There are two topics that are perennial favorites online . . . unsolved mysteries and celebrities. So what could be better than a list combining both? Here we look at some mysteries that we have never covered at Listverse, and we re-visit a few better known cases that have had new information emerge recently.
10 Princess Diana, Surveilled
I am starting the list off with Diana, Princess of Wales as her death is typically considered to be lacking any mystery. However, many theories have been touted over time to suggest that there may have been more to the events leading up to her being killed in a car wreck. Additionally, the scandal around Prince Andrew and his ties to arguably-murdered paedophile Jeffrey Epstein has re-opened the debate around whether the royal family may be involved, from time to time, in the sordid business of wetwork.
On August 31, 1997 it was announced that Princess Diana had been in a car accident mortally wounding her and her lover Dodi Fayed, along with a security guard Henri Paul. The accident was the result of an attempt to escape the invasive eye of the mainstream media. Her death sent shockwaves around the world and more than thirty million people tuned in to watch the official broadcast of her funeral. And then the theories began to appear: did Diana really die in an accident or was she killed at the request of the Royal family to prevent her marriage to Dodi Fayed or from converting to Islam as there had been indications that she was considering it.
It was revealed in 1999, due to a FOIA request in the United States, that Princess Diana had been under twenty-four hour secret surveillance by the NSA. The reasons for the surveillance and the more than 1,000 pages of data on the princess remain under lock and key to this day. Additionally, scandalous conversations involving Princess Diana that were leaked to the media were recorded by the GCHQ, an element of the British secret service. These facts, and a 1993 letter the Princess wrote to her butler stating that she believed His Royal Highness Prince Charles intended to have her killed, do not help dismiss the theories that very important people may have had a hand in the untimely demise of the future King’s mother. Perhaps we shall never know whether Princess Diana was murdered or whether she truly was just the victim of a rabid media.
9 Lost Heiress Dorothy Arnold
Once upon a time celebrity didn’t involve the silver screen . . . because there wasn’t one! In those days, celebrities were royals, or wealthy businessmen (like Daddy Warbucks in Annie), or socialites: the “it girls” of their day. It was to this world, in 1885, that heiress Dorothy Arnold was born.
Dorothy’s father was a wealthy perfume importer, her aunt was married to a Supreme Court Justice, and the Arnold family descended from passengers on the Mayflower, which is about as close as it gets to being royalty in America. Living a life of wealthy privilege left Dorothy bored so, upon graduating from college with a degree in literature, she began to attempt a writing career which led to many rejection letters and little else. On the morning of December 12, 1910, Dorothy went dress shopping with the equivalent of $800 in today’s currency in her purse. She purchased a box of chocolates and briefly met with and chatted to an old friend on the street. That friend was the last person to see Dorothy Arnold alive. She vanished into thin air.
News of her disappearance caused a media frenzy—much like the JonBenét Ramsay case in our own time. Rewards were offered, lakes were dredged, and private detectives were sent around the world seeking information. Two mysterious clues emerged. One was a letter simply stating “I am safe” in Dorothy’s handwriting and the other was a claim made by a Jeweler in San Francisco who said he engraved a wedding ring for her with the inscription “To A.J.A. from E.R.B.”. Both clues were dismissed as inconsequential for reasons unknown and very soon after the police called off the investigation stating that no evidence existed of a crime having been committed.
For many years the story was headline-making and many theories were posited for Dorothy’s whereabouts. The first (though ultimately dismissed and unproven) came from a convict who claimed to have taken Dorothy’s body from the home of a doctor in New York and buried it—presumably to conceal her death by illegal abortion. But perhaps the most believable is that of the family lawyer who, upon the death of Dorothy’s mother, stated that he had always believed that Dorothy killed herself due to her failed writing career.
8 Who Saved Blanche Monnier?
On the 23rd of May, 1901, the attorney general of Paris received an anonymous note which read: “Monsieur Attorney General: I have the honor to inform you of an exceptionally serious occurrence. I speak of a spinster who is locked up in Madame Monnier’s house, half-starved and living on a putrid litter for the past twenty-five years – in a word, in her own filth.” The attorney general issued an order for the police to investigate the matter.
One of the policemen arriving upon the scene described what he found: “The unfortunate woman was lying completely naked on a rotten straw mattress. All around her was formed a sort of crust made from excrement, fragments of meat, vegetables, fish, and rotten bread . . . We also saw oyster shells, and bugs running across Mademoiselle Monnier’s bed. The air was so unbreathable, the odor given off by the room was so rank, that it was impossible for us to stay any longer to proceed with our investigation.”
It turns out that Blanche Monnier, a wealthy aristocratic woman from Poitier France had decided to marry a common lawyer and, fearful of the scandal it would cause in the public eye, her mother locked her up in a small room to prevent the marriage. The wealthy mother, and her son, announced that Blanche was dead and the world was none the wiser. Until the mysterious letter arrived with the attorney general twenty-five years later. In the meantime the lawyer had died but Monnier’s mother and brother remained. The news caused an outcry and a mob gathered outside the home.
Fifteen days later Blanche’s mother died but her brother was put on trial. He was convicted but the conviction was overturned on appeal as he was deemed mentally incapable of knowing he had a responsibility to rescue his sister. Monnier suffered from numerous mental disorders as a consequence of her captivity including anorexia, exhibitionism, and coprophilia. She was incarcerated in a mental hospital until her death in 1913, a celebrity more for her horrific captivity than her position as a socialite and heiress. The mystery of who wrote the letter that exposed this hideous crime to the world remains unsolved.
7 Disappearance Of Joe Pichler
Joe Pichler was a child actor who was best known for his roles in the Beethoven movies (about a dog named Beethoven) and stints in various TV series in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After establishing himself as a Hollywood actor with a promising future, his parents felt he would be better served (at least for the time being) returning home to complete high school.
He moved back to his home town of Bremerton, Washington, in 2003, and graduated from high school two years later. His intention was to return to Hollywood the following year, once his dental braces were removed. And then he vanished. On the night of the 9th of January 2006, Joe’s car was found with all of his belongings intact except his wallet and car keys. He had also uncharacteristically left his home unlocked with all the lights on.
Poetry found in the car suggested that Pichler was down in the dumps but no significant evidence was found to support the case that he was suicidal. Police suspected he may have jumped from a nearby bridge, but sniffer dogs found no trace of him there nor any indications that he had walked by recently. Strangely, the parents accused the police of not actively trying to investigate the case as no fingerprints were taken. The case remains open.
6 Bob Crane Bludgeoned
Most loved for his role as Hogan in Hogan’s heroes, Bob Crane had an unusual hobby: he liked to film and photograph his sexual activities. It was while filming Hogan’s Heroes that he was introduced to John Carpenter, an electronics salesman who helped Crane with his video machinery. The two would prowl bars for new women to video in their sex sessions.
On June 29, 1978, Crane’s corpse was found in his apartment by a co-star from a show he was currently engaged in. He had been bludgeoned to death and an electrical cable was tied around his neck. The murder weapon was never identified. Carpenter immediately became the chief suspect due to his recent falling out with Crane that had led to the end of their friendship. Carpenter’s car was searched and blood smears were found matching Crane’s blood type (no more accurate testing was available in those days).
A 1990 re-examination of the evidence uncovered a photo showing what appeared to be a piece of brain in the car interior but no physical evidence was found. The photograph, however, was sufficient to get a judge to allow the re-opening of the case and a DNA test of the blood. It was inconclusive. In 2016, further DNA testing was used on the remaining samples from Carpenter’s car. Two sequences resulted: one from an unknown male, and the other too damaged for a conclusive match to anyone. Right to his death Carpenter denied any role in the murder of Crane.
5 Agatha Christie’s Memory Loss
What could be more fitting for, arguably, the greatest writer of mystery novels than to find herself at the center of a true-life mystery of her own? At 9:30pm on the night of December 3rd 1926 Agatha Christie’s husband admitted to an affair with another woman and asked for a divorce. Agatha, after saying goodnight to her young daughter, drove off into the night not to be seen again for eleven days. Her vanishing sparked a nationwide manhunt with over 1,000 policemen being put on the case. Christie was thirty-six years old and already an acclaimed writer.
The genre of her writing and mysterious nature of her disappearance prompted the police to drag other luminaries of the mystery writing world (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers) into the investigation in the hopes that their skills might be of assistance to investigators. A fanatical spiritualist, Doyle gave one of Christie’s gloves to a medium though it offered up no leads. But then Agatha’s car was found abandoned on the edge of a steep chalk cliff.
The hunt for Mrs Christie continued unabated with 15,000 volunteers joining the search and airplanes being called in to surveil the countryside around the car. And then, unexpectedly, Agatha was found sojourning in an elegant hotel in fashionable Harrogate under the false name of Mrs Tressa Neele (the same surname as her husband’s mistress). Christie had no recollection of the previous eleven days and, until her death, refused to speak of them. It went unmentioned in her autobiography.
Logic would suggest that Christie fled after the news of her husband’s affair, but even so, her memory loss, which was medically verified, is inexplicable. Ultimately she gave her husband the divorce he wanted and, in her own words: “[A]fter illness, came sorrow, despair and heartbreak. There is no need to dwell on it.”
4 Natalie Wood’s Watery Death
Natalie Wood was a beautiful and talented actress who has been mentioned a number of times on Listverse in the past but she definitely deserves a spot on this list for the mysterious nature of her death. Shortly after thanksgiving in 1981, Natalie, her husband Robert Wagner (famed for the television program Hart To Hart) and Christopher Walken (famed for his character in Pulp Fiction who carried a watch “up my ass for two years”), whom she was working with on a film, went sailing to Catalina Island for the weekend.
Allegedly Wood tried to either leave the yacht or secure a dinghy that was banging against the hull when she accidentally slipped and fell overboard and drowned. Later it was discovered a witness nearby heard calls for help at around midnight. She said the cries lasted for about 15 minutes and were answered by someone else who said, “Take it easy. We’ll be over to get you. “It was laid back,” the witness recalled. “There was no urgency or immediacy.” An investigation by Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi resulted in an official verdict of accidental drowning. Noguchi concluded Wood had drunk several glasses of wine and was intoxicated when she died. There were marks and bruises on her body but they could have been received as a result of her fall.
People thought little of the case until the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern, published a book in 2008 which suggested that the “accident” came close on the heels of a fight with Wagner. And then in 2011 the police unexpectedly re-opened the case. Most recently the coroner changed the official cause of death from “drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” Is there something more to the case that has been uncovered by the police since 2011? It would appear so, because just last year (2018), the police officially named Robert Wagner as a “person of interest” in the case.
3 Elizabeth Short’s Vampiric Murder
The Black Dahlia was once the greatest Hollywood mystery but the infamy of the case has diminished slightly in recent years due to some new developments. But before we talk about that, here’s a summary of the story. In 1947 the body of 22 year old Elizabeth Short was found drained of blood and cleaved in two in a parking lot in Los Angeles. Until her identity was known, she was nicknamed “Black Dahlia” as a play on a then-current movie The Blue Dahlia.
The reason for her death and the perpetrator remain unknown though her tale is certainly one of the most discussed of all Hollywood mysteries. Movies, books, scintillating top 10 lists, and other media formats have told her story and it will certainly go down in the annals of history as one of the most deeply disturbing unsolved murders.
The latest breakthrough in the case is the recent statements of Buz Williams, the son of one of the now-dead police officers who investigated the case. Mr Williams has said that Leslie Dillon, a bellhop and one-time mortician’s assistant, murdered Short at the request of a Hollywood mogul obsessed with her. Dillon even contacted the police anonymously at the time of the crimes to make enquiries as to their progress. We will most likely never solve this mystery, but there is no denying that the passage of time does not make it any the less fascinating.
2 Brittany Murphy’s Black Death
In 2009, rising star of the film world Brittany Murphy died at age thirty-two of pneumonia. An autopsy revealed that she was full of flu medication. Her death was a shock and the results of the autopsy couldn’t explain why a woman of her age, in otherwise excellent health, would die like she did. Then, in a shocking coincidence, five weeks later her boyfriend Simon Monjack, aged forty, also died . . . of pneumonia. Their deaths occurred in the same house so people began pointing fingers at black mould as a potential cause of death, though no evidence was put forth that proves it was the culprit.
Brittany’s father (Angelo Bertolotti) believed she was poisoned by the CIA for being an outspoken supporter of whistleblower Julia Davis who, in 2004, leaked information showing that the department of Homeland Security was not properly vetting visa requests from terrorist nations. Davis’ home had been raided by twenty-seven armed agents, a U.S. Marshall, and a Blackhawk helicopter. Murphy’s phone was wiretapped according to her father.
Bertolotti ordered a toxicology report to be done independently of the official autopsy and the results found ten heavy metals consistent with death by rat poison. What did kill Brittany Murphy and her boyfriend? Was it just excess moisture leading to a dank and unsafe home, or was it part of a massive coverup of government incompetence?
1 Dallas’ Debbie Disappears
What ’80s schoolboy didn’t see—or at least hear—of Debbie Does Dallas, the 1978 film by Jim Buckley? It was lauded as one of the truly great blue movies from what is now known as the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984). To this day the picture remains the number one best-known adult film in history.
But what most people don’t know is that Debbie disappeared without a trace. Furthermore, no one even knows who Debbie actually was. The actress playing the title role went by the stage name “Bambi Woods”. It was common in those days for porn stars to keep their real identities secret as much of the industry operated outside of the law and there was considerable influence from the mafia.
Woods took up pornographic acting in order to pay debts she owed. Debbie Does Dallas is the only porn film she starred in. For two years Woods made appearances in public and lived a fairly extravagant and exotic life amongst the jet set of New York clubs Studio 54 and Plato’s Retreat. And then, just like that, she vanished. Lurid rumors arose that she had died a brutal death of a drug overdose.
A 2005 documentary, Debbie Does Dallas Uncovered, claimed to have found and interviewed the real Bambi Woods, alive and well in Iowa keeping her past safely—and secretly—in the past. But then, in 2007 a woman claiming to be Woods disputed (via email) virtually every claim in the documentary except that of wanting to maintain her private life. Was one of these women the real Bambi Woods, or did Debbie die doing drugs?