When authorities have investigated every angle and avenue of a missing person’s case without finding answers, sometimes officials have to just call it quits on active searches. It would take too many resources to follow the cold trail. Unfortunately, that typically means the missing person isn’t getting found—but not always.
Sometimes a long-lost clue, a miraculous coincidence, or a deathbed confession takes a flamethrower to a cold case and sends investigators back into the field. Some of the five missing persons and murder cases below were set aside for decades before new information changed everything…
1. Two Jane Does: September 28th, 1995, authorities in New Britain, Connecticut, discovered the body of a teenage girl, right, shot in the back of the head and left behind a music store. A week later, the investigation into her death took a turn.
Forty miles away, police found the body of an older woman in a forest, wrapped in plastic. Authorities struggled to identify both her and the teenager at the music store. In 2011, though, the investigators made crucial leaps in the case with the help of forensics.
Science proved the two bodies were mother and daughter, which lent itself to the idea that the murders were not only linked, but likely carried out by the same killer, who was still at large. Worse, investigators still didn’t know the bodies’ identities.
In 2o14, police officers in New York received a phone call from someone claiming that her relatives, Marcia and teenager Elizabeth Honsch, had gone missing 19 years earlier. The family had been looking for them without getting authorities involved. But now?
Now, the caller suspected Elizabeth’s dad, Robert, might’ve been responsible for their disappearance. He’d claimed in ’95 the family was going to move to Australia. But then they ended up dead, and he ended up living in Ohio under another name—with another family.
Sure enough, investigators found his palm prints on a plastic sheet that’d been wrapped around Marcia’s dead body. More evidence pushed authorities to arrest Robert Honsch for their murders in 2014. He was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.
2. Lady in the Barrel: In 1999, a man in Jericho, New York, discovered a rusted, 55-gallon metal drum in the crawl space of his new home. Opening it revealed something terrible and gut-wrenching.
The barrel contained the remains of a 9-months-pregnant woman left to decompose for over 30 years. An address book and other possessions also in the barrel helped police identify her as Reyna Marroquin, an immigrant from El Salvador who’d moved to New York in 1966 and was reported missing three years later.
So investigators checked out the barrel. It had been originally shipped to Melrose Plastics, a company that produced synthetic flowers like those below and had employed Reyna. Naturally, authorities turned their attention there… and to the company’s owner.
The owner Howard Elkins, left, previously-owned the house in Jericho where the plastic drum was discovered. Further pointing the finger at Howard, a friend of Reyna claimed the two had been having an affair.
The guilt-wracked Reyna told Howard’s wife about the affair and professed fear that he’d have her killed. Right around then, in 1969, Reyna vanished. So, in 1999, detective Brian Parpan, below, and his partner questioned a now-70-year-old Howard in his Boca Raton retirement home.
Investigators told Howard he’d have to take a DNA test to see if the unborn child in Reyna’s belly was his. Howard subsequently shot himself in the back seat of his SUV. A posthumous DNA test proved he was likely the father.
All evidence suggested that Howard was the person who killed Reyna, but because of his suicide, authorities still didn’t have definitive proof. Until they found one last piece of evidence that confirmed suspicions…
Authorities recovered a note from the very last page of Reyna’s address book. It read, “don’t be mad I told the truth.” The line corroborated the allegations that she told Howard’s wife about an affair…
3. David Lee Niles: Seventy-two-year-old David met with a good friend at a bar in Bryon Township, Michigan, on October 11, 2006. Once he left the bar, no one ever saw him again. But where had the ailing old man gone?
David’s family assumed he’d taken his own life; after all, the man had been battling cancer and depression. They even published an obituary for him in 2011. But on November 11th, 2015, a man, below, decorating a pine tree for Christmas, stumbled onto a more concrete answer.
While putting the star on top of the tree, the man saw something disturbing at the bottom of a pond beside the pine tree. He notified police officers, who pulled out a submerged car with David’s skeleton inside—but that wasn’t the strangest part.
The mystery behind David’s disappearance and probable suicide should’ve been solved a lot sooner: you could see David’s car in the lake on Google Maps! His ultimate fate wasn’t too unlike this next once-unsolved mystery…
4. Cheryl Miller and Pamela Jackson: It was May of 1971 when South Dakota high school students, Pamela and Cheryl, made plans to celebrate the end of school at a nearby quarry. But they never showed up to the party.
Naturally, classmates first assumed that the missing duo just changed their plans. But no one saw them—or their 1960’s Studebaker Lark like the one below—again. For 42 years, the duo’s whereabouts were unknown, but then authorities received interesting evidence.
Alden Jewell / Flickr
A man turned over to authorities a recording of another man named David Lykken—who had a criminal past—admitting he killed Pamela and Cheryl, and he was indicted for their murders in 2007. On September 23rd, 2013, however, new information turned up.
A passerby spotted tires sticking out of a North Dakota creek, and investigators found a wrecked car with the remains of Pamela and Cheryl still inside. Furthermore, authorities determined David’s confession was forged. So what happened?
Autopsies and inspections of the vehicle indicated there had been no foul play involved in the deaths of Cheryl and Pamela. A damaged tire on their car, however, suggested the girls perished in a car accident. Recently, their families finally held funerals.
5. The McStay Family: On February 4th, 2010, Joseph McStay—a man who ran a successful decorative fountain business—his wife Summer, and their two kids, disappeared from their home in San Diego. Police investigated and found some puzzling clues.
Their house showed no indication of foul play: paint used for renovations sat in the kitchen and the family’s two dogs remained in the backyard. Surveillance footage showed a similar family crossing into Mexico, and authorities considered it might’ve been the McStays. The case grew cold… until 2013.
On November 11th, a motorcyclist found the family’s remains in shallow graves about 100 miles north of San Diego in San Bernadino County. Nearby lay clothes caked in the same paint they’d found in the family’s kitchen. What happened?
Authorities arrested Joseph’s business partner Charles Merritt on November 5th, 2014, after finding his DNA on the McStay’s abandoned vehicle. Allegedly, gambling-addict Merritt committed the crime for financial gain. In July 2018, he’d yet to face trial.
Take a look at even more photographs illustrating these incredible murder investigations with a once-cold trail. Incredible how major breakthroughs in crimes tend to happen as if by chance!
Just because a case is cold doesn’t mean it’s unsolvable. These once-baffling mysteries prove it!
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