10 Solved True Crime Cases That Still Frustrate Us

The world of true crime often deals with tough-to-crack cases like those of the Golden State Killer, the Green River Killer, and Jeffrey Dahmer. These cases took investigators decades to solve and left the nation anxious to find out who the mystery assailants were. Eventually, investigators and the public would receive their long-awaited answers.

While it is satisfying to know an unsolved case has finally come to a close, certain elements may not sit right within solved cases and can lead to more questions than answers. For instance, why wasn't the culprit caught sooner? Or why did investigators ignore an obvious suspect for years? Sometimes, the frustration isn't with how the case was handled, but more with an ironic twist of fate, such as the time one notorious criminal was nearly caught decades earlier but got away. Whatever the case may be, these stories still haunt us, despite their resolution.

  • On May 27, 1991, neighbors of Jeffrey Dahmer called the police to report that they had seen a boy, who was naked and bleeding, run from Dahmer's apartment building. Cousins Sandra Smith and Nicole Childress, who were returning home at the time, said the boy, Konerak Sinthasomphone, collapsed at their feet. Childress recalled:

    Because he was naked, I could see he had cuts all over his body, and there was blood running down his thighs. He was in such a bad state, he couldn’t stand... It was clear he needed help. As he stumbled towards me, he looked like a prayer had been answered. An expression of relief came over his face. When he got near, he held out his arms and collapsed to the floor.

    Childress said Dahmer soon came over to retrieve Sinthasomphone, saying he was his boyfriend and he was just drunk. But the witnesses didn't trust him, especially when he didn't seem to know Sinthasomphone's name and tried to physically pull him away.

    When police arrived to investigate the situation, they confronted Dahmer, who again claimed the boy was his lover who'd had too much to drink. The officers accepted his explanation and followed Dahmer and the boy back to his apartment. Officers then left the premises with no further suspicions and Dahmer ushered the boy back into his home. A police tape of a call to dispatchers includes an officer at the scene saying, "The intoxicated Asian naked male [laughter in background] was returned to his sober boyfriend."

    Two months later, another man in handcuffs fled Dahmer's apartment and alerted police of Dahmer’s assaults. Dahmer was arrested, and upon his interrogation, he admitted to killing over 17 boys. He also informed police that he strangled Sinthasomphone shortly after officers returned the 14-year-old to his apartment, and claimed to have been hiding the body of another victim in his bedroom during the officers' visit.

    Investigators assigned to Dahmer's case claimed Dahmer had killed four more victims after the original encounter with the police officers. Dahmer admitted to police that he would convince men to enter his apartment with the promise of sex and then kill them. Officer Joseph Gabrish, who was one of the officers present when Sinthasomphone was found running out of Dahmer's apartment, claimed he and the other officers believed there was a caring relationship between the boy and Dahmer, and did not feel the need to intervene. News of the encounter soon spread throughout the public and protest ensued, causing Gabrish and the other officers in attendance to be suspended.

  • After Actress Gay Gibson Was Killed And Pushed Off A Cruise Ship, The Trial Centered On Her Sex Life
    Photo: Dr. Thomas Beckett / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    After Actress Gay Gibson Was Killed And Pushed Off A Cruise Ship, The Trial Centered On Her Sex Life

    On October 17, 1947, Gay Gibson, an up-and-coming British actress, dined and danced on the Durban Castle cruise ship on her way to England before retiring to her cabin. At 1 am, she was seen leaving her room to relax on the afterdeck alone, then soon made her way back to her room for the night.

    At 2:58 am, the on-duty watchman, Frederick Steer, noticed red and green lights flashing on his gallery panel. The lights indicated a steward was needed in Gibson’s room, cabin 126. Steer made his way to 126, but when he knocked on the door, no one answered. Steer decided to open the door but was met with another force slamming it shut. However, before the door could close all the way, Steer caught a glimpse of a familiar face: James Camb. Camb was known on the ship as "Valentine," as he was a famous womanizer among the crew. After seeing Camb's face, Steer went to his superior to report the incident. However, not wanting to get a fellow crewman in trouble, Steer neglected to inform his superior that it was Camb's face he saw. Believing the private lives of the passengers were not the crewman's business, Camb was told to ignore the situation.

    At 7:30 that morning, upon entering Gibson’s room, a stewardess noticed it was disheveled and alerted the chief stewardess. Soon the ship's address system attempted to page Gibson, but to no avail. Steer then notified his superiors that he had seen Camb in Gibson's cabin earlier that morning. Camb was interrogated and claimed to have been in Gibson's cabin, having consensual relations, when she suddenly started foaming at the mouth and died. Camb claimed he feared authorities would blame him, so he shoved her body through the porthole and left for his cabin.

    At the subsequent trial, Camb's lawyer argued that Gibson's prior sexual experience supported Camb's story, painting her as a promiscuous woman who'd willingly invited Camb into her bed. He pressed Gibson's mother on an affair she'd allegedly had in the past, and made claims that she'd been pregnant. Other witnesses testified that she had "sexual experience" and that they'd seen her faint. The prosecution pointed to scratch marks on Camb and the fact that a contraceptive device found in Gibson's bag would have been used if she was expecting a bedfellow. The jury didn't buy Camb's story, and he was sentenced to life in prison. 

    However, Camb was paroled in 1959. He was later convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, for which he received two years of probation. A short time after that, he was convicted of sexual misconduct with three young girls, after which he returned to prison.

  • Michael Swango Continued To Work In Hospitals Even After He Was Convicted Of Poisoning His Coworkers

    In the early 1980s, Michael Joseph Swango was a student at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. According to his peers, Swango harbored a strange and fiercely competitive personality and was noted to have been extremely arrogant. But perhaps most alarming was his nickname: "Double-O Swango." His classmates joked he had a "license to kill," as patients seemed to perish under his watch. Though he was also accused of falsifying patient reports, Swango graduated and was accepted into an internship program at Ohio State University Medical Center in 1983, where he planned to become a neurosurgeon.

    However, staff soon noticed an alarming spike in patient deaths, particularly when Swango was on duty. A nurse later reported seeing him inject a patient with an unknown substance right before they stopped breathing. Another patient, 21-year-old Ricky DeLong, mysteriously died under his care - Swango claimed to have discovered him dead during his rounds. A later autopsy determined the doctor had stuffed gauze down his throat.

    It wasn't only patients who were affected in Swango's presence. His fellow doctors became violently ill after eating a bucket of fried chicken that he'd brought in. The strange occurrences were enough for the university to end Swango's residency. But after an internal probe didn't muster up any solid evidence of wrongdoing, OSU provided Swango with letters of recommendation that allowed him to obtain a medical license.

    Swango returned to his hometown of Quincy, IL, where he got a job as an emergency medical technician with an ambulance service. Swango's coworkers again found him odd - particularly his professed admiration for serial killers - and when they all became ill from a box of doughnuts he brought into work, they became suspicious and laid a trap. They left out a pitcher of unsweetened tea; after Swango was left alone with it, it was sweet - and tested positive for arsenic.

    While Swango was convicted of poisoning his coworkers and spent two years in prison, his medical career was somehow far from over. He changed his name, and, if prospective employers still found out about his aggravated battery conviction, he told them it was merely a bar fight gone wrong. Swango landed a job at a medical-career vocational school in Virginia, where coworkers again became ill. He then began a one-year psychiatric residency in New York, during which he murdered at least three more patients by lethal injection. Swango was eventually fired and unable to obtain a job - at least in the US.

    Before a police investigation could get underway, Swango fled to Zimbabwe in 1994, where he forged documents to obtain a job at a mission hospital. He was suspected in five patient deaths there before he returned to the US to get a flight to Saudi Arabia, where he'd gotten another job. Upon his brief return in 1997, Swango was finally arrested. He eventually pled guilty to four murders, though estimates place his actual number of victims as high as 60 over the course of his 15+ years in medicine.

  • Drew Peterson Blamed His Troubled Marriage On His Wife's Menstrual Cycle, And His Fourth Wife Stacy Has Never Been Found
    Photo: Dateline / NBC

    In 2009, Drew Peterson, a retired police sergeant from Bolingbrook, IL, was charged with the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson had previously worked as an undercover officer and had a long history of domestic violence reported within his marriages. Peterson's first wife, Carol Brown, filed for divorce after learning Peterson was having an affair. Peterson married his second wife, Victoria Connolly, the same woman he was having an affair with, in 1982. This marriage also ended in divorce due to reported domestic abuse and another affair with his eventual third wife, Savio. Peterson and Savio wed in 1992 and were married for 10 years before Savio filed for divorce and received an order of protection against her ex-husband due to his violent outbursts. In 2003, their divorce was finalized and Peterson moved on to his fourth marriage with a woman named Stacy, 30 years his junior, with whom he'd been having an affair.

    Though he'd moved on to a new marriage, Peterson continued to cause trouble for Savio; she filed consistent reports of breaking and entering, domestic disturbances, and late returns of the children from visitation. In late February 2004, Savio was supposed to be at home, waiting for Peterson to return their children after his visitation weekend. When Peterson attempted to give the children back to their mother, Savio was nowhere to be found. By Monday, March 1, Savio was still unreachable and Peterson requested the help of her neighbors to enter Savio’s property. When the neighbors and Peterson reached Savio's bathroom, they discovered her unresponsive body in the bathtub, her hair damp but the tub dry.

    The initial examination of Savio's body deemed her death an accident, but soon after the results of the autopsy were shared, Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, went missing and authorities grew suspicious of foul play. Savio’s body was exhumed and examined by a new coroner, who deemed her death a homicide. Peterson was arrested for the murder of Savio and is currently serving a 78-year prison sentence, but his fourth wife, Stacy, has never been found. Peterson has stated that he believes his wife ran off and left him for another man, and has said both she and Savio were emotionally disturbed. He has frequently discussed Stacy's allegedly erratic behavior, particularly after her sister passed, in interviews, saying, "I'm not trying to be funny, but Stacy would ask me for divorce after her sister died on a regular basis... It was based on her menstrual cycle."

  • An Italian Church Refused To Cooperate With A Search For A Missing Girl Who Lay Dead Inside For Over A Decade
    Photo: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    An Italian Church Refused To Cooperate With A Search For A Missing Girl Who Lay Dead Inside For Over A Decade

    On September 12, 1993, 16-year-old Elisa Claps was meeting 21-year-old Danilo Restivo for a date. They met inside the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Potenza, Italy, at 11:30 am, just as mass ended. Though Restivo had been known to be an awkward individual, Elisa reportedly felt sorry for him and agreed to accompany him on the date. After entering the church that day, Elisa was never seen again.

    Suspicion quickly fell on Restivo, who was interrogated by authorities, but he claimed that Elisa had left the church while he stayed to pray. With little evidence to follow and no sign of Elisa, her family and the local community searched for answers for years, with reported sightings repeatedly popping up but only giving false hope. Despite the ardor of the community in the search, the church where Elisa was last seen remained uncooperative in the investigation. The church's priest, Don Mimì Sabia, was reportedly very powerful locally, as his church was attended by the upper class. He repeatedly refused to give investigators access to the church and was the only church in town that didn't ring bells for the 10-year anniversary of Elisa's disappearance.

    While Elisa's case went cold, in 2002, seamstress Heather Barnett was found murdered in Bournemouth, England. The gruesome scene was discovered by Barnett's children when they came home from school. They immediately called the police and fled the house, where they were assisted by a neighbor returning home: Danilo Restivo.

    Investigators quickly found Restivo suspicious. There were no signs of forced entry, and according to Barnett's children, Restivo had been in their home a few days prior to commission some curtains, around the time Barnett's keys went missing. He was also known to cut strands of hair from women's heads as he rode behind them on the bus, and Barnett had strands of her own hair cut and placed in her hand. Still, with a lack of forensic evidence, building the case was a slow process.

    Before an arrest could be made in the Barnett case, there was a break in Elisa Claps's disappearance. In 2010, workers fixing a leak in the Church of the Most Holy Trinity's roof discovered a mummified skeleton in a garret beside the bell tower. It was Elisa. 

    Shortly after Elisa's body was found, Restivo was arrested for Barnett's murder. He was later convicted of both killings, and his name has popped up as a possible suspect for other, similar crimes.

  • A Police Officer Nearly Caught The Golden State Killer When He Was Operating As The Visalia Ransacker
    Photo: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    On December 10, 1975, William McGowan, a former Visalia Police Department detective, was on a stakeout when he came face to face with the Golden State Killer. From 1974 to 1975, the Visalia Police Department had a high influx in home burglaries within the same small areas of the town, which led McGowan to the fateful stakeout.

    Around 8:30 pm, McGowan noticed a shadowy figure lurking by the garage he was watching. He followed him, confronting him with his flashlight as he tried to break into the back gate. The subject shrieked and took off running. Pursuing the suspect, McGowan yelled at him to stop; the man fired a gun. The bullet narrowly missed McGowan, hitting his flashlight instead, leaving pieces of the flashlight ricocheting into his eye. During a 1975 Action News interview, McGowan stated, “I fell when the impact knocked me back, and he continued to run, throwing some items apparently taken in the area."

    After the Action News episode aired, the Visalia burglaries stopped, but McGowan was still determined to identify the shadowy figure. At the time the burglaries came to an end, a new offender was on the rise: the East Area Rapist. Later, he would become the "Original Night Stalker" before all the crimes were linked to one man, the Golden State Killer.

    McGowan and his family believed the same man who'd shot at him was responsible for the later crimes. McGowan spent the rest of his time in the Visalia Police Department looking for clues, but could never make a solid connection. In April 2018, after decades of searching for the Golden State Killer’s identity, Sacramento authorities made an important discovery. A genealogical DNA search linked Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. (pictured) to the crimes of the Golden State Killer and investigators were able to inform McGowan’s family that his original assumption was correct. DeAngelo, who was a former police officer, utilized his knowledge to operate as a serial killer and burglar for over 10 years. He has since answered for his crimes and is now serving a life sentence.