I have been a die-hard true crime fan for years. Whether it be listening to crime podcasts while driving, watching documentaries on disappearances and cults or scrolling through Wikipedia pages well into the night, I have found myself with a vast knowledge of criminal cases. While following true crime may not be for everyone, it has been a popular pastime for many, especially in recent years. There are countless theories for why this fascination is occurring, including that watching/listening to true crime helps us to witness our greatest fears from a safe distance, and that we can understand the mind of a killer. It seems that once you learn about one case, it is easy to find yourself in a never ending spiral of learning about others. With Halloween upon us, I have been watching and listening to even more true crime than normal. With that being said, here are my five favorite cases that have perplexed me and will leave you thinking for days.
- Ray Rivera.
In 2006, a newlywed named Ray Rivera went missing after receiving a mystery phone call in the night, and his body was found days later in a historic hotel in Maryland under very unusual circumstances. There was a giant hole in the ceiling above him, and although his body was considerably harmed, his sunglasses, phone and flip flops were found unscathed nearby. Even though investigators were quick to conclude that he jumped from the roof, the case includes strange factors including an encrypted note being found in his belongings and evidence that the angle of the hole does not indicate that he jumped from the roof. Despite his widow’s mission to uncover the truth, the case remains unsolved to this day. If you would like to learn more about Rivera’s mysterious death, I recommend watching the first episode of the rebooted “Unsolved Mysteries” series on Netflix entitled “Mystery on the Rooftop.”
- Kendrick Johnson.
On a chilly January day in 2013, the body of Kendrick Johnson was discovered rolled up in a vertical mat in his high school’s gym. His death was initially ruled as an accident because investigators hypothesized that Johnson climbed into the mat to grab a pair of shoes that he had left there. However, recent autopsies claim that he died of blunt force trauma. His family vehemently believes that he was murdered, and they have opened various lawsuits stating that his case has purposely been handled poorly because of Johnson’s race. Additional strange aspects of the case include lost security footage, missing organs from the coroner and a chilling video from Anonymous that brings up new conspiracies. The Crime Junkie Podcast has an episode on Johnson’s death that I recommend listening to called MYSTERIOUS DEATH- Kendrick Johnson.
- Chris Watts.
The most recent case on this list is about a seemingly normal man who brutally killed his pregnant wife and two toddler children. In 2018, after his wife returned from a business trip, Chris Watts savagely murdered her in the night, then turned his anger on his children. During the investigation, he acted like a regular grieving husband and actively helped the police try to locate his family. However, he was driven to confession after a lie detector test, and the bodies of his wife and daughters were found in oil tanks at his work site. I was especially interested in this case because of its many plot shifts and because updates with Watt’s sentencing are still happening. I recommend watching Netflix’s Documentary called “American Murder: The Family Next Door” if you would like to learn more about this disturbing case.
- Clutter Family Slaying.
During my junior year of high school, I was required to read “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, which details the brutal murder of Herb and Bonnie Clutter, along with two of their teenage children. The killers were two recently released inmates from a local prison who planned to rob the family after hearing that Herb Clutter kept money in his safe. Capote visited the town where the crime occurred to obtain interviews with investigators and the killers as they awaited death row. I was enthralled by this book (along with the eventual movie that came from it) and ended up finishing it in an afternoon. If you are interested in reading an in-depth account of this crime, I recommend checking out “In Cold Blood” from your local library or finding it at a local bookstore. However, I will warn you that the crime scene is vividly described in the book, and it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
- Disappearance of Brian Shaffer.
Brian Shaffer was a medical student when he mysteriously disappeared in 2006 on a night out with friends. The bar that they went to only had two entrances, and he is shown entering on security footage but never seen leaving. In the days after his disappearance, investigators accounted for every single person who was in the bar that night, but no one knows where Shaffer went. Various theories have been born, including that he was a victim of the infamous “Smiley Face Killer,” a friend of his was involved because he refused to take a lie detector test and that Shaffer staged his disappearance so that he could start a new life. If you want to delve more into Shaffer’s disappearance, the Crime Junkie Podcast has an in-depth episode detailing the case and its many theories called MISSING- Brian Shaffer.
These are just a few true crime cases that have interested me over the years, but there are so many more out there! I encourage you to listen to a couple podcasts or watch a few documentaries to see if true crime is for you. If you happen to find a case that leaves you shocked, feel free to reach out to me from the information in my bio.