11 Of The Coldest Cases That Were Finally Solved

In so many cases, from Lizzie Borden to the Black Dahlia to JonBenét Ramsey, there's no definitive answer as to who the culprit was, and perhaps it's partly a desire to know the unknown that keeps the cases alive. Unsolved cases often prove to be some of the most intriguing and most hotly debated among true crime followers. There's something about having the answer just out of reach that makes these cold cases stick with us for decades.

All that said, there's something particularly satisfying about a solved cold case. For example, take the Golden State Killer, whose identity was debated for decades, then shockingly revealed one day in 2018. More than a name, the whole world got to see families get closure and justice served in the courtroom, though even in solved cold cases this isn't always the case. But thanks to advances in forensic evidence, new leads, and sometimes even guilty consciences, more and more cold cases continue to be closed.

This list unpacks some of the coldest cases that were finally solved, often decades after the crime took place.

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  • Police Knew John List Killed His Family, But It Took 18 Years To Actually Find Him
    Photo: Forensic Files / TLC

    Police Knew John List Killed His Family, But It Took 18 Years To Actually Find Him

    In the 1960s, the List family seemed to be living the stereotypical American dream. They resided in an ornate Victorian mansion in Westfield, New Jersey complete with a ballroom. The family were devout Lutherans who attended church every Sunday. The family's main earner, 46-year-old John List, worked as an accountant at the bank and taught Sunday school.

    But in 1971, List lost his job. He didn't tell his wife, Helen, pretending to go to work everyday, and quickly went through most of the family's savings to keep up appearances. Later that year, List killed his wife, his elderly mother, and his three teenage children at the family's mansion.

    Unwilling to admit his circumstances or seek assistance, List had carefully planned the murders, even leaving the bodies of his wife and children laid out in the home's ballroom. Before fleeing, he cleaned the crime scene, cut his face out of all the family photos, and blasted church hymnals over the home intercom system; he also left a long letter to his pastor detailing his actions. List had a month-long head start before the slayings were discovered. At that point, the police had little doubt as to who their killer was, but they were unable to find him for the next 18 years.

    It wasn't until 1989 when the police finally got the break they needed. They had a forensic artist create an age-progressed bust of what List would look like and featured the sculpture on America's Most Wanted. The tips came pouring in, including one from a woman in Virginia who believed the bust bore an uncanny resemblance to her neighbor, Robert Clark. It turned out the married, church-going accountant Clark was in fact List.

    List later explained he murdered his family because he was afraid they would lose their religious faith if they had to live in poverty. As it would later turn out, the Tiffany skylight in the ballroom was worth an estimated $100,000, which could have covered much of his debt. List passed in prison in 2008.

  • It Took More Than 30 Years For Authorities To Realize The Golden State Killer’s Crimes Were Committed By Just One Person
    Photo: FBI / Sacramento Sheriff / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    On April 24, 2018, police apprehended 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. on eight counts of first-degree murder based on DNA evidence. Now known as the Golden State Killer, a name coined by writer Michelle McNamara, DeAngelo is said to be responsible for a string of crimes from 1974 through 1986 that were originally attributed to three different unknown offenders: the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker. During that time, DeAngelo is believed to have committed at least 120 burglaries, 50 sexual assaults, and 13 murders.

    Previously, the crimes weren't connected, as they took place under different jurisdictions, and it wasn't as common or easy for different police departments to share information on their cases. It wasn't until 2001 when the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker were identified by a DNA match as the same person, then called EARONS.

    The DNA match to DeAngelo was the result of forensic genealogy. The police were able to match the EARONS DNA to a relative of DeAngelo who had used a genealogy website, and from there narrowed it down to him. The evidence against DeAngelo was substantial enough that he pleaded guilty before going to trial, and is now serving 26 life sentences.

  • After 35 Years, A Piece Of Chewing Gum Pointed To Nova Welsh’s Killer

    In the summer of 1981, 24-year-old Nova Welsh's body was found stuffed in a cupboard inside her Birmingham, UK, home. She had been dead for approximately three weeks and "pressure on the neck" was determined to be the cause of death. Although Welsh's ex-boyfriend Osmond Bell was questioned by police, no charges were ever filed. Welsh left behind two children under the age of 6.

    It wasn't until late 2016 when a piece of chewing gum that had been used to secure the cupboard latch was finally tested for DNA. The results matched Osmond's, and he was taken into custody. After a week of jury deliberation, Osmond was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in jail - nearly 36 years after committing the crime.

  • Sherri Rasmussen’s Murder Was Called A Burglary Gone Wrong, But 26 Years Later An LAPD Detective Was Convicted
    Video: YouTube

    Sherri Rasmussen’s Murder Was Called A Burglary Gone Wrong, But 26 Years Later An LAPD Detective Was Convicted

    On February 24, 1986, John Ruetten came home from work to find his wife, Sherri Rasmussen, shot three times, beaten about the face, and bitten on one of her arms. Due to the ransacked state of the home and a recent string of robberies in the area, the Los Angeles Police Department quickly determined that Rasmussen's murder was a botched burglary, and the case went unsolved for more than two decades.

    It wasn't until 2009 when two detectives in a cold case unit re-examined the case and found a burglary didn't add up. Many valuables were left in the home, but the couple's marriage certificate was missing. Two shots were fired at Rasmussen at point-blank range, suggesting someone who wanted to ensure her death. And bite marks are more commonly left by women, whereas burglars are typically men. DNA from the bite mark had eventually been recovered, showing it was in fact inflicted by a female.

    The cold case detectives eventually made a connection to a woman who had shown up briefly in the original case notes: fellow LAPD detective Stephanie Lazarus. Lazarus had dated Ruetten prior to his marriage to Rasmussen and repeatedly harassed the woman and tried to break the couple up.

    After interviewing Lazarus under the guise of seeking help on a case, the detectives arrested her. Her DNA was a match. Lazarus was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 27 years in prison.

  • Pamela Shelley’s Death Was Ruled A Suicide, Until Her Former Boyfriend Was Charged 11 Years Later

    Ronnie Hendrick called 911 on January 6, 2001, stating his girlfriend, Pamela Shelley, had shot herself in the head. Following an autopsy, the medical examiner ruled the 32-year-old mother of two's passing a suicide. The suicide ruling didn't sit well with Shelley's family, since she had been in the process of packing her car to move back to Arkansas. Her daughter Kayla also told authorities Hendrick had been physically and verbally abusive to Shelley.

    In 2012, new evidence came to light that Shelley had secretly been communicating with her ex-husband in Arkansas, and Hendrick told Shelley's ex that the only way she would be returning would be in a pine box. Coupled with the fact no DNA was found on the gun, meaning someone had wiped it, a grand jury was convened. Hendrick pleaded guilty to murdering Shelley and was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

  • Fraudster Liz Carmichael Was On The Run For Nine Years Before She Was Caught
    Photo: The Lady and the Dale / HBO

    Fraudster Liz Carmichael Was On The Run For Nine Years Before She Was Caught

    In 1974, Liz Carmichael appeared to be selling the hottest new car on the block. With a recent OPEC embargo, customers were clamoring for Carmichael's new fuel-efficient car known as the Dale. However, no prototype of the Dale ever actually worked, and it was never manufactured. Customers and investors found themselves defrauded to the tune of $1-3 million. When police went looking for Carmichael, they discovered she was a transgender woman whose birth name was Jerry Dean Michael. Under her birth name, Carmichael was wanted on counterfeit charges.

    Carmichael was apprehended in Miami in 1975 while trying to escape out of a window. She went to trial, where, representing herself, she claimed the Dale would have worked eventually. An auto engineer for the prosecution disagreed, saying, "It was literally held together with baling wire and coat hangers." Carmichael was found guilty in 1977, but she escaped while on bail in 1980 and was not seen for nine years.

    Carmichael was apprehended in 1989 after she was featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. She was found living in Texas under the name Katherine Elizabeth Johnson. Despite being a transgender woman, Carmichael was sent to a men's prison and eventually paroled in 1993. She passed in 2004.