Mysterious Human Remains That Were Never Identified

What's even creepier than a case of someone taking a life? One where the body of the victim is never identified. Unexplained and unidentified corpses are found from time to time, and despite efforts to find their perps and put the victims to rest, investigators aren't always able to close these unsolved cases. Known as John and Jane Does, these mysterious victims captivate the imagination of many: Who were they? What happened to them?

The task of figuring out who these people are is often hard and fruitless. Authorities trying to crack cases with unidentified victims face uphill battles when trying to find a resolution. These cases involve men, women, and children - of all ages and races across the world. Police utilize age progression technology to create composite sketches of victims, allowing organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to promote posters in the hopes of identifying the lost but not forgotten. While nameless, these victims live forever in their mysteriousness. 

Photo: aitoff / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

  • The Tamam Shud Case

    The Tamam Shud Case
    Photo: South Australia Police / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The "Tamam Shud" case is considered by many as one of Australia's most profound mysteries. The case, also referred to as the "Mystery of the Somerton Man," is about more than just an unidentified body. It's about the cryptic coding found in the man's possession, and that no one knows what actually ended his life. On December 1, 1948, a man's body was spotted in Somerton Beach in South Australia. In his pocket was a page removed from a book of poems entitled Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. On it was the phrase "tamám shud" meaning "ended" or "finished" in Persian.

    Police located the copy of the book the page was ripped from, and inside of the back cover were written indentations. They deciphered a telephone number, but the other number and seemingly random text are believed to be an encrypted message. Investigators were never able to figure out the code or the man's identity.

    The discovery of the body coupled with the growing concerns of the Cold War and an increased public concern over international espionage caused some to speculate the man was a spy. No one ever figured out who the man was, what his code means, how he passed, or what he was doing in the first place.

  • The Bear Brook Barrels

    The Bear Brook Barrels
    Photo: CarlK90245 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    In 1985, a hunter out in New Hampshire's Bear Brook State Park made a shocking discovery. He found the remains of a woman in her mid-20s to early 30s and a young girl, both beaten, wrapped in plastic, and stuffed into a metal drum. Police were unable to identify the two victims and the case went cold.

    In May 2000, a detective decided to reopen the case and visit the scene. To everyone's horror, two more victims were found about 300 feet away from the first two. They, too, were concealed in a metal drum, and while their COD was undetermined, it did date back to the same time period as the first two victims.

    They were much younger than the first child, one was between 2 and 4 years old and the other was only 1 to 3 years old. DNA testing concluded that two of the children were maternally related to the woman, the third could have been a paternal half-sister or cousin to the other children. The identities of the family remain unknown. There was nothing in the database to link the girls to a father, a missing person's report, or any other family members.

    Then, in 2016, DNA connected convict Terry Peder Rasmussen to one of the toddlers unearthed back in 2000. At the time of discovery, Rasmussen - referred to as a "Chameleon" - went by many aliases, including "Bob Evans." He is suspected in more than half a dozen missing person cases but passed while incarcerated in 2010.

    In June 2019, authorities announced the identies of the woman and two of the children: Marlyse Elizabeth Honeychurch, and her two children, Marie Elizabeth Vaughn and Sarah Lynn McWaters. Librarian and amateur sleuth Rebekah Heath broke the case by cross-referencing missing persons databases. The third girl remains unidentified, though she is the daughter of Rasmussen. Authorities hope to identify the girl's mother, but they feel confident, given his previous convictions and ties to Honeychurch, that Rasmussen is responsible for her and her daughters' demises.

  • Beth Doe

    Beth Doe
    Photo: Carbon County Police Department / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    On December 20, 1976, three suitcases were found under a bridge on Interstate 80 in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Inside were the remains of a pregnant woman believed to be between 16 and 22-years-old. The woman had been strangled, shot, and then completely dismembered. Among the discovery were also the remains of her unborn baby.

    The only lead police had was numbers and letters that could have been a license plate number written on one of her hands. Then, in 2014, new technologies allowed experts to compose a DNA profile of the woman, determining that she is from eastern or central Europe. However, investigators never determined who she was or what the numbers meant. She was buried under the name "Beth Doe," and her case remains unsolved to this day. 

  • The 'Boy In The Box,' Joseph Augustus Zarelli

    The 'Boy In The Box,' Joseph Augustus Zarelli
    Photo: CarlK90245 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    On February 25, 1957, a boy no more than 6 years old was discovered deceased, stripped of his clothing, thrown in a box, and left on the side of a road in Philadelphia. He was severely underweight, malnourished, and was badly bruised. Authorities determined his official cause of death was blunt-force trauma.

    No one came forward to claim his body. There were no missing person reports matching his description and no fingerprints on file with the hospital. Police went so far as to enlist the help of a psychic to help solve the mystery but had no luck. 

    Then, in December 2022, Philadelphia police announced they had identified the Boy in the Box as Joseph Augustus Zarelli with the help of DNA. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said of the case: “This announcement only closes one chapter in this little boy's story, while opening up a new one.” Joseph Zarelli's killer is still unidentified.

  • 'Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm?'

    'Who Put Bella In The Wych Elm?'
    Photo: David Buttery / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In 1943, a group of English boys made a terrible discovery while playing in Stourbridge. They discovered the skull of a woman whose body had apparently been stuffed into the hollowed trunk of a Wych Elm. They reported it to their parents, who turned the case over to police. They discovered the body, which had been there almost a year-and-a-half. 

    Soon thereafter, someone wrote "Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?" on walls in the nearby town. Some speculated the body could belong to a streetwalker named Bella who had gone missing a few years prior.

    Ten years after the body's discovery, a woman named Una Mossop accused her cousin Jack Mossop of helping a Dutchman named Van Ralt put the woman in the tree. According to Una Mossop, the woman was drunk and the two men thought it'd be a funny way to scare her. Jack Mossop was said to be haunted by dreams of the woman's lifeless eyes staring out at him from inside a tree trunk, and he passed in a state hospital prior to the discovery. However, there's no proof that Una Mossop's story was true. 

  • El Dorado Jane Doe

    It was July 9, 1991, in El Dorado, AR, when a woman's body was noticed in a room at the Whitehall Motel. While her ID read Cheryl Ann Wick, it was quickly discovered the real Cheryl Ann Wick was alive and well in Minneapolis. This mystery woman apparently had many aliases. Her boyfriend and alleged souteneur - James "Ice" McAlphin - didn't even know her real identity. She led lives in Dallas, Little Rock, Houston, Shreveport, and Florida. She had been known as "Kelly Lee Carr," "Shannon Wiley," and "Mercedes." 

    She allegedly worked as an exotic dancer and call girl and had been arrested multiple times, yet her true identity was never known. The only personal item police found on her was a Bible with names scrawled inside. The names turned out to be people she stayed with temporarily and offered no insight to the true identity of El Dorado Jane Doe.

    Although McAlphin was convicted and served approximately 15 years for the crime, the woman's true identity is still a mystery.