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, while others are still being solved.

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.
    • Every "missing child" story is undoubtedly every parent's worst nightmare, made even worse by the fact that many of these children have never been found.
  • 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."
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: A segment featured a missing woman whose husband claimed that she had walked out on him, citing that several of her things and her suitcase were missing. When her suitcase was found, it contained exactly what he said it would, piquing the cops' suspicions, as they found it highly unlikely that any man could know exactly what was in his wife's suitcase, as he himself had no idea what was in his own wife's purse. (It's actually a very sad aversion, as to this day, the woman remains missing, and despite the cops strong suspicions that he killed her, they have zero evidence to support this, meaning he remains a free man.)
  • 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.
  • Cousin Oliver: From 1994-1997, Stack was joined in the show's telecenter by journalists Keely Shaye Smith and Lu Hanessian, who provided updates and in 1999, Virginia Madsen was brought on as Stack's co-host for the show's second (and last) season on CBS.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Far too many cases involve this. One particular case was that of murderer Rick Church, who after his break-up with Colleen Ritter, broke into her house in the pre-dawn hours and attacked her family at knife-point. Both her parents died, but Colleen and her brother lived. Although he fleed the scene, Church was soon captured after the episode's broadcast and sentenced to life in prison.
  • 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.
    • Google-searching many of the cases will find newspaper articles on them, revealing that they were high-profile locally, if not nationally, and also often mentioning that their story was profiled on the show. Often, these articles come with a resolution on the case. Most recently, the case of Bonnie Haim, a young mother who went missing in January 1993 has finally been solved with everyone's worst fears confirmed—her remains were found in the backyard of the house she shared with her son and her husband and he has been charged with her murder. Even more recently, after 36 years, Joyce McLain's killer has finally been arrested.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The title. If they were solved they wouldn't be mysteries. That said, just "Mysteries" would be a pretty lame title
  • 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 some 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).
  • Domestic Abuse: Friends and relatives of missing or murdered women often cite that their husbands were violent. In at least two instances, it wasn't even the women who had vanished/been killed, but friends of theirs who had tried to help.
  • Downer Ending: The mysteries that are still unsolved. It becomes even more of a downer when you learn that some of the victims loved ones died not knowing what happened to those they lost.
  • Finally Found the Body: Often the resolution to many missing persons cases.
  • 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. Equally sad is the story of the store owner who waited on George while he was in the unfamiliar town. During her interview segment, she was visibly trying not to cry and clearly berating herself for failing to realize that he was disoriented and needed help.
    • Many stories are like this. Were it not for a simple late night trip to the ATM/supermarket/coffee shop, had people accepted the offer of a ride instead of deciding to walk—many of the "deaths" and "missing persons" might still be alive today.
    • As the recent arrest of Joyce McLain's killer shows, it turns out that the cops often have suspicions about the guilty party from the get-go, but can't make an arrest because those suspicions are all that they have. It can sometimes take years before enough evidence is accumulated to bring charges
  • 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 Guilt-Ridden Accomplice who finally worked up the nerve to confess to his role in the crime.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In one episode, after a restaurant owner is shot, the police bring his business rival into the station for questioning. When they ask the man if he knows why he's there, he states, I assume it's about the shooting of (rival business owner)." When the cops ask him how he could have known about that, as (a) they hadn't told him, and (b) the news hadn't been made public, so no one else could have told him, the man nervously refused to answer any more questions and declared that he wanted to call his lawyer. Said attorney promptly told him to walk out if he wasn't under arrest. He did, but sure enough, an investigation found that he'd hired a hit man to kill the other man.
  • Infant Immortality: Sometimes averted and, in the case of some of the miracle stories, played straight.
  • Karma Houdini: The known or unknown criminals who have gotten away with their crimes. Especially glaring in the case of Susan Harrison, who was in all likelihood murdered by her abusive estranged husband Jim, who was never arrested despite considerable evidence, and who died himself without ever being prosecuted.
  • 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 it possibly was an accident. 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.
  • Never Found the Body: Even though some updates mention someone confessing to killing a missing person, they also mention never finding the person's remains.
  • 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.
    • Or other infamous murder or missing person cases—the Lincoln assassination, the MLK assassination, the Huey Long assassination—that took place so long ago that solving them is unlikely and bringing the responsible party to justice is impossible given that they themselves are likely dead.

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