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10 Bizarre Unsolved Mysteries Involving Police Officers

by Robin Warder
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Police officers make their living fighting crime and solving mysteries, but what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? What if a police officer becomes the center of their own unsolved mystery? Usually, when a police officer becomes the victim of a crime, law enforcement makes it a top priority to solve the case, but they’re not always successful. The police officers listed here were victimized by mysterious events, some of which were possibly supernatural in nature. Their cases have never been completely explained.

10 The Disappearance Of Mel Wiley

Oldish Typewriter
After a lengthy career in law enforcement, Mel Wiley became the police chief of Hinckley Township, Ohio, in 1982. Three years later, the 47-year-old Wiley would vanish without a trace. The last confirmed sighting of him took place on July 28, 1985. Two days later, his abandoned station wagon was found at Lakefront State Park in Cleveland. When investigators checked Wiley’s apartment, there were no signs of foul play. Several days’ worth of food and water had been left out for Wiley’s two cats, and there were numerous personal items missing from both his apartment and his desk at the police station. The most intriguing clue, however, came from Wiley’s office typewriter.

Investigators performed an analysis on the typewriter’s ribbon and discovered that Wiley had typed a letter to a friend, in which he claimed that he was tired of his life and wanted to disappear. Curiously, Wiley’s friend never received this letter, and no copy of it was found. It seemed plausible that Wiley could have staged his disappearance, as he had gotten divorced from his wife the previous year and expressed a desire to retire from police work in order to become a writer. Wiley even claimed he had been working on a novel, but investigators could never find any manuscript for it. Wiley also never accessed any of the money in his bank account or police pension fund, and there is no paper trail for him. If he did manage to successfully orchestrate his own disappearance, he has managed to stay off the radar for 30 years.

9 The Murder Of Elwood Gainor

The enduring mystery of Elwood Gainor

In 1927, Elwood Gainor worked as a police lieutenant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was known for rigidly enforcing Prohibition laws and being one of the few honest cops in the area. On the evening of March 28, Gainor left the police station after receiving a phone call. Curiously, he did not take his service revolver or nightstick with him. A witness saw Gainor talking to some men inside a blue sedan a half hour later. The following morning, Gainor’s body was found on a deserted road over 100 kilometers (60 mi) away. He had been beaten and shot in the head four times. Gainor was also clutching a leather bag containing several items, including some custom-made silk shirts. These items were eventually traced to Joe Deano, a New York mobster who was heavily involved in bootlegging.

On the day of Gainor’s murder, Deano and a companion allegedly drove through the area in a blue sedan. They picked up two women but soon cut them loose and drove off with their purses. These women phoned the Lancaster police to report the sedan’s license number, which likely explains Gainor’s exit from the station that night. Two months later, the burned remnants of the blue sedan were found in Queens. A warrant was issued for Deano’s arrest, but he could not be located.

The case got progressively stranger, as three separate investigators were killed by gunshot wounds to the head. All three deaths were ruled to be suicides, even though there was no gun found at one of the scenes! Finally, in August 1929, Joe Deano was also shot in the head, and his body was found inside a burning vehicle at a dump in Newark. After that, the investigation into Elwood Gainor’s murder hit a complete standstill.

8 The Suspicious Suicide Of Davina Buff Jones

Davina Buff Jones

In 1999, Davina Buff Jones was a 33-year-old rookie working for the police department at Bald Head Island, North Carolina. On the evening of October 22, Jones told the dispatcher that she was doing a patrol near the island’s lighthouse and uttered the phrase: “Show me out with three.” Jones could then be heard urging someone to put their gun down before a high-pitched squeal cut off the radio transmission. Shortly thereafter, Jones’s body was located near the lighthouse. She was lying on the ground outside her truck with a gunshot wound to the back of the head, and her gun was resting near her right hand. While Jones’s death was initially believed to be a homicide, it was officially ruled a suicide two weeks later.

The day after Jones’s death, a prominent local family was holding a wedding in the same area, and the authorities wanted the bloody crime scene cleaned up. As a result, crucial evidence, including a bloody palm print on the back of Jones’s truck, was completely destroyed when the scene was hosed down. The following morning, three men were caught trying to sneak off the island on a ferry. Even though the suspects had extensive criminal records, they were quickly questioned and released.

It’s been theorized that Jones could have been killed while interrupting a drug transaction. Since crime was virtually nonexistent on Bald Head Island, there was fear that rumors about murder and drug activity might have a negative effect on the community’s property values. After an extensive second investigation, the controversial suicide ruling was finally overturned in December 2013, and Jones’s cause of death was changed to “undetermined.” However, the exact circumstances of what happened remain a mystery.

7 The Attack On Doyle Wheeler

On April 19, 1988, two armed assailants entered the Suncrest, Washington, home of Doyle Wheeler, a former officer from the San Diego Police Department. They proceeded to assault Wheeler and forced him to write a note before tying him up. After a pillow was put over Wheeler’s head, one of the assailants fired a shot at him, but the bullet only grazed Wheeler’s ear, and he survived the attack. The most bizarre aspect of the story was the note that Wheeler was forced to write, in which he apologized for his prior testimony against another San Diego police officer named Donovan Jacobs. In fact, one of the assailants even called the San Diego PD from Wheeler’s home phone and asked for Jacobs.

In 1985, Jacobs and his partner, Thomas Riggs, had pulled over an African-American man named Sagon Penn for a traffic violation, leading to an altercation in which Penn shot Riggs to death and wounded Jacobs. At Penn’s murder trial, his attorneys claimed that Jacobs had brutally beaten Penn and that the shooting was self-defense. Doyle Wheeler was called on to testify and claimed that Jacobs did have a history of racism and misconduct. In the end, Wheeler’s testimony played a role in getting Penn acquitted.

Wheeler believed that the attempt on his life was a revenge scheme orchestrated by Jacobs or other members of the San Diego PD for his whistle-blowing. Wheeler also thought he recognized one of the assailants as a former drug informant from the department. In contrast, Jacobs and some other police officials believe that the attack on Wheeler never happened and have accused him of fabricating the whole thing. In spite of an extensive investigation, the full truth behind the alleged attack on Doyle Wheeler was never uncovered.

6 Herbert Schirmer’s Alleged Alien Encounter

When someone shares a story about a close encounter with aliens, it’s easy write them off as a crazy person. But what if a respected police officer makes the claim? At approximately 2:30 AM on December 3, 1967, 22-year-old Herbert Schirmer was on a seemingly routine patrol near the town of Ashland, Nebraska, when he noticed a strange set of lights at a highway intersection. According to Schirmer, the unidentified lights immediately took off into the sky and vanished. He quickly returned to the police station and wrote in his logbook that he had seen a flying saucer. However, he was surprised to discover that it was already 3:00 AM, even though his drive to the station only took 10 minutes. Schirmer also had a splitting headache and an unexplained red welt on his neck. Shortly thereafter, Schirmer was promoted to police chief, but his headaches wouldn’t go away. They rendered him unable to do his job, and he promptly resigned.

The strangest aspect of Schirmer’s story was the missing 20 minutes that he could not account for that night. Since Schirmer had no memory of this missing time, he agreed to undergo hypnotic regression. While under hypnosis, Schirmer described seeing several alien beings emerge from the flying saucer and approach his patrol car. They proceeded to bring Schirmer aboard their spacecraft to communicate with him, claiming that they had been watching over the human race and were experimenting on them as part of a “breeding analysis” program. Afterward, the aliens returned Schirmer to his car and erased all memory of his experience on the spacecraft, though they did leave a red welt on his neck. No one knows if Schirmer actually experienced this alien encounter, but a small piece of unexplained molten metal was found at that intersection.

5 The Alleged Alien Abduction Of Alan Godfrey

Blurry Aliens
At approximately 5:00 AM on November 28, 1980, Constable Alan Godfrey of the West Yorkshire Metropolitan Police Force was investigating a report about a missing herd of cattle near the town of Todmorden. While driving on a country road, Godfrey encountered an unidentified diamond-shaped flying object. After being blinded by a bright flash, Godfrey experienced his own missing time episode. According to Godfrey, the flying object just disappeared without explanation, and his patrol car had somehow traveled over 20 meters (60 ft). Even though it was raining, there was a large unexplained large dry spot in the middle of the wet road. Godfrey was also surprised to discover that approximately 30 minutes had passed, but he had no memory of what happened.

A lot of strange events surrounded Godfrey’s encounter. The missing cattle were soon found in a field behind a locked gate, but there was no sign of any hoof prints. Five months earlier, Godfrey had discovered the body of a man named Zygmunt Adamski in a Todmorden coal yard. Adamski’s official cause of death was heart failure, but he had disappeared without explanation for five days, and since his whereabouts were never accounted for, there was speculation that Adamski was abducted by aliens. Shortly after Godfrey’s alien encounter, he had sex with his wife for the first time in years. Even though an injury had rendered Godfrey incapable of conceiving children, his wife miraculously became pregnant.

Like Herbert Schirmer, Godfrey agreed to undergo regression hypnosis and described meeting with alien beings inside a spacecraft. The notoriety behind Godfrey’s story eventually forced him to resign from the police force, but he continues to maintain that the events actually happened.

4 The Murder Of George Coniff

Rusty Revolver
In 1935, George Coniff was the sheriff of Pend Oreille County and worked in Newport, Washington. On the evening of September 15, Coniff saw two men breaking into a local creamery to steal cheese and butter. During the Great Depression, these were considered valuable commodities for criminals who dealt in black-market food. When Coniff attempted to confront the burglars, he was shot to death.

The investigation into Coniff’s murder went nowhere and seemed destined to remain unsolved until it made an unlikely return to the spotlight over 50 years later. During the 1980s, Anthony Bamonte became the sheriff of Pend Oreille County. While researching the Coniff case for his master’s thesis, Bamonte made some surprising discoveries. Bamonte uncovered an old report in which an informant claimed that a corrupt Spokane police detective named Clyde Ralstin was involved in Coniff’s murder. This report was never properly followed up, but after reopening the investigation and interviewing some witnesses, Bamonte came to believe that this allegation might be true. Two former police officers told Bamonte that two days after Coniff’s murder, their captain ordered them to toss a package containing a gun into the Spokane River.

The river was searched in 1989, and remarkably, a rusted .32-caliber pistol was found wedged between two rocks. Since Clyde Ralstin had reported his own .32-caliber pistol stolen around the time of Coniff’s murder, he immediately became the prime suspect. However, Ralstin passed away several months later at the age of 90, so the murder of George Coniff officially remains unsolved.

3 The Suspicious Suicide Of Michael O’Mara

Gun on Grass
In 1988, Captain Michael O’Mara was nearing the end of a highly decorated career with the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department in Chicago. On the evening of May 30, O’Mara told his family that he was going out to buy some frozen yogurt. He never returned home and was found dead at a service area near the Markham Courthouse. O’Mara’s car was parked at a gas tank, and his body was slumped over a rock on the nearby lawn. He had been shot in the forehead, and his gun was found near his right hand. Since there was no evidence of robbery or struggle, O’Mara’s death was ruled to be a suicide. However, there was no discernible motive for O’Mara to commit suicide, and some troubling inconsistencies were found.

When O’Mara’s vehicle was discovered at the service area, the nozzle from the gas pump was still in his tank. A flashlight was also found near O’Mara’s body, leading to speculation that he walked away from his car to investigate something before he was murdered. The police also received heavy criticism for not investigating the crime scene properly. While one round had been discharged from O’Mara’s gun, the fatal bullet which killed him was never found, and testing could not determine if O’Mara had fired his own weapon.

Since O’Mara spent a portion of his career taking down the Illinois mafia, one theory was that his death was a revenge killing. Another possible suspect was a former sheriff’s officer who had recently been suspended by O’Mara for alcohol-related problems, but he was never interviewed and died six months later. While O’Mara’s family successfully lobbied to have the medical examiner change his cause of death from suicide to “undetermined,” authorities continue to maintain that O’Mara killed himself.

2 The Murder Of August Mayford

Dead Hand
Even though he was 66 years old, August Mayford was employed by the Alton, Illinois, police department as a special patrolman and merchant’s watchman for the downtown business district. Mayford was entrusted with a set of keys that allowed him to check inside the businesses while they were closed at night. On the evening of October 16, 1937, Mayford was in the middle of his patrol when he vanished after leaving a local restaurant. A search turned up no trace of him until Halloween, when Mayford’s body was discovered on the edge of a rural cornfield near Cahokia Creek. He had been shot in the back eight times and was beaten so severely that his jaw was broken. Mayford’s service revolver was missing, and the investigation into his disappearance only raised more questions than it answered.

After Mayford went missing, his wallet and some of his clothing were found inside a local shoe store. Shortly thereafter, two sets of keys were found inside the store’s closet. The most likely theory was that Mayford interrupted a burglary attempt at the store and was subsequently abducted and murdered. Curiously, the closet had previously been searched on two separate occasions, and the keys were not there. It was later determined that they were Mayford’s backup keys. When his body was found, he still had his main set of keys in his pocket.

The investigation into Mayford’s murder went nowhere, but his legend continues to live on in Alton for other reasons. Over the years, there have been reported sightings of August Mayford’s ghost on the street corner where he was last seen. The ghost apparently takes one look over its shoulder before vanishing.

1 The Harlem Mosque Incident

Harlem Mosque

Photo credit: Paul Lowry

On the morning of April 14, 1972, New York Police Department officers Philip Cardillo and Vito Navarra responded to a call for assistance from “Detective Thomas of the 28th Precinct.” The call originated from the second floor of Mosque Number 7 in Harlem, the New York headquarters of the Nation of Islam. When the two officers arrived at the mosque, they ran up the stairs and were confronted by a dozen men, who forced them back down. When more cops arrived at the scene, a fight broke out in the reception area, and most of the officers were locked outside. During the melee, Officer Cardillo was shot with his own service revolver by an unknown assailant. He succumbed to his wounds six days later.

Following the shooting, an angry mob arrived at the scene, and the situation escalated into a riot. To maintain the peace, the police were forced to withdraw from the mosque without preserving the crime scene or arresting any suspects. While there was indeed a Detective Thomas who worked at the 28th Precinct, he never made the call for assistance, which was likely a trap to lure officers to the mosque and incite a confrontation. Witnesses identified the mosque’s school dean, Louis 17X Dupree, as Cardillo’s shooter, but due to political pressure, it would be two years before Dupree was indicted for murder. However, there wasn’t enough hard evidence to prove that Dupree pulled the trigger, and his attorneys argued that Cardillo could have accidentally shot himself during the chaos. Dupree’s first trial ended in a hung jury, and he was acquitted the second time around.

In recent years, there have been allegations that the FBI’s COINTELPRO program could have orchestrated the fake distress call in an attempt to discredit the Nation of Islam. The full truth about who incited the Harlem mosque incident and shot Philip Cardillo remains unknown.

Robin Warder is a budding Canadian screenwriter who has used his encyclopedic movie knowledge to publish numerous articles at He is also the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row and recently wrote the award-winning script for a short film called Indefinite Late Fee. Feel free to contact him here.

fact checked by Jamie Frater