“Join me. Perhaps maybe you can help solve a mystery.” Cue the creepy music that gave many ‘90s kids anxiety and nightmares.
We’re talking about Unsolved Mysteries, of course—the show that introduced many of us to aliens, angels, the Mothman, serial killers, and the infamous D.B. Cooper. Not enough people talk about #DBCooper in 2020.
If you grew up listening to the sinister voice of the late, great Robert Stack, then you were probably giddy with excitement to watch Netflix’s revival of the series. Sure, the reboot lacks a host who is equal parts mystery and gravitas, but let’s be honest: Lance Reddick would have been the only acceptable replacement. The reenactments also don’t have that low-budget, gritty VHS quality that we ‘80s and ‘90s kids adore. However, the new show has stayed relatively true to its predecessor by delivering tales of murder, missing persons, and government conspiracies.
To pay tribute to the show, I combed through twelve seasons of the original Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002) to highlight some of the creepier episodes. (Well, technically, I skipped Season 11, because someone at Amazon Prime decided that it should cost $0.99 per episode. Anyway…) Below, I’ve outlined some of the episodes that made my heart pulse a little faster, plus recommendations for comparable media that might appeal to your interest in mysteries of the unexplained.
Let’s Talk About Weather Balloons
Since Unsolved Mysteries has so many UFO episodes, let’s start there! I counted eleven UFO-specific episodes—higher if we include the episode about the Men in Black, and even higher if we count the episodes about possible alien abductions and crop circles. Season 2, Episode 1 of Unsolved Mysteries recounts the alleged 1947 UFO crash
and coverup in Roswell, New Mexico. I’m almost certain that Unsolved Mysteries was my first close encounter (see what I did there?) with aliens, UFOs, and Roswell, so I re-watched the episode with enthusiasm, nostalgia, and a tiny amount of trepidation. After all, the only thing that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 was a weather balloon. Right?
Area 51 is just a private patch of land.
Aliens do not walk among us.
If that’s not enough gray alien matter for you, consider watching Dark Skies (2013) starring Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton. Some of you horror buffs might have missed this chilling tale about a family being tormented by visitors from another planet. Critics also weren’t too kind to the film (I think… I don’t fully understand Rotten Tomatos’ green splat reviewing system), but I thought the movie was very unsettling.
While watching the Barretts—a typical suburban family—descend deeper and deeper into chaos as they try to stop unseen visitors from entering their home, I was left feeling powerless and alarmed about how I might respond in a similar situation. Imagine it: missing chunks of time, unexplained marks on your body, an invasion of your privacy and home, and alienation from your community. What would you do?
But remember: aliens do not walk among us… and they certainly don’t take on the appearance of owls and lurk outside your bedroom window.
Have You Seen This Person?
In most alien abduction cases, the human subjects are returned to their beds. The same can’t be said for the number of missing people featured on Unsolved Mysteries.
Unsolved Mysteries taught us about stranger danger and the threats of unmarked white vans and hitchhiking. Sometimes the missing people are found, the unfortunate victims of serial killers and cold-blooded murderers… like the seven young women whose bodies were found along the Vermont and New Hampshire borders back in 1980s (Season 4, episode 4), or the two Swedish hitchhikers who were murdered in 1983 (Season 4, episode 21).
But sometimes the missing aren’t found. When that happens, we’re left in a perpetual state of worry as we speculate about what might have happened to these people—like Amy Lynn Bradley, who vanished from a cruise ship in 1998 (Season 10, Episode 8), or Cindy Song, the Penn State student who disappeared from her apartment after returning home from a Halloween party (Season 12, Episode 7). (Don’t think about it too much before bed. You’ll just give yourself nightmares.)
If the missing persons cases are what draw you to Unsolved Mysteries, then Searching (2018) starring John Cho and Michelle La is absolutely for you.
Told through modern media like webcams and chat, this twisty thriller follows David Kim as he races to find his missing teenage daughter. If you wonder how someone could be here one moment and gone the next, Searching’s highly plausible plot shows just how easy it is to go from existing in the moment to missing. You’ll think twice about walking your dog, jogging, or even taking out the trash alone.
Now, if all things unsolved—including missing persons and supernatural mysteries—keep you up at night, then you might need something to keep you company* at 2:00 a.m. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James is a compelling horror-mystery novel about a seedy motel, missing and murdered women, a possible serial killer, and the supernatural. It’s hard to believe that this novel isn’t dedicated to Unsolved Mystery fans.
(*I didn’t say the company would be comforting.)
I’ll Be Watching You…
Abductions of the extraterrestrial and earthly varieties. Missing persons. Are you noticing a trend? Did you guess correctly that we were headed down the path of stalkers?
The prospect of being watched by someone unseen has made me a big supporter of drapes. Not valences or flimsy sheer curtains; I’m talking about thick, floor-to-ceiling blackout drapes.
If you also have a fear of being watched, then Season 7, Episode 6 of Unsolved Mysteries will give you chills. I’m referring to the Circleville Letters.
In the 1970s, residents of a small town in Ohio began receiving mysterious letters that contained unseemly allegations about themselves. Even after one man died (read: was murdered) and another man was sent to prison for attempted murder, the Circleville letters continued. If this unsolved mystery makes you wary about checking the mailbox, then definitely don’t listen to the third episode of Season 4 of the Unexplained podcast with Richard Maclean Smith.
Unexplained is great for Unsolved Mysteries fans because it dives into the occult and the supernatural, but the show will also whet the appetites of true crime nerds. In his calm, lilting voice, Richard Maclean Smith narrates the alarming story of the Broaddus family, who, in 2014, began receiving ominous letters from… The Watcher. If you think the Circleville Letters are too far removed from your own existence to be substantially creepy, then listen to “I See You,” which will make you rethink closing on that suburban dream home.
(Seriously, now would be a great time to opt-in to receive emails from your favorite home goods store. Curtains can be expensive.)
Bury the Body
I’m hesitant to include this next Unsolved Mystery episode, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. On Season 3, Episode 20 of the show, we’re introduced to Ray and Marie Thornton, who witness a man burying a bloody sheet.
I don’t remember watching this episode when I was younger, so when I stumbled across it during my recent re-watch of the series, I was taken aback. The story sounded eerily similar to the opening of Jeepers Creepers, a 2001 horror film about two siblings who witness a body wrapped in a bloody sheet being dumped down a pipe.
The film did well enough to spawn a sequel and a third film. However, before you hit play, know this: Victor Salva, the writer-director of Jeepers Creepers, is a convicted sex offender. You can make up your own mind about whether to watch this film. I only include it on this list because of its connection to this very chilling Unsolved Mysteries episode. But I’m calling it a dishonorable mention.
If you’re all caught up on the old episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, consider trying out the Netflix reboot. Still not interested in watching the reboot? Fine, we can’t make you… but would it make you feel better to know that Netflix has lovingly cobbled together episode case files? They did!
Whether you love or hate the new format, one thing is for certain: this Unsolved Mysteries reboot was absolutely made for the age of social media. It brings me an immense amount of satisfaction to know that right now, amateur sleuths—armed with the Internet and a wealth of true crime podcast knowledge—are working together via Reddit and other social media platforms to help solve a mystery. Robert Stack would be proud.
Now, if only we could get some call center updates from Keely Shaye Smith. Make it happen, Netflix!
The original run of Unsolved Mysteries is available for streaming on the following platforms:
Youtube: Seasons 1-12
Amazon Prime: Seasons 1-10 and Season 12
Hulu: Season 1 and Seasons 8-12
Peacock: Seasons 1-12
The new iteration of Unsolved Mysteries is available on Netflix.