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These cases range from “cold” to “downright chilling,” and we need to know what happened

Nicole Clausing  – January 9, 2020 | Updated January 17, 2020

Sometimes the curious are rewarded. Sometimes, the mists of time part, the sands of history shift, and we get answers to questions we’d just about given up on. Take the identity of the Golden State Killer, who started his spree in the mid-1970s and was only just arrested in 2018. Or to pick a less famous but even colder case, DNA testing was used just last week to ID a body discovered in an Idaho cave in 1991—and thought to have been a victim of vigilante justice in 1916. And in the first days of 2020, the gravesite of an inmate of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp was rediscovered, bringing closure to descendants who had never known exactly where their relative had been buried.

But some mysteries endure. Here are a few of the most intriguing enigmas and cold cases of the West. We’re following all of them—and fervently hoping we don’t have to wait many more years before the riddles are solved.

Who Killed the Black Dahlia?

Who Killed the Black Dahlia?
Hulton Archive/Stringer/Getty Images

In 1947 the mutilated body of an aspiring 22-year-old actress named Elizabeth Short—posthumously nicknamed the Black Dahlia—was found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. The case captivated the city and stayed on the front page of newspapers for over a month. Many suspects were identified, including a doctor, two members of the Los Angeles Times editorial staff, the entire student body at USC’s medical school, and, most improbably of all, Orson Welles. But after more than 70 years, this case is well and truly cold.

Has Anyone Successfully Escaped from Alcatraz?

Mason Cummings, courtesy of the Parks Conservacy

If you’ve ever toured the former island prison site, you know that in 1962 three men did escape the building and got as far as the beach one mile across the bay from San Francisco. But did they make it to freedom? Common sense says icy water and impossible currents would have doomed the convicts. But there is just enough evidence that they survived—including taunting letters to authorities and mysterious floral deliveries to an elderly relative that continued for years after the escape—to keep alive the hint of a possibility that the men lived long and free afterward. Even more intriguing is the fact that there is the tiniest chance that the three, who would be in their late 80s to mid-90s, are still alive out there somewhere.

Where Did D.B. Cooper (and the Rest of His Money) Land?

Where Did D.B. Cooper (and the Rest of His Money) Land?
Creative Commons photo by Joe Chadwick is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In the pre-TSA days of 1971, a man who came to be known as D.B. Cooper boarded a Seattle-bound plane in Portland with what looked like a bomb. He demanded a $200,000 ransom, parachutes, and a flight from Seattle to Mexico City. He got all three. While still over the Pacifc Northwest, though, he jumped out of the plane and was never seen again. None of the bills given to Cooper ever turned up in circulation, so it’s likely he died on impact, but where? In the intervening half-century, Bigfoot has been reported more often than any trace of Cooper. The one solid clue: In 1980, a boy found three packets of $20 bills that had been part of the ransom buried in a Washington riverbank. Two bundles were packed exactly as they had been when given to the hijacker, but the third, intriguingly, was 10 bills short. 

Who Murdered JonBenét Ramsey?

Who Murdered JonBenét Ramsey?
Michael Smith/Staff/Getty Images

One of the most notorious—and saddest—unsolved murders in American history happened in Boulder, CO in 1996. Six-year-old child beauty queen  JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in the basement of her family’s home. There was no evidence of an intruder, but nothing that would stand up in court tied the family to the crime, either. In spite of the case occurring in the era of DNA testing and surveillance cameras, and with many of the principal characters still living, the case is not close to being resolved. 

What Was Amelia Earhart’s Final Destination?

Where Did Amelia Earhart’s Final Flight Land?
Getty Images/Staff

Can something be described as a “cold case” when there’s no crime involved? We’re not going to quibble over dictionary definitions; we’re too busy scanning the headlines to see if the case of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance has finally had a breakthrough. The aviator departed on her fateful around-the-world trip from Oakland, CA in 1937. She intended to end the historic journey in Oakland, too, but of course never made it. Her plane disappeared over the Pacific on the third-to-last leg. Theories about Earhart’s fate range from running out of gas over the open ocean to faking her own death and moving to New Jersey. Tantalizing evidence suggests that a skeleton discovered on a remote island in the 1940s might be Earhart’s. There is some hope that DNA testing could answer the question but so far no results have been announced. Stay tuned for a possible resolution to this mystery.

What’s Causing the Taos Hum?

Can you hear that? That low, droning noise that you can feel almost as much as hear? No? Well, neither can most of the population, but an estimated 2% of people who live in and around Taos, NM, swear they can hear a constant humming noise, and that it’s been going on for about 30 years. “Hummers” say they can hear it all over town. Going indoors doesn’t seem to help, and neither do earplugs, although leaving town does. What causes the noise? No one knows. Although some claim to have recorded the sound (above), this can’t be verified and researchers aren’t even sure if the hum is a real external noise, a powerful but rare aural illusion, or, who knows, some kind of government mind-control experiment. Other places on earth have hums, too, and there’s evidence that at least in some cases, the noise is seismic—but we don’t know yet if this is the case in Taos.

Did Aliens Buzz over the Southwest?

Here’s what we know: On the evening of March 13, 1997, strange lights were seen in the skies over Arizona, Nevada, and Sonora, Mexico. Here’s what we don’t know: Literally anything else. Witnesses—and there were thousands of them—described two apparitions, one a V-shaped object with lights, and the other a set of stationary but blinking lights. Explanations floated range from flares to alien invasion. Confoundingly, photos and videos exist, but they’re inconclusive. Something unusual appeared in the skies that night, but we may never know exactly what.

Who’s Behind the Colorado Drones?

Who Is Controlling the Colorado Drones?
Creative Commons photo by Tony Beyga is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Just after Christmas of last year, residents of eastern Colorado (and some in western Nebraska) started noticing large drones flying overhead. Packs of them, each with 6-foot wingspans, flying, circling, and hovering, usually traveling in a grid pattern but not doing anything in particular. They fly high, and they fly at night. No one is suggesting that they are extraterrestrial in origin, but no one has any idea what earthly reason would compel someone to fly the machines over rural areas in the dark, either. This mystery is brand-new, so it may be premature to label the case “cold,” but authorities have nothing but wild speculation (drug cartels? Oil prospectors? Deeply committed pranksters?) to go on as of now.

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