Recently, I took you on a journey of interesting and perplexing cases from the files of the successful and terrifying show Unsolved Mysteries. We discussed a series of cases that had, in fact, been solved. So, for the sake of balance, I wanted to bring you a look at the other side of the coin. Let us go down the rabbit hole and examine some interesting, sometimes tragic, and inspiring cases that to this day remain unsolved.
For my previous entry, see Unsolved Mysteries: 10 Fascinating Cases That Were Actually Solved
Unsolved Mysteries ran for 14 seasons and covered everything from wanted persons to lost loved ones, the paranormal, unsolved crimes, and even dabbled in conspiracies. The show turned the average tv watcher into an amateur sleuth, and several tips lead to major breaks in pending cases. Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
Marfa Lights (Aired October 25, 1989)
The legend of the Marfa Lights can be traced all the way back to 1883. The story goes that one night, Robert Ellison, while herding cattle on a farm near Marfa, Texas, witnessed a strange light hovering above the ground, only a few feet in the air. Ellison dismissed the lights as a possible campfire from Native Americans or others passing through the area. That changed when Ellison witnessed the lights on several other occasions throughout the years.
In 1916, the Marfa Lights were witnessed by a young woman named Hallie Stilwell. Stilwell was traveling through the area for business when she observed strange lights on a nearby mountain range. Stilwell also dismissed it as a campfire until the lights began moving in strange ways. The sightings of the Marfa Lights continued. In 1943, they were spotted near Marfa’s Air Base.
According to the show, the lights were seen by hundreds of locals. Some even tried to investigate the lights themselves, but their efforts were fruitless. In 1989, Unsolved Mysteries tapped three scientists who worked at an observatory and the local university to carry out an investigation into the phenomena.
To make sure that witnesses were not seeing headlights from the nearby highway or another light source in that area, markers were placed on the border of the road. At 11:59 pm those in attendance witnessed a strange light appear in a nearby open and empty field. The investigators could not come up with a definitive answer for the Marfa Lights sightings. One of those present, theorized the light could perhaps be attributed to either refracted light from stars or possible luminous gasses. Still these highly intelligent scientists, as many others before, could not find a definitive cause for the phenomenon.
Some say the Marfa Lights are the ghost of a Native American who refused to give up his home and land. The Marfa Lights have even been captured on video, lending more credibility to the notion that there is something of unknown origin existing in this Texas town.
Las Cruces Bowling Alley Massacre (Aired April 25, 1990)
On February 10, 1990, a series of brutal unsolved murders unfolded in the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Around 8:00 am that morning, several employees of the local bowling alley were preparing for the upcoming work day.
In the office was Stephanie Senac, who was going over the receipts from the previous nights, when two gunmen burst into her office. Also present in the office were Stephanie’s 12-year-old daughter Melissa, and Melissa’s friend Amy.
The gunmen forced Stephanie to retrieve $4,000 from the safe. Then, in an act of cold-blooded violence the gunmen shot Stephanie, the two children and Ida Holgun, the bowling alley’s cook, who was also working that morning.
After the four had been murdered, employee Steve Teran arrived at the Las Cruces Bowling Alley, with his 2-year-old daughter Valerie and seven-year-old stepdaughter Paula in tow. Upon entering the bowling alley, the three were herded into the Stephanie’s office by the gunmen and shot.
As the perpetrators left, they set fire to the business. Stephanie’s daughter Melissa, who was still alive alerted authorities. When police arrived Steve and his step-daughter Paula, along with Amy were pronounced dead the scene.
Valerie later succumbed to her injuries and died at the hospital. Miraculously Stephanie, Melissa and Ida all survived. During the police investigation they interviewed several witnesses. Stephanie’s brother told authorities that he had driven by moments before the shooting began.
He told police he had witnessed two Hispanic males in the parking lot. Several theories as to motive have been explored. One is of a robbery gone wrong. Some theorize that the gunmen shot those present out of frustration due to the large amount of people they encountered.
The suspects have been described as Hispanic males who spoke perfect English. Male One is described as 5’10” around 160-170 lbs. He had brown hair and a mustache and was estimated to be between 28-34 years of age at the time of the murders.
Male Two is described as 5’6” weighing around 140 lbs. He had gray hair and was believed to be between 48-54 at the time of the murders. Who were these men? And why did they target the Las Cruces Bowling Alley.
Russell Johnson and his wife Jean never knew that a simple act of kindness would be paid back to them ten-fold. Russell was a Fire Chief in Michigan but had been forced to take an early medical retirement due to a heart attack.
Russell and Jean decided to pack up and head to sunny Florida. The couple was able to live modestly but that changed when Russell had open heart surgery and Jean had been diagnosed with cancer. These two events bankrupted the couple.
In November of 1985, Russell was tinkering around in the garage when Jean came and informed him of a man outside. Russell went and spoke to a disheveled looking man. The man asked Russell if he could work in exchange for some for some food. Russell told the man that he would feed him, but that he wouldn’t hear of him having to work for it.
The man told Russell and Jean that he had come from Houston seeking work but could not find any. Before he departed the couple gave the man $5.00. A few seconds after the man departed, the Johnson’s walked around to wave goodbye but the man disappeared without a trace.
The Johnson’s went about their lives until around Christmas they received a check in the mail for $500 tucked inside a Christmas card. After the bank confirmed the check was in fact real, the Johnson’s began asking around town trying to find who could have sent the money.
Nobody in town knew where the money had come from. For the next 4 years Russell and Jean received Christmas cards with $500 checks inserted. In all, the Johnsons received $2,500 over the years. The only clue as to who was sending the checks was a post mark from Orlando on the card’s envelopes.
The Disappearance of Justin Burgwinkel (Aired May 12, 1995)
Losing a loved one is a tragic and gut-wrenching experience. But what if they disappeared without a trace? One day said loved on is there, the next, they are completely gone. That is exactly what happened with United States Army Soldier Justin Burgwinkel.
Burgwinkel had joined the military in 1990 with aspirations to be an Army Ranger. Burgwinkel had studied and excelled at foreign languages, but an arrest saw him discharged from the program. He was then sent to Fort Ord in California as a cook.
While stationed at Fort Ord, Burgwinkel began dating Iolanda Antunes in 1992. For the new couple, the distance between them was an obstacle as Burgwinkel was posted over 80 miles away. The couple attempted to get together as much as they could despite the distance.
Antunes noticed that Burgwinkel began acting very secretive. He reportedly told Antunes it would be best if she did not know what kind of work he was involved in. He would also randomly leave and tell her he had to return to Fort Ord, with no explanation.
Burgwinkel was soon transferred to Fort Lewis in 1993 in Washington state. Antunes advised that when Burgwinkel would return to see her, his behavior was even more suspicious than before. According to Antunes, he would often carry a briefcase which he never opened in front of other people or told anyone of the contents.
Antunes did say that she once saw Burgwinkel open the briefcase and began to shred unknown documents. She also reported that she once found Burgwinkel sobbing in her living room for no apparent reason.
One night, while Burgwinkel was out with some friends, Antunes received a strange and alarming phone call. The caller had a message for Burgwinkel “The mission’s off”. When Antunes delivered the message, Burgwinkel became extremely upset. He departed a few days later to return to Fort Lewis.
During this time, Burgwinkel purchased two firearms and a large amount of ammo. Burgwinkel’s parents also spoke to him but they reported nothing out of the ordinary or anything that would cause them any concern.
On the morning of June 4, 1993, Burgwinkel did not report to his 4:30am shift in the kitchen. Burgwinkel instead showed up at Antunes’ residence. Military authorities declared him Absent Without Leave (AWOL) three days later.
Burgwinkel phoned his parents and informed them that he was AWOL but was working and did not elaborate further. It is reported that Burgwinkel also called Fort Lewis and told them he would report back after taking care of some things.
Burgwinkel never made it back. 3 months later, his personal vehicle was located at a motel. What’s even more puzzling is that Burgwinkel’s name never appeared on hotel records. In the trunk, authorities found his mysterious briefcase, wallet, car keys, and credit cards. They also found his military issued dog tags in the trunk.
Antunes remembered a specific incident where Burgwinkel had told her if she ever found his dog tags it meant he was dead. All kinds of bizarre theories exist about what happened. Some blame a complete and total mental break. Some believe that he was murdered due to working on clandestine operations with military intelligence or even the CIA.
Even still, some believe he faked his death to escape whatever he was mixed up in. To this day, Justin Burgwinkel is still missing.
The Oakville Blobs (Aired May 9, 1997)
At 3:00am on August 7, 1994, a rain shower began to blanket the sleepy town of Oakville, Washington. But this was not the kind of storm that residents were accustomed to. Instead of rain water, jelly like blobs fell from the sky. Police Officer David Lacey noted that when the rain began falling, his wipers only smeared the substance across his windshield.
When Officer Lacey pulled into a gas station to clean his window, he reported the substance was almost like holding Jell-O in your hand. Another Oakville resident, Dotty Hearn walked outside after the rain had stopped. She reported that the blobs appeared to be roughly rice size and had an odd texture.
The next afternoon, several people in Oakville who had contact with the mysterious blobs became horribly sick. Victims reported double and blurred vision, extreme nausea, dizziness and trouble breathing.
Dotty Hearn was rushed to the hospital, but not before her daughter collected a sample of the strange rain. At the hospital the blobs were analyzed by lab members. The lab team stated that the strange substance contained white blood cells from humans. But what they could not explain was, what exactly it was, or why it fell from the sky.
With the hospital lab baffled, the sample was then sent off to the Washington Department of Health. Techs there were able to conclude that the blobs had two different types of bacteria present. One of those bacteria found lives inside the human body in the digestive tract.
Speculation began to rise that an airliner had released its toilet over the area which would explain the bacteria. But the blobs were not dyed blue, which is a requirement by the FAA. FAA regulations also forbid dumping a plane’s toilet over populated areas.
A year later Dotty still did not have answers as to what had fallen from the sky that had made her so ill. Dotty then sent a sample to AmTest Laboratories. AmTest being a private research lab. When the sample arrived, microbiologist Tom Davis examined the specimen.
*Warning: Confusing Science Terms Ahead* Davis concluded that the blobs contained a Eukaryotic cell. These are cells that contain a nucleus and are found in most living creatures. With this finding, Davis concluded that the blobs were either living organisms or had been at one time.
The most plausible theory is that the remains were from jelly fish. The United States Air Force confirmed that they were conducting bomb strike training 50 miles away over the Pacific Ocean in August of 1994. Theorists believe that one of the runs destroyed a school of jelly fish. The Air Force although denies any involvement.
That did not satisfy the residents of Oakville. Residents argue that the distance a school of destroyed jelly fish would travel does not make for a realistic explanation. They also note the blobs did not give off a decomposing smell and note the fact that this was not an isolated incident. Residents reported the blobs fell on six separate occasions.
Prior to the Oakville blobs, many locals reported seeing military aircraft in the air space over their town on numerous occasions. Some reported these incidents occurred on an almost daily basis. Reports indicate the aircrafts were flying very slowly.
Some residents believe that Oakville was the site of a possible military biological experiment. Unfortunately, no samples of the blobs exist anymore, and nobody truly knows what led to the events that sickened so many.
The Circleville Letter Writer (Aired November 11, 1994)
Beginning in 1976, several residents of Circleville, Ohio were terrorized by mysterious and threatening letters. The letters contained various details about their personal lives. One of the victims, Mary Gillespie, a local school bus driver received one accusing her of having an affair with the school superintendent.
Mary was shocked to discover when reading the letter that the writer knew the location of her home and that she had kids. The letter had no return address but was postmarked out of Columbus, Ohio. Mary did not tell anyone about the bizarre letter until her husband Ron received one as well. Ron’s letter claimed that if he did not stop his wife’s affair that he would be in danger. Several other residents received mysterious letters that were vulgar, violent and contained pornographic artwork.
Ron and Mary received another letter that in part read “Gillespie, you have had about 2 weeks and done nothing. Admit the truth and inform the school board. If not, I will broadcast it on CBS, posters, signs, and billboards until the truth comes out.”
Mary and Ron began to suspect the identity of the letter writer to be Paul Freshour, Ron’s brother in law. Mary and Ron sent a letter to Paul advising him that they knew his identity as the Circleville Writer. They asked him to cease his activities. The ploy seemed to work for a few weeks. No new letters had surfaced.
But Ron and Mary were in for a rude awakening. One that would find one of them dead. In August 1977 the phone rang, and Ron answered. After the phone call, Ron, in a fit of rage, grabbed a pistol and hurriedly left the house. The letter writer was now making phone calls.
Just down the block, Ron’s truck had crashed into a tree and he was dead. Local police investigated the crash and discovered that Ron’s weapon had been fired at least once. Police could not conclusively decide if the crash was an accident or if some other factor led to the fatal crash.
The death of Ron brought more new and mysterious questions. The Coroner determined Ron had a blood alcohol content that was 1.5 over the legal limit. What is odd about this is that friends and family claim Ron swore off alcohol and became a teetotaler. After the crash the letter writer continued. He sent several letters to residents begging the Sheriff’s office to do a more thorough investigation. If the letter writer did in fact kill Ron, his sights were now set on Mary.
Mary buckled under the immense stress this ordeal had brought her. She did finally admit to an affair with the Superintendent. Mary claims the affair only began after the original letters surfaced. Six years after the terror campaign, someone attempted to murder Mary.
While driving her school bus route, Mary came across a vulgar sign on a box threatening her daughter. She immediately pulled over and went to retrieve the sign. Upon picking up the sign and inspecting it in the bus, she was horrified to discover the box was booby trapped. Inside the box she discovered a gun rigged to go off upon opening.
Miraculously, the booby trap failed. She went to police who began an investigation. Authorities discovered that someone had attempted to file the serial numbers off the weapon. But police were able to retrieve it and traced the gun back to Paul Freshour.
Upon questioning, Paul denied any involvement in the gun or the letter writing. He claimed he kept the gun in the garage and had not even noticed it was missing. Police were able to convince Paul to take a handwriting test. They made him copy portions of the Circleville Writer’s original letters.
The handwriting convinced the Sheriff that Paul was the letter writer, even though legal experts concluded that the test was conducted improperly. With the Sheriff deciding the handwriting matched and Paul’s gun being used in the booby trap, he was arrested for attempted murder.
During the trial, Paul had an alibi that corroborated his whereabouts on the day the booby trap was found. A witness came forward and told investigators that the day of the sign incident, he had been driving by and witnessed a man with a yellow El Camino in the exact spot. The man did not fit Paul’s description.
Paul was sentenced to 7 to 25 years in prison. During his time in prison, residents of Circleville still received mysterious letters postmarked out of Columbus. Paul was incarcerated in Lima, Ohio and there would be no way he could continue to send letters as part of his incarceration was spent in solitary confinement. During his time in prison Paul received a letter of his own. The letter read “Now when are you going to believe you aren’t going to get out of there? I told you 2 years ago. When we set ‘em up, they stay set up. Don’t you listen at all?”
Paul continued to maintain his innocence and unfortunately, he passed away in 2012. If Paul wasn’t the Circleville Letter Writer who was? Who was the man in the Yellow El Camino? Who was sending letters to Paul and Circleville residents while he was incarcerated?
Even Unsolved Mysteries wasn’t immune from the letter writer. The Unsolved Mysteries P.O. Box received a letter after the segment had aired. It read “Forget Circleville, Ohio…if you come to Ohio, you el sickos will pay. The Circleville Writer.” The case remains unsolved.
On December 9, 1965, an unexplained fireball was seen over Canada and witnessed by citizens in six separate U.S. cities. The fireball had been seen by several thousand witnesses. Metal debris was reported to have fallen over parts of Michigan and Ohio. Sonic booms and several grass fires were reported around the Pittsburgh area.
The small village of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania was the final resting place for the ball of fire. Residents of Kecksburg reported something had crashed in the woods which was followed by blue smoke, vibrations and a loud thump.
According to witnesses and media reports, the area was immediately closed by PA State Police Troopers. When personnel from the United States Air Force arrived, they searched the woods with the State Police.
Several local kids witnessed the unknown object streak above their heads before it came to its final resting place in the woods. Some believed that an airplane had crashed in the area. Local firefighter Jim Mayes began what he thought would be a search and rescue mission with the State Police.
When they arrived at a ravine above the crashed object Mayes claimed they were alerted to the crash site from a blue light that was emitting from the object. James Romansky, another local firefighter located the wreckage of the crash. Upon inspection, he concluded that whatever had crashed was not an aircraft.
He described the object as gold colored with strange writing, almost like Egyptian hieroglyphics around the perimeter. After the object was discovered and the military arrived, they ordered all civilians out of the area.
Local resident Lilian Hays stated that her house was commandeered by military officials. She lived close to the crash site. Hays said the men made several phone calls, but no such calls ever appeared on her phone bill.
Local teenager Bill Weaver attempted to get a look at the crashed object. He reportedly saw men carrying a large box down to the area of the crash site. The box, however, was too small to fit the object into it. What were they removing? Several witnesses claimed they saw a large military truck leaving the area with something wrapped up in it. When the local firefighters returned to the firehouse, they were not allowed back in as the military had seized the building to use as a base of operations.
So, what exactly happened in the middle of Pennsylvania? Nobody knows for sure. Several explanations have been offered over the years. It has been speculated it was meteor. But investigators have concluded that the way it entered the atmosphere suggests it was not a meteor.
In 2005, NASA recanted its meteor theory and concluded that the Kecksburg UFO was actually wreckage from a Soviet Union satellite known as Cosmos 96. The military, however, has continued to state that the object was a meteor. Nothing more. Even though witnesses saw blue lights, green flames, and aerodynamic feats that would be impossible for a meteor. The case is still truly unsolved.
Minnesota Brinks Heist (October 3, 1990)
On April 18, 1989 two armored car guards for Brinks found themselves staring down the barrel of guns and at the mercy of three heavily armed men. The thieves were able to clear a million dollars in cash in about 60 seconds. The events transpired at around 1:00pm in the town of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
During the siege, the thieves acted with quick and calculated precision, leading some investigators to conclude the group may possibly be ex-military. During the heist, a car pulled in front of the Brinks truck to block its escape. One of the attackers placed a device that resembled a bomb on the hood of the truck and the men were able to make their getaway.
When police arrived at the scene, a bomb robot was used to remove the device. Upon inspection it was discovered the device was a very elaborate hoax. Investigators from the FBI concluded the bomb tactic was a way to give the robbers more time to escape.
During its investigation, the FBI linked the device to a similar one that was used in Baltimore, Maryland in a robbery three years prior. In that instance, the criminals were able to get away with over $600,000 in cash.
One year later, just 10 miles away from the previous Brinks robbery in Eden Prairie, the team struck once again. During the robbery, one guard stayed in the truck while the other guard walked toward a bank for a scheduled pickup.
Before he could approach the bank, the group struck. Two men ordered him to the ground. The driver witnessed what was transpiring. Before he could react, a white van pulled up nose to nose with the Brink’s truck.
The man driving the white van began to open fire on the truck. The guard driving the driver floored the accelerator, striking the white van. He circled back around to assist the other Brink’s guard. In doing so he hit another vehicle that was being utilized by the robbers. Even though the criminal’s vehicle had suffered damage, they were still able to make an escape. The vehicle was located abandoned behind a nearby shopping center.
Investigators combed the car but could find no traces of DNA, physical evidence, or anything that could give law enforcement a clue as to who these men were. According to eyewitnesses, the crew consisted of a 6’ tall male with blonde hair, possibly having a fake beard. The second suspect was described as a male 6’ tall, weighing between 170-180 lbs. The third suspect was 5’9” with dark hair and a dark mustache. To date, these cases have never been closed. Who were these three men who executed these robberies with military-like precision?
Holy Trinity Crucifix (Aired September 27, 1989)
The Holy Trinity Church in Ambridge, Pennsylvania was home to what some believe was a genuine miracle. On March 24, 1989 a special church service was planned to celebrate Good Friday. The service drew some 300 people in attendance.
During a prayer, Jim Cvitkovic began looking at the life size crucifix that adorned the wall of the church. But he noticed something was amiss with the statue. Normally, the eyes on the crucifix were open, but on this instance, he was speechless when he noticed they were closed.
He alerted his brother Tom who also confirmed what Jim was seeing. The eyes were closed. They began to try to rationalize and explain what was occurring. They viewed the statue from several different angles to see if the phenomena were a trick of light. But everywhere it was viewed, the eyes of Jesus were closed.
Deeply and spiritually moved, they alerted the priest of the church. Upon his inspection he confirmed that he too saw the eyes closed. A ladder was retrieved so the crucifix could be examined more closely. Up close it was discovered that the left eye was completely closed, and the right eye was open only slightly.
Shortly after the story aired, the Roman Catholic Diocese out of Pittsburgh began an investigation into the claims. Before and after photographs were examined by investigators along with reading statements from those in attendance that day. The church concluded that in their opinion nothing miraculous had occurred and the statue did not appear to be any different from before.
The church issued a statement that while nothing happened, they believed the sincerity of the witnesses. “Our job was to try to verify if a miracle occurred, we could not”. Could this be an event of mass hysteria? The Catholic Church seems to think so. But what really happened on that Good Friday? The 150 witnesses still stick to their claims that those in attendance witnessed a truly divine miracle.
D.B. Cooper will forever live in infamy. The case of Cooper is one of a man who literally planned the perfect crime. One that has never been solved. On the afternoon of November 24, 1971, a man purchased a one-way airline ticket departing from Portland to Seattle.
He paid for his ticket with cash and told the ticketing agent his name was Dan Cooper. He carried only a small satchel with him. The flight took off and everything seemed routine. During the flight, the man passed a note to one of the flight attendants.
Flight attendant Florence Shaffner did not think much of the note. She figured the man was just slipping her his phone number. Which was known to happen occasionally. Eventually the man told Florence “Miss you better take a look at that note”
The note stated that the passenger was carrying a bomb in his satchel. He opened it to show that he did in fact have several sticks of possible dynamite. The note demanded $200,000 in cash, four parachutes, and to have a fuel truck on standby when they arrived in Seattle to refuel the plane.
The man told Florence to give the note to the plane’s pilot. The pilots contacted Air Traffic Control in Seattle and advised them of the skyjacking that was occurring. The pilots then made an announcement that their arrival is Seattle would be delayed due to “mechanical difficulties” as to not raise alarm or suspicion.
With the information relayed to Air Traffic Controllers, they immediately notified law enforcement and the President of the airline. Surprisingly, the president authorized the payment to be made. The aircraft then circled for 2 hours to give authorities time to ready the money and the parachutes. This also gave police time to rally reinforcements.
Flight attendants reported that Cooper was calm, polite and well spoken throughout the ordeal. He also made mention of several landmarks visible from the air like McChord Air Force Base, which led authorities to believe that Cooper knew the area.
At 5:24pm, the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma airport. Airline employee Al Lee approached the aircraft with the ransom money and the parachutes. After the items were delivered to Cooper, he released all of the passengers onboard.
While the plane was being refueled Cooper informed the pilots upon takeoff to take a southeast direction toward Mexico. The pilots informed Cooper that they would not have enough fuel to make it to Mexico. Cooper agreed to another stop in Reno, Nevada for refueling.
At 7:40pm the plane took off from Seattle-Tacoma airport. The rear stairs were still deployed in the open position and Cooper instructed the pilots to leave the landing gear extended when they were airborne. He also instructed them to fly at the slowest possible speed without stalling the plane.
The plane was shadowed by two F-106 fighter jets from the nearby Air Force base. One above and one below the aircraft. At 8:13pm, warning indicators began sounding that one of the aircrafts doors were open.
When the flight landed in Reno at 10:15pm law enforcement stormed the plane to take Cooper into custody. There was no trace of him or the cash. He was gone. Who was D.B. Cooper? At what point did he exit the airplane? No witnesses from trailing aircraft ever saw him parachute out, and if he did, they had no clue where he landed. The search was on.
In 1980, eight-year-old Brian Ingram was camping with his family outside Vancouver, Washington. While he out collecting firewood, he stumbled upon bundles of cash. The FBI took the cash and confirmed via serial numbers that the money had come from the Cooper hijacking. Several suspects and theories have been formulated over the years, but the true identity of Cooper has never been established nor is it known where he may have fled to.
Well, there you have it folks. 10 interesting and thought-provoking stories from Unsolved Mysteries that still remain unsolved. From the creepy to the criminal, we may never truly know what happened in the above cases. Sometimes the real world is stranger than anything that can be conjured into a film or book.