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Entertainment

Here Are the Most Fascinating Cases That 'Unsolved Mysteries' Viewers Helped Solve

At least 200 cases have been solved thanks to tips from viewers of the original series, from IDing found skeletons to exposing hoaxes.
July 17, 2020, 11:00am

Netflix dropped all six episodes of its Unsolved Mysteries reboot earlier this month, and viewers immediately started obsessing over the details of each case in an attempt to shift at least one of them into the 'solved' category. Within days of the show's arrival on the streaming service, Unsolved co-creator and producer Terry Dunn Meurer said that they had already received two dozen "credible tips," a number that has continued to increase as more of us watch (and rewatch) the series.

“We’ve probably gotten around 2,000 emails that would be considered either tips or comments,” she told Variety last week. "Every day, we kind of do a tip debrief at the end of the day. And we get so excited about what’s coming in, and feel hopeful that these cases can be solved—that’s the dream.”

It's also a reasonably realistic dream: during Unsolved Mysteries' original 230-episode run, it covered more than 1,300 separate 'mysteries,' ranging from serious crimes like murder and kidnapping to missing family members and lost loves, assorted fugitives, and a wide range of supernatural or unexplained phenomenon. Unbelievably, at least 260 (!!!) of those cases were solved after being featured on the program.

During a Reddit AMA several years ago, Meurer and co-creator John Cosgrove said that they deliberately focused on stories that they thought the show could help to solve. One of the constants of each episode—other than that deeply creepy, synth-heavy theme track—was host Robert Stack staring directly into the camera as he said "Join me. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery."

Tons of viewers did that very thing, dialing into the very-real call center that was sometimes shown during each broadcast. Some cases were actually solved on the night that the show aired, while others had to wait until the right people watched the reruns. (Meuer said that one 30-year-old John Doe could be identified "in the next month or two" after a police investigator watched an old VHS of Unsolved Mysteries and reached out to the producers to see if they had any additional information about the man; they did, and passed it along.)

After spending an unhealthy number of hours immersed in 90s-kid nostalgia (and still feeling slightly unsettled every time we locked eyes with Stack), we decided that these four cases—and one infuriating prank—were among the most interesting to have been solved by the OG version of the show:

"Gigi"

In the summer of 1995, a woman showed up in a New Orleans park with an empty wallet, dozens of eye and lip pencils, and absolutely no idea who she was. She called herself "Gigi," a name that she took from a handwritten note titled "Gigi’s Make-Up List," which detailed the brands and shades of makeup that someone was supposed to buy. By the time she was featured on the seventh season of Unsolved Mysteries, she'd been desperately trying to regain her memory for more than six months.

According to an Associated Press piece that ran just days after her Unsolved appearance, she had been given countless neurological tests, CAT scans, and MRIs at Charity Hospital, had been dosed with a so-called "memory drug," and had even been hypnotized, but other than knowing that she "likes heavy metal music" and hated Coca-Cola, she still couldn't remember anything else.

"I’m feeling alone. No support, no family, no friends,” she said. “I wonder where they are. I’m hoping that they’re looking for me. I feel like I’ve lost part of my life, and that I’ve wasted six months just sitting here.”

After the show, dozens of viewers (and at least one former coworker) called in to report that they recognized her as 31-year-old Belinda Lin, a medical secretary from Wilmington, Delaware. Lin had been diagnosed as schizophrenic when she was a teenager, but the doctors who treated her in Louisiana said that still didn't explain her amnesia.

Despite the fact that she had been missing for half the year, her parents were completely unsympathetic to her condition, and didn't seem to care that she'd been located. "I’m not going to spend the money to go down [to New Orleans] if she does not remember us," her father, a Presbyterian minister, told the Times-Picayune. "She is of legal age, and I don’t know if I want to bring her home when there are such emotional problems.″ That is harsh—but at least she got her name back.

Jerry Strickland and Missy Munday

Sixteen-year-old Missy Munday was, by all accounts, a "good student" when she disappeared from her Maryland home in the spring of 1986. She was originally considered a runaway, and her parents suspected that she had skipped town with Jerry Strickland, a 26-year-old man who had approached Munday's parents about renting or buying a house from them. "[From there] he worked his way into her life," an Unsolved Mysteries producer told the Washington Post.

Strickland and Munday moved from Maryland to Michigan, and the teen took a job as an assistant manager at a Union 76 gas station. On the morning of May 11, 1987, Elmer DeBoer, an oil company courier, was just making his regular Monday rounds when he went into the station to collect $10,000 worth of weekend receipts. Several hours later, his car was still in the station's parking lot, but DeBoer was never seen alive again. His body was discovered the next day, with two bullet holes in the back of his head.

DeBoer's murder was covered in a February 1988 episode of Unsolved Mysteries, and Munday and Strickland were considered the prime suspects. They had paid cash for a truck in Pontiac, Michigan the day after the killing, and hadn't been seen since. Immediately after the show aired, the police in Moses Lake, Washington received more than a dozen phone calls from locals who recognized the couple as newly arrived residents. Munday and Strickland watched the show too, and when officers arrived to arrest them, they were zero percent surprised about it.

Prosecutors dropped murder and kidnapping charges against Munday in exchange for her testimony against Strickland. During her court appearance, she testified that Strickland had confessed to killing DeBoer, telling her "in case anything should ever happen, I think you ought to know that I did it."

Munday was sentenced to a juvenile home where she served two years for armed robbery. Strickland was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping, and each offense came with a life sentence. Now 58, he is currently incarcerated at Thumb Correctional Facility in Michigan.

Gabby's Bones

This Season Five episode involved a man identified only as "Gabby," who moved out of his Wyoming hometown in 1986, but decided to leave a lot of his stuff in his friend Newell Sessions' shed. One thing Gabby decided not to take with him was an antique trunk with an old-fashioned lock. After six years of wondering what was in the trunk, Sessions broke the lock, opened the trunk, and found... an entire human skeleton. Sessions called Gabby to ask, you know, WTF, but Gabby shrugged it off, saying he'd bought the trunk at a yard sale and had no idea what was inside.

"He acted probably as surprised as I did when I opened the trunk, that he couldn’t believe it," Sessions said during the episode. "He thought I was kidding him. And I told him, no, I’m not kidding you. There is a human skeleton in there.” The bones were turned over to the Sheriff's office and it was later determined that the skeleton belonged to a 50- to 60-year-old male, who had been shot in the head by a .25 caliber weapon that was "available in the United States about 1908."

Gabby, who was in his mid-40s at the time, insisted that he had nothing to do with the man's death, and said that the age of the weapon and the age of the trunk—which was most likely used by a U.S. soldier during one of the World Wars—should've been enough to exonerate him. That's as far as the investigation went, for more than 25 years.

Unsolved Mysteries mentioned that a grocery bag from an Iowa supermarket was in the trunk with the skeleton, and that made Shelley Statler wonder whether the unidentified bones could be her grandfather, who disappeared from Des Moines in 1963. After years of urging, Statler finally convinced the Wyoming authorities to do a DNA test on the skeleton, and in 2017, the bones were identified as her missing granddad, Joseph Mulvaney. At the time of his disappearance, Mulvaney had been living with his wife, their three children, and his stepson John David Morris, who had been given the pseudonym "Gabby" for that Unsolved Mysteries episode.

"I do believe John Morris knows more than he is saying, but I don't believe he pulled the trigger," Statler told the Des Moines Register. Last spring, the Wyoming Army National Guard gave Mulvaney, a World War II veteran, a full military funeral just before his flag-draped remains were given to Statler. No charges have ever been filed in his death.

Angela Cummings and the KROQ Murder Confession

On June 13, 1990, a man called in during the newly launched "Confess Your Crime" segment of KROQ's Kevin and Bean morning show. For several unsettling minutes, the man described finding his longtime girlfriend in bed with another man and admitted that he was so enraged by the scene that he attacked her. "I don’t know if she made it through actually," he said, before adding that he "knew" that he had killed her. When the show's hosts, Kevin Ryder and Gene "Bean" Baxter, pressed him for more details, he ended the call.

The phoned-in confession was mentioned during an Unsolved segment about Angela Cummings, a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in her boyfriend's home in Northern California just two months before the KROQ call. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department received more than 400 phone calls related to its investigation, and two of the "most persistent" callers were Cummings' distraught parents.

"I listened to the tape and it was a pretty chilling thing,” Cummings' mother, Lis, told the Los Angeles Times. “It was really creepy. You know how you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach? [...] And then I felt hope that it was the person who killed Angela. I thought, ‘God, this really could be it. It would really fit in with a lot of things that happened.’"

Ten months later, KROQ officials admitted that it was all a hoax that had been orchestrated to boost the sagging ratings of the "Kevin and Bean" show. The caller was outed as Doug Roberts, a then-Arizona DJ who was later hired by KROQ. The three men were suspended by the station for six days, ordered to perform 149 hours of community service (to match the 149 hours that the cops spent working the case), and billed $12,170 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. (The revelation that the call was bullshit was covered during a second Unsolved episode.)

Cummings' mother was justifiably angry at everyone at the station. "This affected so many people’s lives," she told the Times. "I felt like I became a victim again. This was like being slapped in the face again. When your child is murdered and it’s unsolved, it’s not done. What they did was like taking sandpaper and rubbing it in an open wound.”

Baxter continued to work for KROQ until last fall, while Ryder and the rest of his "Kevin in the Morning" show were all fired in March. Roberts currently broadcasts on LA station KLOS in the afternoons. Angela Cummings' murder remains unsolved.

Last week, Netflix shared a ton of additional info about the six new cases, including assorted documents, unaired interviews, and footage that didn't make the final edit. There's a lot to go through, but… perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery.

Or all six of them. Dream big.