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Re-release: Unsolved Mysteries

This is a release of an episode originally published on June 6, 2023.

As much as we love coming up with the solution before the sleuth in fictional mysteries, there is something about unsolved mysteries that is fascinating. In today’s episode, Brook and Sarah discuss four well-known unsolved mysteries and their enduring appeal.

A quick note: two of the mysteries we discuss in this episode involve the deaths of real people, which can be more upsetting to hear about than fictional cases. We don’t get into detail, but understand if you choose to skip this one.


he Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (2019) Hallie Rubenhold


A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight (2012) Victoria Lincoln

The Trial of Lizzie Borden (2019) Cara Robertson

Amelia Earhart Part I: The Lady Vanishes | Podcast | Overheard at National Geographic

Amelia Earhart Part II: The Lady’s Legacy | Podcast | Overheard at National Geographic

D.B. Cooper, Where are You? (2022)Netflix

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This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi Brook.
BrookGood morning, Sarah. It’s another great day to talk about mysteries.
SarahAbsolutely and today we’re going to talk about some unsolved mysteries.
BrookYes, some real-life mysteries because when you’re a mystery lover like us, it’s not just fictional stories that catch your attention. Real life unsolved mysteries captivate us too. Today, Sarah and I will highlight some of the well-known examples of unsolved crimes and mysteries, what keeps these cases alive in our culture and what keeps armchair sleuths as well as professionals researching them. We’ll discuss this and more but first please be aware that two of these cases involve discussion of extreme violence and real-life cases can be more difficult to hear about than fictional renditions. We will not go into great detail, but we want to give you the opportunity to skip this episode if that’s best for you. So, Sarah why don’t you start us off with one of these real unsolved cases that continue to fascinate society in general and mystery lovers in particular.
SarahI will, thank you, Brook. Before I begin, I just want to preface this by saying that I am by no means an expert on any of the cases that we are going to discuss and there are many sources of information maintained by people who have devoted hundreds or even thousands of hours to these subjects. Ah so this you know summary is going to be very high level but there are lots of places where people can get some more information if they’re looking for it. So, I’ll start us off by talking about what is probably one of the most well-known violent crimes in recent history and that is the case of Jack the Ripper.
SarahBetween the thirty first of August and the ninth of November in 1888, five women were brutally murdered in the Whitechapel neighborhood of London and those deaths are attributed to arguably one of the most famous serial killers ever, Jack the Ripper. Were they victims of a single murderer? Or were there several killers? Were they the only victims or were they part of a larger string that started earlier in 1888 and ended in 1891? Was the killer medically trained or a butcher? Was he a well healed aristocrat or a member of the royal family? These questions will never be answered but they have sparked the interest of amateur sleuths and historians for over one hundred and thirty years. At the time, accounts of the murders were sensationalized in the sorry at the time accounts of the murders were sensationalized in newspapers that were published in London. And their coverage of the murders garnered the case international attention thanks in part to hundreds of letters received by the police and the press, many of which were supposedly from the killer. Now there are countless books, podcasts, films, and websites devoted to the subject. So, I won’t go into any more of the details, but I will specifically call attention to a book that I recently read and that is The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold.
SarahThis book is incredibly well researched, providing insight not only into the lives of these women who traditionally are referred to as prostitutes but many of whom were not. Instead, they were poor, often they were alcoholic, and subject to the standards and expectations of the time that they lived in. No other book has given me greater appreciation for the daily struggles of the late nineteenth century and made me thankful that I am not living in the same conditions as them.
BrookThanks Sarah. That is definitely, you’re right, probably the most well-known unsolved case. Everyone knows that name and at least has some understanding of what those crimes were. And I think that something you said like you listed off these questions and there’s it made me think about how there’s so many variables in this this case. You know, if he was a doctor then that makes all these other things happen. If he was just a crazy person, that didn’t have any skills then that trickles down and makes all these other things a possibility. And it’s just such a puzzle that is will never be solved that we just cannot solve right.
SarahWell and I think with this case, you know it was a hundred and thirty years ago so evidence what wasn’t maintained in the way that it might be maintained now I think with the Blitz in London, there was a lot of documentation that got destroyed and so there are just so many unanswerable questions related to this.
BrookYeah, and to those of us who enjoy trying to solve a case, even if it’s just that armchair sleuth thing, it becomes this challenge. It’s almost like you can’t let it go. But as you say, there are things that we will never know so it will likely never be solved.
SarahSo, Brook do you have a case that you want to share?
BrookYes, and um, I’m glad you said what you did because by no means are we experts on these. I appreciated that. But I will say that I got a little obsessed with Lizzie Borden when I was a young teenager, to the point that my mom got a little concerned about me because I kept renewing this book from the from the library. I’ll spare you the childhood rhyme, but many of you know that Lizzie Borden was tried and acquitted for the murder of her father and stepmother. No one else was ever formally accused, leaving the case unsolved for over one hundred and thirty years. Lizzie Andrew Borden was born in 1860 in Fall River Massachusetts to Andrew and Sarah Borden They had one other daughter, Emma who was nine years older than Lizzie. Their mother died when Lizzie was just three and their father remarried shortly after to a woman named Abby Gray. Lizzie’s father was a great businessman although he started out rather poor. He worked over his life. To become extremely wealthy and at the time of his death his estate is estimated to be worth um, 9.6 million in today’s US dollars.
BrookAs young adults, Lizzie and Emma still lived at home with their parents and were very involved in the community they taught Sunday school they served on various boards and projects. It would seem that this rich influential and involved family had it all, but there was trouble brewing. First of all Lizzie didn’t get a what first of all, Lizzie didn’t get along well with her stepmother. She suspected that Abby only married her father for his money and would only ever call her Mrs Borden. Lizzie and Emma also had conflicts with their father. This was in part because he was such a miser. So, although he was extremely wealthy. He was also extremely frugal to the point of refusing to install indoor plumbing into their home even though by this time that was a common practice for and affluent families. Ah the girls also disagreed with his financial decisions. He had recently provided his sister-in-law—so his new wife’s sister—with a house and this made his daughters extremely jealous. They demanded that he give them a house too that they could use as a rental property so he agreed and they purchased a house from him for $1 to make it a legal transaction. But a few weeks before the murders they sold the property back to their father for $5000 so there was clearly some sort of dispute still happening there. To add insult to injury Lizzie’s father had recently killed her pet pigeons. He said they were a nuisance but she loved them and he killed them with a hatchet. And also the week before the murders the entire family fell ill. It’s unclear whether this was an intentional poisoning or simply food poisoning because this was pre-refrigeration. So this brings us to the day of the murders, August 4, 1892. Andrew left for his normal morning walk and Abby was doing upstairs chores Abby was the first to be killed. She was struck multiple times with a hatchet when Andrew returned home his key failed to open the door so he knocked and the family’s maid went to answer and found that the door had been jammed. She reports hearing Lizzie coming down the stairs at this point and she was apparently laughing. Lizzie later denied the whole thing. She said she was never upstairs and she thought that her stepmother was actually out of the house at that point. But the maid helped Mr. Borden settle in for his nap anyway and she went back to work cleaning the windows.
BrookSoon she reports that Lizzie called her saying “Maggie come quick. Father’s dead somebody came in and killed him.” They found Andrew on the couch downstairs, he had also been struck multiple times with a hatchet. Lizzie was arrested a week later um and her trial began a year later. The hatchet was discovered by the Fall River police, but it had been cleaned very well of all evidence. And another downfall for the prosecution was that even though fingerprinting was in its infancy the Fall River police didn’t properly collect any fingerprints and they also let the crime scene become ah rather a show place and so people were in and out of the house. Ah people just from the community and ah on the day of the murders so everything got contaminated.
BrookAlthough no bloodstained clothing was found as evidence. It was reported that Lizzie tore apart and burned a blue dress in the kitchen stove a few days following the murder claiming that she had paint on it. But based on the lack of evidence, Lizzie Borden was acquitted. After the trial Lizzie and her sister were wealthy. They inherited all that money, they had a giant house that they called Maplecroft, indoor plumbing and all they had maids and housekeepers and a coachman. And even though she was acquitted she was definitely ostracized by Fall River society. There are many theories on what really happened stories range from the main the maid committing the murders to Lizzie doing that but in a fugue state. And then there’s an uncle who had been staying in the home who was also having business dealings with Mr Borden and um his guilt is in question. Numerous blogs, TV shows movies and many many books have recounted the evidence and Lizzie’s trial or they fictionalized the story but 230 2nd Street Fall River is now a bed and breakfast where mystery buffs can tour the rooms and even sleep in the infamous bedrooms. No thanks.
BrookI would recommend a couple of books that would be great to learn more about this trial. A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight that one is by Victoria Lincoln or The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
SarahThanks, Brook. I have to say I wasn’t familiar with very much about the story. Certainly I’d heard the name Lizzie Borden and um, ah that her family had been had been killed. Um I actually thought she was found guilty. So thanks for clearing that up for me. I think it’s you know we’ve talked before I think about public fascination with crime and ah how police methods have obviously evolved. But historically members of the community kind of having access to crime scenes and and disturbing the evidence and and so you know making it really difficult for any convictions to happen. So um, you know I’m not surprised given how sensational I’m sure this story was for the community that. That people wanted to go in and take a look.
BrookYeah, it’s interesting when you realize that they didn’t understand how fragile everything was and yeah, this guy was super influential in the community very well known and it kind of became this sideshow where everyone was in and out that day and you’re reading the facts of it and just cringing going. Oh my gosh. There’s no way to build a case now. It’s very fascinating and there are so many layers to it, so many possibilities. It’s definitely worth checking out for for those of us who love a good mystery challenge.
SarahSo, Brook, I have a nonviolent mystery that remains unsolved that I thought I would share and so this is the mystery of Amelia Earhart who was a pilot. And she and her navigator Fred Noonan um went missing on one of the last legs of what was supposed to be the first time a female pilot circumnavigated the globe, so she was very accomplished as a pilot and very famous for her for her accomplishments. But despite extensive searching there have been no confirmed sightings of Earhart, her navigator, or the plane since July 2, 1937. Her disappearance sparked several theories. Did her plane crash and sink? Did she land on a different island and die as a castaway? Was she actually a government spy and crashed on the Marshall Islands only to be captured by the Japanese? Or was the crash fictional and used as a ruse to facilitate government spying? Or was the flight successful and she was just so tired of her fame that she abandoned the public eye to become a housewife? The truth will never be known.
SarahBut searchers as the passionate community of people who seek the answers will continue in their quest. In learning a little bit more about her, I discovered that in addition to her flying firsts, she worked as a social worker. She was a fierce advocate for women’s rights. And because of her celebrity status her name was attached to different goods much like we see celebrity endorsements happening. You know, continue to to happen now. But one of those um goods that sorry. 1 of the things that her name was attached to was a line of luggage which is very fitting for someone who is a pilot she fought quite hard to be recognized under her birth name. So as Amelia Earhart rather than her married name and. A lot of what she did paved the way for um, for women and so she’s quite apart from being this wonderful pilot. She was quite a pioneer in a lot of different ways. So I didn’t actually read any books related to Amelia Earhart to prepare for this but I did listen to some podcast episodes. You know there’s as with any of these cases there are extensive resources that are available for people. But I really enjoyed a two-part series that was put together by the National Geographic and they have a podcast that’s called Overheard. I listened to both of those episodes on Youtube and and they were great. So I’ll include links to those in the show notes.
BrookThanks Sarah yeah, she is one of my heroes I think like I just think that she’s such a fascinating woman and um and then it’s so tragic the way that it ended because she was on this flight that was going to even make her more of a celebrity I guess like this huge accomplishment. Um, and it’s just one of those one of those situations that just is so heart wrenching I think and because she was so famous already. It really has kept this alive because we know that especially in that day and age there were planes going down people were dying in plane crashes or or lost at sea but because she was such a celebrity that’s kept this alive for us and kept us wondering what happened all these years.
SarahWell and I I do wonder if because her plane crashed that is what has kept her name as something that people know. Because as you say, there were you know there were lots of of pilots. Lots of people who were attempting these firsts because aviation was was really just in its infancy. And, I can think of the Wright Brothers who were the first to fly in a plane. And Amelia Earhart, and they’re probably the only names that I know from aviation history and I’m I wonder if part of the reason that her name is so well known is because she her plane crashed.
BrookThat yeah, that is actually a great point, Sarah. isn’t it when some tragedy happens. Um, or ah, it doesn’t necessarily have to be tragic but an ending or um, an event that then solidifies it because. We talk all the time about mystery authors that have been lost to history for whatever reason. But these kind of events then just kind of cement them in our in our cultural memory. Um, and I would say my other I agree with you, the Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, and then Charles Lindbergh but also because he had a tragic thing happen to his family.
SarahIt’s unfortunate that that is the that’s what makes us remember these people.
BrookExactly. Well, I’m going to share lastly, another nonviolent crime but just as fascinating. D.B. Cooper is the name given by the media to an unidentified man who hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight on November 24, 1971. This white male in his mid-40s with dark brown hair, wearing a suit and tie, and carrying a briefcase as well as a brown paper bag, boarded the plane bound from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington. During the short flight he informed an attendant that he was armed with a bomb he demanded $200,000 in ransom as well as four parachutes when they landed in Seattle. He was given his demands and he released the other passengers in Seattle. He then instructed the crew to refuel the aircraft and take flight to Mexico City. About 30 minutes after takeoff the crew realized that the hijacker had opened the airplanes aft door. He deployed the staircase and parachuted into the night over Southwestern Washington. He was never found. His identity has never been determined. Interestingly, the hijacker the hijacker identified himself as Dan Cooper on documents, but a misinterpretation of his handwriting on a form resulted in him always being known as D.B. In 1980, a small amount of the ransom money was found on the banks of the Columbia River and this renewed public interest in the case.
BrookThe FBI kept the investigation open for 45 years, building an extensive case file. Perhaps his only mistake in this perfect crime, FBI agents found his black clip-on necktie where he had been seated. The tie had been sold exclusively at JC Penny department stores. But the lead did not reveal the man’s identity. By late 2007, the FBI was able to build a partial DNA profile from the necktie but no matches have been discovered.
BrookIn 2009, a group of citizen sleuths calling themselves The Cooper Research Team used GPS satellite imagery and other modern technologies to investigate. The group included scientists from various fields. Unfortunately, when searching the area where the ransom money was discovered and the area that they allege that Cooper landed, they did not locate any new evidence. The FBI believed that the man could not have survived the jump, but others disagree. Theories abound about who D.B. Cooper really was. Between 1971 and 2016, the FBI processed more than a thousand serious suspects, included assorted publicity seekers and deathbed confessors.
BrookRecent documentaries, books, and miniseries show that the intrigue this mystery man created still exists. This crime remains the only unsolved incident of air piracy in history. And I am going to recommend a fairly new Netflix mini series called D.B. Cooper, Where are You? It’s really well done and because it was um, released in 2022 you get all of the up-to-date research that’s being done and some of the theories. It’s a great one to learn more about this really interesting case.
SarahOh thank you, Brook? Yeah so of the cases that we’ve talked about today, this is the one that I probably knew the least about. I think I knew the name D.B. Cooper but I’m not sure that I knew what was the mystery surrounding him. So, yeah I’ll have to to look at that Netflix series. Thanks for that recommendation.
SarahSo, Brook these are um, just a few examples of unsolved mysteries. There’s so many others and there’s some that are even older, right? Like the princes of the tower in London or Roanoke or even things that are like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. These continue to fascinate people. What do you think is this like what do you think fuels that ongoing interest?
BrookYeah I I don’t know if I can put my finger on it. But I am definitely in the group that can’t get enough of them. But it definitely feels like either you are or you aren’t. Like I know people in my life who could care less. They’re like “Why are you even watching that?” or “Why are you interested in that?” Um I guess it probably comes down to me to that feeling of the puzzle. But I’m interested in the fact that I know that there’s not a solution and yet I will still watch these documentaries and listen to these podcasts I just I just find them fascinating.
SarahSo when you’re doing that is that is there something about hearing about all of the different theories that interests you or do you like come up with your own theories?
BrookI think it’s a combination of both. Like I love hearing all the different theories especially if a new theory comes about for instance like with new technology then they’re able to oh well, perhaps this and they’ll somebody will pose a new theory but I I also find myself like going off on my own. What about you? Do you do you make your own theories when you listen or combine two theories?
SarahYeah. Well when you were describing the Lizzie Borden case I was like oh it was maid. But I don’t I think I probably fall into the the camp of people who like they interest me.
SarahI don’t I can’t think of one that I’ve that I’ve researched extensively. Like Roanoke I think is a fascinating story but I haven’t read extensively about it. I think I think it’s really interesting how even if you’re not super interested in coming to an answer a lot of these mysteries are just woven into our cultural fabric right? People know about them even if they haven’t spent a lot of time researching them.
BrookRight. I think that the way that they endure is so fascinating and the fact that um even younger generations. You know if you were to mention Jack the Ripper to a teenager. They’re not going to know all the details but they’re going to automatically know oh we’re talking serial killer Victorian era. It’s super interesting how they’ve stayed alive and become a part of our culture, worldwide culture I would say.
SarahSo what do you think would happen if tomorrow some piece of evidence emerged and one of these mysteries was solved?
BrookI think that you would have—because this plays on the fact that there’s a part of us that doesn’t really want the answer. We like the game as much as we like searching for an answer. So I think you’d have a big rise up of like the ah the counterpoints like people disputing it. Um, for whatever reason I Yeah I think that there’s going to be a part of of things that. That don’t really want it to be solved. Don’t want it to be over.
SarahI I think I agree I think there’s there’s always going to be people who just won’t accept that. That’s that’s the solution. Um, and we’ll continue to dispute that the mystery has been solved.
BrookUm, well Sarah this has been so much fun and as you say there are many more of these real life unsolved mysteries. Ah I’m with you Roanoke has always fascinated me. So you know, maybe there is another real life mystery episode coming in the future.
SarahWell I’d love to hear what our listeners if they’ve got any real life mysteries that are unsolved that that that they’re really interested in.
BrookOh yes, let’s get some suggestions I like that. So, send us your suggestions of the real life mysteries that have always fascinated you. But for today thanks for joining us on Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.