Monday Mystery: Villisca Axe Murders

A few years back, as part of this series, I wrote about the Hinterkaifeck murders of 1922. Today I’ve decided to blog about something similar, the murders this time taking place ten years prior in the state of Iowa.

The crime

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1912. Summer. A small town in a sleepy corner of Iowa. The Moore family (father Josiah, mother Sarah, and their four children: Herman Montgomery (11), Mary Katherine (10), Arthur Boyd (7), and Paul Vernon (5)) prepare to attend a Children’s Day Program in the local Presbyterian Church. The Moores were well-known and well-liked in the community. They even invited Ina Mae (8) and Lena Gertrude Stillinger (12), neighbours, to spend the night at their residence after church. The program ended at 9:30 p.m.; the party arrived back to the house roughly fifteen to thirty minutes later.

Early the next morning, about 7 a.m, Mary Peckham, the Moores’ neighbor, emerged from her house and started her day’s work. She soon became concerned when she noticed the Moores didn’t join her. Peckham went over to their house and knocked, waited for someone to answer. Nobody came, and so she attempted to open the door and discovered that it was locked. She let the Moores’ chickens out and called Josiah’s brother. He arrived, knocked on the door and shouted, but Ross Moore heard no response. He decided to try a spare key that he’d been given, unlocking the door and pushing inside. While Peckham stood on the porch, he stepped into the parlor and opened the guest bedroom door. Inside, he found the bodies of Ina and Lena Stillinger. He shouted to Peckham to call the sheriff, Hank Horton. His subsequent search of the house revealed the bodies of the Moore family, all of them bludgeoned to death. The murder weapon, an axe belonging to Josiah, was found in the guest room with the Stillinger sisters.

Local doctors concluded that the murders had taken place between midnight and 5 a.m. Investigators later found cigarettes in the attic, suggesting that the killer or killers waited in the attic until the Moore family and the Stillinger guests fell asleep. They then began in the master bedroom, killing Josiah and Sarah Moore first. Josiah received more blows from the axe than any other victim; his eyes were missing and while the killer used the blunt end of the axe on the rest of their victims, Josiah had been killed with the sharp edge. The killer(s) then went into the children’s rooms and bludgeoned Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul in the same manner as their parents. They then returned to the master bedroom to inflict more blows on the Josiah and Sarah, knocking over a shoe that had filled with blood. Afterward, the killer(s) stepped downstairs and killed the Stillinger guests.

It is believed that Lena Stillinger was the only victim awake when murdered. There were signs she may have fought back; she was found lying crosswise on the bed, and with a defensive wound on her arm.

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The suspects

  1. Andrew Saywer: No real evidence linked Sawyer to the case, but his name came up often in grand jury testimonies. Thomas Dyer, a bridge foreman and pile driver for the Burlington Railroad, testified that Sawyer approached his crew at 6:00 a.m on the morning the bodies were discovered. He was clean-shaven and wearing a brown suit, but his shoes were covered in mud, his pants soaked to the knees. He asked for employment and was given a job on the spot. Dyer informed police that later that evening Sawyer purchased a newspaper and went off by himself to read it. The front page showed the Villisca murders and, according to Dyer, Sawyer “was much interested in it.” Dyer’s crew were uneasy that Sawyer slept with an axe next to him and talked much of the Villisca murders and whether or not a killer had been apprehended. Dyer later testified that prior to Sawyer’s arrest, he walked up behind him. Sawyer was rubbing his head with both hands and suddenly jumped up and said to himself, “I will cut your god damn heads off.” At the same time, he made striking motions with the axe and began hitting the piles in front of him.
    Dyer’s son testified that one day as the crew drove through Villisca, Sawyer showed him “where the man who killed the Moore family got out of town”. He said the man that did the job jumped over a manure box which he pointed out about 1½ blocks away, and then showed where he crossed the railroad track. J.R. said there were footprints in the soggy ground north of the embankment. Sawyer told J.R. to look on the other side of the car and said he would show him an old tree where the murderer stepped into the creek. According to J.R. Dyer, he looked over and saw such a tree south of the track about four blocks away. But he was dismissed as a suspect in the case when officials learned that he could prove he had been in Osceola, Iowa, on the night of the murders. He had been arrested for vagrancy there and was sent away by train about 11pm.
  2. Reverend Kelly: An English-born traveling minister, Kelly was in town on the night of the murders. He was described as odd, accused of peeping and several times asking young women to pose nude for him. On June 8, 1912, he came to Villisca to teach at the Children’s Day services, which the Moore family attended on June 9, 1912. He left town between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on June 10, 1912, hours before the bodies were discovered.

    In the weeks that followed, he displayed a fascination with the case, writing many letters to the police, investigators, and family of the deceased. This aroused suspicion, and a private investigator wrote back to Reverend Kelly, asking for details that the minister might know about the murders. Kelly replied with great detail, claiming to have heard sounds and possibly witnessed them. His known mental illness made authorities question whether he knew the details intimately or was only imagining them.

    In 1914, two years after the murders, Kelly was arrested for sending obscene material through the mail. In 1917, he was arrested for the Villisca murders. Police obtained a confession from him; however, it followed many hours of interrogation and Kelly later recanted. After two separate trials, he was acquitted.

  3. Frank Fernando Jones: a Villisca resident and Iowa State Senator, Jones used to employ Josiah Moore at his implement store for years before Jones left and set up his own. This may have taken business away from Jones, including a tractor dealership. Moore was rumored to have had an affair with Jones’ daughter-in-law, though no evidence suggests this.
  4. William Mansfield: One theory suggests Senator Jones hired William “Blackie” Mansfield to murder the Moore family. It is believed that Mansfield was a serial killer because he murdered his wife, infant child, father- and mother-in-law with an axe two years after the Villisca crimes. He is also linked to axe crimes in Kansas only a few days after the murders. He was also a suspect in the double homicide of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Illinois. Each of the crime sites was accessible by train, and all murders were carried out in roughly the same manner.

    The Grand Jury of Montgomery County refused to indict him, on grounds that his alibi checked out. Nine months before the murders at Villisca, a similar case of axe murder occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Two further axe murder cases occured in Kansas. Overall, there’s strong evidence they were carried out by the same person. Other murders that may be linked include the numerous unsolved axe murders along the Southern Pacific Railroad (1911-1912), the unsolved Axeman of New Orleans killings, as well as several other such murders.

    The murders in Colorado Springs were closely related to the Villisca case in particular. Bed sheets were used to cover the windows to prevent passersby from looking in, as was seen in the Moore house (the murderer hung aprons and skirts to cover the windows). The murderer in both cases also covered the heads of their victims with bedclothes. 

    Investigator Wilkerson stated he could prove Mansfield was present on the night of ech of the murders. In each case, a burning lamp with the chimney off was left at the foot of the bed and a basin in which the murderer washed was found in the kitchen. The murderer also avoided leaving fingerprints by wearing gloves (Mansfield would have known his fingerprints were on file at the federal military prison at Leavenworth).

    Mansfield was tried but never convicted.

Did the killer gain access to the house after nightfall, or did they really wait in the attic? Was the killer known to the family, or was it part of a serial spree? Who carried out the Villisca Axe Murders?

And why?

(If you would like to learn more about the murders, or visit the infamous house, click here)

Monday Mystery: The death of Annie Borjesson

On December 4, 2005, the body of Annie Borjesson, a 30-year-old Swedish woman, was discovered on the shore of Prestwick, a town on the west coast of Scotland. A few days later, on 7 December 2005, a local newspaper published a brief account of her death:

An area of Prestwick beach was cordoned off at the weekend after a woman’s body was found washed up on the shore. A dog walker discovered the 31-year-old woman’s body about 8.30am on Sunday near to Maryborough Road. A police investigation team quickly sealed off the area but there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.

Police ruled the death a suicide by drowning, but Annie’s family wasn’t convinced. As they began to investigate, they found some unanswered questions.

Annie’s body arrived back in Sweden. There, the undertakers claimed she had several bruises that she seemed to have incurred while she was still alive. The autopsy in Scotland contained only a few notes.

Body was heavily contaminated by sand and seaweed…….lungs were congested…..air passages contained ‘a frothy material’. Conclusion: death by drowning.

Official reports had concluded that other marks on the corpse were the result of collisions with debris in the sea. Pieces of tissue removed during the post-mortem were also examined by the Swedish forensic service. A professor in strasbourg found tiny diatom shells – algae – in the sample and identified them as navicula lanceolata. It was an unexpected discovery. Far from confirming that Annie had drowned, it tended to cast doubt on the conclusion of the post-mortem. Navicula lanceolata is a freshwater rather than a seawater diatom.

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Annie lived in Edinburgh, but on December 3, she traveled 129 kilometers to Prestwick Airport for unknown reasons. There was a flight to Gothenburg around 6.30 that evening, and another the following morning. The family assume that she was intending to fly home. It transpired that she had an appointment in Sweden with her hairdresser, Inger Nossborn, on Monday. She tried to withdraw cash using her credit card twice, first £100, then £50. Both times, she didn’t have enough funds in her account to complete the transaction. She was later captured on CCTV.

In the first image from the airport, Annie was wearing a winter jacket, later found near her body on Prestwick beach, a red and white fleece, trousers and trainers. She also carried a shoulder back. In the second shot, around 3.16, she was seen walking towards the car park. Independent investigators recreated the route Annie took through the airport. Comparing this to the victim’s CCTV footage, they determined she would not have been able to complete the route in the recorded 55 seconds unless she had been running.In total, she spent less than five minutes at the airport. A friend later saw the footage and said Annie appeared to be walking around looking “annoyed and angry.” She then began walking toward Prestwick itself. She wasn’t familiar with the town, which was about a mile away from the airport. A witness later claimed to have seen a figure standing on the beach near the sea. The person was about 150 yards away, he and a friend reckoned. He or she was standing motionless at the edge of the water. By the time the friends turned for home, twenty minutes had elapsed since the first sighting, yet it seemed the lone figure on the shore hadn’t budged. There was no one else on the beach. It occurred to the man that the person might be contemplating suicide. He mentioned this possibility to his friend. But they thought no more about it until the following morning.

The entire investigation was shrouded in secrecy. Scottish authorities refused to release tissue samples that could help clarify the cause of death. When the family accessed Annie’s email account, they found that it had been wiped. A friend discovered that the victim’s phone company had failed to register any of the calls she had made to Annie during 2005. The phone company refused to discuss this.

This friend soon began to receive silent phone calls. Family members too had problems with their email accounts. It later came to light that Annie’s hair had been cut after her death and thrown away. Maria also discovered that her friend’s full name – Annie Kristina Borjesson – was almost identical to that of a journalist in the United States who, it was thought, had been investigating rendition flights through Prestwick Airport.

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Annie’s family continues to campaign. Her mother met with the First Minister of Scotland and a petition of 3,000 signatures was signed for more information about Annie’s death.

Questions still remain unanswered.

Why would a woman living in Edinburgh travel 80 miles to commit suicide?

Why was she running in the airport?

And what did she mean, a day before her death, when she said to her family on the phone:

I have to take care of myself.

Monday Mystery-Sodder children disappearance

It’s been a while since I’ve revisited the Monday Mysteries series. This installment tells the story of the Sodder family, the house fire that claimed their home, and the mystery surrounding the fate of five of their children.

Prelude (1895-December 23rd, 1945)

George Sodder (Giorgio Soddu) was born in 1895. An Italian, he emigrated to the United States at age 13. Entering through Ellis Island, he said goodbye to his brother who turned straight for home. He quickly found work on the railroads in Pennsylvania and eventually married Jennie Cipriani (a fellow Italian-American) and settled in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

The couple lived in a two-storey timber frame house alongside many other Italian-Americans. George’s business prospered around the time the first of ten of their children were born, and soon the Sodder’s were one of the most respected families in the neighbourhood. However, by the time the last of their children were born in 1943 (Sylvia), George had become known for his outspoken views, especially against Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, often leading to arguments with other immigrants. His eldest son Joe was already fighting among the allied forces in Europe. A year later, Il Duce was dead, but the tension was still very much alive in Fayetteville.

On more than one occasion this came to the fore. A visiting life assurance salesman warned him that “your house will go up in smoke and your children are going to be destroyed”. On a separate occasion, a man seeking work went round to the back of the house and pointed to a pair of fuse boxes, warning George they’d “cause a fire someday” (though the house had been recently rewired and checked).

Weeks before the incident, his older sons had also noticed a strange car parked along the main highway through town, its occupants watching the younger Sodder children as they returned from school.

Christmas Eve, 1945

The Sodders celebrated Christmas Eve at home, missing only two of their children-Joe, who was at the front in Europe, and Marion (their eldest daughter), who was working a shift at a dime store downtown. When she did arrive home, she brought gifts to surprise three of her younger sisters (Martha, 12, Jennie, 8, and Betty, 6). Delighted with their new toys, the children asked could they stay up later than their bedtime. At 10:00 p.m., Jennie told the children they could stay up a little later, as long as the two oldest boys still awake (14-year-old Maurice and 10-year-old Louis), remembered to attend to the animals outside. George and the two oldest boys, John, 23 and George Jr., 16, tired from work all day, were already fast asleep. Jennie then took Sylvia (2) in her arms and went to bed.

At 12:30 a.m., the telephone rang. Jennie woke and went downstairs to answer. She didn’t recognise the voice on the other end of the line, a  woman asking for a name she was not familiar with. In the background, Jennie heard the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. She assured the caller she must have dialed the wrong number. Later, she recalled the woman’s weird laugh on the telephone. She hung up and decided to return to bed. As she did, she noticed that the lights were still on and the curtains were not drawn, two things the children should have attended to. Her daughter Marion had fallen asleep on the living room couch, so she assumed the other children had gone back up to the attic where they slept. Jennie closed the curtains, outed the lights, and trudged back upstairs.

She awoke an hour later to the sound of something hitting the roof. A loud bang, followed by a rolling noise. She listened for a moment, and when she heard nothing further, drifted back to sleep. At 1.30am, she woke to the smell of smoke. When she investigated, she found George’s office ablaze, fire ringed round the telephone line and the fuse box. She quickly roused her husband and their eldest sons.

George, Jennie, Marion, Sylvia and her two eldest brothers, who all slept on the second floor, escaped the house. They shouted to the children upstairs in the attic but heard no response. The stairs to the third floor were consumed by flame. John Sodder later said in a police interview that he went up to the attic to alert his siblings, though he then changed his story to say that he only called up and did not actually see them.

Outside, George and his wife struggled to rescue the children still trapped inside. They tried to contact the fire brigade but their phone wasn’t operating. Running to a neighbour’s house, Marion was met with the same ill-luck. Nearby, a driver who had seen the fire couldn’t reach an operator from the phone in a tavern.

George climbed the wall of the house and broke an attic window, slashing open his arm as he did so. He sent his sons to fetch the ladder they kept at the side of the house, but it was nowhere to be found. They tried to use a water barrel to extinguish the fire. Its contents were frozen solid. In a last desperate attempt to reach the attic, George tried to pull both of his business trucks up to the house to climb up to the window. Despite having worked fine only the day before, neither truck would start.

Over the next hour, the Sodders watched their family home burn to the ground. Low on manpower due to the war, the fire department did not respond until later that morning. By 10 a.m., the Sodder home lay in ruin. 

Morris, a firefighter and Jennie’s brother, helped search through the wreckage.

A few hours later, he told his sister the news. There were no bones in the ashes.

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The aftermath 

A few days after the fire, George bulldozed the site of their home, the family intent on making a memorial garden. The chief of the fire department wanted to conduct a more thorough investigation, but the Sodders could not bare the sight of their ruined home any longer.

An inquest into the fire the next day determined it was an accident caused by faulty wiring. Among the jurors was the insurance salesman who had threatened George two months previously.

Though death certs were issued for the five children who were presumed to have died in the fire, the Sodders still had questions. They argued the blaze could not have been as a result of an electrical fault, as the Christmas lights remained operational early on in the fire. They also found their ladder at the bottom of an embankment some distance from their house. On top of that, it was discovered that their telephone lines had been cut, not burned by the fire. A man was arrested in relation to this, though he maintains he meant to cut a power line. His identity remains unknown. George Sodder argued he may have also tampered with his trucks.

Jennie Sodder, on the other hand, wanted to follow up on the call placed to the house shortly before the fire. The placer of the call was eventually traced, though when questioned she maintains it was a simple case of wrong-number.

In 1946, her recollection of events received a boost from a local bus driver, who passing by the house that night had seen unidentified men throwing “balls of fire” at the house. When Sylvia found a green rubber ball a few months later, George postulated the noise his wife had heard was a form of grenade being thrown at the house, and that the fire had started on the roof.

Other witnesses claimed to have seen the children themselves. A woman who watched the fire from the road said she had seen some of them in a passing car. Another woman said she had served them breakfast the next morning at a rest-stop.

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Over the following years, the Sodders never gave up hope, offering a reward for information about the surviving children and erecting a billboard on U.S. route 19. This was met with a flurry of sightings and tips, all of which ultimately led to nothing. The most notable was the following photo, sent to the Sodders in 1967. Jennie found the letter, postmarked in Central City, Kentucky, with no return address. The picture inside was of a young man with features resembling Louis’s, who would have been in his 30s at the time if he was alive. On the back was written:

Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35

The Sodders hired a P.I. to follow up on the letter, but no contact was ever received again.

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Today, Sylvia is the last surviving member of the Christmas Eve fire. Only two at the time, she maintains it was her earliest memory, and that her siblings survived.

Whether they did or not, we’ll likely never know.

 

 

Monday Mystery (myth version)-Angikuni lake disappearance

Angikuni lake is a lake in Nunavut, Canada. In the 1930s, it was the site of a supposed mass disappearance of Inuit (or Eskimo) people. Though full evidence of the story does not exist, police reports from Mounted Canadian Police (or mounties) suggest at least some truth in the tale.

Joe Labelle, who was a fur trapper by trade, had often visited the Inuit village that sprang up around Angikuni lake. No official numbers exist, but stories have claimed up to two thousand people lived there, though the real figure is likely at most two hundred. The village had always welcomed those of Labelle’s profession who passed through on occasion. But in 1930 Joe Labelle found that all the villagers had gone.

Coming into the village, he called out to the Eskimos, who would normally be busying themselves about their huts. He got no answer. Slowly walking through the village, he saw no signs of anybody at work, and the silence was heavy around him. Near the end of the village he came across a fire that was smouldering to its embers/gone out depending on the source. Over it hung a pot of stew that had blackened from overcooking. One by one he inspected the huts, expecting to find something terrible inside. Instead, he found nothing. There was no laughter of children, or barks of sled dogs. Nobody was left in the village.

In one hut, he found a piece of cloth that was being worked over. The needle and thread were still in place, as though somebody had abruptly quit the task and left. Labelle found no signs of evacuation. All of the guns were still in place, whereas in reality the Eskimos almost always kept them by their sides. Boats were still stacked by the lake-unused.

Labelle immediately made contact with the mounted police, who came for further investigation. If what they found is to be believed, the story gets far weirder.

At once end of the camp, tied to a tree, they found the snowed over corpses of several sled dogs. The dogs had died of starvation. Anyone leaving the village would have needed them far too much to leave them to die. Next they found a dug up grave (or an empty graveyard by some accounts). It was far too neatly arranged for it to have been an animal, but in Inuit culture it was hugely forbidden to interfere with burial sites. None of the findings added up.

No sign of the Eskimos or their footprints were ever found. They had just disappeared.

 

Monday Mystery-Disappearance aboard the MV Joyita

Luxury yacht, war patrol and changing hands

MV Joyita was a merchant vessel from which 25 passengers and crew mysteriously disappeared in the South Pacific in 1955. It was found adrift in the ocean without its crew on board. The ship was in very poor condition, including corroded pipes and a radio which, while functional, only had a range of about 2 miles due to faulty wiring. Despite this, the extreme buoyancy of the ship made sinking nearly impossible. Why then was nobody on board? Enter the Mary Celeste of the Pacific.

The ship was originally constructed in 1931 as a luxury yacht for the wife or a Los Angeles based film director. “Joyita” translates to “little jewel”. Just prior to the attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US navy acquired the ship for use in patrols. In 1943 the ship ran aground and needed new pipework to fulfill the demand for ships by the navy. Fatefully, the pipes laid were galvanised iron, and not the more tried and tested copper or brass. By 1948, the boat had changed hands again and was now carrying freight for the Louis Brothers firm.

The voyage

About 5:00 AM on October 3, 1955, the Joyita left Samoa’s Apia harbor bound for the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles (430 km) away. The boat had been scheduled to leave on the noon tide the previous day but her departure was delayed because her port engine had issues. The Joyita eventually left Samoa on one engine. She was carrying 16 crew members and nine passengers, including a government official, a doctor and two children. The Joyita was scheduled to arrive in the Tokelau Islands on October 5.

The search

On October 6 a message from port reported that the ship was overdue. No distress signal had been picked up on land or by other ships at sea. Eventually a search and rescue mission was launched starting on October 6th. By October 12th, the Royal New Zealand air force had covered an area of nearly 100,000 square miles, but still no sign of the ship or its crew was found.

Five weeks later, on November 10, Gerald Douglas, captain of the merchant ship Tuvalu sighted the Joyita more than 600 miles (1,000 km) west from her scheduled route, drifting north. The ship was partially submerged and listing heavily (her port deck rail was awash) and there was no trace of any of the passengers or crew; four tons of cargo were also missing. The recovery party noted that the radio was discovered tuned to the international marine distress channel.

The mystery

A subsequent investigation of the ship turned up more questions than it did answers, and almost all of them were chilling. Some of the boat had been damaged, though by what it is not known. Many of the windows were broken, the flying bridge was smashed and the deck lights were not fully functional. A canvas awning had been erected on top of the deck house, though no signs of it being used as a shelter were found.

There were not enough life jackets for everybody on board, but the dinghy and life rafts the boat did carry were all missing. Eerily, the starboard engine was found completely covered by mattresses, while the remains of the still broken port engine lay still disassembled. A pump was mounted on a plank between the two engines, though nobody had ever connected it, and so investigators don’t know why it was there.

The radio on board was tuned to the international distress channel, but when the equipment was inspected, a break was found in the cable between the set and the aerial. The cable had been painted over, obscuring the break. This would have severely limited the range of the radio to about 2 miles (3.2 km). Whether the captain knew about this or not is unknown, and it is unclear whether the radio had been tampered with.

All the clocks on board were stopped at 10.25pm. Investigators found that downstairs switches for the cabin lights were on, implying that whatever had occurred happened at night. The ships’ logbook and other navigational equipment, as well as the firearms Miller kept in the boat, were missing.

The doctor’s bag was found on the deck, with most of the equipment missing. Four lengths of blood-stained bandages were found inside. Looking at the amount of fuel left in the tanks, it looked as though the boat had made it within fifty miles of port before disaster had struck. When the investigators studied the vessel, they found out exactly what that disaster was.

When she was moored back in harbour at Suva, they heard the sound of water entering the vessel. It was found that a pipe in the raw-water circuit of the engine’s had failed, allowing water into the bilges. The first the crew would have known about the leak was when the water rose above the engine room floorboards, by which time it would have been nearly impossible to locate the leak. Also, the bilge pumps were not fitted with strainers, and had become clogged with debris, meaning that even when the crew knew about the leak it was too late to pump out the water.

Even so, investigators were puzzled. Fitted out for carrying refrigerated cargo, the Joyita had 640 cubic feet cork lining her holds, making her virtually unsinkable. In addition, further buoyancy was provided by a cargo of empty fuel drums. Why had the captain and crew left? It would have been far safer to wait for rescue aboard the sturdy wreck than to risk their lives out in the open water. To the investigators, things didn’t add up.

The theories

One of the first theories put forward was that of the injured captain.

Captain Miller was well aware of the vessel’s ability to stay afloat, leading some to speculate that Miller had died or become incapacitated for some reason. Without him to reassure the other people on board, they had panicked when the Joyita began to flood and had taken to the liferafts. However, this in itself would not account for the missing cargo and equipment, unless the vessel had been found abandoned and had her cargo removed.

A friend of Miller’s, Captain S. B. Brown, was convinced that Miller would never have left the Joyita alive, given his knowledge of her construction. He was aware of tension between Miller and his American first mate, Chuck Simpson. Brown felt that Miller and Simpson’s dislike of each other came to blows and both men fell overboard or were severely injured in a struggle. This left the vessel without an experienced seaman and would explain why those remaining on board would panic when the ship began to flood.

A second theory put forward was far more infamous. Many newspapers at the time clamied that the Joyita had passed through a fleet of Japanese fishing boats during its trip and “had observed something the Japanese did not want them to see.”One paper theorized that some active Japanese forces from World War II were to blame for the disappearances, operating from an isolated island base. There was still strong anti-Japanese feeling in parts of the Pacific, and in Fiji there was specific resentment of Japan being allowed to operate fishing fleets in local waters. Such theories suddenly gained credence when men clearing the Joyita found knives stamped ‘Made in Japan’. However, tests on the knives proved negative and it turned out the knives were old and broken- quite possibly left on board from when the Joyita was used for fishing in the late 1940s. Others theorize that modern pirates attacked the vessel, killed the 25 passengers and crew (and cast their bodies into the ocean), and stole the missing four tons of cargo.

The final theory claimed the head strong captain had tried to reach his destination despite the heavy damage, and the crew had simply mutinied to ensure their own safety. Taking the life rafts and the injured captain with them, they succumbed to heavy winds and were lost.

No signs of the crew or passengers of the MV Joyita were ever found.

 

 

Monday Mystery-Laureen Ann Rahn

Laureen resided with her mother, Judith Rahn, in an apartment on Merrimack Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was a student at Parkside Junior High School and made good grades. She was last seen at her home during the evening hours of April 26, 1980. Two of Laureen’s friends saw her approximately one hour before her disappearance and reported that nothing was amiss at the time. She has never been heard from again. Judith’s then boyfriend was a professional tennis player and both he and Judith had been out of town at a tournament the night the incident occurred. Normally Laureen accompanied them but being on spring break from school she asked to stay home on this occasion to which her mother agreed.

That evening Laureen and two friends-one male and one female, spent the evening drinking beer and wine in the Rahn’s apartment. Only fourteen at the time, the trio were afraid of getting caught by Laureen’s mother. This caused the boy to leave through the back door when he heard voices in the hall that he assumed were Laureen’s mother returning. He stated that he heard the door being locked behind him. When Judith arrived home at midnight, she discovered that the lightbulbs on each of the three floors of the apartment building’s corridors had been unscrewed, leaving the floor her apartment was on in an eerie darkness. Her front door was unlocked, but Judith checked in Laureen’s bedroom and thought she saw her daughter asleep there. In the morning however, she discovered this was in fact Laureen’s friend, and Laureen was missing. Her friend said she’d last seen her asleep on the couch. Judith’s mother found the back door unlocked, but her daughter’s brand new trainers were still in the living room. Initially the police suspected the daughter had run off, but her own mother dismissed this theory, as Laureen had left her purse and clothes behind her. The authorities then changed their story to one that assumed the girl had left willingly, but aimed to return.

Judith discovered that she had been charged for three California phone calls on October 1, 1980, three months after Laureen disappeared. Judith did not have any friends or relatives in California at the time. Two of the calls had been placed from a motel in Santa Monica to another motel in Santa Ana. The third call was placed to a teen sexual assistance hotline. Authorities attempted to question the physician who maintained the hotline, but they were unable to ascertain if he knew any details about Laureen’s case. An investigator followed up on the hotline tip in 1985. A man identifying himself as a plastic surgeon answered the call. He said that numerous runaway girls occasionally visited his wife at their home. He also told the investigator that one of the young women may have been from New Hampshire. The individual claimed that Annie Sprinkle, a woman who allegedly worked with his wife in the fashion industry, may have had information concerning several runaways. Authorities learned that Sprinkle was involved in the pornography industry and scanned several of her films in an attempt to locate Laureen. No evidence linking Sprinkle to Laureen’s disappearance was discovered and she has never been implicated in her case.

An investigator visited California on Judith’s behalf in 1986 and located the two motels involved in the October 1980 phone calls. Authorities said that one of the establishments may have been used by a child pornographer named “Dr. Z.” Investigators were unable to link “Dr. Z” to the teen hotline and it is not known if pornography was involved in Laureen’s disappearance.

Roger Maurais, Laureen’s childhood friend in Manchester, received a call from a woman identifying herself as “Laurie” or “Laureen” in 1986. Maurais’s mother answered the call and said that the person claimed to be her son’s former girlfriend. The caller’s identity remains unknown.

One of Laureen’s family members reported seeing a girl matching her description in a Boston, Massachusetts bus terminal in 1981. Judith received phone calls around the Christmas holidays for several years from an unknown individual. She said that the person listened silently when Laureen’s sister answered the phone, then terminated the call shortly afterwards. The calls stopped after Judith changed her phone number several years after Laureen vanished.

A witness reported that a prostitute in Anchorage, Alaska matched Laureen’s description. The unconfirmed sighting occurred in 1988 and authorities said that the witness based his recollections on her 1980 photo. The woman was not believed to have been Laureen as a result of the time lapse.

In April 2005, a Nevada investigator contacted Judith and said Laureen bore a resemblance to a murdered young woman whose body was found off a dirt road in Henderson, Nevada in October 1980. Judith goes not believe the Nevada woman is her daughter, but officials are investigating that possibility.

Judith moved to Fort Myers, Florida during the years after Laureen’s disappearance. She believes that her daughter placed the three California phone calls in October 1980. Laureen enjoyed singing and dancing at the time of her disappearance and dreamed of becoming an actress. Investigators continue to suspect that foul play was involved in her case, which remains unsolved.

While there is no evidence that the two cases are connected, it is worth noting that Rachael Garden, another petite brunette about the same age as Laureen, disappeared from a nearby town just a month before Laureen did. Garden’s case remains unsolved as well and is also classified as a non-family abduction.

Is this a case of serial abduction, or were the police correct at first in suggesting Laureen had simply walked off? Who did the raised voices in the hallway belong to, and did Laureen indeed lock the door after her friend had left? Why was her friend not taken? Perhaps the perpetrator did not know Laureen had guests. Most mysteriously, why were the corridor lights unscrewed in a building without CCTV, and why has no trace of Laureen ever been found?

Monday mystery-The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

In June 1942, the population of Pascagoula swelled as increased demand for warships and supplies drew large numbers into the town. The local economy was booming, but in the long shadows of a wartime summer, something haunted the streets at night.

The man nicknamed the Phantom Barber by newspapers worked in the darkness. This was made easy by army blackout regulations, which left whole areas of the town without light for several hours at a time.  On Monday or Friday evenings, he slit a window screen to gain access to a house, crept inside, and cut the hair of sleeping occupants, particularly blonde girls. Not satisfied with only a lock or two, he sometimes pushed so far as to shear a whole head of hair. He took nothing else from the home except his prize, left his victims sleeping and unharmed.

He began with two young girls in the convent of Our Lady of Victories, followed by a six year old female child visiting another family. That time, he left a clue—the print of a man’s bare foot in sand on an unoccupied bed in the room. The police were baffled. Three hundred dollars was put up as a reward for information that might help catch the phantom. The public was in a panic. Women refused to go outside at night. Men applied for pistol permits. Bloodhounds were brought in to track the bizarre intruder, but the efforts failed.

At last, the phantom broke his pattern, or so it seemed. A window screen was slit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Terrell Heidelburg, and the intruder came inside their bedroom. However, rather than cutting hair, he brutally assaulted the couple. Mrs. Heidelburg lost her front teeth and was knocked unconscious, while her husband was beaten with a metal bar. Both survived the attack. Two months later, the police chief announced the arrest of a suspect, William A. Dolan, a chemist, who was charged with attempted murder.

A connection between Dolan and the Phantom Barber came with the discovery of human hair allegedly found near his residence. He continued to deny he was the phantom, and while convicted of the attack on the Heidelburgs—he bore a grudge against Terrell’s father, a judge—was never charged with the phantom’s acts. Since the Phantom Barber never touched his victims other than their hair, it would seem no meaningful tie exists between Dolan and the Phantom Barber, whose break-ins ended as mysteriously as they began.

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Monday Mystery-Hinterkaifeck

Hinterkaifeck, a small farmstead situated between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen (approximately 70 km north of Munich), was the scene of one of the most puzzling crimes in German history. On the evening of March 31, 1922, the six inhabitants of the farm were killed with a mattock (similar to a pickaxe). The murder is still unsolved.

The victims were Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber, their widowed daughter Viktoria, her children Cäzilia and Joseph and the maid, Maria Baumgartner. It was rumored that Andreas and Viktoria had an incestuous relationship, and that Joseph was their two year old son. Hinterkaifeck was never an official place name. The name was used for the remote farmstead of the hamlet of Kaifeck, located nearly 1 kilometer north of the main part. It was hidden in the woods, and isolated from its neighbours.

A few days prior to the crime, farmer Andreas Gruber told neighbours about discovering footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm, but none leading back. He also spoke about hearing footsteps in the attic in the dead of night, and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, the house keys went missing several days before the murders, but none of this was reported to the police.

Six months earlier, the previous maid had left the farm, claiming that it was haunted. The new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived on the farm on 31 March, only a few hours before her death.Exactly what happened on that Friday evening cannot be said for certain. It is believed that the older couple, as well as their daughter Viktoria and her daughter Cäzilia, were somehow all lured into the barn one by one, where they were killed. The murderer(s) then went into the house where they found and killed two-year-old Josef who was sleeping in the cot in his mother’s bedroom, as well as the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in her bed-chamber.

On the following Tuesday, the 4th of April, some neighbours went to the farmstead because none of the inhabitants had been seen for several days, which was rather unusual. The postman had noticed that the post from the previous Saturday was still where he had left it. Furthermore, young Cäzilia had not turned up for school on Monday, nor had she been there on Saturday.

Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department made immense efforts investigating the killings. More than 100 suspects have been questioned through the years, but to no avail. The death of Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband who had been reported killed in the French trenches in 1914, was called into question. His body had never been found. The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and interrogated several inhabitants from the surrounding villages, as well as travelling craftsmen and vagrants. The robbery theory was, however, abandoned when a large amount of money was found in the house. It is believed that the perpetrator(s) remained at the farm for several days – someone had fed the cattle, and eaten food in the kitchen: the neighbours had also seen smoke from the chimney during the weekend – and anyone looking for money would have found it. The case laid active even in the 1980s, where people were still fruitlessly questioned. Today the motive remains unclear, and the killer will never be known.

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