I thought I had reached peak excitement when Amy Poehler’s book came in the mail today. Then I saw her author photo.
There are few mysteries more intriguing than those concerning unidentified individuals. Whether the individual in question is an unidentified deceased person or a mysterious criminal, it’s hard not to speculate what kind of lives these people lived before they found anonymous notoriety. Sometimes, after a person dies, it’s discovered that they were living under a false identity, so no one knows their real back story. Whatever the circumstances, here are 10 more unusual mysteries involving a notable person whose true identity remains unknown.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a sniper outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Two months later, King’s killer, James Earl Ray, was apprehended. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Like all famous assassinations, this one is surrounded by conspiracy theories. Ray recanted his guilty plea and claimed he was set up as a patsy to take the fall for King’s assassination. By the time Ray died in 1998, even King’s son was convinced that Ray did not commit the murder.
The biggest unanswered question behind this alleged conspiracy theory is the existence of a mysterious unidentified figure named Raoul. In 1967, Ray was a fugitive who had escaped a Missouri prison while serving time for robbery. After fleeing to Montreal, Ray claimed he crossed paths with a shadowy individual calling himself Raoul, who hired Ray to perform smuggling jobs for him. Days before King’s assassination, Ray purchased a rifle in Birmingham, Alabama. This rifle was found near the Lorraine Motel and determined to be the murder weapon. However, Ray maintained that Raoul ordered him to purchase the rifle and that he gave the weapon to Raoul on April 3. The next day, Raoul told Ray to rent a room at a boardinghouse overlooking the Lorraine Motel. This was the location where Ray allegedly shot King, but Ray claimed he was at an entirely different location when the shooting took place.
There has always been debate about whether Raoul was the mastermind behind King’s assassination or a complete fabrication dreamed up by James Earl Ray. If Raoul really did exist, his identity could shed a lot of light on Martin Luther King’s murder.
9The Mad Trapper Of Rat River
In 1931, a stranger calling himself Albert Johnson arrived in Fort McPherson, a hamlet in the Northwest Territories of Canada. He built himself a remote cabin near the Rat River and made his living as a trapper, but that December, other trappers in the area complained to the authorities that Johnson was sabotaging their traps.
When constables from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police traveled to Johnson’s cabin on New Year’s Eve, the situation escalated into a firefight, which left Constable Alfred King seriously wounded. Amazingly, Johnson remained in his cabin until an RCMP posse returned to apprehend him nine days later, and the two sides engaged in a 15-hour standoff in below-freezing weather. Even after the posse used dynamite to blow up Johnson’s cabin, he escaped into the woods and became a fugitive.
On January 30, 1932, the posse finally caught up with Johnson, but after shooting and killing Constable Edgar Millen, he managed to elude capture by crossing the Richardson Mountains in the middle of a blizzard to enter the Yukon Territory. By now, news about this insane manhunt had reached the media, who dubbed Johnson “The Mad Trapper of Rat River.” On February 17, the RCMP finally tracked Johnson down at the frozen Eagle River, where he was killed in a firefight.
The subsequent investigation determined that Albert Johnson was not the trapper’s real name, but all attempts to uncover his true identity came up empty. In 2007, the trapper’s body was exhumed for DNA testing, and it was determined that he likely hailed from the Midwestern United States or Scandinavia. While there are a few candidates suspected of being the Mad Trapper of Rat River, his identity remains a mystery.
8Lori Erica Kennedy
In January 2004, a Longview, Texas resident named Blake Ruff married Lori Erica Kennedy. The couple had a daughter four years later. According to those who knew her, Kennedy was a very private person who always refused to answer any questions about her past. The couple eventually started having problems, and by 2010, Ruff had moved out and filed for divorce.
The situation ended tragically on Christmas Eve, when Kennedy pulled into the driveway of her in-laws’ home and committed suicide by shooting herself. She was allegedly 41 years old when she died. However, Kennedy’s story took an odd turn when Ruff’s family searched her closet and found a strongbox. It contained documentation which proved that Kennedy wasn’t who she claimed to be.
The subsequent investigation revealed that Lori Erica Kennedy did not exist before 1988. That year, she somehow came into possession of a birth certificate for a girl named Becky Sue Turner and used it to obtain government ID before legally changing her name. In actuality, the real Becky Sue Turner was a two-year-old who died in a fire in 1971. Kennedy eventually obtained a Social Security number and lived the rest of her life under her false name.
Details about Kennedy’s life before her marriage to Ruff are sketchy. Certain documents from her strongbox have provided tantalizing clues, such as a piece of paper which reads “North Hollywood police. 402 months. Ben Perkins, an attorney.” However, none of these clues have shed any light on who Lori Erica Kennedy really was or why she went to such lengths to create a new identity for herself.
7The San Pedro Mountains Mummy
Cecil Mayne and Frank Carr were prospecting in Wyoming’s San Pedro Mountains in October 1932. Hoping to find gold, they blasted through some rocks. Instead, they found a small hidden room containing a mummy. In fact, it was one of the strangest mummies ever discovered.
Seated in a cross-legged position, it was only 18 centimeters (7 in) high, and it would have measured no more than 36 centimeters (14 in) in a standing position. The mummy only weighed one-third of a kilogram (0.75 lb) and had an oddly shaped head. It didn’t look much like a himan, but an X-ray eventually determined that the mummy had human bones and was likely a miniature human being.
There was much debate about how old this unidentified human could have been when he was mummified. Some experts believed that he was an infant who suffered from anencephaly and looked like an adult because of his facial deformities. However, because he appeared to have adult vertebrae and teeth, others believed the mummified individual might have been up to 65 years old when he died. This stirred speculation that the mummy originated from the Nimeragir. According to folklore, the Nimeragir were a race of “little people” who lived in Wyoming many centuries ago, but their existence has never been verified. The mummy passed through various hands over the years but seemed to disappear after its last owner died during the 1980s.
6The Babes In The Woods
Every year, the remains of numerous unidentified people are found, and when no one can determine who these victims are, they are classified as John or Jane Doe. These circumstances are particularly tragic when the unidentified victims are children.
On January 14, 1953, the skeletal remains of two children were discovered under some brush in Stanley Park near Vancouver, British Columbia. The remains were covered by a woman’s rain cape. Other items found at the scene included a woman’s shoe, a fur coat, a lunch box, and a hatchet, which was likely used as the murder weapon.
Investigators determined that the victims had been dead for approximately five or six years. The two children were believed to have been between 6 and 10 years old and initially thought to be a boy and a girl. They became known as “The Babes in the Woods,” and their remains eventually wound up in a display case at the Vancouver Police Museum. In 1998, the remains were removed from the museum for DNA testing before they were finally laid to rest. The DNA tests yielded a surprising result: The two victims were actually brothers.
Years before the remains were found, two witnesses reported seeing a man and a woman walking through Stanley Park with two boys, one of whom was carrying a hatchet. Later that day, the witnesses recalled seeing the same man and woman walking alone, but the woman was now wearing only one blood-covered shoe. Unfortunately, since police initially believed that one of the victims was a girl, this lead was not properly pursued at the time. After more than 60 years, the Babes in the Woods remain unidentified.
5Scott McKinley/Paul Fronczak
On July 2, 1965, a male toddler was found abandoned in a stroller outside a Newark, New Jersey store. An investigation to uncover the boy’s identity and find his parents proved unsuccessful, but after being placed with a foster family, he was given the name Scott McKinley. However, a connection was eventually made between “Scott” and an unsolved child abduction which took place in Chicago one year earlier. On April 26, 1964, Paul Fronczak was born at Michael Reese Hospital. The day after his birth, a hospital nurse took him to the nursery, and soon after, both disappeared. It was determined that the nurse was an impostor who abducted Paul from the hospital.
Investigators explored the possibility that Scott McKinley was the missing Paul Fronczak. A blood test was performed, but the results were inconclusive. Nevertheless, Paul’s parents believed that the boy was their son, so they legally adopted him and raised him as Paul Fronczak. However, as Paul entered adulthood, he became suspicious of the fact that he did not seem to resemble the rest of his family. Since DNA testing was not available when he was a child, Paul decided to find out the truth when he took a home DNA test in 2012. The results revealed that he had no biological connection to the Fronczak family. The investigation of Paul’s abduction has since been reopened, while the man who was once known as Scott McKinley continues to seek his true identity.
4The Visalia Ransacker
During the mid-1970s, the city of Visalia, California was plagued by a bizarre series of crimes committed by an unidentified individual known as “The Visalia Ransacker.” In April 1974, the Ransacker started breaking into houses, often stealing items and vandalizing the place at the same time. However, he would usually leave valuables behind and only steal smaller, more personal items, such as family photographs.
Over the course of a year and a half, it is believed that the Ransacker invaded at least 85 Visalia homes. No one was actually harmed until September 11, 1975, when the Ransacker broke into the home of a man named Claude Snelling. After hearing noises, Snelling awoke to find a masked intruder attempting to kidnap his daughter. When Snelling tried to intervene, the intruder shot him dead before fleeing.
Police stakeouts were soon set up in neighborhoods the Ransacker was known to frequent. On December 10, a police officer spotted a masked suspect approaching a home, but the suspect opened fire and escaped. After this incident, the Ransacker’s crime spree came to an end, but this just happened to coincide with the beginning of another unsolved crime spree.
Over the course of the next three years, an unidentified assailant known as “The East Area Rapist” broke into several homes in nearby Sacramento County, sexually assaulting at least 50 women. In 2002, DNA testing confirmed that the East Area Rapist was also an unidentified serial killer called “The Original Night Stalker,” who is believed to be responsible for over a dozen home invasion murders between 1979 and 1986. It’s entirely possible that the Visalia Ransacker gradually transitioned from burglary to rape to murder and that three of California’s most infamous unidentified criminals are all the exact same person.
3The Unknown Sailor On Christmas Island
In 1942, employees from the Christmas Island Phosphate Company were conducting a mining operation on the Australian island. On February 6, they were surprised to discover a Carley float drifting in the water near Flying Fish Cove containing the partially decomposed body of an unidentified man. His tattered clothing seemed to indicate that he was a sailor.
The man was buried in an unmarked grave with military honors, but because of the threat of an imminent invasion, there was no time to perform a proper inquest into his death. All employees would soon evacuate Christmas Island, which was captured by Japanese forces shortly thereafter. The unidentified body was left behind, and it would be several decades before anyone could conduct a proper investigation.
Finally, in September 2006, a naval team returned to Christmas Island and found the sailor’s unmarked grave. When his body was exhumed, tests on clothing fragments confirmed that he had served in the Royal Australian Navy. A metal fragment was also found embedded in his skull. The most likely theory behind the sailor’s death was that he had served on the HMAS Sydney, a naval cruiser which went down in the Indian Ocean in November 1941. After the Sydney was sunk by a German ship, all 645 crew members on board were lost.
If the unidentified sailor did serve on the Sydney, the circumstances under which he wound up in the Carley float remain unclear. DNA testing has been conducted on the remains of the sailor in order to determine his identity. To date, all but 50 of the Sydney’s crew members have been ruled out as a possible match.
2The Whitehall Victim
In 1888, the Whitechapel district of London was the site of a series of brutal murders committed by a serial killer known as Jack the Ripper, whose identity is perhaps the most famous unsolved mystery of all time. However, that same year, London was also the site of another brutal unsolved murder which likely wasn’t committed by the Ripper.
On the Victoria Embankment near Whitehall, construction was being performed on a police headquarters building which would eventually become known as New Scotland Yard. On October 2, one of the workers went inside the location’s freshly constructed basement vault and discovered a large parcel. When the parcel was opened, the partially decomposed remains of a female torso were found inside.
This would not be the only location where this particular victim’s body parts turned up. Weeks earlier, an unidentified right arm was found in the River Thames and eventually matched up with the torso. Two weeks after the torso’s discovery, a cadaver dog would find the same victim’s left leg buried near the construction site. The unidentified woman’s uterus had been removed from her torso. Her head, along with the rest of her body, was never found. The cause of her death could not be determined, but it seemed likely that she died approximately six weeks before the torso was found.
In spite of speculation that she was another one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, authorities could not find any connection between the crimes and concluded that someone else was responsible for her death. However, with so much attention devoted to the Ripper case, the investigation failed to turn up any suspects in the Whitehall murder, and the female victim was never identified.
On January 16, 1973, a five-year old girl named Anna Waters disappeared from the backyard of her rural home in San Mateo County, California. A search of the area turned up no trace of Anna, and she was never found. However, the most bizarre aspect of Anna’s story involves a mysterious figure named George Brody.
Around the time Anna was born, her father, George Waters, became close friends with a man calling himself by that name. This relationship causes serious strain on Waters’s marriage, as Brody was a manipulative, cult-like figure who seemed to have total control over Waters’s life. Things got even worse when Waters was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and he eventually divorced his wife. Anna remained with her mother while her father and Brody moved into a cheap San Francisco hotel together.
Shortly before Anna went missing, a witness saw two unidentified men driving a white truck down the road near Anna’s home. This led to suspicion that Waters and Brody might have abducted Anna. While no evidence was ever found to implicate them, the story got even weirder when Brody died of cancer in 1981. Two weeks later, Waters ended his own life by taking cyanide, but before his suicide, he went to great lengths to destroy nearly all documentation related to Brody and himself. However, Waters did leave behind one potentially suspicious note tying him to his daughter’s disappearance, containing the words “Plan” and “Jan. 1973.”
No Social Security number or any sort of paper trail could be found for George Brody, which was likely not his real name. After more than 40 years, no one has ever determined Brody’s true identity or if he played a role in the disappearance of Anna Waters.