5 Infamous Serial Murder Cases That Might Never Be Solved

Above: A wanted poster from the San Francisco Police Department for the Zodiac Killer and a sketch from the unsolved case of the Long Island Serial Killer
Above: A wanted poster from the San Francisco Police Department for the Zodiac Killer and a sketch from the unsolved case of the Long Island Serial Killer

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

For the thousands of cases that have been solved, there are just as many that remain open, the trail of leads long since gone cold. When it comes to serial killers, law enforcement often needs a new crime and fresh evidence in order to get a break in an ongoing case. No one wants the killer to strike again, but the more active the person is, the more evidence and behavioural clues they’re ultimately going to leave behind.

If a case has gone completely cold, it’s likely the perpetrator either died, is in jail serving time for an unrelated crime or moved out of the area. It’s rare for a serial killer to just stop killing. For example, when asked why he went five years between killings, Dennis Rader, or BTK, said his wife caught him dressing up in one of his female victim’s clothing and threatened to leave him if he did it again. He knew if she ever got suspicious and went to the police, it wouldn’t take much to connect him to the murders he’d already committed. But he wasn’t able to resist his urges forever. There are plenty of serial killers out there who faded off the radar, leaving police with nothing to go on and a trail gone cold. Those are the cases that, although infamous, will probably never be solved.

The Zodiac Killer
Operating in Northern California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, the Zodiac Killer claimed to have killed 37 people, but only seven official victims have been confirmed, with five dead and two injured. His M.O usually involved shooting couples in their cars but a few of his victims were also stabbed. After the first couple attacks, the killer sent cryptic letters to three newspapers in the Bay Area taking responsibility for the crimes. Each letter included one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram that supposedly held clues to his identity if solved. When the code was cracked, it did not contain any names—it was just a rambling note full of misspellings that claimed the killer was collecting slaves for the afterlife.

There have been a number of possible suspects but never enough evidence to make an arrest. The most commonly known suspect and the one advanced by Robert Graysmith’s book Zodiac (also made into a movie starring Jake Gylenhaal) is Arthur Leigh Allen but there is evidence suggesting he can’t be the guy. In 2014, a man named Louis Joseph Myers confessed on his deathbed that he was the Zodiac Killer. Police are skeptical but believe the story is credible enough to investigate. Although the case is still open, the likelihood of ever finding out the identity of the Zodiac Killer is pretty small.

Jack the Ripper
Considered one of the first modern serial killers, Jack the Ripper operated in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The killer’s victim of choice was female prostitutes who worked the streets of the East End of London. Not only were the victim’s throats slashed but various internal organ were also removed leading investigators to believe the killer had some kind of medical training. Though there could be more, the five women universally believed to be victims of Jack the Ripper are called the canonical five.

There have been over 100 possible suspects named but no one has ever been formally charged. Since there is very little surviving forensic evidence, efforts to test DNA have all been inconclusive. There are people who consider themselves Ripper scholars or “Ripperologists” so there are plenty of places to peruse theories (r/Ripperology is a good place to start). From Hell starring Johnny Depp as a clairvoyant detective is a worthwhile dramatized look at the murders and HISTORY’s American Ripper delves into the (far-fetched) theory that H.H Holmes and Jack the Ripper are one in the same.

The Original Night Stalker
Not to be confused with Richard Ramirez who was also nicknamed the Night Stalker, the Original Night Stalker operated in Northern California between 1976 and 1986. He started with rape, assaulting more than 50 women between June 1976 and July 1979 when he committed his first murder. The rapes were attributed to “The East Area Rapist” and not connected to the 12 murders after 1979 until 2001. His M.O included stalking possible victims and breaking into their homes in the middle of the night where he burglarized and assaulted them.

During the investigation, the Original Night Stalker regularly communicated with authorities through letters and phone calls. Although several suspects were identified, no one was ever charged. Podcasts Case File and Generation Why both have extremely in-depth series’ about the crimes and investigation and there is an extensive psychological profile and multiple sketches of the person authorities believe is responsible. Although his last known crime was in 1986 and police believe he may have been incarcerated or died by now, as of 2016, the case is still being actively investigated.

Freeway Phantom
The so-called Freeway Phantom claimed six victims in Washington D.C. between April 1971 and September 1972. They were all young black girls between the ages of 10 and 18 who were abducted near I-295, their bodies found days later. A note was found with the second last victim that read “This is tantamount to my insensititivity [sic] to people especially women. I will admit to the others when you catch me if you can! Free-way Phantom”.

Members of the Green Vega Gang were interrogated with one prison inmate providing information that looked like it might lead to an arrest, but when this was leaked to the press, he stopped talking and denied he’d ever had any information in the first place. Due to the way case files were stored at the time, most of the files from the investigation have since been lost and original detectives either retired or deceased. Today, the case is open but classified as cold.

The Long Island Serial Killer
Also known as LISK, the Long Island Serial Killer is an unidentified suspected serial killer believed to be connected to anywhere from 10 to 16 murders of people associated with prostitution over a period of 20 years. All the bodies were dumped in remote Long Island beach towns of Gilgo Beach and Oak Beach and the area of Jones Beach State Park. Theories vary but victims are generally separated into two groups: the first four bodies were found in December 2010 and the remaining six were found in March and April 2011. At first, authorities thought they might be the work of two different killers, but have since confirmed they one person is most likely responsible for all ten murders.

There have been a number of suspects, most recently John Bittrolff, a local carpenter and convicted murderer associated with one or more of the victims. The A&E documentary The Killing Season covers the cases in depth explaining how it’s possible that multiple people are responsible and the truth could extend much further than Long Island. The LISK case is one of those ones that demonstrates how complicated serial killer cases can be and reminds us that there are probably a lot more people out there committing murder on a regular basis than we might think.

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>