The world carried on its fascination with true crime in 2022, with a myriad of new TV shows based on true stories, and many cold cases received major updates thanks to forensic genealogy or new witnesses coming forward. While the pastime may be morbid, the world’s interest in true crime has helped shed light on long-unsolved investigations and raised awareness about cases and victims whom the general public had long forgotten.
While a few true crime cases dominated the headlines and tabloids in 2022, some lesser-known stories are actually even more bizarre. These head-scratchers don’t fit the mold and will have us up late theorizing well into 2023.
• The ‘Circleville Letter Writer’ Terrorized A Town By Exposing Their Secrets, Which May Have Led To Several Deaths
In 1977, the residents of Circleville, OH, began receiving letters threatening to expose some of their darkest secrets. The letters were postmarked from Columbus, OH, located just 30 miles away.
The writer was anonymous and seemed to know a great deal about Circleville’s residents. Once people began receiving these letters, each message became increasingly vicious and threatening.
Two residents who began receiving such letters were Mary and Ron Gillespie. The letters Mary received accused her of having an affair with a school superintendent named Gordon Massie. The first letter stated:
Stay away from Massie. Don’t lie about him. I know where you live, I’ve been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious. Everyone concerned has been notified and everything will be over soon.
Soon after, Mary’s husband Ron received the following statement in his letter:
Mr. Gillispie, your wife is seeing Gordon Massie… You should catch them together and kill them both… He doesn’t deserve to live.
Townspeople began receiving this type of mail constantly. Many of them were terrified they were being watched.
The situation took a tragic turn when Ron received a call one night in August 1977. Whatever the caller told him enraged him so much, he grabbed a gun and claimed he was going to confront the writer. Ron, unfortunately, didn’t make it anywhere. He was speeding, likely still upset over the situation, and lost control of his truck. He slammed into a tree and was killed.
He’d previously received a letter threatening his life, and while his death was ruled accidental, some believe foul play was involved. The letters continued.
Mary was then almost killed herself when she stopped to pull an obscene sign mentioning her 13-year-old daughter off of a fence. The sign had a box attached to it with a loaded gun inside, ready to go off – effectively a booby trap. The gun was traced back to Paul Freshour, Ron and Mary’s brother-in-law.
He was quickly arrested and, after failing a polygraph test, convicted of attempted murder. He maintained his innocence during the entire trial and the 10 years he spent in prison. He also vehemently denied being the letter writer – which seemingly proved true.
While Freshour was in prison, and reportedly didn’t have access to pen and paper, the town was still receiving letters, and authorities were no closer to finding the author’s identity. Several other residents met tragic ends as secrets were revealed in the letters they, their family, and their friends received.
In 1994, after 20 years of tormenting the citizens of Circleville, and soon after Freshour’s release from prison, the letters stopped. The messages tore many friends and families apart, but the writer’s identity has never been discovered.
• • Photo: Florida Keys–Public Libraries / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
A Doctor Lived With The Body Of His Deceased Patient For Years
In 1931, 54-year-old radiology technician Carl Tanzler fell in love with 22-year-old Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. Tanzler had met Hoyos at the Key West hospital where he worked while she was receiving treatment for tuberculosis.
Tanzler, who wasn’t qualified to treat tuberculosis, claimed he could cure Hoyos, but she succumbed to her illness in October 1931. A grief-stricken Tanzler paid for Hoyos’s mausoleum and visited her corpse every night for the following two years.
In 1933, Tanzler took Hoyos’s corpse out of the mausoleum and brought it back to his home, unbeknownst to her family, where he lived with it for seven years. He kept the body from decomposing by stuffing it with rags and wire hangers and by covering the body in plaster of Paris.
Hoyos’s body was eventually removed from the home in 1940 after a neighborhood boy saw Tanzler dancing with what the boy claimed to be a giant doll. Charges were pressed against Tanzler for grave robbery, but he eventually walked free, as the statute of limitations on his crime had expired. In fact, the media portrayed the ordeal as a romantic story, often mentioning that Tanzler believed he could someday bring Hoyos back to life.
• • The Horrific New Zealand Parker-Hulme Murder Only Resulted In A Five-Year Prison Sentence
In the early 1950s, two New Zealand teenagers named Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme bonded over their shared ill health. The girls had no other friends except one another, and their friendship grew quickly.
Unlike most friendships, however, Parker and Hulme’s relationship turned into obsession. They became codependent upon one another, often spending hours creating a fantasy world in which they developed alter egos named Deborah and Gina. They made plans to become actresses and move to Hollywood together and would often sneak out at night to visit each other and continue their plans. They’d react violently to any suggestion of spending time apart.
Soon, their parents grew concerned at the intense and delusional nature of the girls’ friendship. They suspected the relationship had become sexual. Things came to head when the girls were faced with the prospect of being separated. Hulme’s parents were getting divorced and had decided she would be moving out of the country with her father.
The girls pleaded for Parker to come along as well, but both sets of parents refused. Parker and Hulme refused to accept this answer, and the end result horrified all of New Zealand.
On June 22, 1954, Parker’s mother, Honora Parker, took the girls (then aged 15 and 16) out for tea and a walk at Victoria Park. After strolling down a secluded walkway, the girls used a brick to fatally bludgeon Honora. They ran back to the tea kiosk covered in blood, claiming Honora fell. Police were suspicious from the start, as Honora’s injuries didn’t seem to indicate a fall.
After discovering Parker’s diary, wherein she described her and Hulme’s murder plans, police arrested both girls. The jury refused to accept their insanity plea, and on August 28, they were sentenced to indefinite time in separate New Zealand prisons. They only served five years.
Years later, Parker moved to England, where she changed her name and became a devout Catholic. She also became a children’s horse-riding instructor. Hulme realized her dream of becoming a famous novelist. She used the pseudonym Anne Perry and wrote several novels, fittingly about murder.
• • Photo: Family photo / Facebook / Fair Use
Dean and Tina Clouse’s Car Was Mysteriously Returned After Their Deaths
In January 1981, a man and woman’s remains were found in woods outside of Houston, TX. There was little evidence left at the scene, and they went unidentified until late 2021, when genealogical researchers tracked down the John Doe’s sister. The young couple was then positively ID’d as Dean and Tina Clouse, who had recently relocated to Lewisville, TX, from central Florida.
Investigators were surprised when Dean’s sister, after learning of her brother’s death, asked, “Where’s the baby?”
At the time of their deaths, Dean and Tina had a baby daughter, Holly, who was less than a year old. No one knew what had become of her. Not long after finding Dean and Tina’s identities, investigators began searching for Holly. It didn’t take long – in June of 2022, Holly was found alive, living in Oklahoma, after she’d been adopted as an infant.
While the identity of Dean and Tina’s killer is undetermined, as is whether or not their killer (or killers) was the one to give Holly up for adoption, family members have their suspicions. Dean was reportedly involved with a “Jesus People” organization before his death.
After he moved to Texas and his letters stopped coming, his mother says the organization contacted her about returning his car. She met with a group of Jesus People to retrieve the car and ask about her son, but she alleges they told her he’d joined their group and was cutting off ties. Both families tried to report the couple missing but were told by authorities they probably didn’t want to be contacted.
Many questions still remain about the case, but Holly has reportedly been in contact with her newfound family members.
• • At 20 Years Old, Christopher Knight Abandoned His Life To Live In The Wilderness, Only To Be Arrested For 1,000 Burglaries 27 Years Later
Christopher Knight was only 20 years old when he made an impulsive and life-altering decision. After abruptly quitting his job, Knight began driving with no direct destination in mind.
After driving down and back up the east coast, Knight found himself driving back into his home state of Maine. He continued driving into the remote wilderness, and after running out of gas, he decided to abandon his car. He grabbed whatever belongings he could, left the car keys, and began walking into the forest. In Knight’s own words:
I can’t explain my actions. I had no plans when I left, I wasn’t thinking of anything. I just did it.
He walked into the forest and didn’t stop. He learned to care for himself out in the wild and began making a home in the woods; however, one thing remained a constant challenge: food. The Maine woods were vast, but finding food fit for human consumption was not easy. Knight decided to do whatever was necessary to keep himself fed. For him, this ultimately meant stealing.
While the area in which Knight settled was incredibly remote, there were areas close to lakes and the edges of the forest where many people had cabins. Knight observed their patterns and planned when to strike with exact precision. He preferred times when the weather was exceptionally cold or wet.
Cabin owners reported the break-ins, yet for years, authorities were unable to figure out who was behind them. Knight adapted to any security upgrades owners would place on their cabins. Years passed, and Knight continued his life in the woods. He lived in solitude, stealing for over 27 years.
He was ultimately arrested while taking food from a lakeside summer camp. He was charged with burglary and theft, and after his story came to light, over 500 journalists requested to interview him. He even received a marriage proposal from a complete stranger. Knight became known as “The North Pond Hermit” and was ultimately sentenced to one year in prison. After his release, he settled down in a small Maine town and got a job in an auto shop.
• • Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
A Maid Killing And Dismembering Her Employer In The 1800s Led To David Attenborough Discovering A Skull In His Backyard
On March 29, 1879, Kate Webster was arrested in Ireland for the gruesome murder of her employer, Julia Martha Thomas. Webster had a long history of petty criminal activity and lying and had been in and out of jail since she was a teenager. She used fake names and would often invent stories of family deaths in order to gain people’s sympathy. Nothing in her known past, however, came close to the murder that sentenced her to death.
Webster had been a domestic servant in the Thomas household for only two months before the murder took place. Mrs. Thomas hired her in January 1879, but seeing Webster’s lack of skill, she gave her notice of termination the following month, February 1879. Webster asked for an extension until March 2, which Mrs. Thomas permitted.
That fateful day, while arguing, Webster pushed Mrs. Thomas down a flight of stairs. She then strangled her before dismembering the body. Webster threw the dismembered body parts into the River Thames. According to a detective, she also fed two boys each a bowl of lard (which she claimed was pig fat) but was actually Mrs. Thomas. For weeks after the murder, Webster impersonated Mrs. Thomas and lived in her home until two men who’d known the real Mrs. Thomas alerted the police.
Webster was arrested in her native Ireland after she attempted to escape, and she was hanged on July 29, 1879, at Wandsworth Prison, becoming the second person executed there.
But her story though didn’t end there. Over a century later, in 2009, Planet Earth presenter David Attenborough bought a property that was directly behind his home, hoping to extend his garden into the area. Much to his shock and horror, excavators found a human skull on the land. Back in the late 1800s, the property had been a derelict pub, and historians believe Webster buried her employer’s head behind the pub. A coroner confirmed the skull belonged to Julia Thomas.
• • Joshua Maddux Went For A Walk In 2008; Seven Years Later, His Mummified Body Was Found In A Chimney
In 2015, property developer Chuck Murphy was demolishing his cabin in Woodland Park, CO, to make way for new family homes. The cabin hadn’t been used in the past decade, and had fallen into disarray. When the crew went to work dismantling the chimney, they were shocked to find the mummified body of a young man inside, stuck in the chimney in the fetal position, legs above his head.
He was identified as Joshua “Josh” Maddux, a missing 18-year-old who was last seen leaving his home (a mile from the cabin) for a walk in 2008. He was described as a happy, laidback teenager who liked to write music and play guitar, although he was grieving the loss of his older brother, who died by suicide in 2006. His parents and two sisters were shocked to learn their son/brother had been deceased inside a nearby chimney for seven years.
The initial coroner’s report didn’t find evidence of foul play. Teller County coroner Al Born concluded that, however strange it may seem, Maddux had likely entered the chimney of his own free will and become stuck inside, possibly perishing of hypothermia or dehydration. The Maddux family, cabin owner Murphy, and many internet sleuths didn’t agree. The coroner’s report said Maddux entered the chimney head first, which Murphy said would have been impossible due to a heavy wire grate in the chimney, meant to prevent animals from entering. In addition, a heavy wooden breakfast bar had been torn off a kitchen wall and dragged to block access to the chimney from the fireplace. Perhaps most puzzling of all, Maddux was naked except for his shirt; the rest of his clothes were inside the cabin, folded near the hearth.
From Murphy’s assessment, Born changed the report’s cause of death to be either accidental death, murder, or undetermined causes, although he still concluded an accident was the most likely scenario. Others have criticized the lack of further investigation, especially because Maddux had hung out with a young man named Andrew Newman prior to his passing, who had been linked to violent crimes.
• • Photo: Bart Everson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Two Women With The Same Name Were Killed In The Same City Three Days Apart
In October 2000, two women named Mary Morris, who both lived in the suburbs of Houston, TX, lost their lives within three days of each other. Mary Lou Morris was a 48-year-old loan officer, while Mary McGinnis Morris was a 39-year-old nurse, and the two looked similar.
On October 12, Mary Lou Morris didn’t show up for her job at a bank, which was highly unusual for her, and an investigation began immediately. Her husband couldn’t get in touch with her the entire day, and she was reported missing by that evening. A few hours later, an ATV rider found her body in her car; she was burned so badly, she had to be identified via dental records. Her jewelry was melted onto her, so robbery didn’t seem to be the motive. Her wedding band was missing, possibly indicating an assassin hit.
Three days later, Mary McGinnis Morris was found deceased in her car in a remote area a few miles from her home. Earlier that evening, she had called the police to report someone inside a pharmacy whose behavior was scaring her. Reportedly, during the call, the dispatcher heard screaming and the sound of a gunshot.
Unlike Mary Lou Morris, who had no known enemies or marked past in any personal or professional way, Mary McGinnis Morris had been experiencing marital issues. She had also reported feeling threatened by a new coworker, who left her a haunting note that read “death to her.” After that incident, she asked her husband, Mike Morris, for a gun, and he taught her how to use it.
This was the same gun found at the crime scene.
Between the two murders, an anonymous caller contacted the Houston Chronicle to tell them the first murder had been an accident made by a hitman who had gotten the two Mary Morrises mixed up.
Mike Morris refused a polygraph test and immediately hired a lawyer. Incidentally, his wife Mary McGinnis Morris also had a $700,000 life insurance policy. To this day, neither case has been solved due to a lack of evidence.
• • In 1939, A Blindfolded Man Stumbled Onto A Highway In The Middle Of The Night And Was Struck By A Car
Around 3 am on December 22, 1939, a blindfolded man stumbled onto a snowy highway in Mishawaka, IN, and was fatally hit by a car. The man was 44-year-old factory worker Stephen Melkey.
Melkey was found with his hands bound behind his back, and both his eyes and mouth had been covered with surgical tape. Inside his mouth, police found a handkerchief covered in red lipstick.
A police investigation revealed that a vehicle dropped Melkey off about 140 feet from the place he was struck. While initially bound at the ankles, he managed to free his legs and walked blindfolded through the snow before crossing the highway. More perplexing, though, was the parallel set of footprints through the snow, suggesting the person responsible for tying him up was also following him. Some even theorize Melkey was pushed onto the road.
Three suspects were taken into custody, including local tavern waitress Bertte DeVos and her fiancé Allan Polomskey. Melkey and DeVos reportedly had some sort of relationship that made Polomskey jealous, and witnesses reportedly saw Polomskey fighting with Melkey prior to his passing.
Another man involved with DeVos, George Smith, also argued with Melkey before the incident. While police questioned all three, none of the tire tracks from their cars were determined to match those of the car that dropped Melkey off. No one was ever apprehended, and Melkey’s case remains unsolved.
• • Photo: Andreas Biegleder / Wikipedia / Public Domain
The Unknown Culprit Behind The Hinterkaifeck Killings May Have Been Living In Their Victims’ Home
On March 31, 1922, six people were murdered at the Hinterkaifeck Bavarian homestead in Germany. This included the five members of the Gruber family – Andreas, his wife Cäzilia, their widowed daughter Viktoria, and her two children, Cäzilia and Josef – as well as their maid Maria Baumgartner.
A week earlier, Andreas had noticed footprints leading towards the farm from the woods, but there were no returning prints. Prior to this, Andreas had complained to friends and neighbors for months about hearing creaking and footsteps in the attic, as well as finding a newspaper in his home that he hadn’t purchased. He also revealed that the keys to his tool shed had gone missing, which happened to be the place his pickax – which eventually became the murder weapon – was stored.
Months prior to the murders, the Grubers’ previous maid quit, claiming the house was haunted after hearing mysterious voices and footsteps.
Not until April 4, after young Cäzilia was absent from school and the mailman reported the mail piling up, were the police told to check on the Hinterkaifeck farm. Investigators interviewed over 100 suspects, some as recently as 1986, and eventually concluded the culprit was likely living in the Grubers’ house for at least six months prior to the killings. There was never enough conclusive evidence to close the case, and almost a century later, it remains unsolved.
Perhaps even more unsettling is the fact that livestock were still being fed, and neighbors saw smoke coming from the chimney between March 31 and April 4, indicating the culprit remained in the house for a few days after they did away with the family.
• A Teen Boy Lived In The Walls Of A Family’s Home For Weeks
In 1986, a girl named Annie Andrews went on a date with a boy named Danny LaPlante, who claimed he was a friend of a friend. Andrews and LaPlante had only talked over the phone, but LaPlante described himself as a tall, handsome athlete. When the two met for ice cream, LaPlante looked completely different than he had described and appeared disheveled. After the date, Andrews stopped answering LaPlante’s calls.
Annie Andrews and her sister, Jessica, had recently lost their mother to cancer and performed a séance in their basement to contact her spirit. When they heard knockings on the wall, they believed their house was haunted. In the coming weeks, they heard more knocks on the wall, noticed furniture had moved on its own, and found messages written on the walls in what appeared to be blood. Their father, Brian Andrews, reportedly came face to face with LaPlante, who was holding a hatchet and wearing his deceased wife’s makeup.
When police finally investigated the home, they discovered Danny LaPlante had been living in the walls for weeks. He’d even cut holes in the wall to spy on Annie. He would move things when the family wasn’t home and wrote messages on the walls in ketchup to scare them. LaPlante was taken to a juvenile facility but was arrested the following year for a different family’s murder.
• • Photo: David Buttery / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Skeleton Of An Unidentified Woman Was Found Stuffed In A Tree In 1943
In 1943, four teenage boys found a woman’s body stuffed in a tree in the Hagley Woods of Worcestershire, England. During WWII, food rations were tight, and the boys were out hunting in hopes of finding some game to supplement their family’s diet. One climbed a wych elm, named for its spooky appearance, hoping to find a bird’s nest, but he instead discovered something far more sinister.
A woman’s skeleton had been stuffed into the tree’s center. The boy quickly realized the remains were human by the pieces of hair still attached to the skull. The incident weighed heavily on 17-year-old Tom Willetts, and he alerted the authorities.
Once police located the body, Professor James Webster served as the medical examiner, estimating at the time of death, the woman was 35 years old and only 5 feet tall. Rags of clothing on her bones and fabric stuffed in her mouth led him to believe she may have been suffocated. He also noted she had likely given birth at one time and had been deceased for around 18 months when she was found. Stranger still, one of her hands was missing, and the bones were later discovered to be scattered around the tree.
Webster concluded the woman was murdered; the way her body was stored indicated it could not have been an accident or suicide. He also concluded the body was put in the tree before rigor mortis caused the body to stiffen, indicating the murder occurred near where the skeleton was found.
In the ensuing investigation, police contacted every local dentist, hoping to find dental records matching the body, along with digging through missing person reports. The mysterious case went cold until six months later, when graffiti began appearing near the tree.
The first chalk writing read, “Who put Luebella down the wych elm?” This led investigators to name their Jane Doe “Bella.” More and more chalk graffiti displaying similar sentiments appeared, making it unclear whether the writings were clues or taunts.
Anthropology professor Margaret Murray hypothesizes Bella was a victim of an occult ritual; the way her hand was severed from her body appeared similar to a ritual called the “Hand of Glory.”
Another theory posited Bella could have been a German spy, captured and killed by UK soldiers.
Bella’s identity and the reason for her death remain a mystery.
• • Sherri Papini Admitted To Faking Her Abduction
On November 2, 2016, Sherri Papini’s husband reported her missing to California authorities. Papini was eventually found along a highway three weeks later covered in bruises, scratches, and even a branding mark. She claimed two Latina women had kidnapped and tortured her. Papini later received over $30,000 from the California Victim Compensation Board to treat her PTSD and physical injuries.
In March 2022, Sherri Papini admitted to faking her own kidnapping and hiding out at an ex-boyfriend’s home in November 2016. Papini apparently went so far as to self-inflict all of her injuries to make her story more believable. In a statement through her lawyer, Papini said:
I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so very sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me… I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.
Papini’s husband subsequently filed for divorce and sued for custody of their children. Papini is seeking a plea bargain, which could result in her having to pay $300,000 in restitution. Papini’s defense attorney referenced “a very complicated mental health situation” but said he doesn’t know why his client faked her abduction: “Honestly, I don’t know if anybody does. I don’t know if she knows.”
• • Photo: Diliff / Wikimedia Commons / GNUF
While Searching The Tombs Of The Vatican For A Missing Girl, Investigators Uncovered Chambers Containing Thousands Of Bones
In July 2019, authorities in Vatican City received a new tip in a 35-year-old cold case. In 1983, 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, disappeared in Vatican City on her way home from a music lesson and was never seen again.
The anonymous tip said to look where the statue of an angel was pointing, leading investigators to the tombs of two 19th-century German princesses in the Pontifical Teutonic College. Although Orlandi’s remains were not found, investigators did discover two ossuaries containing thousands of bones.
Researchers eventually determined the bones were at least 100 years old and belonged to dozens of unknown individuals.