Unsolved Mysteries: Still Kinda Scary After All These Years

I don’t like being scared; I won’t watch horror movies, and my friends know better than to invite me along to Knott’s Scary Farm. This is all rather strange, though, considering how much I love watching re-runs of Unsolved Mysteries. Just play the original theme music, and I get chills. Forget Sawthat is scary.

Now, not every case on Unsolved Mysteries is frightening. Sometimes long-lost siblings are reunited, or weathered cowboys are featured searching for gold in the middle of the Nevada desert. But 97 percent of the time, there are alien abductions and unexplained deaths and robberies; all freaky stuff.

Lifetime is currently airing newer episodes during the afternoon, hosted by Dennis Farina. The stories are the same as during Robert Stack’s tenure in the late ’80s through 2002, except now there are more updates and sometimes new interviews. While I do watch these episodes to get my fix, the Stack hosted shows were better and so, so much creepier.

Every episode featured Stack and his distinctive, deep voice, introducing us to tales of deception and fraud. Often wearing a trench coat, he was always in eerie settings like foggy graveyards and marble mausoleums. Because the actors weren’t really that great and the graphics in the late 1980s and early 1990s weren’t wonderful either, the reenactments were often creepier than intended.

I used to watch the show with my parents, who for some inexplicable reason let a six-year-old tune in. I still remember vividly a feature on a hotel in New Mexico, where a little ghost boy haunted the bar. He sat on a stool, spinning a glass, when a worker came in and startled him. The ghost had a hideous face, with scratches and scars, and had long curly blonde hair and tattered clothes. I screamed so loudly I could have woken the dead, but instead freaked out my dad who had fallen asleep when the episode began.

After that, any time the ghost boy episode came on, I had to avert my eyes. In fact, for a while he was part of the opening credits montage, and I had to keep my eyes closed during the beginning of each episode. The ghost boy took on a near-mythic status in my young mind, as the scariest thing I had ever seen. Over time, this episode was rarely re-broadcasted, and it was years and years before I had the bright idea to look it up on YouTube.

The only version I could find was in Spanish with subtitles. I took a deep breath when the ghost boy first appeared and then completely lost it – with laughter. I don’t know if the quality was off because it was YouTube or I was just – gasp! – now a rather reasonable adult, but while ghost boy wasn’t attractive, he also wasn’t worthy of any more of my screams.

Sometimes, when a case is really intriguing, I grab my laptop and start searching for more information. There are quite a few enthusiasts out there who actually try to help solve the still-open cases, and discuss the details and facts on forums. Sometimes family members of victims come on and leave comments, sharing new information or just thanking the forum members for keeping their relative in their thoughts. It’s actually quite fascinating to see these online investigations unfold, and the interaction between fans of the show and people who actually lived the events.

I always used to hope that one day, I would be able to help solve a mystery. I didn’t want to see a picture of a serial killer and realize, “Hey, that’s my neighbor!” but I did want to help reunite a lost daughter with her mother, or help an elderly woman find her missing millions. It never happened to me, but lots of people did see faces they recognized, and called in with tips. So many cases were solved because of the show, and it’s amazing to think about what wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise.

Unsolved Mysteries actually taught me a lot, and not just the fact that composite sketches are some of the most horrifying images on the planet. It showed me how important it is to be cautious during certain situations, and helped me with my deduction skills. I also now know everything there is to know about Resurrection Mary, the haunted Queen Mary and – of course – ghost boy.

Who else finds themselves spending their afternoon with Unsolved Mysteries? Anyone have a case they just can’t get out of their head?

Published by

Catherine

Catherine is a Southern California based freelance writer, whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Entertainment Weekly. The highlight of her life (so far) was being featured on MSNBC for a story she wrote on Hello Kitty wines...she knew one day her love of all things HK would come in handy.

37 thoughts on “Unsolved Mysteries: Still Kinda Scary After All These Years”

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  6. This is why I am loving this blog. Unsolved Mysteries – I haven’t thought of that show for years. I just went and looked it up on YouTube and I’m already freaking out at the theme music. Will need to wait for my husband to be home before I actually watch it. I save all my serial killer show watching for when he is home.

    Wish it was on cable here in Oz. Will need to scour the guide to see if its hiding anywhere…

    1. I try to wait until someone else is home before I tune into serial killer/scary mystery shows too! I try not to watch too many, but I really can get sucked into episodes of Disappeared and I Survived.

      And really, I don’t think there is a scarier or eerier song than the Unsolved Mysteries theme. They should hire those composers for horror films (if they don’t already!).

  7. Like most have said I believe at least 50% of the creepiness of the show can be attributed to Robert Stacks voice. Sometimes when I’m channel surfing and old episodes of the Untouchables is on I’ll hear his voice and get a chill. The ghost episodes were my favorite but I hate hate hated the alien abduction ones those freaked me out the most for some reason. I think the show a Current affair must have aired right after unsolved mysteries when I was little b/c that shows intro freaks me out the same way Unsolved intro. does(or I might just be a weirdo).

    1. The alien abduction ones scared me too. It didn’t help that for some reason, my older sisters let me watch some movie that came out in the early or mid 1990s about a group of real life friends who claim they were abducted. I can’t remember what it was called, but it scared the living daylights out of me!

    2. Oh my goodness YES. That weird sound effect they would do for A Current Affair used to scare the hell out of me. Probably still would. It’s probably Pavlovian at this point.

      I don’t like Robert Stack’s voice. My mother always thought this was hilarious. She’s all, “He was in other things, you know” and I’m all, “GAH I’m leaving let me know when you’ve changed the channel.”

  8. So back when we were little, my younger siblings and I were all watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries about spontaneous human combustion. The only bit I remember from it was a reenactment of a woman opening the refrigerator in her kitchen and her arm suddenly BURSTING into flames. Upon the episode’s conclusion, when I attempted to go get a soda from our fridge, my little siblings clung to me and screamed, “YOU CAN’T! YOU’LL SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST!” Then the little pills followed me upstairs in a little fear-chain, clinging to each other and to me, and they all wound up tackling me down the stairs in an attempt to get past me and up to safety. I grabbed them all and began screaming and pummeling indiscriminately, so our parents walked out of their bedroom to all of their children screaming on the stairs in a little pile of terror and misery and rage. They had no idea what was going on and the most they could get out of anyone was “Unsolved Mysteries” and “she wanted a soda, but her arm was going to catch on fire!”

    They all still laugh hysterically when recounting this story. The little pills.

    I bore a grudge against “that stupid show” for years until I began religiously watching the afternoon Lifetime reruns in college. I still miss Robert Stack’s creepy intoning. The ghost episodes were the best.

  9. Oh, God, this was one of my favorite pasttimes as a kid, even if it has kind of scarred me as an adult. I don’t like walking alone at night; if I have to go outside after dark, I bring my dog and/or husband with me; and yeah, there’s no way I’m going into a basement alone.

    The only one I distinctly remember was the one where a girl was abducted at a phone booth, while on the phone with her boyfriend, and her boyfriend, who was coming to get her, drove past the truck driven by the man that abducted the girl, while she was hanging out the window, screaming.

    *shudder*

  10. That show has been scaring me since I was a little bitty kid. Robert Stack’s voice alone is enough to give me the creeps (bless his soul).

    There was one particular episode that I saw when I was little, about a little girl who was abducted and murdered. They later caught the guy…it was a guy doing cleaning demonstrations or selling vacuums or something and he fell apart during questioning and mentioned the color of the girls shorts and that’s how they caught him. Anyway, I had nightmares for weeks and weeks after that.

    I am easily frightened. I cannot watch scary movies right before bed, or anything like America’s Most Wanted, or shows that deal with abductions or ghosts or aliens. I will not be able to sleep. I’m a huge pansy that way. I finally got up the nerve to watch Silence of the Lambs when I was 23, and I didn’t sleep for days.

    Unsolved Mysteries is awesome though. I love to catch reruns of that show. Others try, but none compare.

    1. I’m 26 and I still haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs! I made the mistake last night of looking up the original Unsolved Mysteries opening credits on YouTube, and then clicked on some of the suggested videos after that…remind me to never, ever again click on a video about the 1966 Real Life Clown Murders. I have no idea how I made it through the night with having a nightmare!

  11. Oh my god I loved this post so much. You don’t even know, if I could hug it, I would hug it. I fucking love Unsolved Mysteries. That an X-Files are my 90’s fix. And I do the same thing with the looking up and the reading up on really interesting stories.
    But yes. Love this post.

    1. I am so happy to hear that I am not alone in looking up cases! Are there any that are your favorites? There are some that have stuck with me for a long time, like the woman who stopped at a rest stop and barely escaped being murdered, and the guy who dropped off a crazed hitchhiker and then the hitchhiker ended up finding his house and murdering his mother! They finally caught that guy after about 15 years…thank goodness!

  12. OMG that show terrified me to no end. Even now, the sound of Robert Stack’s voice creeps me the hell out. My grandma used to tell me that Robert Stack was a total heartthrob back in her day, but it does not seem to help any.
    [img]http://persephonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/robert-stack.jpg[/img]

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