I can never get enough of true crime stories. Murder, mayhem, mystery, I’m pretty much obsessed with it all. Is it healthy? Well…who can say?
I also REALLY love a good unsolved true crime story. Sometimes I’ll read about unsolved cases deep into the night, to the point where I find myself checking the locks on the doors three or four times before I hit the lights.
I know I’m not alone in my obsession, so take a look at these four creepy, true, unsolved murder cases and try, just try, to not double check the back door before you go to sleep tonight.
1. The Mysterious Case of Jonathan Luna
Jonathan Luna was a true success story. He grew up in the projects of the South Bronx near Yankee Stadium and went on to become a successful lawyer, husband, and father to two children. He was a 38-year-old Assistant United States Attorney living in Baltimore, Maryland when he was mysteriously found dead on December 4, 2003…in Pennsylvania.
Luna left work at the courthouse around 11:30 p.m. on December 3, but instead of heading home, he ended up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Luna never mentioned to anyone that he would be leaving town before he left. Throughout the evening of December 3 and into the morning of December 4, Luna took a strange path, zigzagging through four states before arriving at the site of his death. He made an ATM withdrawal at 1:00 a.m. in Delaware, and he paid for road tolls with cash even though he had an E-ZPass in his car.
Around 5:30 a.m. on December 4, Luna’s still-running car was seen hanging over an embankment, and his body was discovered in the creek below. He had been stabbed 36 times with his own penknife and left to drown. Police initially assumed Luna’s case was be a homicide, due to his work as a federal prosecutor. Perhaps someone held a grudge against Luna because of a case?
But as authorities dug into Luna’s background, the possibility of suicide came to the forefront. It was discovered that Luna had accumulated a good deal of credit card debt, and that he had posted profiles on adult websites, looking for female sex partners.
Was Luna murdered due to some circumstance surrounding his job? Or did his life become so unmanageable and chaotic that he went to the extreme of stabbing himself to death? No one is certain, and the case remains unsolved to this day.
2. The Death of a Cyclist
Ottavio Bottecchia was a national hero in his native Italy when he died under mysterious circumstances in 1927. Not only had the 32-year-old Bottecchia won the Tour de France – the most famous bicycle race in the world – in 1924 and 1925, he was also a decorated World War I veteran, endearing him to his fellows Italians even more.
Bottecchia was in France in May, 1927 when he was forced home because of a family tragedy. His brother, Giovanni, was hit by a car while cycling and killed. On his return to Italy, tragedy struck again. On June 3, 1927, shortly after he buried his brother, Bottecchia was found unconscious on the side of the road near his hometown of Peonis.
He left that morning to go cycling and was discovered by a farmer a short time later, having sustained a cracked skull and other broken bones. A priest was summoned, and the cyclist was given his last rites. He was taken to a hospital, where he died on June 14. Bottecchia never regained consciousness.
But who, or what, caused Bottecchia’s injuries? His bike was quite a distance away from him and had not been damaged. There were no skid marks to indicate a car accident. The whole scene did not make much sense to investigators, or really to anyone. The authorities’ official cause of death: sunstroke. Seriously.
There are several alternate theories. Some believed Bottecchia may have been targeted by Mussolini’s government because he was an outspoken socialist, opposed to the Italian regime’s fascist ideology. An Italian man dying of stab wounds in New York claimed he had killed Bottecchia at the request of the mafia. And, many years later, the farmer who found Bottecchia on the side of the road delivered a stunning deathbed confession, saying: “I saw a man eating my grapes. He’d pushed through the vines and damaged them. I threw a rock to scare him, but it hit him. I ran to him and realized who it was. I panicked and dragged him to the roadside and left him. God forgive me!”
The case is still unsolved, but I think we can all agree that sunstroke had nothing to do with Bottecchia’s demise.
3. The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders
Now this story is REALLY creepy, and I’m kind of surprised no one has made a movie about it yet. In April 1977, a counselor at Camp Scott in Oklahoma realized her tent had been ransacked and her donuts stolen. The counselor also found an ominous note in her tent, warning that three girls would be murdered at the camp in the future. The counselor and her co-workers wrote the note off as a prank.
A few months later, their worst nightmare came true. June 12, 1977 was the first day of camp for Girl Scouts at Camp Scott. That night a big thunderstorm roared through the area, and the scouts and counselors hunkered down in their tents for the evening.
The following morning, a counselor on her way to the camp showers made a grisly discovery. Three Girl Scouts, aged 8 to 10-years-old, were found brutally murdered in their sleeping bags. The bodies were placed on a path about 150 yards away from the tent they had been sleeping in.
The police immediately had a suspect in mind: Gene Leroy Hart. The 34-year-old Hart had been on the run since escaping from jail in 1973. He had a long rap sheet, including kidnapping and rape, and he knew the area around Camp Scott very well.
Authorities immediately began searching for Hart, but he eluded them for a whole year. Finally, in April 1978, he was captured. It turned out Hart had been hiding out in the area, moving from cave to cave in the woods. These caves yielded clues and evidence related to the Girl Scout murders, confirming to the police that Hart was their man.
In the caves, police found sunglasses belonging to a Camp Scott counselor and a boot print matching one found at the scene of the crime. Even more damning, a chilling message was written on the wall in one of the caves. It read: “The Killer was Here. Bye Bye Fools. 77-6-17.” The date in the message, June 17, was only four days after the three young girls were killed.
Hart stood trial for the murders, but, much to the outrage of local citizens, he was acquitted. However, because of his previous jailbreak and his earlier crimes, Hart was sent directly back to the penitentiary, where he died of a heart attack in 1979.
Was Gene Leroy Hart the murderer? If so, did the jury make a mistake by acquitting him? A few other suspects have been considered throughout the years, but this nearly 40-year-old mystery still haunts Oklahoma.
4. The Phantom Killer
This case has been made into a movie – twice. More on that later.
In the years afer WWII, Texarkana (a city straddling the line between Arkansas and Texas) found itself in the grip of a demented serial killer.
The story goes like this: Between February and May 1946, a man stalked victims in Texarkana, murdering five and injuring three. The killer struck at night, roaming “lover’s lanes,” looking for unsuspecting victims gettin’ it on in their cars. The youngest victim of the Phantom Killer’s violence was only 15-years-old. The final victim was a 37-year-old man who was shot through a window while he was reading the newspaper in his house.
Curfews were imposed in Texarkana, and terrified citizens guarded their homes with firearms. Police on either side of the state line hunted the elusive killer. Even the Captain of the famous Texas Rangers, Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullus, went to Texarkana, vowing to find the Phantom Killer.
No one was ever caught or charged for any of the crimes that occurred in Texarkana in the spring of 1946.
Historian and former reporter James Presley released a book in 2014 about the famous, unsolved case. Presley believes the Phantom Killer was a man named Youell Swinney, a petty thief who was always a suspect in the murders, but never charged for the crimes. In fact, Swinney’s wife said that he was the Phantom Killer, but she then refused to testify against him in court. Swinney was sent away to the penitentiary for other crimes from 1947 until his release in 1973.
Was Swinney the Phantom Killer? Or were investigators on the wrong path the whole time? In this case, we’ll probably never know.