What do Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac Killer, the Black Dahlia murder, and the murder of JonBenet Ramsey all have in common? Well, aside from being some of the most famous unsolved mysteries of all time, there is one unique trait that links these crimes together: mysterious anonymous letters.
One of the main reasons these stories have become so legendary is because they feature one or more letters written by an anonymous individual whose identity has never been uncovered. It’s fairly common for authorities to receive anonymous letters in prominent criminal cases, but while they often turn out to be hoaxes, the letters sometimes have an eerie credibility to them.
10The Disappearance Of Beverly Potts
On the evening of August 24, 1951, 10-year-old Beverly Potts left her Cleveland home to attend a summer festival at Halloran Park with a friend. At 8:40 PM, Beverly’s friend had to go back home, but Beverly was allowed to stay until the festival was over. The last time anyone remembers seeing Beverly was at approximately 9:30, but she never returned home that night and was reported missing.
Over the next several decades, the case would contain some intriguing leads involving mysterious letters. In 1994, a letter was discovered underneath the carpet of a renovated house. The writer claimed that her abusive husband murdered Beverly Potts. When the writer was tracked down, she admitted to concocting the story as an act of revenge. Decades earlier, the woman had read about Beverly’s case and was so terrified of being murdered by her now-deceased husband that she planted a letter that would falsely incriminate him after she was gone.
A more promising lead emerged in 2000, when a Cleveland reporter received a series of anonymous letters. The writer claimed that he was dying and wanted to confess to the abduction, molestation, and murder of Beverly Potts. He eventually promised to turn himself in at Halloran Park on August 24, 2001, which just happened to be the 50th anniversary of Beverly’s disappearance. However, weeks before the aforementioned date, a third letter was received in which the writer said he had checked into a nursing home and would not be turning himself in after all. He never did show up at Halloran Park on August 24, and that was the last anyone ever heard from him. While some people believe the writer’s confession was genuine, the disappearance of Beverly Potts remains unsolved.
9The Murder Of The Grimes Sisters
On the evening of December 28, 1956, 15-year-old Barbara Grimes and her 13-year-old sister, Patricia, went to see a movie at the Brighton Theater in Chicago. When they didn’t return home, their mother reported them missing. A massive search was conducted for the Grimes sisters, but they were not found until January 22, 1957, when their frozen, nude bodies were discovered in a ditch near Willow Springs. Their bodies contained numerous bruises and marks, including three unexplained puncture wounds in Barbara’s chest. There has always been controversy about how and when the Grimes sisters were killed. The initial autopsy report concluded that they died on the same night they went missing, but the chief investigator believed they lived for several more days and were still alive when their bodies were dumped.
One suspect was a drifter named Bennie Bedwell, who had been seen with two girls resembling Barbara and Patricia on December 30. Bedwell was charged with their murders after making a confession, but he claimed the confession was coerced. The charges were dropped once it was discovered that Bedwell had an alibi during the time the girls went missing. However, one of the case’s strangest leads came from an unlikely source: Ann Landers, the famous advice columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Ann received an anonymous letter from a girl who claimed she saw a young man forcing the Grimes sisters into a car. The girl even provided a partial license plate number. Police suspected the letter might have actually been written by the murderer and wanted to question Ann, but she felt obliged to never discuss the letters she received. As a result, that lead went nowhere, and the murder of the Grimes sisters has never been solved.
8The Unexplained Death Of Tom Roche
In 1991, 37-year-old Tom Roche was living in Burbank, California with his longtime girlfriend, Barbara Rondeau. On the morning of September 13, Tom took Barbara to work. Tom was supposed to meet her for lunch later that day, but he never showed up. When Barbara returned to their apartment, Tom was nowhere to be found, and she soon reported him missing. Six days later, Barbara received a disturbing letter in her mailbox. The anonymous writer confessed to killing Tom Roche. The letter was accompanied by Tom’s driver’s license, his credit card, and one of his earrings.
The writer claimed that he had murdered Tom after luring him to a prearranged meeting. On the morning of Tom’s disappearance, a neighbor at the apartment complex remembered seeing Tom speak with an unidentified man. However, one of Tom’s acquaintances claimed to have seen him in his store the day after he vanished, leading to some speculation that Tom staged his own disappearance and wrote the letter himself.
On January 11, 1992, skeletal remains were discovered 800 kilometers (500 mi) away on a remote hillside in Placer County. The victim had died from a gunshot wound, and he was eventually identified as Tom Roche. Curiously, a duffel bag and several of Tom’s personal effects were also found scattered near his remains, which suggested he had packed for a trip. Did Tom leave his home and travel to Placer County voluntarily before he was killed? Unfortunately, the circumstances of Tom Roche’s bizarre death and the identity of the anonymous letter writer remain unknown.
7The Abduction Of ‘Old Rip,’ The Horned Toad
On July 29, 1897, the town of Eastland, Texas rebuilt their courthouse and held a ceremony for the laying of the building’s hollow cornerstone, where a bunch of items would be placed inside for posterity. The county clerk had recently read an article suggesting that horned toads (actually a type of lizard) could survive long periods of time without food, water, or air, so he decided to test this theory by putting a horned toad inside the cornerstone. In February 1928, after the courthouse was torn down again, the cornerstone was busted open. Everyone was shocked to see that the horned toad was still alive and had survived nearly 31 years of captivity. Because of the obvious parallels to the story of Rip Van Winkle, the toad was nicknamed “Old Rip.”
The famous lizard spent the next year touring the country and even got to meet President Calvin Coolidge. Old Rip soon passed away, but his embalmed remains were kept on display as a tourist attraction in the new Eastland County Courthouse. However, the story took a bizarre turn on January 16, 1973, when Old Rip’s body was stolen. Local officials responded by putting another horned toad on display, but one year later, a reporter received a strange anonymous letter. The writer confessed to abducting Old Rip and was outraged that the town was exploiting the legend and using an impostor. For this reason, the writer decided to reveal that in 1928, he and his friends had captured a horned toad and secretly placed it inside the cornerstone before it was opened to the public. Old Rip had not actually lived in there for 31 years, and the whole story was a hoax. No one knows if the letter writer’s claims are genuine, but Old Rip was never recovered.
6The Disappearance Of Jaliek Rainwalker
After being born to a crack-addicted mother, Jaliek Rainwalker had a troubled childhood in which he bounced around between many different foster homes before being adopted. On November 1, 2007, 12-year-old Jaliek was spending the night in Greenwich, New York, at a home that belonged to the parents of his adoptive father, Stephen Burrell Kerr. The following morning, Stephen woke up to discover that Jaliek was missing. He found a goodbye note in which Jaliek apologized for all the trouble he had caused and said he would not be a problem for them anymore. Jaliek was known for his violent outbursts, and since his adoptive parents had become fearful of him, they recently made a failed attempt to reverse the adoption. However, suspicion soon fell upon Stephen, who became a person of interest after making contradictory statements about his whereabouts on the night Jaliek went missing.
There was some doubt about the authenticity of Jaliek’s goodbye note. Another strange clue entered the picture in January 2008, when some local media outlets received an anonymous typewritten letter about Jaliek’s disappearance. It was postmarked from Westchester, New York, and its opening sentences read: “Jaliek still alive. Needed a foot soldier for this war on drugs.” The bizarre letter was filled with cryptic statements that made little sense, such as “Who are the macaronni family?” and “Why does Franti yell fire?” However, one sentence—“My cat name diamond?”—did have some context, since Jaliek owned a cat named “Diamond.” Authorities made a plea for the anonymous letter writer to come forward but never heard anything. Jaliek Rainwalker has still not been found.
5The Murder Of Thomas Wales
Thomas Wales was a 49-year-old federal prosecutor in Seattle, who became the victim of a baffling unsolved murder on October 11, 2001. That evening, Wales was working in his downstairs office, when an unknown assailant sneaked into his backyard and killed Wales by firing several shots through the basement window. In January 2006, the Seattle office of the FBI received an anonymous letter postmarked from a strip mall in Las Vegas by someone named “Gidget.” The writer claimed he was a hit man and had received an anonymous call from a woman who offered to pay him an undisclosed sum to murder Thomas Wales.
According to the writer, he was desperate for money and took the job without even learning the woman’s identity or the motive for the murder. The FBI does believe the writer is connected to the crime but is skeptical about some of his claims. They believe he may have fabricated the “hired hit man” story in order to take the spotlight off himself and that the alleged “woman” does not exist. The current prime suspect is a pilot whom Wales was investigating for fraud. The pilot just happened to be in Seattle on the night of Wales’s death and in Las Vegas at the time the anonymous letter was sent. If Wales’s murder was connected to a case he was working on, this would be the first official example of an American federal prosecutor being killed in the line of duty.
4The Mysterious Death Of Linda Sherman
On June 28, 1990, patrons of the Casa Gallardo restaurant in Bridgeton, Missouri were shocked to discover a human skull in the bushes outside. All attempts to identify the skull went nowhere. It sat in an evidence room for over a year, until an anonymous letter was sent to the police in nearby Vinita Park. The letter was written on a flier for the Casa Gallardo restaurant and stated that the Bridgeton police had a skull belonging to “L. Sherman.” The subsequent investigation eventually led to a 27-year-old Vinita Park woman named Linda Sherman, who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances on April 22, 1985. Dental records verified that the skull belonged to her, but it caused more unanswered questions.
The prime suspect in Linda’s death was her husband, Don Sherman, who was known for being jealous and abusive. Shortly before Linda went missing, she had filed for divorce. On the day of Linda’s disappearance, Don claimed that she left their house and drove away, but no one could verify his story. Earlier that morning, the couple’s young daughter had seen Linda lying on the couch before Don took her to school. She speculated that Linda might have already been dead at that time. Linda’s car was later found abandoned in an airport parking lot. When Linda’s skull was found at the Casa Gallardo restaurant, a lot of attention turned to Don, since he happened to be a frequent customer at that establishment. But if Don was responsible for his wife’s death, why would he bring her skull out into the open and identify her in a letter? To this day, the rest of Linda Sherman’s body has never been found, and there are still no answers about who planted the skull and wrote the anonymous letter.
3The Disappearance Of Toni Lee Sharpless
Toni Lee Sharpless was a 29-year-old nurse from West Brandywine Township, Pennsylvania who decided to go to a nightclub with her friend, Crystal Johns, on the evening of August 23, 2009. At the time, Toni was taking medication for bipolar disorder and was not supposed to be drinking alcohol. Nevertheless, she still got intoxicated. Toni and Crystal soon headed to Gladwyne for a party at the residence of Willie Green, a basketball player for the Philadelphia 76ers. After Toni got into an altercation with another guest, she was asked to leave the party. Crystal did not think Toni was in any condition to drive, especially since she had been awake for 36 straight hours by that point. However, Toni drove a few blocks before getting into an argument with Crystal and ordering her out of the car. Toni then drove off and has not been seen since.
A search of the area turned up no trace of Toni or her car, even though the vehicle was low on gas at that time. In 2013, a private detective working on Toni’s case received an anonymous letter claiming Toni had been killed during a fight with a police officer in Camden, New Jersey. The writer had no specific details about how Toni died but claimed to have been paid $5,000 to dispose of the car at an auto body shop in Boston. The writer added credibility to the story by providing the correct vehicle identification number. It’s also worth noting that two weeks after Toni’s disappearance, a license plate reader in Camden recorded a hit on her vehicle. Authorities are not sure if the letter is a hoax, but if true, it could shed a lot of light on what happened to Toni Lee Sharpless.
2The Homing Pigeon In The Chimney
In 2012, a man named David Martin was renovating his home in Bletchingley, England. After ripping out his fireplace, David was surprised to discover the skeletal remains of a small animal inside his chimney. Attached to the skeleton was a red capsule, which contained a note seemingly written in an undecipherable series of letters and numbers. Upon examination, it became apparent that the note was a coded message and that the skeletal remains belonged to a carrier pigeon from World War II. It seemed likely that the pigeon had been transporting its coded message on June 6, 1944, during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France.
Winston Churchill had ordered a complete radio blackout on D-Day, so the Allied Forces used homing pigeons to send reports about the invasion back to England. For unknown reasons, while presumably on its way to Bletchley Park, this pigeon somehow became trapped inside the chimney of David Martin’s home. The destination written on the pigeon’s message was “X02,” believed to be the code for “Bomber Command,” and it appeared to be signed by a “Serjeant W Stot.” There were a total of 27 codes on the note, each made up of five numbers and letters. Since most of the messages carried by homing pigeons on D-Day were not written in code, experts agree that this note must have been particularly important. Unfortunately, since the type of code on this message has not been used for several decades, all attempts to break it have come up empty.
1The Murder Of April Tinsley
On April 1, 1988, eight-year-old April Tinsley disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Three days later, her body was discovered in a ditch 32 kilometers (20 mi) away. She had been raped before being suffocated. A sex toy was found in a box several feet from April’s body, but it would only be the first in a series of morbid discoveries in this case. In May 1990, a message was found scrawled on a barn door. The writer claimed to have murdered April Tinsley and intended to kill again. The writer also made reference to the fact that one of April’s shoes was missing, a key piece of information that was never released to the public.
The case remained cold until March 25, 2004, when a five-year-old girl found a letter in her bicycle basket. The letter was sealed inside a plastic bag. The writer claimed to be the murderer of April Tinsley and said this five-year-old would be the next victim. The bag also contained a used condom. Over the next few months, three more cryptic letters were discovered throughout Fort Wayne. Two were left in bicycle baskets, one was left inside a mailbox, and they were all meant to be found by young girls. These letters were also in plastic bags alongside used condoms. One was even accompanied by a Polaroid featuring the lower half of a nude male in the middle of masturbation. Since the used condoms contained DNA that was linked to April Tinsley’s murder, there is no doubt that these letters were written by the killer. However, no suspect has ever been found.
Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at Cracked.com. He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently worked on a sci-fi short film called Jet Ranger of Another Tomorrow. Feel free to contact him here.