No one is naive enough to think that TV detectives get things right all the time. Real life is confused and complicated, and there are plenty of mysteries, from deaths to sightings to strange numbers. But sometimes you see a mystery and can’t help but think things didn’t go as you might expect…
The Killer of Ken McElroy
On June 10th 1981, a man called Ken McElroy was killed in Skidmore, Missouri, as he sat in his truck. He was killed by the gunfire of two people, but luckily there were over forty witnesses to the killing. There must have been an easy case for the police to make right?…
Wrong! Actually, no one was ever convicted, because every single person denied witnessing anything.
Ken McElroy was not a popular man you see. He had been charged twenty one times for crimes ranging from assault to paedophilia, and was almost universally hated. In 1980 he’d accidentally shot a shopkeeper while trying to not-so-accidentally threaten him and got out on appeal. This led to him appearing, heavily armed, in a bar, threatening people, and meant on June 10th the townsfolk of Skidmore had gathered to discuss with the sheriff what to do to defend themselves.
Apparently, they decided not to mention his murder…
The Bear Brook Murders
On November 10th, 1985, a hunter in Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire (USA) found a metal drum. It was capable of holding fifty gallons of liquid, but sadly in this instance was discovered to contain two bodies, one of an adult woman, the other a young girl - a subsequent examination discovered they were related. To this day the identities have never been discovered, and no murderer was ever caught, despite the bodies clearly having been killed. Normally, that might be where things ended. But in 2000 another metal drum was discovered…
The second drum was found one hundred feet from the first drum. Yes, another 55 gallon drum, and inside two more bodies, this time both of children, one of which was related to the first couple. This fact suggests the drum had been sat there for the whole of the 1985 investigation, and the fifteen years after, but was missed. Still, DNA could only say the woman was related to two of the children, but not how, so a mother, aunt, etc., and no one knows who they are.
The likeliest solution came via the DNA discovery that the fourth child, unrelated to the rest, was likely the daughter of Robert Evans, a convicted murderer… but he died in 2010 before any case could be put or any evidence found.
“America's Unknown Child”
You may be aware that speed is vital in solving crimes - if you can get to evidence early things get a lot better for the police. Hold that thought.
In winter 1957, a man in woods near Fox Chase, Philadelphia made a terrible discovery: a JC Penny box, containing the body of a young boy wrapped only in a blanket. But the man who made the discovery wasn’t a dog walker out in the woods, he was actually trapping animals - and he was so scared the police would be angry at him, that he left the box and didn’t say anything. Luckily the next person to find it would report it right?…
Actually they didn’t. A few days passed when a young man who claimed he was interested in animals (but was actually more interested in spying on the girls in a nearby residential school) found the box, but of course didn’t say anything either because of his own wrong doing - so he left it too and only reported it later when conscience got the better of him.
Police searched far and wide to find the identity of the boy, let alone who killed him and put him in a box, but both came to nothing. To this day he lives up to his reputation as American’s "Unknown Child". Whether vital clues were lost in the delay we will never know.
The Brass Handles Murders
The Brass Handles Murders are the ultimate in a community sticking together, but really in the worst way possible. In March 2006 two small time gangsters walked into a pub in Salford, intent on a bit of gangland killing. Richard Austin and Carlton Alverange took guns into the place during a busy football match, using a spotter to direct them. But when people realised, the regulars in the bar pulled the guns away from the killers, shot them and dumped them outside, where they died.
It was a busy pub, filled with people watching football, but you’ve been reading this article for a few minutes so you know where this is going....
Everyone mysteriously ducking or looking the other way.
The man the killers had tried to assassinate had been wounded, but survived, and the man who arranged it fled abroad, but was caught and locked up. Alive.
Tara Calico and the Polaroid
Tara Calico vanished in 1988 while out riding a bike near her home in New Mexico. What happened next spawned one of the most gut-wrenching mysteries and photographs of the modern era.
On June 15th 1989 a woman shopping in Port St. Joe, Florida, found a Polaroid photo on the ground. She picked it up, and found an image of two bound and gagged people staring back at her, a young woman and a young boy. Some later attempts unofficially identified the lady as Tara Calico, but the identity of the young boy is still unknown. Why a photo of two bound people was lying on the car park asphalt no one knows, but she rang the police and got a description of the vehicle the photo was with: a white Toyota van with no windows and a mustachioed driver.
Police set up road blocks, but the van was never seen again. No answer was ever given to why that picture was taken, if it was connected to the van, if it was really Tara or what happened between her disappearance and after. Just a picture of two people desperately staring out that was found by total chance and didn’t lead to anything. Whoever they were, they were lost.
Well that's it for this week folks - we're writing more as we speak. Thanks for checking-in and please give us a like if you enjoyed it.
P.S - If you've still not grabbed your ticket to one of our Manhunt events, there's still time to put that right here: Manhunt Event tickets
Any city which began life as a Roman fort has a lot of history, but it’s not all kings, battles and building the longest canal you know. Over the centuries some unusual things have happened in Cardiff, and here are ten of the most interesting. We could have mentioned the cat café, but this is a little part of the internet without kittens.
1. The Captain came from Cardiff
A recent advertising campaign is trying to make you think there is only one ‘Captain’, and that is Captain Morgan. Once a privateer of the high seas, then Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, now a mascot to flog (admittedly very nice) rum, Captain Morgan has an image that veers between cartoon thigh slapping and pulse quickening history. Thing is, Henry Morgan was most probably born in Cardiff before he sailed away. Sadly there isn’t a Captain Morgan day in Cardiff where everyone drinks the stuff, although we shouldn’t give advertisers anymore ideas.
2. The last man to be hanged in Wales committed the crime in Cardiff… but he was probably innocent
September 3rd, 1952, and police find the body of Lily Volpert, a Bute Street pawnbroker who had been murdered with a razor. The investigation initially has problems, as evidence may have been damaged, but goes more smoothly once Harold Cover testifies that he witnesses sailor Mahmood Mattan leaving the shop on the fateful night. Mattan was tried, convicted and hanged in Cardiff prison… the last hanging in Wales. Unfortunately for all involved, there’s a good chance he was innocent and his conviction was thrown out by the Court of Appeal in 1998, not that it did him any good.
3. There’s a shrine to a man who didn’t exist
In the unlikely event you haven’t watched BBC sci-fi spin off Torchwood yet – maybe you’re saving it for your retirement – then spoiler warning. But otherwise, there’s a shrine in Cardiff to a man called Ianto Jones, who is notable for both saving the world and for only existing as a fictional character in said BBC show. This is a touching tribute to the power of film, and not weird at all. Oh, right, no it is - that’s why it’s on this list.
4. Someone once hid £10 notes around Cardiff
In early 2017, Matt Callanan decided to bring some good cheer to people by hiding envelopes with ten pound notes inside around the middle of Cardiff. The twist was, if you found one (guided by social media), then you had to spend it on someone else to cheer them up. The #Tenner4Good campaign was inspired by meeting actor Bill Murray, and winning on a scratch card right after…
5. Hannibal Lecter studied at Cardiff Castle… sort of
Obviously famed literary bad guy Hannibal Lecter doesn’t exist, but if you’ve got this far in the list you know reality isn’t required. But Anthony Hopkins, the actor who made the role world famous, does exist and he studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and that was in the grounds of Cardiff Castle (and if you think the grounds don’t count, I have a few Norman lords who’d disagree.)
6. There’s a nightclub named after a rogue medieval lord
Clwb Ifor Bach is what would once have been called a ‘popular nightspot’, assuming the internet had been around in the 1950s (when it would still have been filled with cats and gambling.) But have you ever wondered who Ifor Bach was? Actually, he was a Lord of Senghenydd who attacked Cardiff Castle in 1158, and even carted away the Earl of Gloucester and his family, such was the argument over land which the Earl tried to take off Bach. Party in the club and stick two fingers up at medieval overlords.
7. Cardiff’s most notorious unsolved murder was almost solved by a modern ‘train’ spotter
The utter tragedy of the murder of Carol Stephens in 1959 has lived through the decades. A six year old girl, sent on a mission to a local shop, who never came home, the worst nightmare of every parent. No one was ever convicted, but the case was ever so nearly solved by chance, and then lost to the same. Carol’s friend Kevin Northcutt had, by pure fluke, been walking round the area she vanished writing down the number plates of all the cars, like a modern day train spotter. A crucial and bizarrely fortunate event but… by another pure chance he didn’t write down the plate of a green car with a mystery man parked near Carol’s home and never seen again.
8. Cardiff’s Billy the Seal was female
It can be difficult sexing an animal, especially one that can club you hard like a seal (and that should never, ever happen the other way round.) Billy the Seal was such a mascot of the Victoria Park Zoo, and of Cardiff, that the council owned him and fishermen fed him; there’s even a statue of him. Only problem was, when he died they discovered Billy was a lady. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little gender fluidity.
9. Cardiff residents can get a key to the castle
You’ve heard of keys to the city, and someone at Cardiff Castle’s ‘let’s get people visiting’ department has too, because they’ve started the Key to the Castle. The offer (correct according to their website as we write this, complain to them if it’s changed), is “if you live or work in Cardiff you can apply for a Castle Key which gives you free admission” for 3 years. Which is a substantially more awesome offer than a toy panda with your panda sponsorship when you want to cuddle a real panda. I’m not bitter.
10. Cardiff has a Time Rift
The well known documentary series Doctor Who has chronicled in great depth the Time Rift in the middle of the city centre, which has been used on… sorry, what’s that? Doctor Who isn’t real? Then how do the Daleks move? Oh, blokes in suits. Well, err, excuse me I need to rewrite this before anyone notices. Err… Cardiff is central to the modern Doctor Who mythos. Okay? And the man who invented (pah) Daleks, Terry Nation, came from Cardiff.
And a bonus number 11. Cardiff hosts a city-wide virtual murder-mystery...
If you’ve enjoyed these weird and wacky facts then you’ll enjoy Cardiff’s new city-wide Manhunt game. It’s happening on the 10th of June this year and players get to hunt around town, finding witnesses, eliminating suspects and generally trying to catch a killer. Sound good? Tickets are £39 per team of 6 (although you can play with as few as 2 detectives!) and can be grabbed by hitting the button below!