In every police department, you’ll find a very special file cabinet. This cabinet holds the cold cases – crimes that were never solved, left on hold until new evidence presents itself. Police officers have a tough relationship with these cases, because they remind them every day that some bad guys get away. Even the coldest case can warm up eventually, though, and in this article we’ll spotlight some amazing unsolved crimes that broke open after years or even decades. These are some of the longest cold cases in history that eventually got solved.
Pretty Maria, 1957
Holding the current record for the longest cold case that was solved is the murder of seven-year-old Maria Ridulph in 1957. The young girl vanished from her Sycamore, Illinois home one winter without a trace, and her decomposing body was found the next year. A suspect was identified – a young man named John Tessier – but he had an ironclad alibi: he was on a train at the time, and he had witnesses to back him up. The cops let him go and the gruesome murder was never solved. However, science has a way of punishing the guilty, and when Ridulph’s corpse was exhumed in 2011 for additional DNA testing, it pointed the finger at Tessier again. His train alibi was also disproved when a girlfriend found his ticket unpunched. Now going by the name Jack McCullough, he was arrested in Seattle and charged with the crime in September of 2012. After 55 years, Maria Ridulph’s family will know justice.
Maurin Double Murder, 1985
This particularly grisly double murder shocked the tiny town of Ethel, Washington in 1985. On Christmas Eve, the bodies of elderly couple Minnie and Ed Maurin were found in a wooded area just outside of town. The pair had been missing for several days, but it wasn’t until investigators found their car that a full investigation was launched. The upsetting thing about this case was that prime suspects were identified early on – the Riffe brothers, a pair of layabouts who moved to Alaska soon after the crime. The police could never prove that John and Rick Riffe kidnapped the Maurins and forced them to withdraw $8,500 in cash from a local bank before blasting them both with a shotgun, and it looked like the scumbags would get off scot free. Then in 1991, new information came in through an informant and police started rebuilding the case against the Riffe brothers, finally having enough to prosecute in 2012.
Diane Maxwell Jackson Murder, 1969
In December of 1969, Diane Maxwell Jackson, a young Houston single mother, showed up for her job as a telephone operator at Southwestern Bell. Unfortunately, she never made it to the switchboard. An unknown assailant grabbed her, forced her into an abandoned shed and raped her before brutally strangling and stabbing her to death. Police could find no suspects and the evidence was filed away in the cold case bin. In 1989, the victim’s brother persuaded police to reopen the case, at which point latent fingerprints from Maxwell’s car were scanned into a database. In 2003, a Texas print technician compared them to the FBI’s database and got a match – James Ray Davis, a man who had just got out of prison nine days before the murder. When Davis was tracked down, he confessed to the crime and was sentenced to life in prison.
El Segundo Double Cop Murder, 1957
On an ordinary night in 1957 in sleepy El Segundo, California, officers Milton Curtis and Richard Phillips pulled over a car for running a red light. It would be the last traffic stop they would ever make, as the driver pulled out a revolver and shot them both. The driver was a man named Gerald Mason, who had stolen the car after kidnapping four teenagers and raping one of them. The murder weapon was found in a back yard the next year and traced to a purchase receipt from a “George D. Wilson,” but after police investigated every single person with that name in the country the case was relegated to the archives. However, advances in fingerprinting technology led to a search in 2002 that linked the stolen car to Gerald Mason, now a retired grandfather in South Carolina. He pled guilty and was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.
Jessica Keen Murder, 1991
Losing a child is the most horrific thing that can happen to a parent, and it’s even worse if the killer is left to roam free. Ohio teen Jessica Keen went from straight-A student and cheerleader to reform school after a boyfriend led her off track, but nobody ever suspected she’d come to the horrific end that she did. Keen’s body was found brutalized in a cemetery 20 miles from her school in 1991. Her boyfriend was the first suspect, but DNA cleared him. It wasn’t until 2008 that a random DNA match found the real perpetrator - Marvin Lee Smith, Jr. He was brought in and confessed to raping Keen and beating her to death with a tombstone. He was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison.
Chandra Levy Murder, 2001
The disappearance of Washington, D.C. intern Chandra Levy opened up a huge can of worms in the halls of power, with California Representative Gary Condit’s political career eventually being destroyed by allegations of an affair. When her skeleton was found in Rock Creek Park in 2002, a whole new wave of speculation began. After all the hubbub died down, though, Levy’s murder sat in the cold case file for seven years. Finally, a suspect was found – an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, Ingmar Guandique, had been brought in for assaulting two other women in the park at around the same time. The prosecution alleged that Guandique, a member of El Salvador’s notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, tied Levy up and left her to starve to death in the park. He was found guilty and sentenced to 30 to life.
Dennis Piernick Murder, 1983
The murder of Dennis Piernick, a gay man in Salt Lake City, was a shocking event for the city in 1983. Yet when he was found in his apartment dead of multiple vicious stab wounds to the head and chest, police quickly came to a brick wall. Because coming out as publicly gay could have serious repercussions in the conservative city, many key witnesses refused to come forward. But when a new detective was assigned to the case in 2011, he went back and found that people were now willing to talk. The trail led to a man named Rodney Van Komen, and the evidence was strong enough to convict him, but unfortunately Van Komen died in a car accident in 2005.
Martha Moxley Murder, 1975
Another unusual cold case with a political connection (to the Kennedy family), the slaying of teenage girl Martha Moxley went hot and cold for decades. On the night before Halloween, Moxley was seen with a young man named Thomas Skakel (Ethel Kennedy's nephew) at a party. The next night, she was found under a tree in her back yard, bludgeoned and stabbed to death with a broken golf club. Skakel had a weak alibi but police didn’t have enough evidence to bring him in, and the case languished for years. When William Kennedy Smith was accused of rape in 1991, allegations that he was at Skakel’s house the night of the party brought the Moxley case back to the public eye. Finally in 1998, Skakel was brought to trial and convicted, although he is trying to appeal.
Cynthia Epps Murder, 1994
This one’s especially grisly. When Buffalo, New York cops responded to a call from a local man who reported finding a body in his back yard, they were horrified to find the hacked-up corpse of single mother Cynthia Epps crammed into a nightstand. The police had no leads, and the case went cold soon after. However, with advances in DNA technology, a routine comparison matched DNA found on Epps’s body with DNA from another rape case – a rape perpetrated by James Fountain, the man who had “discovered” Epps’ body. When detectives presented him with the evidence, Fountain confessed that after having sex with the victim, he stabbed her to death and attempted to hide the body.
Next: 10 Accidental Inventions
Lil’ Miss Murder, 1988
In March of 1988, young Lisa Marie Kimmel planned to drive back to her parents’ house in Billings, Montana with a stop along the way to pick up her boyfriend. She never made it, and eight days after her disappearance her body was found floating in the North Platte River just outside of Casper, Wyoming. Her car, a cherry ’88 Mazda CRX with a “LIL MISS” vanity plate, was missing. The only piece of evidence was a letter of apology left on her grave, signed “Stringfellow Hawke.” That was the lead character's name in the TV series "Airwolf." In 2002, cold case investigators ran the DNA on Kimmel’s rape kit, which led them to Colorado prisoner Dale Wayne Eaton. Eaton’s handwriting matched the Stringfellow Hawke letter and the Mazda CRX was found buried on his property, closing the case.