Netflix’s summer revival of Unsolved Mysteries turned out to be as compelling as the original while also feeling new. Given that the original creators (Cosgrove/Meurer Productions) teamed up with the Stranger Things production company (21 Laps Entertainment), this result may not have been too surprising, but the project took risks to get there. First, they made the decision to go hostless — a wise move, considering that no one could replace Robert Stack. Second, they decided to structure each episode as a deep dive, rather than buzzing through multiple cases per installment. In the end, the approach worked because (1) Stack’s practically haunting each episode in silhouette, so his spirit still lives; (2) Forty-or-so minutes per episode makes each story even more engrossing, which has encouraged Reddit detectives to pounce upon these cases.
Yep, the public’s obsession with true-crime stories continues, and it’s perhaps even more amplified now, when people feel overwhelmed by the utter loss of control during our current global situation. If any justice can possibly be served (or closure can be found) for victims’ families (anyone with relevant information can reach out to Unsolved.com), then this show serves its purpose. Of course, the show also tends to break up the true-crime formula with the occasional paranormally-geared episode (as with “Queen Mary Ghost Ship” from the original run) that guarantees chills.
With Volume 2 hitting Netflix soon, the show’s updated format stays the same, and some of these cases are super cold, as in decades old. That’s actually quite fascinating, since DNA techniques are much more advanced now, which is precisely why the dogged efforts of Michelle McNamara against the Golden State Killer finally paid off, as HBO showed with the recent I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. Netflix’s audience will no doubt gobble up these “new” cases, and it must be noted that I’d never dare to “rank” these cases by their devastation factor. These cases are all tragic, but some are spookier than the rest. Since October is the spookiest month, let’s rank them on that note.
6. Episode #2 — “Death In Oslo”
Official synopsis: After checking in at a luxury hotel with no ID or credit card, a woman dies from a gunshot. Years later, her identity — and her death — remain a mystery.
Facts: The 1995 case involves a Jane Doe who secured a room at an opulent hotel, somehow without using a credit card, which was against the hotel rules. Her stay lasted for days, and law enforcement ruled this case a suicide even though her hand placement on the gun proved to be extraordinarily suspicious. Further, no one could figure out how anyone could have entered the room with it double-locked from the inside.
Analysis: There’s a lot of unsettling facts in this case that I won’t spoil, but I will say that the events that do shake out suggest that there are some human shenanigans afoot. No ID or passport was found in the room, and it sure looked like she was carrying many unusual items with her — really a nonsensical assortment for someone who supposedly committed suicide. She appeared to follow an extraordinary life, but the most engrossing part of this episode won’t send chills through anyone’s spine. Instead, the unraveling of this woman’s identity is the true draw.
5. Episode #1 — “Washington Insider Murder”
Official synopsis: Police find the body of former White House aide Jack Wheeler in a landfill. Security footage captures strange events in the days leading up to his death.
Facts: Jack Wheeler, a Vietnam veteran and member of multiple presidential administrations, lived through some strange circumstances in the days surrounding his 2010 disappearance. His cell phone popped up in a construction site across the street from his second home, where it sort-of looked like a robbery took place. Wheeler was spotted on numerous security cameras while he was technically missing, and then he disappeared, later to be killed by “blunt force trauma,” according to a coroner’s report.
Analysis: Wheeler’s own erratic behavior (and complications involving his mental health) muddies the waters of this case to a great degree. Let’s just say that, yes, it’s mighty suspicious that his body was discovered in a landfill. The tracing of his known whereabouts turns out to be quite compelling, but this mystery might be about a chain event of unfortunate circumstances more than any one cause. I could be wrong, though! Perhaps some at-home detectives will offer tips related to foul play.
4. Episode #5 — “Lady In The Lake”
Official synopsis: On an icy night, police find JoAnn Romain’s abandoned car and assume she drowned in a nearby lake by suicide. But her family suspects foul play.
Facts: In 2010, Romain went missing during her usual Sunday morning visit to church. Her body didn’t surface until 70 days after her death.
Analysis: This 2010 case looks truly nefarious, not to mention that it makes little sense at all, according to family members who don’t believe Romain could have possibly killed herself. There’s a lot about this case that doesn’t add up, including how Romain’s body was found in an icy river, yet private pathologists cast doubt upon autopsy findings that she’d drowned. Even more inconsistencies surface (involving the wearing of high heels) to make this a really truly chilling (and fearsome) story to behold.
3. Episode #6 — “Stolen Kids”
Official synopsis: In May and August 1989, two toddlers vanished from the same NYC park. A search turned up nothing — but their families haven’t given up hope.
Facts: These late 1980s cold cases, which involved two children disappearing from a New York City playground, are equally heartbreaking and mysterious. Decades later, the relatives who were present at the park on those days describe the confusion surrounding the children going missing in broad daylight. A huge this-could-happen-to-you element lingers with the viewer during the credits.
Analysis: This episode will really get under people’s skin, given that many lives changed in the blink of an eye, and these children haven’t surfaced for decades. On-hand experts point out that most missing children are eventually discovered, often with someone they know, whether they’re living or dead. Instead, these kids vanished into thin air, and the conclusion that they’re possibly still alive arrives with a disturbing resonance. Projections on how these children might look in 2020 get a big focus here, and hopefully, those technological leaps will help solve these long-standing tragedies.
2. Episode #3 — “Death Row Inmate”
Official synopsis: Given a furlough to go Christmas shopping in 1973, a convicted killer escapes. Police have come close to apprehending him but believe he’s still at large.
Facts: Lester Eubanks was convicted of killing a teenager girl (Mary Ellen Deener) in 1965 and ended up on death row. For some unknown reason, he was allowed to leave (unguarded) to go holiday shopping, and of course, he went on the lam, never to be arrested again to this day. Honestly, these facts read like a bad horror movie.
Analysis: What’s most disturbing about this case is the miscarriage of justice that has prevailed for decades. First, it’s bizarre that anyone on death row would be allowed to go shopping due to “good behavior. Second, a detective started digging in 20 years later, and there were no warrants to be found for Eubanks. Details on visits to the prison make this case even more bizarre, along with the idea that (despite an attempted boost by America’s Most Wanted) this guy is still out there, after having evaporated without a trace. The justice system and law enforcement repeatedly refusing to pick up the ball is enough to make viewers afraid of the shadows.
1. Episode #4 — “Tsunami Spirits”
Official synopsis: A massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan in March 2011. Residents share stories of the spirits they encountered in the wake of the disaster.
Facts: The 2011 tsunami (that reached 131 feet in maximum height) in Ishinomaki, Japan left over 15,000 people confirmed dead and at least 2,500 people still missing. Anyone who believes in ghosts would not be surprised to learn that reports about paranormal activity in the area have gone through the roof.
Analysis: Hands down, this is the scariest episode of the new batch. This episode largely runs through subtitles, and I’m here to tell you that they don’t lessen the impact of paranormally-inclined academics and religious figures who speak to the lingering trauma in the area impacted by the tsunami. Even survivors remain shell-shocked by the ordeal, so it should be no surprise to hear one expert discuss how disembodied souls probably feel the same way, and it hits hard. The accounts relayed by residents (like mysteriously soaking-wet people ringing doorbells and asking for dry clothes) are haunting, and one wonders if anything (including exorcisms) will ever halt the unsettling tide — one that originally surfaced from the wrath of mother nature.
Netflix’s ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ Volume 2 streams on October 19.