Nothing more nostalgic is streaming on Amazon Prime right now than the original Unsolved Mysteries. Yes to rotary phones! Yes to classic wide framed glasses! Yes to scary criminals with thick mustaches! In all seriousness, the legendary series hosted by veteran screen actor Robert Stack brought out the most compelling mysteries. True crime media has reached full plateau in 2017, with a surplus of documentaries and podcasts that should have broken the internet by now. Fascination persists however for mystery media lovers that are streaming four seasons (and counting) of the beloved series that once represented enjoying an hour of spooky television.
Unexplained death, missing persons, wanted, fraud, and lost loves served as some of the famous segments. My favorites were always the murder and missing people broadcasts. Missing school for being sick or on holiday break meant watching reruns on Lifetime that I so eagerly anticipated. I loved the series so much that my past diary entries included writings about filling my day with reruns. Robert Stack and I even share the same birthday! The day I learned Robert passed away brought me sadness because I realized that Unsolved Mysteries was officially extinct. Eventually in my adolescence I moved on to other successful shows like America’s Most Watched, Forensic Files, and Cold Case Files.
Unsolved Mysteries provided unforgettable and frightening stories that seared my memory. These memorable cases are worth mentioning:
A Massachusetts teen disappears from her lifeguard post on a clear beach side morning in June 2000. All that remains is her sitting post, emergency supplies, and personal belongings. The sketch composite for a person of interest regarding the case stayed with me.
One day before Molly Bish vanished, her mother witnessed an out-of-place man smoking a cigarette while parked inside his car near Comins Pond. The sketch’s pairing of the cigarette along with the man’s serious facial expression literally chilled my childhood. Years after the Unsolved Mysteries segment I learned some interesting information. Apparently the investigation of Molly’s disappearance became the largest and most expensive search for a missing person in Massachusetts history.
The I.D. series Disappeared (another of my TC favorites) profiled Molly’s case in 2011. This episode provides details about loved ones affected by her disappearance, in addition to other potential suspects. It’s always interesting seeing a case lifespan through the lens of one separate series to another.
Molly’s remains were discovered in 2003, yet to this day her murder remains unsolved.
Imagine you stumble upon a deserted VHS tape. You pop it in your VCR. A burning house is being displayed under the creepy commentary of the unknown assailant. This kinda sounds the plot line for The Ring.
It was all too real though. A father and son indeed found one obscure yet terrifying tape while traveling near Route 205 in Stockton, California. The alarming statements made by the purported arsonist were spine tingling. Chilling and intense as the fire itself. The breathing in between words, the freaky tone, and the evil intention behind the tape were enough to make you sweat. This was a unique case because the fire destination and persons involved were unknown, which is why authorities were stumped in discovering the origin to begin with. Thankfully some devoted Unsolved watchers recognized the location. The arson occurred 80 miles away from Route 205 in 1988. Tips eventually led to the arrest of two juveniles responsible for the arson. Since these minors claimed their culpability, their names were never publicly revealed.
An air of mystery still exists behind the identity of the amateur camera man and arsonist.
Stream this segment: Season 3, episode 1
BIKE PATH RAPIST
Young women taking shortcuts through a secluded bike path brought a terrifying encounter: a serial rapist threatening their lives. In the 80’s and 90’s, several women in upstate New York were being attacked. Matters took an even serious turn when Linda Yalem, University of Buffalo student, was raped and strangled to death in 1994, marking the first death perpetuated by the Bike Path rapist. The rape reenactments in Unsolved Mysteries were terrifying. I don’t literally mean the sexual assault itself but how the assailant grabbed force of his vulnerable victims. The physical descriptions of the man –the signature trucker hat he’d wear– displayed through several police sketches stayed with me.
Many cases featured on Unsolved Mysteries went unsolved for years, even after the show was cancelled in 2002. In the meantime, the Bike Path rapist went dormant for 14 years until striking again in 2006, this time claiming the life of Joan Diver.
It wasn’t until I watched Solved on Netflix in 2012, had I learned the Bike Path rapist was finally caught. Having already known the case from many years before, I literally shouted something like OH MY GOD when the rapist’s identity was revealed. Solved explained unique information I hadn’t previously known and delves deeply about the case investigation of the Bike Path Rapist.
Richard Church appeared like your average yet handsome American teenager. Richard was long time friends with Colleen Ritter when they began dating in high school. Later on their relationship started to fade due to distance because he was away at college and Colleen was still attending high school. However what really nagged Colleen was Richard’s pestering and controlling ways, so she ended the relationship.
Cutting the cord set off Richard.
One ordinary night while the Ritter family slept, along with friends of Colleen and her little brother, Richard surreptitiously snuck in her residence. Knife in hand. Richard was about to make his presence really known. Sneaking by he stabbed Colleen’s sleeping parents to death in their bed.
Meanwhile her innocent little brother, Michael, noticed the disturbance and walked out of his room. Richard’s murderous campaign continued as he wounded defenseless Michael upstairs. Then Richard lunged and stabbed his ex-girlfriend as she screamed and ran helplessly out of the house. The scary cat and mouse chase continued as Colleen jolted onto the street.
This segment was truly chilling. Like sweat and goosebumps chilling.
When I discovered the Unsolved Mysteries subreddit years ago, the Richard Church case was one of several I first inquired about. It was one of those mysteries where you wondered if people remembered from long ago and they quickly filled me in with updates.
Richard wounding Colleen and her family is beyond disturbing, especially for such a young age. He definitely represented the real life boogeyman, one that young women fear will make men their prey.
Stream this segment: Season 3, episode 8
RHODE ISLAND COUPLE DISAPPEARS
At first sight, Adam and Elena Emery appeared like any other young and attractive married duo. They probably thought they were untouchable until Adam killed an innocent man to death, due to a mistaken case of road rage.
The victim’s death isn’t the real mystery. The day Adam was convicted, he and his wife vanished. Their abandoned car was found parked on the Newport Bridge. Since they left without a trace, Unsolved Mysteries consulted with an interpreter in deciphering Adam and Elena’s private conversation in their courtroom footage. Did they discuss plans to escape? Adam’s narcissistic ways overshadowed his conviction. The images seared in my memory relate to Adam and Elena exhibiting 90s galore: her blonde and poofy hair, their swanky suits, his overall American Psycho demeanor.
The case continues being an active investigation since the FBI has issued an arrest warrant for Adam Emery’s capture –27 years after fatally stabbing Jason Bass in the heart. A local affiliate interviewed Bass’ family and investigators about the cold case in 2016, which you can view below.
Adam Emery would be 54 years old today.
When I peeked into the Spike TV revival in 2009, I immediately hated the show. Dennis Farina’s mystique paled in comparison next to Robert Stack. The remastered segments looked dreadful. My thoughts shifted in 2015 when I began watching the Farina reruns on Lifetime. I actually grew to love the guy. Fun fact: Dennis was a former Chicago police officer from 1967 to 1985.
Moreover, the revival contained cases I had missed during the original Stack run. Learning about these previously unknown investigations was actually interesting and informative. Maybe for another write up I’ll discuss these in-the-dark cases. So while the Farina episodes didn’t measure up with the original, I can definitely say many mornings counted on me switching to Lifetime.
Uncovering Unexplained Mysteries (formerly titled Uncovering Unsolved Mysteries) premiered as the podcast about the cult classic in 2016. The Trail Went Cold podcast occasionally dives into cases from the series. Recently the creators of Unsolved Mysteries participated in a Reddit AMA. Mental Floss summarized interesting tidbits about John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer’s experiences and thoughts on working the show.
Whether in our memories, streaming services, or podcasts, Unsolved Mysteries stays strong as possibly the best true crime series. Watching this series represented a sacred hour in my home. I was mesmerized, shocked, and intrigued. My first foray into true crime media made me innocently jot down in my kid diary that I wanted to be a detective (true story). My humble opinion has changed: working criminal investigations looks like one of the hardest jobs ever. What I appreciate is the magic and curiosity of my former child self wanting to explore the dark side of humanity.
The exploration still continues today.