In the late 70s, the Golden State Killer launched a reign of terror that terrified residents in California. The serial killer committed at least 12 murders and 120 residential burglaries—then he disappeared without a trace. That was until 2018 when Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested and identified as the serial killer.
DeAngelo was caught when his third cousin uploaded their genetic profile to 23andMe and using familial DNA, police were able to strike off every family member as a potential suspect until they got down to DeAngelo.
Now that law enforcement is legally allowed to search these genetic databases to potentially catch criminals—it looks like even more justice is on the horizon.
Teamed with the help of online sleuths and new breakthroughs; these are the following cold cases that could be solved in 2021.
10 The Zodiac Killer
In December 2020, an international three-person team of codebreakers finally managed to decipher a message from the Zodiac Killer that had baffled FBI enlisted cryptanalysts for decades. The unidentified serial killer is believed to have killed at least five people in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968 and 1969.
The extremely complex cipher was posted on YouTube and reads: “I hope you are having lots of fun trying to catch me. I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice (sic) all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me.”
Now, using the same method that helped capture the Golden State Killer; familial DNA might also help identify the Zodiac Killer. 50 years ago, the Zodiac Killer sent a letter to an attorney in San Francisco and would have licked the postage stamp meaning updated DNA technology could work as a roadmap directly to the killer. It is believed the Zodiac Killer is now approx. 85 years old.
9 The Boy In The Box
The tragic mystery of the Boy in the Box is still unsolved more than 60 years on. Also known as “America’s Unknown Child’, the body of a young boy (believed to be aged between 3 and 7 years old) was discovered in a park at the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 25th, 1957.
The boy’s battered, naked body had been wrapped in a blanket and discarded in a bassinet box. His severely malnourished body was covered with surgical scars on his chin, groin, and ankle. Nearly half a million ‘Information Wanted’ flyers were sent out to homes in the Philadelphia area and beyond. Police also created forensic facial reconstructions but still, nobody was able to identify the boy.
Hopefully, with the advancements in familial DNA, there might be some answers in the heartbreaking Boy in the Box case. He is now buried at Ivy Hill Cemetery in Cedarbrook, Philadelphia.
8 The Delphi Murders
On February 13th, 2017, best friends 13-year-old Abigail Williams and 14-year-old Liberty German went for an afternoon walk on the Delphi Historic Trails in Indiana. The alarm was raised when they never showed up at the prearranged pickup spot.
Tragically, their bodies were discovered at Monon High Bridge the following day. Footage found on Liberty’s phone showed a grainy video and a man’s voice can be heard telling them: “Guys … Down the hill.”
The FBI revealed the suspected killer is believed to be a white man, weighing between 180 and 200 pounds and approx. 5ft 7in tall. He has been described as wearing blue jeans, a blue jacket or coat, and a hooded sweater. Nobody has ever been arrested for the murders.
Recently it was revealed two Carroll County detectives, two Indiana State Police detectives, and other law enforcement officers have now been assigned to the case. There are hopes these detectives will finally be able to bring the devastated families the closure they are desperate for.
7 The Disappearance of Susan Powell
In December 2009, Susan Powell disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Her husband, Josh Powell, alleged that he went on a camping trip in the middle of the night with their two sons, Braden and Charlie, but Susan had decided to stay at home as she wasn’t feeling well. She was never seen again.
Later, it was discovered by investigators in West Valley City, Utah, that Susan had left a handwritten note in a safe deposit box at the bank where she worked. She detailed how Josh had taken out a $1 million life insurance policy on her life and the note read: “If I die, it may not be an accident.”
Despite all suspicions, Josh was never charged in his wife’s disappearance due to a lack of physical evidence. Then in 2012, he killed himself and his two sons in an explosion after pouring gasoline around the house before setting it alight. According to the autopsy report, it was also believed that Josh had attacked 5-year-old Braden and 7-year-old Charlie with a hatchet before he became overwhelmed by the fumes.
In 2021, it was announced that Season 2 of true crime podcast COLD would feature the disappearance of Susan. A revived interest in the case could be the break this missing person case desperately needs.
6 The Disappearance of Asha Degree
On February 14th, 2000, 9-year-old Asha Degree from North Carolina disappeared from her bedroom at approx. 2.30 am. Also in the house was her mother, Iquilla Degree, her father, Harold Degree, and her older brother.
There was no sign of forced entry and no scent for search dogs to follow. Two separate eyewitness accounts revealed they had seen Asha walking along Highway 18 (in the opposite direction of her home) and when they turned around to check on her; she had already disappeared into the woods. Other tipsters also said they witnessed Asha getting into a green 1970s model Ford Thunderbird or Lincoln Mark IV on the night she disappeared.
In August 2001, 30 miles north of the last sighting, construction workers found a book bag that belonged to Asha. Her mother said, “After 20 years, I still believe my daughter is alive. I do not believe she is dead. And I know someone knows something. I’m not crazy enough to think that a 9-year-old can disappear into thin air without somebody knowing something.”
Now the FBI is searching for new clues in the case; they deployed its Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team to help generate more leads and interview prospects.
5 The Somerton Man
The identity of a well-dressed man found on Somerton Park beach in Adelaide, South Australia, is still unknown more than 70 years on.
In December 1948, following the discovery of his body, an autopsy showed no obvious cause of death although its strongly believed he was poisoned. It was also noted that all the labels in his clothing were missing. Then a suitcase was discovered at Adelaide Railway Station which they believed had also belonged to the mystery man as it provided other mysterious objects like a hammer and a sawn-down kitchen knife.
Another puzzling clue is that authorities also found in The Somerton Man’s trousers a piece of paper with the printed words: ‘TAMAN SHUD’. In Persian, this means ‘Finished’ or ‘Ended’ and these are the last words of a collection of Persian poems known as ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’. Due to this translation, it was believed his death was most likely suicide although this theory has been dismissed by online sleuths too.
Over the decades, more than 200 people have come forward with potential leads in the case but none proved very useful. Now with the advancement of familial DNA; authorities are hopeful that the identity of the Somerton Man could soon be revealed.
4 The Murder of Missy Bevers
On April 18th, 2016, a 45-year-old mother of three, Terri ‘Missy’ Beavers, from Red Oak, Texas, was beginning to prep her early morning fitness class at 4 am. When her students arrived at Midlothian’s Creekside Church of Christ an hour later, they found Missy with a severe head injury and multiple puncture wounds to her chest.
Missy died shortly after paramedics arrived and immediately a murder investigation was launched. Then disturbing footage was recovered from the CCTV cameras that showed an unidentified assailant walking through the building opening and closing doors. They were wearing a helmet, gloves, shin guards, and carrying a hammer.
Missy’s husband Brandon Bevers told the police he was happily married, but investigators recovered messages from Missy’s phone that proved otherwise as the couple had issues with finances and infidelity. Although later, his alibi completely checked out and he was no longer considered a suspect.
Police are still working on the cold case and there is a $10,000 reward for any information. Missy’s killer was between 5’2” and 5’8”, and they walked with a limp. This killer could be a man or a woman.
3 The Disappearance of Brian Shaffer
Ohio State medical student 27-year-old Brian Shaffer has been missing since April 1st, 2006. He was last seen on CCTV outside the Ugly Tuna Saloona on the South Campus Gateway at 1:55 am celebrating spring break. Shaffer was then separated from his friends and they assumed he had gone—he was never seen or heard from again.
His best friend William “Clint” Florence was the last person to see him alive. The twist in this whole puzzling case is that an attorney for Florence believes Shaffer is still alive. Following the disappearance of his best friend, Florence refused to take a polygraph test—twice.
His attorney Neil Rosenberg wrote in an email to a private detective in 2008: “If Brian is alive, which is what I’m led to believe after speaking with the detective involved, then it is Brian and not Clint who is causing his family pain and hardship. Brian should come forward and end this.” There is still a $25,500 reward for information leading to Shaffer’s whereabouts.
2 The Murder of JonBenet Ramsey
On December 25th, 1996, 6-year-old pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey was murdered at her family home in Boulder, Colorado. The following day, she was reported missing by her parents—Patsy and John Ramsey.
According to the testimony of Patsy Ramsey, she discovered her daughter was missing after finding a lengthy hand-written letter in the kitchen demanding $118,000 for the safe return of JonBenét. Then, eight hours later, JonBenét’s body was found in the basement of the house after it was searched by John Ramsey.
In 2008, Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy cleared the family of any wrongdoing after examining DNA evidence. The DNA found both underneath JonBenét’s fingernails and in her underwear did not match anyone in the Ramsey family.
JonBenét’s older half-brother (who was 20-years-old at the time of her murder) told ’20/20′, “I think it’s really important for people to understand that this case can be solved. There’s a narrative out there that this is an unsolved homicide and that we just have to accept that as fact, and that is not the truth.” Now with familial DNA, this could be another cold case on the way to being solved.
1 The Disappearance of Maddie McCann
On May 3rd, 2007, 3-year-old Madeleine “Maddie” McCann disappeared from her bed in a holiday apartment in Praia da Luz, Portugal, during a family holiday.
Maddie was left sleeping in the apartment with her two younger siblings, 2-year-old twins, whilst her parents dined in a restaurant 55 meters (180 ft) away. An hour and a half into dinner, her mother, Kate McCann, went to check on the children and discovered Maddie was gone.
Maddie has since become the most reported missing-person in modern history. Her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, told the BBC they will do “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes” to find their daughter.
In 2020, there was a new suspect in the case identified as a German sex offender named Christian Brueckner. The suspect is currently behind bars for the rape of a 72-year-old woman at the same holiday destination where Maddie went missing.
Mark Hofmann, Germany-based crime and intelligence analyst, said, “He absolutely matches the profile of a person who could potentially abduct and or kill a little girl. His cellphone was tracked at the crime scene or at least next to the crime scene the night Maddie disappeared.”
This inquiry is still, at the time of writing, ongoing.