When a notorious serial killer is caught and imprisoned or executed, one cannot help but wonder if all of their crimes were uncovered. Serial killers are manipulative sociopaths, and when put in a position where they have nothing left to lose, they will often enjoy playing games with the authorities. Some will outright refuse to admit to unsolved murders they committed. Others will falsely confess to unsolved murders they had nothing to do with. Here are 10 unsolved cases involving missing or murdered victims where there is a decent or strong possibility that a famous murderer was responsible.
On November 19, 1988, nine-year-old Michaela Garecht and one of her friends rode their scooters to a market in Hayward, California. After exiting the market, Michaela discovered that her scooter was now lying on the pavement behind a parked car. When she went over to retrieve it, a man with long, dirty blonde hair exited the vehicle and grabbed Michaela, and drove off. Michaela’s abduction led to one of the most extensive investigations ever conducted for a missing child, as police have checked out thousands of leads and looked at numerous suspects over the years.
In 2012, police received a letter from a death row inmate named Wesley Shermantine, half of the infamous “Speed Freak Killers” duo. Even though they were only convicted of four murders, Shermantine and his partner, Loren Herzog, are believed to have killed dozens of people throughout California over a 15-year period. After Herzog committed suicide, Shermantine told authorities that his partner was the man who abducted Michaela, and since Herzog bore a resemblance to the suspect, it seemed like a promising lead. Shermantine led investigators to a well on an abandoned farm that contained the remains of several victims. These remains included a bone fragment which was believed to belong to Michaela, but DNA testing has since ruled that out. For the moment at least, Michaela Garecht is still a missing person.
On the evening of October 15, 1953, 15-year-old Evelyn Hartley was babysitting an infant at a residence in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Evelyn’s father attempted to phone her numerous times throughout the evening, but when she failed to answer, he went to check on her. When he arrived at the house, it was locked, but once he went inside, he discovered what appeared to be the scene of a violent struggle. While the infant was still sleeping unharmed in her crib, Evelyn’s broken eyeglasses and one of her shoes were on the floor. Evelyn’s other shoe was found in the basement, where a window happened to be broken. A stepladder was propped up against the window and there were large amounts of blood in both the basement and the yard.
Days later, a pair of blood-stained underpants and a brassiere were found miles away. Some time after that, some men’s clothing and a pair of tennis shoes were also discovered with traces of blood on them. One possible suspect was serial killer Ed Gein, who was notorious for stealing corpses from graveyards and decorating his house with human remains. On the night of Evelyn’s abduction, Gein was in La Crosse visiting an aunt who lived two blocks away from where Evelyn was babysitting. Sexual organs belonging to two young girls were also found at Gein’s farm even though no young girls were buried at the graveyards Gein robbed. Gein always denied having anything to do with Evelyn’s disappearance, but he has never been completely ruled out as a suspect, and Evelyn Hartley has never been found.
In 1970, 35-year-old attorney Ronald Hughes was given an unenviable task for his first court case: He was appointed to represent Leslie Van Houten, a member of the notorious “Manson Family.” Under the orders of their leader, Charles Manson, Van Houten and five others were responsible for invading the home of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca on August 9, 1969 and stabbing the couple to death. Hughes’s defense strategy was to push forward the idea that Van Houten was brainwashed by Manson and had no control over her actions, and this approach apparently angered Manson.
On November 27, Hughes went on a weekend camping trip to the Sespe Hot Springs area with two teenage companions. They claimed that after heavy rains caused their vehicle to get stuck in the mud, they hitchhiked their way home while Hughes stayed behind. Hughes did not show up for court three days later and was reported missing. On March 29, 1971, Hughes’s decomposing body was found wedged between two boulders in a gorge. Ironically, this happened on the exact same day the Manson family received their guilty verdicts. While some believe the death was an accidental drowning due to a flash flood, there was speculation that other members of the Manson family were responsible. Manson had reportedly been heard threatening Hughes right before he disappeared, and one of Manson’s followers would later claim that the family had murdered him. However, since his body was so decomposed, no one could determine a cause of death, so the real truth may never be known.
On the morning of February 6, 1996, 10-year-old Zachary Ramsay left his home in Great Falls, Montana to walk to school. He did not arrive and was never seen again. Shortly before his disappearance, a witness claimed to have seen Zachary crying while being followed by an unidentified man. Authorities suspected that this man was a local resident named Nathaniel Bar-Jonah. Under his original name, David P. Brown, he had been convicted of the 1977 kidnapping and attempted murder of two boys in Massachusetts. After being released and changing his name, Bar-Jonah moved to Great Falls.
In 1999, Bar-Jonah was given a 130-year sentence for the kidnapping and sexual assault of three Great Falls boys. Authorities discovered disturbing evidence—that Bar-Jonah was into cannibalism—and had to acknowledge the horrifying possibility that he may have cooked the remains of Zachary Ramsay and eaten them himself or served them to unsuspecting guests. A human bone was found in Bar-Jonah’s garage, but DNA testing ruled out the possibility that it belonged to Zachary. In fact, the identity of the bone’s owner is still unknown. Authorities attempted to charge Bar-Jonah with Zachary’s murder, but the case fell through because Zachary’s mother kept pursuing leads that suggested her son was still alive somewhere. The extra charges against Bar-Jonah were dismissed, and he died in 2008. In 2011, Zachary was declared legally dead, but if the theory about Bar-Jonah’s cannibalism is correct, recovering Zachary’s remains might be impossible.
At 11:00 PM on September 16, 1979, the sister of 12-year-old Warren, Michigan resident Kimberly King received a call from her. Kimberly had been spending the night at a friend’s house, but told her sister she had snuck out and was calling from a phone booth. After Kimberly hung up, she was never heard from again. Authorities could not determine which phone booth she called from, but a witness claimed to have seen her talking on a phone that was several miles away.
It has been theorized that Kimberly may have been a victim of an unidentified serial killer known as “The Babysitter.” From 1976 to 1977, The Babysitter abducted four prepubescent children from Oakland County, Michigan, holding each of them captive for several days. He would bathe and feed each victim before murdering them and laying their bodies out by roadways to be found. One possible suspect was a man named David Norberg, who was killed in an accident in 1981. While DNA from a strand of hair found on one of The Babysitter’s victims did not match Norberg, there is still some circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, so he has not been completely ruled out. While Warren is not located in Oakland County, Norberg happened to live two streets away from Kimberly King at the time she went missing. Even if David Norberg was not The Babysitter, authorities have not discounted the possibility that he still may have been responsible for Kimberly’s disappearance.
On March 19, 1984, 15-year-old Colleen Orsborn left her Daytona Beach home to go to school. However, because the city was at the height of its spring break season, she decided to skip school to go to the beach instead. Unfortunately, she never returned home and was reported missing. Three weeks later, the decomposing body of an unidentified Jane Doe was discovered in a shallow grave in Orange County. Colleen’s family speculated that the body might be hers, but the medical examiner ruled this out. However, the family remained skeptical about this ruling and would eventually ask for DNA testing to be performed on the remains. After 26 years, it was positively confirmed that the Jane Doe was Colleen Orsborn.
Colleen is believed to have been a victim of serial killer Christopher Wilder. He was nicknamed the “Beauty Queen Killer,” because he liked to target models and attractive young women and was known for luring his victims by pretending to be a photographer for a modeling agency. Wilder went on a killing spree in early 1984, abducting and raping at least 12 women and murdering eight. Wilder started off his spree in Florida and traveled through several states before he was killed in a shootout with police in New Hampshire on April 13. Wilder just happened to be staying at a motel in Daytona Beach on the day Colleen Orsborn disappeared, so he is the prime suspect in her death. However, since Wilder was killed before he could provide any answers, no one will ever know for sure.
Darron Glass, a 10-year-old African-American boy, lived with his foster mother in Atlanta in 1980. On the afternoon of September 14, Darron briefly returned home from a baseball game before leaving again. A few minutes later, his foster mother received a phone call from an operator who said she had an emergency call from Darron. However, the line went dead before they were connected. Darron never returned home after that, and he was soon reported missing. Sadly, this would be far from the only tragedy involving a child in Atlanta during this time period.
From 1979 to 1981, Atlanta was terrorized by an unknown assailant who was believed to be responsible for the murders of nearly 30 African-American children. The killer was eventually identified as a young photographer named Wayne Williams, and after all the murders were pinned on him, he would be sentenced to two consecutive life terms. However, Williams has always maintained his innocence, and the case remains robed in controversy. Many experts believe that Williams was responsible for at least some of the murders, but not all of them. They have speculated that the murders were committed by multiple people and not all of them are linked. Because he fit the profile, Darron Glass is officially considered to be one of Wayne Williams’s victims, but if so, he’s the only victim whose body has never been found.
3The Dubs Family
In the summer of 1984, San Francisco resident Harvey Dubs placed an ad in a newspaper to sell video equipment. Apparently, two men answered this ad. On July 25, Harvey’s wife, Deborah, was on the phone with a friend when the doorbell to their apartment rang. Deborah told her friend that the men who wanted to buy their equipment were here and hung up the phone. After this, both Harvey and Deborah Dubs, along with their 16-month-old son, Sean, disappeared. Shortly afterward, a man calling himself “Jim Bright” called Harvey’s employer and told them that the family had moved to Washington State.
On the day of the family’s disappearance, a neighbor witnessed an Asian man leaving the Dubs residence with a box. The next day, this same neighbor saw an unidentified vehicle driving away from the residence. It’s speculated that the Asian man was Charles Ng and that both he and his serial-killing partner, Leonard Lake, answered Harvey’s newspaper ad and were responsible for their disappearance. The duo is believed to have murdered between 11 and 25 victims by kidnapping them and bringing them to their ranch, where they would be sexually assaulted and tortured before they were killed. After Lake’s capture, he committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill, and Ng is currently sitting on death row at San Quentin. A receipt with Harvey’s name on it was found at the killers’ ranch and his video equipment was found in Lake’s cabin, but the family’s bodies have never been recovered.
2Cheri Jo Bates
On Halloween morning in 1966, the body of Cheri Jo Bates, an 18-year-old freshman at Riverside Community College, was found by a groundskeeper on a gravel path by the campus library. She had been stabbed multiple times all over her body. Her Volkswagen Beetle was parked 90 meters (100 yds) away, and it was discovered that the killer had tampered with the engine in order to prevent the car from starting. Since there were no signs of robbery or sexual assault, there appeared to be no motive. Thirty days later, both the Riverside police and the local newspaper received an anonymous typewritten letter confessing to Cheri Jo’s murder.
On May 1, 1967, the police, the newspaper, and Cheri Jo’s father each received a letter which simply read: “BATES HAD TO DIE. THERE WILL BE MORE.” The letter was signed with what appeared to be a “Z.” Over the next few years, the city of San Francisco would be terrorized by a serial killer known as the Zodiac, who killed five people, seriously injured two others, and claimed to be responsible for many more murders. Of course, the Zodiac garnered his notoriety by sending many taunting letters about his crimes to the press. In 1970, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery received an anonymous letter pointing out the similarities between the Zodiac’s crimes and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates. Some experts are skeptical that the Zodiac was responsible for the Bates murder and believe he simply wanted to claim credit for the crime, but both the Zodiac killings and the Bates murders remain unsolved.
1Ann Marie Burr
On the morning of August 31, 1961, the mother of eight-year-old Ann Marie Burr awoke to discover that her daughter was missing from their Tacoma, Washington home. Ann Marie shared a bedroom with her three-year-old sister, but she was not there and there were no signs of any struggle. The front door had been locked the night before, but it was found unlocked in the morning. A living room window was wide open and had a piece of red thread stuck to it. A garden bench had been moved next to the window outside and there was a small footprint on the ground.
No trace of Ann Marie was ever found, but years later, it was discovered that the Burr family happened to live a few blocks away from a future serial killer: Ted Bundy. Bundy was only 14 years old when Ann Marie disappeared, but he apparently knew her. While Bundy claimed that he did not start killing until the 1970s, some people believe that Ann Marie might have been his first victim, especially since the footprint found outside her house was small enough to belong to a teenager. Until his execution in 1989, Bundy never admitted to being involved in Ann Marie’s disappearance, but always seemed to shut down whenever he was asked about it. In 2011, authorities hoped to use DNA testing to link Bundy to the abduction, but there was not enough measurable DNA evidence from the scene to build a complete profile. After more than 50 years, Ann Marie Burr’s disappearance remains unsolved.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopaedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently worked on a sci-fi short film called “Jet Ranger of Another Tomorrow.” Feel free to contact him here.