The Most Infamous Unsolved Crimes Ever Committed

The Most Infamous Unsolved Crimes Ever Committed

Sometimes a crime can be so sensational that it grips an entire nation, and sometimes the world. Not all of these major offenses are solved, however, and there’s something fascinating about unsolved mysteries. (Read about these 22 famous unsolved crimes in America.)

To compile a list of the most infamous unsolved crimes ever committed, 24/7 Tempo used reference materials such as Britannica, Biography, and Smithsonian, as well as media sources like NBC News and Time. We used editorial discretion to assemble the list, based on such factors as the notoriety of the crime, the public’s interest in the incident, the length of time it has remained unsolved, and the place the crime holds in popular culture.  

Every continent but Antarctica is represented here, but the majority of the unresolved crimes on our list are from the United States – especially murders. More and more U.S. homicides go unsolved. In the 1960s, more than 90% of all homicides were “cleared” by police – meaning that an arrest was reported. That clearance rate has dropped over the past six decades and is now just 50%. (See the most infamous crime committed in every state.)

After some of the murders on this list, the perpetrator has taunted police with letters or other clues. Some were particularly gruesome. A sad truth is that most of the murder victims in the cases here were sex workers, female factory or day laborers, and children – among the most vulnerable members of society.

Other types of lawlessness – kidnappings, hijackings, heists of art and precious valuables – have fascinated the public because of their ingenuity and brazenness, so have found a place on this list as well.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Jack the Ripper murders
> When: 1888
> Location: London, England

One of the earliest known serial killers, and arguably the most famous, the murderer slayed and mutilated at least five sex workers in the hardscrabble Whitechapel section of London over several weeks in 1888. The killer sent letters to London’s police and the missives were printed in the city’s daily newspapers, fueling anxiety and panic in what was then the world’s most populous urban center before the killings abruptly stopped.

Theories abound about the killer’s true identity, including the possibility that he or she had medical knowledge and/or was a member of the British royal family.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Villisca Ax murders
> When: 1912
> Location: Villisca, Iowa

The killing of eight people at an Iowa home is one of the most horrific unsolved multiple homicides in American history. It took place on the night of June 9, 1912, in Villisca, Iowa. A husband and wife, their four young children and two friends were bludgeoned to death with an ax. One of the few clues was a pile of cigarette butts in the house. A traveling preacher with a history of mental illness, was detained and charged, but a deadlocked jury led to his acquittal. Other suspects included a bitter business partner, a suspected lover, and more than one drifter.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

German farm family murders
> When: 1922
> Location: north of Munich, Germany

One of the most gruesome and puzzling murders in German history occurred at a small farm in the Bavaria region in 1922. Five family members and their new maid were killed with a pickaxe. Days before the murders took place, farmer Andreas Gruber noticed some footprints in the snow leading into the back of the family home, but not leading away. There were other odd occurrences: footsteps heard in the attic; the appearance of a newspaper they had not purchased; keys that went missing. These strange happenings spooked their maid who left the house. On the day of the murder, a new maid arrived, just in time to be slain with the family.

What made the case even more curious was that the killer apparently hid somewhere in the house, eating food and tending to farm animals. His identity was never discovered.

Source: Holger.Ellgaard / Wikimedia Commons

Atlas Vampire murder
> When: 1932
> Location: Stockholm, Sweden

One of the most sensational crimes ever in Sweden occurred in 1932. In May of that year, Lilly Linderstrom, a 32-year-old divorcee working as a prostitute in Stockholm, was found bludgeoned to death in her apartment.

Her skull had been crushed and the blood drained from her body. Next to her was a blood-stained gravy ladle, strongly suggesting that the assailant had drunk her blood. The murderer was called the “Atlas Vampire,” after the area where the murder occurred, but was never identified.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Sodder children’s disappearance
> When: 1945
> Location: Fayetteville, West Virginia

On Christmas Eve 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away serving in the U.S. Army) in their Fayetteville home. Around 1 a.m., a fire ignited in their house – possibly from faulty wiring, though the Sodders believed it was arson. The parents and four of their children escaped, but the other five kids were never seen again. A search for the remains of the five children in the house failed to turn up any evidence of their demise.

For many years, motorists traveling on Route 16 near Fayetteville could see a billboard with images and names of the five children, with an offer of $5,000 leading to their whereabouts.

Source: Archive Photos / Getty Images

Black Dahlia murder
> When: 1947
> Location: Los Angeles, California

Newspapers had a field day with the discovery of the body of 22-year-old aspiring actress Elizabeth Short. She was found by a mother and her child in a vacant lot in Los Angeles, sliced cleanly in half at the waist, with not one drop of blood on her. The press dubbed her “Black Dahlia,” either a reference to the 1946 movie of that name about an unfaithful wife or because Short allegedly preferred sheer black dresses. Reporters dug into her past and wrote lurid stories about her libertine ways and underage drinking.

Police believed the perp had extensive medical knowledge because of the execution of the crime. The FBI interviewed possible suspects and people of interest nationwide but no suspect was ever caught.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Grimes sisters murders
> When: 1956
> Location: Chicago, Illinois

The bodies of teenage Chicago sisters Patricia and Barbara Grimes were found in the snow on a country road a month after they disappeared. The sisters had gone to see the newly released Elvis Presley film “Love Me Tender.” An autopsy showed the girls likely died from exposure the day they were abducted.

Their disappearance launched one of the most intensive missing-persons investigations in Chicago history. Investigators initially focused on a local drifter and several other suspects, but nobody was never formally charged with crime.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Lake Bodom triple homicide
> When: 1960
> Location: Lake Bodom, Espoo, Uusimaa, Finland

Multiple murders of teenage campers near a lake in Finland shook that nation to its core in 1960. Lake Bodom is a lake about 14 miles west of the Finnish capital of Helsinki. Between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. on June 5, 1960, an unknown person or people murdered three teenage campers by the lake with a knife and blunt instrument and wounded a fourth, a boy named Nils Wilhelm Gustafsson, the boyfriend of one of the victims.

A runaway, a kiosk keeper, a person already convicted of property crimes, and even an alleged KGB spy were among the suspects, but there was doubt about their involvement. Gustafsson was investigated in 2004 based on new evidence and brought to trial the next year but he was acquitted. The case remains unsolved.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Lead mask deaths
> When: 1966
> Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

One of the oddest cases on this list happened in Brazil in 1966. Two electronics repairmen – Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel José Viana – were found dead on a hill in Rio de Janeiro, clad in suits and wearing lead eye masks, the type that might be worn to shield people from radiation. A notebook was next to them containing the instructions to “be at an agreed place,” “swallow capsules,” and “wait for mask signal.” Speculation was that it may have been a botched experiment of some kind.

It’s not known if the two swallowed any capsules because the determination of the toxicology report was inconclusive. No one has figured out what happened or why.

Source: Adam.J.W.C. / Wikimedia Commons

Three children killed in Australia
> When: 1966
> Location: Adelaide, Australia

The most notorious missing persons case in Australian history involves the three Beaumont children – Jane, Arnna, and Grant. They took the bus to Glenelg Beach near Adelaide on Australia Day in 1966 and never came home. There was been no shortage of clues or suspects, among them a blond-haired man seen with them at the beach, but no arrest was ever made. Their mother, Nancy Beaumont, died in 2019 at the age of 92, without knowing of her children’s fate.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Zodiac murders
> When: 1968-69
> Location: Northern California

The Zodiac murderer was a serial killer – or possibly more than one – who instilled fear throughout Northern California in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Zodiac sent letters that taunted the police and the media, claiming to have killed 37 people, though only five of the murders were confirmed. The killer wrote some letters to the police in code and included bloody bits of clothing to use as proof of the criminal deeds. In 2020, a trio of codebreakers claimed to have broken one of the ciphers.

In 2021, a group of independent investigators claimed to have identified the killer as Air Force veteran and gang leader Gary Francis Poste, who died in 2018. The San Francisco police, however, still consider these murders unsolved.The Zodiac killer has inspired books and films, and was the model for the serial killer in the movie “Dirty Harry.”

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Hijacking of Northwest Orient Airlines jet and theft
> When: 1971
> Location: Pacific Northwest

One of the most famous heists in history occurred on Nov. 24, 1971, when a man who identified himself as Dan Cooper (also known as D.B.) bought a one-way ticket to Seattle on Northwest Orient Airlines from Portland, Oregon. During the flight, he used a bogus suitcase bomb to hold passengers hostage in return for $200,000 and four parachutes, to be delivered to him as the plane was parked on the tarmac in Seattle. He then demanded pilots take him to Mexico City.

Somewhere between Seattle and Reno he jumped from the plane with the money. In 1980, a boy found a package with $5,800 in rotting $20 bills. The currency serial numbers identified that cash as part of the ransom. Cooper, however, was never found.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance
> When: 1975
> Location: Detroit, Michigan

Jimmy Hoffa was the leader of the Teamsters Union who famously went head-to-head with Attorney General Robert Kennedy when the Justice Department investigated Hoffa’s alleged mob ties. Hoffa had plenty of enemies and had served time for jury-tampering, mail fraud, and bribery. But his fate remains one of the most enduring criminal mysteries. Hoffa was last seen in the parking lot of a Michigan restaurant in 1975. Officials declared him dead in 1982 despite not having discovered his body. The only evidence was a length of hair matched to his DNA in the backseat of a car.

As recently as 2003, the FBI searched under a Detroit swimming pool and beneath the floorboards of another Motor City property the following year. Hoffa was never found, and no one was ever charged with his disappearance.

Source: Courtesy of Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo supported by Bermuda Zoological Society via Facebook

Theft of a 16th-century gold and emerald Spanish cross stolen
> When: 1975
> Location: Bermuda

A priceless 16th-century gold and emerald cross was recovered from a Spanish galleon in 1955 in the waters off Bermuda by diver Teddy Tucker. Dubbed Tucker’s Cross, it was made of 22-karat gold and seven massive emeralds. Tucker kept it in his possession until thieves attempted to swipe it by breaking into his house. Eventually he sold it to the government of Bermuda in 1959 for $100,000, and it found a place in the island’s Aquarium Museum.

Just before Queen Elizabeth II’s visit in 1975, it was discovered that the cross on display was a phony and made of plastic, and that the real one had appaently been stolen. The Bermuda police, the FBI, Scotland Yard, and Interpol were all brought in to investigate, but failed to turn up the cross.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Quadruple homicide in California
> When: 1981
> Location: Keddie, California

This quadruple homicide took place in the Northern California town of Keddie on the evening of April 11, 1981. The bodies of Glenna Sue Sharp, 36; her son John, 15; and his friend Dana, 17, were all found bludgeoned and stabbed in a cabin. Sharp’s older daughter, 14-year-old Sheila, who was staying next door to the cabin, discovered the bodies. Her other siblings, Greg and Ricki, and their friend Justin Smartt, were unharmed in another bedroom. Besides the homicides, the younger Sharp daughter, 12-year-old Tina, was reported missing. Her body was found three years later, miles from the cabin.

There was no apparent motive and the two prime suspects in the case have since died. A slasher movie “Cabin 28” is based on this real-life tragedy.

Source: Ragesoss / Wikimedia Commons

Tylenol poisoning
> When: 1982
> Location: Chicago, Illinois

Seven Chicago-area people died after bottles of the popular pain reliever were spiked with cyanide and returned to store shelves, targeting random customers. The bottles were manufactured at different factories, so the tampering must have occurred in the stores.

Over the years, there have been several leads, but none panned out. The FBI even requested DNA samples from the Unabomber who had terrorized the same area several years earlier. But that lead, like others, went nowhere. The poisonings led to the creation of tamper-proof packaging regulations in the U.S.

Source: Kyndigs / Wikimedia Commons

The Glico Morinaga Case
> When: Mid-1980s
> Location: Japan

In a bizarre case that sounds like a twisted thriller, a reign of terror was unleashed on Japanese companies in 1984. On March 18, 1984, two masked men abducted Katsuhisa Ezaki, the CEO of candy maker Ezaki Glico, and demanded a ransom of $4.2 million. He escaped but other incidents followed in what came to be known as the Glico Morinaga Case.

A month later, arsonists torched several vehicles outside the Glico headquarters. In May, the company received a letter signed by “The Monster with 21 Faces” saying packages of Glico candies had been laced with potassium cyanide. The company removed its product from shelves, took a loss of $20 million, and laid off 400 people. Security video showed a man in a baseball cap not employed at a store putting Glico products on shelves, but he could not be identified.

The terror ring expanded its ransom-demand campaign against other companies such as confectionery company Morinaga. No deaths were attributed to the crime ring, though a police superintendent committed suicide during the investigation. Police closed the case. Even if the perpetrators are caught, Japan’s statute of limitations for kidnapping and the poisoning of food products has expired.

Source: mary-lynn / Flickr

Murder of Dian Fossey
> When: 1985
> Location: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Famed American primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey, known for her extensive study of mountain gorilla groups, was doing research in the African nation of Rwanda when she was found bludgeoned and slashed to death near her cabin. She is buried next to her gorilla friends.

Fossey’s killers have not been caught, but it has been speculated that her assailants might have been poachers. She fought poachers and the encroachment of cattle on the gorillas’ habitat and tried to empower local park wardens to combat gorilla poaching. Her entire staff was arrested after her death, but all were eventually released.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Gardner Museum heist
> When: 1990
> Location: Boston, Mass.

Taking a page out of the heist movie “The Thomas Crown Affair,” unknown men posing as police officers investigating a disturbance at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston pinched some 13 works of art by Degas, Manet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and other masters. News reports put the value of the swiped paintings at around $500 million. Because the items could not be resold in the art market, the motive for the theft is unclear. The museum is offering $10 million for information leading to the recovery of the works of art but so far there have been no takers.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Murder of 370 women
> When: 1990s-2000s
> Location: Juaréz, Mexico

Authorities estimate that as many as 370 poor female factory workers have been raped, strangled to death, and dumped in the desert near Juaréz, Mexico – one of the most violent cities in the world, and a hotbed for narcotics trafficking. That staggering number of victims, possibly slain by drug cartels, has sparked outrage among human-rights advocates, Amnesty International, and other worldwide groups to prod law enforcement into finding the killers, but there have been no arrests.

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Murder of Nicole Simpson Brown and Ron Goldman
> When: 1994
> Location: Los Angeles

Football Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson, who became a successful actor after retiring from the NFL, was acquitted of slaying his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995 in one of the most sensational trials in American history. In June 1994, the 34-year-old ex-wife of football icon, and the 26-year-old Goldman were found stabbed to death outside of her home. O.J. wasn’t convicted, but was later found liable for the murders in a civil lawsuit. No one else has been accused criminally.

Source: skinnylawyer / Flickr

Assassinations of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
> When: 1996
> Location: Las Vegas and Los Angeles

New York City-born rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., two of the most famous and influential rappers of all time, were assassinated within six months of each other. Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by while sitting in a car at a Las Vegas intersection. The 25-year-old died days later having never recovered consciousness. Witnesses said that he’d had an altercation with Crips gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson in the lobby of a hotel shortly before the incident.

Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace was killed in a drive-by in Los Angeles six months after Tupac’s unsolved murder. Wallace was leaving a Soul Train Awards after-party in Los Angeles just after midnight when he was attacked. Their murders came during a time of extreme rivalry between the competing record labels. Their attackers have never been positively identified, but it is believed that East and West Coast gang members were responsible.

Source: Barry Williams / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Murder of JonBenet Ramsey
> When: 1997
> Location: Boulder, Colorado

JonBenet Ramsey was a 6-year-old beauty pageant winner who was found bound, gagged, beaten, and strangled to death in the basement of her home in Boulder a day after Christmas. The case gained national attention. Suspects included Ramsey’s parents, her 9-year-old brother, and a family friend. Ramsey’s parents went on CNN to deny their involvement, but would not be officially cleared until 2008 – two years after JonBenet’s mother died of cancer. No one was ever charged with JonBenet’s death.

Source: 珈琲牛乳 / Wikimedia Commons

Miyazawa family of four was murdered
> When: 2000
> Location: Tokyo, Japan

The Miyazawa family of four was murdered in Setagaya, Tokyo, on Dec. 30, 2000 – a crime that shocked Japan. Their maternal grandmother lived next door and had tried phoning them but the line was disconnected. It was she who found the bodies. The parents and daughter had been stabbed and the son had been strangled, all by an unknown killer. The murderer left clues all over the place. His DNA was found on clothes at the house; he left a murder weapon; he even ate ice cream from the family’s freezer. Nearly 250,000 investigators worked the case and police received about 15,000 tips from the public, but the crime remains unsolved.

One theory is that an acquaintance killed them to steal their money, because they had just received a large government payout.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Belgian diamond heist
> When: 2013
> Location: Brussels, Belgium

Eight bold, well-armed, and well-organized thieves disguised as police officers stole millions of dollars worth of diamonds from a Belgian airport in 2013 without firing a shot, in one of the most lucrative heists of all time. The robbers pulled up to a Swiss-bound airplane in the Brussels airport in two cars and grabbed more than 120 packages of diamonds while holding up security with machine guns. They took off through a hole in the security fence. A Wall Street Journal story said it appeared that the thieves had inside help in the heist. A Reuters report said the diamonds were headed to Switzerland from Antwerp, where eight out of every 10 uncut diamonds in the world pass through.

Appraisals of the total worth of the haul varied widely, from an $50 million estimate by the Antwerp Diamond Center to about $467 million, according to the Financial Times.

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