In the realm of criminal investigations, the pursuit of justice often involves solving complex puzzles with the help of different types of evidence. While traditional tools like weapons, fingerprints, witness accounts, and DNA are commonly used in forensics, there is also a fascinating world of unusual and unexpected evidence that has played a crucial role in unraveling perplexing murder cases.
This list explores the fascinating world of crime-solving, where unusual pieces of evidence have played a crucial role in solving chilling cold cases and murder mysteries. From surprising twists to downright bizarre findings, these stories show that sometimes the key to justice lies in the most unexpected places. Join us on this captivating journey into the realm of crime-solving!
Discover ten unusual pieces of evidence that played a crucial role in solving murder cases, guiding investigators towards justice.
RELATED: 10 CAPTIVATING MYSTERIES THAT ARE YET TO BE SOLVED
10. Sweet Potato
On February 27, 2011, the Barnstable police received a distress call about a shooting incident in Hyannis, a village situated on Massachusetts’s Cape Cod peninsula. Upon reaching the scene, the officers discovered the lifeless body of Todd Lampley, a 31-year-old man, in a bedroom.
At the scene, investigators found three shell casings on the ground outside the window of the bedroom where Lampley was shot. However, aside from the shell casings, investigators also found two unusual pieces of evidence with ties to the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire. The first was a cell phone registered in the name of Marco Stanfield (the name of a fictional narco-trafficking kingpin on the show). The other was a sweet potato that was cut flat on one end, appeared to have a hole carved through its center, and was “blown out and irregular” on the other end (a sweet potato was used as a silencer on the TV show).
A few days after the shooting incident, a man named Devrus Hampton was apprehended in an unrelated case. Interestingly, Hampton and Lampley had past connections. In a 2010 trial, Hampton hinted that Lampley might have played a role in the tragic shooting death of 18-year-old Jacques Sellers back in 2007. Sellers, reportedly killed by a shooter outside the window, had some striking similarities to Lampley’s case. Although Lampley consistently denied any involvement in Sellers’s death and was never charged, Hampton, despite the potential motives and resemblances, chose not to cooperate with investigators regarding Lampley’s demise.
Despite wearing a GPS monitoring bracelet as part of his probation in another case, Hampton’s location records placed him near the house at the time of Lampley’s death. These records also revealed a stop at a nearby pond, where civilians later discovered a gun matching the shell casings found at the crime scene. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the substantial evidence gathered that connected Hampton to Lampley’s murder, but rather a simple root vegetable. However, unraveling this connection would take more than a decade.
In 2016, a breakthrough occurred when authorities managed to collect a DNA sample from Hampton without his knowledge. This was made possible when Hampton unwittingly spat in a puddle, providing the necessary evidence. Subsequently, the DNA from Hampton’s spit was confirmed as a match to a swab taken from a sweet potato discovered at the scene. This unexpected turn of events proved to be both informative and intriguing, shedding new light on the case.
Even though investigators didn’t provide a specific explanation for the delay, something significant happened exactly 12 years after Lampley’s tragic death. On February 27, 2023, a 40-year-old named Hampton was officially charged with murder and assault with a dangerous weapon. Stay tuned for more details on this intriguing case.
9. KFC Receipt
Anna Repkina, a twenty-six-year-old with a love for rock music and cats, embarked on a journey to meet new people after a challenging breakup with her boyfriend of seven years. Little did she know, fate would bring her together with William Hargrove, a twenty-six-year-old from Oregon who shared a deep fascination for all things Russian. Their encounter on a Russian social networking site would spark an intriguing connection.
Repkina and Hargrove instantly clicked, bonding over their shared passion for music. They would spend endless hours chatting online, exchanging countless memes, photos, and messages. In 2016, Repkina made a life-changing decision – she hopped on a flight to the United States, eager to spend the Christmas holiday in Oregon with Hargrove.
During their 10-day trip, the couple enjoyed moments of pure bliss while exploring the beautiful coast. Hargrove introduced Repkina to his close friends, and together they joyfully welcomed the new year. Little did Repkina know, Hargrove had a secret—another girlfriend named Michelle Chavez, a married woman with whom he shared a living arrangement. In a surprising twist, Chavez, desperate to escape her failing and loveless marriage, entrusted Hargrove with her wedding ring, which he later used to propose to Repkina. This captivating tale is a testament to the complexities of love and the unexpected turns life can take.
In March 2017, Repkina made a life-changing move to the United States, envisioning a peaceful future planning her wedding with Hargrove. However, a Facebook post showcasing Repkina’s relationship with Hargrove and the ring he had given her triggered a furious reaction from Chavez. She presented Hargrove with an ultimatum: make a choice between her and Repkina. Regrettably, he made his decision, altering the course of their lives forever.
On April 17, 2017, only a month after relocating to the United States, Repkina met a tragic end on a lodge road near Alsea, Oregon. She was found lifeless, a victim of a single shotgun blast to the back of her head. Her body was callously abandoned amidst a collection of discarded cigarette cartons, candy wrappers, fast food bags, and trash.
After Repkina’s passing, Hargrove proceeded to withdraw a total of $800 from Repkina’s bank account. Curiously, he used the funds to settle his car insurance, indulge in candy and cigars, and acquire *Star Wars*-themed LEGOs from Walmart. However, Hargrove’s behavior took a peculiar turn as he delved into online research on time travel. He even reached out to strangers on WhatsApp, seeking guidance on how to rectify a perceived “horrible mistake.” In a desperate plea, he even offered his soul as a reward to anyone who could assist him.
Despite everything, it was the discovery of a KFC receipt found with Repkina’s body that ultimately connected Hargrove to her murder. The receipt contained a date, time, and a debit card number linked to Kevin Thomas, Hargrove’s brother, who admitted that they had a regular tradition of dining together at KFC every Friday. Intriguingly, Thomas also revealed that Hargrove had asked to borrow his shotgun, mentioning a need to “vent off some steam” in the woods.
In November 2019, Hargrove was convicted of second-degree murder, identity theft, and two counts of second-degree theft. As a result, he received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years. This captivating legal outcome showcases the gravity of his actions and the determination of the justice system.
8. One Yellow Sock
On October 1, 1991, Denise Sharon Kulb, 27 years old, moved into her boyfriend Theodore Dill Donahue’s apartment in the Wissahickon section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, just two weeks later, Kulb suddenly moved out. Then, on November 12, 1991, her badly decomposed body was discovered in a wooded, undeveloped cul-de-sac in what was previously known as Birmingham Township (now Chadds Ford Township). Curiously, Troopers found Kulb dressed only in a sweater, while the rest of her clothing—two pairs of pants, a T-shirt, a jacket, and a pale yellow sock—was mysteriously piled on top of her.
Donahue quickly became a person of interest in the case. In his initial interview with the Pennsylvania State Police, he recounted a disturbing incident on October 18, 1991. Donahue and Kulb had indulged in crack cocaine before falling victim to a knifepoint robbery. Donahue claimed that Kulb had run off to seek help, but tragically, he never saw her again. However, contradicting this account, family members reported seeing Kulb at a funeral on October 19, 1991. This puzzling discrepancy adds another layer of intrigue to the mysterious disappearance of Kulb.
On November 15, 1991, troopers conducted a search of Donahue’s apartment. During the search, they discovered a yellow sock that matched a sock found at the crime scene. Additionally, they found a job application with Kulb’s name on it. Surprisingly, Donahue denied any connection or knowledge of Kulb’s death, but interestingly revealed that his nickname was “Ted Bundy.”
In the following days, Donahue made repeated calls to the police, anxiously inquiring about the autopsy results of Kulb. He even offered his assistance in the investigation in a visibly nervous manner. Yet, despite these efforts, the case eventually went cold, leaving many unanswered questions.
In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police decided to reopen Kulb’s case. During the reinvestigation, Donahue, a key witness, provided a different account. He claimed that the last time he saw Kulb was outside a bar on October 19, 1991. Interestingly, phone records confirmed that Donahue and Kulb had spoken earlier that day, just before meeting at the bar where Kulb was employed. Adding to the intrigue, Kulb’s sister mentioned that the two had a heated argument outside the bar. These new details shed light on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the case.
Despite the clear connections to Kulb’s death and the fact that Donahue revealed details that only an eyewitness should know, there was a lack of DNA or physical evidence to link Donahue to the case. However, investigators sought the expertise of Byron Wolfe, a professor and photography head at Temple University, who utilized cutting-edge photo-enhancing technology. This technology revealed a significant breakthrough – a connection between the sock found at Donahue’s apartment and a matching sock discovered with Kulb’s body. By unraveling this evidence, authorities were able to reconstruct the case and establish the separated socks as a crucial piece of evidence.
On September 3, 2019, 28 years after Kulb’s death, 52-year-old Donahue was apprehended and faced charges of murder, abuse of a corpse, evidence tampering, obstruction of justice, and making false reports to the police. However, on November 18, 2020, Donahue passed away while in custody. This intriguing case unveils a complex web of events that spanned decades, leaving unanswered questions and captivating the attention of many.
7. Pizza Crust
On December 11, 2010, an officer and his police K9 were searching for a missing person along Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach, New York. During their search, they came across a set of human remains. This led to the identification of Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old sex worker from the Bronx who had been missing since July 12, 2009. As the authorities continued to search the area, they made even more shocking discoveries.
On December 13, 2010, the police made a chilling discovery: they found the remains of three more women in close proximity to where Barthelemey’s remains were found. These women were Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25 years old, last seen on July 9, 2007; Megan Waterman, 22 years old, last seen on June 6, 2010; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27 years old, last seen leaving her Long Island home on September 2, 2010. What makes their cases even more intriguing is that all three of these women were known to advertise escort services on Craigslist. They would later be referred to as the “Gilgo Four.”
In the following year, a staggering number of 16 victims were uncovered in the vicinity, with several of them being recognized as sex workers. Regrettably, this case persisted for over a decade, leaving investigators without any named suspects, arrests, or closure. Ultimately, the investigation went cold, leaving behind a perplexing and unsolved mystery.
Later, in 2022, a comprehensive review of the investigation was conducted by the Suffolk County Police Department, New York State Police, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, and the FBI. This collaborative effort brought new life to the case. By March 2022, a significant breakthrough arose. Investigators uncovered a potential connection between 59-year-old Rex Heuermann, a married father of two and an architect in Manhattan, and the case. This revelation came about when they discovered that a Chevy Avalanche registered to him matched the description provided by a witness in Costello’s disappearance.
Subpoenas and search warrants uncovered burner phones that Heuermann had utilized to organize meetings with the “Gilgo Four” before their disappearance. Disturbing internet search history on his computer further added to the evidence. However, it was the unexpected discovery of leftover pizza crust that ultimately established Heuermann’s connection to the killings.
Around January 26, 2023, a surveillance team made an intriguing discovery – they found a discarded pizza box left behind by Heuermann. Curiosity piqued, the box was sent for analysis. Several months later, on June 12, 2023, the forensic lab delivered a fascinating revelation – the DNA extracted from the pizza was an astonishing 99.96% match to the male hair found on Waterman.
On June 13, 2023, Heuermann was taken into custody and accused of committing first-degree and second-degree murder in relation to the deaths of Barthelemy, Waterman, and Costello. Additionally, Heuermann is the main suspect in the disappearance of Brainard-Barnes, although formal charges have not yet been filed. The case continues to captivate attention as authorities work to uncover the truth behind these unsettling events.
6. Half-eaten container of Ice Cream
On the morning of November 18, 2022, at around 7:44 am, passersby in Portland, Maine’s Bayside neighborhood made a startling discovery. They stumbled upon the lifeless body of Bethany Kelley, a young homeless woman, lying beside a car.
Kelley’s death was determined to be a homicide, specifically caused by “manual strangulation” according to the autopsy. However, what truly piqued investigators’ interest were the peculiar items discovered near Kelley’s body: a half-eaten pint of Hershey’s Cookies and Cream ice cream and its lid. These unexpected clues would ultimately prove instrumental in cracking the case.
Investigators initiated a thorough search of local establishments offering the particular ice cream brand. Their efforts led them to the Peace Food Market, conveniently located just three blocks away from the site where Kelley’s body was discovered. In a brilliant move, two detectives managed to obtain surveillance footage from inside the store. What they uncovered were three individuals who had purchased ice cream around the time of Kelley’s tragic demise. Among them was Frederick Johnson, a 45-year-old homeless man. Stay tuned for more intriguing updates on this captivating investigation.
Johnson eventually confessed to purchasing the ice cream, explaining that he had also bought another pint for Kelley in return for her watching his belongings at the Oxford Street Shelter while he ran errands. However, Johnson’s narrative kept evolving, and the details surrounding the night of Kelley’s unfortunate demise became increasingly murky. He now asserted that he had left her in the company of another man named Brian Chabuk.
Chabuk, however, informed the police that he perceived Johnson’s actions as a potential sexual advance towards Kelley. However, shortly after receiving a phone call, Chabuk decided to leave and visit a friend. Surveillance footage captured both men leaving the scene, but Kelley was never seen departing. This intriguing chain of events raises questions about what truly transpired that day.
On February 3, 2023, a forensic DNA analyst discovered DNA profiles that matched Johnson’s under one of Kelley’s fingernails. This crucial evidence led to the charging of Johnson with her murder on February 21, 2023.
5. Vanilla Coke Can
On August 4, 1981, a tragic incident unfolded in Cherry Hills Village, a suburb just 7 miles (11 km) south of downtown Denver, Colorado. Sylvia Quayle, a 34-year-old woman, was discovered lifeless inside her own home. The circumstances were chilling – she had been subjected to a brutal stabbing, a gunshot wound to the back of her head, and a horrifying act of sexual assault. The heartbreaking part is that it was her own father who made the devastating discovery.
Around 140 pieces of evidence were gathered from the scene. Then, in 1983, two years following Quayle’s death, forensic experts used an alternate light source and discovered a “potential foreign material” on the orange rug where Quayle perished. It was later identified as semen. During the same year, Ottis Elwood Toole, a notorious drifter and serial killer, confessed to the murder. However, in 1993, Toole was acquitted when DNA testing proved he was not Quayle’s killer. The case, with its intriguing twists and scientific advancements, continues to captivate.
Unfortunately, DNA collected from the scene went unmatched for years, even after the Colorado Bureau of Investigation sent samples to be plugged into the FBI’s CODIS database.
In 2020, the Cherry Hills Village Police Department joined forces with United Data Connect, a genetic genealogy company. Together, they entered the samples from Quayle’s case into two public databases, namely FamilyTreeDNA and GEDMatch. After just four months, the company’s skilled technicians uncovered a name – David Dwayne Anderson. Interestingly, at the time of Quayle’s unfortunate demise, Anderson resided just a few miles away in Englewood, Colorado.
In 2021, a United Data Connect investigator visited Anderson’s residence in Cozad, Nebraska, and collected trash bags from the dumpster at his apartment complex. Among the items found were a Vanilla Coke can, a Great Value water bottle, a spiced rum bottle, and a Michelob Ultra beer bottle. However, it was the DNA from the Vanilla Coke can that proved to be a match for multiple items recovered from Quayle’s body and residence. This discovery adds a compelling twist to the investigation, shedding new light on the case.
On February 10, 2021, Anderson was taken into custody and charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The first trial in March 2022 ended in a mistrial as the jurors couldn’t reach a verdict. However, in June 2022, the case went to trial again. Surprisingly, on August 4, 2022, exactly 41 years after Quayle’s murder, Anderson, now 64 years old, received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 20 years. This was the maximum sentence allowable under the laws in place at the time of the crime. The twists and turns of this legal journey make it a fascinating case to follow.
4. Juniper Tree Needles
On October 10, 2019, at around 5:45 pm, Joseph Elledge from Columbia, Missouri, reported his wife, 28-year-old Mangqi Ji, as missing. Instead of reaching out to emergency services, Elledge contacted a citizens’ hotline (311) to report Ji’s disappearance. Initially, Elledge stated that on the evening of October 8, 2019, he gave Ji a massage before she went to bed around 11:30 pm. However, when Elledge woke up at approximately 5 am on October 9, 2019, Ji was nowhere to be found. The circumstances surrounding Ji’s mysterious disappearance continue to captivate attention and raise questions.
In addition to Elledge’s delayed report of Ji’s disappearance, the presence of Ji’s car keys, wallet, and their one-year-old daughter, Anna, left behind raises further suspicion about Elledge’s account.
On October 15, 2019, Elledge was questioned by the police. Instead of mentioning that he was searching for his missing wife, he claimed to have spent his time leisurely driving around in search of new hiking trails. Interestingly, during this interview, investigators stumbled upon 10 hours of covertly recorded arguments between the couple, shedding light on a troubled and domineering marriage.
During the investigation of Ji’s disappearance, the police discovered photos on Elledge’s iPad showing Anna’s bruised body. This led to Elledge’s arrest on October 25, 2019, on suspicion of physical child abuse. With Elledge in custody, the police obtained a search warrant for the couple’s apartment, where they uncovered a pair of muddy boots belonging to Elledge. These boots were taken into evidence based on a hunch.
According to cell tower data, it was discovered that on the day Ji went missing, Elledge visited the Lamine River, which is about a 40-minute drive from their home. Despite extensive search efforts involving dive teams and cadaver dogs, authorities were unable to locate Ji for months. However, on March 25, 2021, seventeen months after her disappearance, a hiker stumbled upon Ji’s remains in Rock Bridge Memorial State Park—the very same park where Elledge had proposed to her. This intriguing discovery sheds new light on the mysterious case.
This pivotal moment came when the detectives, with muddy boots, followed their intuition and found the missing link connecting Elledge to Ji’s murder. The juniper tree needles extracted from the soles of Elledge’s boots contained plant DNA that turned out to be a perfect match to the tree looming over Ji’s burial site. This discovery unraveled a compelling piece of the puzzle, shedding light on the case.
On January 7, 2022, a 26-year-old named Elledge received a 28-year prison sentence for second-degree murder. Adding to that, on February 22, 2023, he was given an additional 10-year sentence for child abuse charges. The incident occurred on the evening of October 8, 2019, when Elledge claimed to have offered Ji a massage as a way to initiate intimacy. However, Ji stopped him, leading to a heated argument about online messages between Ji and a man named Zhou Chau that Elledge had discovered. Elledge maintains that Ji’s death was an unintended consequence of their physical altercation, during which Ji fell backward. 
On the morning of December 23, 2015, Richard Dabate from Ellington, Connecticut, followed his usual routine. After seeing his two sons off to school, he bid farewell to his 39-year-old wife, Connie, as she headed to a fitness class at the local YMCA. However, fate had a surprise in store for Richard. Between 8:45 am and 9:00 am, he found himself returning home due to a forgotten laptop. Little did he know that this seemingly mundane event would set off a chain of events that would leave everyone questioning what really happened that day.
When Dabate arrived home, he heard a mysterious noise and decided to investigate upstairs. To his surprise, he discovered a camouflage-clad intruder who stood tall at 6’2″ (1.87 meters) in their upstairs bedroom. In that moment, Dabate called out to his wife Connie, urging her to flee. However, the intruder pursued her into the basement, leading to a brief struggle that tragically ended with Connie being shot.
According to Dabate, he was confronted by an intruder who proceeded to restrain him with zip ties, inflict a stab wound to his stomach, and use a torch to cause burns. However, Dabate managed to turn the tables on the intruder by using the torch against him. Startled, the intruder fled the scene. Despite being bound to a chair, Dabate summoned help by crawling upstairs and contacting emergency services at approximately 10:11 am.
Contrary to Dabate’s assertions, there were no indications of forced entry, no missing belongings, and despite an extensive search, the authorities were unable to locate a suspect. Interestingly, the only trail the K-9s followed led straight back to Dabate.
Search warrants were obtained for the couple’s cell phones, computers, house alarm logs, and even the Fitbit device Connie was wearing. Surprisingly, it was the Fitbit that revealed the truth and contradicted Dabate’s outrageous account of the killing. According to the device, Connie didn’t return home until 9:18 am, which directly contradicted Dabate’s claim that she was killed at 9:05 am. What’s more intriguing is that the Fitbit recorded casual movement until 10:05 am, over an hour after Dabate alleged that Connie had been shot. This unexpected evidence raises even more questions about what truly happened.
Dabate eventually confessed to having an affair outside of his marriage, resulting in the woman becoming pregnant. Shockingly, it was later revealed that just five days after the incident, Dabate tried to claim his wife’s life insurance policy worth a staggering $475,000.
Dabate, aged 46, was convicted of first-degree murder on August 18, 2022, and has been sentenced to an extensive prison term of 65 years.
2. Nintendo Switch
On November 20, 2019, tragedy struck when Matthew Wiser, a 39-year-old economics professor at the University of South Alabama, was found shot to death in his home in Mobile, Alabama. Concerned colleagues, who noticed his absence, prompted university police to investigate. The investigation revealed that Wiser had been a victim of a heartbreaking home invasion incident.
At first, there was limited evidence, and the case appeared to hit a dead end. Mobile police even offered a $5,000 reward to the community for any helpful information. However, investigators refused to give up. They meticulously examined every detail, even utilizing a stolen Nintendo Switch from Wiser’s home to trace the individuals accountable for his tragic demise. Their tireless efforts and unconventional methods led them closer to the truth.
After the Nintendo Switch was connected to a network, the police successfully traced the IP address and closely monitored the game system’s online activity. This meticulous investigation eventually led them to two individuals, namely Derric Scott and Tiquez Timmons, both of whom are twenty years old.
On December 13, 2019, a significant event unfolded as both Scott and Timmons were apprehended and faced charges of felony murder. The investigation revealed that Scott was the identified shooter involved in the home invasion. Further developments took place on February 17, 2020, when a third suspect, 23-year-old Curtis Anthony Womack Jr., was arrested and also charged with murder. These unfolding events captivate attention, shedding light on a complex and intriguing case.
In June 13, 1993, the life of Jeanna Ann Childs, a 35-year-old prostitute, came to a tragic end in her Minneapolis, Minnesota apartment. Shockingly, she had been brutally stabbed 65 times. Despite a crime scene filled with evidence, technology of that time failed to identify the perpetrator, and the case eventually went unsolved, leaving a haunting mystery behind.
In 2018, investigators conducted a thorough examination, comparing the DNA recovered from the scene to the DNA profiles stored in a “commercial genealogy site.” Fascinatingly, a match was found: Jerry Westrom.
In 2019, investigators started tracking Westrom’s movements. They managed to retrieve napkins he discarded after wiping his face with them at a hockey game. The DNA on these napkins turned out to be a match to the DNA found on various items at the crime scene: a comforter, a bloodstained bathroom towel, a washcloth, a T-shirt, and even a bloody bare footprint.
In February 2019, Westrom, a 56-year-old individual, was arrested and subsequently found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree murder. On September 9, 2022, he received a life sentence with the chance of parole after 30 years, based on guidelines established in 1993. This case presents a compelling story of justice and the intricacies of sentencing.