On January 15, 1947, the remains of Elizabeth Short, were found in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. What made this discovery the stuff of tabloid sensation, however, was the Glasgow smile left on the aspiring actress' face--made with 3-inch slashes on each side. This, coupled with Short's dark hair, fair complexion and reputation for sporting a dahlia in her hair, dubbed her "The Black Dahlia" in headlines.
What followed was a media circus filled with rumors and speculation about the promiscuous 22-year-old's checkered past. What haunts theorists to this day, apart from the victim's uniquely nightmarish visage, is that the case remains unsolved after some 200 suspects were interviewed and ultimately released--making it one of Hollywood's most lurid legends.
"Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one."
So goes the lurid nursery rhyme to one of the most mystifying crimes of the century. The nature of the deaths of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby, are trumped only by the identity of the alleged perpetrator: their daughter, Lizzie.
Inexplicably found "not guilty" in contrast to the era's zeitgeist of swift justice, Lizzie's legacy--guilty or not--has become immortalized as one of the most perplexing cases of parricide in history.
In a case of mother-gone-mad that startled a nation, Andrea Yates, to her few friends and neighbors, was known as a mere recluse suffering from postpartum depression leading up to the birth of her fifth child.
That all changed on June 20, 2001, when she snapped, drowning five of her children in their home's bathtub.
She was convicted in 2002 of capital murder, carrying a sentence of life in prison with possible parole. As of July 2006, however, a Texas jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity.
Known as the "Long Island Lolita," Fisher became involved with Joey Buttafuoco in May of 1991. Shortly after the two began a sexual relationship (she, 16, while he, 35, was married with two children), his presence and influence in her life became all she cared for.
In what he's since denied to this day, Buttafuoco would go on to help an obsessive Fisher plan the murder of his wife, culminating in Fisher putting a bullet in Mary Jo Buttafuoco's head, but failing to kill her.
In the highly publicized trial that ensued, Fisher accepted a plea deal for 15 years in prison in exchange for a testimony against Joey, who faced and served out charges of statutory rape.
With a face that graced the covers of nearly every news and gossip rag during the winter of '96, it's hard to suggest the death of child beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey had little effect outside the city of Boulder, Colorado.
Found dead from a blow to the head and strangulation in the family's basement, coupled with a ransom note left on the staircase asking for $118,000 (conveniently or coincidentally, nearly the same amount Mr. Ramsey received as a bonus that year), as well as no obvious signs of forced entry into the house, the evidence was overwhelmingly stacked against parents John and Patsy, who managed to maintain their innocence throughout the investigation.
The case reopened in 2010, but critics cite poor handling of the crime scene as obstructing what remains a mystery regarding the events of that Christmas day.
Tattooed with "Born to Raise Hell" on his arm, Richard Speck made good on his mantra through a history of violence, theft, alcoholism, and spousal abuse, but made his infamy known to all when, on July 13, 1966, he walked into a dormitory armed with a knife.
After leaving 8 student nurses dead in his wake, only one, Cora Amurao, was spared--hiding under a bed until 6 a.m.
Speck was found guilty of murder and died of a heart attack in prison. As one of the most press-worthy crimes of the decade, the grim events were used most recently as the backdrop for an episode of Mad Men.
Perhaps the most terrifying figure in American crime to have never actually killed anyone himself, Charles Manson founded a "family" of wayward individuals who hailed him as a prophet.
So strong was his manipulation, he ordered, on the night of Aug. 8, 1969, four of his followers to kill everyone at the residence of 10050 Cielo Drive--including Roman Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, and her unborn child. Tate was stabbed 16 times, and her blood was used to write "pig" on the house's front door.
The next night, Manson accompanied six of his family to the residence of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, only to help bind them before ordering their deaths.
In 1971, Manson and three of his fellow defendants were found guilty of murder in the first-degree and several other crimes. At the time, it was the longest murder trial in American history, spanning nine and a half months, as well as the most expensive, estimating $1 million.
Manson was denied parole for the 12th time in April 2012.
Used as the basis for an Agatha Christie novel (Murder on the Orient Express) and dubbed "the biggest story since the Resurrection" by famed journalist H.L. Mencken, the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son continues to fascinate theorists today.
Charles Jr. was discovered missing from his second-floor bedroom on March 1, 1932, along with a note demanding a then-unimaginable $50,000, igniting a media frenzy like no other. The tabloid pandemonium prompted many tips and leads, but none as concrete as a package containing the boy's pajamas and another message demanding the ransom.
After some misdirection from the presumed kidnapper, Lindbergh's child was soon after discovered in the woods along a road near the family residence.
Notwithstanding the evidence stockpiled against the easily vilified illegal German immigrant Bruno Hauptmann (who was sentenced), speculation prevails as to the true identity of the caper responsible in this tragic tale of one of America's greatest heroes.
Still fresh in the minds of many and not to easily be forgotten, the trial of Casey Anthony turned Orlando, Florida into anything but the "happiest place on earth."
Following a series of lies, misdirection and manipulation by then-22 year old Casey, Caylee's skeletal remains were found five months into the investigation, setting the stage for what could only be described as the most incessantly publicized and shocking trial in recent memory.
The media had a field day that went on for months: Highlighting the young, pretty, party girl image used against her in court as the prosecution tore apart an aimless defense--or so it seemed.
After resorting to throwing her family under the bus, incriminating people entirely made-up ("Zanny the Nanny"), and fabricating elaborate stories for the police, Casey was found not guilty of murder due to evidence deemed mostly circumstantial and not meeting the burden of "beyond reasonable doubt," inciting much debate regarding whether true justice was served.
Known and heralded as the "trial of the century," former football star and actor O.J. Simpson found himself in the middle of the nation's biggest, most-televised trial following the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, but not before fleeing an all-points bulletin in his Ford Bronco with 20 units in tow, interrupting game 5 of the NBA Finals.
By enlisting a dream team including Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and Robert Kardashian, the defense claimed Simpson was merely a victim of police fraud with regard to contaminated DNA evidence, while famously quipping "If it [the glove] doesn't fit, you must acquit."
On October 3, 1995, an estimated 100 million people from around the world tuned in to watch the jury hand down a verdict of not guilty, consequently resulting in an estimated loss of $480 million in productivity and inciting an ongoing discussion of race in the judicial system that continues to this day.