Monuments to mystery: 5 memorial sites that remember unsolved crimes

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THERE are countless monumentsand stories celebrating the bravery and successes of crime-fighters and
detectives -- for good reason, of course. But there are also a number of memorials to events that have
gone unsolved to this day, despite the best efforts of investigators. From graves that hold
unidentified corpses to monuments that still get covered in mysterious graffiti, these monuments to
mystery remember stories of crimes that no one was able to solve. Here are five:


Ingolstadt, Germany

This austere German plinth remembers a haunting case that would come to involve incest,
psychics and post-mortem decapitation. German farmer Andreas Gruber lived on the remote Hinterkaifeck
farmstead with his wife, their daughter and two grandchildren, one of which was suspected to have been
fathered by Gruber himself. Gruber began noticing strange occurrences such as finding footsteps
leading out of the woods, but not back in, and hearing footfalls in the attic. Despite this, Gruber
never went to the police and shortly thereafter, he and his family were brutally murdered. After
discovering the crime, the police found they had no leads as to the killer, and after dead-ends in
every direction they had the victims heads removed and sent to Munich for review by a psychic.
Unsurprisingly, this grim tactic didn’t provide any further traction in the case. The heads were lost
during World War II, but the bodies are buried in a group grave, and all that stands on the site of
the former farmhouse today is this memorial to the mystery.   


Hagley, England

Officially known as the Hagley Monument, this English plinth has all been all but
disassociated from its original context, in favor of standing in as an enigmatic crypto-memorial to a
skeleton found in a tree. The obelisk was created in the mid-1700s, but was not given its current
identity until a frightening discovery in 1943. It was during that year that some children found a
skull in an elm tree in the Hagley Wood. This morbid find led to the discovery of the entire skeleton
that had been hidden there for over a year. A year after the remains were discovered, unsettling
graffiti began appearing in the area simply asking, ‘WHO PUT BELLA DOWN THE WYCH-ELM?’ or some
variation. Could it have been the killer looking for recognition that they failed to receive due to
the furor of World War II? No one has identified the woman in the tree, nor how she ended up there.
Yet, the mysterious graffiti continues to appear to this day the historic spire. Now it is more urban
legend than incriminating vandalism.      


Villisca, Iowa
Less a memorial than a morbid cash-in, the Villisca Ax Murder House operates as a bed and
breakfast/museum combination where visitors can spend some time in a house where eight people were
mysteriously murdered. During the wee hours of June 10th, 1912 an unknown axe murderer entered the
house at 508 East 2nd South in Villisca, Iowa and bludgeoned six adults and two children to death. The
crime sent shockwaves of accusations and suspicion throughout the community, and number of people were
accused, but none convicted. To this day, no one knows who committed the murders, but modern
investigators, hobbyists and psychics have still tried to crack the case, all unsuccessfully. Even if
you don’t want to try and solve the mystery, the house is open for tours and even overnight stays. If
that seems like something you might enjoy.   


Aklavik, Canada
A rustic sign tells the strange tale of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, a John Doe who led
Canadian mounties on a nearly impossible wilderness chase before being gunned down, providing no
answers about his true identity. A man calling himself ‘Albert Johnson’ moved into a cabin in the
Northwest Territory of Canada in 1931 and it wasn’t long before he was accused of tampering with local
trappers’ equipment. When the mounties arrived at Johnson’s cabin, the confrontation quickly escalated
to a full-on siege that left the wooden house in ruins after the authorities tried to flush Johnson
out with dynamite. Still, Johnson bolted into the wilderness with the mounties hot on his tail.
Unbelievably, the wild man remained on the run through the frozen Canadian backwoods for over month,
before he was found 150 miles from his demolished cabin. The man calling himself ‘Albert Johnson’ was
gunned down by the authorities, who never learned a single concrete fact about the mad fugitive.    

Adelaide, Australia
Known alternately as the ‘Tamam Shud Man’ or the ‘Somerton Man,’ the mysterious body found on
an Australian beach in 1948 is one of the most baffling cold cases the country has ever seen. The body
was found on December 1st, 1948, lounging against a sea wall, having died of unknown causes.
Investigators were unable to identify the man based on any of his physical features, so they began
searching for abandoned bags and luggage, assuming he must have been a visitor to the area. They found
a briefcase that was linked to the body by the appearance of a distinctive type orange thread. In
addition to the thread, the briefcase contained a pocket watch that held a scrap of paper torn from a
book; the paper simply read ‘Tamum Shud,’ Persian for ‘It is Ended.’ This phrase is also the final
line of ‘The Rubaiyat’ of  Omar Khayyam, which was popular at the time, but rare in Australia.
Detectives were soon able to find the very book the paper was torn from, but it presented more
questions than answers. The book had a page filled with what appeared to be indecipherable code. After
undoubtedly letting out a frustrated sigh, the investigators traced the book to a local nurse who
refused to confirm anything about the case. To this day no one is sure what happened to the Tamam Shud
Man, but it is believed that he was either a poisoned Cold War spy or a lovelorn suicide. Whichever it
is, he is most certainly a fascinating mystery.               Atlas Obscura