Some of the most famous true crime cases may never be solved. Even with advancements in DNA testing and forensic technology, we're still faced with seemingly unanswerable questions. Who was Jack the Ripper? Who killed the Black Dahlia? How did three lighthouse keepers vanish off an island?
In the list below, we'll look at a few unsolved cases that occurred between the late 1800s and mid-20th century. Although theories abound in each of these cases, an air of mystery hangs around all of them.
In the early hours of August 31, 1888, the body of 43-year-old Mary Ann Nichols was found in the Whitechapel district of London's East End. Her murder would be considered the first in a string of serial murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper, also referred to at the time as “Leather Apron,” terrorized London's East End by violently murdering sex workers. Letters claiming to be from the Ripper were also sent to the press and law enforcement in an effort to taunt the Metropolitan police for being unable to catch the killer.
In addition to Nichols, it's believed that Jack the Ripper was responsible for the murders of Annie Chapman on September 8, 1888, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes on September 30, and Mary Kelly on November 9. The Ripper's murders grew more violent over time. Eddowes's kidney was stolen and part of it was later sent in one of the Ripper letters. Kelly's body was so mutilated that she reportedly could only be identified by her eyes and ears.
Despite multiple suspects being identified over the past century-and-a-half and advancements in DNA testing, the identity of Jack the Ripper remains a mystery.
During a morning walk on January 15, 1947, in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, local resident Betty Bersinger and her young son came upon the dismembered body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. Short's body had been mutilated, washed, and placed in an abandoned lot. Most disturbing was the fact that Short's body had been cut in half, with her lower torso placed several inches from her upper torso. Short's murder instantly became a media sensation, and she was dubbed “The Black Dahlia” in reference to the popular film The Blue Dahlia.
Police looked into approximately 150 suspects at the time and believed that someone with medical knowledge had tortured, mutilated, and dismembered Short, then left her remains in the abandoned lot. An anonymous letter likely written by the killer, along with some of Short's personal belongings, were also sent to the LAPD in the days following January 15.
Many still believe Elizabeth Short was murdered by Dr. George Hodel, who had previously been a suspect in his secretary's murder. Hodel's son, Steve Hodel, went on to become an LAPD detective and later wrote a book about his father being the man who murdered the Black Dahlia.
The death of famed writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe has been a topic of debate for more than 160 years. Poe was found near death in a gutter on October 3, 1849, while visiting Baltimore. Wearing someone else's clothes and said to be delirious, Poe would later have hallucinations in the hospital before passing away on October 7. Despite being in the hospital for four days, Poe was never able to give a clear answer as to what happened to him, although he did mutter the name “Reynolds” numerous times.
Since his untimely death in 1849, there have been multiple theories surrounding Poe's death. Several of these point to his issues with alcohol, including the fact that he could become severely intoxicated after only one glass of wine. It's believed Poe may have been suffering from alcohol withdrawal or that he'd been beaten while intoxicated leading up to his death. Another theory states that Poe was a victim of “cooping,” a form of fraud where men were made to vote multiple times in elections by wearing different clothes. The men were typically rewarded with alcohol. As it turned out, there was an election in Baltimore the day Poe was found in the gutter, but it's impossible to prove whether or not he participated in this scheme.
The Disappearance Of Walter Collins
Often considered to be a part of the Wineville Chicken Coop Case Murders, the disappearance of Walter Collins at first seemed solved until the alleged killer recanted his statement. Walter Collins was a 9-year-old boy who lived with his mother, Christine Collins, in Los Angeles before he disappeared on March 10, 1928. Five months later, a boy claiming to be Walter showed up in Illinois. When the boy arrived in Los Angeles, Christine told the LAPD that the boy was not Walter. However, the police forced Christine to take the boy home and even had her committed to a psychiatric ward for 10 days when she refused to believe that the boy was Walter.
The boy eventually confessed to not being Walter, and the case went cold again. However, the case picked up when Gordon Northcott and his mother, Louise Northcott, were accused of murdering two boys they had kept in their chicken coop in Wineville, CA. They were also accused of kidnapping and murdering Walter. Although Gordon initially said his mother had killed Walter, he eventually told Christine Collins he and his mother had not been responsible for Walter's death. Christine believed Gordon and continued looking for Walter until the day she died.
The Wall Street Bombing Of 1920
Around lunchtime on September 16, 1920, a horse-drawn cart pulled up in front of the US Assay office across the street from the J.P. Morgan building. The man driving the cart slipped into the midday crowd only moments before the cart exploded. Thirty people were instantly killed as metal debris flew everywhere, and 300 were injured as a result of the explosion. In total, 38 people died.
Despite an extensive investigation, authorities were never able to determine who loaded the cart with dynamite and metal weights. However, it was suspected that a group of Italians operating under the name "American Anarchist Fighters" may have caused the explosion as they were suspected in a separate bombing only a year prior.
The Disappearance Of The Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers
The transatlantic steamer Archtor was passing by the Flannan Isle lighthouse on December 15, 1900, when the captain and crew noticed that the lighthouse was completely dark. A relief ship was sent out the following day to check on Flannan Isle's three lighthouse keepers: James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and William MacArthur. While it appeared that the table in the lighthouse's kitchen had been set for dinner, there was no one to be found. A full search of the island led investigators to believe that the men likely drowned during a storm while trying to secure equipment at the dock. However, a logbook supposedly kept by MacArthur told a different story.
In the logbook, MacArthur wrote about a terrible storm that took place from the 12th-15th but indicated that all three men had survived the storm. Some believed that the logbook proved some sort of supernatural force, like a sea monster, was to blame for the men's deaths. However, the logbook is now believed to have been completely fabricated. More likely than not, the men probably did drown during a storm, though some still suspect that MacArthur may have murdered his fellow lighthouse keepers before taking his own life.