Obscura Magazine

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May 2021 Volume 666


WEST MEMPHIS THREE SPECIAL Could New DNA Testing Fully Exonerate The West Memphis Three?


The Vanishing Triangle that still holds its darkest secrets

Could New DNA Testing Fully Exonerate The West Memphis Three?


9 things you didn’t know!


Why Are Area 51 Conspiracy Theories So Popular?

SERIAL KILLER: THE ZODIAC KILLER FBI backs amateur sleuths who appear to have deciphered a chilling message from the infamous 1960s killer.


The Vanishing Triangle that still holds its darkest secrets

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Contents Contents


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UNSOLVED: JONBENET RAMSEY A look into the murder of child beauty queen, JonBenét Ramsey


The Never-Ending Mystery of the Black Dahlia Murder

COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL MASSACRE Looking into the 1999 school shooting massacre at Columbine


Could New DNA Testing Fully Exonerate The West Memphis Three?


Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were convicted in 1994 of the murder of three 8-year-old boys. Despite their release, following years of maintaining their innocence, they are still technically convicted killers On May 6, 1993, 8-year-olds Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers were found nude and hogtied in a West Memphis, Arkansas, bayou. Their bodies and clothes had been jammed into the muddy ground with sticks, and their bikes were found on either side of a pipe bridge not far from the crime scene. The boys had been so badly mutilated that investigators believed they had been killed in a Satanic ritual, and they soon arrested three outcast teenagers — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. — and charged them with the murders.

The so-called “West Memphis Three” were tried and convicted of the slayings, but they continued to proclaim their innocence from behind bars, and a series of documentaries drew critical attention to the case and suggested the teens were the victims of “Satanic Panic,” a fear that Satanism would infect society. While their appeals were repeatedly denied, a new set of DNA testing in 2007 revealed that no genetic material taken from the crime scene was a match to Echols, Baldwin or Misskelley, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com. Four years later, they reached a deal with prosecutors and were released from prison after agreeing to an Alford plea, which allowed them to maintain their innocence while admitting the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them.

Although the men have been free for the past decade, they are still technically convicted killers, and it remains unclear who is responsible for the deaths of Branch, Moore and Byers.


“There’s still that sense that something ain’t right. Things haven’t been finished. I just want my name back, and I want justice in this case,” Baldwin told investigator and host Bob Ruff in the documentary special “The Forgotten West Memphis Three,” streaming now on Oxygen.

In order to gain access to the evidence, however, Ruff and his team need the consent of district prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington. While Ellington was not in office during the original trials, he was throughout their appeals, and he was the one who ultimately approved the Alford plea that freed the West Memphis Three.

To potentially uncover new evidence in the case, Ruff is hoping to have the crime scene evidence — including the bikes, sticks and clothing — re-tested Following their release, Ellington with M-Vac, a wet-vacuum DNA collection system pledged he was not abandoning the that can gather “200 times more DNA sample” case. compared to swab testing.

"There were a lot of victims. Many people had their lives completely and absolutely destroyed by this case," Echols told Ruff in “The Forgotten West Memphis Three.” Although both Echols and Hicks said they were not surprised by the state’s lack of response, they continue to support Ruff in his fight for justice.

“I met with Scott Ellington and, you know, all of them. I’ve been from A to Z. I’m the mother, and they won’t even “It would be a dereliction of my duties let me have access to anything. … I not to review credible evidence that’s want finally to be able to say that it’s “DNA testing … was very been presented, and so we have to do over. But I’m not giving up. I’ve got too limited back at the time of much hope and too much to live for,” the trial in 1993. There was that,” Ellington said in a 2012 Hicks said. interview that was also featured in no such thing as touch DNA “The Forgotten West Memphis Three.” … and so I’m hoping that this Ruff has also vowed to “exhaust every new M-Vac technology may be single possible avenue and effort to try As of now, Ruff and his team say the key to unlocking evidence to figure out who killed these boys.” they’ve been unsuccessful in their that’s been there this whole attempt to contact Ellington, even time,” Ruff said. “The only way that we’re ever going to though they have the support of be able to solve this case definitively is Echols, Baldwin, Misskelley and gonna have to be through science and victims’ family members, including DNA testing. … At this point, the ball’s Branch’s mother, Pam Hicks, and in the court of Scott Ellington. … So Byers’ brother, Ryan Clark. this is all gonna come down to whether Ruff’s hope is to finally figure out who Scott Ellington wants to find the truth murdered Branch, Byers and Moore or not because we have the technology and “give the people involved some to find it,” Ruff said. closure.”

PODCAST Podcast episodes include: JonBenet Ramsey (With Mykie) Wineville Chicken Co op Murders The Black Dahlia F r e d a n d R o s e m a r y We s t The Zodiac Killer and Little Liters N ow p a r t o f t h e Morbid Network Av a i l a b l e o n S p o t i f y a n d A p p l e P o d c a s t s


9 things you didn’t know

Michael Hafford

•The cult borrowed a lot of imagery from science fiction Members were devotees of the Master Cleanse •Originally, the cult promised that members wouldn’t have to die to ascend to a higher plane •The infamous suicides from cult members in March 1997 took place over the course of three days •Part of the Heaven’s Gate dogma was that everything had to be precisely the same •The Next Level was a place without gender, and that led to castration •The Nikes the group wore have become a collector’s item •Two surviving members likely still operate the cults website •The cult went out for a last supper together Heaven’s Gate, religious group founded in the United States on a belief in unidentified flying objects. Founded in 1974 and led by Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985) and Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997). On March 26, 1997, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department discovered the bodies of the 39 active members of the group, including Applewhite’s, in a house in the San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. They had participated in a mass suicide, a coordinated series of ritual suicides, in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale–Bopp.

Why Are Area 51 Conspiracy Theories So Popular?

Here’s hoping there are aliens at Area 51. For one thing: they probably have cool spaceships. For another, the extraterrestrials are said to have arrived in 1947, so if they were going to eat us, they likely would have done so by now. Finally, answer this question: What’s more interesting, a world with aliens or a world without them?

Area 51 has been much in the news lately, ever since the June 27 launch of the Facebook page named “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us.” The crowdsourced semi-satirical raid on the secretive Air Force base is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 3:00 a.m. So far, 1.9 million people have said they’re going, and another 1.4 million have clicked that they’re interested, attracted by the page’s decidedly straightforward appeal: “Let’s see them aliens.” Whether or not there are aliens to see, of course, is at the heart of a globally famous 72-year-old conspiracy theory.

Here’s What Psychologists Say By Jeffrey Kluger

Believers argue that the crash of what the government insists was a weather balloon near Roswell, New Mexico was actually the advance guard of an lien presence whose arrival has been covered up behind the gates of a nearby Air Force base ever since. he Roswell rumors, of course, were their own form of an advance guard of conspiracy nonsense over the past few generations that includes the 9/11 truthers, the Obama-era birthers, the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination, and much more rubbish. But the Area 51 tales seem to have a special stickiness, appealing even to some skeptics and rationalists who insist that the simplest answer to any mystery is likely the correct one — and it’s a whole lot less simple to keep so explosive a secret for seven decades than it would be for that secret to slip. So what is it that gives the Area 51 tales their enduring appeal?

“Our basic model of people is that there’s a thin crust of rationality over a molten core of crazy,” says In some ways, Area 51 rumors Joseph Parent, a professor of have a lot in common with every political science at Notre Dame other conspiracy theory throughUniversity and the co-author, with out history. Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the According to a 2017 paper in University of Miami, of American Current Issues in Psychological Conspiracy Theories. Stories of Science by psychologist Karen Douglas of England’s University of secret conspiracies, Parent says, Kent and her colleagues, nearly all are “emotional poultices,” cooling the crazy partly by providing a conspiracy theories satisfy three powerful sense of group affiliation. basic needs: they provide understanding and certainty, they create Even if it isn’t home to anything a sense of control and security, remotely alien, it’s still a highly and they improve a believer’s self-image. All of those three needs secretive military base and testing tumble together neatly. As a rule, site. “In one sense it is a conspiracy, because it’s a secret area,” says humans can’t abide nagging David Ludden, professor of uncertainty, so any answer to a mystery — even an outrageous one psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College. “The government actually — is better than none at all. is doing something it doesn’t want us to know about.”




The Zodiac Killer

'I am not afraid of the gas chamber': Codebreakers solve old Zodiac Killer cipher FBI backs amateur sleuths who appear to have deciphered a chilling message from the By Andrew Blankstein and David K. Li infamous 1960s killer

An international team of amateur sleuths claim to have decoded a half-century-old taunt by California's notorious Zodiac Killer. And federal authorities said they believe the code breakers appear to be on solid ground in following the mysterious killer who fatally stabbed or shot five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969. The killer sent taunting letters and cryptograms to police and newspapers. He was dubbed the Zodiac killer because some of his cryptograms included astrological symbols and references. A 340-character cipher has been a mystery to investigators for all these years, until Australian software engineer Sam Blake, American cryptographer David Oranchak and Belgian software engineer Jarl Van said they finally got the symbols, numbers and letters to mesh into a coherent — though chilling — message.


It wasn't immediately clear what television show the Zodiac Killer could have been referencing.The killer continued his ramblings about "paradice." "ALL THE SOONER BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE IS LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH," the killer said. In a statement from FBI headquarters on Friday, the bureau said its own Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) acknowledged and confirmed the code breakers' work. "Over the past 51 years CRRU has reviewed numerous proposed solutions from the public — none of which had merit," the FBI said. "The cipher was recently solved by a team of three private citizens." The Zodiac Killer has never been caught and the case is still active. "The FBI is aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private citizens," the FBI's San Francisco office said in a statement on Friday. "The Zodiac Killer case remains an on going investigation for the FBI San Francisco and our local law enforcement partners."

IRELAND’S VANISHING TRIANGLE The Vanishing Triangle that still holds its darkest secrets

Annie McCarrick. Jo Jo Dollard. Fiona Pender. Ciara Breen. Fiona Sinnott. Deirdre Jacob. Some, if not all, of these names still resonate today, 20-odd years after they disappeared, presumed murdered. Like Philip Cairns, the Dublin schoolboy who vanished, never to be found, in 1986, the likely fate of these six women - aged between 18 and 28 - taps into our darkest fears. "People remember their names to this day because they went missing over a short time period [1993 to 1998], in a certain part of the country and because they were normal Alan Bailey, who headed the Garda taskforce charged with finding a connection between the missing women. "The Deirdre Jacob case was particularly troubling because she disappeared in broad daylight during the afternoon and close to her home in Newbridge. There was a sense in the minds of the public and the media that a serial killer could have been responsible for at least some of these cases."

That the women seemingly vanished into thin air was compounded by the lack of surveillance cameras at the time. "In the case of Annie McCarrick," Bailey says, "the only CCTV footage we have of her on the day she disappeared was in her local bank. Now, more than 20 years on, there are CCTV cameras virtually everywhere in urban areas, so had she gone missing today we would be far better placed to trace her movements." Bailey, who retired from An Garda Síochána in 2011 after 39 years' service, has written an exhaustive book, Missing, Presumed, on these notorious disappearances and on other gruesome murders of Irish women, some like Marie Kilmartin and Layla Brennan, whose bodies were found in shallow graves. He spent 13 years as the national coordinator of the Operation Trace taskforce alongside his role as detective sergeant in charge of the Garda Serious Crime Review Team.

Now the human resources manager at the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin, he says he thinks about the victims and their families every day without fail. "Devastating as it is for a loved one to be killed, those left behind can find it very hard to cope when there are no remains for them to bury," he says. "It's the 'not knowing' that can eat away at them." As the book makes clear, fate played a cruel part in each case. "Annie McCarrick was last seen in Johnny Fox's pub in the Dublin Mountains, but she would have been alive today if she had delayed by even a few seconds when she left her home in Dublin. The bus was pulling out of the stop but stalled when it saw her running for it.

By Unknown Author

The arrest of Larry Murphy in 2000 for the abduction, assault and attempted murder of a young Carlow woman has led to many speculating that he may have been responsible for some of these missing person cases, especially as it subsequently emerged that the so-called Beast of Baltinglass, a carpenter, had done work in a sweet shop owned by Deirdre Jacob's grandmother. The chapter on Murphy is especially chilling, not least when one considers that he was on the verge of strangling his victim in the woods of the Wicklow Mountains when a pair of hunters came on the scene.

"It is a possibility, of course," Bailey says, "but we have to keep an open mind." In a number of cases especially those of Fiona Pender, "And we wouldn't be talking about Jo who was heavily pregnant, and Fiona Jo Dollard today if she had made her Sinnott, Bailey insists that the respective prime suspects were bus from Busáras and not had to hitch-hike to her home in Kilkenny known to both victims. As yet, there just isn't enough evidence to convict that night." them.

JonBenét Ramsey

JonBenét Ramsey was found dead in her family’s home in Boulder, Colorado, on December 26, 1996. The child beauty queen – who had been reported missing by her parents – was found by her father around eight hours later in the basement of the house. She had been bludgeoned, strangled and hidden underneath a white blanket with a nylon cord around her neck, her wrists bound above her head and her mouth covered by duct tape. Cops immediately looked to her family as the possible killers – but JonBenét’s parents and brother were cleared in 2008 by DNA evidence taken from the child’s clothes. Perhaps the most controversial piece of evidence, Patsy Ramsey claimed to have found a ransom note demanding $118,000 – later revealed to be the exact amount of John Ramsey’s bonus that year. It warned JonBenét would be “executed” if police were contacted. But cops later found the note to have been written on paper from a writing pad belonging to the family. And although handwriting analysis cleared John, Patsy’s test was found to be “inconclusive”. Ex-police chief Beckner said: “The FBI told us they’d never seen a 2.5 page ransom note. No note has ever been written at the scene, and then left at the scene with the dead victim at the scene, other than this case.” Other evidence was that a bowl of pineapple with a spoon was found on the table of the breakfast room with Burke and Patsy’s fingerprints on them. The coroner found traces of undigested pineapple bits in JonBenét’s large intestine – but Patsy and John insisted that their daughter was asleep when they arrived home from a friend’s Christmas party. Some have suggested this means the little girl's parents lied to investigators. CBS' show The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey showed famed forensic investigator Werner Spitz suggest Burke killed JonBenét with a flashlight. He suggested the six-year-old took a slice of fruit from Burke's late-night snack - prompting him to lash out with the nearby torch.


The Never-Ending Mystery of the Black Dahlia Murder

At around 10 a.m. on January 15, By Tim Ott 1947, Betty Bersinger was pushing As for her identification, an editor at her daughter in a stroller through the Examiner suggested sending the Leimert Park section of South fingerprints via the paper's "SoundLos Angeles when something caught photo" – an early fax machine – to her eye amid the weedy, vacant lots. an office in Washington, D.C., where A naked female body, severed at the they could be relayed to the FBI. By waist, was lying just off the sidewalk, the evening of January 16, authorithe stark whiteness of her skin offset ties had matched the prints to those by jet-black hair and deformities like of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, who the gashes carved from each side of previously worked at an Army base her mouth.Bersinger dashed to a in California and once been arrested neighbor's house to call the police, for underage drinking. igniting a frenzy that engulfed several divisions of the LAPD and A phone call to Short's mother in reporters from the city's relentlessly Massachusetts brought more competitive newspapers, and laid the information about her background, groundwork for what became one of while inquiries in nearby Long the country's most famous unsolved Beach uncovered the hook that cases. became a staple of the front pages: The victim was known among Her identity was determined with acquaintances there as the "Black help from an early fax machine Dahlia," a nod to her taste for black dresses and the previous year's crime film The Blue Dahlia. An autopsy found that the victim had perished from repeated blows to the face and the subsequent blood loss, the torso's bisection and other mutilations, at least, coming after she was already dead.

Seemingly making headway in the case, investigators apprehended married salesman Robert "Red" Manley, who met Short in San Diego and dropped her off at L.A.'s Biltmore Hotel on January 9, the date of her last sighting. Manley later identified one of the victim's shoes and a purse found near the crime scene, but his alibis otherwise checked out, and he was cleared of wrongdoing. In late January, an envelope labeled with cut-out words and the phrase "Heaven is Here!" arrived at the Examiner's office. Inside was a collection of Short's personal documents, including her birth certificate, Social Security card and an address book featuring the name "Mark Hansen" on the cover. Police tracked down approximately 75 men from the book, most of whom had only briefly met its owner, as well as Hansen, a successful nightclub owner. Hansen confirmed that Short had crashed at his home, an The killer taunted investigators explanation that fit in with by mailing his victim’s personal her developing profile as a drifter who relied on the items sympathy of others, and he was also soon crossed off the suspect list.

Columbine High SchOol MaSsacre

The Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting and attempted bombing that occurred on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, United States. The perpetrators, twelfth grade (senior) students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher. Ten students were killed in the school library, where the pair subsequently committed suicide. Twenty-one additional people were injured by gunshots, and gunfire was also exchanged with the police. Another three people were injured trying to escape. At the time, it was the deadliest secondary school shooting in U.S. history. The crime has inspired several copycats, including two deadlier shootings, and "Columbine" has become a byword for school shootings.

The police were slow to enter the school and were heavily criticized for not intervening during the shooting. The incident resulted in the introduction of the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic, which is used in active shooter situations. Columbine also resulted in an increased emphasis on school In addition to the shootings, the attack involved several security with zero tolerance policies. homemade bombs. Two of these were placed in the Debates and moral panic were sparked over cafeteria, powerful enough to kill or seriously injure all guns and gun control laws, high school people within the area, although they failed to detonate. cliques, subcultures (e. g. goths), outcasts, Their cars in the parking lots were made into bombs and school bullying, as well as teenage use of which also failed to detonate, and at another location pharmaceutical antidepressants, the away from the school, two bombs were set up as Internet and violence in video games and diversions, only one of which partially detonated. The movies. motive remains unclear; but Harris and Klebold planned the massacre for around a year, and hoped the Many impromptu memorials were created massacre would cause the most deaths in U.S. history, after the massacre. Fifteen crosses for the which then meant exceeding the death toll of the victims and shooters were also erected on Oklahoma City bombing; USA Today referred to the top of a hill in Clement Park. The crosses Columbine massacre as "planned as a grand, if badly for Harris and Klebold were removed later implemented, terrorist bombing." following controversy.

TRUE CRIME DOCUMENTARIES TO WATCH Crime Scene: The Vanishing Night Stalker A 2021 docu-series that at the Cecil Hotel A four-part documentary tells the true story of how series covering the one of the most notorious disappearance and serial killers in American mysterious death of hotel history was hunted down guest Elisa Lam at the and brought to justice, Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, includes first-person California in 2013. interviews, archival footage, and original photography. The Keepers Mommy Dead and Dearest The Ripper A 2017 documentary film The Keepers is Netflix’s A docu-series in which the about the murder of Dee seven-episode American investigators and witnesses Dee Blanchard in which her documentary web series recall the Yorkshire that explores the unsolved daughter, Gypsy Rose and Ripper murders, which Gypsy’s boyfriend, Nicholas murder of nun and high cast a shadow over the Godejohn were accused school teacher, Catherine north of Englands in the focusing on the abuse that “Cathy” Cesnik in 1969. late 1970s. Gypsy suffered at the hands of her mother. Paradise Lost Trilogy Don’t F**k With Cats Ted Bundy: Conversations A three part documentary Following a crowd-sourced with a killer An American documentary based on a gruesome crime / Facebook amateur story where the mutilated investigation into a series covering over 100 hours of interviews and archival bodies of three 8-year-old of animal cruelty videos footage of serial killer, Ted boys are discovered in a committed by Luka shallow creek in West Magnotta, culminating in Bundy, and interviews with his friends, family, Memphis, Arkansas, and the murder of Chinese three teenagers are international student Jun surviving victims and law enforcement. accused. Lin. Amanda Knox Amanda Knox is a documentary film about the murder of Meredith Kercher - an exchange student in Italy, and the trial, conviction and aquittal of the accused Amanda Knox in 2007.

TRUE CRIME PODCASTS TO LISTEN TO Casefile An Australian True Crime podcased hosted by an Australia man who remains anonymous. The series deals with solved and cold criminal cases, some being well-known murders and crimes, with some lesser known crimes. This podcast is scripted and narrative, and heavily relies on original police or mass-media documents, eyewitness accounts and interviews/recordings.

The Vanished A weekly podcast that focuses on the stories and circumstances of missing people, hosted by Marissa Jones. The podcast will often feature interviews with the friends and family of the missing person, and sometimes the local law enforcement that were involved in the case. The podcast also includes any updates that come up on the cases.

Crime Junkie A weekly True Crime podcast hosted two best friends, Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat, covering local and international cases from murders, unsolved cases, infamous cases and missing persons - including updates. Some episode endings include a segment dedicated to listeners dogs that are sent in by listeners.

Small Town Dicks A podcast about the big-time crime that’s happening in Small Town, USA. Each episode features the detectives who broke the case in their small town, includes assets like jailhouse phone calls, suspect interviews and 911 calls. Hosted by veteran, identical-twin detectives Dan and Dave, and hosted by The Simpsons actress, Yeardley Smith.

Your Monthly The Code Of Mirrors

The images we see in the mirror are the pure incarnates of evil. They are only allowed to exist in the area reflected in the glass. To them, life is like a never-ending hell, rotting away in the same room day after day. The only refuse from this purgatory is death, and the only way for them to die, sad to say, is if YOU die. Fortunately, they are bound by a code. You are their master, and they must mirror your every movement and expression. To do otherwise would break an unbreakable law, unraveling the space-time continuum. However, there is a loophole, and it can only be triggered by you, the master. To force them into error is to free them from their contract; after you let them out of your view, you’re on your own. Know this: when you watch them, they’re watching you back. They’re watching. And they’re thinking.

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