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Series / Unsolved Mysteries

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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. The original series run also aired in Canada on CTV.

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. You may watch the original show with iconic host Robert Stack on Hulu and Amazon streaming services, with new updates from as late as 2017. Thanks to FilmRise, Unsolved Mysteries now has its own YouTube channel, with every episode complete and unabridged. For free.


A revival series is currently airing on Netflix on 2020.

These are true tropes, from the files of TV

  • Abusive Parents: Some of the "Lost Loves" segments involving separated siblings include these as part of the backstory.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Something terrible happening to you or a loved one. 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.
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  • Alien Abduction
  • Amnesiac Liar: Investigators believe Arthur Paul Beal (alias "Tyler"), who contacted the show hoping to find out his true identity, may have been one. A detective who interviewed Beal noted that Beal seemed very talkative and eerily intelligent, plus there was the fact that Beal was wanted for grand larceny for allegedly stealing a shipment of food. Although Beal's mother seemed to think his amnesia was real, Beal's ex-wife has since commented that she and the kids she shared with him believed he was faking. The truth will likely never be known, as Beal reportedly suffered a massive heart attack several years ago that left him in a vegetative state.
  • 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.
  • Bad Samaritan: While investigating the still unsolved murder of Alicia Showalter Reynolds, detectives found that for several weeks prior, a man had been driving along the very interstate that she disappeared from, pulling up next to women and telling them something was wrong with their car. While most women declined his offer of help, at least one got into his car—and barely managed to get away after he attacked her. The cops soon realized that Ms. Reynolds had likely fallen into the same trap and had not been as lucky as the previous women.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: A handful of the "Unexplained" segments featured searches for varying versions of these.
  • 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.
    • In late December 1999, Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman vanished after her parents Dan and Kathy Freeman were murdered. After years of speculation as to their fate, the killer of all four has been arrested, not only resolving the case, but vindicating the girls—among the many rumors and theories put forth was that they had murdered the couple and then run off.
    • Some "Lost Loves" stories involving a search for a relative ended with the searcher finding out that said relative was deceased, but also that the searcher had additional relatives (siblings, aunts, cousins etc.) that he/she never knew about.
    • Even some cases where a missing/abducted person is found alive can have this. One case had a Happily Married man go missing that was found and he explained that in traveling for the business he and his wife owned, he was robbed and beaten, which caused him to lose his memory and he and his wife eventually divorced because the brain injury he received made him lose memories of her.
      • The Alex Cooper case, in which another Happily Married man went missing voluntarily because he feared prosecution for a robbery he'd been accused of decades earlier, not realizing that any charges filed against him had probably been long since dropped. His family were already in shock from learning that "Alex Cooper" wasn't even his real name, and once found, Cooper revealed that he changed his name as part of his original strategy to avoid the charges. Cooper was genuinely remorseful for the pain he had caused his family, but his wife and daughter seemed willing to welcome him back into their lives despite the fact that he had damaged their trust.
    • The Mac MacDonald case, in which MacDonald finally found the daughter he'd run out on decades earlier. MacDonald had become romantically involved with a teenage girl which resulted in the girl becoming pregnant, but when he finally met the infant, he was afraid to get close to her for fear his girlfriend's parents were luring him into a trap to face statutory rape charges, and he fled quickly and never saw his daughter again until the show reunited them. MacDonald's now-adult daughter had mixed feelings about the reunion, as she still resented her father for running out on her and her mother and had come to consider the man who raised her as her real father, but also stated she felt there was nevertheless room for her birth father in her family.
    • Also, several children of parental abductions end on a bittersweet note with the child turning against the left-behind parent or guardian due to the brainwashing they suffered from their abductor. The worst example of this is the case of Jonathan Ortiz, who was abducted by his mother as a baby, eventually reunited with his father as a child and was arrested as a teenager for multiple incidents of beating up his father (who was left disabled due to his ex-wife poisoning him) due to blaming him for his mother being in prison.
  • Blatant Lies: A lot of suspects in the "missing"/"murder" cases have given interviews swearing their innocence. Only for an update to reveal that they were arrested for the crime.
  • The Bluebeard: One of the earliest stories was that of Robert Weeks who was suspected in the 1980 disappearance of girlfriend Cynthia Jabour and the 1986 disappearance of girlfriend Carol Ann Riley. Towards the end of the segment, it was mentioned that his wife Patricia was also missing, having disappeared in 1968. note 
    • Interviews with the loved ones of missing/murdered women or the police investigating the case make it quite clear that they believe their husbands/boyfriends are responsible.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "This is a true story, from the files of Unsolved Mysteries."
    • "What you are about to see is not a news broadcast."
    • "Join me. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery."
    • "For every mystery, there is someone, somewhere, who knows the truth. Perhaps that someone is watching. Perhaps... it's you."
  • Children Are Innocent: Many of the children tangentially involved in segments are believed to have witnessed the crime in question but are too young to remember or articulate this.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: The Christi Nichols story. Her 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 one detective declared that he himself had no idea what was in his own wife's purse. (It's actually a very sad aversion, as to this day, she 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.)
  • The Convenient Store Next Door: These have sadly played a role in a lot of cases. Many of the missing/murdered persons—Joyce Chiang, Kathy Hobbs, Kari Lynn Nixon, Cindy Song, etc—turned out to have made a simple trip to the local coffee shop/supermarket, only to meet with foul play either on their way to the store, or on their way home. The cruel irony is that they likely assumed they were safe due to their proximity to home, but learned otherwise.
  • Cool Old Guy: Robert Stack, and how. He hosted the show until just before his death in 2003. He was 84.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: A lot of the "unexplained deaths" have been ruled suicide/accident/natural causes despite strong evidence of murder. For example, Russell Evans' death was ruled as the result of a hit-and-run, but the ER report indicated that he'd been beaten up. Or Robert Hamrick, deemed to have died in a car accident despite also showing signs of a beating—blood being found in the back of his car, his billy club missing, and the damage to his car being insufficient to have caused fatal injuries. 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.
  • Corrupt Cop: Cathy Williams-Loving's stepfather was a respected member of the Chicago police force in 1961. He also sexually and physically abused his stepdaughter and even purposely destroyed her case file so she'd be unable to stand up to him in court.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Financial crimes typically feature one of these.
  • Cousin Oliver: From 1994-1997, Stack was joined in the show's telecenter by journalists Keely Shaye Smithnote  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 fled 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.
    • In 2002, in one of Robert Stack's final episodes before his death, the show aired a segment about an elusive serial rapist/killer only known then as the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker, who struck across California in the 1970s and '80s. The case was only recently solved on April 25, 2018, when the FBI arrested former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, age 72, based on familial DNA evidence.
    • 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, like those of Bonnie Haim and Joyce McLain's killer has finally been arrested.
    • The story of the abductions of Angela Hammond, Cheryl Ann Kenney, and Trudy Darby was recently featured on the Investigation Discovery series "Welcome To Murdertown". In was done in a very similar format to the Unsolved Mysteries segment and reveals that not only have Trudy's killers been caught, police indeed believe that they are responsible for the disappearance and presumed murder of the other two women.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: The segment on a still unknown Serial Killer operating in New Orleans in the early 90's begins with a man searching through a dump for cans to recycle. He moves an item... and recoils in horror at the sight of a young woman's hand.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The story of Phillip Fraser, a young man from Alaska who was murdered in the British Columbia wilderness in 1988 while on his way to college in Seattle. It's believed Fraser was killed by a Hostile Hitchhiker who then stole his identity, as Fraser was seen picking up a hitchhiker while leaving a restaurant parking lot and an elderly couple later helped a young man with car trouble who was not Fraser but was driving Fraser's car and pretending to be him. The case remains unsolved, although some believe Fraser may have been a victim of a serial killer who was known for attacking hitchhikers (and matches the description of the man wanted in the Fraser case).
  • Deadly Doctor: Dr. Boggs, a California doctor who was convicted of murdering and deliberately misidentifying a man so a confederate — whose identity Boggs falsely assigned to the victim — could collect on his own life insurance policy.
  • "Dear John" Letter: "Sweetheart Swindler" Arthur Frankford left one for one of his victims, claiming he was leaving her because she was too possessive. Along with him, he took $4500 in valuables and jewelry as well as several sentimental items. He was brought to justice thanks to the show.
  • Death of a Child: Sadly, occasionally.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Sometimes plays a role, particularly in some of the "Lost Loves" segments. One woman, Sharon Stevens, as a girl, was taken from her loving foster home to be returned to her abusive father who, among other things, used the belt buckle his daughter had given him for Christmas to beat and cut her. Another story involved a possibly corrupt juvenile court judge who awarded custody of a girl to the woman who kidnapped her, overruling the objections of the girl's own mother. And taken Up to Eleven in the case of Camille Kelley, the juvenile court judge who aided infamous "baby broker" Georgia Tann in her adoption fraud operation, which involved, among other things, literally stealing babies from poor families to be adopted by the rich.
  • 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: A lot of cases have featured detectives who the victim's loved ones clearly felt were incompetent or willfully turning a blind eye to the truth.
    • There have also been a number of cops who have been criminals themselves. An especially repugnant example is the cop investigating a case of child molestation—who proceeded to molest the victim himself!
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Averted. Several cases have involved the murder of prostitutes/escorts/strippers—including several serial killers—and despite their "unsolved" status, the lack of resolution is not due to police apathy.
  • Disposable Vagrant: The story of the still-unsolved cases of the Kingsbury Run Murders strongly implies that the killer was choosing homeless people as his victims because he knew they wouldn't be missed and/or that solving their murder wouldn't be top priority. Indeed, out of twelve victims, only three were ever identified.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: A handful of assault or murder victims were attacked over a minor slight. Such as the Dick Hansen case. After a date with his girlfriend, she ended up being followed in her car by a strange, irate man. When he was finally able to confront the man and ask what his problem was, he made angry gestures towards the woman's license plate holder, which displayed that she was a fan of the San Francisco 49ers. When an incredulous Hansen told him to get lost, the man shot and killed him and drove off, never to be seen again.
  • 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 its own). Very often, updates were provided and specifically designated as "Lifetime Exclusive," meaning that even after all these years, the cases had either been solved in the interim between network and cable TV airings or were still being solved thanks to viewership (for example, Jesse James Hollywood).
    • In the early morning hours of December 30, 1999, the home of Danny and Kathy Freeman was torched. Investigators found their bodies in the rubble and that their daughter Ashley and her friend Lauria (who had been spending the night) had vanished. After years of speculation as to their fate, including that they had murdered the couple and then run off, the murderer of all four has finally been arrested.
    • In January of 1993, young mother Bonnie Haim disappeared from her home. Suspicion quickly fell on her husband, but the case went cold with no evidence. 21 years later, her now grown son—who even as a toddler was certain that he witnessed his mother's murder—discovered her remains in the backyard of his childhood home. As of April 2019, her husband has been convicted of her murder.
    • Joyce McClain was murdered August 8, 1980. Nearly 36 years later, her killer was finally arrested.
    • Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg were murdered in November of 1987, with their killer being arrested in 2018 and convicted the following year.
  • Domestic Abuse: Frequently. Friends and relatives of missing or murdered women often cite that their husbands/boyfriends were violent and believe them to be responsible. 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. Some of the "wanted" segments take it further, with everyone knowing for a fact that the man in question is guilty and the focus being on catching him.
  • 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.
    • One of the ultimate Downer Endings is the story of Joseph Felix Schambier, who spent 45 years searching for the newborn daughter he'd had to give up after his wife died, only to discover that his daughter had perished in an explosion at the age of 18.
  • Driven to Suicide: Rozsi Thormat, a Russian immigrant to New Jersey, drowned herself and her infant daughter, Fatimat, in 1956. She had been in a dispute with her husband as to whether the family should stay in America (which she wanted) or return to Russia (which he wanted, as his business wasn't doing well in the U.S.) and also suffering from what would likely be today diagnosed as postpartum depression. Fatimat's sister, Farezat Thormat-Abdokov, contacted the show in hopes of reuniting with her half-sister, Margaret Wiesner, the daughter of Rozsi's first husband Samuel, who took her away with him after Rozsi's death because he wanted her to be raised in a Jewish family, not with her stepfather who was Muslim. The case remains unsolved.
    • Some fugitives, such as Dennis DePue (who beat and shot his estranged wife to death), opted to take their own lives rather than face the music when cornered by law enforcement.
    • In 1958, Texas teen Patsy Summers had an affair with an enlisted man named Duncan Gilmore and ended up pregnant, but kept this a secret from her fiancee and let him believe the baby was his. The stress of keeping this secret took its toll on Patsy and she attempted suicide twice, succeeding the second time by driving head-on into oncoming traffic. Patsy and Duncan's daughter, Jeannie, was successful in her search for her birth father.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Jim Meade, a Vietnam War veteran, contacted the show in search of the nurse who helped him recover from a nearly fatal traumatic brain injury. He recalled an incident in which the nurse angrily scolded and threw out two fellow soldiers for mocking and laughing at him when he fell during physical therapy. Meade and the nurse, Karen Stephens, were quickly reunited thanks to the show.
  • Faking the Dead: The bizarre story of Clarence Roberts of Nashville, Indiana. A body found burned to death on a fire on his property in 1970 was identified as Roberts. Ten years later, a body found in a second fire in which the Roberts residence was destroyed was also identified as Clarence Roberts. This second fire, determined to be arson, also killed Roberts' wife, Geneva. Roberts had been in substantial debt in 1970, and many in Nashville believe he murdered a transient and planted the transient's body in the first fire so he could disappear and his wife could collect on his life insurance. Investigators believe Roberts set the second fire deliberately to murder his own wife and ended up killing himself accidentally, but some believe he faked his death a second time.
    • There have been several other stories about missing persons believed to have faked their death to escape prosecution for a crime they've been accused of.
  • False Confession: More like Staged Confession in the story of a faked murder confession aired by KROQ-FM morning duo Kevin and Bean in 1990. The story was profiled on Unsolved Mysteries and the L.A. police investigated it as a real crime for ten months before the DJs confessed the call was staged. They were forced to make a public apology, suspended without pay and forced to pay over $12,000 in restitution to the police department.
  • 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 clerk misunderstands where George is trying to go, and sends him to a town on the other side of the state. The next day he turns up there, and thereafter disappears and is 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 clerk'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 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.
    • Lauria Bible's parents let her stay at her friend Ashley Freeman's to celebrate the latter's 16th birthday. Before the night was over, Ashley's parents were murdered, the Freeman house had been burned to the ground, and Ashley and Lauria had disappeared. 19 years later, the killers of all four were finally arrested. Had she not been allowed to do something as commonplace as spend the night with her best friend, Lauria would be alive today.
  • Foreseeing My Death: Las Vegas teenager Kathy Hobbs was plagued as a child by a premonition that she would not live to be 16. She was ecstatic when her 16th birthday came and went without incident, and began to come out of her shell and make plans for her future. Tragically, Kathy would not live much longer, as she was abducted and killed exactly three months and three days later.
    • Wendy Camp's husband had a bad feeling when her ex called and offered to let her come and visit their son. He should have heeded it, as she, her daughter, and his sister(he sent her along for safety) never returned.
  • Fresh Clue: In one segment, a group of people find a woman's body. One of them says, "She was as warm as you (the interviewer) and I are now, so whatever happened had just happened."
    • Inverted in the Norman Ladner case. When his father finds his body, he notes how cold he is and realizes that he's been dead for a long time.
  • 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.
  • Good Samaritan: Many of the "Lost Loves" segments involved peoples' searches for the people who helped them out when they were at their lowest point. One such story was that of Cathy Williams-Loving, who was sexually abused as a teenager by her stepfather (a cop) and ended up in juvenile detention through no fault of her own. Fortunately, another cop believed Cathy's story and intervened on her behalf to get her released from detention so she could live a normal life. Cathy's search for her Good Samaritan, Fred Lyle, was successful.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Many murder/assault depictions often employ this. For example, in the segment "Whistle Blown", Dave Bocks is strung up and slowly lowered into a furnace, but it cuts to the temperature gauge at the moment his body would have been dropped in.
  • Greaser Delinquents: In the late 1960's, a gang of these began terrorizing the small town of Rock Creek, Ohio and in all likelihood, murdered police chief Robert Hamrick.
  • Great Escape: A special episode revolved around the legendary escape of Frank Morris and the Aldin brothers from Alcatraz Island and their subsequent disappearance from the face of the Earth.
  • Happily Adopted: A number of stories in the Lost Loves segments. In particular, the Hatbox Baby had no clue she was adopted until her adoptive mother revealed the truth on her deathbed — fifty-five years later.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Taken Up to Eleven with the Bashir Kouchacji story - during the 1980s, the Washington restaurateur was getting up to 20 harassing and threatening phone calls a day, some of which seemed to have been made by a child, and theorized the calls may have had something to do with his abduction and brief imprisonment by the PLO while in Lebanon. Even after checking himself into a mental hospital to escape the harassment, the callers were still able to reach him in the hospital. To make matters worse, Bashir's son was attacked by unknown assailants, and Bashir himself nearly escaped death when his car was set on fire. The perpetrators of this harassment have never been caught.
    • In some stories, relatives and loved ones of missing or deceased persons were subjected to this. One in the case of Patsy Wright, a Texas woman who died after ingesting tainted cold medicine in 1987, was particularly cruel: it was answered by the victim's teenage daughter the day after Wright's death, and the caller, upon being told that Wright had passed away, replied that she was glad to hear that.
  • He Knows Too Much: Frequently very ominously implied as the reason behind the deaths or disappearances of the topics of the segments. The Keith Warren 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.
  • Heroic Dog: Victoria Doroshenko's service dog, Harley, possessed an uncanny knack for being able to predict when his owner was about to have a seizure and making sure she was safe. On one occasion, he began barking and acting unruly in order to get Victoria to a safe place to have her seizure. The episode reported that 15 other dogs were known to possess the same ability, six of them originating from the same facility as Harley.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • In 1969, seven-year-old LaHarriet "Niki" Crowder (nee Wade) befriended eight-year-old Charita Harding when the two girls were hospital roommates. Upon learning that Charita required surgery for cancer that would leave her sterile, Niki promised Charita that if she ever had a child, she'd share it with Charita and they'd both be its mother, and that she'd name it after Charita. The two girls lost touch soon afterward but were reunited thanks to the show, and Niki was able to keep her promise.
    • Bill Rundle and his BFF Traci Kenley, who vanished from their small Nebraska town in 2000. Although Traci and Bill were extremely close and did everything together, their relationship was from all accounts platonic, and Traci already had a long-term boyfriend. Their disappearance sparked rumors of an affair, but two years later, their bodies were found in a nearby lake, and it was determined they'd likely driven into the lake and drowned by accident.
  • Hope Spot: Whenever a missing person's family received news (i.e. a sighting) suggesting that the missing might still be alive, only to have their hopes dashed. One noteworthy example is the story of Kari Lynn Nixon, a 16-year-old girl from New York state who went missing in 1987. A woman several states away reported meeting a girl she assumed to be a runaway who met Kari's description and even answered to Kari's name. And in 1989, a girl matching Kari's description was seen in a New Kids on the Block concert video. Sadly, Kari's remains were discovered in 1994 and it was determined she had been killed shortly after her abduction. Her killer is serving life without parole.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: Several segments, particularly the "Donovan" and "Fraser" cases cited above, have featured hitchhikers turning violent on those who picked them up.
  • 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.
    • The police became suspicious of Tim McClure when he claimed that he drove along the highway looking for his mother's purse, something they had not told him was missing when they found her body.
    • The Christi Nichols case mentioned above. Police were suspicious of Christi's husband Mark after he recited the contents of his missing wife's suitcase down to the last detail. Ultimately, however, they did not have enough evidence to charge him, though they believed he likely killed his wife.
  • Identity Amnesia: A handful of cases involved people who suffered from amnesia and contacted the show in hope that someone would recognize them and let them know who they were. One, however, turned out to be wanted for grand larceny, and some believe he was an Amnesiac Liar.
    • In some stories, Identity Amnesia was feared to be the fate of missing persons such as Patricia Meehan, who wandered away from the scene of a traffic accident in 1989 and disappeared. She had a history of mental issues, and her family feared she'd suffered head trauma in the accident and was wandering around not knowing who she was. Patricia has never been found.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: One story about the actions of a still-unknown Serial Killer note  featured his attack on a visibly pregnant (7 months) woman. Miraculously, the victim and her fetus both survived.
    • Another of it's paranomal stories claims that the ghost of Grace Brown haunts the lake where she was murdered by her faithless lover, who didn't want the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood.
    • Cecilia Newball was 8.5 months pregnant when she and her six-year old son vanished from their home. Her husband claims that she left him for another man and that she wrote him a "Dear John" Letter. Her friends and the police suspect otherwise but with no evidence, he remains a free man.
  • Impersonating an Officer: How the Blind River Rest Stop killer gained entry into Gord and Jackie McAllister's motor home. He proceeded to rob and shoot them both, killing Jackie, and then murdered a Good Samaritan who stopped to help.
  • Incredibly Conspicuous Drag: Following the 1990 disappearance and murder of Beverly McGowan in Pompano Beach, Florida, an individual using the name "Sam," who appeared to be a man dressed as a woman, used the victim's credit card to rent a car for a trip to London, England. "Sam" has never been identified, but McGowan's killer is believed to have been Elaine Parent, a serial killer known for stealing her victims' identities and who had been McGowan's roommate using the alias "Alice." Some believe "Sam" was really Parent, who committed suicide after authorities tracked her down.
  • Infant Immortality: In the case of some of the miracle stories, played straight.
  • Irony: Wendy Camp's husband had a bad feeling when her ex called and offered to let her visit their son. He sent his sister along with her and her daughter for safety. . . and they all disappeared that day. (21 years later, a local finally led police to where all three bodies were buried, and her ex and his mother were charged with murder).
    • Angela Maher had founded her local Students Against Drunk Driving chapter after a friend of hers was killed while driving drunk...and was killed herself by a drunk driver, who subsequently went on the run (where she remains to this day). Worse, that night she was actually on her way to pick up an intoxicated friend to safely drive them home.
    • The story of Gretchen Burford, a criminal defense attorney from Palo Alto, California, who was carjacked and then stabbed to death in February 1988. Gretchen's family expressed sorrow that her murderer, a young black man, was exactly the kind of person Gretchen had dedicated her life to helping. It took nearly two decades to find her killer, and in a final ironic twist, he was saved from the death penalty by the fact that his victim had been opposed to capital punishment.
  • I Want My Mommy!: A Lost Loves segment has the father variant with a young girl named Patty Miller being kept away from her loving father growing up.note  He once tried to visit her at school, but being unable to understand him as she was deaf and him being fearful of a confrontation with the stepfather again that would upset her, he left. Upon realizing too late who he was, she ran out after him and then cried out to her teacher "I want my Daddy!"
  • Joggers Find Death: On July 24, 1997, Amy Wroe Bechtel ran some errands, then set out for a training run in preparation for a race she was planning to participate in. She has never been seen again.
    • There are several other cases of people going for a run/walk and being assaulted/murdered/disappearing.
    • Or of finding a victim—two hikers found the remains of the below mentioned Susan Harrison.
  • 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.
    • Another glaring example is that of Joe Maloney, who is believed to have murdered his ex-wife, June, in 1967, using poison he had stolen from a friend's laboratory. He was convicted and given a life sentence, but at his request was incarcerated in a mental hospital instead of a prison, only to escape anyway a few months later. He was tracked down in Ireland in 1984, but ultimately freed due to the voiding of the nation's extradition treaty with the United States. His whereabouts remain unknown, though it is probable he has also passed away.
    • One of the most famous examples is "The Case Eliot Ness Couldn't Solve", the Cleveland Torso Murderer, a serial killer responsible for roughly twelve murders in Cleveland in the late 1930s. Eliot Ness believed he knew the killer's identity, a socialite who had been institutionalized (after which the murders mysteriously stopped), but was unable to gather the evidence needed to bring the perp to trial. The case haunted Ness for the rest of his life. The fact that Robert Stack played Eliot Ness for years in The Untouchables gave a personal dimension to this one, see Shout-Out below.
    • Depending on how you look at it, the case of Georgia Tann, the infamous "baby broker" who stole babies from poor families to be adopted out to well-to-do families, could be seen as either Karma Houdini - as she died before she could be arrested for her crimes - or as Laser-Guided Karma, as her cause of death was cancer.
    • Bradford Bishop, who killed his wife, three young sons and elderly mother in 1976 and went on the lam. An acquaintance spotted him in Italy two years later, only for him to run off, never to be seen again.
    • The murders of Sandra Orellana and Michelle Witherell. It's more likely than not that Orellana's lover and Witherell's husband had killed them through domestic violence (and eerily enough, by the same means of pushing them off of a high-rise building's balcony), but after years of investigating, both of them had belated trials that ended with each of them acquitted and their respective cases closed and unsolved.
  • Kick the Dog: Or rather, set fire to the dogs. Sixty of them — in a single night. All but one died. To make matters worse, the perp has never been caught, and no one has any idea why he (or she) did such a thing.
  • Kill 'Em All: Some cases have a scenario, be it at the hands of a Serial Killer or not, where everyone in a setting or situation are killed. One particularly harrowing example is the case of Rachel Timmerman, a young mother who after being raped by an acquaintance, Marvin Gabrion, was later murdered by him. He also is suspected in killing three associates of his (two of which were witnesses on the night he raped her and one who went out on a date with her the night of her abduction) and her eleven-month-old daughter, Shannon, whose bodies were never found. Another example is the infamous Blind River Rest Stop murder case, in which the perpetrator shot everyone at the scene who could have identified him; in an aversion, one of his victims survived.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Recently, this can be applied to Cedric Young. He’s been in and out of prison since the episode premiered while his brother Fred was paroled and released for good behavior, vindicating his claims of innocence.
  • Later Installment Weirdness: The 2020 Netflix revival notably goes for a full docuseries presentation with no main host/narrator.
  • Longer-Than-Life Sentence: Has happened in some cases profiled on the show. Specific examples include:
    • Dennis Keith Smith was captured after being profiled for committing two murders after he had been paroled for another murder he committed. Smith was sentenced to 160 years in prison and committed suicide just a few years into his sentence.
    • Luis Diaz was convicted for being the Bird Road Rapist and was sentenced to thirteen life sentences plus 55 years. It turns out that Diaz was innocent all along; he was exonerated after serving 25 years when DNA evidence proved he was not the rapist. The real perpetrators, now believed to be more than one, have never been caught.
  • MacGuffin: A few cases revolved around an item instead of a person. One example was the family bible of Charles Lazarus. Said case involved a bible found in a junk store by Jonathan Grady, recording the marriage of a man named Charles Lazarus as well as his death and the birth of many descendants. Attempts to return the bible to any heirs have been unsuccessful in spite of being featured on the show and coverage in many national newspapers.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: 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 some cases there were multiple types of blood being found at the crime scene, or victims that were bound with packing wire before being dumped into incinerators.
    • The Keith Warren case took this Up to Eleven. 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.
    • In one such case - the 1987 deaths of Arkansas teens Don Henry and Kevin Ives, who were run over by a locomotive while lying unconscious on the train tracks - the victims' families were successful in getting the cause of death changed to murder. Their deaths had originally been ruled accidental after autopsies seemed to show the boys had smoked enough marijuana to render them unconscious. However, subsequent postmortems revealed that the boys had not smoked nearly that much pot and that one of them had been stabbed prior to being run over. The murders remain unsolved.
    • Subverted in some cases where it possibly was an accident. In the Russell Evans case, Stack truthfully pointed out that even if he had been accidentally hit by a car instead of beaten, the driver still deserved to be arrested for his actions.
  • Maybe Miraculous, Maybe Mundane: Many of the most legendary miracles of Catholic folklore, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorje, were profiled on the series. Many of these stories mentioned curious things that could not be easily explained away - for example, the lack of an "undersketch" on the portrait of the Virgin Mary on Juan Diego's tilma (which would likely have existed if the portrait had been painted by human hands). On the flip side, a segment on the Shroud of Turin mentioned it had been determined that the cloth was likely not the authentic burial garment of Jesus. Either way, Bob Stack would always acknowledge that while concrete proof to convince skeptics may not exist, for those of faith, no concrete proof was necessary.
    • Similarly, many of the medical miracles profiled fall into this category, especially stories such as the case of newborn infant Logan Carroll, who was pronounced dead at 33 minutes old only to apparently come back to life a short time later. To this day, doctors have been unable to find a medical explanation for Logan's apparent resurrection.
  • 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. Also, many of the "Lost Loves" stories dealt with grown children searching for their birth mothers, or who were placed in foster homes after their mothers died.
  • Mondegreen: According to one segment, the common English name for the Yeti, the abominable snowman, is actually a Mondegreen of the original translation: abominable-smelling man.
  • Mr. Fanservice: A then 23-year-old Matthew McConaughey, in his portrayal of murder victim Larry Dickens, was shown mowing the lawn in a sleeveless, open shirt, exposing his biceps and chest muscles.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: The reenactments sometimes use this to very frightening effect—the killer of Chaim Weiss slowly climbs the stairs of his dormitory, walks down the hall, opens the door to his room, approaches his bed... cue Gory Discretion Shot. Another example is the still-unsolved 1967 murder of Chicago cop Ralph Probst, who was shot from outside while in his kitchen.
  • Mystery Cult: The story of Texas teenagers Shane Stewart and Sally McNelly, who were murdered in July 1988. Both had been members of a Satanic cult, and had decided to leave once they discovered cult members were involved in criminal activities. They even went to the cops, turning over a gun they claimed had been used in a robbery and murder. It's theorized Shane and Sally were killed by members of the cult who wanted to shut them up. As of 2019 the case is still open, although police have a prime suspect who is, unsurprisingly, a former member of said cult.
  • 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.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Quite a few missing/murdered people got involved in trying to help those in trouble.
  • 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.
    • William Bradford "Brad" Bishop, who bludgeoned all three of his sons, as well as his wife and mother, to death in 1976. His whereabouts remain unknown over 40 years later.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Loved ones of the missing/murdered become convinced that foul play was involved rather than an accident or suicide when they notice something unusual—"My wife never goes anywhere without her purse!", "He always drives with the windows rolled up!", etc.
  • Police Brutality: Often implied as the reason behind suspicious deaths that happened in police custody, particularly that of Michael Rosenblum. The respective departments pathetic attempts at explaining—or not explaining things doesn't help.
  • Reality Ensues: A particularly sad case came in the case of Colorado resident Jason Horsley, who even after several run-ins with his neighbor, Malaika Griffin, about he and his fiancee apparently trespassing on her property, still thought there was some good in her and tried desperately to befriend her. Sadly, he may not have truly realized that not only was Griffin a racist but a Black supremacist who had no desire to try and attempt a friendship with any White people and ultimately killed him over another perceived slight. Being cordial to a racist, especially a violent one at that, will not make them change or even curtail their racist views.
  • Red Herring: A lot of suspects have ultimately turned out to be completely innocent, despite their admittedly weird/creepy/suspicious/inappropriate behavior.
  • Scenery Censor: A segment on the murder of Hilda Roche has her nude body being found in the woods. A tree conveniently hides her buttocks from the viewers.
    • In another segment, when the police go to arrest a nudist for sexually assaulting a young girl, an officer stands in front of the man as he reads him his rights and thus shields the viewers from seeing him.
  • The Scrooge: Howard Drummond was one of these in the lost heir cases. When Drummond died in 1989, he was found to have nearly US$250,000 to his name. From 1985 until his death, Drummond amassed a good part of this money through much penny-pinching. Some of his ways of saving money included moving into a YMCA in Lansing, Michigan during the last four years of his life but not paying extra for a private bathroom. He also spent about $6 a day on food, getting a breakfast of bacon, eggs & toast from a diner along with two more of those that he'd eat for lunch and dinner.
  • Secretly Wealthy: A few of the lost heirs cases profiled on the show involved individuals who were this trope. A notable example was the case of Walter Green. A resident of Omaha, Nebraska, he died in 1978 and his acquaintances were shocked to find that he not only owned the building he lived in but he amassed over US$200,000 in assets. Some came from bonds, some from rare coins and some of it from penny-pinching. Unfortunately, Green's life and background was a complete mystery; no will, heirs or living family were ever found so his fortune has presumably gone to the state of Nebraska. Ironically, when he was a young man, the only woman he ever loved rejected him because he was poor.
  • Sequel: Several cases (the murder of Shannon Mohr, the murder of Daniel Short) would later be covered on Forensic Files, which told the rest of the story after the mysteries were solved.
  • Serial Killer: Some of the show's scariest segments were those featuring attempts to capture and identify these.
  • Shout-Out: One story profiled legendary police detective Eliot Ness and the one case he was never able to crack, a grisly series of torso slayings in Cleveland in the late 1930s. Host Robert Stack had portrayed Ness on the 1960s TV series The Untouchables and, in the opening salvo to the story, talked about what he'd learned about Ness' character through his work on the series.
  • Snuff Film: It's believed one may have been made featuring Rachael Runyan, a young Utah girl who was abducted and murdered in 1982. Even more disturbing, Rachael was only three years old. The murder is still unsolved.
  • Stock Ness Monster: A few of the "Unexplained" segments featured searches for varying versions of these—New York/Vermont/Quebec is believed to have one inhabiting Lake Champlain (which is bordered by the two states and the province), appropriately named "Champ"
  • Suicide, Not Murder: In season one, the show profiled Gail Delano, a lonely single mom from Maine who disappeared under mysterious circumstances after leaving to meet a blind date named "John." A friend interviewed for the story noted that she had a history of depression and always seemed sad whenever he talked to her, and theorized that she may have committed suicide and elaborately staged a crime scene to make it appear that she was abducted. Sadly, this turned out to be the case, as a viewer recognized Gail as a suicide victim whose body was found in a Mobile, Alabama hotel.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: In 1967, Joe Maloney offered his ex-wife, June, a drink, which unbeknownst to her was tainted with poison Joe had stolen from a friend's laboratory. June lapsed into a coma and lingered for three months before succumbing. Joe was apprehended in Ireland years later but freed as the nation had no extradition law with the U.S., making his case also one of the worst examples of Karma Houdini profiled on the show.
    • Elizabeth Ortiz, who poisoned her husband Gilbert's muscle-building amino-acid milkshakes with insecticide, then ran off with their young son. Miraculously, Gilbert survived, though the poison severely damaged his nerves and liver. Elizabeth was eventually captured in Mexico and Gilbert and his son were reunited. Sadly - see under Bittersweet Ending above - Gilbert's relationship with his son is now strained (to say the least).
    • Similarly, Tampering with Medicine in the case of Patsy Wright, a Texas businesswoman who died in 1987 after ingesting cold medicine tainted with strychnine. The victim's ex-husband was a prime suspect but police were unable to gather enough evidence to prosecute him, and Patsy's murder remains unsolved.
    • A segment on a Serial Rapist depicted his victim being drugged by whatever he'd put in her drunk. Lab work showed it was a sedative (he was a doctor) given at much higher than the necessary amount.
  • That One Case: For Eliot Ness, the Cleveland torso slayer who terrorized the city during the 1930s. Ness believed he knew who the killer was - a prominent socialite who checked himself into a mental hospital, after which the murders stopped - though he lacked the evidence to bring him to justice. However, it's theorized that due to his social standing, the suspect was allowed to come and go as he pleased while incarcerated, and indeed, after the murders in Cleveland ceased, similar killings were reported in other Midwestern cities. It's even theorized that the torso slayer may have been responsible for the death of "Black Dahlia" Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles in 1947.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Some murders or assaults has the victim suffering wounds much more that what would kill an average person. A particularly cruel murder was that of Megan Curl, who in addition to being tied up was also asphyxiated with a plastic bag, had her throat slit and was set on fire. One of the detectives outright described it as "the meanest thing I'd ever seen someone do to another human being" in his years in law enforcement.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: A 1994 episode profiled two women who claimed to have been cured of debilitating illnesses while visiting Lourdes, the French town where young Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1858. Jeanne Fretel suffered from tubercular peritonitis and was near death when her friends brought her to Lourdes; after taking Communion and visiting the grotto where Bernadette's vision occurred, she completely recovered,note  and her case was officially declared a miracle by the Vatican. Pennsylvania teenager Lorraine Echevarria was stricken with a strange illness that made her so weak she could not lift her head and caused her kidneys to fail. After having some water from the baths at Lourdes poured over her head, she, too, recovered, although the Catholic Church has not declared Lorraine's story a miracle since she was not examined by physicians afterward.
    • Mike Emert's killer was believed to be this. He was to show a house to a potential buyer—he was a successful real-estate agent—and although he was said to be an older man who had a limp and walked with a cane, investigators theorized that it was a disguise and his "cane" was actually a sword cane he used to stab him to death.
  • The Un-Reveal:
    • Everyone realized that the truly unexplained paranormal mysteries, as well as stories on locales such as Lourdes and Fatima where religious miracles are said to have occurred, 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.
  • Tired of Running: A variation: Domestic Abuser David Kemp, who killed his ex-wife and her new boyfriend in a jealous rage and then went on the run for the next several years, finally gave himself up, not because it was the right thing to do, but because his years on the run were ruining his health.
  • Vision Quest: Californian stockbroker David Stone went on one in 1988 in search of "The Beast" - the negativity inside of every person keeping us from being one with God - and subsequently disappeared, leaving a number of baffling clues behind. Sadly, his remains were found in 1992, two years after his story aired, and it's believed he likely succumbed to the elements.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Clifford Sherwood disappearance segment mentions that the boy that Clifford was walking to school with went missing as well. Short of that one sentence, we hear absolutely nothing else about the other boy. This is made worse by the fact that Clifford's mom promotes an elaborate conspiracy theory in which her estranged husband abducted Clifford, a scenario that becomes much more unlikely when considering that both boys went missing.
  • Wife Husbandry: After Franklin Delano Floyd kidnapped Michael Hughes from his school, an investigation found that Michael's mother Sharon had herself been kidnapped by Floyd as a child. He raised her as his own—molesting her the entire time—then married her when she came of age, then killed her either when she got fed up with the abuse and tried to leave, or because he feared she would turn him in regarding another murder he had committed. note 
  • Would Hurt a Child: Many of the criminals profiled for abusing, kidnapping, or murdering children. One of the more horrifying cases is that of three-year-old Rachael Runyan, who was not only abducted and killed, but may have been featured in a Snuff Film made by her killers.
    • Jim Burnside told his wife, Annette, he'd kill her and her entire family if she ever tried to leave him. When his five-year-old daughter asked him if he'd kill her too, Jim, without missing a beat, replied, "Yes, I'll kill you too." He later made good on his threat to kill Annette.
    • "Baby broker" Georgia Tann. The show doesn't mention that in addition to kidnapping babies from poor families so she could adopt them out to rich couples, she had her staff neglect and starve the babies for whom she was unable to find homes, and hundreds of the babies died. The Investigation Discovery Deadly Women episode profiling Tann theorized that this would make Georgia Tann the most prolific serial murderer in American history.
    • Sometimes extends to the authorities. In 1917 in Fatima, Portugal, young Lucia Santos and her two cousins, who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, were held by town officials who ordered them to divulge what the Blessed Mother had told them, under threat of torture and death. Lucia's cousins, after refusing to talk, were taken away to be cooked in oil; despite this, Lucia remained unflappable. Fortunately the authorities were bluffing, as Lucia's cousins were not harmed and she was soon reunited with them.
  • Young Future Famous People: A young Matthew McConaughey starred in one episode as Larry Dickens, a former United States Marine who was shot to death while confronting a pedophile.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Many cases dealt with extramarital affairs that ended in tragedy. In one case profiled in the first season, a woman left her husband to aid in the escape of a convicted murderer with whom she'd been having an affair, and was subsequently caught and sentenced to two years for her role in the escape.

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