33 ‘Mysterious’ True Crime Cases That Probably Have Simple Explanations

Some scary stories are so creepy you want them to be fiction, but they’re actually real. On the flip side, some true crime cases seem so bizarre and like they must have some frightening explanation, but in reality there is probably a simple answer to “what happened” to the person in the story. Here are some great examples from the smart true crime readers over on r/unresolvedmysteries. I highly recommend checking out other threads over there!

The ‘Smiley Face Killer’ theory is just drunk people wandering off and getting hurt

“The disappearance of Jesse Ross, from Chicago, in 2006. I mentioned that I think this case is pretty simple to explain…Jesse was drunk that evening, and many people confirmed he seemed to be slurring his words, and having trouble walking. He got up 20 minutes into a 2:30am meeting, saying something to a friend, and never came back. The hotel he was at for this meeting apparently (according to a podcast I’ve heard) had a garden/treed area behind it, that led to the river, and was only about a block away from the mouth of the river, leading to Lake Michigan. It was pretty likely that he was out there, drunk, fell into the river, and his body is in Lake Michigan. Then his family began to suspect he was still alive, and pushed the investigation that way. They also swore he wouldn’t have left of his own accord. I can think of a few cases, off the top of my head, where it was family or friends who came forward in a seemingly simple case, and started saying that certain things didn’t add up, based on what they know of their loved one.” — [deleted user]

(For more on the ‘Smiley Face Killer’ theory, check out Jim Goad’s article.)

The ‘Missing’ Roanoke Colony

Background on the “mysterious” Roanoke Colony here.

“First of all, they carved Croatoan, which was the name of a place the settlers knew, into a tree. I’m pretty sure that that is the settler equivalent of leaving a note on the kitchen table saying “I went to my mom’s”. The arguments that are made of “Why would they do that?” or “But they were coming back with supplies…” are so absent of the knowledge of what travel and supply runs were like back in the 1600s. Hell, they were bad through the later 1800s. You could sail back to Europe for a resupply and discover the company funding your settlement went out of business, now you’d be forced to either find a new company to fund the supplies to return or fund it yourself. Many times the return to the early colonies ended up taking years. If the settlers left behind found themselves running out of food, medicine, or supplies to live, and the Croatoan’s allowed them into their settlements, that was most likely exactly where they went, especially if they didn’t know how long it would be before they would be resupplied.” — u/Mr_Sleep_tight

Another reasonable theory about Roanoke

“I’ve actually heard a theory that the “lost colony” was basically a conspiracy. Guy shows back up at Roanoke, the colony has clearly starved/been attacked by natives/died of disease, so he spins the mysterious disappearence story in order not to hurt colonization propaganda back in England, because a “lost” colony is still a lot more palatable than a colony that was wiped out. It’s an intriguing idea.” — satorsquarepants

The “epidemic of missing people in the national parks” phenomena

Background on the story here.

“I feel like most cases of “a person went hiking in the woods and died/disappeared. What happened??” Are just simply succumbing to the elements. There are some cases of mysterious circumstances for sure. But half the time it’s some combination of not being properly equipped, getting lost, getting stuck in the woods after dark, overestimating your abilities/underestimating how hard hiking can be, inebriation, etc.” — scorodites

“Missing time”

“Lost time due to medical issues probably accounts for the vast majority of UFO abduction and “glitch in the matrix” stories too. I have a friend whose mom had a type of stroke while out on a walk. She showed up back at home, unable to recall where she had been for the last few hours, but not showing the typical symptoms that most people associate with strokes. They never would have figured out what caused the memory lost if they hadn’t gone immediately to the doctor after she showed up. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and realize that aliens may not be at fault in many of these cases.” — satorsquarepants

Jeanette DePalma is an example of “satanic panic”

Background on the case here.

“Most recent updates show no signs of ‘witchcraft’, that her purse and money were taken from the scene but the contents of the purse (lip stick,inhaler) were strewn about closely around the body, the area was called a ‘party area’ by police but it was actually an overgrown bush area with a lot of dead branches. It seems she was robbed and murdered, left in the brush of NJ.” —

Maura Murray

Background on the case here.

“To me it’s pretty straightforward that she was driving drunk, panicked that she was going to get caught, ran, and succumbed to the elements. I believed it even more when my family rented a cabin a few summers ago in the same area of New Hampshire where she went missing. My mom and I went to take a quick little walk through the woods on a small trail behind our cabin that the owner recommended. We’re both fairly experienced hikers and swear that we stayed on the trail the entire time, but we got waaaay lost. Like, started to panic that maybe we were actually, really lost and wouldn’t be able to find our way out before sunset. We finally heard road noise and followed it out of the woods, then had to walk 2 miles on the side of the road back to our cabin site. People really underestimate just how easy it is to get lost in the woods.” — caseythegirl

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Elisa Lam

Background on the case here.

“I used to be creeped out by it but I watched the Netflix series on the case and, whilst there are weird coincidences (such as the TB test being named a Lam-Elisa test), it’s obvious she was just not taking her meds correctly, had a manic episode and either went into the water tank to swim and couldn’t get back out or accidentally fell in and couldn’t get back out. We won’t ever know what happened but it’s definitely been sensationalized and made into something it’s not. No ghosts or foul play, just a sad girl in a sad place.” — mol1999

“Her autopsy showed her antidepressants were in her system, but they couldn’t find her mood stabilizer/antipsychotics. A bipolar person on only an antidepressant can easily be sent into a manic episode (speaking from experience here). All the “mysteries” are easily solved. The roof access? Door was locked, but many people have confirmed you could reach the roof by the fire access. Heavy lid? Someone having a manic episode can have extra strength. Lid closed behind her? I’ve always thought she could have gotten it half open, then started to lean in, and she fell in and it wasn’t fully open, so it shut behind her. Or I recently heard that a maintenance person said it was open when they first went up.” — CassieBear1

“I’d be willing to bet you money that Eliza was suffering from a delusion, believing she was being chased or followed. She went running through the hotel, onto the elevator, up and down those halls, hallucinating sometimes but also believing everyone she encountered was in on it, too.
So if everyone everywhere you look is chasing after you, you think, and you can’t get to your room without someone seeing you go in, what are you going to do? Hide. Hide somewhere until they’re gone.

I think she went into that water tank on purpose. Yeah, the lid may have been heavy to lift, but if you’re scared to death, you’ll find the strength to do almost anything. So she gets in there and is hiding. But she can’t climb out. After a few hours of treading water, the wet clothes and shoes start weighing her down. So she takes them off, and treads water until she can’t any more. She made a colossal mistake by going in there to hide. But she cant take that back now, and she drowns then dies.

I’m schizoaffective, and when I am not taking my meds, I suffer delusions like this. Being pursued is a common one, and it can be caused by something as simple as seeing the same people in the grocery store right after I saw them at WalMart. Maybe I had a fight with my boyfriend before I went to the store. That gives any false beliefs I may have the tone of anger or someone being upset with me. So then everyone who’s eyes meet mine are working with the people who “followed” me, and in my mind, everyone’s in on it.

I panic. I sweat. My heart pounds. I imagine shadows by my car are people crouching down behind the car, waiting to attack me. This gets really disruptive to my living life. I can’t be normal when I’m thinking like this. This is why I HAVE to stay on my medication. Not taking my medicine is not an option. These thoughts that aren’t even true become overwhelming. I can’t do or think of anything else.

People who don’t have these things happen to them don’t understand. Because delusions are false thoughts that are inside a person’s head that no one else can see. I get so angry about people who point to Ellis’s behavior and go “oooh, freaky!” You don’t laugh and point at a child who’s bald from chemo and make fun of them for that. Why is it ok to judge Eliza’s behavior? She was sick. It’s not ok to belittle someone for the illness they have and the symptoms they’re exhibiting.

That people don’t understand it, ok, fine, but I can fill people in. I behave pretty normally 90% of the time. It would be weird to see me behave abnormally, too. But it isn’t interesting or funny. Or entertaining. Or spooky. It’s actually really scary for me. Until something or someone snaps me out of it.

That she wasn’t exhibiting all out psychotic symptoms all day every day doesn’t make her incapable of having this serious of symptoms. Especially when she was off her medications, jet lagged, in an unfamiliar place, alone and drinking alcohol. ALL of those things can trigger psychosis for me all by themselves. I’ll bet any one of those were a trigger of hers. And she went into that tank on purpose, because she was psychotic, was having a delusion that she was being followed and she believed she had to hide.

Edited to add: Sorry about the soapbox here, kids. I just feel very strongly about this for obvious reasons. The more people understand mental illnesses like mine and Elisa’s, the more likely people are to be tolerant towards us, and the less likely we are to take anyone’s actions negatively and allow that to feed any false thoughts or beliefs we are having. That makes everyone safer. And if ONE person has a less severe psychotic episode and had less discomfort because ONE person treated them with more empathy after reading this, then embarrassing myself and calling myself out is worth it to me. Because I know how that feels.” — wththrowitaway

Kenneka Jenkins

Background on the story here.

“She died in a hotel freezer. But they have video of her stumbling in there after partying and she likely froze to death. The internet exploded with theories but it was pretty obvious to me what happened. It doesn’t take much to bring the body temp down too much.” — simulationsunflower

Corrie McKeague

Background on the story here.

“He was blackout drunk and found somewhere sheltered to sleep, and tragically was almost certainly crushed by the truck that collected the bin a few hours later (the weight of the bin was later found to have registered at around 200 pounds, far heavier than any other).

So many people simply cannot accept that he would get into a bin, despite his father saying he had done it before when drunk, and there being footage of a) him falling asleep in a doorway earlier that night and b) drunkenly stumbling into the alcove where the bins were stored (and no footage of him leaving, which would have been impossible unless he left in the bin).

Similar tragic scenarios explained by the poor decision making that excessive alcohol consumption can cause. And I’m not judging, I’ve ended up in potentially dangerous situations myself when blackout drunk before.” — poodlesquish

“100%!!! Nobody is judging anyone for getting black out drunk and definitely nobody thinks anyone deserves it for getting themselves into that situ, but I will openly admit I’ve put myself in some seriously bad situations thanks to alcohol. I’m just lucky none of them had any serious repercussions. But I’ve walked past countless people after nights out, who are falling asleep in doorways. It happens so easily because your body is shutting down after hours of alcohol! It can be especially expedited if you take any other medication.” — MambyPamby8

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“I got drunk once and we were playing hide and seek outside. I hid in a bush, in winter, and damn near fell asleep. I snapped out of it quick and was like shit, I’ll freeze to death. One more shot and I would’ve fell asleep in that bush and most likely died (I later found out I was the only one playing hide and seek lol).” — TheForrestWanderer

The Morgan Ingram case

Background on the case here.

“Anytime a family insists it couldn’t be suicide solely because “they would never do that!” I feel that we have to dismiss that claim. Aside from the stigma of admitting someone in your family was struggling with mental illness, the person could have shown no signs. After a traumatic event like that it’s no wonder families react that way but I think investigators should always take those claims with a grain of salt.” — duckducknarwhal

“So true. A while back I switched to hormonal bc, telling my then husband that I didn’t do well on it but wanted to try again. I quickly spiraled out of control. I almost lost a job I had been at for a while and loved. I felt like I was walking through mud every day. Everything was a struggle. My husband and I had issues. I was seriously considering suicide when I just stopped taking the pill one day. When I told him, he was shocked. This was a person I lived with, day in and day out. He asked why I didn’t just tell him since we agreed beforehand that I would tell him if I started feeling bad- the answer- it was too hard. You can live with someone and literally have no idea what they’re going through.” — bluevioletta

“Laypeople just aren’t good at detecting symptoms as symptoms, plus the person themselves will likely struggle to articulate it unless they already have some knowledge and are willing to treat it as a disease. Many aren’t, maybe because we’re reluctant to treat ourselves as biologically predetermined.” — DramShopLaw

“Missing” Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Background on the case here.

“There’s nothing mysterious about the location of MH370. They’ve just never searched the area the plane would be if the captain controlled the descent until the very end, and that’s very probably what happened.” — Vegetable-Bat-8475

“It’s been solved, but no one really seems to accept that because the entire plane, or at least the majority of it, hasn’t been found.

Captain Zaharie committed a planned murder/suicide by purposefully changing the flight path & crashing the plane–awful, but not the first time this has happened. The original Malaysian investigation was hampered by both Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government, neither of which wanted to admit that there were serious problems overlooked by both. The information they hid from international groups and search parties caused the wrong area/s of the Pacific and Indian Oceans to be searched for years. But we now know the plane crashed somewhere in the western Indian Ocean, because people have actually found parts of the plane washing up on islands in and countries bordering the western Indian Ocean (notably Réunion, where the first confirmed piece was found; Madagascar; Mozambique). A lawyer named Blaine Gibson (not the voice actor) has spearheaded the effort to find pieces of the plane and has contacts with locals all across these areas.

This is a good article summarizing what is the closest to the full story we’ll ever get; there’s no mystery left, really.” — TheGlitterMahdi

Kendrick Johnson

Background on the case here.

“I know most people agree that it was most likely an accident but the misleading theories pushed by the family are still floating around other forums and in the media.” — theditzydoc

“There’s a video on YouTube where they tested this – rolled up a perfectly healthy high school jock in the same type of mat (voluntarily of course lol) and asked him to scream as loudly as he could. Couldn’t hear a sound from the outside. He was only in the mat for half a minute or so but he came out of it clearly out of breath, bright red and sweaty. Absolutely horrifying way to die.” — freeeeels

The Flannan Isles Lighthouse case

Background on the case here.

“The men had previously been fined for storm damage to equipment earlier in the year, so they were probably outside in bad weather securing equipment when they were hit by a rogue wave. The one who wasn’t wearing his coat probably ran outside in a hurry to warn the others and they were all caught out. It was a tragic case of people making a few small decisions to break protocol that left a mystery. All of the “creepy ” and “mysterious” elements like the diary and the half-eaten meal on the table and everything else were added years later by a guy who wrote a poem about it. At the time it happened, it was assumed that they were victims of bad weather and nothing more. (I have a National Library of Scotland account and I’ve been able to read the original newspaper reports from the time.)” — benamurghal

Rey Rivera

This story was featured in the new season of Unsolved Mysteries Netflix did, and I highly recommend it!

“I think this was simply a mental break and suicide. Certainly the circumstances of the suicide were unusual — but not inexplicable. And while his employer was kind of shady, which one isn’t?” — yourhelpfulfriend

“This case has a lot in common with the Jack Parsons Wheeler case. Both were featured on Unsolved Mysteries and totally downplay the role of mental illness. Family members are often in denial about the victims mental state and these true crime documentaries like to play things up for the sake of mysteriousness.” — AudaciousTickle

Madeleine McCann

Background on the case here.

“She was likely abducted and killed within hours of her disappearance, as horrible as it sounds. It’s not hard to notice a group of adults routine of going back n forth checking on kids when you’re in a public place. Someone took the opportunity to get her when they noticed no one was there. So many other missing children’s cases could’ve gotten the attention that her case got, like minority children, but the media was too busy sensationalizing this family & making documentaries etc.” — pwa09

Brandon Lawson

Background info on the case here.

“His brother confirmed that he was using meth. His 911 call sounds like someone having a paranoid psychotic break. I think he succumbed to the elements.” — kelzo82

Annie McCann

Background on the case here.

“It’s clear to me she committed suicide having reached the end of her rope when her runaway attempt looked like it was going to fail. She was miserable at home with strict, controlling, overbearing parents, and had a history of depression. Her parents are just in massive denial about it.” — Bjnboy

Amy Lynn Bradley

Background on the case here.

“She’s in the ocean, probably fell in, but possibly thrown in. The theories of her being kidnapped and smuggled off the ship are so ridiculous.” — yolate

“Every podcast I’ve heard or show I’ve seen about her case references her father jolting out of bed in the middle of the night and feeling like something was wrong. I feel like this is the moment she probably went over her balcony railing. Either it made a loud noise, or ‘parents intuition’. But yeah, I think all of those ‘sightings’ were not her. And of course, every time an American female disappears, everyone screams ‘sex trafficking!!!’. Not that sex trafficking isn’t a thing, it’s just not happening to EVERY single missing woman.” — kathi182

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“I grew up with her. We hung out in high school and at college. She was awesome – so fun, enjoyed partying, etc. She was loved by a lot of people. It was traumatic in our community when she disappeared. Her parents and brother are super-nice people, too. I understand their desire and need to believe she’s alive, but the simplest explanation has to be what happened. She drank too much, went out on the balcony for a smoke, and somehow fell overboard.” — david_wallace_suckit

Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon

Background on the case here.

“I’m from an area that gets its fair share of missing hikers that are just never found, and most of them aren’t in areas as dense as that jungle. I think there’s an element of ethnocentrism in the theories that they were like, taken and murdered by wild jungle people, when there’s a pretty easily believable and more likely possibility.” — twelvehatsononegoat

Diane Schuler from ‘There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane’


“There is some mystery in the motive: was she a family annihilator who set out to deliberately murder, or just an alcoholic who misjudged her tolerance? Either way, though, the perpetrator and outcome are the same. The documentary isn’t really intended as a mystery though, but more of a psychological look at the levels of denial and self-delusion among some of her family members, and how willing they are to cling to the most outlandish theories (she had a bad toothache!) to avoid accepting that such a “good person” could also be a murderer.” — Orourkova

The Westfield Watcher case

Background here.

“It’s pretty obvious that the Broaddus family faked those letters and that they were just trying to get out of a house they couldn’t afford. Not only did they have a history of buying houses they couldn’t afford in the long term, but the husband got caught sending threatening letters to the neighbors when their HOA wouldn’t approve of certain renovations to the house. I first learned about this case from Buzzfeed Unsolved, and I was honestly baffled as to how quickly they dismissed the idea that the family faked the letters. The fact that there’s a possible Netflix deal in for the family over their story makes them more suspect imo.” — bug-robot

Jeffrey McDonald

Background here.

“He was an army doctor who (probably) killed his wife and children, but he claimed it was hippies (this took place very soon after the Manson murders).

It’s pretty fucking clear he did it, but all his old buddies just cant belive it! He would never! You didnt know him! Blah blah blah.” — BookQueen13

Dyatlov Pass

Background info here.

“It seems like everyone wants to make it this supernatural thing, but I think the most likely explanation is an avalanche. The naked bodies? It’s not uncommon for people to take off their clothes in the later stages of hypothermia. Weird wounds? Scavenging animals or falls from cliffs or trees. The ripped up tent? Probably they panicked and got out anyway they could. I don’t think we need to involve yetis or aliens or Soviet super weapons.” — aninamouse

Cindy James

Background info here.

“A mystery stalker that keeps tying her up only when she’s expecting company so she’s “rescued” in the nick of time? Nah. I think she screwed up on her (extremely unintentionally) last attempt and accidentally killed herself. It’s a classic case of Munchausen.” — PreOpTransCentaur

Johnny Gosch

Background info here.

“I think his mother was seriously delusional and became worse as time went by. I do feel sorry for her since she really believes he came to see her in the 90s, etc. I believe it’s most likely he was killed shortly after he was taken.

There were several young teens/boys around the general area of Gosch that disappeared within a few years of one another. One was a paper boy like Johnny, so there could’ve been a serial killer operating in the area at the time.” — ContainedCopperplate

DB Cooper is not a mystery at all

“Richard Floyd McCoy had that plan for years. He lost the money during the descent the first time, so he had to do it again months later. That’s the reason some of the money was eventually found but a body or parachute were never found. You had a guy leap from a plane and then be startled at the weight and unruliness of the cash. Imagine his shock and frustration when all that work and risk turned into a bag of cash tumbling away in the wind and rain of the dark Pacific Northwest.

I got a PM on the Unsolved Mysteries forum of sitcomsonline.com from an old army buddy of McCoy, emphasizing that McCoy during the ’60s talked about how easy it would be to skyjack that type of plane and leap from it. The buddy said he always knew McCoy was Cooper also, and everyone else from his unit agreed.

Unfortunately the bizarro types got ahold of this case and so it is forever destined to linger that way, the simple explanation shunned by one ridiculous rationalization after another, like meaningless eyewitness accounts from the stewardesses. Maybe those stewardesses would like to explain why McCoy made an otherwise inexplicable drive from Provo to Las Vegas in the wee hours preceding the Cooper event, in perfect timing to catch a plane to the Pacific Northwest to launch the caper. Imagine what type of fool you have to be to dismiss that as mere coincidence, or fail to understand that the crime is so unique and complicated very few people could pull it off…meaning the same guy doing it twice is landslide favoritism.” — AwsiDooger

The Sodder Children definitely died in an accidental fire

Background info here.

“They weren’t found because 1. The house was FULL OF COAL, which likely would feed the fire to burn hotter. 2. The house was gone in 45 minutes, and in total burned for nearly 8 hours before the fire department even got there! 3. The father bulldozed the remains of the house and filled the basement in with dirt for a memorial garden less than a week after the fire. And then after that is when they decided to investigate and look for the children’s remains?? I just feel like with their techniques and technology of the time (1945) it’s not unbelievable that they wouldn’t find anything after that. Having 5 of 10 children kidnapped during a raging housefire when there were family members all over the house is so incredibly unlikely. How did someone kidnap FIVE children who were asleep on the second floor of the house without anybody, including the older kids who were sleeping in the first floor, noticing? All the “odd events” surrounding the fire are either coincidence, or grief stricken parents trying to find any shred of hope that they didn’t just lose 5 children in a terrible random tragedy.” — RocketGirl2629

Roswell/Area 51

“It was more than likely a weather balloon type of object that could listen in on russian soundwaves in order to see if they were testing their own nukes. The issue was the government at that time did not want that out so they rolled with the UFO story.

What’s worse is there are plenty of UFO cases that are genuinely mysterious.” — Imsnawing

The Devil’s Footprints

Background info here.

“They were partially melted rabbit tracks. Yellow journalism whipped people into a hysteria over them.” — SwelteringSwami

The staircase murder/s

“That dude killed his wife but got out of it because he could afford good lawyers.” — gush30

The Jamison family

Background info here.

“So many people like to think the wife killed herself and her family because she was depressed or because she was a witch (she wasn’t even witch she liked witchy things). Or people think drugs gad something to do with it because of the surveillance video. But I think they saw something they weren’t supposed to and then were killed.” — laurenodonnellf

Jeffrey Epstein

“He killed himself. End of story.” — TrippyTrellis

Ellen Greenberg

Background info here.

“The boyfriend did it.” — canadienhockeygirl

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