December 2019, Crime + Investigation

It’s a good time for true crime junkies: decades-old cold cases have been solved through DNA testing, there’s hope that more will be soon and then there is the seemingly endless stream of documentaries, podcasts and active subreddits to binge on.

The downside is that it can be hard to keep up with every unsolved mystery or case update. That’s where we’ve got you covered. With a slew of new documentaries, case updates and podcasts, here’s a rundown of some of the most talked-about cases across the community at the moment.


The Rodney Reed case has attracted the attention of millions, including Beyonce, Rihanna and Oprah. Reed was due to be executed this year for the rape and strangulation of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996. However, five days before he was due to die, the execution was stopped.

The case against Reed centred on the fact his semen was found in Stites’ body, but he claims the two had been having an affair; an all-white jury found him guilty, anyway. Now, witnesses have come forward about Stites’ fiancé, policeman Jimmy Fennel, who was known for being jealous and threatening Stites. He later went to prison for kidnapping and sexually assaulting another woman.


Another case of Making a Murderer’s Kathleen Zellner, Ryan Ferguson spent almost 10 years in prison for the murder of Kent Heitholt. In 2001, Heitholt was found beaten and strangled with his own belt. For two years, his murder went unsolved, until police got a tip from high school student Charles Erickson. Erickson said he had been high on the night it happened, partying with 17-year-old Ferguson and had blacked out, but had since been having dreams about the murder and was worried he was involved. Finally, he confessed.

Even though he had no memory of the night, got the details of the murder wrong and there was no evidence against either of them (they even had an alibi), Erickson was offered a plea deal to testify against Ferguson. Despite maintaining his innocence, Ferguson was charged with first-degree murder. Ferguson’s case was taken on by advocacy groups and Zellner and a decade after he was sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit, he was released from prison


This month, after 30 years, the murder of Reesa Dexler was finally solved. Reesa was 15 when she was found dead at her grandparents’ house. She was naked and had been stabbed to death, her spinal cord severed. Her 13-year-old sister was suspected, but in 2018, she went on Dr Phil and took a lie detector test. Semen had been found in Reesa’s body, though and police used genetic genealogy to find a match. The suspect (who had a violent criminal record) died in 2007, but his body was exhumed and found to be a match.


A case infamous in France, Gregory Villemin was four when his body was found tied up and left in the Vologne river in 1984. The next day, his parents started receiving hate mail (anonymous phone calls followed) from someone who called themselves ‘the crow’ and claimed the murder was revenge.

‘The crow’ seemed to have an intimate knowledge of the family and family members soon became the main suspects. A cousin was charged, after his sister-in-law implicated him, but she withdrew her allegations, claiming police pressure. He was released, but then killed by Gregory’s father. Police then focused on Gregory’s mother—which largely seems to come down to sexism—but she was cleared and the charges dropped, eight years later. Although other members of the family have been arrested, 30 years later, Gregory’s murder remains unsolved.


In 1999, the body of 22-year-old care worker Melanie Sturton was found in her Aberdeen home. She had been repeatedly stabbed with a boning knife. Now, the story is being told in a new podcast.


In 1983, 14-year-old DeWitt Duckett was shot at his Baltimore middle school, for his Georgetown University jacket. Numerous witnesses identified Michael Willis as the shooter (seen discarding a gun, wearing a Georgetown jacket and confessing that night).

But the police focused on three high school students, Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins, and Andrew Stewart. They had been at the school that day, but a security guard had chucked them out before the shooting. They were arrested anyway and sentenced to life in prison. Last month, three decades later, they were exonerated.


December marks the 10-year anniversary of Susan Powell’s disappearance. Susan’s husband, Josh, was the prime suspect. He claimed he had taken their kids on an impromptu camping trip the night she had disappeared, even though it was during a blizzard, no evidence of their campsite was found and he’d asked his co-workers how to dispose of a body. Their sons also later told their grandparents that during the trip, “mommy was in the trunk.”

Powell was never convicted of the crime, but he did lose custody of their children. In 2012, during a visitation with them, he snatched the boys away from the social worker, locked himself in his house with them and then blew up the house, killing all three of them. The coroner later ruled that the boys had hatchet wounds to their bodies, but carbon monoxide poisoning was the official cause of death.


Henry Lee Lucas: notorious serial killer or serial liar who confessed to 600 murders he didn’t commit? Three murders can be tied to him, but the story of his confessions is more complicated than the man himself, including the wonky ethics and botched investigations surrounding his claims and how it all unravelled. Lucas died in prison serving time for the murder of a Jane Doe known only as ‘orange socks’ (the clothing she was wearing when her body was found). This year, DNA meant she was finally identified as Debra Jackson. Whether Lucas murdered her, though, is another question.