Unsolved Mysteries (season 15, vol. 2)

As was the case with volume 1, the six episodes released as volume 2 of season 15 are a mixed bag.  Back in 1981, the rock band Genesis decided to name their latest album after the grades they gave the songs contained within (ABACAB).  I’ve used their simple but effective method of categorization on the episodes included in volume 2, and grouped them accordingly.

The A-List (definitely worth watching)

If you only want to spend your time on the best episodes in this volume, the following three are the ones you should definitely watch.

Washington Inside Murder

Most people may remember John P. Wheeler III as the driving force behind the building of the Vietnam Memorial.  He was a West Point graduate and served as an aide in the Reagan and both Bush administrations.  He held prominent positions in the Department of Defense and the Air Force.  Inexplicably, his body was found on December 30, 2010 in a landfill in Delaware.  This episode traces his last days, where he appeared to be acting deliberately but very irrationally.  Investigators think that Wheeler’s behavior indicated he was trying to evade detection, but surveillance footage shown never reveals anyone following him.  His wife tells us that he suffered from bi-polar disorder, and that his behavior may have been the result of a mental break with reality.  Neither completely explains how he wound up dead in a dumpster.  His death was ruled as a homicide from blunt-force trauma, but the who, when, why and how remains unknown.  Since Wheeler’s actions were caught on surveillance cameras, I couldn’t help being saddened watching a man of high achievement and respect, with a loving wife and family, going through what looks like a prolonged episode of paranoid delusions.  Watching Wheeler amble through parking garages with one shoe in his hand, and later in the basement of several office buildings wearing a change of clothing, is haunting.  That his death remains unsolved is even more troubling.

Death in Oslo

In 1995, a woman somehow checked into the five-star Plaza hotel in Oslo under a fake name of Jennifer Fairgate, while providing no identification or a credit card.  After several days, the hotel demanded payment.  When the hotel manager goes to see her, he hears a gunshot.  He goes back downstairs to alert building security, leaving the hotel room unattended for fifteen minutes.  When security enters the room, they find the woman neatly dressed and dead from a gunshot wound to the head.  Her hand held the gun that killed her in a way that would make it very difficult to shoot oneself.  The lack of blood on her hand also cannot be explained.  Without specific evidence pointing to her death being a murder, local authorities closed the case one year later.  Lars Christian Wegner, a reporter in Oslo has been working on the story for twenty-five years, following up slim leads that result in nothing but dead-ends.  While the death of “Jennifer Fairgate” is difficult to explain, Wegner’s determination to uncover Jennifer’s real identity, a person he never knew or met when she was alive, is a testament to the humanity in all of us.

Episode 11 Lady in the Lake

This story focuses on a mysterious disappearance not only in my home state of Michigan, but in Grosse Pointe, a city that borders Detroit.  In January 2010, JoAnn Matouk Romain disappeared after attending an evening prayer service.  Police find her vehicle locked with her purse inside.  After seeing footprints and what they describe as “butt prints” in the snow on the other side of the street next to the church, they presume she committed suicide by walking into the freezing water of Lake St. Clair.  The police utilize scuba divers and helicopters in an effort to locate Romain’s body, to no avail. Several months later, her body appears near Boblo Island, on the Canadian side of the Detroit River.  The police never entertain the idea that Romain was abducted, killed and disposed of in a place far from where she was last seen, in spite of compelling evidence to the contrary.  The level of police investigation done is shameful, bordering on incompetence.  Both a former FBI investigator and local television investigative reporter Scott Lewis both conclude that suicide is highly unlikely.  A lawsuit filed by Romain’s daughter against the Grosse Pointe police department proves fruitless.  Oddly enough, her brother, her ex-husband and her cousin all emerge as likely suspects (direct and indirect), but none are ever investigated by the police.  The mystery here clearly is how someone who lived in one of the wealthiest cities in Michigan could receive such a minimal police investigation of her disappearance and apparant murder.

The B-List (worth a look if you have spare time)

Episode 10 – Tsunami Spirits

This episode begins with footage of the 9.1 magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami that completely devastated Ishinomaki, Japan on March 11, 2011.  I remember the effect of the twin disasters on the Fukushima reactor, which was the primary focus of the media for months afterwards.  I did not recall seeing footage of the twin disasters play out in real time.  The first ten minutes or so of this episode includes that footage, showing the city being completely engulfed by waves that were several stories high.

The rest of the episode focuses on survivors who claim to have experienced ghosts of those killed by the disaster.  These experiences are examined by two Japanese authority figures, one a Professor of Sociology, the other a Buddist Monk.  The professor believes that the experiences are likely a result of survivor’s guilt.  The Monk explains how the Japanese are very spiritual people, and that believing in the existence of ghosts is relatively normal.  Regardless, the ghost stories related by both are not compelling.  One family reports that a toy belonging to their deceased son would turn itself on randomly.  As someone who’s house has been filled with electronic toys for over twenty years, I will say that when one suddenly turns itself on, that is likely caused by damaged wiring in the toy, and not evidence of ghosts.  The Monk claimed to have helped a person possessed by several ghosts by performing an exorcism of sorts.  Other stories involve cab drivers who say that they have driven ghosts around town, only to find themselves with nobody to pay the fare when the ride is over.  As you can tell, I didn’t find the ghost stories interesting.  With no real mystery, this episode felt like it should have been titled:  “In Search Of…Tsunami Ghosts”.

The C-List (for completists only)

Episode 9 – Death Row Fugitive

This episode doesn’t qualify as a “mystery”, instead masquerading as an episode of America’s Most Wanted.  The story focuses on Lester Eubanks, who went from admitting to and being convicted of killing fourteen year-old Mary Ellen Deener in 1965, to escaping from custody while on an unsupervised Christmas shopping trip in 1973.

How this happened is explained as a series of very fortunate events for Mr. Eubanks.  After the US Supreme Court made the death penalty illegal in in 1972, Eubanks was moved to the prison’s general population.  After a year of ingratiating himself with the prison authorities, he was added to an inmate honors program, which led to his getting the aforementioned unsupervised shopping trip.  After escaping, the corrections bureaucracy failed to issue a warrant for his arrest.  This made it possible for Eubanks to avoid capture while out in California.  How Eubanks escaped and remains free can only be summed up as a combination of well-intentioned corrections do-gooders, beauricratic incompetence and dumb luck.  While there are several WTF moments in the episode, there is no real “mystery” in the story.  America’s Most Wanted is even mentioned at the end.  While I have no problem with Netflix getting into AMW territory they should just buy the rights from Disney and restart that show.

Episode 12 – Stolen Kids

This episode focuses on two young children who were abducted from the same Martin Luther King Park in New York in 1989.  While I completely support the work of The Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the story their mother’s tell is incredibly moving, there is no mystery presented in this episode.  Regardless of the sympathies I feel for both mothers, I believe that categorizing their stories as “mysteries” is false advertising.

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