Serial killers are among the most elusive of violent criminals, leaving few patterns and calling cards for the authorities to work with. Some killers get their retribution from death, incarceration on other charges or perhaps give up their life of crime, leaving a gaping hole in the justice system and accountability for the record. Here are a few high profile cases that remain a mystery:
The Boston Strangler.
The Boston Strangler crime spree throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut began on June 14, 1962 and came to a close in January 1964 with the arrest of Albert DeSalvo, the self-confessed serial killer. However, forensic technology, not available during the early 1960’s, has proven conclusively through DNA testing that DeSalva had lied about at least one of the 13 murders of the female victims.
Although DeSalvo was tried, convicted and held his claim to be the Boston Strangler, his testimony and account of the crime scenes were largely inaccurate, save for the crime scene information that was made public in the newspapers. In addition, the body of the final victim, Mary Sullivan, was exhumed and put through a DNA test using trace elements of vaginal semen. The body fluids did not match DeSalvo and the M/O circumstances were inconsistent, most notably the use of a ligature to strangle, rather than the bare hands.
Upon the arrest of Albert DeSalvo, the gruesome murders had come to a halt, however, that does not mean conclusively that DeSalvo was the killer. Perhaps the real Boston Strangler took the cue that he now had a scapegoat for prosecution, and walked away from his murderous rampage. It’s also possible that he had died or was incarcerated on unrelated charges. The truth may never be known who the real Boston Strangler was, or if he is still living among us, but the desperate plea for attention from DeSalvo has long lost its veracity that he did indeed commit these crimes.
Smiley Face Murders.
Since the late 1990’s, at least 40 young males, across 11 states, have been murdered and dumped in a serial killer pattern known as the “Smiley Face” murders. The name was adopted for the psychotic and sinister “smiley face” left near to the primary or secondary crime scenes, positioned in a highly visible place where law enforcement could make the connection. The M/O for the victims has been a consistent target against college-aged males, mostly under 25 years old, Caucasian, observed as intoxicated in bar, and traveling alone. Most of the victim’s remains were dumped into a river or similar body of water, although the cause of death was something other than drowning.
NYC detectives, Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte have studied the evidence and pieced together this most puzzling case, drawing a conclusion that the murders may have been committed by more than one person, perhaps a sadistic group of serial killers drifting across the northeast and mid west regions. The FBI, however, does not concur with the detective’s findings and still remains open to the possibility that the 40 murders may be unrelated. Whether the police or the feds are correct, the killings have been bonded together with the trademark smiley face, and only time will tell who will be taken into custody for these brutal and senseless killings.
The Zodiac Killer.
The Zodiac Killer crime spree claimed 37 lives from June 4, 1966 till it came to an abrupt halt on October 11, 1969. The murders took place from the Bay Area in northern California, to the central coastline in Santa Barbara and one attack in Riverside County, with no obvious M/O signs linking the victims by gender, race, age, locality or pattern of sexual assault.
After a three year killing spree, letters presumed to have been written by the serial killer were sent to a number of newspapers for publication. The texts resembled a discombobulated sense of thinking, with repetitive ideas, simplistic verbiage, poor grammar, multiple misspellings and over 400 words run together without the use of a period. Claiming to be the Zodiac Killer, the author of the messages seemed to savor the infamous publicity and enjoyed the cryptic cat and mouse routine with the police.
By 1992, only one suspect has been taken into custody upon an eyewitness testimony that Arthur Leigh Allen was the man who shot a suspected Zodiac victim 23 years earlier, however, DNA results and fingerprints could not prove a match to the 1968 crime scene. Although the Zodiac killings have ceased, there is no statute of limitations on murder, so the investigation will continue until the killer could no longer be living.
The Axeman of New Orleans.
From May 1918 until October 1919, New Orleans and the surrounding neighborhoods lived in a cloud of terror with 8 grizzly axe murders sweeping through the dark of the night. The perpetrator picked his victims randomly, with no preference or similarities among them, even hacking to death a pregnant woman and an infant she held in her arms. Not all of the victims died, however, the few that survived lived to tell a gruesome tale of savagery not seen since the days of Jack the Ripper.
Although there has not been conclusive proof of a name attached to the Axeman of New Orleans, it has been theorized that a possible link may be made to one Joseph Momfre, a name that concurs with New Orleans residency, who was shot to death during the commission of a crime in Los Angeles in 1920. The hole in that theory remains that there was no homicide record of a Joseph Momfre in L.A. by law enforcement and no record of a coroner’s acceptance of a body by that name. Whether or not Momfre was indeed the Axeman will never be known, and the lapse of time would most likely render the suspect dead by natural causes.
The Phantom Killer of Texarkana.
On February 22, 1946, the Phantom Killer murder spree began on a quiet road known as Lover’s Lane with the homicide of 23 year old Jimmy Hollis, who was parked in a car with his 19 year old girlfriend, Mary Jeanne Larey. Hidden away in the secluded darkness, the victims were attacked at gunpoint and ordered out of the car. Hollis sustained a fatal injury from a blow to the back of his head, while Larey made a run for it down the dark and desolate road. However, the killer caught up to Larey and taunted her with rape until a passing vehicle illuminated the highway, enabling Larey to escape.
This vicious cycle of death would continue until May 4, 1946, claiming 8 victims and 5 decedents in the states of Texas and Arkansas. Although the victims did not share any significant characteristics that would link them together, the method of operation of the Phantom Killer would yield some strange and curious signals as to when he would attack. Many of the crimes were committed under a full moon and became known locally as the “moonlight murders”, sending a chilling fear through the region when the lunar cycle was complete. Law enforcement has had their theories on who the Phantom Killer could have been, however, no one was formally charged with the string of midnight murders.