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10 Crime Stories With Strange Coincidences

by Robin Warder
fact checked by Jamie Frater

A coincidence is defined as a series of events and circumstances which seemingly have no apparent connection to each other but wind up being related by pure chance. Whenever a mysterious crime occurs, investigators will attempt to solve it by piecing together the events and circumstances surrounding the case. However, complications can ensue when a coincidence enters the picture. An investigation can be seriously hampered when one is forced to look into events that, at first glance, appear to be connected to the crime but turn out to be nothing more than a bizarre coincidence. In many of these cases, the coincidence had no direct connection to the crime but made for an interesting “story-within-a-story.”

10The Deaths of Iqbal Al-Hilli and Her Secret Ex-Husband

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On September 5, 2012, a shocking mass murder took place near Chevaline, France. A British tourist named Saad al-Hilli traveled on a mountainside road with his wife, Iqbal; their two young daughters, Zainab and Zeena; and Iqbal’s elderly mother, Suhalia al-Allaf. Sometime that afternoon, their vehicle was ambushed near Lake Annency and riddled with bullets. Saad, Iqbal, and Suhalia were all shot to death. Zeena survived the attack by staying hidden, and Zainab was wounded but managed to pull through.

A French cyclist named Sylvain Mollier was also found dead at the scene, presumably at the wrong place at the wrong time. To this day, investigators have been unable to determine who was responsible or what their motive might have been, and the shooting has been described as the perfect crime.” If that wasn’t enough, the murders were also followed by an astonishing coincidence.

None of Iqbal’s family or friends knew this wasn’t her first marriage. In February 1999, Iqbal was working in the U.S., and, to get a green card and remain in the country, she agreed to marry an oil worker named Jim Thompson. The marriage did not work out, and the couple split up the following year.

When Iqbal left the country, she eventually remarried and started a family with Saad al-Hilli but never told anybody about her previous marriage to Thompson. However, the marriage ceased to be a secret after a stunning turn of events. Mere hours after Iqbal al-Hilli’s murder, Jim Thompson suffered a fatal heart attack while driving through his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi. Naturally, there was some suspicion of foul play, but it appears that Thompson’s death had no connection to his ex-wife and was nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.[1]

9The Disappearances of Stacy Peterson and Her Mother

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One of the most sensational crime stories of recent years was the disappearance of 23-year-old Stacy Peterson. In 2007, Stacy lived in Bollingbrook, Illinois, with her police officer husband, Drew Peterson, 30 years older and on his fourth marriage. On October 28, Stacy went missing, and since her marriage to Drew was troubled at the time, suspicion immediately turned to him.

Three years earlier, Drew’s third wife, Kathleen Savio, was found dead in her bathtub in what was initially believed to be an accidental drowning. Drew collected a substantial life insurance policy, but Stacy’s disappearance prompted another investigation into Kathleen’s death. In 2009, Drew was charged with his ex-wife’s murder and eventually sentenced to 38 years in prison. He remains the prime suspect in Stacy’s disappearance, but her body has never been found.

Stacy’s disappearance was just the latest in a long line of tragedies for her family. In an eerie coincidence, Stacy’s 40-year-old mother, Christie Cales, had also vanished under suspicious circumstances nine years earlier. Christie had six children but lost two of them during the 1980s when they were infants. Christie abused drugs and alcohol, was often in trouble with the law, and had a turbulent relationship with her husband.

The couple often neglected their children, but when they divorced in 1990, Christie’s husband got sole custody. In 1998, Christie was living with her boyfriend in Blue Island, Illinois. On March 11, she apparently walked out of her home and never returned, and that was the last anyone ever saw of her. Much like with Stacy, Christie’s family has always suspected that her spouse was responsible for her disappearance, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him. Officially, both Christie Cales and her daughter remain missing.[2]


8The Murder Victim Who Succumbed to a Rare Blood Disease

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In 1964, 33-year-old Calvin Jones was involved in a relationship with 23-year-old Sara Tolbert. On June 13, the Philadelphia couple got into a heated argument inside Jones’s vehicle, and he responded by viciously beating his girlfriend with a rubber hose 15 times. Jones then spent the next several hours driving around with Tolbert’s body inside his car, and, at some unspecified point, she died. Jones finally decided to drive to a police station and confess to murder.

He had previously spent time in prison for trying to poison his wife, so it seemed like his punishment would be severe. However, Jones would not face a murder charge when he went to court, as a remarkable set of circumstances would allow him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated assault and battery.

In a stunning coincidence, it turned out that even if her boyfriend did not beat her, Sara Tolbert still would have died the following morning. After a medical examination was done on Tolbert’s body, it was discovered that she was suffering from a rare blood disease called sickle-cell anemia.

At the time Jones assaulted her, Tolbert only had hours to live before the disease became fatal. Two different medical examiners officially concluded that Tolbert died of natural causes, so it was impossible to prove that Jones’s beating played any role in her death. In the end, the judge agreed to accept Jones’s guilty plea to assault and battery but stated that the defendant would have been indicted for murder were it not for the unlikely coincidence.[31]

7The Wrongful Conviction of Dennis Maher

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On the evening of November 16, 1983, a woman walking through Lowell, Massachusetts, was attacked by a male assailant and raped. The following night, another woman was attacked by a man in the exact same area, but she managed to escape and provide a description to the police. Later that evening, a resident named Dennis Maher was detained, and both victims positively identified him as their attacker.

Maher would be charged with the attacks, and after an unsolved rape from the previous summer was also pinned on him, he was sentenced to life in prison. Years later, he got in touch with The Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to helping wrongfully convicted people. They successfully lobbied for DNA testing on the evidence, and it excluded Maher as the perpetrator of the rapes. In 2003, he was released after serving 19 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

Unfortunately for Maher, he had been railroaded because of an unbelievable series of coincidences. The second victim told police that her attacker wore a red-hooded sweatshirt and military-style jacket and had threatened her with a knife. Later that night, while exiting a liquor store, Maher garnered a cop’s attention because he wore a red-hooded sweatshirt. A military jacket and a knife were later found in Maher’s vehicle.[4]

Given the circumstances, it seemed perfectly logical to believe Maher was the attacker, especially after the victims identified him. However, at the time, Maher was a sergeant in the United States Army, so it wasn’t unusual for him to have a military jacket and military knife in his vehicle. After DNA testing exonerated Maher, it became apparent the victims who identified him were mistaken and that he was just a tragic victim of bad luck. The real perpetrator was never found.


6The Mary Morris Murders

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On the morning of October 12, 2000, 48-year-old Mary Henderson Morris left her Houston home. Later that day, her burned car was found in a remote area with Mary’s torched body inside. Curiously, the victim’s wedding ring was missing. By all accounts, Mary was a loving wife and mother without any enemies, so no one could figure out why she was murdered in such a horrific fashion.

However, the case took a surprising turn three days later when a 39-year-old woman was found dead inside her car in the same vicinity. She had been beaten and shot with her own gun in a failed attempt to make her death look like suicide—the victim’s name: Mary McGinnis Morris.

Shortly before her death, Mary McGinnis Morris had made a frantic phone call to 911 while being attacked. Attention soon turned toward Mary’s husband, Mike Morris, who stood to collect a substantial life insurance policy from his wife’s death. While Mike had an alibi during the time of Mary’s murder, phone records showed that he made a four-minute call to Mary’s cell phone two hours after her frantic call to 911.

Mike claimed that no one answered the call and let Mary’s phone ring for four straight minutes. This led to a theory that Mike hired someone to murder his wife but that they killed another person named Mary Morris by mistake. A contract killer may have taken Mary Henderson Morris’s missing wedding ring as proof that they completed the job. However, police have since leaned toward the position that the two Mary Morris murders are nothing more than a bizarre coincidence and have no connection to each other. Nevertheless, they both remain unsolved.[5]

5The Disappearances of the Palmer Brothers

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In missing person cases, it’s not uncommon for siblings or family members to disappear together. However, it’s extremely rare for two siblings to go missing at different times under completely different circumstances. In 1999, 15-year-old Michael Palmer lived in Wasilla, Alaska, and was the youngest of three brothers. During the early morning hours of June 4th, Michael and three friends left a graduation party on their bicycles, but Michael got so far behind that they lost sight of him.

When Michael never returned home, he was reported missing. Michael’s bicycle was later discovered in the Little Susitna River, and his wet, muddy sneakers were found 180 meters (600 ft) away. A search of the river turned up no trace of Michael’s body, and he has never been found.

Believe it or not, Michael’s older brother, Chucky, would also disappear under mysterious circumstances over a decade later. On April 13, 2010, 30-year-old Chucky was staying with friends and relatives at a cabin in the Talkeetna Mountains. That night, they decided to take a ride through the area on their snowmobiles. However, much like his younger brother, Chucky became separated from his group at some point and was never seen again.

The following day, his snowmobile was found, but there was no sign of Chucky or any footprints in the area. Chris Palmer, the oldest sibling in the family, had stayed behind at the cabin the night Chucky disappeared. He now had to go through the ordeal of searching for a missing younger brother—for the second time in 11 years—and coming up empty.[6]


4Couple Reports Murder Before Being Charged With Unrelated Murder

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Shortly after midnight on July 3, 1991, 21-year-old Kirsten Davis was finishing up a trip from her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, to visit a friend in Vidalia, Georgia. Davis was approximately 8 kilometers (5 mi) away from her destination when another vehicle pulled up alongside her station wagon. Someone from the vehicle pulled out a shotgun and fired it at Davis’s head. She was killed instantly, and her car overturned on the side of the road.

Shortly after, a young married couple named Tracy and Karen Wilkes happened upon Davis’s overturned car and reported her murder to the police. In a strange coincidence, the couple would soon find themselves embroiled in another murder in the area—which they themselves committed.

About 45 days after the Davis murder, Tracy and Karen Wilkes burglarized and burned down the Treutlen County home of 69-year-old Moril V. Hudson, shooting him three times in the head. The couple attempted to flee the area and escape to Alabama. When Tracy decided to return home to retrieve some items, he was subsequently arrested. Shortly thereafter, Karen was found living in a trailer in Alabama and had the murder weapon in her possession.

On August 23, they were both formally charged with murder, burglary, and arson. Naturally, authorities started to suspect that the couple who found Kirsten Davis’s body was actually responsible for her murder. However, they both passed polygraph tests, and there is no evidence they committed the crime. Tracy and Karen pleaded guilty to the Hudson murder and went to prison, but Kirsten Davis’s senseless—and seemingly random—murder is still unsolved.[7]

3The Lucia De Berk Trial

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One of the most sensational murder cases in the history of the Netherlands was the trial of Lucia de Berk, where the very concept of coincidence was introduced as evidence. De Berk worked as a pediatric nurse at three different hospitals in The Hague. On September 4, 2001, De Berk was present when an infant girl died at the Juliana Children’s Hospital. Her co-workers soon expressed concern after noticing a pattern: De Berk just happened to be on duty during a large number of deaths and resuscitations at the hospital, most of them involving infants.

After an investigation, the hospital concluded that these deaths were unnatural and decided to press charges against De Berk. On March 24, 2003, she was sentenced to life imprisonment on four counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Since there was no physical evidence against De Berk or any witnesses to her crimes, statistics were used as the lynchpin of the prosecution’s case. They claimed that De Berk’s presence in the hospital when all these deaths took place could not be coincidental. An expert testified that the odds of it being a coincidence were 1 in 342 million. However, De Berk had numerous supporters who believed she was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and appealed her conviction.[8]

They sought to debunk the statistics from De Berk’s trial, which had been presented by an unqualified law professor. A professor of mathematical statistics argued that the odds of all these deaths being a coincidence were 1 in 48. The case was heard in front of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, which agreed that the statistical evidence was flawed and granted a new trial. A new investigation concluded that De Berk’s alleged murders were likely natural deaths. In April 2010, she received a not guilty verdict and was exonerated.


2The Elisa Lam Case

Elisa Lam’s 2013 disappearance was strange, to say the very least. It unfolded at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, a place marked by a history of death, suicide, and serial killers. Days before a hotel worker discovered Lam’s body in the main water tank, the LAPD released surveillance footage of Lam acting bizarrely in an elevator. The oddities definitely didn’t end after the video went viral, baffling even the most rigid skeptics. Some of the coincidences surrounding Lam’s disappearance and death are downright creepy.

Several days before Lam’s body was found by LAPD in the hotel’s water tower, guests had complained about the low water pressure and weird tasting and discolored water. The film Dark Water, released in 2005, has a basic storyline that mirrors Lam’s case. There’s also the case of a death metal musician who posted a video about staying at the Cecil hotel a year before Lam. Some of his music mentions women being chased and murdered, sparking some to attempt to connect him to Lam’s death. After Lam died, a tuberculosis outbreak plagued Los Angeles, especially among the homeless community in Skid Row by the Cecil Hotel. The test for tuberculosis was literally her name in reverse order: LAM-ELISA, which stands for Lipoarabinomannan (LAM) Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). Conspiracy theorists immediately speculated that Lam was effectively a biological weapon of sorts sent to deal with an out-of-control homeless population in LA.

The questions surrounding Lam’s disappearance and death have not been thoroughly answered. However, her death was ruled accidental by the LA County medical examiner.[9]

1The Trunk Murders

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During one seven-year period, the town of Brighton, England, had two unrelated murders in which female victims were dismembered and found inside trunks. There were also two similar murders nearby. In 1927, a trunk containing the body of a dismembered woman named Minnie Boniati was found at Charing Cross Station in London. Her killer, John Robinson, was soon charged with the murder and hanged.

Seven years later, two trunk murders took place within one month of each other. On June 17, 1934, an unclaimed trunk was discovered at Brighton Railway Station containing the dismembered torso of a young woman. Her head, arms, and legs were missing but, one day later, a suitcase containing the legs was found at another railway station. The victim was five months pregnant, but there was no indication about who she was. To this day, the identity of the woman and her killer remains unknown.

In an attempt to solve the murder, police started searching through residences in the area. Incredibly, they would find a trunk containing another dismembered woman. The decomposing victim was identified as a 42-year-old prostitute named Violette Kaye, who had been missing since May. When Kaye disappeared, her boyfriend Tony Mancini told everyone she left for Paris. The trunk containing Kaye’s body was found inside Mancini’s flat, and he was arrested and charged with her murder. At trial, Mancini’s defense team argued that Kaye had been killed by someone else.

When Mancini found her, he was worried about being accused of the murder, so he decided to dismember her body and hide it inside a trunk. Believe it or not, the jury bought Mancini’s story and acquitted him. In 1976, Mancini finally confessed to Kaye’s murder, but he could not be tried for the crime again. Despite their similarities, the two Brighton trunk murders were determined to be unrelated.[10]

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.

fact checked by Jamie Frater