A mystery is a name called into a bottomless wishing well.
One of my hobbies - dubious as it may be - is researching unsolved mysteries. I am *that* person who haunts the chatboards. The listener of podcast after podcast while I tackle my housework, sometimes stopping, mid-scrub, to make notes on what I've just learned. I'm the lady at the cocktail party who blurts out some obscure clue she dug up earlier in the afternoon about a case most people have never even heard of, much less care about.
I don't get invited out much.
Mysteries have captivated me all of my life, and every work of fiction I craft has at least one 'unknown' embedded into the story.
Following are my 'Top Five Mysteries' (and again, the word 'dubious' occurs as I say 'top' - for there are people in these stories, and their outcomes and circumstances disturb, and sadden, me greatly). Nevertheless, as I consider which of the (many, many) mysteries I've spent perhaps too many hours, days, months, of my life on, these five beg answers more than any others:
It’s a story we all know well even if we tried to steer clear. Blaring from the supermarket checkout lines, tabloids were (and sometimes, on the anniversaries, still are) lurid with the image of a little girl—her head crowned with flowers like an angel. The rest of her decked out and painted up like a Las Vegas Lolita.
On 24 December, 1996, 6 year old JonBenet Ramsey was tucked into bed in her parents’ palatial Colorado home…only to be discovered garroted, possibly sexually assaulted, and very obviously dead, in the wine cellar on Christmas morning.
Upon autopsy, her stomach revealed food no one remembered her eating. A ransom note whose length was like nothing law enforcement had ever seen had been left behind - despite JonBenet being dead in the basement all along. Some experts remain adamant that Patsy, JonBenet’s mother, wrote the note. It was, after all, proven conclusively to have come from her notepad. Further, and more chilling, info leaked and revealed that John Ramsey, JonBenet’s father, had strange literature in his home office on how to create a “mind-controlled slave". No clear evidence supported a break in ever having happened in their splendid home that Christmas night, and, strangely coincidental, JonBenet’s stepsister, Elizabeth, had also died a few years before. Surviving brother, Blake, though, was kept in shadowy silence for years—until granting a bizarre (and some say incriminating) interview to showman and charlatan Dr. Phil not long ago.
Twenty-three years have ticked by, and the case is now glacial—yet not long after the killing, a Grand Jury indicted both John & Patsy Ramsey for murder. Why did the DA quash that indictment? Who killed JonBenet? Why?
2. Maura Murray
On a cold February day in 2004, a nursing student—who had been shopping for a new car with her Dad only the day before—packed a bag, remembered her birth control pills, and set out from Amherst, Massachusetts on a journey to No-One-Knows-Where, stopping long enough to withdraw a little over $200 from an ATM, then to purchase a party’s-worth of booze.
At 7:27, her car veered off the road and into a snowbank at Haverhill, Massachusetts. By 7:46, she was gone.
No footprints in the snow, no belongings missing from her car, no witnesses (at least none that have ever come forward), and no body.
Where is Maura Murray? Someone knows something - yet no one, within all of these years she's been gone, is willing to say anything. An entire podcast—Missing Maura Murray—has been devoted to the case, yet despite the wealth of information they’ve uncovered, Maura has never been found…and every clue only leads to more questions.
3. Johnny Gosch
1982 September. A 12 year old crawls out of bed before dawn and, with his little dog, sets out to deliver his allotment of newspapers—the first time he’s tackled his morning route without the help of his Dad. A few of his paper-boy colleagues see him.
Then no one sees him.
Johnny Gosch, the first child who would be featured on the Have-You-Seen-me milk cartons, seemed to have vanished into the ether. His papers, his wagon, and his little dog were left behind. He was, by all accounts, a happy kid. Nevertheless, law enforcement on the case - one sergeant in particular - stubbornly insisted that Johnny had just run away.
And precious hours, days, and weeks worth of clues (and possibly even evidence) were lost.
In the years following Johnny’s disappearance, another boy, Paul Bonacci, surfaced with details only someone privy to Johnny’s kidnapping (which Bonacci said he was) would know. What’s more, Bonacci also knew things—irrefutable things—about boys being sex-trafficked to some of the most powerful people in the U.S….and he’d been a “guest” in the White House more than once. Could relay details about its floorplan that no tourist would know.
When you roll back the rug to see what is beneath the disappearance of Johnny Gosch, be prepared to see depravity and horror unlike anything even your worst nightmares are made of. Be prepared also to meet a cast of characters who seem to have waltzed straight out of a political thriller.
Except…they didn’t. They are real—and you’ve heard of a lot of them.
4. Carolyn Pruyser
How haunting it is that the #1 smash in May 1984—Hello, by Lionel Richie—could have been playing on her car radio when, leaving keys and purse on the driver’s seat, Carolyn Pruyser vanished near her parents’ home in Peace River, Alberta.
“Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?”
Indeed. For 37 years Carolyn has been missing, and even speculation as to what happened to her is threadbare:
Was it the deviant bus driver who’d been caught selling bootleg, homemade porn over the U.S. border—and who had also been discovered engaging in bestiality on his farm?
Or was it a man who, years later, in 2009, kidnapped a woman in more southerly Red Deer—the circumstances an eerie mirror of how Carolyn Pruyser had disappeared? Purse and keys on the seat of an unlocked car.
At the time of the Red Deer incident, the perpetrator was 57 years old. Not many sexual criminals embark on their deviance that old, and when Carolyn disappeared, the same man would have been 31. So….?
To date, neither Pruyser nor her remains have been found. Today she would have (should have) been 53 years old; possibly married with grown children, and maybe even grandchildren.
What happened to her? And why?
5. The Highway Of Tears
They say it is people, not places, who are 'bad', yet I've had countless conversations with folks I both respect and admire, and they've recounted places they say were oppressive. Dark. One infamous locale, in Russia, apparently refused to be photographed - pictures snapped were immediately murky, blurry, or showed up as an inexplicably black screen.
Evil places. Bad energy. Is that what's wrong with British Columbia's Highway Of Tears?
A ribbon of menace spooling east to west through long stretches of isolated forest and mountains, The Highway Of Tears has claimed people - mostly women, and most of them Indigenous women - since 1969.
Fifty years - and therein is the mystery. Who is taking these women? If it is the work of one person, he must have either started startling young - or is now impossibly old. Yet what are the odds of it being more than one man? After all, how often does one locale spawn several serial killers? So...could it be a generational thing? A grisly family tradition within a brood of psychopaths? Or is there a cult out there in all that desolation, and have they been worshiping - and perhaps sacrificing - under that shroud of forest and rocks for decades?
Then again...is it a person at all? Only the most arrogant among us cavalierly dismisses the possibility of a supernatural answer to our most confounding questions. Conversely, however, it is our most ancient cultures, steeped in millennia of world wisdom, who both accept and believe that there are things in this world that cannot - and maybe will not - be explained. Canada's Indigenous are among these cultures. Is there a thread of connection there?
Wendigo. Skin-Walker. Boogeyman. The oldest cultures on this planet each have different names for a being they all describe in eerily similar ways...and this entity is said to steal people.
So who - or what - is stealing the women who dare to venture out upon The Highway Of Tears?
A fiction story - unless intended to be a literary cliffhanger (think The Lady Or The Tiger?) - presents the villain and the motive at its denouement.
Truth, however, truly is stranger than fiction - and life is far less willing to deliver straight answers.
There is much fodder for fiction within these tales, and yet...should I ever tackle one as creative inspiration for a novel, I pray (quite literally) that I will tell the tale in the vein of compassion, dignity, and closure that each of these victims deserve.
Beyond that, and more, I wish that one day each of these mysteries remains such no longer - and that the spirits of every one of these precious people can finally go 'Home',
And, if you have read my other pieces - Divinity & the Python or Within The Summit's Shadow, I implore you to please visit Goodreads, here and here, and write even a one-line review. Reviews raise the visibility of novels tremendously - and are far, far more help to authors than you can imagine. Thank you for yours.