Series: Unsolved Mysteries

The 1988-1993 logo.

Join me. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery.
Robert Stack's intro for the first few seasons.

This article is about Unsolved Mysteries. Whenever possible, the actual family members and police officials have participated in recreating the events. What you are about to see is not a news broadcast.

This TV show ran from 1987-2002, with intermittent breaks in between, and was hosted for most of its run (which Channel Hopped from NBC to CBS and then Lifetime) by Robert Stack. It was revived from 2008-2010 on Spike TV, hosted by Dennis Farina.

As the show's name implies, this series delves into a variety of mysteries, showing dramatic re-enactments of each. They can range from typical missing persons cases and stories of lost loved ones to the paranormal: ghost stories, UFO's, the Loch Ness Monster, and all that good stuff.

Although it's presented like a piece of fiction, most every mystery is real. In fact, roughly 400 of this show's mysteries have been solved. It is believed to have originally directly competed with America's Most Wanted. All versions of the show have a telephone hotline set up that you can call if you have any information, while the current version only has a website. Some of the mysteries presented back then have remained unsolved to this day.

These are true tropes, from the files of TV

  • Adult Fear: These are real people featured in these segments, none of whom the viewer would ever had known about had it not been for these terrible things that happened to them. It's chilling to realize that you or someone you love could easily be the focus of one of these stories, especially considering how many of these incidents took place in the middle of something utterly common and mundane—a late-night trip to the ATM/supermarket/coffee shop, etc.
  • Alien Abduction
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the segment on Ira Einhorn and Holly Maddox, her sister described him as being rude, overbearing to Holly, and as having poor hygiene.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sadly, most of the "Updates" regarding missing person cases were usually finding the person's remains. A lot of the victim's families will consider it this trope, saying that the closure of knowing is better than not knowing anything.
    • Anytime an update revealed that someone had been arrested and/or convicted for murder. Justice, yes, but it can never bring the victim back.
  • Catch Phrase: "This is a true story, from the files of Unsolved Mysteries."
  • Cool Old Guy: Robert Stack, and how.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: People suspicious regarding the death of their loved ones have often had the bodies exhumed for a second autopsy to find that the second report flat-out contradicts what was said in the original and/or what the police and/or eyewitnesses claimed to have happened. For example, Russell Evans, whose death was ruled as the result of a hit-and-run, but whose ER report indicated that he'd been beaten up.
  • Creepy Monotone: Dear God, Robert Stack's voice gives off nightmares.
  • Dated History: Quite a few of the high-profile mysteries aren't so mysterious anymore.
    • Unsolved Mysteries aired a segment about the then-unknown Unabomber. Several years later, he was identified as Ted Kaczynski. The show later floated the idea that Kaczynski was also the Zodiac Killer.
    • It also aired a segment fingering William Stevens, a petty criminal and all-around creep, as the Green River Killer. Five years after the episode aired, Gary Ridgway was identified as the Green River Killer through DNA evidence. Stevens is no longer considered a suspect in the case.
    • A 1996 segment covered the unsolved 1975 murder of Martha Moxley. Seven years later, Michael Skakel was convicted of the murder.
    • Then-fugitive James Bulger was featured in an episode. By the time he was finally caught, an update was added to the episodes that were now being shown on Spike TV.
  • Dirty Cop/Police Are Useless: Quite a few family members have expressed their frustration at the police's inaction regarding their loved ones cases. While most of the cops on this show were hardworking detectives simply stymied by a lack of evidence, it's implied that quite a few were incompetent or willfully turning a blind eye to the truth.
  • Distant Finale: Sort of. While many cases were left unsolved, some cases did get a resolution on other programs years later. The murder of Dorothy Donovan, for example, an elderly woman who was killed by a mysterious hitchhiker, that the woman's son had encountered earlier in the night, was solved on Forensic Files. The murderer was a drug-addicted drifter who broke into the woman's house thinking it was abandoned.
    • Resolutions came even on "Unsolved Mysteries" itself. For a while, reruns of the show were aired on Lifetime (before the network began to get new episodes of it's own). Very often, updates were provided and specifically designated as "Lifetime Exclusive", meaning that even after all these years, these now cold cases were still being solved thanks to viewership (for example, Jesse James Hollywood).
  • Downer Ending: The mysteries that are still unsolved.
  • For Want of a Nail: The George Owens case. An 80-year-old man gets lost while driving, and decides to stop at a gas station and ask for directions back to his hometown. The gas station attendant misunderstood where George was trying to go, and sent him to a town on the other side of the state. The next day he turned up there, and thereafter disappeared and was never seen again. We will never know why George got lost that day or what happened to him when he got to the strange town, but it is very possible that the gas station attendant's mistake changed the course of...and perhaps ended...George's life.
  • Ghost Ship: The show covered its share of these. And, in one case, a ghost blimp.
  • Ghost Story: One of the draws of the original show, presented to horrifying effect.
  • He Knows Too Much: Frequently very ominously implied as the reason behind the deaths or disappearances of the topics of the segments. One segment takes this Up to Eleven—not only was the victim probably murdered because of what he knew, but so was a witness who finally worked up the nerve to confess to his role in the crime.
  • Infant Immortality: Sometimes averted and, in the case of some of the miracle stories, played straight.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident/Never Suicide: Probably the most common type of case during Stack's era involved someone being found dead, with Stack always introducing the segment by saying "the police ruled it a suicide, but the family says...MURDER." In many cases it WAS pretty obviously a suicide and the family was clearly just in denial, but the show would always side with the family.
    • And to be fair, some were so obviously not a suicide, complete with multiple types of blood being found at the crime scene, or victims that were bound with packing wire before being dumped into incinerators, that it made you wonder just who the police thought they were fooling.
    • The Keith Warren case took this Up to Eleven as well. Aside from his likely murder being made to look like a suicide (numerous toxins were found in his body, he was wearing clothes that weren't his, both the rope and the tree that he was hung from were far too fragile to support his weight—and the rope was tied in a ridiculously elaborate fashion that would have been impossible for him to do), when a friend of his called his mother, wanting to talk to her, he was soon found dead by the side of the road. Despite injuries that clearly indicated that he'd been beaten with an object, it was ruled as a hit-and-run.
    • Subverted in some cases where is possibly was an accident—the abovementioned Warren case, several other hit-and-run cases. In one instance, Stack truthfully pointed out that even if the victim had been accidentally rather than deliberately hit by a car, the driver still deserved to be arrested for his actions.
  • The Men in Black: An episode dealing with UFO sightings also talked about them.
  • Missing Mom: Many missing people featured are missing women who are mothers.
  • New Kids on the Block: One of the cases featured a missing teenage girl who was supposedly seen in one of their concerts and caught on tape. It also included a brief interview with Jonathan and Jordan Knight, in which they asked for any info about her.
  • Offing the Offspring: The case of Darlie Routier, convicted of murdering her own children, despite her insistence (as well as some evidence showing) that she is innocent and that an intruder took their lives. There is some evidence suggesting that she did in fact kill her kids (crime scene appearing staged, Darlie's indifferent behavior after the murders, etc.) She currently sits on death row.
  • Uncancelled: After a whopping six years!!!
  • The Unreveal: Everyone realized that the truly unexplained paranormal mysteries were never going to be solved. It didn't make their episodes on them any less awesome.
    • Some of the more infamous crime based cases the show covered, such as the harassment of Bill and Dorothy Wacker or the Circleville Letter Writer, will likely never be solved since in the former case both of the victims are now dead, and in the latter case the only remotely plausible suspect has already served a prison sentence and still actively denies he had anything to do with it.

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