Mysteries

Five Mind Blowing Criminal Cases

Cinq mystères qui défient notre raison

We all love mysteries. However, when it comes to criminal cases, our desire for justice is thwarted. History is littered with legal mysteries that leave us with a taste of unfinished business. From bloody crimes to unexplained disappearances and enigmatic deaths, let’s dive into five murky investigations that challenge our understanding and our feelings.

Terror on New Orleans

Le tueur a la hache a terrorisé la communauté italo-américaine de la Nouvelle Orléans

Between 1910 and 1920, an elusive ax murderer terrorized the Italian-American community of New Orleans. All twelve victims were attacked at night, often in their sleep. It seems this bogeyman had a predilection for grocers of Italian descent.

After the murder of grocer Joe Davi in June 1911, the killer disappeared for nearly seven years before making a bloody comeback and unleashing a veritable panic across the Louisiana megalopolis. He broke in through the back door and stole an axe belonging to the visited home before attacking the residents. Nothing else was stolen. The press reported racially-motivated crimes and soon implicated the Mafia, although nothing linked it to these appalling homicides. Criminologists suspected that the men were killed when they obstructed the killer in his wish to savagely attack the women of the home.

The Axe Murderer has also been credited with a passion for jazz, after a letter attributed to him said he would spare the lives of those whose homes resounded to the notes of jazz. As a result, some residents turned up the volume loud every night for months on end. In 1920, the murders stopped for good, and the killer was never identified.

The Hinterkaifeck murder mystery

Qui a tué les 6 résidents de la ferme d'Hinterkaifeck en 1922 ?

On March 31, 1922, in Hinterkaifeck, a rural town 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Munich, the six inhabitants of a farmhouse were massacred. They were Andreas and his wife Cäzilia Gruber, their daughter Viktoria Gabriel, her two children Cäzilia and Josef, and the nanny Maria Baumgartner hired the same day. They were all killed with a pickaxe. The mystery deepened when the investigators discovered that the adults and Cäzilia Junior had been lured one by one to the barn; the four bodies were found piled in the straw. Josef was found in his crib and Maria in her bed.

Worse still: it has been proven that the murderer(s) lived among the remains for six days following the crimes. The cattle were fed, the larder emptied, neighbors reported seeing smoke coming out of the chimney, and the mailman testified to seeing the Gruber family dog tied to the mailbox the day before the bodies were discovered. Lastly, the previous nanny had resigned six months earlier because she was convinced that the farm had been haunted ever since the Gruber family and she had repeatedly heard noises and voices coming from the attic. Andreas Gruber had also notified her that a set of keys had strangely disappeared.

This last element suggests that the killer(s) lived in the farmhouse unbeknownst to the owners for many months before ruthlessly and brutally eliminating them. In 1923, the Bavarian farmhouse was destroyed. A pickaxe, which may have been the weapon used by the murderer(s), was discovered in the attic. Despite numerous arrests and interrogations, the killer(s) were never apprehended, and the case has been closed since 1955.

Mr. Ogletree, a strange customer

Roland T. Owens alias Artemus Ogletree, l'étrange client de la chambre 1046

In early January 1935, a man with no baggage between the ages of 20 and 30 checked into Kansas City’s President Hotel under the name Roland T. Owens. He was assigned room 1046. This guest turned out to be a particularly strange man. When the room maid introduced herself, he asked that the door be left unlocked, as a friend was due to pay him a visit. The double curtains were drawn and only a small, dim lamp was lit. The maid noticed that Owens looked worried, even a little frightened.

When she brought him towels in the late afternoon, she found the room pitch-dark with Owens lying fully clothed. On the bedside nightstand, a note read “Don, I’ll be back in 15 minutes. Wait for me. The next day, she found the door locked from the outside. Yet Owen seemed to be inside. She had him called by the front desk and Roland Owens replied, “No Don, I don’t want to eat. I’m not hungry. I’ve just had breakfast”, before repeating “No, I’m not hungry”. Later that day, the maid heard two male voices through the door and, when she said she was bringing clean towels, one of the two voices replied “We don’t need any”.

The following night, the occupant of the next room heard bursts of male and female voices coming from room 1046. The next morning, the receptionist found that the telephone in room 1046 had been off the hook for some time; the bellman, Randolph Propst, was sent in. After knocking on the door, he heard “Come in. Turn on the light”. However, the door was locked from the inside and no one opened it for him. He asked, “Hang up the phone. An hour later, as the phone was still off the hook, another bellboy was sent in; he used a master key and discovered Owens lying naked on his bed in a comatose state. He hung up the phone. An hour later, Propst was again sent to room 1046, as the phone was again off the hook. He discovered a bewildering scene: Owens was on all fours on his knees and elbows, his head fractured between his hands. A rope connected his neck to his wrists and ankles. There was blood on the walls, the bed and in the bathroom.

Owens was taken to hospital still conscious, but died shortly after admission. He had been strangled, stabbed and his head was fractured on the right side. Before he died, the doctors asked him if he had wanted to kill himself, to which he replied in the negative. It was revealed just over a year after his death that Owens’ true identity was Artemus Ogletree, a 20-year-old Floridian. Nearly 90 years later, no suspects have been brought forward and the local police have not closed the case.

The Black Dahlia, 76 years of mystery

Elizabeth Short alias le Dahlia Noir

On January 15, 1947, a bloodless female body, cut in half, was found in a wasteland in Los Angeles. The dead woman had been given the Algerian smile by cutting her cheeks from the corner of her mouth to her ears. The body was identified as Elizabeth Short, a 22-year-old aspiring actress with jet-black hair.

Nine days later, the editorial staff of the Los Angeles Examiner received a letter composed from newspaper clippings that read “The Examiner and other Los Angeles newspapers, here are the personal effects of the Dahlia”. The letter was accompanied by Short’s social security card, birth certificate, photos and address book, some pages of which were missing.

Despite dozens of leads, the killer was never identified. Dozens of people have accused and exonerated themselves, and Elizabeth Short’s last boyfriend, Jack Anderson, and a doctor have also been exonerated. In 1994, thriller writer John Gilmore claimed that the Black Dahlia’s killer was the Butcher of Cleveland, a serial killer who struck the Ohio city between 1934 and 1938 and was never caught.

In 2003, Steve Hodel, a former Los Angeles Police Department investigator turned private detective, set the record straight. In his book Black Dahlia Avenger, he accused his father, George Hill Hodel, a renowned venereal disease doctor with an IQ of 186, of having been a serial killer. Elizabeth Short was one of his victims. This theory is still debated today. Hodel had been suspected in 1949 by the LAPD. He died in 1999. Will we ever know who savagely killed the Black Dahlia? Nothing is less certain…

D.B. Cooper, an elusive hijacker

L'identité du pirate de l'air D.B. Cooper n'a jamais été établie

On November 24, 1971, on Northwest Airlines Flight 305 from Portland to Seattle, a man in a suit and carrying a briefcase in his forties passed a note to a stewardess, who put it in her pocket without consulting it. The man, who introduced himself as Dan Cooper (the press later mistakenly named him D.B. Cooper), told her, “Miss, you’d better read my note. I have a bomb”.

He invited the stewardess to sit down beside him before opening his briefcase containing what appeared to be a bomb. He added that he wanted $200,000 in 20s in a backpack, four parachutes and a full tank of kerosene on the ground. The stewardess notified the captain.

Once in Seattle, the plane was refueled, the ransom paid and the parachutes handed over to Dan Cooper by the crew. The hijacker requested that the plane set course for Mexico City while flying below 10,000 feet. At around 8 p.m., as the plane was heading for Reno, Nevada, he parachuted out of the rear door.

Despite a sketch circulated throughout the U.S. and beyond, the man was never found. In 1980, a small portion of the ransom was discovered on the banks of the Columbia River. To this day, all leads followed by the FBI have proved to be dead ends. This is the only unsolved case of air piracy in the United States.

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Criminal mysteries have occurred in every culture since the dawn of mankind. The ones that are mentioned above are an anthology of recent enigmatic cases. In the age of DNA analysis, police puzzles may be on the decline. However, as the human mind is capable of proving extremely devious, we can bet that other criminal mysteries will arise in the coming decades.

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