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10 Strange And Intriguing Conspiracy Theories About Crimes

by K. Fane
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Some crimes are so lurid, sensational, and downright weird that conspiracy theories about them are bound to flourish. The crimes featured here were all surrounded by speculation—rumors of cover-ups, evil cabals, and general malfeasance.

10 The Murder Of Vishal Mehrotra And The Mysterious Elm Guest House

Vishal Mehrotra: father wants son’s murder case reopened

A massive child sex abuse scandal is currently brewing in Britain, with police looking at decades of evidence and allegations about VIP pedophile rings. Already, a number of prominent politicians, entertainers, and other society elites have been implicated. These official inquiries have also drudged up sinister allegations about the kidnapping of a young boy over three decades ago.

In 1981, on the day that Princess Diana and Prince Charles wed to a global audience of millions, 10-year-old Vishal Mehrotra was walking with his nanny to his home in London before disappearing in a large crowd of people. Although police mounted an extensive search, Vishal was not found, and the investigation into his disappearance did not produce any viable suspects. One year later, parts of his body were found in a wooded area in West Sussex.

Vishal’s father, a retired magistrate, claimed that months after his son’s disappearance, he received a phone call from an unidentified male prostitute who claimed that, after his abduction, Vishal was taken to the Elm Guest House. This quasi-hotel allegedly hosted a number of sordid parties, which were attended by prominent pedophiles including, the man claimed, “judges and politicians who were abusing little boys.” Vishal’s father recorded the phone call and relayed the tip to the police, who may have already had suspicions about the Guest House and its link to another young boy’s disappearance—that of 15-year-old Martin Allen. Whatever their suspicions may have been, no charges were brought against anyone in either abduction, and the police apparently dismissed the allegations of Mr. Mehrotra’s anonymous caller.

Thirty years later, Vishal’s murder remains unsolved, and Mr. Mehrotra and others have accused the police and the government of actively covering up and suppressing information about the Guest House, the nature of its lurid parties, and the identities of its wealthy and connected patrons. There is evidence that these claims of a systematic cover-up are true, as a recent parliamentary debate revealed that documents and evidence logs about the Guest House and Vishal’s murder had simply “disappeared,” testimonies of abuse from a number of boys in the 1980s “evaporated,” and at least one newspaper was officially prohibited by the government from investigating the Guest House.

9 The Murder Of Arlis Perry, Satanists, And The Son of Sam

Ice Pick

Photo credit: Richard Frantz Jr.

On a quiet mid-October morning in 1974, on the picturesque campus of Stanford University, the body of 19-year-old Arlis Perry was found near the altar of the Memorial Church. She had been murdered and was posed half-naked and spread-eagle. According to investigators, the cause of death was an ice pick to the back of the head, but Arlis, the wife of a Stanford sophomore, had also been beaten and molested with a candlestick. Her husband told police that he and Arlis had a minor argument, and she had gone to the church around midnight because she wanted to pray alone. Evidence recovered from the scene, including a semen sample and a palm print, did not match her husband or the campus security guard who last saw her alive, and the murder has remained unsolved for 40 years with very little in the way of leads or information.

For some crime aficionados, the ritualistic elements of the murder scene have sparked a bizarre conspiracy theory about a shadowy occult group called the Process Church of the Final Judgement, a Scientology splinter group. According to the book Ultimate Evil, by (deranged) investigative reporter Maury Terry, the Process Church was a network of highly organized and sadistic Satanists who had links not only to Charles Manson and serial killer David Berkowitz, aka “Son of Sam,” but may have been involved in a string of murders that terrorized the US in the late 1960s and 1970s. Terry speculated that Arlis may have first run afoul of the Process Church in her hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota.

There is no clear explanation as to how or why Arlis, a devout Christian, would have become ensnared with a ragtag band of Satanists. One claim states that shortly after her burial, someone stole a marker from her grave, and police investigating the incident encountered rumors about devil worshipers in a nearby town, whom Arlis had attempted to convert. David Berkowitz only fueled further speculation when, in 1979, he mailed a book about witchcraft to police in North Dakota. In it, he underlined passages about The Process Church and wrote in the margins, “Arliss [sic] Perry: Hunted, Stalked and Slain.”

Upon questioning, Berkowitz claimed that a well-known Satanic contract killer had confessed to killing Arlis at a cult meeting in the mid-1970s and had described the murder in detail. Authorities found no evidence to support this dubious story. Meanwhile, Berkowitz continues to insist that he did not act alone in his crimes and was assisted in their planning and execution by a menacing cult of Satanists, the same people behind Arlis Perry’s murder. While seemingly outlandish, some investigators claim that there is circumstantial evidence to support Berkowitz’s story.

8 The Inconvenient First Wife of Mexico’s President

A Peña Nieto se le olvida de que murio su esposa

Barely a day goes by where allegations of corruption and philandering aren’t levied against prominent politicians. However, the rumors that dogged Mexican president Pena Nieto during his campaign were a little more serious in nature.

Nieto admitted to cheating on his first wife, Monica Pretelini, multiple times throughout their marriage, even fathering two children from two different mistresses. However, former school director Agustin Humberto Estrada Negrete claimed that it wasn’t only women who caught the politician’s roving eye. According to Negrete, he and Nieto had a seven-year love affair during Nieto’s marriage, and Pretelini walked in on them during one of their escapades. A huge argument ensued, during which Nieto began to beat his wife. A short while later, Monica Pretelini was dead.

The cause of death was an unspecified medical complication, which was ultimately ruled to be an epileptic episode. The exact explanation was so confusing that Nieto himself, when interviewed, could not recall what killed his wife. Negrete claims that Nieto killed Pretelini himself and admitted that he harmed her (in a vague and roundabout way) during a conversation that they had shortly after her death.

A few months later, Nieto’s bodyguards were gunned down in Veracruz while escorting his children and other members of his deceased wife’s family. These were the bodyguards who drove Negrete to his trysts with Nieto, and because of this, Negrete theorizes, they were specifically targeted so they could never reveal what they knew of the gay affair.

Negrete now lives in the United States, after escaping a number of harrowing close calls with his own life in Mexico. When his photo was taken at an LGBT event that he attended the same year his wife died, he lost his job, was arrested on minor charges, and was taken to prison, where he claims he was raped, beaten, tortured, threatened with death, and ultimately left for dead in the street. He successfully applied for political asylum and has since told his side of the story to multiple media outlets.

Negrete’s claims and the conspiracy theories surrounding Pretelini’s death did little to affect Nieto’s romantic or professional life. He was elected president of Mexico in 2012 with new wife, soap-opera actress Angelica Rivera, by his side. But rumors about his violent temper have not subsided. When Rivera was hospitalized with severe bruising after falling down the stairs, allegations that Nieto had beaten her swirled on social media.

7 The Reverend Did It—And He Was Jack The Ripper

Dead Hand
Nothing gets crime enthusiasts bubbling as much as the mere mention of Jack the Ripper, and it seems like every man with murderous intent in the late 1800s has, at one point or another, been accused of being the Ripper. One lesser-known theory links the Ripper to the heinous murder of two young women in San Francisco in 1895, as well as to a reverend with a mysterious past.

In 1894, Blanche Lamont moved to San Francisco to become a teacher. It wasn’t long before the pious young woman joined the Young People’s Christian Endeavour Society at the Emmanuel Baptist Church. The society was spearheaded by Theo Durrant, a medical student, superintendent of the Sunday school, and all-around upstanding young man. Within three months of their meeting, Theo proposed to Blanche, but she declined the proposal after learning that Theo had been dallying with a couple of other women at the church, including Minnie Williams.

A short while later, Blanche Lamont disappeared. On Sunday morning before Easter services, the body of a young woman was found in the church library. She had been strangled, stabbed, and raped. Authorities assumed that they had found Blanche Lamont, but the body was actually that of Minnie Williams. An extensive search of the church did eventually yield the body of Blanche Lamont. She was stuffed in the rafters of church belfry, and like Minnie, she had been raped and strangled. Quickly uncovering Theo Durrant’s link to both women, authorities arrested him and charged him with both murders. Although he repeatedly asserted his innocence, Durrant was found guilty of the murders and sentenced to death by hanging in a courtroom packed with spectators, all drawn to what newspapers called “The Crime of the Century.”

During the trial, however, the behavior of Reverend J. George Gibson, the pastor of Emmanuel Church, aroused some suspicion. He became prickly and combative during questioning, denied knowing members of his own congregation or the layout of the church, and even argued with the jury. While this can all be chalked up to bad temper, Robert Graysmith, the crime author famed for his theory about the Zodiac Killer, surmised in his book The Bell Tower that the reverend, not Theo Durrant, had actually killed Blanche and Minnie.

Graysmith theorized that not only had he killed the two young women, but he had also murdered Carrie Brown, a prostitute found mutilated in New York a few years earlier, based on his resemblance to the main suspect’s description. Before that, the reverend was in Great Britain during the time of the Ripper murders, presumably honing his skills in London before setting sail for America. There doesn’t appear to be any solid evidence to support Graysmith’s assertions, and dedicated Ripper aficionados have dismissed this particular theory as absurd.

6 Who Was Behind Mehdi Ben Barka’s Disappearance?

Mehdi Ben Barka

Like most revolutionaries, especially ones who count Che Guevara and Malcolm X as friends, Mehdi Ben Barka had no shortage of enemies. A staunch anti-colonialist and critic of King Hassan who campaigned for Morocco’s independence and founded the country’s first left-wing opposition party, Ben Barka had fled to France where he thought he would be safe. In October 1965, Ben Barka was in Paris to discuss a film about decolonization with two prominent filmmakers. Before he could attend their meeting, however, he was abducted by French police outside a Left Bank cafe and was never seen again.

What exactly happened to Ben Barka after his abduction is unclear, but the most persistent theory is that French authorities handed him over to Moroccan agents, who tortured him to death and either buried his body in the outskirts of Paris or dissolved it in a vat of acid. The French secret services have long been accused of being complicit in Ben Barka’s murder, but questions have also swirled about the degree to which the CIA and Mossad were involved in the plot.

Ahmed Boukhari, a former Moroccan police agent during the time of Ben Barka’s abduction, claimed that CIA operatives led by a man called “Colonel Martin” helped to organize and train the Moroccan secret police in the 1960s. This included educating Boukhari in the surveillance of dissidents—like Ben Barka. According to Boukhari, it was Colonel Martin who taught them the method of dissolving a body in acid, and this mysterious “colonel” was also present at the meetings during which the Ben Barka abduction was planned.

Conversely, two retired American diplomats who were active in Morocco during the same time have denied any US or CIA involvement in the Ben Barka plot or with King Hassan’s secret police, suggesting that the men Boukhari described may have been Mossad agents posing as CIA. Whoever the players in this complex plot were, it’s unlikely that the truth will be revealed anytime soon; the CIA has refused to declassify its cache of 1,800 documents about the Ben Barka affair.

5 The Crazy Brabant Killers And Something Rotten In Belgium

One of the most violent and perplexing crime sprees of the 20th century happened in Belgium in the 1980s, spurring three decades of conspiracy theories and suspicions which have lingered in the tiny European nation.

From 1982–85, a gang of masked men terrorized the province of Brabant, murdering 28 people and injuring 40 in a spree of armed robberies and assaults. The gang member’s identities and their motivations were utterly puzzling for police. Their weaponry and modified vehicles suggested that the killers were professionals. The attacks were also highly organized and unrelentingly violent, but the amount of money stolen was so trivial that most believe it could not have been the killers’ true motivation.

Some have speculated that the massacres were the work of extremist elements of the Belgian Gendarmerie, members of a right-wing militia called Westland New Post, or a clandestine NATO network called Gladio. What all of these factions had in common was a deep-seated hatred of communism and the “leftist” philosophy that allowed it to flourish. The massacres, as the theory goes, were homemade terror deliberately designed to cause civil chaos and destabilize Belgium in preparation for a right-wing coup. Westland New Post leader Paul Latinus revealed to some sources that he was tasked with organizing a secret, anti-Soviet army via intelligence agencies at home and abroad, although Latinus had a proclivity to spin stories that made him look important. Latinus was arrested after the Brabant massacres but committed suicide in 1984, and no definitive link between him and the Brabant gang has been found.

Whether there is truth to any of the Brabant conspiracy theories remained undetermined. Thirty years have passed since the massacres, and the case remains unsolved.

4 The Strange Suicide Of Shane Todd

A mother’s search for justice: Questions remain unanswered over Shane Todd’s death

Shane Todd was a 31-year-old American electrical engineer living in Singapore, where he worked for the Institute of Microelectronics (IME). In June 2012, Shane was due to return home to the United States after leaving his job, but shortly after his last day at work, he was found hanged in the bathroom of his apartment. Authorities in Singapore ruled the death a suicide, but Shane’s family have vocally disputed those findings, claiming that Shane was murdered and that Singaporean authorities helped to cover it up.

According to his family, Shane repeatedly said that he feared for his life during his last few months in Singapore and was worried that he would not make it out of the country alive. Apparently, Shane was unsettled by a work project which involved divulging sensitive information to a Chinese telecom company called Huawei Technologies, a company that the House Intelligence Agency has deemed a “threat” to the United States. Shane felt that this information could jeopardize US national security and was growing increasingly uneasy about the ramifications of the project.

After Shane’s death, his family found a small speaker in his apartment. It turned out to be an external hard drive which Shane had used to download numerous files relating to his work at IME. The files revealed a joint project between IME and Huawei Technologies intended to develop a high-powered amplifier that used gallium nitride, a semiconductor material that has a number of military applications, especially in radar and satellite communications, and “could forever change the world as we know it.”

If Shane was murdered, was this project the reason why? His family believes so and asserts that there was evidence at the scene which could not be reconciled with the coroner’s suicide ruling. This included unidentified DNA found at the scene, the peculiar suicide notes (one of which effusively praised IME, the company that Shane had grown to hate) which linguistic experts ruled were not written by him, and the testimony of one pathologist who thought that Shane’s neck injury did not seem consistent with hanging, instead looking more like a garroting. While detractors claim that there are a number of reasons why Shane likely committed suicide, including his stressed mental state and demanding job, his family continues to advocate for another, more comprehensive look into Shane’s death.

3 Dr. Mary Sherman, A Hidden Lab In New Orleans, And JFK

Dr. Mary’s Monkey 2: How the Unsolved Murder of a Doctor, Linked to CIA, JFK, Oswald

This conspiracy theory has it all—secret biological weapons laboratories, underground particle accelerators, a murder, a cover-up, JFK’s assassination, Fidel Castro, AIDS, and monkeys. And it all takes places in New Orleans, America’s most macabre city.

The year was 1964, and Dr. Mary Sherman, an acclaimed orthopedic surgeon and specialist in soft-tissue cancers, was working at the renowned Ochsner Clinic and teaching at Tulane University. On the morning of July 21, her body was found in her bedroom with multiple stab wounds and extensive burns. The strangest clue was that Mary’s right arm was missing, and her right side was severely burned, exposing her organs, but there was minimal fire damage to the room. Additionally, it didn’t appear that the fire on her bed burned long enough or hot enough to obliterate her arm without cremating the rest of her body along with it. Detectives also struggled with motive, wondering who could have murdered the well-liked, widowed doctor. Rumors spread that Mary was the victim of a burglary gone wrong or a scorned lesbian lover, but for author Edward Haslam, something strange was afoot in the cancer-research scene of New Orleans, and Mary Sherman died because of it.

Haslam, author of the cult conspiracy classic Dr. Mary’s Monkey, claims that Mary was moonlighting at a secret laboratory which researched mutating viruses in monkeys and mice. The lab was run partly by David Ferrie—an alleged JFK conspirator—and one of her first lab assistants was Lee Harvey Oswald, along with his girlfriend Judyth Vary Baker, a woman with possibly dubious credentials who corroborated the story to Haslam.

Mary’s primary interest was in developing a cancer vaccine, but the laboratory had a more sinister goal in mind—to develop a biological weapon that could kill Fidel Castro. To mutate the viruses, the lab used a high-voltage particle accelerator that was hidden, but highly guarded, on the grounds of an old hospital. During a routine experiment, there was an accident with the particle accelerator, and the results were ghastly. Dr. Mary’s arm was blown off, and her right side was severely charred. To end her suffering, or perhaps to avoid the questions that would arise if they took her to the hospital with half of her torso incinerated, the other researchers stabbed her with a knife and then transported her body to her apartment. There, they faked a crime of passion by stabbing her repeatedly, thus keeping their highly classified experiments safe from the prying eyes of law enforcement.

After Mary’s death, Ferrie took over the lab, and operations died down. So what happened to all those mutated viruses bred in the clandestine lab? According to Haslam, the nefarious Ferrie disposed of them in Haiti, seeding a slowly bubbling miasma of disease that caused an explosion of soft-tissue cancers and eventually, two decades later, the AIDS epidemic.

Less than three years after Mary’s death, Ferrie himself was dead of an apparent suicide, which is a hotly debated topic among JFK conspirators. Haslam’s theory has been dismissed as both very imaginative and highly implausible. Mary’s murder is still unsolved.

2 The Annecy Killings, Rogue Engineers, Swiss Bank Accounts, And Mossad

Police still do not know who carried out quadruple murder in Chevaline near Lake Annecy

Very little is known about the Annecy killings, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from filling in the gaps with speculation about shady nuclear deals, covert arrangements with foreign governments, and a host of other elements and entities which supposedly played a part in this baffling crime.

In 2013, in a parking lot on a remote road in a French village, a British cyclist found the bodies of Iraqi-born British engineer Saad Al-Hilli, his wife, his mother-in-law, and Frenchman Sylvain Mollier. All four had been shot. Also among the bodies were Al-Hilli’s two young daughters, one severely wounded but alive and the other hiding under the body of her slain mother.

Almost immediately, people began to speculate that the murders had all the hallmarks of a professional assassination and that Al-Hilli’s work as a satellite defense communications engineer may have made him a target. Then there was the unexplained matter of Sylvain Mollier, the seemingly unconnected French cyclist who was also found dead at the scene. The most obvious explanation was that the intended targets were the Al-Hillis, and Mollier was an unlucky witness who had to be eliminated, but blood-spatter evidence found at the scene suggested to investigators that Mollier was shot first and that Al-Hilli ran to his car and attempted to escape after Mollier was shot. Did this mean that Mollier was the intended target, and could his work in the nuclear sector have had anything to do with it? The presence of both men, linked only by a tenuous similarity between their careers, made people wonder if the two had agreed to rendezvous at the parking lot to exchange sensitive information and were being watched by their assassin the entire time. To add fuel to the conspiracy fire, already a blazing inferno of hearsay and half-baked innuendo, Al-Hilli may have had a hidden Swiss bank account filled with Saddam Hussein’s money. Seriously.

Because no assassination conspiracy theory is complete without a shadowy defense agency at the helm, some wondered if Mossad had organized the whole thing, based on a hazy, unsubstantiated rumor that the Israeli security agency had knowledge of Al-Hilli.

Most of these theories were dismissed by authorities as outlandish, although that did little to quash speculation. The real investigation, a joint effort between French and British investigators, continues to this day. The latest theory from a former state prosecutor turned crime writer suggests that the top suspect is a French Foreign Legion fighter who killed himself shortly after the murders.

1 Was There More Than One Oakland County Child Killer?

New details revealed in Oakland County Child Killer case

In the late 1970s, a terrifying wave of crime struck Oakland County, Michigan. Over a 13-month span, four children—two boys and two girl—were abducted and murdered. The bodies of the two male victims showed signs of sexual assault. A specialized task force was formed to find the murderer, who had been dubbed, perhaps unwisely, “The Babysitter.” In spite of thousands of tips, a task force of 300 people, and a parade of viable suspects, no one was ever charged with the murders, and the case quickly entered the archives of unsolved mysteries.

In the 40 years since the murders, however, some of the case’s clues have hinted at a disturbing conspiracy: There was a group of men who may have been complicit in the murders, some very wealthy and prominent. A perfect storm of money and influence, coupled with a staggering amount of police negligence, allowed them all to go free.

During the original investigation, police questioned a promising suspect, Christopher Busch, the 26-year-old son of a General Motors executive, who already had a lengthy rap sheet for child molestation but had never served a single day in jail. Although another serial pedophile told police that Busch had killed Mark Stebbins, the first victim, he was released after passing a polygraph test. Some have commented on what role Busch’s rich parents may have played in his remarkable knack for always getting out of serious trouble, regardless of his history of child abuse.

Also among the cast of unsavory characters active in this part of Michigan at the time was Francis Sheldon, a multimillionaire “philanthropist” who used his his private retreat on North Fox Island to start a young boys’ nature camp, called “Brother Paul’s Children’s Mission,” which was actually a cover for his real endeavor—producing and distributing child pornography. His other hobbies included writing articles for pedophile digest Better Life Monthly and acting as director for a school for emotionally disturbed young boys.

So what links young miscreant Christopher Busch with senior miscreant Francis Sheldon? The answer is North Fox Island, which apparently drew a number of men with similar predilections for children. Police raided the island in 1977, and among the men present was none other than Christopher Busch, who had eight rolls of film in his possession, which police confiscated. Police never got a chance to interview Sheldon about his ties to Busch. He fled the country with another Fox Island cohort, Dyer Grossman, just as the FBI announced charges against them. He was never captured. Christopher Busch was found dead in his bedroom from a shotgun blast to his head in 1978 in what was ultimately ruled a suicide, though some doubt the suicide ruling and theorize that Busch was murdered, perhaps to be silenced. In his bedroom was a sketch of a young boy resembling the first victim, Mark Stebbins.

In recent years, reexamined physical evidence has also pinpointed another person of interest, James Vincent Gunnels, a teenager at the time of the murders who had been sexually abused by Christopher Busch as a child and may have been used as a lure.

The family of 11-year-old Timothy King, the child killer’s last victim, are adamant that there is real and compelling evidence which suggests that connections among Christopher Busch and his coterie of disturbed friends, as well as the very active pedophile ring at North Fox Island, were overlooked during the first investigation and could hold the key to solving the mystery of the murders. Detectives in Oakland County continue to investigate.

K. Fane is not usually a conspiracy theorist, but she does read too many Tom Clancy novels.

fact checked by Jamie Frater