What is it about New Year’s Day that feels like a prime day to watch horror movies or to indulge in some darker conversation? Maybe we’ve just all had our fill of Christmas specials. I remember it was a New Year’s Day when I first heard the story of the 1880s-90s serial killer Belle Gunness of La Porte, Indiana. Little did I know at the time, but a decade later, I’d end up interviewing the author who wrote the definitive book on that mystery (if you’re up for a dark conversation, check out my conversation with Harold Schechter here: https://tinyurl.com/y5bvy7gt)
This year, I woke up on New Year’s Day to competing marathons of The Twilight Zone & Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Meanwhile, the documentary channel was taking a look back at Charles Manson’s impact on the music industry (definitely worth a look, “Manson: Music from an Unsound Mind” – 2019). That was followed by a special about a historical mass murder event on a tiny Western Australia island, for which I’ll get into deeper detail about below.
One of the things that excites me most about the paranormal is the idea that perhaps paranormal investigation or even just accidentally witnessing a residual haunting, might provide enough of a clue to help solve a mystery. Maybe that mystery is just a lost historical footnote, but maybe it will solve a crime, even a murder. In “Voices from the Chicago Grave,” I wrote about that hope relating to the residual Haunts at the site where the Grimes sisters bodies were recovered. Along with Max Timm, I visited sites across Los Angeles & Hollywood associated with the Elizabeth Short (Black Dahlia) murder with the hope to find an interesting EVP that might prove illuminating. We didn’t have any such luck, but I feel the concept is still worth exploring:
And on that note, my wife, Wendy, and I finally watched “The Irishman.” (Spoiler Alert: it doesn’t end well for Jimmy Hoffa, pictured right). In the movie, they claim Hoffa was killed at house in a Western Detroit suburb. Today, the house is still standing and available as a rental property. Have people attempted paranormal investigations here? More recent criminal investigations have found blood residue that seem to support the theory, so something violent did happen here, but was it intense enough to leave a residual haunting? For that matter, has there been a paranormal observation at any of the sites that are suspected to be the location of Hoffa’s final breaths or burial locations? Note: there’s further reading about all of these topics at the very bottom of this article.
In the meantime, there’s been some more traditional science, archaeology & tech that has lead to some interesting breaking news stories associated with historical cases. Here are three stories worth following, listed in order of the date of the original crime:
One of the Zodiac Killer’s codes is finally cracked!
Original crimes: late 1960s-70s. News Story: Dec 11, 2020
Napa County California is associated with natural beauty, wealth & some of the best wine in the world (also, genetically modified winged-robotic monkeys called Rebobs if you wanna take a deep dive into local lore), but it was also part of the hunting grounds, from Napa County, through Solano County and on to San Francisco. The unknown serial killer, who named himself “Zodiac” claimed the lives of at least five victims and as many as 28, while the killer himself claimed to have killed 37.
He began sending letters to Bay Area newspapers. These letters would include details from crime scenes that weren’t known by the general public or pieces of clothing, cut from the victim’s bodies as a proof of the note’s authenticity. In addition to conventional writing, each letter contained encoded messages using a mix of symbols and letters. His claim was that if all of the puzzles were decoded, that his identity would be revealed. He even “signed” a note with the phrase, “My name is [and then followed by a series of 13 characters].”
Amazingly, one of the codes was finally cracked in late 2020! Perhaps even more amazingly, the decoders actually posted a YouTube video detailing their journey. The Zodiac wasn’t perfect in his encoding, as you’ll see, the decrypters had to find and correct an accident Zodiac made in order to reveal the full message.
Sadly, the message doesn’t provide a smoking gun to reveal the identity of the psychotic killer, who was killing people who he believed would serve him as slaves in his afterlife. Perhaps this headline-grabbing moment will capture the imagination of the next generation of amateur super sleuths who will finally be able to solve this mystery.
Dismembered Remains Prove to Belong to Wild West Murderer, the Sock Lives on
Original Crimes: 1910s. News Story: Jan 2020
The discovery of the human remains actually took place in the 1979 when a family trip in Idaho took an unusual turn. A shallow grave inside of a cave was uncovered enough to reveal a dismembered body. Despite the homicide investigation that followed, it took another random cave explorer in 1991 to locate a severed hand belonging to the same body. The investigation that followed in the ‘90s lead to finding an arm and both legs. The head has never been found.
The human remains were remarkably well preserved due to the constantly chilly temperature of the cave. Recent technological break-throughs in DNA mapping (and executed by the DNA Doe Project) allowed a positive identification. This is now the oldest case to be solved with forensic genealogy.
So, who was this victim? Well, here’s the twist – he’s actually the villain of the story. The assortment of body parts once belonged to Joseph Henry Loveless. Loveless, a repeat offender and escape artist, broke out of jail TWICE by sneaking a small saw into his prison cell and then using it to cut his way out of jail. Upon his second escape, he returned home where he murdered his wife with an axe. He was never heard from again.
The current theory is that there may have been some immediate ‘frontier justice’ for killing his wife. After all, it had already been established that a jail couldn’t hold him and the grotesque murder of his wife was just too much for the community to tolerate.
As if out of a comedy, his socks were recovered, completely preserved. His culprit that aided him from escaping jail, continues to live on, however the mini saw is still at large.
Maritime Mass Murder After Shipwreck
Original crimes: 1628. News Story: 2015
Around 340 people were aboard the ship The Batavia, of the famed Dutch East India Company when it struck a reef off the western coast of Australia, misdirected into disaster by design. Dozens drowned as the ship sank, but the vast majority of passengers and crew found salvation on the tiny, coral, 13-acre Beacon Island. The ship’s commander, along with a small crew, set off to find fresh water, but ended up setting off on a longer mission to reach civilization to get help. Remaining and now in charge of the survivors was Jeronimus Cornelisz. He sent a group of able-bodied men out as explorers to search for fresh water on nearby islands, but this was just a guise. His real intent was to remove the strongest people, those who could challenge him, leaving himself and his allies to set up an oppressive community on the island where women became sex slaves. Meanwhile, countless survivors were murdered by direction of Cornelisz, including children and women. Estimates place the number of murdered at 110 people.
In an unexpected twist that had to surprise Cornelisz, the party he sent away in search of fresh water, actually found some and lit a signal fire. When the survivors did not arrive, it was apparent something was wrong. An ongoing series of skirmishes resulted until the ship’s original commander returned with a rescue party.
Months had passed since the shipwreck, so it would not have been a surprising if more people died as a result of the hardships of living on a deserted island. However, stories of tyranny and the disappearance of so many survivors lead to a trial on nearby Seal Island. The highest ranking mutineers, primarily Cornelisz, were found guilty, had their hands severed and were hanged. Two were found guilty and abandoned in the Australian wild, making them the first Europeans to settle in Australia and perhaps setting the stage for Australia to later be used as a prison colony. Others stood trial in the East Indies. According to Wikipedia, “Five were hanged, while several others were flogged, keelhauled or dropped from the yardarm on a later voyage,” which is an interesting look at what medieval torture methods were still in use in the 1620s.
The exact site of the shipwreck was lost until the 1960s. Identifying Beacon Island as the location of “Batavia’s Graveyard” soon followed with a few artifacts discovered. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that archaeologists began searching for burials (definitely check out the 60 Minutes segment on it in the embedded video below). The discoveries were instant. Like any archaeological search, discoveries will be slow, but in time, maybe we’ll have a count of how many were murdered on that island. Additionally, the gallows, where the mutineers were executed was also discovered
Links of note:
The Irishman/Detroit Locations:
“The Irishman” Claims Hoffa was Murdered in this Detroit House
The Mob Museum – Following the facts to Possible Hoffa Hit House
History Channel – 9 Places Investigators Have Searched for Jimmy Hoffa
Wild West Murderer / Idaho cave:
NY Times – “Headless Body in Cave Is Identified as 1916 Ax Murder Suspect”
Washington Post – “He escaped from jail after allegedly killing his wife a century ago. Now his headless torso has been identified through DNA”
Beacon Island, Australia / Cornelisz Mutiny
Archaeology News Network
ABC News Australia