Having produced more than 1,300 segments on Unsolved Mysteries, series co-creator Terry Dunn Meurer has seen her fair share of spooky stuff. And yet she had no trouble singling out stories from the show’s run that still give her the creeps — some are truly bizarre, featuring spontaneous human combustion and possible possession, while most are simply horrific crimes that could happen to anyone.
Speaking to Vulture right after six new episodes of the recently rebooted series debuted on Netflix, Dunn Meurer explains that she made these selections in the same way that she chooses cases for the show. “We always look for a variety of categories,” she says. “[This season] we have a murder, two unexplained deaths, a missing case, a wanted case, and a paranormal case — everything we can do to create a good mix so that one story doesn’t feel like the next. We’re a little heavier weighted toward crime just because those are the solvable cases.”
In fact, two of the mysteries on this list have been solved, but they still haunt Dunn Meurer for reasons she’ll explain below. Here, her picks for the creepiest segments from Unsolved Mysteries, which you can stream on multiple services now.
On the night of April 4, 1991, 20-year-old Angela Hammond disappeared from Clinton, Missouri, while talking to her boyfriend, Rob Shafer, from a pay phone. She’d described a suspicious man circling the block in a green pickup truck and then stopping next to her before she screamed and dropped the phone. Shafer jumped in his car and raced to the scene and, when he saw the pickup driving past him and tried to pursue it, slammed his car in reverse and blew its transmission. Though police suspected him, he was soon cleared when witnesses came forward and described seeing the truck. As the segment shows, Hammond’s kidnapping might have been linked to two other Missouri cases — a murder and a still-unsolved abduction — earlier that year.
“It was so so tragic. He rushes off to try and save her when it sounds like she’s in trouble, his car breaks down, and he basically sees her going off down the road with her abductor. She’s never seen again. My heart just goes out to him for the loss that he experienced,” Dunn Meurer says. “Random crimes tend to be the scariest. The ones that frighten me the most are when these people are doing everything right. All she’s doing is talking to her boyfriend on a pay phone. She’s not engaging in any kind of risky behavior or anything, then suddenly this happens. She gave a description of the truck, the decal in the window, and of the creepy guy. Why we didn’t find find him and that truck? I don’t know.”
In 1989, a father and son discovered a videotape inside an abandoned camouflage jacket on the side of a road in Stockton, California. When they got home and watched it, they saw footage of a burning house with the filmer narrating his arson, panting and saying, “This is hell” and “Look at the flames. Listen to the coyotes yell!” When police investigated, they found a ceramic skull near where the tape was discovered and believed it could be the work of a Satan worshipper. After the Unsolved Mysteries episode, viewers called in to say the fire happened in 1988 in Redwood City, about 80 miles from Stockton. The cops eventually arrested two troubled teens for the crime.
So why does it still freak Dunn Meurer out? “You hear the very creepy video. It was odd that it was discovered on the side of the highway. That’s what caught our attention,” she says. “And we actually solved that case by airing it. It was just these kids. They were underage, so we weren’t able to reveal their names. I’m sure they’ve served their time and have been released. It wasn’t, as far as we know, tied to anything else.”
Two teens, Kevin Ives and Don Henry, went out hunting one night in Bryant, Arkansas, only to be run over by a cargo train. At first, the 1987 deaths were deemed a suicide, with the medical examiner saying that the boys had smoked 20 joints and were in a drug-induced coma when they laid down side by side on the tracks together. Their families eventually got the case reopened, and it was determined that, while the boys had smoked a little marijuana, one of them was already dead from stab wounds while the other was unconscious from a blow to the head when the train struck them. Additionally, a green tarp had been placed over the bodies, likely to prevent the train engineer from spotting them in time to stop. The cause of death was changed to murder, but the case was closed in 1995 with no arrests ever made. Some people suspect that the boys encountered locals involved in a meth-dealing ring and that the police were somehow involved, which would explain the shoddy investigation.
“This one’s really, really tragic,” Dunn Meurer says. “There was a lot going on in this town, and I think the kids were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fact that it was ruled an accident, and then finally they determined that the kids had been murdered, that’s heartbreaking. I wish we could have solved this case.”
Oddly enough, a former WWF wrestler, Billy Jack Haynes, claimed in 2018 that he was there that night after being hired by a local politician to intercept a drug deal. Dunn Meurer says that this kind of new evidence doesn’t rise to the level of credibility that would warrant an update to the segment. “We continue to update all the original episodes,” she says. “Those usually consist of a case that’s been solved. It’s not just ‘Three leads came in,’ but if it’s an actual result, we’ll go in and update the episode.”
Two weeks after disappearing in 1989, Cindy James was found dead near an abandoned house with her arms and legs bound behind her back and a nylon stocking around her neck. An autopsy revealed that her actual cause of death was a morphine overdose and the police ruled it a suicide. That would be bizarre enough on its own, had James not reported being harassed and physically attacked by an unknown assailant for the prior seven years. She first received threatening notes and phone calls, discovered dead cats hanging in her garden, had her phone wires cut, her house nearly burned down, and was assaulted five times — once in her home, when she was stabbed through the hand with a paring knife, and another time when she was found battered and suffering from hypothermia in a ditch on the side of a road. The police, who’d never dusted for prints or thoroughly searched for evidence in her home after the incidents, said James made it all up. After her death, one doctor theorized that she had multiple personalities and one of the split Cindys murdered the other.
“That she was tormented for seven years and ended up dead, this has always been a real puzzler,” says Dunn Meurer. “It’s really hard to believe that she could have taken the drugs, then also hogtied herself. I think we can rule out ‘accident.’” As for the multiple-personality claim, she says, “It’s a theory. I know Ozzie Kaban, the private investigator who worked with her for years, still believed she was being stalked and that she was murdered. Her family didn’t think she was having any psychological issues. It’s hard to imagine somebody inflicting that kind of pain, where there’s actually a knife going through her hand. The big question is, ‘Who would keep this up for seven years?’ I don’t think we’re ever going to solve that one.”
Seventeen-year-old Kurt Sova disappeared after a 1981 Halloween party in a suburb of Cleveland. At first, the host of the party denied it ever took place before it was revealed that it had and that Kurt, who was never known to be a drinker, had ingested a large amount of Everclear grain alcohol. His parents searched for him for five days to no avail before his body was discovered barefoot in a nearby ravine, a place where his dad had previously looked. Adding more intrigue, a strange man saw a flyer about Kurt in a record shop and told the clerk that the search was pointless, as the kid would turn up dead soon. And despite Kurt’s being missing for five days, the coroner ruled that he had died just 24 to 36 hours prior to being found. The following year, a 13-year-old boy who knew Kurt was found dead in a ravine with his shoes missing. That case also remains unsolved.
“On a case like this one, somebody knows,” says Dunn Meurer. “If you saw volume one of Unsolved [on Netflix], this story reminds me of the Alonzo Brooks case, where a young man goes to a party, suddenly he disappears, and then his body is found in an area where they’d already searched. You hope somebody will come forward, somebody who was at the party, who saw something, maybe somebody who’s more mature now and just has to get this off their chest. That’s what you can hope for in terms of getting this case solved.”
One of the most infamous Unsolved Mysteries segments, “Up in Smoke” deals with the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion. It examines three cases, two of which ended in death, with third being that of Kay Fletcher, a woman who says that one morning her back started emitting smoke that smelled like burned flesh, though she was unharmed. One expert said that SHC could be the result of internal electrical currents causing a spark that ignites the body like a wick, while one skeptic called it “crackpottery.”
“I just watched this episode recently, and I was like, ‘The special effects on this one were actually pretty good!’ For back in the day, not for now — if we were to do them now, they would be laughable,” says Dunn Meurer, chuckling. “But, yeah, the interviewees are so credible, I found. And in fact, one of our researchers just came across another spontaneous combustion in the last couple months, which we’re looking into. I don’t know — you have to decide if you believe that that’s possible or not. It’s an interesting one.”
Here we have a case of a murder that was solved — it’s the way it was solved that still puzzles Dunn Meurer and others involved. In 1977, respiratory therapist Teresita Basa was found stabbed to death underneath a burnt mattress in her Chicago apartment. There were no clues, outside a note Basa left for herself to “get theatre tickets for A.S.” Five months later, one of her co-workers, Remibias Chua, started having dreams about the murder and speaking in Teresita’s voice to her husband while she slept, saying the killer was a man named Allan Showery and that he took Basa’s jewelry to give to his girlfriend. They went to the police with the claim, and, sure enough, the detectives found that Showery knew Basa and his girlfriend was wearing her jewelry. Confronted with the evidence, he confessed, but nobody could figure out a rational explanation for Chua’s knowledge of the details. The segment was popular enough that NBC turned it into a TV movie in 1996.
“You can decide: Was Teresita’s friend possessed by her spirit?” says Dunn Meurer. “But the fact that she had the very, very specific information about Allan Showery, the jewelry, and how Teresita was murdered, I have to believe that she got that information somewhere. She was a co-worker, they didn’t even know each other that well, but it’s interesting that Teresita chose her to channel this information through. I love that Showery was so freaked out that he was like, ‘Yeah, I did it, I did it!’”
Jessica Keen was a 15-year-old cheerleader from Weinland Park, Ohio, who went missing in 1991 and was discovered dead in a cemetery two days later. Based on physical evidence, police determined that she’d been held hostage and raped before escaping her captor and hiding in a cemetery, barely clothed and with her mouth still duct-taped shut. Tragically, her assailant found her, assaulted her again, and beat her to death with a headstone. The case remained cold until 2008, when a man named Marvin Lee Smith was arrested for assaulting two women and police made a DNA match to Jessica’s murder.
“That one is chilling because she’s so young and, the last minutes of her life, she lived in such terror and such fear,” Dunn Meurer says. “It breaks your heart for this young girl, so I think that one is absolutely frightening. I’m very glad that we got him behind bars.”
For around a year, 20-year-old Cindy Anderson had vivid nightmares of being abducted and murdered. Then, one morning in 1981, she disappeared, never to be found. Prior to the incident, someone had twice spray-painted “I love you Cindy — by GW” on a wall near the legal office where she worked, but police could never figure out who did the graffiti. One client recalled that Anderson had received a call the day before her disappearance that left her upset, and a month later an anonymous woman phoned police to say Cindy was being held in a basement in a nearby house but wouldn’t provide any other details. Some suspect that she knew too much about a local drug ring that had ties to the legal firm she worked at, while others believed that she might have decided to run away from her strict Christian household and start a new life.
“Just the fact that she predicted her disappearance, and we still don’t know where she is is, frightening,” says Dunn Meurer. “We were always questioning what the motive would be. Why Cindy? I don’t know, unless they knew her or it was a crime of opportunity like the Patrice Endres case in volume one. She was just working in her hair salon in the middle of the day, and in 13 minutes, somebody abducts her. Cindy could have experienced the same thing. It was very lucky in Patrice’s case that her remains were found so everyone knew she had died. I have a feeling that Cindy is not with us any longer. I think that if she had just run off, she would eventually either come home or been identified.”
In 1991, Gordon and Jackie McAllister, who’d been married for 39 years, were taking a vacation in their RV when they stopped in Blind River, Ontario, for the night. Around one in the morning, a man claiming to be a police officer knocked on their door and, when Jackie opened it, brandished two guns. He told them to hand over their money and any valuable possessions, then shot Jackie after she complied. Gordon escaped the RV, and the man pursued him when 29-year-old Brian Majors pulled into the same lot. The gunman then killed Majors and drove off in a blue van. Gordon was able to produce a composite image of the murderer, but the man was never caught. It’s believed that the assailant was a cop named Ronald West, who lived nearby, owned a blue van and the same type of guns used in the killings, and was convicted on separate murder charges, though he never admitted to this crime.
“This is one of those ‘not doing anything wrong’ [cases],” says Dunn Meurer. “Anyone is kind of programmed that when a police officer shows up, you answer the door and interact with them. Unfortunately, these people did that and two of them were murdered. It’s scary that this guy is still out there. I don’t think they had any DNA in this case, so maybe he’s behind bars for some other crime and we don’t know it. This is another example of a random murder. That’s so scary.”