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10 Baffling Forensic Cases That Stumped The Experts

by Morgan Swank
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Forensic analysis has never been a perfect science, and there have been some truly weird cases over the course of history that tested the limits of what we can glean from a crime scene. From gruesome murders in the Tennessee backwoods to mysterious feet washing up on the shores of Canada, here are 10 strange forensic cases that defied logic.

10Dr. John Schneeberger

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The Facts: Dr. John Schneeberger was once a popular, trusted medical professional residing in Kipling, Canada before he was convicted of two counts of sexual assault in 1999. He allegedly drugged his first victim, a 23-year-old patient named Candace, before assaulting her in his examination room. His second victim was his 13-year-old teenage stepdaughter, who reported the same awful story.

The Weird: After Candace reported her assault to the authorities, the police forced Dr. Schneeberger to give blood for two DNA samples. When both came back negative, the case was closed. The police were baffled, and Candace took matters into her own hands. She hired a private detective to get another sample of Schneeberger’s DNA. The detective managed to collect a sample from the doctor’s lip balm, which turned out to be a match to the DNA from the crime scene. But, since they’d gotten it without a warrant, the evidence was dismissed in court. Dr. Schneeberger walked free.

When Lisa Schneeberger accused Dr. Schneeberger of molesting her 13-year-old daughter in January 1998, the doctor went in for another DNA test. This time, however, the police weren’t taking any chances. Instead of drawing blood samples from his arm, the blood was taken from his fingertips. The examiner also took hair samples and saliva swabs. The samples were a positive match, and he was once again sent to trial.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, the doctor confessed to his clever plot: He had been saving blood from patients and surgically implanting a thin rubber tube under his forearm skin next to his vein. When the technician drew blood for the first rape charges, he had actually drawn someone else’s blood from the tube. Dr. Schneeberger was convicted of rape—as well as obstruction of justice—and was sentenced to six years in prison.

9The Zoo Man’s Split Personalities

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The Facts: The strange case of “Zoo Man” Huskey took place just east of Knoxville, Tennessee in the early 1990s. On October 20, 1992, a hunter came across a woman’s decomposing body. She was identified as a local woman named Patty Anderson who had recently been reported missing. Nearly a week after her remains were found, police came across two more bodies, both of them bound and dumped in the woods. One had been recently killed, while the other had been there a while and was missing a few body parts.

On October 27, the nearly entirely decomposed remains of a fourth victim were located in the same general area. Police were able to connect the victims to one man: Thomas Dee Huskey. The resulting trial became one of the most bizarre and expensive judicial cases in the history of Tennessee.

The Weird: The forensic anthropologist on the case, Bill Bates, worked tirelessly to figure out how the women had been killed, how they were connected, and why their bodies were so mangled. He eventually came to the conclusion that all four women were prostitutes. Marks on their necks suggested that the women had been strangled to death, and the bizarre mutilation of their bodies was chalked up to wild animals.

But there was a problem: Because the bodies had been ravaged so completely by animals, the police weren’t able to get any DNA evidence from the victims. Nevertheless, police eventually identified Thomas Dee Huskey as the probable murderer of the women due to his reputation. Prostitutes in the area called him the “Zoo Man” for his habit of taking prostitutes behind the zoo and brutalizing them.

Once arrested and interrogated, Huskey confessed to murdering all four women, but that’s when it got really weird. Huskey claimed that his alter ego, Kyle, had actually committed the murders. His demeanor then changed to that of a British man named Philip Daxx, who claimed that his role was to protect Tom from Kyle. The jury couldn’t agree on a verdict, and the judge declared a mistrial. In a second trial in 2002, his original murder confession was deemed inadmissible. Currently, Huskey is serving 44 years in prison for three separate rape charges, and the prosecution hasn’t decided whether to try him again for the murders.

8The Murder Of Leanne Tiernan

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The Facts: In the summer of 2001, a body was found in Lindley Woods in West Yorkshire, England. The body belonged to 16-year-old Leanne Tiernan, who had disappeared months earlier while walking home from a Christmas shopping trip with a friend.

The Weird: When Leanne’s body was discovered, she had a plastic bag around her head, which was held in place by a dog collar, a scarf, and a zip tie. Zip ties also bound her wrists, and the rest of her body was wrapped in green trash bags and twine, then wrapped a second time in a floral duvet. Police were able to track down the suppliers of the dog collar and found a man who had bought several dog collars similar to the one found around Leanne’s neck. This man was John Taylor, a poacher who often hunted in the same woods where Leanne’s body had been found.

Furthermore, officials were able to identify the unique twine wrapped around Leanne’s corpse as a product used for rabbit netting—specially made by a supplier in Devon. The twine also led back to John Taylor, and when they searched his home, they found more of the same zip ties, twine, and dog collars.

When the forensic team examined Leanne’s body further, they also found several strands of dog hair. The hair was sent to a Texas university, where scientists had developed a profiling system for pedigreed pets using hair DNA samples. They were able to create a partial profile for the dog in question, but were unsuccessful in linking the dog hairs to Taylor; it turned out that the dog he’d owned when Tiernan disappeared had already died. Even though it never led to a conviction, this was the first time that dog DNA was used as forensic evidence in a British criminal case.

7Kathy Mabry And The West Phenomenon

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The Facts: The murder of 39-year-old Kathy Mabry was nothing short of gruesome. When Kathy was found dead in a vacant house in 1997, it was determined that her assailant had raped her, then proceeded to slash her face and throat with a dull, rusty razor blade. She was left to bleed to death on the floor. The story rocked the small town of Belzoni, Mississippi.

The Weird: Kathy Mabry’s macabre murder led to a lot of questions that seemed to have no answers. In the hunt to find her assailant, the police also made use of some questionable forensic techniques. While performing Mabry’s autopsy, the medical examiner, Dr. Hayne, found several bite marks on her body. Thinking that they were probably made by the murderer, he called in a bite-mark expert named Michael West, who claimed to have invented a technique for matching bite marks to a specific mouth. He named this breakthrough “The West Phenomenon.” That’s where things got a little shady.

West claimed that he was the only one who could perform the analysis—nobody else was even allowed to photograph the body. The process itself was, well, strange. West donned a pair of yellow protective goggles and spent hours bathing Mabry’s body in extreme ultraviolet light. On March 27, 1997, Hayne took the molds from West’s method and began matching them to the list of suspects. Less than a week later, a man named James Earl Gates was arrested for the rape and murder of Kathy Mabry. He has since been found innocent, and the identity Kathy’s murderer—as well as the validity of “The West Phenomenon”—remains a mystery.

6The Smith Twins

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The Facts: On July 18, 2008, a schoolteacher by the name of Genai Coleman was waiting for her daughter when a man fatally gunned her down and stole her car. Police were later able to identify her killer from a cigarette butt that was found under the driver’s seat of her stolen car.

The detective on the case, Damien Cruz, said that the saliva sample from the cigarette matched a man named Donald Smith. Donald had a prior drug-related arrest and matched the profile taken from a surveillance camera that had captured the shooting. He was arrested on February 3, 2009. While that should have been the end of the story, it only got weirder when Donald Smith claimed that the murderer was actually his identical twin.

The Weird: When investigators decided to follow up on Donald Smith’s statement, they dusted the car for fingerprints to test his claim. It was conclusive: The fingerprints found at the scene of the crime did in fact belong to Donald Smith’s identical twin brother, Ronald Smith. It took the investigators three days to track down Ronald, but they eventually found him at his parents’ house. Both his parents and his sister confirmed that Ronald was the right twin from the surveillance footage.

Furthermore, his cell phone record proved Ronald had been in the area where Coleman’s car was dumped after her shooting. After he was presented with the substantial evidence against him, Ronald admitted to the crime. He was arrested for the murder on February 6, 2009.

5The Murder Of Mary Rogers

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The Facts: Edgar Allan Poe enthusiasts might know the curious case of Mary Rogers from his short story, “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Mary Rogers’s body was found floating in the Hudson River on July 28, 1841. When her body was brought to shore, police found that her face had been beaten and bruised to the point of being unrecognizable. The mystery of her death took off in the press and caused a media frenzy.

The Weird: No forensic evidence could be gathered at the time of Mary’s discovery, despite the brutal markings on her body and sightings of Mary’s whereabouts before her disappearance. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until two months after her body’s discovery that any progress was made in the case. The break came when some local children playing in the woods near Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey found a woman’s clothing and personal effects hidden in the bush. The items included a white petticoat, a scarf, a parasol, and a cloth handkerchief with the initials “M. R.” embroidered on the edge. An eyewitness had previously reported seeing Mary entering the same woods with six men on the night of her disappearance.

Police officers searched the area for anything that could put them on the track of the killer. Nothing came of the search, the investigation abruptly ended, and Mary Rogers’ murder remained in infamy.

4The Highway Of Tears

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The Facts: There is a remote stretch of highway cutting through the British Columbian wilderness named the “Highway of Tears.” The name comes from the fact that nearly 50 women have gone missing on the road over the course of 30 years. If that wasn’t scary enough, rumor has it that all of the women might have been taken by the same serial killer.

The Weird: One suspect has been linked to at least a few of the murders by a collective DNA sample. Known killer Bobby Jack Fowler was arrested after his DNA was found on the body of one of the women murdered along the Highway of Tears. He was also strongly suspected of murdering at least two more victims—possibly as many as 20—but there is no evidence to support the claim.

The other problem with implicating Fowler as the main suspect is that three more murders happened after his imprisonment in 1996. Whoever was doing it was still out there. In 2011, a massive manhunt to find the killer began. Canadian officials even began pressuring cab drivers to submit DNA samples, just to pull together the smallest scrap of a lead. Nothing was ever found, and the events around the Highway of Tears remain a terrifying mystery.

3Kendrick Johnson’s Mysterious Death

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The Facts: In January 2013, in Valdosta, Georgia, Kendrick Johnson was found dead in his high school’s gymnasium. The 17-year-old boy’s death was declared an accident—it appeared he fell headfirst into a rolled-up gym mat and suffocated. There was no evidence of bruises or foul play, but the bizarre circumstances of the boy’s death raised suspicion with the family.

The Weird: After a long back-and-forth between the boy’s family, the coroner, and, eventually, a grand jury, a new report was filed that stated that Kendrick had in fact died from “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.” Nobody was charged with the murder, but the weirdness of the case does not end there. When the second autopsy was performed, it was revealed that the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and every other vital organ from the pelvis to the skull were missing—they’d been replaced with crumpled newspaper.

The owner of the funeral home claimed that the organs were most likely destroyed through natural process due to the position of Kendrick’s body when he died. Nevertheless, replacing organs with newspaper is obviously not standard practice for autopsies. All evidence points to foul play, yet authorities are no closer to understanding what really happened in this case.

2Colonel William Shy’s Grave

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The Facts: On December 15–16, 1864, the city of Nashville became a battleground for the already bloody American Civil War. William M. Shy, a Confederate Colonel of the 20th Tennessee Regiment, was shot in the head at point-blank range on the second day of the Battle of Nashville. This is where the story should have ended, but a 1977 excavation of his grave site proved that Colonel Shy was not yet through with the world.

The Weird: In December 1977, forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass arrived in Nashville to investigate a case of vandalism at William Shy’s grave. The grave had been excavated, and a headless body had been propped upright on top of a 19th-century cast-iron coffin. The body appeared to be in an advanced state of deterioration and decay, but some discernible flesh and joints were still completely intact. Dr. Bass and the other forensic experts on the case made the natural assumption that the body had not belonged to the colonel, because his body should have already decomposed to dust.

After further examination, Dr. Bass declared that the body had been dead less than a year, and therefore definitely could not belong to Col. William Shy. But the inconsistencies kept piling up. Soon after the initial investigation, the body’s head was found—with a gunshot wound through the skull. Further, the clothes and casket did seem to be authentic Civil War-era artifacts. The answer was almost laughably simple, but it kept the forensic experts baffled for weeks. The cast-iron coffin—which was a rare privilege reserved for someone of Col. Shy’s social status—was secure enough to keep out all moisture, insects, and oxygen that would have progressed the decomposition process. With none of those present, the body was essentially trapped in a time capsule.

1The Mystery Of British Columbia’s Floating Feet

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The Facts: Starting in March 2007, tennis shoes began washing up on the shores of British Columbia’s Georgia Strait. Over the course of five years, a total of 11 shoes washed up on the shore—some with feet still in them. Most theories for the mysterious case involved a serial killer with a foot fetish planning each murder and sending the shoes to shore as a calling card.

The Weird: It wasn’t until February 2012 that the case was cracked. One of the shoes contained the bones of an identifiable man—Stefan Zahorujko—whose capsized boat had been found in the same body of water in 1987. The coroner concluded that the cause of death was nothing more than an unfortunate accident, probably weather related, and the same assumption was hesitantly given to explain the rest of the mysterious shoes. British Columbia could rest easy knowing that the only serial killer on the loose was Mother Nature. As to why the shoes were the only things that made it back to shore, well, that’s still a mystery. Either way, it is the weirdest forensics case the area has ever seen.

Morgan Swank is part professional joke writer, social media master, cat lady, and obsessor of all that’s historically macabre and unsolved. Follow her on Twitter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater