History is full of horrible crimes, though they might not be quite what you think. Several notorious murders have been misconstrued by the public, either to sensationalize the story or because the details of the events are murky. Even if you're a true crime buff who can rattle off obscure facts about prolific serial killers and terrifying murderers, you probably got these cases wrong.
This list focuses on the serial killers whose stories aren't what you've been told. For instance, Lizzie Borden might not have been all bad - she likely had a sensitive side at odds with her supposed axing of her family. As for Charles Manson, some people believe he never told his followers to commit murder at all.
You might think that you know the details of these notorious murders, but emerging details and misconceptions mean there's still more to learn about these famous crimes. Read on for more information on the killers you got all wrong.
You know the story: Charles Manson convinced his followers, known as The Family, to go on a two-day killing spree from August 9-10, 1969. He told them it was their duty to start a race war that he called "Helter Skelter," and that when it was over, he and his Family would emerge to take over the world. The Family murdered seven people over the course of those two days, which the police dubbed the Tate-LaBianca murders.
Manson collected followers by targeting troubled young women and "feeding them a cocktail of LSD, alcohol, and spiritual aphorisms." When it came time to begin Helter Skelter, the girls were ready to do anything Charlie said. Even though Manson was convicted of first-degree murder along with Family members Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Tex Watson, he was never present during the actual murders. Charlie didn't need to get his hands dirty because he had devoted followers who would do anything for him.
It's pretty likely, though, that Charlie never even told his Family to kill anyone. Taking cues from Dale Carnegie's book How To Win Friends And Influence People, which he picked up during a prison stint in 1957, Charlie became an expert in manipulation. He could talk about ideas in such a way that the other person would think they had thought of it first. According to the podcast You Must Remember This, Charlie would "say just enough to get people to solve problems for him, without actually telling them to do anything." Manson became one of the most notorious murderers in history, all through the power of mind control.see more on Charles Manson
On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death by Winston Moseley outside of her apartment in Queens. The crime was horrific, but it became notorious because of the headline in The New York Times on March 27: "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call The Police." This led psychologists to popularize the concept of "The Bystander Effect."
The newspaper reported that Kitty's neighbors, not wanting to get involved, did nothing to help her while she was being attacked. Kitty's family believed that she died alone, but her brother Bill decided to investigate further.
He released a documentary in 2016 about Kitty's murder called The Witness. In it, he learns new information that completely changes the circumstances of that night. After being stabbed, Kitty retreated to the back of her apartment building and out of sight, leading many neighbors to think she had just been having a quarrel with her boyfriend. Several neighbors actually did call the police and were told that the crime had already been reported. The most striking difference is that one of Kitty's female friends who lived in the building went downstairs to hold her while they waited for police to arrive, even though the killer may have still been lurking.see more on Murder of Kitty Genovese
It can be argued that every theory about the murder of JonBenét Ramsey is totally wrong. Her body was found in the basement of her home on Christmas Day 1996 after an apparent botched kidnapping attempt. Investigators uncovered many flaws in this intruder theory but have never been able to figure out what really happened to JonBenét.
DNA evidence cleared the Ramsey family in 2008, though suspicions still linger about their connection to the murder. The ransom note found at the crime scene was later found to have been written on a notepad from their own home. The kidnappers demanded $118,000 in exchange for JonBenét's return, which was exactly the amount that her father received as a bonus that year.
The recent series The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey investigated the theory that JonBenét's older brother, Burke, was involved in her death as well, or at least knew more that he was telling police. Her parents had said they'd put their daughter to bed immediately after returning from a Christmas party, but autopsy results showed that she'd eaten pineapple shortly before her death. Crime scene photos showed a bowl of pineapple at the kitchen table. In footage recorded during police questioning, Burke was asked to identify the contents of the bowl and he paused before saying, "Oh." Did he give something away in that moment or is this just another theory that can never be proven?
The murder of Elizabeth Short, known as The Black Dahlia, is one of the most gruesome unsolved murders in history. Shocking crime scene photos show her dismembered body as it was discovered in Leimert Park in the early hours of January 15, 1947. Her murder became part of pop culture because it seemed uniquely horrific, but according to the Hollywood & Crime podcast, more than a dozen other women died in similar ways in the Los Angeles area during the 1940s.
Ora Murray was found strangled and mutilated in 1943; her case was known as The White Gardenia murder because a gardenia wrapped in tinsel was found crushed beneath her body. Virgie Lee Griffin and Lillian Johnson were murdered and mutilated by Otto Stephen Wilson at two different hotels on November 15, 1944. Wilson was caught that afternoon and suspected of killing other women in the area, but he was executed in 1946 and could not have committed the Black Dahlia murder. Perhaps whoever did kill Elizabeth Short is connected to one of these other forgotten women.