When you think about unsolved murder sprees, it’s usually cases like Jack the Ripper or The Zodiac Killer—the ones with movies and dozens of books about them. But they’re not the only ones. They’re not even the weirdest ones.
Here are five bizarre killing sprees that never got solved…
The Chicago Tylenol Murders
In the fall of 1982, people with headaches and menstrual cramps all over Chicago were fucked if they reached for the Tylenol bottle. It started with 12-year-old Mary Kellerman who, complaining of a sore throat and a runny nose, was given an Extra Strength Tylenol by her parents. Not long after, they found her unconscious on her bedroom floor and rushed her to the hospital, where she died.
The same day (what timing!), four other people died under similar circumstances. Authorities initially suspected a toxic gas might be to blame (whether they meant carbon monoxide or Batman villain gas remains unspecified). Two off-duty firefighters noticed that each victim had taken Tylenol before collapsing, leading doctors to discover that the medicine itself was poisoned with cyanide.
Chicago police informed Johnson & Johnson, who immediately put on the skids and issued a mass recall of Tylenol throughout the area. (Later, critics would applaud them for their response to the crisis; a far cry from how companies handle PR fucksplosions today.) After checking everything they could at the production level, police realized that someone had to be sneaking into drug stores and tampering with the medicine directly.
Even with the recalls, though, it was too late for three other people who ingested the tainted pills. In total, seven people were killed and eight tampered bottles were found. Three were discovered still sitting on store shelves.
No one was ever caught and no motives ever uncovered, but one dumbass, a con-man/accountant (which is either the weirdest or best job combination we’ve ever heard of) by the name of James W. Lewis took credit for the killings and demanded a $1 million ransom to make it stop (despite the fact that it already had). They chucked him in the pokey, but found no evidence that he had anything to do with the murders. He was charged with extortion instead and sent to prison for thirteen years (to be later released on parole).
In 2009, though, the Justice Department discovered they may have fucked up and that Lewis was the guy responsible after all, but they still had insufficient evidence to charge him. Whoops! Kudos to them for not just planting some evidence at that point, though. Nobody would have really given a shit if they did.
The 60s were a time of peace, free love and deranged killings in Glasgow, Scotland. Over a two year period, Glaswegian police found three women strangled with their own stockings. Each had been spotted at a dance club the evening before their deaths. Oh, and all three were on their periods, with the killer bizarrely leaving tampons or sanitary napkins on or around the bodies. What the fuck, guy? Their purses (and clothes, in the case of the first murder) were stolen, and there was evidence of rape in at least one case.
The first two victims, Patricia Docker and Jemima McDonald, both disappeared after a night out at a local dance club. They were found dead the following day. While Docker was killed in February of 1968, McDonald was killed a year later, causing investigators to initially miss the connection. Their only clue was a witness’s sighting of McDonald with a tall, well-dressed, red-haired man; lending further credibility to the claim that gingers may indeed have no soul.
Helen Puttock, the third and final victim, was found on Halloween, 1969. The previous night, she had been out with her sister, Jean, and a man Helen had just met named John — a tall, thin, fair-skinned man with red hair, much like the man Jemima McDonald had been spotted with the night before her murder. He quickly became the police’s prime suspect. With this description in hand, they were on the hunt for about 40% of the male population of Scotland.
Strangest of all, though, was Jean Puttock’s description of John’s mannerisms. He had a habit of quoting from the Bible and describing night clubs as “dens of iniquity.” The press dubbed him Bible John, and speculated that his extreme religious beliefs were leading him to kill women he saw as sinful.
A handful of suspects were brought in, but the police never had enough evidence to convict anyone. They’ve occasionally trotted the case back out from time to time to make announcements about possible developments, but a conclusion is unlikely now that Helen Puttock’s sister, the only other person to actually meet Bible John, passed away in 2010. And in addition to that, semen samples from Helen Puttock’s clothing have deteriorated thanks to shitty storage policies, making even a DNA match nigh-impossible.
The Phantom Killer
In 1946, World War II had just ended and America was beginning a climb toward prosperity that would continue on and on forever and anyone who says otherwise hates America and is a socialist. In Texarkana, a city fittingly located directly on the border between Texas and Arkansas, some shit was about to go down that seemed to be ripped right out of a cheesy horror movie.
Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey were assaulted at a popular lover’s lane by a figure with a pistol who knocked Jimmy out and attempted to, ahem, assault Mary Jeanne’s ladyhood with the barrel of his pistol, but instead beat her several times and fled. Undoubtedly the better of the two options, but still a shitty date nonetheless.
Both lived, but neither could give a description, even disagreeing on the man’s race (although, considering it was 1946 and the South, we’re surprised anyone even bothered asking before putting a big check mark in the “negro” box). The only notable physical detail was a hood with eyes and a mouth cut out that the attacker wore.
Soon, two other teenage couples were found shot inside their cars at out-of-the-way places. The females were molested. Naturally, people started to see a pattern in this and the Texas Rangers were called in (the cops, not the baseball team). They locked the city down, patrolling every lover’s lane in the area, enforcing a curfew, and setting up traps for the killer. Everything seemed to be under control until the Phantom Killer did something serial killers never do — he changed his tactics.
On May 3, Virgil and Katy Starks were attacked in their home by a man who shot at them from outside the house as they were winding down for the evening, killing Virgil. Katy attempted to dial the police, but was interrupted by the attacker, who shot her jaw off. She managed to escape to a neighbor’s house and call for help. Although the gun used was different, the police came to believe that this, too, was the work of the Phantom Killer.
In July, police questioned a woman who claimed that her husband, professional car thief Youell Swinney, was the Phantom Killer, even giving details that the police hadn’t made public. Because she refused to testify against him, though, they couldn’t use any of it in court. Swinney was given life in prison but only for stealing a ridiculous number of cars. He was never formally accused of being the Phantom Killer, and neither was anyone else.
The Axeman of New Orleans
The Axeman of New Orleans first appeared on May 22, 1918, when Joseph and Catherine Maggio were discovered murdered in their bedroom. Both were struck several times by an axe. Police found a chisel that the killer had used to knock out one of the panels on the door. They also found the murder weapon nearby — the Maggio’s own axe.
Over the next several months, the Axeman attacked nine people, several of whom lived, but were unable to identify the culprit. The victims included an eight-months pregnant woman (her baby survived), an elderly man, and Charles and Rosie Cortimiglia. The Axeman brutally maimed Charles and killed the baby sleeping in Rosie’s arms, leaving Rosie alive. Police found her weeping over the baby’s corpse. (For the record, whoever did this almost certainly in Hell right now.) At each scene, they found a chisel and a stolen axe.
On March 13, 1919, The Axeman sent a letter to the Times-Picayune, the largest paper in New Orleans, in which he claimed to be an actual demon. What a card. However, he also made a proposal to the city of New Orleans — he intended to kill on the night of March 15, 1919, at quarter after midnight, but he would spare anyone who was in a place where jazz music was being played.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the biggest party in New Orleans history began. They partied like their lives depended on it– because they did. Every corner of the city was filled with jazz music. No one was killed the night of March 15, 1919. The Axeman kept his promise, in spite of being, you know, a baby-murdering asshole and stuff.
In the following weeks, he killed three more people, each with chisels and stolen axes found near the scene of the crime. And then, he disappeared. The Axeman never killed again.
No one was ever caught or even particularly suspected of committing the crimes. In the end, even The Axeman’s motives are a mystery. Of his twelve victims, only seven died, and three of the victims were grocers. Maybe he just got shortchanged somewhere?
The Cleveland Torso Murders
When you think of crime-ridden cities, you think of Detroit (thanks, Robocop!) or Baltimore (thanks, The Wire!). What you don’t think of is Cleveland, Ohio. But in the 1930s crime-ridden is exactly what it was, with an important business and political hub on one half and homeless drunks, prostitutes and petty crooks on the other. In other words, it was present day Washington D.C.
Most of the city’s homeless lived in a large ravine known as Kingsbury Run, and that’s where the Cleveland Torso Murderer made his home. On September 23, 1935, two headless bodies were found at Jackass Hill (ha!), the first of many such discoveries.
Over the next three years, police would discover twelve bodies (and possibly an early thirteenth) throughout the Cleveland area that they attributed to someone the papers called the Butcher of Kingsbury Run. Each had been decapitated and dismembered, usually while the victim was still alive. Only two of the victims were ever positively identified. The rest remain unknown to this day.
A police task force, led by Eliot Ness, the man who brought down Al Capone, was unable to catch the Butcher. Some even went as far as posing as bums and homosexuals in hopes of “baiting” the killer. We’ll leave it to your imagination how 1930s cops thought homosexuals should act.
The killer was also assumed to be some sort of drug addict or marijuana user. As the head of the federal narcotics bureau in the area put it, “There’s a plentiful supply of this deadly weed growing wild around the railroad tracks in Kingsbury Run. Both the desire for a thrill and a homicidal obsession are easily induced by the loco weed cigarettes.”
Police had one major suspect named Francis Sweeney, a former doctor and substance abuser. Just one problem — he was the cousin of a congressman who was not a fan of Eliot Ness, making it really hard to do much to the guy. He took to taunting the cops and even failed several polygraphs, but without slam dunk evidence, their hands were tied. (You might even say he was untouchable. Eh? Get it? Because he cut people’s arms off! Oh, and because of Eliot Ness also, we suppose.)
Eventually, Sweeney mysteriously checked himself into an asylum and stayed there the rest of his life, possibly as a deal with Sweeney’s congressman cousin. The killings stopped, but no evidence ever directly implicated him. He sent postcards, presumably scrawled with doodles of genitalia, to Ness and his family for over a decade afterward. No one else was ever questioned in the case.
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