“More Horrors Yet to Come”: How Newspapers Covered the Belle Gunness Murders

Belle Gunness & childrenBelle Gunness & children 03 Dec 1908, Thu The Salina Daily Union (Salina, Kansas) Newspapers.com

It started with a tragedy. In the early morning of April 28, 1908, a farmhouse near La Porte, Indiana, burned to the ground with a woman and three children inside.

Then it got unimaginably worse. As local authorities investigated the fire, another body was discovered—this one buried in a hog pen on the property. Further digging would unearth numerous other corpses and body parts in the days that followed.

The farmhouse had belonged to Belle Gunness, at the time simply believed to be a widowed Norwegian immigrant but now infamous for being one of the most prolific female serial killers in the United States.

Though estimates vary widely, Belle Gunness is believed to have killed at least a dozen people (and possibly upwards of 40) between 1884 and 1908.

Belle Gunness in the Headlines

When her crimes were finally discovered in 1908 after the Indiana farmhouse fire, the gruesome murders understandably made newspaper headlines nationwide for weeks.

What would it have been like to read about those shocking events as they unfolded each day? We turned to the Indiana papers on Newspapers.com™ to experience how people of the era would have learned about Gunness’s appalling crimes.

A Farmhouse Burns

The first of the news stories appeared in Indiana papers on April 28, 1908. They reported that a house fire in the pre-dawn hours was believed to have killed Belle Gunness and three children.

28 Apr 1908, Tue The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com

By the next day, the papers identified Ray Lamphere as a suspect in the deaths. Lamphere had worked for Gunness as a farmhand, but the two had recently had a falling out. Gunness repeatedly reported Lamphere to the authorities in the weeks leading up to the disaster, and shortly before the fire she visited her attorney to draw up a will—purportedly because she feared for her life.

29 Apr 1908, Wed The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com

More Corpses Appear

Then, a week later, on May 5, newspapers began breaking the news that multiple dismembered corpses had been unearthed on the Gunness property.

The discovery had come almost by chance. A man named Asle Helgelien had arrived in La Porte looking for his brother, who was known to have visited Belle Gunness. A search for clues about the missing brother on the burned Gunness property led to an examination of unusual depressions in the ground in a hog pen. Men started digging—and discovered one body after another.

05 May 1908, Tue Evansville Press (Evansville, Indiana) Newspapers.com

Newspaper coverage of the gruesome discoveries exploded the following day, May 6. Practically overnight, papers shifted from portraying Belle Gunness as a victim to identifying her as a killer who had lured countless well-to-do bachelors to their deaths using newspaper marriage ads.

06 May 1908, Wed The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) Newspapers.com

The body count only grew as the week progressed. “More horrors yet to come,” predicted one Indiana paper. And it was right. The corpse of Gunness’s teenage foster daughter, Jennie, was found among the buried bodies, as was Helgelien’s brother, and a number of unidentified victims.

The total number of murders ascribed to Gunness varies, though it’s suspected to be at least a dozen. After the bodies buried on the farm were found, people also began to suspect that Gunness was responsible for the deaths of her two husbands, who had both died under suspicious circumstances.

08 May 1908, Fri The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com

The Mystery Deepens

The investigation was complicated by conflicting evidence about whether Gunness had actually been killed or if she had faked her own death and escaped. Lending credence to the theory that Gunness had survived was her supposed corpse, which was mysteriously missing the head. Additionally, some who saw the body felt it was too small to be Gunness.

06 May 1908, Wed The South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana) Newspapers.com

Other news coverage, however, reported that the body had indeed been Gunness, based on dental work and jewelry found at the scene.

12 May 1908, Tue The Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Newspapers.com

With so much about the Gunness case unresolved, newspaper coverage eventually slowed. The story did return to the papers later that year, however, when Ray Lamphere was convicted in November of setting fire to the house, though not of murder.

01 Dec 1908, Tue The Hamilton County Ledger (Noblesville, Indiana) Newspapers.com

Even today, we don’t know much more than they did in 1908 about the Gunness murders. The total number of victims, the extent of Lamphere’s involvement, whether Gunness died or escaped, and much more is still a mystery. The question posed by one newspaper in 1908 still stumps us more than 110 years later: “Is she dead or a murder fiend?”

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Unsolved: The Wallingford Shoebox Murder

A mutilated corpse in a shoebox. Nationwide press coverage. A possible connection to a major historical event. Not to mention, a ghost . . .  

A baffling 130-year-old unsolved murder from Connecticut has all this and more.

Is your interest piqued? Join us as we use the historical papers on Newspapers.com to uncover the details of the strange and tragic Wallingford Shoebox Murder mystery.

Mon, Aug 9, 1886 – 1 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) · Newspapers.com

A Strange & Gruesome Discovery

On Sunday, August 8, 1886, Edward Terrell took his dog out berry hunting on the outskirts of the Connecticut town of Wallingford. They were on a little-used wooded path when the dog discovered a large wooden shoebox partially hidden in the bushes and became agitated. As Terrell neared the box to investigate, however, he was overwhelmed by the stench coming from it.

Perhaps with the memory of a dead body he had discovered a few weeks prior on his mind, the man left the box unopened and returned with a few others. When the group of men pried opened the box, they at first thought it held a dead animal. What it actually contained would send shockwaves through Wallingford for weeks.

Inside, wrapped in tar paper, was the nude torso of a man, with the head, arms, and legs cut off. Bloody straw lined the box’s interior.

The authorities were quickly sent for, and word of the discovery spread like wildfire among the town’s population of approximately 6,000.

Tue, Aug 10, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

What the Body Revealed

The medical examiner’s autopsy determined that the torso likely belonged to a man around age 25, weighing approximately 150 pounds. The time of death was placed 5-10 days prior.

From the amount of blood in the box, it was believed that the body had been placed inside immediately after the head and limbs were severed, and the cuts appeared to have been done by a knife or other non-serrated blade. Apart from the obvious dismemberment, there were no other visible wounds on the corpse. Speculation in the press that it had been the work of medical students was quickly discounted.

The body was buried the day after the discovery, but first the stomach was removed and sent to New Haven for examination. The analysis of the stomach would later reveal the presence of arsenic, leading to the conclusion that the man had been poisoned.

Sat, Aug 28, 1886 – 4 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

Possible Victims

With no head, the corpse proved impossible to identify. At first, the most common theory was that it was Albert J. Cooley, a veteran who had recently collected a large sum of pension money and hadn’t been seen since. (Cooley would soon be spotted alive, eliminating him as a possible victim.) Another potential victim was Charles Hall—an arsonist speculated to have been killed by his accomplices. Other missing men were investigated as well, but none were ever identified as the body.

Potential Clues

Over the following days and weeks, the investigation turned up a variety of potential clues.

The main piece of evidence was the box the torso was discovered in. It was a large wooden shoebox, about 30×18 inches (sometimes reported as 30×12 inches). Marked on the outside was the type of shoes it had originally contained. Also on the exterior were the remains of an address, but most of this had been removed, leaving only the manufacturer’s mark.

A week or so after the discovery, the constable on the case found pieces of scalp with dark hair near the box’s original location. Almost 2 months later, a farmer discovered arms and legs wrapped in tar paper that were assumed to belong to the corpse.

But these and other potential clues ultimately led nowhere. For instance, reports that a mysterious bag had been discovered in a local well came to nothing, because by the time the authorities had arrived to investigate, the bag had disappeared—if it had ever actually been there.

Thu, Aug 19, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

Prospective Witnesses

People claiming to have information relevant to the case came forward, but their stories didn’t provide any useful leads.

One was a boy who claimed to have seen the box more than a week before Terrell discovered it. Another was a young woman who reported that a stranger dressed in bloody clothes and carrying a large bundle had knocked on her door about a week prior, asking for the location of a certain pond. Never having heard of the pond in question, the woman directed him to a nearby river and reportedly saw him pass by a while later in clean clothes and without the bundle.

In October, a local woman was arrested and questioned but was released after it was determined she couldn’t shed light on the case.

A Startling Chicago Connection

The mysterious story made the local news every day in the first weeks, also getting coverage from major papers as far away as California. However, as is often the case in historical newspapers, the details of the murder differed from paper to paper.

After months of no solid leads, the murder dropped out of even local newspapers, except for occasional articles teasing new leads—which never seemed to actually materialize.

Sat, Aug 21, 1886 – 2 · The Morning Journal-Courier (New Haven, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

Then 6 months after the murder, in February 1887, the Wallingford Shoebox Mystery made it back into national newspapers. Investigation into the provenance of the shoebox—and of a valise (small suitcase) thought to be connected to the case—had led detectives to Chicago.

Seizing on the Chicago connection, newspapers speculated that the dead man was a suspect in the infamous Haymarket bombing of May 1886. The theory, which was tenuous at best, claimed that the man had been killed in Chicago after the bombing and his body shipped to Wallingford for disposal—supposedly because Connecticut had a reputation for unsolved murders.

Mon, Apr 25, 1887 – 4 · The Meriden Daily Republican (Meriden, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

The Case Goes Cold

After the rush of articles trying to tie the dead man to the Haymarket Riot, the Shoebox Murder mostly faded from newspapers in the following decades—apart from an annual mention in local papers on its anniversary and its being used as a comparison for other baffling local cases. In all, the state spent $686 (roughly $20,000 today) on the case but never discovered the identities of the murderer or the victim.

Then 40 years after the murder, in 1926, the police chief who had worked the case claimed in a newspaper interview that he knew the truth behind the unsolved mystery. However, he refused to reveal what he knew, allegedly to protect the murderer’s family. Although his claim didn’t reveal the perpetrator, it did lead one woman to come forward to question whether the victim could have been her father.

Sat, Aug 7, 1926 – 8 · The Journal (Meriden, Connecticut) · Newspapers.com

After the murder passed out of living memory, it only sporadically appeared in the papers until its 100th anniversary in the mid-1980s. However, reminders of the case lingered in local newspaper mentions of Wallingford’s “Shoe Box Road,” which had been named for the grisly discovery.

A Haunting in Wallingford

Most recently, in 2016, the murder was featured in an episode of the ghost-hunting reality show Kindred Spirits, which investigated a haunting in Wallingford. But unfortunately, the shoebox ghost didn’t use his television debut to reveal who he was or who had murdered him, leaving the case unsolved to this day.

Read news coverage of the Wallingford Shoebox Mystery on Newspapers.com. Or explore our archive of true crime stories.

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The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

One of U.S. history’s strangest crimes was a streak of sneaky haircuts that took place in 1942 Mississippi. The Pascagoula criminal was nicknamed “The Phantom Barber” for his creepy habit of cutting locks of hair off young girls while they slept.

Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber

Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

The Phantom Barber Strikes

The first victims of the nighttime barber were Mary Evelyn Briggs and Edna Marie Hydel. The two shared a room in Our Lady of Victories convent and woke in time to see a man crawling out the window. Mary was the sole victim to give a description of the perpetrator:

Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter

Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 9 · The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) · Newspapers.com

Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber)

Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber) Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

A few days later, six-year-old Carol Peattie awoke to find much of her hair missing. The screen on her window was cut. An adult woman, Mrs. Taylor, also fell victim to the unusual crime, and her account led to suspicions that the criminal used chloroform to keep the girls from waking.

Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber

Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber Wed, Jun 24, 1942 – 1 · The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

The intruder didn’t injure these girls. His break-ins consisted of slicing open window screens, cutting off the hair, and slipping away unseen. He did occasionally leave behind footprints, but they weren’t enough to secure his identity.

The Heidelberg Incident

Quite suddenly the Phantom’s escapades went from bizarre to brutal. He broke into the home of Terrell Heidelberg and attacked him and his wife with an iron pipe. In the face of such violence the search for the Phantom Barber increased.

Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber

Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 19 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.com

An Arrest is Made

At last a suspect was found. A man named William Dolan was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Human hair was found near his home, and he had some disagreement with the Heidelbergs that gave him motive for the assault.

William Dolan arrested as the

William Dolan arrested as the “Phantom Barber” Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – 1 · The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) · Newspapers.com

Dolan, called a “Nazi saboteur,” was known for having German sympathies during a time when war hung heavily on the public mind. Most were happy to see him arrested and slept soundly knowing the Phantom Barber was behind bars. But Dolan always maintained his innocence and was released early after passing a lie detector test. Early doubts about his true guilt have only grown in the years since. It is hard to say whether the real Phantom Barber was ever caught.

Find more on the Phantom Barber with a search on Newspapers.com.

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The Dreams That Uncovered a Murder

In May 1827, Maria Marten left home to elope to Ipswich with a man named William Corder. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, the elopement was not quite the scene of love and companionship that Maria expected. Her sorry fate was so famous it has since earned its own name: The Red Barn Murder. Perhaps oddest of all was that the whole thing was uncovered because of a dream.

William and Maria

Maria and William’s decision to marry seems to have come of necessity. They had an illegitimate child together, and though the child died William still seemed committed to the marriage. Their town of Polstead, England, had a building landmark known as the Red Barn where William and Maria planned to meet for their elopement. At William’s suggestion she left her house dressed in men’s clothes to evade prosecution for her illegitimate child, and was last seen on the way to the Red Barn to meet her love.

Dreams of the Barn

Her family didn’t see or hear from her for months. William offered a slew of excuses when asked about her lack of letters or visits home. Over the nearly year-long absence of Maria, concerns became suspicions, and suspicions became dreams:

Discovered Maria's death after a dreamDiscovered Maria’s death after a dream Sat, Jan 25, 1862 – 6 · The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser (Bristol, Bristol, England) · Newspapers.com

Against all odds, the dreams were not just the nighttime illusions of a worried mind. They’d led straight to Maria’s body and had brought a murder to light.

William’s Trial and Conviction

All signs pointed to William as the primary suspect, of course. He’d met her at the Red Barn, and there she’d stayed.

William Corder's arrest, claimed he did not know Maria MartenWilliam Corder’s arrest, claimed he did not know Maria Marten Sat, Aug 16, 1828 – 4 · Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England) · Newspapers.com

Despite his insistence that he was not the murderer, and that Maria had in fact died by her own hand, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Many papers printed the detailed description of his execution and the confession of guilt that came with it. As a gruesome footnote to the whole terrible situation, William’s body was afterward cut open and put on public display before being transferred to a hospital for dissection.

As strange as it may seem, the dreams of Maria’s step-mother brought justice to her murderer, and resolution to her loved ones. Were they the result of logical conclusions coming together in the woman’s sleep? Or were they proof of something a bit more mystical?

Find more on the Red Barn Murder with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Unsolved Mysteries: George Hodel and the “Black Dahlia”

In January of 1947, the mutilated body of a woman, drained of blood and severed at the waist, was found in an empty lot in Los Angeles, California. Though the victim known as the “Black Dahlia” was eventually identified as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, her killer was never brought to justice. The Black Dahlia case has since become one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in America.

Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 4 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 4 Years Sun, Jan 14, 1951 – Page 32 · The Times (Shreveport, Caddo, Louisiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 13 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 13 Years Fri, Jan 15, 1960 – 22 · The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 22 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 22 Years Sun, May 4, 1969 – Page 17 · Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach, Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.com

George Hodel, Murder Suspect

The case was notable for the brutal details of the murder, and for the resulting decades-long investigation that yielded hundreds of suspects but no firm answers. The disturbing history of the LA doctor often linked with this case, George Hodel, makes him a grimly compelling suspect. His is a name well-associated with the case thanks mostly to his son, ex-detective Steve Hodel.

Steve Hodel, Son of George Hodel, Accuses Father of Black Dahlia MurderSteve Hodel, Son of George Hodel, Accuses Father of Black Dahlia Murder Sun, May 11, 2003 – 21 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Hodel’s Suspicious History

George Hodel may have been a successful doctor, but he was not a good man. In 1945, he came under suspicion as the potential murderer of his secretary Ruth Spaulding, though her death was listed as an accidental overdose. He became a prime suspect in the 1947 Black Dahlia case when Short’s injuries revealed the murderer probably had surgical expertise. In 1949, two years after the Dahlia murder, Hodel’s daughter, Tamar Hodel, accused her father of incest. He was tried and acquitted of those charges, but the whole situation strengthened the case against him as a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder.

There were a few other peculiarities that seem to point at Hodel’s guilt. His black 1936 Packard resembled descriptions of a black car seen near the empty lot the same day Short’s body was found. He had a delivery of cement bags sent to his house for remodeling the day Short disappeared, and similar bags were found near her body. And only three years after Short’s death, Hodel conveniently left the country to live in the Philippines, where he would remain until 1990.

Steve Hodel’s Investigation

After George died in 1999, Steve Hodel followed the trail of evidence that he felt proved his father’s guilt. Among his discoveries were photos that looked like Elizabeth Short, though it was never confirmed they were actually her. Perhaps most suspect of all, transcripts were found in old police files from surveillance conducted on George Hodel’s home in 1950:

Transcripts found of electronic surveillance of George Hodel's homeTranscripts found of electronic surveillance of George Hodel’s home Tue, May 13, 2003 – Page 1-10 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

The tapes also indicate that George had deals with the police. Steve theorizes that his father evaded arrest and prosecution through his high-status connections and bribery.

Tamar Hodel Quote on George Hodel's guiltTamar Hodel Quote on George Hodel’s guilt Sun, May 11, 2003 – 15 · The Record (Hackensack, Bergen, New Jersey, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

As with all unsolved cases, there’s so much more to this story. There are more theorized connections between Hodel and Short, other suspects who might be responsible, and of course, a whole slew of facts and links lost to time that we will simply never know. For now, George Hodel is still only a suspect, and the Black Dahlia case remains unsolved.

Find hundreds of articles on the Black Dahlia murder and connected suspects, including George Hodel, with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Clever Cons: Princess Caraboo

In early 1817, a mystery woman showed up in the town of Almondsbury in Gloucester, England. She seemed disoriented, and when she spoke her words were incomprehensible babble. The only thing anyone could discern was that she called herself “Caraboo.”

Spoiler alert:

Princess Caraboo IllustrationPrincess Caraboo Illustration Sat, Jul 10, 1926 – 25 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com

The Hoax

The young lady was taken in by a Mr. and Mrs. Worrall, who tried to make sense of her. Several days after her arrival, a man named Manuel Eynesso (conveniently) appeared and said he could understand Princess Caraboo’s strange language. Her remarkable story, which he “translated,” was a sensational one, complete with pirates, death, and daring escape.

Caraboo's story, as translated by Manuel EynessoCaraboo’s story, as translated by Manuel Eynesso Sat, Jul 10, 1926 – 25 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com

The Reveal

The story certainly caught eyes; the princess Caraboo’s story gained her national attention and she became a favorite with local dignitaries. She enjoyed her fame for several months, but the very celebrity that gave her such a comfortable life proved to be her undoing. A woman named Mrs. Neale recognized “Princess Caraboo” as none other than her old serving maid, Mary Willcocks (sometimes called Mary Baker in contemporary reports). A (likely embellished) account of the shocking reveal is recounted in this 1924 article:

Mrs. Neale reveals Caraboo's true identityMrs. Neale reveals Caraboo’s true identity Sat, May 17, 1924 – Page 4 · The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) · Newspapers.com

Caraboo's true history as reported by the Exeter Flying PostCaraboo’s true history as reported by the Exeter Flying Post Thu, Jun 19, 1817 – 4 · The Exeter Flying Post or, Trewman’s Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, Devon, England) · Newspapers.com

And so the jig was up. Caraboo’s inscrutable language had been an invention, cobbled together nonsense mixed with real words she’d learned on the road before her arrival in Almondsbury. Her convincingly foreign behaviors had been picked up here and there from sailors and travelers. The man who had “translated” her story had been in on the ruse all along.

The papers had a hey-day repeating the truth of the matter and having a laugh at the gullible Gloucester town. One article, with a bit more sympathy, even joked that Mary Willcocks’ beauty may have had something to do with it:

A jab at the susceptibility of Dr. Wilkinson to the pretty Princess CarabooA jab at the susceptibility of Dr. Wilkinson to the pretty Princess Caraboo Sat, Jun 21, 1817 – 4 · The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser (Truro, Cornwall, England) · Newspapers.com

Life After “Caraboo”

A surprisingly soft-hearted Mrs. Worrall funded her travel to America, where Mary Willcocks seems to have used her fame to garner further attention with some small success. She also supposedly met and became a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte, but that story has never been confirmed.

Mary eventually returned to Europe and married Richard Baker, with whom she had a daughter. She also took up a career selling leeches to a hospital—a job that some found ironic:

Princess Caraboo after the hoaxPrincess Caraboo after the hoax Thu, Jun 21, 1866 – Page 4 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) · Newspapers.com

All in all, the one-time sensation “Princess Caraboo” seems to have settled down to live out the rest of her fairly normal life—under her real name, this time.

Find more about Princess Caraboo with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Unsolved Mysteries: The Disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh

Suzy LamplughSuzy Lamplugh Fri, Dec 5, 1986 – 6 · The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com


On July 28, 1986, real estate agent Suzy Lamplugh went to show property on Shorrolds Road in Fulham, England, to a client she called “Mr. Kipper.” Witnesses report seeing a woman of her description arguing with a man and then getting into a car. Her own vehicle, a white Ford Fiesta, was found apparently abandoned the night of July 28, with the keys gone and her purse still inside. That night Suzy was declared missing.

Suzy Lamplugh DisappearanceSuzy Lamplugh Disappearance Thu, Jul 31, 1986 – 28 · The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

In the thirty years since, her disappearance has remained a mystery. No evidence exists to link her disappearance to foul play (though it is assumed), and her remains have never been found. There are, however, a couple of theories as to who is responsible.


The first involves a man name Steve Wright, who worked on the same cruise ship as Suzy when she was a beautician prior to her real estate job. In 2008, decades after Suzy’s disappearance, Wright was convicted of five murders. People began to suspect that Suzy might have been an earlier victim of his, but there have been no strong connections made between him and Suzy’s murder.

The second theory is a bit stronger. This one involves John Cannan, a convicted killer who was released from a prison hostel days before Suzy disappeared. He was known by fellow inmates as “Kipper,” the same name used by the client Suzy met the day she vanished. He bore some resemblance to the police sketch of the mysterious Mr. Kipper. But again, all evidence was too circumstantial to bring Cannan to court, and he denied any involvement.

The search for clues to Suzy’s fate has been ongoing, but evidence continues to elude investigators. For now, Suzy’s disappearance remains an unsolved mystery.

Find more on this highly publicized story with a search on Newspapers.com

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Top 10 Horror Movies Inspired by True Stories

Horror movie fanatics have likely seen the phrase “Based on a true story” rolling in the opening credits of a horror film on more than one occasion. But Hollywood is known for taking liberties when producing movies based on true stories. So just how accurately did they portray what really happened?

We went to Newspapers.com to uncover the real events that inspired the Hollywood adaptations. Below are the top 10 horror movies inspired by the “spookier than fiction” true stories found on Newspapers.com!

1. Poltergeist (1982, 2015)

Based on the mysterious happenings within the walls of James Hermann’s home in Seaford, New York, in 1958.

Newspapers across the state recounted lids falling off screw-top bottles, porcelain figurines crashing to the floor, and dressers tumbling over in the Hermann house. Several theories were considered, ranging from leprechauns and psychic abilities to scientists’ theories on energy and subterranean streams. The most popular theory, however, was poltergeists.

The Daily News in New York reported the Hermann home had received over 300 letters from readers, many of which detailed what the Hermanns needed to do to rid their home of the spirit. Readers and reporters were so captivated by the case that updates on the home sometimes made the front page news.

Although police and parapsychologists examined the case extensively, no conclusions were made that explained the strange phenomena. After more than five weeks of furniture crashing and bottles toppling, the occurrences finally ceased.

A picture of the Hermann home, taken from The Daily News, March 09, 1958

A picture of the Hermann home, taken from The Daily News, March 09, 1958

2. Jaws (1975)

Rumored to be inspired by the true events of a series of shark attacks that killed four people and injured one along the coast of New Jersey in 1916.

Over the course of two weeks, three fatal shark attacks were reported within 100 miles of each other. The third and final attack left two individuals dead and one injured.  Victims included 12-year-old Lester Stilwell, 25-year-old Stanley Fisher, 23-year-old Charles Etting Van Sant, 17-year-old Charles Bruder, and 14-year-old Joseph Dunn (survivor).

Swimmers along the coast were advised to stay out of deep water until the “man-eating” sharks were killed. A $100 reward was put in place by the mayor for whoever killed the shark, and the U.S. Coast Guard joined the war on sharks.

Panic spread across the coast of New Jersey and New York as hordes of sharks were slaughtered. On one occasion, a man drowned near a New Jersey shore after calling for help and receiving no assistance because onlookers feared he was being attacked by a shark. Frantic citizens were catching and cutting open sharks to check for human remains, but whether or not the man eating shark was ever caught is unknown.

Image of one of the sharks that was killed in 1916. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1916

Image of one of the sharks that was killed in 1916. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1916

3. The Exorcist (1973)

Based on the story of a 14-year-old boy in Maryland who was possessed by the devil and exorcised by a Catholic priest in 1949.

Skeptical religious leaders and neighbors invited the seemingly possessed boy to stay with them, only to report furniture falling over and the boy’s bed moving on its own while he slept.

After seeking medical and psychiatric treatments, the boy’s family approached the Catholic Church. A Catholic priest devoted himself to the exorcism, living in the same home as the boy for more than two months and attempting the exorcism on more than twenty occasions. The exorcisms were attempted multiple times due to the boy’s intense reaction of screaming, cursing, and speaking in Latin.

Finally, with the last exorcism performed by the priest, the devil was successfully driven out and all supernatural manifestations ceased.

4. Psycho (1960) and Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Psycho and Silence of the Lambs are just two of the many films inspired by the true story of Ed Gein, who slaughtered two women and had remnants of fourteen cadavers in his home that he stole from the local graveyard.

Gein claimed to have been in a “dazed” state when he murdered his victims and stole cadaver parts from the graveyard. Even so, his first victim to be discovered was found with her decapitated body hanging upside down by the heels, badly mutilated. A human heart was found in a pot on the stove, leading investigators to suspect cannibalism.

Among the stolen remnants of the fourteen cadavers were ten heads, which had been skinned and preserved as masks. Several other items in Gein’s home were also made from human skin, including a vest, chair upholstery, and belts. Gein’s two murders, numerous grave robberies, and creation of clothing from human skin were said to be motivated by his desire to be a woman.

When news of his crimes broke in 1957, most residents in Gein’s neighborhood did not suspect him of these gruesome crimes, although a local barber did recall Gein pinching his belly and exclaiming he was “just about right for roasting” (News Record, 21 Nov 1957).

To learn more about the disturbing story of Ed Gein, visit the Topic Page on Newspapers.com here.

Mary Hogan (one of the victims) and Ed Gein. Stevens Point Journal, Nov 20, 1957

Mary Hogan (one of the victims) and Ed Gein. Stevens Point Journal, Nov 20, 1957

5. The Amityville Horror (1979, 2005)

Based on the true story of the paranormal activity the Lutz family experienced after moving into the home on Long Island where Ronald DeFeo shot his entire family during their sleep.

On November 13, 1974, at about 3 a.m., Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents, two brothers, and two sisters while they were sleeping by shooting them with a .35 caliber rifle. Despite the defense’s pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity, DeFeo was declared guilty in November 1975 and sentenced to life in prison.

Approximately one year after the tragedy and one month after DeFeo’s conviction, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the DeFeo home and moved in with their three children and dog. Only 28 days after moving in, the DeFeo home was yet again abandoned. The Lutz family had fled the property because of paranormal experiences, leaving behind the majority of their belongings and never returning to the home.

The paranormal incidents started with a tense atmosphere that increased aggression in the home and led to a more hostile environment. But it didn’t stop there. The Lutz’s daughter spoke of an imaginary friend that was described as a red-eyed pig; rotten smells and cold temperatures filled the home; mysterious red welts appeared on Kathy that were too hot to touch; doors and windows opened on their own; Kathy levitated out of her bed and took on the appearance of an old woman; and loud sounds filled the home around 3:15 a.m., the same time the DeFeo family was murdered.

After the Lutz family fled the home, Ronald DeFeo’s lawyer investigated the history of the home, wondering if demonic possession could have been a factor in DeFeo’s case. He found the home was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and the remains of a man who was cast out of Salem for practicing witchcraft were also on the property.

The original home the Lutz and DeFeo families resided in. Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1976

The original home the Lutz and DeFeo families resided in. Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1976

6. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Based on the true story of the “Enfield Poltergeist” in north London, 1977.

Claimed to be one of the most publicized cases of famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, the Enfield Poltergeist captivated many readers in and around London. A reporter of The Observer described the poltergeist activity of Peggy Hodgson’s home as beginning with strange noises and escalating to marbles and Lego’s flying through the air and furniture moving on its own. The paper also mentioned the poltergeist’s fixation on Mrs. Hodgson’s daughter, Janet, and described the paranormal experiences Mr. Graham Morris from the Daily Mirror and Police Constable Carolyn Heeps had while in Mrs. Hodgson’s home. The paranormal experiences ceased eighteen months later, in 1979.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, 2010)

Based on the mysterious deaths of approximately 80 Laotian refugees who died in their sleep in the 1980s.

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, a number of Southeast Asian refugees came to America following the Cambodian killing fields. In 1981, the CDC recorded 38 deaths due to “Nightmare Death Syndrome” among seemingly healthy Laotian refugees. Two years later, the number increased to 79, and the cause remained unknown. The popular belief was the men were dying due to being frightened to death in their sleep. Others, however, theorized the deaths were due to delayed effects of chemicals in the killing fields or maybe even heart failure.

8. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Based on Anneliese Michel, who was being exorcised of six demons and ultimately died of starvation in 1976.

Although the events took place in West Germany, the story of Anneliese Michel become world news. According to claims by the two priests performing the exorcism and her parents, Anneliese was possessed by six demons, including Hitler, Nero, Judas, and Lucifer. During the numerous months of exorcism rituals, Michel refused to eat and ultimately died of dehydration and starvation at a mere 70 pounds.

Doctors noted that she had a history of epilepsy and could have been saved a week prior to her death had medical attention been sought. The two priests, along with Michel’s parents, were charged with negligent homicide.

9. When a Stranger Calls (1979, 2006)

Based on Janett Christman, who was strangled to death by an intruder while babysitting in 1950.

Mr. and Mrs. Romack returned home to a grisly scene when they found their young babysitter, Janett Christman, dead in the living room, having been raped and strangled by the cord from an iron after putting up a fight. Two-and-a-half hours previous to Mr. and Mrs. Romack’s return, the police received a call from a panicked girl saying “Come quick,” but the call was cut off before the police could get an address, and the call was untraceable. The Romack’s three-year-old son was found sleeping in his room, unharmed. Although the police found footprints and fingerprints, as well as possible blood and hair samples of the assailant, they never found the killer.

10. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Although not broadly published in newspapers across the U.S., the Hartford Courant recounted the experiences the Snedeker family had while living in their new home, which had previously been a funeral home. The Snedekers claimed they had been touched and spoken to by a demonic spirit and had heard, smelled, and seen other unexplainable phenomena. Eventually, with the escalation of paranormal experiences, the Snedekers summoned the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who arranged for an exorcism to take place in their home.

The Snedekers fled their home prior to the exorcism and proceeded to write a book about their experiences with the help of the Warrens and horror novelist, Ray Garton. Neighbors and previous owners of the home remained skeptical and argued the Snedekers made up the story as a way to make money.

Learn more about these spooky true stories by searching Newspapers.com! All the clippings in this post can be found here. And look for our #SpookierThanFiction hashtag on social media.

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Lord Lucan’s Disappearance

This story could be considered a murder mystery, though not in the traditional “whodunit” sense. It features the wealthy John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan; a murder; and a disappearance that remains a mystery to this day.

Lord LucanLord Lucan Mon, Nov 11, 1974 – 6 · Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Pinellas, Florida, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

On November 7th,1974, the wealthy Veronica Duncan stumbled into a pub with a shocking tale. She accused her estranged husband, the Earl of Lucan, of murdering the family’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, before turning on her. She’d just managed to escape.

At once the search was on for Lord Lucan. However, the story was confused by the account of family friends, the Maxwell-Scotts. They said Lucan had come to their home after the incident and explained that he’d been trying to save his wife from a separate attacker. He fled because he knew his wife would suspect him, despite his innocence.

The most prevalent belief in the whole affair was that a murderous Lucan mistook the nanny for his wife in the dark and killed her by mistake. Whatever his intentions, it took a jury only half an hour to decide that Lord Lucan was, in fact, the murderer. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Lord Lucan declared guiltyLord Lucan declared guilty Fri, Jun 20, 1975 – Page 5 · The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) · Newspapers.com

Summary of the Lord Lucan troubleSummary of the Lord Lucan trouble Mon, Nov 11, 1974 – 27 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Lord Lucan’s whereabouts were never uncovered. He was declared dead in 1999, and his fate remains a mystery to this day.

Find more on the infamous Lucan case with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Murder or Suicide? The Mysterious Death of Annie Dorman

The girl was found dead on the bedroom floor, lying in the blood that pooled from two bullet holes marring her body.

The Times of Philadelphia, 10.06.1897

The Times of Philadelphia, 10.06.1897

Her name was Annie Dorman, and she died September 1, 1897. Accounts of the investigation into her death filled up newspaper columns for weeks, not only in the Pennsylvania papers near where the event occurred, but also as far away as South Dakota.

Why so much coverage of the death of an obscure teenage girl in the rural outskirts of Philadelphia?

Perhaps because no one could conclusively prove whether her death was suicide or murder.

The Facts
The facts of the case (as told by nearby Philadelphia newspapers) were these:

  • Annie Dorman, about 18 years old, had been living with her half-brother (John) and his family off and on for 5 years, working for them as a nanny and all-around maid. She was described by most who knew her as having a happy disposition.
  • On the day of Annie’s death, her sister-in-law, Lizzie, went to Philadelphia, and her half-brother was working outside, leaving Annie alone in the house with the four children.
  • In the afternoon, Annie put the baby to sleep downstairs and sent the other children outside to play in the fields.
  • Around 3:30 p.m. one of the farmhands heard four gunshots, the first two almost a minute apart and the second two in quick succession.

    Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

    Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

  • Around 4:30 p.m., one of the children found John in the barn and told him that Annie was dead. John rushed to the house and found Annie in his bedroom killed by gunshot wounds—one under her jaw and one in her chest. The one to her chest was later determined to be the cause of death. There were also two bullet holes in the ceiling and one in the wall.
  • John called for the coroner, who found Annie’s clothing undisturbed, except for her bodice, which had been unbuttoned. A later examination would show that she had not been sexually assaulted.
  • An old family revolver was found by Annie’s side. The gun was old-fashioned and rusty but had been sitting loaded on a shelf in the bedroom for two years.

The Investigation
As the investigation into Annie’s death progressed, more questions seemed to arise than were answered, leaving no one sure whether it was a homicide or suicide.

Supporting the claim of suicide was the fact that although Annie was generally described as happy, there were also accounts of her being “sensitive” and having “gloomy periods.” Annie had reportedly been having problems with her boyfriend, and she apparently hated her work situation with her half-brother’s family. Her sister-in-law had even reportedly choked her and chased her with a broom in the past.

The Times of Philadelphia, 09.07.1897

The Times of Philadelphia, 09.07.1897

There were smaller details that seemed to point to suicide as well: Like the fact that the dogs hadn’t barked, implying no stranger had entered the home. Or that the room was in nearly perfect order, and that no blood had been tracked through the bedroom or house.

But those who believed it was murder also seemed to have ample evidence. The gun was old-fashioned and hard to cock, which made it seem unlikely that Annie could have used it to shoot herself multiple times. And after shooting herself in the jaw, would she have been able to shoot herself in the chest as well? Not to mention that if it were suicide, how were the other bullet holes in the ceiling and wall to be explained? And what about the fact that the Dormans had cleaned up Annie’s blood and burned her clothes before the evidence could be investigated?

Theories ran wild.

The Conclusion
Ultimately, an inquest was held on October 5, more than a month after Annie’s death, but the results were not very satisfying. The jury gave an open verdict, ruling simply that Annie had died of wounds “inflicted by some person or persons unknown.”

Though murder had not been ruled out, the investigation into Annie’s death never went any further, due to a lack of funds, manpower, and evidence. If there was a murderer, he or she was never found.

Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an explanation of Annie’s death is this scenario proposed in an Philadelphia Inquirer editorial:

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

What do you think? Was it murder or suicide?

Read the newspaper accounts of Annie Dorman’s death on Newspapers.com. You can also view Annie’s memorial on Find A Grave.

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