Humans have an advanced ability to recognise patterns, one of the uniquely tuned and honed abilities that has allowed us to become the most dominant species on Earth. When we encounter the unknown, we freak out a bit. From unidentified killers, unknown victims to pseudonymous artists and elusive hackers, there are plenty of people who affect the world that we simply don’t know who they are. We are conversely reviled and intrigued by this, hungering to solve the mystery, to accurately map the landscape of reality. Here are ten people that are currently little more than a conundrum to us, begging to be solved.
10 Shotgun Man
Secrecy used to be a guiding principle in US organized crime circles, as opposed to an ideal to aim for as it has become since the FBI got their act together. The principle of ‘omerta’, the oath of silence held by members of ‘la Cosa Nostra’, has proven to be a useful weapon in staving off capture and conviction for their members. Nowhere is this more evident than the jealous guarding of the identity of a shotgun wielding assassin who preyed on Italian immigrants in 1910s Chicago. The ‘Shotgun Man’ was the very embodiment of the Grim Reaper; he was in the employ of so-called ‘Black Hand’ Mafiosi, a group of extortionists who exerted their influence over the city until one Al ‘Scarface’ Capone consolidated power a decade or so later.
Between January 1910 and March of 1911, this mysterious gunman killed 15 people around ‘Death Corner’ (the intersection of Oak street and Milton street), putting away 4 victims in a 72-hour period towards the end of the spree. Due to the political, judicial and obvious criminal influence the Black Hand gangs held in Chicago’s Little Italy, nobody talked, despite there being multiple witnesses for each murder. Rumours have swirled for over a century, many people suggesting the man was specifically brought over from Sicily due to his use of a shotgun (the weapon of choice for Mafiosi in the old country). We’ll probably never know who the Shotgun Man was, but many people did.
9 The Bolney Torso
Modern humans have become very sheltered from death, only encountering it infrequently and often with a loved one or an acquaintance who is very advanced in age. Thus, discovering a dead body is going to be a traumatic event. Discovering part of a dead body could arguably be even more horrifying.
Colin Oliver was trudging along the road between Cuckfield to Burgess Hill, England, a 4.5 mile schlep, on Friday 11 October, 1991. He was a hard-working warehouseman and, being in his 60’s, Oliver had to make a quick diversion into a woodland near Bolney to take a whizz. There, in the undergrowth, wrapped in some carpet, Oliver found a bloody torso. The deceased was assumed to have been a man in his 60’s, his head and hands were removed (one arm was cut 2 inches below the elbow with an axe or some bolt cutters, probably to remove an identifiable tattoo). Subsequent work on the case in 2011 has revealed that the torso was probably a man in his mid 30’s/early 40’s, was between 5’6 and 5’8 and was probably from southern Germany but had been in England for the last year of his life.
8 John Twelve Hawks
Right, let’s lighten the mood with some kick-ass, rip-roaring, uplifting…dystopian science fiction. Ok so, let’s marginally lightened the mood.
This iconoclastic author has written 4 novels, 3 within the ‘Fourth Realm Trilogy’, and 1 non-fiction eBook called ‘Against Authority’ which charts and critiques the rise of the surveillance state in the post 9/11 USA and elsewhere. His recent novel ‘Spark’ has had the rights bought by DreamWorks. So why all the ‘peek’ and no ‘boo’? Well, Mr. Twelve Hawks goes some way to explain this in his interview with ‘Stargate SG-1’ producer Joseph Mallozzi: “My mother and the rest of my family don’t know that I have written the novels. Those people I know who aren’t close friends see me as a failure by the American standards of success. Being a failure in such a way has been a continual lesson. It’s helped me realize that we make quick judgments of others based on little real information. We assume so much – but don’t know the secrets held within the heart”…God I hope he’s Shia LaBeouf.
7 Driff Field
There’s a lot of AKA’s here: ‘Xavier Driffield’, ‘Dryfeld’, ‘Drif’ amongst more names attributed to this enigmatic English book dealer. His job was to procure rare, antique tomes for private clients. He wrote and published a guidebook, widely distributed in the industry, that was noted as being excellent if a little sarcastic in some places. ‘Drif’ also managed to occasionally publish a magazine which only lasted 22 issues. The man became a legend in publishing and the antique book scene in Britain, appearing in a 1992 documentary for Channel 4 and appeared as a character in a novel by Welsh psychogeographer and author Iain Sinclair.
In 2014 ‘Driff Field’ found himself in a spot of hot water; he was on trial for rape and indecency with a child. It seems he had written a novel which included the abuse of a young girl and had sent the manuscript to the family of the alleged victim. ‘Xavier Driffield’ (the name he used at trial) was cleared of all charges. In the run-up to the trial, some sources state that his name was ‘B.C.M. Driffield’ and ‘David Richard Ian Frederick Field’. Who the hell is this guy?
6 Jane Martin
Staying with the literary theme, our second unidentified writer is a Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright. She, or maybe he, or maybe…that’s the point? You see, Jane Martin’s work is often described as possessing a ‘feminine voice’, eagerly lavished with industry awards which all get accepted on his/her/its behalf by their representative, retired artistic director Jon Jory.
Since 1981 Martin has produced dark comedies and satires, many focussing on the more mockable aspects of the theatrical world and the culture. Experts suggest that the person who has written these plays must be an industry insider, given how pointed and accurate their observations are. So…probably Jon Jory then. Or Shia LaBeouf.
5 The Hidden King
Here’s one from the distant past. This tale has all the trappings of an awesome historical mystery novel à la ‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco. During the 1519-1523 uprising known as ‘the Revolt of the Brotherhood’, the forces of the Aragonese dominated Kingdom of Valencia were on the brink of quelling the rebel forces. One man, a messianic leader referred to as ‘El Rei Encobert’ (‘The Hidden King’ in Catalan) or simply l’Encobert (‘The Hidden’) gathered the faltering rebel forces and rallied against the tyrannical royalists.
Claiming a divine mandate, this mysterious man led many guerrilla raids and oversaw skirmishes between the rebel forces and the Royal armies. A hefty reward was offered to any man who could kill l’Encobert. During a recruitment drive on the outskirts of the city of Valencia—a place l’Encobert hoped his forces would soon capture—several riders galloped towards the man and, without stopping or dismounting, cut off his head to retrieve the bounty. There is so much more to write about this incredible figure. If you want more detail and are happy with falling down a rabbit hole, a quick Google search will get you there.
4 ‘Dolly’ Gray
To play in the NFL is right up there with signing for Manchester United, starring in a Hollywood movie or going triple platinum with your first hit song. Now, despite what many people will try and tell you, not everyone can become famous or excel in whichever field of endeavour they think they are best suited to, least of all the physically strenuous, short-lived, hyper competitive world of pro sports. “Fuck you” is what Jack ‘Dolly’ Gray, the ballsiest imposter ever, would say to that!
NFL legend, player-coach and owner of the St. Louis All-Stars Ollie Kraehe was in a bind during the 1923 season. His team was struggling financially when he was approached by a real hot prospect of a player; the All-American tight end from the unbeaten Princeton University team of 1922, ‘Dolly’ Gray. Kraehe signed the young man and stuck him straight in the team. He sucked. To help plug the holes in the leaking fiscal septic tank that was the St. Louis All-Stars, Kraehe traded Dolly to the Green Bay Packers. He sucked again. This time, Dolly disappeared. Nobody knows who he was, where he came from or even if he had ever played football before. All I know is Jack ‘Dolly’ Gray adds new meaning to “fake it ’til you make it, then run away”.
There are many serial killers that are still at large, their identity hidden, known only by their press generated or self appointed nickname. Many have probably since died, taking their secrets to the grave. California has the Zodiac. New York has the Long Island serial killer. London has Jack the Ripper. Calcutta, India has the Stoneman.
Compared to many serial killers’ twisted, often complicated, modus operandi, the Stoneman kept things simple. He’d find a sleeping homeless person, check around for witnesses and, when the coast was clear, crush his victim’s skull with a large stone. Stoneman claimed around 13 victims in Calcutta in 1989. The same man is possibly responsible for 12 similar killings in Mumbai between 1985 -1988. Since 2009, there has been a spate of eerily similar killings in the city of Guwahati. Copy cat killer? Or the continuation of a long career in killing?
2 Jim Browning
The pseudonym used by this Northern Irish hacker is, quite fittingly, reminiscent of a hard-nosed sheriff, rifle in hand, ready to break up a marauding gang that threatens his town. That’s pretty much what ‘Jim Browning’ does, albeit in a very 21st century way, of course.
He lives somewhere in Britain or Ireland, works a 9 to 5 probably in IT and hates scammers, pretty much like everyone else, but this crusading latter-day knight has taken it upon himself to expose and disrupt scam operations. In 2019 he managed to hack the CCTV system of an Indian scam farm in Delhi and was able to watch and hear the appalling callousness of the staff as they conned and cheated people. Some victims, Browning tells us, have lost their homes and even taken their own lives. Many are elderly and vulnerable people. Contrary to the usual advice regarding scam callers, Jim suggests that, when seeing an unknown number on your caller ID, you should “keep them talking as long as possible because when they’re not scamming you they’re scamming someone else like your grandparents”. A humble hero for the cyber age.
1 Valentine Sally
We’ll close this list with an appeal for info. Some of the previous entries are entertaining mysteries that may lead you to dig deeper, wonder aloud and concoct fantastical hypotheses. Maybe the entertainment we derive from guessing the identity of these enigmatic strangers suggests we may want them to remain unidentified. This is not one of those cases. The as of yet unidentified murder victim known as ‘Valentine Sally’ was found 25 yards off interstate 40 in Arizona, US, on February 14, 1982. She deserves to have her name known, her loved ones deserve closure and her killers deserve to be brought to justice.
It is very likely that this unidentified young woman was killed, dragged away from the highway and dumped next to a tree, laying there long enough for insects and other scavenging animals to render her face unrecognisable. Some witness statements mention that the girl had been at a few places along the highway in the days running up to her discovery—a waitress at the Monte Carlo truck stop near Ashfork, Arizona served a woman matching Valentine Sally’s description, providing her with aspirin for toothache. Valentine Sally had a drilled tooth that suggests she was being prepped for a root canal. The same waitress also mentioned that the girl was with an older man, possibly a trucker. For more info on the case, please check out her NamUs page and follow the directions if you have any tips.
About The Author: CJ Phillips is a storyteller, actor and writer living in rural West Wales. He is a little obsessed with lists.