The Most Unsettling Crimes Ever
Four-year-old Zachary Longo’s body was found floating off the Oregon coast in December 2001. His entire family had been reported missing after his mother Mary Jane’s cellphone service had been disconnected, and his family’s home in Ohio was found abandoned.
Three days later, divers found the weighed-down body of his sister Sadie. And finally, two suitcases were found containing the remains of Mary Jane and her third child, Madison. Nowhere to be found? The Longo family patriarch, Christian.
Before long, Longo was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, and a manhunt was underway. But the story took an unexpected turn — Longo was found in Mexico, pretending to be travel writer Michael Finkel (among other assumed identities).
Longo, after amassing more and more debt, had decided he wanted to “escape the shackles of domestic life” and saw killing his family as the only way to do so.
He was sentenced to death for the murders of his wife and three children. A movie featuring James Franco titled “True Story” was based on him.
Five-year-old Jason Foreman vanished without a trace in 1975 — he was so close to his home at the time that his mother said she heard him laughing from their house. However, he never made it inside, and the case went cold.
Seven years after he went missing, in 1982, Michael Woodmansee was questioned for a different crime: A 14-year-old boy said Woodmansee had tried to lure him into his home. Woodmansee soon confessed to Foreman’s murder. When police investigated Woodmansee’s room, they found the boy’s skull on his dresser, and a particularly graphic journal that allegedly contained details of his death. Woodmansee was just 16 when he kidnapped and killed the child. While details in the journal led many to believe that Woodmansee cannibalized Foreman, this was never proven in court because he pleaded guilty before the jury could hear the whole story.
The case was brought into the spotlight again when it was made public that Woodmansee would be released from prison early, after only serving 28 years of his 40-year sentence. His early release was due to what is known as the “Good Time” law, in which inmates’ sentences get reduced for every day they aren’t written up for any violations.
Susan Smith claimed that her car had been stolen by an unknown Black man with her two young sons inside, and stuck to this story for nine days, appearing on TV and giving interviews pleading for her sons to be returned. Slowly but surely, however, her story unraveled, and authorities were able to find cracks in her narrative.
After being pushed by investigators, Smith tearfully confessed to locking her sons in her car, and pushing it down a ramp into a lake. Autopsy reports confirmed that the boys were alive when the car was submerged, and recreations of the sinking showed that it would have taken at least six minutes for the car to fill up with water.
Sordid details were soon uncovered about Smith, including an extramarital affair and a sexual relationship with her stepfather. She was eventually found guilty of the murders of her two sons and sentenced to life in prison.
Dillinger was a notorious gangster that terrorized the Midwest — he is said to have killed 10 men, robbed dozens of banks, and even escaped from prison three times.
While Dillinger was eventually killed in a standoff with police in July 1934, the money was never recovered.
Three of the four members of the Lillelid family were murdered on April 6, 1997, outside the small town of Greeneville. Peter, who was 2 years old at the time, was the only survivor, though he was left with permanent disabilities.
They were shot on a deserted road, in what was believed to be a carjacking committed by a group of six young men and women from Kentucky who were running away to New Orleans. Once they had stolen the Lillelids’ van, they tried to escape to Mexico, where they were stopped by the police, returned to the US, and promptly arrested.
The six youths, who were between the ages of 14 and 17 and all came from troubled backgrounds, were convicted of the murders, plus the attempted murder of Peter.
While there were rumors about alleged occultism and devil worship, this was refuted by one of the murderers, Karen Howell.
All six are currently serving life sentences.
Socialite Joan Robinson Hill died of unexplained causes at age 38. Her husband was accused of murdering her by omission — he had delayed seeking medical care for her. She was sick for two days before her husband, Dr. John Hill, a respected plastic surgeon, decided to drive her to the hospital. She died before doctors could pinpoint exactly what was wrong with her, in March 1969. Her husband was remarried by June.
Despite various autopsies, no one knows for sure what killed Joan, though many believe her husband had poisoned her.
However, Hill was never charged: His first trial ended in a mistrial when his second wife blurted “he told me he killed Joan with a needle,” and he himself was murdered in his own home before the second trial.
The police ended up charging Bobby Wayne Vandiver for the murder of John Hill, who claimed that a Houston madam had paid him to kill him. But before Vandiver could go to trial, he was killed in an unrelated incident.
One of the most famous true crime books was written about the case, titled “Blood and Money,” which in turn inspired a 1981 TV movie, “Murder in Texas,” starring Sam Elliott, Katharine Ross, and Farrah Fawcett.
Ronnie Lee Gardner was a man with a troubled past filled with charges of petty theft, robbery, and assault.
He was in a Utah prison for shooting his girlfriend’s lover in the neck, but managed to escape in August 1984 by faking an illness and breaking out of the hospital. While on the run, he robbed the Cheers Tavern in Salt Lake City and fatally shot the bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom.
Gardner was eventually captured and charged with Otterstrom’s murder. While he was in court for the murder of Otterstrom, Gardner attempted to escape with a gun he had smuggled into the building, and ended up fatally shooting Michael Burdell, an attorney.
Gardner was sentenced to life in prison for the death of Otterstrom and given the death penalty for the death of Burdell. Gardner’s case was in appeals court for 25 years, inspiring the state of Utah to introduce legislation that would impose limits on the number of appeals a case can have. Gardner was executed by firing squad in 2010, the first time a firing squad had been used since the practice was abandoned in 2004.
In 1935, a mother and daughter were walking in the woods when they came across a skull. Upon investigating the site, authorities found three bodies: a woman and two young boys who were presumed to be her sons.
Eighty years later, the bodies remain unidentified, and the reason for their death is still unclear. All three were shot in the head and dumped in a ditch. But why?
Vermont locals are still trying to solve the case to this day.
The Wah Mee massacre is the deadliest mass murder in Seattle’s history. The Wah Mee club was a hub for illicit activities such as gambling, and operated out of the basement of a hotel. Many prominent Chinese figures in Seattle society frequented the club, which is probably why it was chosen as the location for an armed robbery.
On February 18, 1983, Kwan Fai “Willie” Mak, Benjamin Ng, and Tony Ng entered the club and shot 14 people. All but one died. The lone survivor, Wai Y. Chin, was able to testify against the three in court.
Mak and Benjamin Ng were caught and charged with 13 counts of murder six days after the massacre. Tony was charged in absentia the next month, and was subsequently added to the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. He was apprehended in Canada in October 1984.
Mak and Benjamin Ng were both found guilty of murder, and were sentenced to life in prison. Tony Ng was acquitted of murder, but found guilty of 13 counts of first-degree robbery and one count of assault with a deadly weapon.