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Famous cold cases: Police nemeses, tabloid fodder

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Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 2002.

(Court TV) -- Some cases are never solved -- and continue to hold a fascination for the public. Take a look at some of the most famous cold cases:

The case of the Black Dahlia
Like many young women before her, Elizabeth Ann Short left her small Massachusetts town for Tinseltown, to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She was 19 when she arrived and 22 when her pale, nude, blood-drained body, severed in two, was found in a vacant lot in Hollywood.

Her jet-black hair, black lacy clothes and penchant for wearing bright red nail polish and lipstick earned her the nickname, the Black Dahlia. According to some reports, Elizabeth was known to acquaintances as the Black Dahlia before her murder in January 1947. Others say the name was concocted by journalists to sensationalize the crime.

The name is borrowed from the movie, The Blue Dahlia, starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd, which was released a few years before the murder. The film is a classic amnesia film noir about a Navy vet accused of murdering his wife.

The grisly nature of the murder, coupled with rumors about her allegedly promiscuous lifestyle, kept the investigation at the forefront of newspaper headlines for months. Her murder also sparked one of the greatest manhunts in California history.

According to John Gilmore, author of "Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder," the rumors about Elizabeth being "flaky and promiscuous" were fabricated by the press and by those who knew her loosely. The coroner who examined Elizabeth's tortured body reported that she had a genital defect that rendered her incapable of having standard intercourse.

Gilmore surmised in his book that before the coroner's report was handed to the police working on the case, only Elizabeth and her mother knew about her sexual limitations. Knowledge of this fact only added to her mother's pain in the few weeks following the murder when the press portrayed her daughter as a man-chaser and a hooker.

The police implored her mother, however, in the interests of justice, to keep her genital defect confidential, so as they would recognize, beyond doubt, a true confession when they found the killer.

Another author, Mary Pacios, who had grown up in the same neighborhood as Elizabeth in Medford, Massachusetts, wrote a book about the Black Dahlia to "set the record straight." Mainly motivated by James Ellroy's fictionalized version of the killing, she set out to "clean up" Elizabeth's reputation. Pacios proposed that Elizabeth had been living a free life in Hollywood during the war, and that the press had held her up as an example of what could happen to a woman who did not return to the home now that the war was over.

America was recovering and recouping from WW II, and hoped to return to normalcy. But Elizabeth's brutal murder rattled these hopes, Pacios concluded, and her reputation and lifestyle were smeared to appease the collective horror and nerves of a country rebuilding itself.

To the horror of some Hollywood coterie, Pacios fingered Orson Welles as a possible suspect in Elizabeth's murder. She reported that he had previously been accused of rape by women who had worked with him, and that he had allegedly paid off a rape charge, prior to Elizabeth's death. She believes that Welles was suffering from a mental illness, which she terms a "diphasic personality." Sufferers channel creative frustration into aggression, according to Pacios.

She outlines many coincidences between Welles' work and the murder of the Black Dahlia, but what convinced her the most, was a set design of a carnival fun house which was designed and constructed by Welles for his film "The Lady from Shanghai." Although unused in the movie, the fun house was decorated with female body parts, a mannequin face similarly mutilated to Elizabeth's, and a woman's body cut in two.

All in all, about 50 people  men and women  professed to killing the Black Dahlia. Some wanted to cash in on the notoriety of the case, others were drunk or in need of psychiatric help, and one man, looking for his wife, confessed as he thought he would get his face in the paper and subsequently find his wife. But to this day, nobody has been charged.

The Hall-Mills murder
The Hall-Mills murder was one of the messiest, most scandalous, and most complicated murder cases in the history of the state of New Jersey. The year was 1922 and Reverend Edward W. Hall, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in New Brunswick, and Eleanor R. Mills, 34, were found murdered, lying side-by-side near a crab apple tree in De Russey's Lane, a well-known lover's lane spot.

Their clothes were in perfect order and there were scattered pieces of torn paper around the bodies, later identified as love letters to each other. Both the reverend and Eleanor were married to other people, but police discovered that the whole parish knew that the two of them were having an affair.

What the police anticipated would be a relatively simple case to solve turned out to be a murder mystery with an inconsistent assembly of suspects, sightings, alibis and motives. The Ku Klux Klan, the victims' spouses, families, neighbors and jealous members of the parish were all possible suspects. Two years later, despite the volume of testimony pointing to the reverend's wife, her brothers and cousin, the jury deliberated only five hours and the verdict was not guilty. No one else was ever charged for the murders.

The Zodiac killer
A serial murderer not only dominated the headlines in the San Francisco Bay area for 10 years, he extorted no fewer than 21 bylines.

The Zodiac Killer taunted police and reporters and the public with his killings, as well as sending cryptic ciphers and letters to the press, demanding their publication.

He was a serial killer who appeared to have no modus operandi, no pattern in the victims he chose, and left few traces at murder scenes.

He was known to have killed six people between 1966 and 1970, and continued over the next few years to taunt the press and the public with his letters. He is accountable for no known deaths after 1970, although in one of his letters he claimed to be responsible for close to 40 homicides.

Theories abound as to who is the Zodiac. Only Robert Graysmith, a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle when the Zodiac began his crime spree and who subsequently became friends with investigators and obsessed with the case, wrote a book publicly identifying the killer.

In his 1986 book, "Zodiac," Graysmith gave the killer a pseudonym, Richard Starr, however, this "suspect" died in 1992 and so Graysmith later identified the man by his real name in his follow up book, "Zodiac Unmasked." The author believed the Zodiac was a man named Arthur Leigh Allen, a reported sociopath and convicted pedophile. He claimed that police had long suspected Allen as the Zodiac killer.

At this time, the case still remains open. Even although it's been more than 30 years since the Zodiac's last known killing, it seems as firmly implanted in people's memories as it was then and was one of the first cases that the public and the media murmured when the recent Washington D.C. area sniper left a tarot card.

Coincidently, the Zodiac threatened in one of his letter's that "school children make nice targets, I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning  pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out," which echoes the D.C. sniper's shooting of a 13-year-old after he was dropped off at his Maryland school, and the sniper's follow-up threat that "your children are not safe."

Whatever happened to D.B. Cooper?
On the night before Thanksgiving 1971, a rather nondescript, middle-aged, olive-skinned man boarded North West Airlines Flight 305 at around 4:15 p.m. at the Portland International Airport. He paid $20 cash for his ticket. En route to Seattle, the man, who has come to be known as D.B. Cooper, handed airline attendant Flo Schaffner a handwritten note.

About four hours later D.B. Cooper pulled off the only successful major skyjacking in U.S. history.

D.B. Cooper reclaimed the note he handed to Schaffner, so its exact wording is lost in history. But according to Max Gunther, author of "D.B. Cooper: What Really Happened," Schaffner, and the colleague to whom she showed the letter, distinctly remember it. It explained that the man had a bomb in his case and that he wanted $200,000 in $20 bills; that he demanded four parachutes, along with the money, delivered to him when the plane landed in Seattle; and he said that if his demands were not met, he would detonate the bomb and blow up the plane.

When the plane landed in Seattle, the airline had the money (serial numbers already recorded by the FBI) and the parachutes waiting. D.B. Cooper released everyone except one steward, Tina Mucklow Larson, and both pilots.

He ordered the plane to be refueled and flown to Mexico at no more than 10,000 feet, agreeing to another refueling stop in Reno, Nevada. He demanded the wing flaps be down and the rear stairs lowered. All measures to keep the plane at a safe speed and easy access for jumping out of the rear stairs.

The pilots reported that the plane's gauges recorded a slight bump in pressure at 8:13 p.m., as they flew over Southwest Washington. This is when the pilots and the FBI figure Cooper jumped, as they presume that his jumping caused the stairwell to snap shut then open again affecting the plane's pressure guage. The money, two parachutes and D.B. Cooper were missing when the plane landed for refueling in Reno.

Soldiers, police, volunteers and FBI agents searched the area  which is some of the densest forest in the U.S.  for 18 days by foot, planes, boats and helicopters. But not until 1980 was any trace of Cooper found.

A little over $5,000 of Cooper's spoils were discovered by a boy picnicking with his family along the banks of the Columbia River in southwestern Washington state, on February 10, 1980. Then, in 1995, a woman named Jo Weber claimed that her husband, Duane Weber, confessed to being D.B. Cooper on his deathbed after 17 years of marriage.

Ralph Himmelsbach, the FBI agent assigned to the case, remains steadfast in his belief that Cooper would not have survived  whether he was killed by the cold, the powerful turbulence on the way down, or died from a lack of food or survival gear in the forest.

Himmelsbach may refer to him as "a dirty, rotten crook," but D.B. Cooper has achieved almost cult status. And just in case he ever does show up, air-piracy charges await him in U.S. District Court.

The Tylenol tamperings
Another high profile case which remains unsolved is the Tylenol tamperings that killed seven people between September 29 and October 1, 1982, in Chicago's West Side. There was not an immediate link that all victims had died after consuming Tylenol tablets, but once the connection was made, Johnson & Johnson, the company that manufactures Tylenol, went into crisis management overdrive.

In fact, the case is widely regarded in marketing and public relations circles as an example of prodigious crisis management by a company staring down bankruptcy, rather than remembered for its tragedy.

Autopsy reports on the victims determined that each had died after ingesting an Extra Strength Tylenol capsule laced with cyanide. It was also determined that the killer had emptied about 20 or 30 Tylenol capsules, refilled them with crystalline potassium cyanide, and placed the tampered products on store shelves, apparently on a Wednesday afternoon.

The Tylenol tampering case reportedly received more television news air time than any incident since the assassination of President Kennedy. The killer has never been caught. However, prior to 1982, tamper-proof capsules and tamper-proof packaging were virtually unknown, and now consumers are warned regularly, "Do not use if safety seals are broken."

Anthrax scare
Another random and public panic that swept through the country was the anthrax scare that took center stage just weeks after September 11th. Within a month of the terrorist attacks, the Bush administration released an ominous statement that there was almost a 100 percent chance of an anthrax or other bio/germ warfare attack on the American people.

The evening news reported on October 15, 2001, that an anthrax contaminated letter was delivered to the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Later that evening the media reported that a child, who had visited the ABC/NEWS offices in New York, was also infected.

Over the next few months, major TV networks, major newspapers, and the offices of Democratic senators received anthrax tainted letters.

Some scientists believed that people may have actually received anthrax letters unknowingly, and not fallen ill due to the poor quality of the anthrax. The FBI put up a $2.5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons responsible for the anthrax-laced mail.

The feelings of hopelessness and vulnerability that swept the country post September 11th were only exacerbated by the anthrax scare and continued to keep the country on edge. Overall, five people died and 13 others fell ill due to the anthrax-by-mail attacks, with residents from Florida to New York contaminated. To date, no arrests have been made. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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