15 Most Baffling Unsolved Murders From History

Back in the day, it wasn’t so easy to convict killers with damning evidence such as DNA samples or even fingerprints. Throughout history, there have been murders that still baffle us today: sometimes because of the way the victim was found, the backstory of the victim or the circumstances and location of the murders. 

1.The Aztec Emperor and a Lot of Blame shifting

Historians are still baffled by what really happened on the day of the Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma II’s death, 29 June 1520 as the chroniclers of the time seem to contradict one another. According to Spanish accounts, Moctezuma II was stoned to death by his own people when he tried to calm them down during an uprizing against the Spanish. According to the chronicler, Cervantes de Salazar, Moctezuma II wanted to die, and refused health care by removing the bandages over his wound, subsequently bleeding to death.

Other accounts, from the Aztec point of view, by Franciscan friar Bernadino de Sahagun however attribute his death to the Spaniards. According to the accounts of the Dominican friar Diego Duran, the locals said that the Spanish speared the governor through his groin, causing the mortal wound that killed him.


2. The Taman Shud Case

The Taman Shud Case is one of the most baffling unsolved deaths America has seen. It is not even clear whether this was actually a murder as the cause of death was never established with certainty. The body, which has become known as the “Somerton Man” was never identified and the case was named after a phrase “tamam shud,” which is Persian for “finished” or “ended” that was found on a scrap of paper on the body. This page was torn from the last page of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and hidden in a secret pocket of the man’s pants.

The body was found on Somerton beach on 1 December 1948, at 6:30 a.m. The man was with his feet crossed, on the sand, and his head rested on the seawall. The body was seemingly not disturbed, he had an unlit cigarette behind his ear and a half-smoked one on his coat’s right collar, along with a couple of tickets and other things, but no money. The pathologist found that the man’s last meal was a pasty and as the man was in top physical condition, he was convinced that this was not a natural death. Poisoning was suspected, but the coroner was not able to determine the cause of death, identity of the man or whether he was seen alive earlier. Even Scotland Yard couldn’t solve the case and nobody could identify him after almost world-wide circulation of the man’s photograph.


3. Who Put Bella in the Witch Elm?

This phrase has been showing up as a graffito after the unsolved murder became known.  Four boys from Stourbridge discovered a body in a large Wych elm on 18 April, 1943 by chance. One of the boys came across the body when climbing the tree to investigate whether it was a good spot to hunt birds’ nests. As Bob Farmer stared down the hollow tree trunk, he saw what he initially thought to be an animal skull, but soon realized that it had human hair and teeth.

The police uncovered an almost complete human skeleton, along with a gold wedding ring, a shoe and clothing fragments. A severed hand was found buried in the soil close to the tree. Forensic examination revealed that it was a woman who must have been dead for 18 months or longer, so she must have died around October 1941. Taffeta was found in her mouth, so it is possible that she was asphyxiated. She must also have been placed inside the trunk while the body was still warm, as it would not have been possible after rigor mortis has set in.

The body was never identified, but there is a theory that it could have been a Birmingham prostitute, called Bella, who disappeared around the time. There was also a cousin of a man called Jack Mossop who came forward after his death and claimed that he confessed that he put the woman in the tree, along with a Dutchman called van Ralt. According to this claim they didn’t kill her, but that they put her in the tree after she passed out from heavy drinking, in the hope that she would wake up and see the error of her ways in the morning. This claim was never proven, so the case has remained unsolved.


4. The Girl Accused of Killing Her Parents

On 4 August, 1892, the bodies of the father of Lizzie Borden, Andrew Jackson Borden and her step mom, Abby Durfee Borden, were found in their family home in Fall River, Massachusetts. They were killed by a hatchet, which didn’t only crush Andrew’s skull, but also split his left eyeball clean. Lizzie and Bridget Sullivan, the maid, were the only people in the house at the time and Lizzie was arrested for her parents’ murder.

The investigators firmly believed that Lizzie was guilty, but couldn’t find any physical evidence. A hatched was found in the Borden home’s basement, but the handle was broken and the blade clean. Fingerprints were never taken and the investigators did find that Lizzie tried to purchase a poison, prussic acid, without any success, in the days before the murders took place. The investigators could not present this evidence at the trail and Lizzie was acquitted. Lizzie inherited her parents’ estate and remained in the area. 


5. The Vampire Murder Case

"Vampirmordet 1932 Polismuseet" by Holger.Ellgaard - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vampirmordet_1932_Polismuseet.jpg#/media/File:Vampirmordet_1932_Polismuseet.jpg

A 32-prostitute, Lilly Lindeström, was murdered and drained of her blood on May 4, 1932 in Stockholm, Sweden, in what became known as the “Vampire Murder Case.” The prostitute was found in her apartment after she had already been dead for between two and three days. The police found her completely naked, with a condom still in place in her anus. She had suffered a blow to her head and a gravy ladle was found at the scene. They also discovered that her body had been drained and suspected that the killer used the ladle to drink some of her blood. Although several of her clients were main suspects, the police could never link the death to any of them and the murder remains unsolved.


6. The Homophobic Doodler

In 1974 and 1975, an unidentified serial killer, dubbed the “Black Doodler” was thought to be responsible for 14 murders and three assaults of men in San Francisco’s gay community. The perpetrator had the habit of sketching his victims before he had sex with them and stabbed them to death. He met the victims at gay bars, restaurants and night clubs before going home with them. The police did question a suspect but couldn’t push criminal charges against him because the three surviving victims didn’t want to testify in court and “out” themselves publicly. One of the survivors was a well-known diplomat and entertainer. Although the suspect spoke to the police freely, he never admitted to the slayings.


7. The Bible Preaching Killer

Three young Scottish Women were murdered by a killer who became known as “Bible John” in the late 1969s. All three women were strangled with their own stockings and all of them were menstruating at the time of death. This bizarre fact must have been known to the killer as he placed tampons or pads close to the body of each victim.

The sister of the one victim, Helen Puttock was the only one who was able to give some type of description of the killer as she had traveled along with him and her sister in a taxi for an hour. He had identified himself as “John Templeton” and she said that he quoted from the Bible extensively, referring to dance halls (where he evidently usually met the victims) as “dens of iniquity.” Jean got out of the cab with her date and Helen continued on with John, but her body was found dead the next morning. The man disappeared and the case was never solved. There is a theory that serial killer Peter Tobin was also Bible John, but this was never proven.


8.  Pyama Girl


The Badly burnt body of a woman was found on 27 August, 1934 in Albury, Australia. She was wearing pajamas and only 10 years later the police officially identified her as the 26 year old Linda Agostini, who went missing around a week before they found the body. Agostini’s husband was prosecuted for her murder and sent to jail for six years for manslaughter. He returned to Italy after serving his sentence. Author Richard Evans however published a book in 2004, highlighting the discrepancies in the evidence. He suggested that the woman’s body might never have been that of Agostini as the body had a different shaped nose and bust size than that of Agostini.


9. The Hinterkaifeck Pickaxe Killings

The murder of the Gruebers on the Hinterkaifeck farm has been baffling researchers since March, 1922 when six people were axed to death. The Grueber family, consisting of Andreas Grueber, his wife Cazilia, their widowed daughter Viktoria and her two kids Cazilia (7) and Josef (2) was rich but lived fairly secluded and mostly kept to themselves. Andreas Grueber was not popular with the townspeople and there were rumors that he beat his wife and that the 2 year old Josef was the result of an incestuous relationship between Andreas and his daughter, Viktoria.

The mystery around the murders started 6 months earlier, when the maid suddenly quit her job because she was convinced that the farmhouse was haunted. She had been hearing strange noises and voices in the house, as well as footsteps in the attic. Andreas reportedly also told neighbors that he had discovered footprints in the snow leading up to the house from the forest, but not back. He also said the house keys went missing, that they found a strange, unfamiliar newspaper on the porch and that he had thoroughly searched the house and surrounding buildings without finding any trespassers. On March 31, 1922, a new maid, Maria Baumgartner, was appointed - but her first day on the job would also be her last.

The bodies were only found on April 4th, after the townspeople became concerned about not seeing the young Cazilia at school. Andreas, Cazilia, Viktoria and the young Cazilia were all found in the barn and the police suspected that they were lured there one by one and killed with a precise blow to the head with a pickaxe. Josef was found dead in his cot and the maid in her bed and all of the bodies were covered in some way. The weirdest is that neighbors have been seeing smoke coming from the chimney after the murders would have taken place and the police found evidence of someone having meals there up until recently. The animals also appeared to have been cared for and well fed in the days after the murders. Several theories emerged as to who the killer might have been - from a vagrant who must have been living there for six months to one of Viktoria’s suitors and even her (not) dead ex-husband but the case was never solved.


10. The Dead Prime Suspect

When the Wonnangatta Station Manager, James Barclay was found dead near the Conglomerate Creek in 1916 with a bullet hole in his back, suspicions naturally fell onto his cook and station hand, John Bamford. Bamford was the last person seen with Barclay and he had conveniently gone missing. Both men’s rooms were found in disarray at the station and a shotgun, which had been fired, was found in Barclay’s room. Locals described Bamford as a person with a wicked temper and surly disposition and whispered rumors of him having strangled his own wife.

Neighbor, Harry Smith was the first person to raise the alarm when he visited the station a couple of times without seeing any of the two men and noticing that Barclay’s dog was neglected and starving. The badly decomposed body was found within a mile from the station and was identified as Barclay by the clothing and belongings on the body. On the way back, the police encountered John Bamford’s horse, running wild without a bridle or saddle. They concluded that Barclay and Bamford must have had an argument, during which Bamford shot Barclay. He would have then taken Barclay’s suit (which was missing) and dressed himself in it before dragging the deceased to the creek with the horse. This theory however went bust quickly when Constable Hayes, along with Harry Smith and other local bushmen found Bamford’s body in the Mount Howitt area. There was a bullet lodged in his skull.

People then started speculating that a friend of Barclay must have killed Bamford in revenge after discovering that he had murdered Barclay (suspicions even turned to Harry Smith) or that the men had been overwhelmed and killed by horse thieves. Some say that Harry Smith knew more than what he admitted to, but took the secret to his grave. Barclay’s son, who had worked for Smith for years once said in an interview that it all happened very long ago and that both murderers are long since dead, so the whole case should best be forgotten.


12. The Black Dahlia

When the body of Elizabeth Short was found gruesomely mutilated, Newspapers quickly came up with the nickname “The Black Dahlia”. Short’s body was nude, sliced in half at the waist, completely drained of all blood and the corners of her mouth were slashed open up to her ears. The body looked like it was posed, with the legs spread and the hands above her head, with the elbows at right angles. There were also cuts all over her body. The cause of death was attributed to bleeding from the cuts to her face as well as concussions from blows to the head.

The story was widely publicized and the Los Angeles Examiner went as far as phoning the victims mother before she knew about the murder, pretending that her daughter had won a beauty contest, to get as much back story as possible. The case gained so much publicity that through the years, 50 people were said to have confessed to the murder. There were a couple of suspects, but the case still remains unsolved.


13. The Boy in the Cardboard Box

In February, 1957 an unknown boy’s body was found in a cardboard box in Fox Chase, Philadelphia. The boy was estimated to be between 4 and 6 years old and was never identified, despite the fact that the case had massive media attention, with pictures of him published in every gas bill in the area. The boy, also dubbed “America’s Unknown Child” was found naked, wrapped in a plaid blanket inside a cardboard box in the woods. The body was first discovered by a trapper, who did not report the find out of fear of his traps being confiscated. A student later found the boy and reported to the police. The box in which the boy’s body was found, once transported a baby’s bassinet from J.C. Penney. The boy’s fingerprints were taken and the body was also later exhumed for DNA evidence, but despite all efforts the killer was never found.

Suspicions fell on a man who ran a foster home in the area, but no concrete links were found between the boy and the foster home. A woman, known only as “M” came forward in February 2002, claiming that her abusive mother bought the boy from his parents and subjected him to extreme sexual and physical abuse for two and a half years. She said her mother killed him in a fit of rage, slamming him to the floor after he vomited. Although her story was quite plausible, “M”’s testimony was not considered reliable as she suffered from mental illness. Her neighbors, who had access to their home said that they had never seen a boy living in the house and that “M”’s story was ridiculous.


14. The Chess Player Who Was Almost Sentenced To Death

Julia Wallace was murdered and found in her home on Tuesday, 20 January, 1931.  Her husband, William Herbert Wallace was initially convicted of her murder, but the Court of Criminal Appeal later overturned the conviction after evidence was re-examined.

The night before the murder, Wallace was at the Liverpool Central Chess Club when he received a message, which was delivered by telephone 25 minutes before his arrival, telling him to meet with “R.M. Qualtrough” the following evening to discuss insurance. When Wallace tried to attend the appointment, he discovered that he had been sent to a non-existing address. After searching around for around 45 minutes, he finally returned home, just to discover that he was locked out of the house. The Johnstons, his neighbors, who were on their way out, encountered Wallace who complained that he could not get into his house, but while they were watching, he managed to open the back door. He then found his wife, Julia, beaten to death in the sitting room.

Although Wallace consistently denied any guilt, he was charged with his wife’s murder and found guilty by the jury due to purely circumstantial evidence and a milk boy’s testimony, who said that he had spoken to Julia minutes before her husband had to leave. Wallace was sentenced to death, but appealed the verdict, which the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed due to a lack of evidence. Wallace walked free, but public opinion in his local area was strong that he was in fact guilty and hat gotten away with his crime. He was shunned by many of his previous clients and received a lot of physical threats and hate mail. He died only 2 years later at the Clatterbridge Hospital, from uraemia and pyelonephritis.


15. The Pregnant Servant Girl and the Preacher

In what is also known as the Peasenhall Murder, Rose Harsent was killed on May 31, 1902 in Peasenhall, Suffolk, England. The unmarried woman was stabbed to death and was six months pregnant at the time of death. The police at first thought that they had come upon a suicide, but soon developed other theories. Rose worked as a servant in the area, just up the street from where the local Methodist preacher, William Gardiner, lived with his wife and six kids. Gardiner was believed to have had an affair with Rose, ad was also rumored to have been the father of her unborn child. Gardiner was arrested twice as a suspect in the murder case, but both cases resulted in a hung jury, with no verdict reached. Gardiner died in 1941 without ever being convicted and some people believed that his jealous wife might have been the one who murdered Rose and that Gardener was innocent after all.

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