda Sohus, lived on the property, as well. The two went missing in 1985, and Christopher Chichester disappeared shortly afterwards.
The skeletal remains of the couple were discovered in the backyard of the house in 1994, but by that time, Christopher Chichester had become Christopher Crowe. Crowe worked at (and was fired from) a number of high-level jobs on Wall Street, with no degree, no experience, and no Social Security number. As people began to catch wind of his act, and investigators tracked Sohus's missing truck back to him, he disappeared again, later turning up in Sandra Boss's life as Clark Rockefeller.
After a five-day manhunt for him and his kidnapped daughter, Clark Rockefeller had become Chip Smith. But his newest alias didn't last long; the owner of the carriage house he rented called investigators, and Snooks was safely returned to her mother while Christian/Christopher/Clark/Chip was finally taken into custody.
Gerhartstreiter was convicted of kidnapping his daughter as well as the murder of John Sohus (Linda's body has never been found). He is serving a sentence of 27 years to life in prison.
For 23 Years, Sherri Rasmussen's Case Was Dismissed As A Robbery Gone Wrong
On February 24, 1986, John Ruetten had been trying to get a hold of his wife, Sherri Rasmussen, all day. But because she hadn't felt good earlier, he didn't think too much of the fact that she didn't answer any of his many phone calls. Pulling into the garage of their Los Angeles-area home, he noticed glass on the ground, and Rasmussen's car missing. Still, he assumed she'd merely hit her mirror while backing out.
Then, Ruetten noticed the entry door was slightly ajar. He entered the house and called out his wife's name, just before he saw her, lying on the floor, motionless. Her face was bloodied and bruised. She had a bullet hole straight through her chest. He desperately checked for a pulse, but she was gone. In disbelief, he called 911.
The detective assigned to the case was Lyle Mayer. He carefully documented the scene, and made note of the electronics stacked in the living room near Rasmussen's body. To him, it was clear that whoever committed the crime had intended to leave with those items, and for whatever reason had not grabbed them upon exiting the scene. He interviewed Ruetten, her newly wed husband, to do his due diligence. But in just a matter of days, he declared the incident to be one of a burglary gone wrong.
For 23 years, the case went unsolved, until Los Angeles Police Department detectives took another look at the case as part of their Cold Case Homicide Unit in 2009. It was then that they noticed the inconsistencies: Sherri had a bite mark on her arm which likely fit a woman, and most burglaries are carried out by men; Ruetten's ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Lazarus, had been paying unannounced visits to John's home; and the shattered glass on the ground that Ruetten had seen was from a bullet traveling from inside the house, not outside-in as might be expected with a break-in.
Suddenly, detectives had a prime suspect for what was apparently now premeditated murder: Stephanie Lazarus, a fellow detective of the LAPD. Before bringing her in for questioning, the detectives did some more digging. Sure enough, Lazarus had been off-duty on the day of Rasmussen's murder. And just a few weeks after the crime, she had reported a gun stolen, presumably because she had ditched the murder weapon.
Detectives interviewed Lazarus under the guise of a friendly chat amongst colleagues. They told Lazarus, who worked in art theft, that they wanted her help on a case. She gave vague answers about how well she knew (or remembered) John Ruetten or his wife, even when asked about reports of her jealously confronting Rasmussen over her relationship with John. But detectives didn't need her confession; they already had a positive match to her DNA.
In 2012, Stephanie Lazarus was found guilty of murdering Sherri Rasmussen, and given a sentence of 27 years to life in prison.
- Photo: A Murder in the Park / IFC Films
The Innocence Project May Have Put An Innocent Man Behind Bars
In 1982, teenage sweethearts Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard were found murdered in Washington Park in Chicago. Anthony Porter was sentenced to death after being found guilty of the slayings in 1983. On the eve of his execution, he received a stay on his execution from the Illinois Supreme Court, citing concerns about his low IQ.
After Porter received the stay on his execution, journalism students at Northwestern University and participants in the Medill Innocence Project looked at his case. The students, led by their professor David Protess, obtained new evidence and identified who they believed was the real killer: a man named Alstory Simon (pictured). Showing up at Simon's home, the self-declared investigators told him they had all of the evidence proving his guilt, and that the police were on their way to arrest him. Simon confessed to the killings, and the confession was caught on tape.
It's worth noting that the "new evidence" obtained included a statement from Simon's now ex-wife and her incarcerated nephew putting Simon at the scene of the crime (this statement was later recanted). To obtain his confession, the students showed Simon video proof of another witness who said Simon committed the crime; however, the "witness" was an actor that the students had hired. Despite their shoddy and legally questionable detective work, the students with the Innocence Project were successful in getting Alstory Simon convicted of homicide, and clearing Porter's name.
Simon quickly realized that he'd been duped into confessing; he'd been promised a short prison sentence and subsequent big money from the "investigators," which failed to materialize. His defense lawyer was also a personal friend of the private investigator working with the students, and advised him to take a plea deal.
Simon served 15 years in prison until the county prosecutor took another look at the case and vacated his conviction, in part due to a documentary investigation into the case, A Murder in the Park. The film showed that the journalism students neglected to interview witnesses who put Anthony Porter at the scene (and didn't fit their narrative), and suggests that Porter may have been the guilty party all along.
In 2014, Simon was finally a free man, and he promptly initiated a defamation lawsuit against the Medill Innocence Project and the school, settling for a confidential amount. According to the lawsuit:
With the blessing of Northwestern University, David Protess... framed an innocent man (SIMON) so that death row inmate Anthony Porter could become a "poster boy" for the bid to end executions in Illinois.
Carolynne Watson Spent Six Days Believing She And Her Boyfriend Had Been Abducted By A Satanic Cult
Carolynne Watson, 17, and her boyfriend Julian Buchwald, 22, were avid church-goers in the area of Melbourne, Australia. They'd been dating for two years when Buchwald invited Watson on a romantic picnic in the Australian countryside. As they were driving, Buchwald stopped briefly and got out to inspect a dead animal on the side of the road. The next thing Watson knew, she was being blindfolded and tied up by a balaclava-masked man, who then stripped off her clothes, threw her in the back of a trunk, and drove.
When the vehicle finally stopped, Watson's blindfold was removed by her boyfriend. Buchwald, too, was nude, and claimed they had both been taken by a satanic cult and left alone in the wilderness. He managed to untie himself, and helped her do the same.
The pair wandered through the bushland for almost a week. Despite the fact that both were very religious and had pledged to not have sex before marriage, Buchwald continuously suggested they just get married and consummate it then and there, in order to stay warm.
The frightening debacle came to an end when the duo were found by a farmer, who alerted the police. At first, Buchwald continued his claim that the two had been kidnapped. Police did have a letter left at Watson's parents' house, supposedly sent by the kidnapper, that had satanic markings all over it.
But after being confronted by police with their suspicions, Buchwald quickly gave up the act and admitted he had staged the whole thing. When asked why he would have put his girlfriend through the ordeal, he admitted he was trying to convince her to marry him so that they could put that celibacy stuff behind them once and for all.