Killer murderer
The victims laid to rest long back, the killers either dead or still at large, but those memories still lingers to haunt those alive. Image Credit: Seyyed de Llata/Senior Designer

Crimes of passion, victims of greed, or just plain jealousy, no one knows for sure. But one fact remains that they all are dead before age caught up with them and the killers are yet to be identified. What are the reasons and who committed some of these horrific crimes are still a mystery?

The disappearance of Madeleine McCann

Madeleine McCann
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It is one of the most perplexing missing-person cases in modern history - not to mention one of the most heavily reported in the media. On May 3, 2007, three-year-old Madeleine McCann was sleeping in her bedroom with her two-year-old twin siblings Sean and Amelie in a holiday apartment at a resort in Praia da Luz, Portugal. Parents Gerry and Kate, both doctors from Leicestershire, had tucked them all in for the night at 8:30 pm and were having dinner with a group of friends 50 metres away in a restaurant.

The couple had been taking turns to check on the children whilst dining when at 10 pm Kate noticed that Madeleine had disappeared from her bed. A search of the local area was immediately conducted but the little girl was nowhere to be found. Portuguese police were on the case and the family hired private detectives but they were unable to find her. The case attracted international interest and it wasn’t long before the tabloids began alleging that Gerry and Kate were involved in their daughter’s disappearance. This was due to a misinterpretation of a British DNA analysis resulting in the Portuguese police believing Madeleine had died in an accident in the apartment and that her parents had covered it up.

The McCanns were given arguido (suspect) status in September 2007 but this was lifted in July 2008 due to a lack of evidence. In 2011 Scotland Yard opened its inquiry and released e-fit images of people they wanted to trace, including a man who had been seen that night carrying a child toward the beach. By 2015, SC had pursued 560 lines of inquiry, taken 1,338 statements and investigated 650 sex offenders as well as 60 persons of interest but without a breakthrough.

At the height of the operation, there were 29 full-time detectives on the case which was subsequently reduced to four as all hope seemed lost. In 2019 Netflix released a documentary about Madeleine which reignited speculation about her whereabouts and then last year German investigators announced a 43-year-old convicted paedophile as a new suspect in the case. But, 14 years have passed and nobody seems to have any idea where Madeleine is - or if indeed she is even alive.

The murder of Jill Dando, 1999

Jill Dando
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Jill Dando was the golden girl of British television. The BBC presenter was found dead outside her front door in a quiet residential street in Fulham, southwest London, on April 26, 1999, with a single bullet wound to her head.

The 37-year-old left her fiance’s home and when Dando reached her doorstep at around 11.30 am she was shot in the head. She was discovered 14 minutes later by a neighbour and rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Dando’s neighbour is the only person to have seen, whom the police believe to be, the killer. Around 2,500 potential suspects were investigated, one man was put on trial and convicted, but following an appeal and retrial, he was acquitted.

Mystery has surrounded her murder and although several theories were put forward, none of them was found to be credible. Some of the theories included contract killing, mistaken identity, someone who was convicted due to the Crimewatch programme, a Yugoslav group taking revenge or a revenge attack.

After 22 years, no one knows who killed Dando despite the biggest murder inquiry conducted by the Metropolitan Police and reportedly the largest criminal investigation since the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper.

The killing of Dando, the presenter of BBC News, Crimewatch, and Holiday programme, remains one of the unsolved cases in Britain. The case is still open, but the detective who led the inquiry into the murder of the 1997 BBC Personality of the Year has said it will never be solved.

The double murder in Noida, India

Noida double murder
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Arushi Talwar, the 13-year old daughter of dentist couple Rajesh and Nupur, was found dead with her throat slit in her bedroom on May 16, 2008. The house was locked from inside with no sign of forced entry and the role of anyone from outside was immediately ruled out. Parents were not able to give any explanation and the suspicion fell on them. All they could say was that they didn’t hear any suspicious sound from Arushi’s room because of the air conditioner. In another twist, the body of 45-year old Hemraj Banjade was found a day after in a partially decomposed state from the terrace of the house. The police now had a double murder with no clues leading anywhere. With no evidence to prove otherwise, the Noida police firmly believed it is an insider job.

Botched up probe

The Talwars were residents of Jalwayu Vihar in Noida, a stone’s throw from the Indian capital city of New Delhi. A sensationalist media aiding and abetting the clueless police made the matters worse. Days after the bodies were found, the police put two and two together and arrived at the ‘discovery’ that Arushi’s murder was an act of honour killing by parents who were against an alleged affair between their daughter and the servant Hemraj. In May 2008, Rajesh Talwar was arrested and the case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Intelligence. Lie detector and narco-analysis tests on Dr Rajesh Talwar and Nupur were inconclusive.

Closure and reinvestigation

In 2010, CBI submitted a closure request in court on account of insufficient evidence. CBI named Rajesh Talwar as the prime suspect but did not charge him on account of insufficient evidence. However, the court rejected the request. The bureau reopened the case in 2011 and in May 2013, Talwars were guilty of the murders and later sentenced to life imprisonment. The parents termed it a miscarriage of justice and appealed the verdict in the Allahabad High Court. In 2017, the High Court overturned the verdict and acquitted the Talwars of all charges, censuring the investigative agency for its ‘impossible hypothesis’. Talwars were released from prison. But then who killed Arushi and Hemraj? The question remains to be answered.

35 years on, Egyptian filmmaker Niazi Mustafa's murder still unresolved

Egyptian filmmaker murder
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On October 19, 1986, celebrated Egyptian film director Niazi Mustafa, famous for action movies, was found murdered inside his bedroom in his house in the upmarket quarter of Dokki near Cairo.

The murder was discovered by his cook who found him lying in the bed with his hands trussed up by a necktie as a piece of cloth was tied around his mouth. Mustafa's hand arteries were slashed by an unknown person. The filmmaker was 75.

For many years, prosecutors unsuccessfully sought to unravel the mysterious murder. They questioned dozens of his relatives and friends, but no incontestable evidence was reached. Prosecutors concluded that the crime had been committed with the likely motive of revenge or stealing the filmmaker's documents as several personal papers were found scattered on the floor inside the house. Eventually, the case was closed with the perpetrator unknown yet. Born in November 1910 in Egypt's southern city of Assiut, Mustafa left behind a legacy of 150 films. He married twice: actress Kuka and belly-dancer-cum-actress Nemat Mokhtar. He had no children.

Did aliens kill them? Deaths of UFO hunters in Brazil

UFO hunters in Brazil
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It was a perfect day until a kite flyer found two lifeless bodies at Morro do Vintem (Vintem Hill), Rio De Janeiro in Brazil. It all happened way back on a cool August day in 1966, but the cause of the deaths and the mystery surrounding them still lingers.

Manoel Pereira da Cruz and Miguel Jose Viana were passionate UFO hunters. On 17 August 1966, they left their hometown, Campos dos Goytacazes. According to family members, they bought some electronic materials and headed to Vintem Hill. Four days later they were found dead with no indications as to what caused the deaths.

Police conducted a search at the location where the bodies were found. There was no sign of violence or physical injury.

The tall grass near the corpse was not damaged.

The two men lay neatly wearing lead masks, which made the case even more mysterious, triggering a spate of theories and speculations.

A strange note was found lying next to the dead bodies: “16:30 be at the specified location. 18:30 ingest capsules after the effect protects metals await signal mask.”

The coroner who examined the two bodies could not determine the cause of death.

Was it a chance meeting with aliens, where they poisoned or did they commit suicide, nobody seems to know even after 55 years.

The mysterious murder of Setagaya family in Tokyo

Setagaya murder in Tokyo
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The murder of Mikio Miyazawa, his wife Yasuko and their two children Niina and Rei aged 8 and 6 respectively, on the night of December 30, 2000, in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, still baffles police and public alike, even after 20 years.

The ghastly murders occurred in a two-story house on the outskirts of Tokyo. The youngest victim Rei was strangled in his bedroom while all others were stabbed to death. The body of the father Mikio was found on the first floor with stab wounds. It is thought the mother and daughter were killed last. The killer was in no hurry to leave the crime scene, police found. He consumed ice cream and barley tea in the kitchen after committing the crime. He also used the computer in one of the rooms to check on the website of a theatrical group.

Money or personal grudge?

Police followed two motives – monetary or a personal grudge. About 150 thousand yen ($1500) was missing from his house. But then the culprit had not taken all the money that was in the house. There were about 190 thousand yen and foreign currencies left in the house. It was also suggested that if money was the only motive, why did he kill the mother and daughter who were sleeping in the attic? That left a personal grudge as the motive but the police couldn’t ascertain any further leads to follow up on this theory.


There were many leads. The murderer had left clothes and other items at the crime scene. Fingerprints and blood samples, believed to be of the murderer, were found at the house.

Chief among them were the marks made by a type of Slazengers shoes. Those shoes were sold in both Japan and South Korea, but the particular size matching the alleged culprit’s footprints were sold only in South Korea.

Another piece of evidence was a sweatshirt supposedly worn by the perpetrator. Reports said only 10 of them were sold in Tokyo as the store M/X had closed soon after.

More than 280,000 police offers have been assigned to the case one time or the other. Police have checked hundreds of thousands of DNA samples. None of them matched. The fingerprints found in the house were compared against 50 million prints. The police had many theories but were clueless about the murderer. The suspicion that some of the materials could be left deliberately by the murderer at the scene to derail the investigation further made the police's task impossible.

What we know about the killer

Police put the age of the murderer in the 15-35 bracket at the time of the crime. He is also thought to be about 170 cm in height. In 2005, some researchers speculated his ancestors from the mother's side came from southern Europe while the father was of East Asian descent. That was not leading the case in any direction. He could be of Korean, Japanese or Chinese descent. The perpetrator is still at large and may even be dead, but nobody knows for sure.

So many severed feet washed up on the shores in British Columbia

Severed feet washed up on the shores in British Columbia
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Imagine taking a leisurely stroll on a beach picking up shells and corals, and then finding severed feet – like what a few British Columbians have discovered.

Since 2007, 21 feet have washed up on the shores of Canadian and US beaches, unattached to bodies.

The chopped off feet were found on the shores of the Salish Sea between Canada and the US.

Various theories have been propounded for the strange sightings. One of them involves scavengers and the footwear industry. When a body falls to the ocean floor it is attacked by scavengers that prefer to eat the softer parts of the body first. As the tissues and ligaments around the ankles are soft, they can be bitten off quickly, causing the foot to become unattached to the rest of the body.

The shoe acts as a defence mechanism, meaning the flesh of the foot is left intact. Some feet have been matched to missing people, but most remain unidentified.

Other scientists say the feet likely belong to suicide, drowning, or plane crash victims. It’s common for decomposing bodies to come apart at the joint, making it natural for the foot to be severed from the leg. So wouldn’t hands too be washing up on the beaches? No. That’s where the shoes come in.

While the rest of the body naturally decomposes in water, feet are well protected inside the rubber and fabric of a shoe. The soles can be pretty buoyant, and sometimes air pockets get trapped inside the shoe, making it float to the surface. Most of the “severed” feet have been clad in jogging shoes, but at least one case involves a hiking boot. In that instance, the boot (and foot) was matched to a man who went missing while fishing more than 25 years ago.

So why are they washing up in British Columbia?

One explanation is that there is a lot of recirculation in the region. The tidal currents and the winds can keep things that are floating recirculating in the system. Several feet have also been found further south, in Washington, which shares a network of coastal waterways with British Columbia.

The explanation may be simple, but not everyone is buying it. There are others who feel a serial killer is still around.

Who was the ‘Zodiac’ serial killer?

‘Zodiac’ serial killer
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The ‘Zodiac Killer’ is an intriguing murderer. He gave that name to himself in letters and cyphers (anagrams) sent to police as he pulled off one of America’s most puzzling serial murders. He was linked to the brutal murders of five people — possibly six. He was never caught.

Between December 1968 and October 1969, the mysterious criminal carried out an orgy of murders mostly in San Francisco, California.

Leads show that the Zodiac Killer is a man who also gave unsolvable riddles following the murders (and attempted murders) both in rural, urban and suburban America.

He taunted authorities with complex cyphers or anagrams — codes or riddles — in letters sent to newspapers and law-enforcement officials.

Between 1969 and 1970, the Zodiac Killer sent out four cyphers, alongside his crimes. The first sent on July 31, 1969, was cracked just a week later.

“I like killing people because it is so much fun,” the cypher, known as Z408, read. “It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.”

In December 2020 — 51 years after the last murder linked to the serial killer — codebreakers claimed to have finally cracked Z340.

Z340 was mailed to the Chronicle daily with a victim’s bloodstained shirt. It states: “I hope you are having lots of fun trying to catch me.” Case handlers found two others — cyphers Z13 and Z32 — harder to crack, as they were very brief. Z13 states “My name is ….” These remained unsolved for a long time.

Many potential suspects have been investigated in the decades since the first murder. Fayçal Ziraoui, an amateur sleuth and engineer who lives outside of Paris, claims to have decoded the Zodiac Killer’s final two unsolved cyphers — called Z13 and Z32. One, he says, even reveals the killer’s name: Lawrence Kaye, a suspect in the original case. Kathleen Johns — who may have survived a near brush with the Zodiac Killer — later picked Kaye out of a line-up. Online sleuth forums dismissed Ziraoui’s claims.

A recent US media report, however, quoted a team of independent crime specialists probing such “cold cases”, claiming they had identified the Zodiac Killer as Gary Francis Poste. Poste passed away in 2018.

But nobody knew for sure who the Zodiac Killer was.

JonBenét Ramsey, the unsolved murder of a child beauty queen

JonBenét Ramsey
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JonBenét Ramsey, a child beauty queen, was only 6 when she was brutally murdered in her Colorado residence on December 26, 1996. Her parents were relatively affluent. Investigators pursued two theories: the parents did it, or an intruder did it. The family came under the heavy public glare, believing that one or more of the Ramseys — her mother Patsy or her father or John, even her brother Burke (only age 9 then), were responsible for the brutal crime.

What happened

In the early morning hours of December 26, 1996, John and Patsy Ramsey woke up to find their six-year-old daughter JonBenét Ramsey missing from her bed at their home in Boulder, Colorado. Patsy discovered a ransom note on the stairs demanding $118,000 for their daughter’s safe return.

Despite the note’s warning not to involve the police, Patsy immediately called 911, as well as friends and family to aid in the search for JonBenét.

Police arrived at 5:55 am and found no signs of forced entry. Several mistakes were made during the investigation before the body was even found in the basement.

Mark Beckner, the ex-police chief of Colorado who led the investigation into the child star's sensational death has acknowledged his officers mishandled the probe.

The intruder theory had lots of physical evidence to support it

1) Found next to JonBenét’s body was a boot print that did not belong to anyone in the family.

2) A window in the basement was broken and was believed to be the most likely point of entry for an intruder.

3) DNA from drops of blood from an unknown male was found on her underwear.

One suspect was John Karr, arrested in 2006 when he confessed to killing JonBenét, but DNA did not match the profile generated from the crime scene. No matches have been identified so far from the US database of DNA samples. In 2006 — 10 years after JonBenét’s death — Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy took over the case and agreed with prosecutors that the intruder theory was more plausible. Twelve years after the crime, in 2008, given the detailed DNA evidence, Lacy exonerated the Ramseys. In 2010 the case was officially reopened with a renewed focus on the DNA samples. In 2016, CBS aired “The Case of JonBenét Ramsey” implying then nine-year-old brother Burke was the killer. The Ramseys filed a $750 million-dollar defamation suit. CBS settled in 2019 for an undisclosed settlement. To this day, the JonBenét Ramsey murder case remains open.

The Isdal woman murder mystery of Norway

Isdal woman murder mystery of Norway
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A badly burnt woman’s body, coded notepads with dates and locations, a string of fake identities, wigs and other disguises make for a spy story. This is no spy novel but a real-life murder mystery. A mystery that has fascinated and intrigued Norwegians for more than 50 years.

In November 1970, the body was found in a remote location in Norway’s Isdalen valley (Ice valley) in Bergen. The labels from her clothes were cut off and logos removed to prevent identification. Police deciphered the coded notes and obtained her fingerprints from suitcases left at the Bergen Railway Station. Yet, they could not solve the mystery: the woman’s name and background are still unknown.

Investigators found that the woman with movie star looks had travelled between Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Oslo in Norway, besides visiting Paris, Hamburg and Basel. The spy theory gained credence since it happened at the height of the Cold War, and her movements aligned with the areas where Norway’s Penguin missiles were being trialled secretly. But there was no conclusive proof.

The presence of at least 50 sleeping pills in her stomach pointed to a suicide attempt, but smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning indicate the woman was alive when she was set on fire. Isotope tests on her teeth and jawbone, which were not buried after the case was closed in 1971, suggested that she may have been from Nuremberg in Germany and must have been aged around 30 years.

The Norwegian police, for legal and ethical reasons, have not allowed the DNA material to be run through commercial databases to find out her ancestry, a BBC report said.

The podcast Death In Ice Valley, produced by BBC and Norwegian broadcaster NRK, helped provide more clues. More than 20,000 amateur investigators have been trying to resolve the mystery, and the popular theory is that she was a foreign spy.