There are some murder cases that capture the public consciousness. They’re so shocking, so surprising, or so mysterious, that stories about them circulate for years. Almost everyone knows about some of these famous murders. But you may not know all the details of the case, or what happened to the central figures. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about some of these tragic deaths, here’s your chance to do so.
1. Lizzie Borden
The mystery surrounding Lizzie Borden is one of the most famous murders in history. Lizzie was born on July 19th in 1860 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie’s mother died when she was quite young, and her father remarried Abby Durfee Gray. Lizzie didn’t like her stepmother and believed that she had married her father for his money.
On August 4th, 1892, Abby went to the upstairs of their house to make a bed. While there, someone struck her on the head with a hatchet, which cut above her ear and knocked her face down. Her killer then struck her 17 more times on the back of her head, killing her.
Lizzie’s father returned home shortly afterwards at 10.30. He was let into the house by the maid and went to lie down for a nap. The maid was also feeling unwell and went to lie down. At 11.10, Lizzie called out for help. Her father was dead on the couch. Someone also struck him 10 or 11 times with a hatchet.
The case caused an uproar, which is why it’s one of the world’s most famous murders. Even though there was a trial, the jury eventually acquitted her despite her ever-changing story, lack of grief, reports about her anger at her father and stepmother, and the fact that no one else was seen entering or leaving the house. Her acquittal boiled down to one simple fact. No one could believe that a well-bred, church-going Victorian woman could commit such a horrendous crime. After the trial, she returned to her regular life and died at age 66.
2. Black Dahlia
The Black Dahlia case is one of the world’s most famous murders because it remains unsolved to this day. The Black Dahlia was actually Elizabeth Short, murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. Her case remains one of the oldest cold cases in L.A. to date.
Elizabeth was an aspiring actress born in Boston Massachusetts who was working as a waitress to support herself. At twenty-two, police found her nude, mutilated body posed in a vacant lot near Leimert Park. Her body was drained of blood, dissected, mutilated, and scrubbed clean.
The case gained the nickname the Black Dahlia and despite police efforts remains unsolved. There were no solid suspects and the sole witness reported seeing a black sedan parked in the area, but nothing more.
3. Sharon Tate
Sharon Tate was an American actress and model born in 1943. She enjoyed modest success during the 1960s on television and in films and eventually hailed as one of Hollywood’s most promising newcomers. That’s what makes her case one of the most famous murders in recent history.
On August 9, 1969, five people murdered by the Manson Family in Sharon’s home, including her. At the time of her death, Sharon was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with director Roman Polanski as the father. Earlier that night, she dined with friends Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Abigail Folger. They returned to her home at around 10.30. Her housekeeper found them the next morning. Someone stabbed Sharon and the others multiple times. A rope was around her throat that attached her to another victim, Jay Sebring.
The murders sent a shockwave around the world. Her husband returned from London and despite his efforts, the police could find no leads on the murders. Months passed, during which people locked their doors and paranoia grew. Eventually, the Manson family was arrested on unrelated charges. Evidence led police to pin Sharon Tate’s murder on this notorious group at the same time. It turned out that the motive wasn’t the victims, but the house. It had previously been rented to record producer and Manson acquaintance Terry Melcher.
There are several things that makes this one of the most famous murders in history. The youth and popularity of the actress, the brutality of her murder, and the fact that the Manson Family killed her and the others for such a random reason. It was a true tragedy.
4. Dorothy Stratten
Dorothy Stratten was a Canadian Playboy Playmate, actress and model who also appeared in comedy films and network television. At the age of twenty, her estranged husband and manager Paul Snider killed her.
Dorothy had separated from her husband after starting an affair with director Peter Bogdanovich. Snider discovered the affair through a private detective and made several attempts to buy a gun before getting one from a classified ad. Dorothy met with him on August 8th, 1980 and told him that she was in love with Bogdanovich. They agreed to meet again on August 14th, supposedly to finalise their estrangement.
The couple met at the house they had shared and neither walked out. At around eleven that night, their roommates found the couple nude, each of them killed by a blast from a shotgun.
What makes Dorothy’s death one of the most famous murders in recent history is what it inspired. Two motion pictures were made of her death, a book, and several songs including “The Best Was Yet to Come” by Bryan Adams, “Californication” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “Cover Girl” by Prism. But at its heart, this is still a tragic tale of two lives senselessly wasted.
5. Gianni Versace
Gianni was one of the most well-known figures in Hollywood, and his death one of the most famous murders in history. He was the owner and founder of Italian fashion label Versace and counted many celebrities among his friends including Princess Diana, Eric Clapton, Kate Moss, Elton John, Tupac, Naomi Campbell, Duran Duran, Madonna, Cher, and Sting. He was killed outside of his Miami Beach mansion on the 15th of July 1997.
Gianni Versace was killed seemingly at random by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. He shot Versace twice in the head. Cunanan used the same gun that he used to commit suicide on his houseboat eight days later. Cunanan had an obsession with the designer and claimed to have a close personal relationship with him. Friends and family members categorically denied this. Cunanan frequently made grandiose claims about relationships with famous figures.
This is one of the most recent famous murders and the most senseless. There are no real answers here, just terrible luck and perhaps even fate.
6. Kitty Genovese
The death of Kitty Genovese was one of the most tragic deaths anyone’s ever encountered. Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese was born in Brooklyn, New York City in 1935 and later moved to Kew Gardens. She worked as a bartender and dreamed of opening her own restaurant one day.
On March 13th she was driving home from work at around 2.30am when she was spotted by Winston Moseley. She parked her car and Mosley approached her as she walked towards her apartment complex. She ran as he approached, but he overtook her and stabbed her twice in the back with a hunting knife. A neighbor heard the attack and his shouts drove the attacker away. Genovese made her way towards the rear entrance of the building and collapsed. Witnesses saw Mosley leave but returned ten minutes later. He found Genovese barely conscious at the back of the building. Out of the sight of witnesses, he stabbed her several times, raped her, stole money from her, and ran away.
This is one of the most famous murders on record because of the confusion over what actually happened. Early calls to the police about the attack were unclear and not given a high priority by the police. An ambulance eventually picked up Kitty but she died on the way to the hospital.
After Kitty’s death, The New York Times published an article about the incident. They claimed that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack without calling the police or going to Kitty’s aid. In fact, the incident soon became known as the bystander effect or “Genovese Syndrome” and was put into American psychology textbooks. But later research uncovered major inaccuracies in the article. In fact, there was no evidence at all that 38 people witnessed or ignored the incident.
What we know is that this is one of the saddest famous murders in history. The perpetrator, Winston Mosley, later confessed to the crime and died in prison.
7. Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman
This is perhaps one of the most famous murders and trials in American history. Nicole was the wife of football player O.J. Simpson. Their relationship produced two children, but Brown filed for divorce after seven years, complaining of domestic violence. Two years later, someone killed Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman outside of her home in Brentwood, California.
Someone stabbed them to death. The culprit also slashed Nicole’s throat down to the spinal cord with horrendous ferocity. Her ex-husband was the prime suspect. He agreed to turn himself in, but he made a run for it. Putting a gun to his own head, he led the police in a car chase around L.A. before surrendering himself.
The trial looked bad for O.J. His blood was found at the crime scene and DNA from Nicole and Goldman was found in his car and home. A pair of his gloves were also found at Nicole’s house and a bloody footprint at the murder scene matched his shoes.
Unbelievably, he was acquitted despite all this evidence. He was later found guilty in civil court and ordered to pay 33.5 million dollars to the families of the victims.
8. Rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.
These are two of the more recent famous murders. Both rapper superstars were gunned down in the late 1990s about six months apart. The two had been friends at the start of their careers, but rivalry between their record labels had driven them apart.
Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 13th, 1996 and the Notorious B.I.G. was killed six months later when leaving an industry party in Los Angeles. The cases remain unsolved to this day, mostly because of uncooperative witnesses. But theories abound, including one that claims that these famous murders were a sign that music feuds had been allowed to go too far.
9. The Whitechapel Murders
No list of famous murders would be complete without Jack the Ripper. The victims of this unknown killer were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly. They lived over a century ago in London’s East End and worked as prostitutes. Over a three-month period in 1888, all five women were cut down. The manner of their deaths described as too horrible to talk about.
There were and are many theories about who Jack the Ripper was ranging from a doctor to a member of the royal family. But despite modern attempts to crack the case, this most visible of famous murders will probably remain unsolved.
10. JonBenét Ramsey
The murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey is definitely a famous murder case. It has been in the public consciousness for more than twenty years. That makes it not only one of the most famous murders in recent history, but also an ongoing tragedy.
JonBenét was a beauty queen who lived in Boulder Colorado with her parents and older brother. On the day after Christmas in 1996, her mother called the police claiming that her daughter had been kidnapped and a ransom note left behind. The note demanded $118,000 for the safe return of JonBenét.
Hours later, JonBenét’s body was found in the basement of her home. She had been sexually assaulted, had a fractured skull, and had been strangled. The family denied all knowledge of her death, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Mistakes made by police at the crime scene made identifying the killer almost impossible. To this day, JonBenét’s tragic death is unsolved, which is why it’s one of the most famous murders in recent years.
Something about these cases has always fascinated people. No matter how much time has passed, people still speculate about what really happened. And in the case of most of these crimes, the speculations will probably go on well into the future. That’s just an indication of how mysterious, grisly, or tragic these deaths were.